Tango Argentino > What makes a Teacher?

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by UKDancer, Nov 23, 2010.

  1. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Would anyone care to offer either a definition of what a teacher of Argentine Tango is (or should be), or share a view over teacher formation - the process of becoming one.

    In my own main discipline, Ballroom, I know exactly what I expect of a teacher, how they are (typically) trained, and how they attain teaching qualifications from one of the main teaching societies. There is a clear path in their formation, and a generally understood expectation of their range of competencies/skills. To some extent, being a 'natural teacher' makes a difference to their effectiveness, but that is not what (usually) defines them in such a dance style.

    AT is different. How does the process work (or how did it work for you, if you teach). What defines a teacher of AT?

    If (and it's a big 'if') the leading teaching societies got their respective acts together, and became a significant force in the AT world, would that be a 'good thing'? Their role would be to distill and define a fundamental body of technique for the dance in its various styles, train and regulate its professional practitioners (the teaching body) and promote the style to the wider dance community. Alternate definitions could easily be found, too. (BTW, I'm not arguing that the teaching societies should, in any sense, 'take over' or alter the dance that we have, just become authoritative sources for AT technique, style and public ambassadors for the dance).

    My interest is as an existing teacher (not in AT), seeking help to clarify my own developmental goals should the opportunity arise to extend my own teaching activities in this style, in which I am, as yet a relative beginner. My own teaching society has an AT Teaching Diploma, and having made a study of its syllabus, I am quite certain that it is almost no value at all in any path that I could define for myself - which is a shame - it could have been so much better than it is.
  2. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    I'm going to pass this one over to Dave Bailey..the more I know the more I find tango is full of contradictions..

    as to an organised body..forget it, it would be like herding cats......
  3. Nathan

    Nathan Member

    Angry, feral cats! :kitty:

    I would start by saying that every person who dances tango has their own unique style. Being a good tango dancer means having enough technical proficiency (i.e. body control) to interpret the music how one chooses, as well as a strong understanding of how their partner's body moves in order to communicate fluently via the embrace.

    A good teacher is able to hone a student's technique and musical sense to the point where they are comfortable to dance with and can develop their own style. The best ones can even make this arduous process fun!
  4. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    One of the many contradictions in tango is the 'myth' that we develop a personal style. I don't think it's true at all - just watch what happens if you step out of line in respect of your community's expected norms. Without doubt, there is a range of styles within the tango genre, and a good deal of energy seems to be devoted, one way or another, to argue in favour of one (or, more usually, against another).

    Personally, I think that codifying the generally accepted styles (which will change, over time) would be a good thing, and help inexperienced dancers to adopt a style that suits them as dancers. Most of us have nothing like enough flair or natural ability to actually 'develop' a style of our own, but of course, we do internalise the styles that we are attracted to (or are taught), and make them our own.
  5. Mladenac

    Mladenac Well-Known Member

    completely agree with nathan.

    Teacher should teach how student can move with minimum effort.
    In addition to that very important is to teach student how to adapt to various situations e.g. height difference, embrace differences, crowd, etc.

    It mustn't be "It my way or highway" approach.
  6. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    That could almost be a quote from Walter Laird. What he actually said was that dance technique was based on the 'physical princliples required to achieve a maximum amount of efficiency (which will, of course, be the most beautiful to the human eye)'.

    His seminal work, defining Latin American technique did the genre no harm at all - quite the reverse - and the need for periodic revisions to the text demonstrated that the technique reflected dance practise, as it changed over time, as defined by its leading practitioners.

    Something similar, in the tango world, would be of great value. Had it first been written before the end of the Golden Age, apart from anything else, it would now represent a fantastic resourse to better understand the history and development of the dance.
  7. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    One of the most cherished qualities of AT, among AT dancers, is it’s individuality. The fact that it is so unstructured, in terms of pattern and rhythm, means that a leader has to imprint his dance with his own personality.

    If an organization is going to accredit teachers then they must set up a standard to be met. Setting a standard always tends toward homogenization, which would lead to homogenization of students. That would not be consistent with AT.

    The organization must also assert that their accreditation carries some value, which implies that lacking the accreditation means a teacher lacks that certain value.

    I would say that personal style is not a myth in AT. It’s true that we are all doing the same dance (according to certain definitions and contrary to others), but we’re all doing it differently. Every leader dances differently, moves differently and interprets the music differently. Just ask any follower. And every follower adapts to the leader she is with at that moment.

    The OP suggested that AT dancers usually argue against each other. I don’t think that is true. At root, I think the argument is that every style is fine for those who enjoy that style, as long as dancing that style doesn’t interfere with others dancing their preferred style. In other words, dance as you wish to, but adhere to floor etiquette.
  8. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    On the other hand, teaching is a very different activity from dancing, and I think some teacher training would be beneficial. I do not agree with offering a certification. That would imply that a teacher is “good” if certified, and not “good” if not certified.

    Many years ago I had the opportunity to attend a teacher-training seminar and it helped me become a better teacher. However, the training must be directed at becoming a better teacher, and not directed at how to teach a certain dance.

    I’ve presented some of my ideas about teaching here.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 25, 2017
  9. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    I quite agree. Probably the most important element of any teaching qualification is its assessment of teaching ability. My society's Diploma gives equal weight to dance demonstration, the understanding of technique and teaching ability. A pass mark in each section is necessary to pass the Diploma, regardless of brilliance in one or two other sections.

