Tango Argentino > Teaching Frustration

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by Zoopsia59, Dec 3, 2008.

  1. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    This is a question for those of you who teach... Did you have a point early in your teaching "career" that you thought "I don't know what the hell I'm doing!" and thought about quitting?

    I went into teaching full of excitement, motivation and confidence. I knew what I wanted to teach and felt I really had something to offer.

    Now I feel half the time that maybe I shouldn't be doing this. Aside from the issues of getting (or keeping)students, sometimes I feel like I really don't know what to say to help a student or advance them along.

    Is this normal? Is it part of the "getting experience as a teacher" growth? If I feel stuck for an answer to help sometimes when there's a problem does that mean I shouldn't be teaching?

    I've had good feedback from nearly everyone I gave any instruction to, but that hasn't translated into a growing class or student roster. In an overly saturated area, enthusiasm doesn't translate into continuity with such high level competition coming to town. And since my original plans were more "time-limited", trying to develop an ongoing syllabus has been a challenge, especially with constantly rotating attendance and mixed levels showing up. I feel I'm getting pulled into teaching step patterns and I didn't want to. (but I'm beginning to understand why everyone does)

    I guess I'm feeling burned out and i wouldn't have expected that to happen so soon. Is this typical and the fact that i recognize when I'm struggling a sign I should persevere? Or is it a sign that I got in over my head?
  2. kieronneedscake

    kieronneedscake New Member

    Don't forget that most teachers at some point have to bluff a bit. Across all education, there will always be students with an odd viewpoint that you least expected, or a brain set in concrete. Some students don't even want to learn when they're in the lesson!
  3. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    Don't despair: you are probably fine: i find there are all sorts of frustrations in teaching; ranging from inconsistent attendance, to people who have zero body awareness.
    numbers will go up and down. and it is hard to stay motivated. I had two people turn up last night but we still had a good time and they got extra attention and really enjoyed it.

    S what do you want to get out of it. ( a partly self-directed question since i dont know why I do it. My life would be a lot easier if i just went out and danced)

    Be prepared to look at what works. Teaching dance is not like teaching an academic subject so experiment.
  4. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    Yes, that is a good way to put it... sometimes I feel like I am bluffing...
  5. bastet

    bastet Active Member

    Well- the best I can tell you is that there is a learning curve with teaching, just as there was when you learned the dance.

    With time, you will see what is working and what isn't, be able to adapt to the kind of students that are in your locale, and find the best way to explain things and it will get easier.

    We do some very basic close embrace classes (because it is my belief that is the best place to start, despite most people's rather high-schoolish fear of close embrace) and have finally come up with a steady way of teaching 2 months of beginner work that helps keep people interested, and still works body mechanics and connection. It took a little while to come up with that and it took a lot of reviewing and revising based on who the main people who live in our area and might take classes are (mostly over 50's) and then adapting to that without losing sight of our main goal (growing a tango community here where we live).

    And even then, I still have doubts. We aren't pro's, we are social dancers who want to share social dancing skills, but I just keep trying to remind myself that our training to date has been good. Every time I hear a student come back and say they just went to a workshop and heard the same things I tell them in class, then I know I am doing ok, it's just that I think that having to become as body aware as you do in tango not only with yourself but with your partner, is something a lot of people find hard and frustrating.

    Personally, I think it is a good thing to feel you have to go back and self evaluate occasionally, it helps keep perspective of who you are and helps you keep your mind open to continuing to learn, rather than if you were so confidant you thought you knew everything there was to know, and so might miss opportunities to learn a different way of doing something.
  6. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    Zoops, You have a serious PM coming. In the interest of space, I won't post it here.
  7. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    Thank you my guardian Angel... there was alot to think about in that PM. I won't be answering right away.:kissme:
  8. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    How about posting the Reader's Digest version?
  9. Ampster

    Ampster Active Member

    So can I be nosey and gossipy and ask... How'd it go? :raisebro:
  10. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    I have no objection to Angel posting the message here.. but it's his call...
  11. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    Pretty good...
    for a totally anonymous "long distance relationship"! :cool:
  12. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    ok.. I'll post one thing Angel mentioned because I know he's mentioned it on the forum before anyway...

    He reminds me that I have to take each individual and figure out why they are taking dance lessons. They don't REALLY take lessons just to learn to dance. There's often an underlying motive (or "theme" as I'd like to call it) that is pulling them towards whatever they take up (in this case Tango)

    Its not going to be the same for each person and they themselves may not even be conscious of their reason. (Angel didn't mention that, but I'll bet its often true)

    But if you can figure it out, you can address their real need or desire through dance instruction making a more productive experience for them.

    With this thought in mind, I realize that perhaps the small number of people interested in lessons from me right now is a blessing not a failure. I actually prefer to work one on one (or couple) than to try to relate to a large group. I have been told by quite a few people over my life that perhaps I should become a counselor or therapist. I seem to be able to zero in on what's going on for people easily.

