Beginner classes

The comments on my last post have me thinking about beginner classes. A lot of women have trouble maintaining stillness—I know that at first I, too, had a tendency to “help” the leaders in my beginner class. I knew what they were trying to do, so why not help? Then I started attending practicas and realized how hard it is to follow when you don’t know what’s coming next (because it isn’t the sequence your teacher just taught you). That is when, I believe, I started focusing on stillness. It was about 3 months into my tango journey.

I also know that, at those first practicas, I got funny looks from perfectly good leaders. I know they were giving me clear leads, and I wasn’t hearing them. I would stand and stare at them, and they would stare back in bewilderment. But I explained that I didn’t know what they expected of me, and so we would dissect and explore that movement. It was hard to stand there like a fool, but in the end I am a better follower for doing it.

Which takes me back to my very first beginner class. Why didn’t the class address this? Why didn’t followers learn to be still? I think I know the cause: We learned steps and sequences, and we learned them alongside the leaders. I strongly believe that the best beginner class would take the followers aside and work on fundamental technique while the leaders learned how to lead a particular step. The followers could practice stillness, as well as assertive walking, “hearing” a directional lead, torsion, balance, and so on. Then everyone would come together, and leaders could try to lead the followers in whatever step they just learned. Followers wouldn’t even be able to anticipate and help, which would benefit both parties.

I know there are practical challenges for this kind of class: Beginners aren’t even sure they care about this dance, so you want to get them into it so that they feel like they are dancing right away; they may have come with a partner and see this as an activity for them to do together, so they aren’t excited about spending most of the class apart; they are more interested in the class as a social activity (read: way to meet people of the opposite sex) than for the dance itself; they goof up more often, so they can’t immediatly see the ROI. I could go on, but you already know what I am talking about. It isn’t necessarily practical for a teacher concerned about student retention to teach this way. But couldn’t it ultimately lead to better leaders and followers?

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3 thoughts on “Beginner classes

  1. i started tango lessons about 10 months ago… on a sporadic basis. I’m the kind of person who hops around from studio to studio till I find a dance teacher I like, and i’ve now onto teacher #7, who is very thorough about lead, follow and technique. Its kinda awesome.

    So, my partner and I are obviously learning backwards, but now we’re not so intimidated about learning “steps”, which as an outsider, seem sooo difficult, but when you try dancing, you realize communicating with your partner is the hardest part of social dancing.

    It is frustrating that after months, we’re still learning the basics, but maybe beginners need to figure out WHY they need to learn how to walk, balance, lead and follow properly first.

  2. I suppose there’s no reason, on the face of it, to assume that any teaching technique likely to produce good dancing is also likely to retain beginner students. So there may be a real conflict there that has to be resolved.

    Unless of course the beginners actually want to dance well. So I suppose that means the problem the teacher has to solve is communicating what it means to dance well and persuading the beginners that that’s what’s being taught.

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