I’m doing lots of reading about tango, and one thing I came across was someone quoting an Argentine tango teacher when he was asked should you do x or y? His answer was often: yes. There is value in both. Try them both. Use whichever feels right at the time.
That’s how I feel about private and group lessons …
I’m in the fortunate position of being able to do some of each. Not that I could afford to do only privates – but even if I could, I wouldn’t. Because each has their strengths and weaknesses. I can write only from the perspective of a trainee leader, but I’m sure the same applies to followers too.
There are, of course, lots of benefits to privates. You can agree objectives with the teacher. For example, I wanted to work solely on my walk for a time. A teacher who tried to devote a series of group lessons to ‘only’ walking would likely lose students pretty quickly.
Lessons progress at your own pace. If I understand something immediately, we can move on to the next thing. If I struggle with something, we can stick with it until it clicks.
If you are dancing with the teacher, they can feel everything you are doing. If you are dancing with your partner, the teacher can see everything. You have 100% of their attention for the duration of the lesson, not for a few minutes of it.
So if you can afford some private lessons, I would highly recommend it. But even if you’re as rich as Trump pretends to be, I’d still go to group classes too – for a number of reasons.
One, you get to dance with lots of different partners. That’s hugely valuable, because you discover that what works with one partner may not work with another. I may think my lead is clear because one partner gets it, but find that I need to make it clearer for another. Which is exactly the kind of adaptability required for social dancing.
Two, you get a better sense of your own development. I’m very goal-focused, so at any given time I’m much more focused on what I can’t yet do (where I want to be) than what I can. That can make it hard to see my own progress at times. But if I’m with fellow beginners, I can get a sense of where I am in terms of the overall learning curve for the class.
Three, when you see other people struggling with the exact same things, it’s reassuring. You get a far better appreciation that this stuff takes time. That it’s perfectly normal to learn how to juggle three balls, only to find yourself dropping ball one when you try to add a fourth. That two steps forward and one step back is not just a possible dance sequence but also the way it goes in learning tango.
Four – and this one is at least as important as the rest – you make friends in the emerging tango scene. Which means that, as you start going to milongas, you will already know people there. There will be people you’ve already danced with in classes or practicas. (I’m in the fortunate position that Steph introduces me to lots of people, including those generous enough to dance with an early-stage beginner, but I don’t expect them to devote much time to doing so.)
And don’t underestimate the personal attention a skilled teacher can offer in a group class. They may only spend two or three minutes of the class working with you individually, but I’ve found that the value they can deliver in that time is incredibly impressive. I’ve given examples in earlier posts, but they aren’t the only ones. I don’t think there’s been a single group lesson when the teacher hasn’t offered some personal feedback that has proven to be a key piece of the puzzle.
So that’s my take. Given a budget that raises the question ‘private or group lessons?’ my answer would be: yes.