Las clases

I practiced leading again last weekend, and I have developed a strong opinion about one thing in particular: The best classes do not pair up beginning leaders and beginning followers. A truly great class would pair up beginning leaders with experienced followers and beginning followers with experienced leaders. And if it’s hard to entice experienced dancers to come to a class for beginners (although there is always room for reviewing the fundamentals and encouraging new dancers), perhaps they could come to the class for free and/or have a practica afterwards in which everyone could dance with everyone else.

It might be obvious why I am advocating this, but I will elaborate anyway. I noticed, as a very beginning follower, that I wasn’t really learning how to follow while taking classes with other beginners. I helped the leaders too much. I overcompensated for their faults and also had trouble recognizing my own. It wasn’t until I got to practicas and started dancing with more advanced leaders that I really advanced in my following. If I felt that way as a beginning follower, I feel even more so as a beginning leader. Leading a very beginning follower last weekend felt impossible – I knew that I was making mistakes, but I couldn’t separate them at all from my follower’s mistakes. And, as a follower myself, I had to fight the urge to hyperevaluate my follower (placing all the blame on her, pointing out everything she needed to correct, etc). I wanted to avoid that. I wanted help with my own dancing.

The class went ok, and I learned the basics ideas of what I should be doing, but it wasn’t until I danced with one of the teachers that I really figured out what was going on. No, I wasn’t having trouble getting into cross system, but I needed to be using my torso more as I led ochos. (I didn’t dare use it more with my beginning follower, who was already pivoting herself plenty!) Later, when I danced a couple songs with this same teacher, it was easy to identify all the places where I need to focus my attention. I was aware of changes I need to make in my posture, steps that I don’t make as smoothly as I could, etc. Those ten minutes with the teacher were probably more helpful than the other hour of class, and not just because of her verbal feedback.

Would you have liked to have mixed-level classes as a beginner? Now that you have experience, what would entice you to come to a beginning class to help new dancers? Would you also consider attending a milonga targeted at beginners? (I now feel guilty for not attending a milonga like this, here – one that has shorter tandas to reduce the stress, and one that encourages more experienced dancers to attend in order to help the beginners gain experience and comfort in a milonga setting. I may start going, when I can.)

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6 thoughts on “Las clases

  1. i would go to a practica designed for beginners, if i could get in for free. 🙂 given there are some experienced leaders, that is — to break the flow of so-so tandas with a couple of nice ones, here and there. i’m not sure about milongas though. maybe free entrance and a free drink? 😀although, at only a year into tango myself, i would be considered an advanced beginner, maybe.i also feel as you do — that is why i stopped going to group classes. i found i advanced exponentially dancing with more experienced leaders at practicas/milongas than i ever did in group classes… and those regular privates, though sparse compared to daily group classes, taught me more than i could ever hope to achieve. now that i have a regular dance partner, i have timidly started taking group classes again… we rotate during class, but it’s nice to practice what we learned together right afterwards!

  2. I completely agree with you about classes where beginners dance with beginners. In fact, I believe no one should take group classes at all until they conquer the basic technique. While this may seem too expensive at first thought, if people are aware of how much more expensive it is to later on take privates to rid themselves of bad habits learned at the beginning, they would start out learning correctly.After you’ve got a solid technical base (and know when you’re doing something wrong), then it can be fun to take group classes to meet people and to socialize.The advantage of a private class is that the instructor is watching you like a hawk and won’t let bad movements become permanent. Soon you will be able to correct yourself when you make a mistake.Also a woman will know what it feels like to be led by a good leader, and a man will learn to be a strong leader–something that can’t happen memorizing steps and patterns.

  3. Nuit, I like the idea of taking group classes along with a regular partner. I don’t have a regular partner, but if I did I would venture back into those group classes to get some new ideas and points to work on. My recent privates have helped so much, along with experimenting during practicas.Cherie, I probably wouldn’t have ever started tango if I had been encouraged to start with privates! I see the value in them now, but I had a lifetime of group classes – and zero privates – in other dance genres. It took me a while to understand how much value I could get out of a private class.That said, I certainly see your point – bad habits are hard to break! And starting with privates could launch beginners forward in terms of technique. But so many dancers are just interested in getting to a decent social level, not in perfecting their dancing … and they don’t ever take privates. In those cases, I think the best idea would be mixing experienced dancers in with beginners in classes and practicas.

  4. When I lived in Aspen, I was one of the only more advanced leaders to regularly show up at the beginner classes. I felt it was my community/civic duty, as a believer in supporting your local tango “community”. I thought it was important for the new followers to “feel” what the lead truly is like. It was always like a lightbulb went off over their head – sometimes I even got the comment “oh, thhaaat’s what it’s supposed to feel like”…I think there is sometimes a disconnect between a “class” mindset and a “community” mindset. Some people just take classes and never really “get” the community, and therefore don’t really support it.

  5. I would love mixed level classes! Right now I’m taking a mixed level close embrace class, and I really like the chance to see how I am moving in response to the different levels. I agree that I probably never would have started tango with privates. Too intimidating.And on that note, for those of us that are quite shy, group classes force us to interact, and to get to know a group of people. I find this really helpful for me.

  6. Hi, Mtnhighmama! I think you and Alex both have a good point – namely the correlation between social relationships/the tango community and learning. It’s great to hear that you get to take a mixed level class! I want to see that happen more around here.

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