Tuesday, April 8, 2008

How To Choose A Great Tango Teacher

As tango students we don't talk much about this publicly. But privately we talk about this all the time. What is this behind-the-door topic of conversation I wanted to add to this tango blog?:

"How good is your tango teacher?"

The truth is that not all teachers are created equal. So, if you're looking for a new tango teacher, here are some tips for finding a great one. Your tango teacher should:
1. Focus on technique more than moves. Most teachers can teach a move, but not many are excellent at teaching technique and yet it's technique that is so critical in tango. I had an interesting conversation last week with a friend who went to Buenos Aires for CITA last month. He said some of the best performers were also some of the least adept teachers. Of course, the opposite can be true, too.
2. Give you a lot of feedback. My favorite teachers have a keen eye for what their students need to improve. How much feedback does your teacher give you?
3. Be patient when you have questions. Not all teachers are this way, but my best ones are.
4. Be fun to be around. We spend a lot of money on tango lessons and we spend a lot of time with our teachers, so it helps when we enjoy spending time with them.
5. Be motivational. Some teachers are better at this than others. The best tango teachers I've ever had develop an understanding of what makes each of their students tick over time. Some students need a soft, supportive teacher while others need to be pushed with as much brutal feedback as possible. You know your learning style best, so hopefully you can find a tango teacher that matches it.
6. Loves what they do. Enthusiasm for tango can't be faked and when we see it in our teachers it increases our own motivation to keep learning.
7. Is constantly learning. Tango is a marathon without a finish line and the best teachers are constantly learning and then bringing that back into their classes. There isn't a tango teacher in the world that has reached perfection and the best ones have a great curiosity to keep learning more about tango. I'll always remember watching Nito (Nito & Elba) last summer at Nora's Tango Week. One of the other teachers knew a new move, which Nito was so excited to see that he had the other teacher who was half his age break the move down so he could learn it.

So, think about your teacher. Are you learning a lot from her/him? If so, it will be obvious as you continue to progress in practicas and milongas. But only you can know if your teacher is right for you.


Alex said...

I think feedback is an important distinguishing factor between various teachers. One teacher I had never told me my walk sucked - for almost 8 months. With another teacher - I can dance a demo for 1 minute and they have at least three or four things to "tweak". Looking back, I would always take the teacher who can very lucidly and quickly identify technique elements that need work.

Mark Andersen said...

That's so true, Alex. I, too, get the most out of teachers that can quickly identify what I need to work on the most. It's a real talent among teachers to be able to give great feedback.