Tango Argentino > Bizarro Teacher: Good, Bad and Ugly

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by jennyisdancing, Sep 7, 2007.

  1. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    Hey everyone,

    I thought I would share with you a bizarre and upsetting experience I had with a new teacher yesterday, and also welcome hearing your own opinions/experiences with good or bad teachers.

    First a brief background: I took AT group lessons once per week for four months with a local instructor. He is extremely calm, patient and kind, and all the students like him. He only teaches beginner level, however, and he told me I was ready to move on. He recommended another studio in the area with a well-regarded young teacher from Argentina whom I will call Monkey Boy (you'll see why).

    So I went to this studio for MB's level 2 class, which is listed as being for students who have one prior month of lessons. I had four months, so I thought, sounds good for me. Well, here's a partial litany:

    1. I walked in on time but many other students were late. So MB decided to throw on a salsa tune and kill some time by dancing with one of the students who is good at salsa. This seemed very wrong to me. Shouldn't he respect our time and just start the lesson with the people who have shown up?

    2. When MB eventually proceeded with the lesson, he decided to teach a very complicated pattern that, if I remember, included: a cross, a turn, back ochos, mordida, barrida and at least a couple other things that I probably don't know the name of yet. Most of the people had a lot of trouble learning it. There was only one woman who could do it easily; I talked to her after the class and it turned out she had taken privates in Argentina, etc. etc. so she was way ahead of everyone else.

    3. Okay the biggest complaint - and reason for the nickname - MB has a lot of issues teaching women. He actually made faces at me and at the other ladies if we screwed up! By that, I mean he made goofy, clownish mocking faces. He may have thought he was trying to lighten the mood, but not one lady in there was happy about it. MB pretty much blamed the ladies for the problems.

    To his credit, I guess, MB took time to work with each individual, including me. But I was so tense around him, had enormous trouble following him and made frequent mistakes, at which he either made faces or just shook his head as if I was a pathetic, clumsy idiot with no hope of ever dancing properly.

    Look, there is no doubt that I have much to learn. That's why I'm in classes, duh! And I could tell this guy knows his tango technique. But I don't think he knows much about about people. I was so miserable in his class. My previous teacher played mostly soft, sensitive songs and encouraged us to express the music in our dancing. MB played an aggressive Piazzolla tune and didn't seem to care if we danced with the music or not. I'm kind of surprised my first teacher recommended MB; I'll have to ask him why.

    Thanks for reading my rant. Thoughts, anyone? And what do you think makes a good or bad teacher?
  2. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    jenny, I think you already know the answers to your questions.

    I sincerely believe that there is a significant number of teachers who began teaching as a way to validate themselves and their dancing. (I'm going to stick out my neck even further and write that it seems that young people are more susceptable to this.) But being a good teacher requires so much more. You have listed some, if not most, of those qualities.
    He/She should be able to explain why a particluar movement works, not just demonstrate it.
    H/S should be able to let you feel how something works, too.
    I'd say, respecting your students is very important, too
    I've known a few teachers form Argentina who would become in your face rude at times. Other people in the classes chalked it up to "they are from Argentina, and that is their culture." OK, fine, but I know lots of people here in the states that aren't very polite (and I don't think Argentina lacks polite people as we define it here in the States), but I won't give them my time and my money, either.
    It sounds like you know that dancing isn't doing steps and patterns while music is playing. It sounds like you aren't going to get anything more than tha from MB. It seems like you understand, too, that most of us see AT as lead / follow rather than doing patterns. And it sounds like you won't learn follow skills, either.
    Based on what you've written, I think it's pretty clear what you should do.

    not starting class on time (most classes I go to start late, as do most meetings, but entertaining himself while paying students wait?)
    ball 1?
    not teaching musicality as an integral part of dancing
    strike 1
    teaching a complicated pattern rather than lead / follow
    strike 2
    being disrespectful of students
    strike 3

    This is a bit disjointed, I think. And yes, some would think my standards are quite high.
  3. meow

    meow New Member

    Change teachers (if one could call him a teacher?) He sounds like a jerk and not a very nice person. Go back to your old teacher and ask for another referral. He may be a good dancer......but a teacher? Nooooo.
  4. etp777

    etp777 Active Member

    Try making the faces back at him and see how he likes it. :D

    JK, listen to steve and meow. your instincts are right, this isn't the class for you (or for anyone, it seems).
  5. AATanguera

    AATanguera New Member


    MB is clearly a jerk. Proof that all Argentines are not the best teachers. Many of my favorite teachers are Argentine, but not only Argentines can teach.