    But... not if my focus is split by multiple people at once. My empathy and insight circuits don't work (or perhaps get overloaded) with too many information sources. So instead of lamenting how hard it has been to get this class to take off, maybe I should be accepting that God or whoever is actually structuring it exactly to fit my own talents until I become better at dissecting simultaneous input.

    The problem comes when I think less like a spiritual soul and more like a proffesional business. The studio won't support me indefinitely without more customers. The local tango community won't take me as seriously if I seem to be "failing". A larger class seems more like success even if I'm not as capable that way.

    Which brings me to another of Angel's points...

    Why do I want to teach? That's not an easy answer. I had an easy answer in the beginning (at least it seemed so at the time) and now I'm wondering just what my motives were. I'm not totally narcissistic, but yes, there's ego involved. Its not just altruistic on my part.

    Because of some recent non-dance related events in my life, I am trying hard to incorporate a greater sense of Faith, Trust and Gratitude into my life. I received this message quite strongly from several sources just before I really needed it for a crisis, and keeping the faith proved to be the right thing. It all worked out ok in the end.

    I will have class today. So I will go and consider that whatever happens, whoever comes, whoever doesn't, and whatever we do is a Blessing and the right thing to happen today.
  13. Indiana_Jay

    Indiana_Jay Active Member

    FWIW, in full-time classroom teaching (as in elementary school or high school), the common rule of thumb is that the first year is hell for almost everyone, no matter how well their university education prepared them. Most first-year teachers consider quitting multiple times throughout the year. But if they don't, they find that the second year is much, much easier.

    I don't know how much this applies to dance teachers, because of the differences. But I suspect the underlying theme remains. The only way it gets easier is with experience and the only way to get the experience is to live through the tough times at the beginning.


  14. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    I agree that close embrace is a good place to start and yes, so many people do seem to be VERY uncomfortable with it. My insistance on it may be part of why I'm not getting the students that other teachers are.

    But tough noogies. Too many people aren't learning proper technique because they can "cheat" certain things when open (overuse of the arms for instance) If I can get them to do it right in open, they can do open. I'm not a purist. I like certain moves that can't be done close too.

    But if they can't get their body working, I'm going to plaster them together until they learn how to use their body instead of their arms. Pfftt! If they don't want to take the time to learn proper technique that's their choice. They can take from someone else.

    You raise a good point about having confidence in your own training. Everything I've been complimented on by teachers or fellow dancers watching me can be traced directly to proper instruction I've received from someone else along the way. I may have some natural talent for dance, movement and music, but it would all be for naught if I hadn't received good instruction in tango technique.

    Don't worry about me thinking I know it all.. its my growing awareness of everything that I DON"T know that has me in this tizzy! Sometimes I feel like I really dont' know SQUAT. As someone here says.. I will forever be a "beginner". Even Daniel Trenner said in a workshop that on a scale of 1 to 10 in tango, he was still just scratching the surface and had maybe progressed to about 3 compared to the old milongueros of BA.

    Currently, I'm a medium size fish in a small pond... there's WAY more to learn yet!

    And I will say I've learned an enormous amount from teaching! I think I may have learned at least as much as my students.
  15. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

  16. _malakawa_

    _malakawa_ New Member

    can I get the same PM??? I would like to read your opinion. thanks.

    I am not in the same mood, just it will be useful to read it.
  17. skwiggy

    skwiggy Well-Known Member

    I'm interested in seeing the PM as well, if you are willing to share. :)
  18. bastet

    bastet Active Member

    Oh don't worry- you sound like you'd be too smart to think you knew it all! (how's that for an oxymoron?)

    Really, I think this will be a blessing in disguise for you at some point. I think it's usually what happens on the verge of personal growth, so I'd just bear with it and keep on keepin' on.

    I have something similar going on in my own life. We teach a little at the beginner and lower level intermediate level (just basic stuff- nothng fancy), but in strictly close embrace...as my favorite teacher would say of his favorite embrace...a non-rolling, non-dissociating close embrace. But no one who is prominent in our local community likes this style and so we get dissed a lot for various reasons. I just keep reminding myself that our training in this style has been good, and we keep our mind open to new things and hope that some people will have open minds eventually. We don't really try to "convert" the people who are already dancing and already have their teacher preference, but focus on bringing new people in, and that will take some time.

    I know there's always things we could do better or something we can revise that will make what we are saying easier for people, so we always go back and examine something we have taught and see if we can't do it better the next week, or class or whatever.

