The right teacher for the right time


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 …

Photo: Shutterstock

One simple sign


Judging progress can be difficult. People talk about a kind of zig-zag in tango. One lesson, everything clicks and is perfect and you feel you’re doing fabulously. The next, everything feels terrible and nothing works and you feel you’re a lost cause.

I’ve been doing pilates for only a little longer than tango, and there it feels even harder to see progression. Maybe an exercise feels a little smoother here and there, but mostly I rely on our teacher’s assessment.

But every now and then …

I can balance really well on a bicycle or motorcycle: I often used to win ‘slow races,’ which are all about balance. But I’ve never had great balance when standing on one foot. I generally carry out a site survey and formal risk assessment before putting on a sock. I knew I’d have to improve my balance for tango, so asked our pilates teacher for one lesson focused on that.

Aside from standing on a balance board for a while, it didn’t feel like much of the lesson was overtly geared to that, and trying a balance ball at home afterwards, I could see and feel no visible progress. Steph was able to stand on it doing a fine impression of a rock; I looked rather more akin to a yacht being tossed around the ocean in a force ten gale.

But side-steps in my next lesson did feel more solid. And putting on my sock the next day, I discovered something amazing: I was able to stand, almost perfectly still, on either leg! When I got back on the balance ball, I was almost stationary on that too.

I could even follow Steph’s lead into a yoga move, lifting the other leg up and alternating between holding it in front of, and behind, me. That’s something I could never have imagined would happen so quickly. I was so surprised I almost fell over.

My first dance


A tango dancing friend protested I was having it all too easy. Private lessons and a highly experienced follower on tap. Not like in her day, when you had to (tango) walk 43 miles through the snow in your bare feet, listening to scratchy music through a crystal radio with a broom for a dance partner …

Continue reading My first dance

Things that click in the night


Tango is just walking in time to the music.

The lie is compelling because we all know how to walk. Most of us have been doing it since before our first birthday, and like to think we’ve got the hang of it by now. The deception is of course revealed in the very first lesson.

‘Push from the floor with your rear leg, don’t reach out with your front one.’

‘Walk with a swagger, but not pushing your hips forward.’

‘Lead with your chest, but take your power from the floor’ …

Continue reading Things that click in the night

Five lessons and a milonga


Curiosity and obsession …

I get curious about anything and everything. I flirt with understanding everything from the construction of modern skyscrapers to how DLR trains know where they are. But every now and then, I take an intellectual lover.

My bookmarks were packed full of articles on everything from floor-craft to musicality. Our cleaner was bemused by my practicing my walk in my home office before work. YouTube had virtually stopped recommending anything that wasn’t a tango video. From flirtatious glance to tango leaving her toothbrush in my bathroom had taken but a few weeks …

Continue reading Five lessons and a milonga

The impossible journey


‘Love music, can’t dance’ had had for so long been a part of my self-identification that the very notion of this not being an established fact seemed hard to imagine. And yet it was an illusion shattered with a single evening of ceroc.

I discovered, to my great surprise, that when you combine a halfway decent musical ear with some well-taught fixed steps, the result is something which looks not entirely dissimilar to dance.

In retrospect, it ought to have been abundantly obvious that this was merely step one in Steph’s Machiavellian plan to turn a non-dancer into some variety of tanguero …

Continue reading The impossible journey

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