The right teacher for the right time

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A recent experience made me appreciate just how much is involved in a great teacher-student relationship.

It starts with compatible goals. A student who collects moves in much the way a philatelist collects stamps will need a different teacher from one who wants to achieve a certain level of proficiency with one move before embarking upon another.

A student with a background in dance, and a solid understanding of biomechanics, will need a very different approach to one who has only recently managed to accurately count his limbs.

One who needs to start with the big picture – how should this move look and feel? – won’t gel well with a teacher who spends half an hour on how to enter a move and doesn’t describe how it ends until seven lessons later.

I have three huge advantages in this endeavour. First, a life-partner who has been dancing for six years and has already found a great teacher. Second, a highly experienced follower who can figure out my intention from what sometimes amounts to little more than a vague hint. And third, my own awareness of how I learn. I’m endlessly curious, so have learned many, many things in my life. I have a good understanding of my own learning process; of what works and what doesn’t, for me.

Teaching is, in my view, a two-way process. The student listens to the teacher when it comes to the topic on which the teacher is the expert – in this case, tango. And the teacher listens to the student when it comes to the topic on which the student is the expert: how they learn.

Mariano is only in the UK once a fortnight, and I wanted a second lesson in the alternate week. I had a trial lesson with a teacher who I knew by the end could teach me a huge amount … a year from now. They would be fantastic at refining a move to the nth degree; but their approach was to carry out the first 5% of a move, pause, analyse that 5%, then resume. So I never got a sense of the overall look and feel of the move, and consequently the detail was mostly lost on me.

That doesn’t make them a bad teacher, or even the wrong teacher for me – just not the right teacher for where I am right now. A year from now, when I have some fluency with a bunch of moves, I’m positive they could be of huge value in refining what I do.

So, for now, the hunt continues for a second teacher. A friend suggested a kind of interview process, where I ask about their approach to teaching. I certainly think an approach of explaining how I learn and how I don’t, and asking whether they think they could offer what I need, could help.

I have another recommendation for someone who might perhaps be the right teacher for the right time. Watch this space …

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