    And yes- we've sometimes really learned a lot about something just by teaching it. It can help us understand it again or differently depending on how people need us to break it down for them.
  19. larrynla

    larrynla Member

    Advice from 50 years of dancing

    Congratulations, Zoopsia! You have done a brave thing, daring to teach. Even if you eventually decide that it is not for you, at least at this time, you have that knowledge. And if you do decide such, I suggest you remember that those who never try new experiences are the losers, not you.

    Bastet's reminder that there's a learning curve in teaching is very wise. As is Bordertangoman's that there are all sorts of frustrations in teaching. I want to add that it also takes time to establish your reputation with the tango community. You could be the best teacher in the world, and incredibly charming and sexy as well, and that last would be so.

    To be more specific about establishing your rep: you must advertise your services. Some of the ad techniques you know from being a student, including flyers and websites. One good way is word of mouth – every time you teach a good class you are not only teaching but also encouraging your students to brag about you.

    Another way is to reach out to the non-tango community. There are a number of ways to do this. One way is to volunteer to give free icebreaker classes at non-tango social events, both dance oriented and otherwise. These should be short; a half-hour is just about right. They should also be short on talk and long on walk. The people want to have fun and meet others, not listen to a lecture.

    "Small talk, much walk" is also good advice for longer classes, especially in the first few minutes, especially in your very first class period. Immediately get them to doing something. Also introduce tango music very soon and integrate it throughout every class. You can combine these two pieces of advice by playing some music that is both lovely and has a clear beat. Have them listen to the music, then move to the beat, first with hands and later with their feet.

    Listening to and moving to music is more fun than setting up a rotation, so delay the latter for when you begin to work on the embrace and moving to it. Do not delay very long, however. Getting their hands on someone's body (preferably someone attractive to them) is a main (maybe THE main) draw of a class.

    Do NOT go to a close embrace immediately. I agree that being able to dance in a close embrace is a very important skill to work toward. But you should seduce students into it; all too many of us are shy about closeness. But just as important is that closeness can distract from what is being taught. Also, there are pros and cons about every kind of embrace. To say one is better than the other is naïve, though it's a common naïveté among tango circles. It is also arrogant.

    Have students hold hands at arms length when you pair them up, in something like a swing dance hold. Do a few push-pull exercises that involve connections that are too stiff and others that are too loose. It is absolutely essential that people early learn the difference, in their muscles as well as minds, of the delicate divide between too much and too little tension in their physical connection.

    But do not spend a lot of time on this point. You must not bore your students. You will return to this crucial part of the embrace over and over again, each time reinforcing and deepening their understanding and (more importantly) their skill.

    Do several brief tension exercises and rotate partners. Then have them do short moving exercises, the man leading the woman. And rotate. Have each couple walk completely around the room, without music, the man leading the woman. Have the men randomly slow or stop. Rotate. Then add tango music and repeat. And rotate.

    Go to a hand-to-elbow grasp. And repeat much of the above. Finally have them embrace closely and repeat the hand-to-hand and hand-to-arm exercises and the moving-together exercises. By going to the close embrace gradually in this way you will overcame anyone's body shyness gracefully. Also you will be isolating in each of the three distances certain problems and working on them separately, not all jumbled together.

    Do NOT try to pack much detailed discussion into the first (or for that matter later) classes. Musicality, posture and stance and balance, the embrace, moving in the embrace, all are enormously complex and subtle processes. Someone who loves dancing and improving their dancing will spend years, or even a lifetime, maturing their muscle, mind, and heart skills in these areas. In the first class you must trust that your students will bring considerable unconscious mastery to what you are helping them to learn for themselves.

    And at the end of the first – and every – class you must end with a few minutes of letting them actually dance to one piece of music, with two or three quick changes of partner within the few minutes. For dancing is the goal of the class, not being able to do exercises.

    Larry de Los Angeles

    PS The above is gathered from over 50 years of learning and dancing two or three dozen social dances, and teaching intro courses in several.
  20. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    Let me start by saying that Larry's post http://www.dance-forums.com/showpost.php?p=636903&postcount=19 is brillant. Reread it.

    No doubt, but covered nicely in Larry's post.

    One can cheat in either style. This statement should have read, "If I can get them to do it right in open, getting it right is more important."
    Hmmm, :confused: the feeling of these realities seemed to be a big part of the initial probleme. Is this a sarcasm, denial, confusion, or feeling of impasse?

    Not totally. One must think like a business professional or one won't have a professional business to think of. Correct that the studio won't support you indefinitely without more customers. And, correct that the local tango community won't take you as seriously if you seem to be "failing". A larger class does/will seem more like success. And, yes you are capable that way.

    We must balance our needs/desires with those of the students'. Like someone posted, forgive me for forgetting whom (and, being too lazy to look :rolleyes:), it just takes time...and more time. Yet, the good part is, as Larry posted, that while this is happening, you are growing. Some PM'd possibilities coming to you, but here's one good tip, now.....

    You're going to be fine...no matter what.

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