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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5 thoughts on “The right teacher for the right time”

  1. ” 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.”

    Great insight: teaching and learning are different things. Question: the teacher is the expert at teaching people to dance tango where?

    “A friend suggested a kind of interview process, where I ask about their approach to teaching.”
    Here’s another: Ask them to dance a little with you as the woman. Then choose the one you liked dancing with best. Better still, find a guy / woman who dances that role, whose social dancing you admire. Ask them to dance with you in practicas / milongas, as the woman. Not teach. Just dance. Because you will learn what good guy dancing is through that experience if you listen (physically) to what’s going on. Pay if necessary.

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  2. A friend suggested learning to follow from the start. I felt my limited tango brain would find that too confusing, but I am now getting small tasters at least – and starting to understand the collaborative nature of the dance.

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  3. “A friend suggested learning to follow from the start.”
    That’s rare. I’d like to meet your friend! Guy or girl?

    Dancing well in the woman’s role is largely a matter of learning to surrender – assuming of course that you like and trust your partner that much, which is a pretty tall order. And a lot of people don’t understand, like or want that version of dance anyway. You can spot them easily – they don’t embrace. But that’s what’s hard for many guys. They are used to control & responsibility. The thing they find hard is not thinking / giving in to feeling / letting go / letting someone else take the responsibility. The other stuff: walking backwards, the stuff you get told to “remember” isn’t important. Those are just trappings that come anyway with time. It’s having the experience that counts.

    You “get” the dance, if you dance as the woman and you have a good partner. Even a bad partner is invaluable. It’s an indelible lesson in what *not* to do to the woman! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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