Do Touring Tango Teachers Help or Hinder Local Tango Communities?
Updated: May 4, 2019
Visiting Tango shows and demonstrations have long been a hook for attracting people to Tango. One of our early Tango experiences was the popular stage show "Tango Pasion", featuring wonderful performers and the unforgettable Tango "Orquesta Tipica (Typical Tango Band) Sexteto Mayor, led by the great Jose Libertella.
Each year brings another tsunami of visiting Argentine dance teachers to our shores. Some of these touring teachers are US and European based, others from Argentina.
Australia, because of its wealth, has become a prime target for touring professionals. Newsletters and social media advertising breathlessly extol the virtues of the next “maestros” and how lucky we are to be blessed with their presence.
Most of the visitors are hosted by schools as part of their business model or by well-meaning clubs wishing to expose their social dancers to more variety.
But do they help or hinder local Tango communities? Do they improve or inhibit the standard and quality of social Tango dance?
In my experience, guest teachers do not attract significant new interest in Tango. They tend to attract people who have already been introduced to the dance in their local communities.
You can't learn (or learn about) Tango in a week. It’s like learning a musical instrument, It takes years of dedicated learning, regular practice and discourse. It is your local teachers doing the hard graft, week in, year out, teaching, correcting and encouraging all the fundamental technique and discussing the music, the codes, the culture and more.
Some of the guest teachers are, we know, very nice dancers, others are (or have been) high-profile performers. Some are less than inspiring as teachers or social dancers. Some of the promotional videos demonstrate seriously deficient Tango technique for social dancing. Reading the cv’s of many guest teachers reveals that they are graduates of dance schools and universities teaching stage / performance dance, either general or specifically Tango, or they cite the performers they have learned from and the stage shows they have performed in. In the past their primary or initial objective was to obtain work on stage in Tango cabaret shows and on stage, augmented by teaching. Now it is more common for some teachers to make a living touring the world each year. As a rule workshops are expensive by local standards and private classes range up to AU$200.
Much of what they teach is figures-based modified performance. it is understandable, since it's familiar (what we see on You Tube), is entertaining, and workshops can be a fun and sociable few days. Some guest teachers will try to point out the differences between social dancing and performance, but they know two things - 1) Their primary objective is to entertain, and 2) They can not hope to leave an enduring legacy. They inevitably teach a sequence of figures that are mostly forgotten in a few weeks.
However what they do leave is a style of modified demonstration / performance that has created a new social dance. It’s OK if that's what you want to dance. Perhaps it suits Western culture and understanding of dance as a fun recreation, like jive, swing, salsa or New Vogue. Creativity and self-expression are often quoted as desirable objectives.
It is history repeating itself, when Tango morphed into Ballroom Tango in Europe in the 1920’s, introduced first by Argentine visiting and resident teachers and then codified by British ballroom teachers to create a competitive, judge-able curriculum. Sound familiar?
Whilst visiting teachers (and their local supporters) “talk the talk” about improvisation, musicality and emotional connection of the dance, what they do is mostly choreographed and semi-choreographed, just like most other social dances. It is not the social dance, developed in Buenos Aires in the late 19th century, distilled in the crowded city milongas of the '40's and still practiced today in dances all over the city.
Social Tango is not a kick-up-your heels, let-yourself-go kind of good time dance. It is not a “look at me” demonstration of kicks, ganchos and fancy footwork.
The real objective of social Tango is "sharing and caring". Sharing time, space and music in a caring embrace. Sharing the dance with every other couple in the room. Caring for your partner, the music and every other couple in the room.
At its best, Tango is fulfilling, contemplative, collaborative, spiritual, respectful and enchanting. It helps establish balance, awareness, groundedness, centering and harmony. It is a dance of concentration, connection, relaxation and silent communication. What results is a sublime partnership.
When you are good enough to distinguish, filter and question the information from guest teachers, you may learn some new and interesting things in the day or so they are here, each one teaching their own take on or style of Tango.
Bouncing from one workshop or class to the next is a sure-fire recipe for confusion. Tango is very personal; every teacher has a different way of imparting their knowledge and the technique can be very different from one to another.
Novice or average dancers should be aware that they will not become competent social Tango dancers by attending guest workshops. To do that you need the long term commitment of good local teachers. But the flood of guest teachers soaks up the discretionary spend.
So what's the answer?
Enjoy some workshops, have fun, filter what you want to take away.
Observe other dancers and teachers, work out how you want to dance.
Find a local teacher who dances what you prefer.
Honour your local teachers and stick to what you choose until you are really competent.
Remember, it's the journey that counts more than the destination.