    Eric Jorissen, a Dutchman, and whom many (including me) believe is a great teacher, will be teaching at Dance Manhattan in NYC from Sept 13-15. Come up for the weekend. Eric teaches in English, is articulate, funny, and just a delightful person. It is a treat for us NYrs that teaches in NYC twice a year. Google Dance Manhattan for the schedule of his classes.

    Keep at it.
  6. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    Good dancers don't always make good teachers. He sounds like a real bozo. I think you should ask your first teacher why this clown was recommended.
  7. Ampster

    Ampster Active Member

    Dump them both one now! :mad: There is no excuse for his behavior. I'm sure he can dance, but can't teach.

    As for your first instructor, it sounds like he's a beginner too in AT, that's why he only teaches beginning classes.

    (I'm guessing) He recommended the A-hole because:
    (a) He was enthralled with this one's "steps" and/or dancing ability
    (b) He is not as exposed to AT, and he doesn't know anybody else i.e. No experience

    Find another teacher. You live in a major population area with a healthy AT presence. You should not have any problems finding a good AT instructor.

    I don't know who, or how good they are, but it's a starting point. Below is a short list of Tango instructors you might want to investigate in and around Philly:

    Andrew Conway, 215-634-1101, andrew@amoretango.com, - www.amoretango.com
    Charles Costello, (610) 668-0579, argentinetangous@aol.com, www.argentine-tango-us.com.
    Jean Fung, 267-625-6678, phillytango@yahoo.com, - www.phillytango.com
    Guillermo Elkouss, guillelko@hotmail.com, www.argentangodancers.com
    Juan Carlos & Teresa Figueroa, 302-475-5446, pilofl@aol.com, or tangotuyo.com
    Steve Mason, 856-424-7768, tangomason@yahoo.com
    Lesley Mitchell, 215-629-2344, tanguera@verizon.net, - www.dancephiladelphia.com
    Vittoria Natale, vnatale@comcast.net, www.argentangodancers.com
    Kelly Ray, 215-574-9555, tanguero@verizon.net, - www.dancephiladelphia.com
    Elizabeth Seyler, 215-432-1023, eseyler@temple.edu
    Sridhar, sridhartango@yahoo.com or www.tangohug.com
    Jackie Stahl, 215-880-1289, dancenudges@juno.com
    Ivan Terrazas & Sara Grdan, 215 638-0418, info@lalunadancestudio.com, www.LaLunaDanceStudio.com
    David Walter, 215-382-6116, David.A.Walter@worldnet.att.net
    Shana Vitoff, 215-574-3574, shana@societyhilldance.com, - www.societyhilldance.com

    Here's alink to the Philly AT scene: http://www.tangophiladelphia.com/

    Btw, just out of MY personal experience and meaning no disrepect to other disciplines. Stay away from ballroom-type franchises who ALSO do AT. Go with a dedicated AT studio/teacher.

    Any tanguros/tangueras from the area who knows a good AT teacher?
  8. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    Ampster - I think (a) is a possibility although not (b), since the first instructor has studied with many others. And he has mentioned names of other instructors so I will check them out. I know other experienced people in the tango community whom I will ask for suggestions as well.