    In my observation of the dance tuition 'business' the thing that sets good teachers apart from bad ones is their ability to teach, not to dance.
  10. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    I think it's very true, and not a myth at all. I know a guy who started when I started, with the same teachers, our age, size, weighth, dedication to the dance, shoes, number of BsAs trips are similar, we often attend the same festivals and so on. Yet a common friend of ours told us that dancing with me and with him is completely different, to the point that she needs some time to adjust when we switch.
  11. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Perhaps 'myth' is the wrong word, or we are meaning something different by 'personal style'. Everyone I dance with 'feels' different, even when I am dancing a standardised figure in a Ballroom dance. We are all different, and we move differently. I think that is just an inherent characteristic of any dancer. Some dance genres are more 'free' than others, and admit of a wider range of latitude than others, and AT certainly tends towards the 'free' end of the scale, whereas, perhaps, Viennese Waltz is at the other.

    What I mean by 'myth' is that I don't see individual dancers (but bear in mind that I haven't seen many, at all) really dancing anything individualistically 'different' from their peers. There is a vocabulary of movement in AT, just as in every other genre, and it's narrower that some would think. An experienced dancer could see a You Tube clip of a couple dancing, with the sound off, and be able to say, in a split second, what the dance was (although that doesn't apply to very old people dancing modern sequence dancing - you could watch the whole dance, and usually still have no idea what they are doing (joke!)). There aren't enough possibilities for us all to have invented our own tango. If we did, we wouldn't be able to dance together - but I fully accept that there is a wide range of styles of execution by individuals within the confines of the genre. If there were no confines, then it would have to be OK if I led off with 100% Ballroom Tango (or something not recognisable at all), in the expectation that the first dance of the tanda wouldn't also be my last. But it is not so.
  12. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    At the places where I typically dance, I see lots of different styles. There can be a consequence if the floorcraft is exceptionally bad, but I've never seen the venom at milongas that I've seen on internet forums, about nuevo and close embrace at the same milonga. It's only about floor craft.

    Now as for the "myth" of everyone having their own personal style, I suppose it comes down to how one defines a "style". FWIW, what I've typically heard is that everyone should aspire to have their own style, not that everyone actually does.
  13. Peaches

    Peaches Well-Known Member

    Agree with others here. Individual style is not a myth, and there's absolutely no way I want to see an accreditation sort of thing going on. Currently, at least, if I saw anyone touting any sort of accreditation I'd run screaming the other way. I particularly liked both Nathan's and Andabien's description of a good teacher.
  14. Nathan

    Nathan Member

    The number of archetypal figures/steps is finite: the ways in which they can be modified are practically endless (on account of several of the variables involved being not discrete, but continuous). Beyond that, many people do include truly unique elements in their dancing, but they always have to compensate somehow to make it understandable within the context of tango. This is difficult to do.

    As for whether everyone has their own style or not, I would argue that they definitely do! That said, not everyone moves past being hindered by their (lack of) technique... it's like one of those old TV's with bad reception, where one can still watch the show, but it's hard to see it through all the static. The style is there, but sometimes it can be downright unwatchable. :eyebrow:
  15. plugger

    plugger Member

    I would hate to see a syllabus govern the teaching of AT, or Lindy or West Coast or Shag or Salsa, for that matter. The quality of dancers and teachers (Tete, Susana, Mario Robau, etc.) is not something that be measured and compared exactly, like the height of a mountain. People who watch them dance and experience their teaching can form opinions of their worth and share those opinions. Ultimately, dancers will make up their own minds which roads they want to travel.
  16. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Thank you to those who have taken the time to respond to my questions.

    The first part has been covered quite well, but I am probably more interested in the second aspect - that of the process of teacher formation (in AT, specifically). It seems that the concensus is for teachers to be drawn from the tango community, rather than to be 'trained' by an organisation with a wider interest in dance, so a teacher could be said to be a first-among-equals (perhaps).

    How do they make the transition from dancer to teacher, or is it just trial and error?
  17. Dave Bailey

    Dave Bailey New Member

    Oh, right, so I know nothing, huh? :p

    Reminds me of Terry Pratchett's description of witches: "The natural size of a coven is one" :)
  18. Dave Bailey

    Dave Bailey New Member

    The problem with certification is that you need to certify against an agreed set of standards first.

    See "herding cats"...

    Very good link, thanks for reminding me of that.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 25, 2017
  19. Dave Bailey

    Dave Bailey New Member

    I actually wouldn't mind a syllabus per se - that is, if you define "syllabus" as "a standardised set of guidelines for a teaching plan".

    Unfortunately, the ones I've seen so far have been simply lists of moves (all the "adas"), which are frankly worse than useless.

    But a syllabus which, for example, focussed on the following:
    - Steps (forward, back, side, pivot)
    - Lead / follow (initiation, free leg, sequence)
    - Posture and axis
    - Embrace (close, open, in between)
    - Musicality (beat, timing, structure)

    That'd be a good starting point for a syllabus, I think. At least, that's pretty much the sort of thing I use.
  20. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    From my background, I want structure and definitions. It all depends on whether it would be possible to determine the fundamental issues around which there could be broad agreement, and then to determine a vocabulary or method by which they could be defined/illustrated.

    I believe that AT is built from fundamental elements, and a syllabus that has a page or two of introductory waffle, and then lots of tables illustrating a set of predetermined moves, has got it completely wrong. However, another approach could work better, but is unlikely to come out of one of the teaching societies, unless, existing members take up the social dance at a high level, and then write a text themselves, and get it adopted by their peers.

    It must be possible to articulate the basic principles of this dance in a form of language that can be shared with others. How is the cross led? Is the lead different in cross system, and if so, how (and why)? What are the mechanics of an ocho? How is it danced and how was it led? The development of a 'technique' needn't be limiting or prescriptive if it is prepared in the right way and with the right approach. There are lots of ways of doing all sorts of things, but a basic syllabus could aim to illustrate a simple way to dance particular actions that would work for most people, most of the time. Beyond that, comes personal development, individuality and flair, but most of us have those attributes only to a modest extent...

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