    There is also reason (c) which is that, as I said, MB was disrespectful only to the ladies. He seemed to be nice to the men, so my first instructor may well have had a good experience with MB and didn't see how different it would be for a female.

    p.s. thanks for the list although I will warn you that MB is one of those people on it. I won't say which one. If anyone is in my area and needs to know the name, send me a message.
  9. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    I can't see in the list anything that a follower cannot do after four months. Cross and turns are basics, back ochos are a variation of the turn, for the mordida and barrida the lady only has to sit and wait. But sure for four-month leaders it must have been very difficult, as they had to memorize and to lead.
  10. jhpark

    jhpark Member

    The list above represents the teachers I've heard good things about from good dancers in Philly. Not everyone likes all of them, and just because someone isn't on the list doesn't mean they're a bad teacher... It just means I haven't had them mentioned to me personally.

    Jenny, please pm me and let me know who MB is, I'm rather curious.
  11. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    Well, the turn was an unusual one (to me) that I hadn't learned and found hard to follow. The other steps, individually, were not necessarily hard, but the way they were put together in a very fast-moving combination seemed difficult to me. I did get it by the end of the class, but with a great deal of struggle, and I think I would have learned it twice as quickly with a different teacher. As I mentioned, most of the other people in the class found it difficult also. Because of my lack of knowledge, I have not fully or accurately described what we were doing - it seemed to me like a showy set of moves that I don't normally see at the average milonga.
  12. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    Hmm; I guess the guy isn't that good, because like a lot of tango teachers no-one has taught them how to teach, and clearly there may issues of culture and feeling ill at ease with women. Thare could be a gap between his professional stage dancing and his grasp of what amateurs need.

    If it were some-one in a professional position ie at the studio just to give him some feedback and pointers.

    I have experienced a visiting Argentine teacher start with mocking the whole class for not dancing in close embrace, which was patronising and insulting to our regular teachers. He has subsequently become a very good teacher in the UK.
  13. Cortado

    Cortado New Member

    A different teacher.

    I went to a social yesterday where a visiting teacher was taking the "intermediate class". He spent the first 15 minutes teaching his way of walking and stepping, without collecting - and i thought, unorthodox but worthy of some consideration, later.
    Then he demonstrated a rock forward and back in parallel system (feet not moving) and a 180 pivot to face the other direction and a lunge back (again feet not moving, just a pose).

    Simple enough you think, but the teacher lacked charisma and spoke in very broken english. Many couples were putting their feet in the wrong place and not pivoting enough or whatever. The class was handled very badly and instead of the teacher explaining the technical points to the class he was trying to correct each couple's mistakes without much success with the rest of the class getting bored. This farce lasted for another 50 minutes until he was rescued by the organisers.

    I may be speaking out of turn, but if you are teaching something you ought to make an effort of thinking about the essentials and pointing those out to the class. If you do that, the majority of people will get it rather than the reverse.

    Needless to say, if you are teaching in a different language, you ought to at least learn the common terms in that language like - pivot, change weight, chest, hips, shoulders, lunge, even right and left. It is amazing how many teachers depend on all their students to learn visually. They have probably never heard of kinesthetic learning styles.
  14. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    That's a very interesting story. My class with MB also involved trouble with a pivoting move. In our class, it was a turn in which the lady pivots on her left foot. She is facing right and turning clockwise (toward her back). So it was a little bit like starting an ocho but we turned much farther around. Also the free leg didn't collect like an ocho, it swung out and around to the back, in a ronde, slightly en l'air.

    Being fairly new to tango, I was very unfamiliar with this type of move. I hadn't learned it in my previous class and have only been at a few milongas where no one led me to do it, and I don't remember seeing other people do this move. So the turn's direction and positioning seemed unnatural to me and I found it difficult. The teacher just kept complaining that I couldn't follow, but it wasn't exactly that. My body just didn't "want" to go that way, despite feeling the lead.

    As you say, if the teacher simply used a few movement terms that would have helped. Good following is crucial for the ladies, obviously, but it doesn't cover 100 percent of the learning process - especially for beginners.
  15. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    Poor teacher, give him a chance, may have been his first class ever.
  16. tangotime

    tangotime Well-Known Member

    These complaints, are not specific to T / A.

    It also crops up in salsa.

    The 2 dances " lend " themselves , to the dancer and NOT the trained teacher .
    Its very common to judge someones dance abilty, then translate that perception into the " they can teach " mode .

    If you plan to attend an unknowns class for the first time, a little background check is always advisable . Ask the people who are holding the event for info.
    It cannot, of course, prevent a repeat of the above, but at least an informed decision may be helpful.

    Class teaching, is an art unto its self . It takes many yrs to perfect in any of the genres .
    Some guide lines for you to assess your next encoumter.

    1-- Is the teacher on time

    2-- Does the lesson commence on time

    3-- Is the class clearly delineated

    4--Is the subject matter demonstrated, before being taught

    5-- Are the explanations concise and clear .

    6-- Are the taught " subjects" , developed first , without music

    7-- Are they then practised with music .

    8-- Is the musical connection to the " subject " explained

    9-- Are alternates discussed where possible

    10-- Was the teacher well prepared-- with music and presentation .

    11-- Did they teach technique -- or -- did they teach technically .

    12-- And most important -- did they bring with them --- a SMILE !!
  17. Big10

    Big10 Member

    I don't normally post in this forum, and stumbled across this thread by chance. However, I did want to chime in on the words quoted above.

    I can totally understand why the first instructor might teach only beginning classes, even if he is a much higher level dancer. As some of the other posters on this thread have indicated, teaching is a unique skill unto itself, and dancing ability does not correlate directly to teaching ability. So, it is very possible that the first instructor is simply more conscientious about his teaching ability and his personal limitations. It would nice if more "teachers" were that humble about their abilities.

    I am a Salsa dancer, probably at the lower range of "advanced" as a leader in social dancing. I also started teaching beginner group classes (in Salsa) earlier this year, somewhat reluctantly, and only after extended training in various aspects of teaching. Prior to that training, I knew that I had certain skills as a leader that I could not adequately explain to other leaders even though I knew how to do the moves, and I certainly didn't even know how to do (let alone explain) the follower's parts of some very basic moves. It took me awhile to get comfortable with all of that. So, even after that training, and then after teaching beginner group classes for four full months, I started teaching the lower level of "intermediates" just last week (and only at the suggestion of the studio director).

    There is a long lag between being able to execute something as a dancer and then acquiring the skills to be able to teach it to both leaders and followers. If we know nothing more than the level of classes being taught, I don't think we can say that is necessarily the level of the teacher's dancing. (Plus, it doesn't help that words like "beginner," "intermediate," and "advanced" are so vague in any discussion of dancing.)
  18. Cortado

    Cortado New Member

    Yes I agree with all of the above.

    I am prepared to let a lot of these things go if at the end of the lesson I have learned a little more tango. (which is the object of the exercise)

    With some teachers you can do exactly the same lesson several times and learn something new each time because they get you to explore your ability. With others all they teach you is tolerance and patience ... well i could learn that playing with with my kids in the park or going to the pub.
  19. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    At my own classes:
    1-- Is the teacher on time:
    yes 99% of the time. I get there early to set everything up.

    2-- Does the lesson commence on time.
    No: I advertise my classes starting 15 minutes before they ectually do as 25% of people will be late. 50% will be on time but will have to change their shoes, have a pee, and greet other people, and 25% will be early enough to do thoses things.

    3-- Is the class clearly delineated
    Not sure what this means: I have a lesson plan, but I will adapt it to how people respond

    4--Is the subject matter demonstrated, before being taught

    5-- Are the explanations concise and clear .
    I leave others to judge

    6-- Are the taught " subjects" , developed first , without music
    Not necessarily; I use simple music with a steady rhythm or something flowing like Nephelis Tango as a ppropriate to the exercise
    7-- Are they then practised with music .
    8-- Is the musical connection to the " subject " explained
    9-- Are alternates discussed where possible
    Only with more experienced dancers - danger of overloading bewginners

    10-- Was the teacher well prepared-- with music and presentation .
    11-- Did they teach technique -- or -- did they teach technically .
    12-- And most important -- did they bring with them --- a SMILE
    No I make it perfectly clear that it they want fun they should go and learn Salsa or Morris Dancing
  20. calandra

    calandra New Member


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