one day at a time

day 77: autumn leaves and church window

autumn leaves and church window © Verena Fischer 2011

autumn leaves and church window © Verena Fischer 2011

The other day I read this very interesting post about the dangers of starting to teach tango too early. I have been thinking about these exact issues the last few days after going to a few tango classes this week. I myself have learned the basics from a course run by university students for free and only much later I have taken “proper” classes. I have to say that these proper tango classes have taught me next to nothing, because the classes I happened to take only focused on figures. Maybe it was important to have experienced them all, but the impact on my dancing at the time was not noticeable. I’m a follower and it always seemed as if nobody actually leads all these figures, because social dancing happens to be much more basic than what tango potentially offers in options. You only have to watch a tango performance and you can see that tango has a bigger repertoire than what most people can safely integrate into their social dancing. Therefore I always had the opinion that as a follower I can actually learn much more useful knowledge from just practicing a lot, i.e. dancing in milongas with open-minded people, sharing tips in practicas and from the occasional one off workshop where one of the teachers comes over and corrects some detail.

Of course, after a few years of experience I’m rethinking this opinion in part. My reason is the problem of bad habits. They creep in easily and are much easier to correct if caught early on by a good teacher. However, also for this all you need is regular visits to a practica given by a good teacher. Finding good teachers is difficult though. As the aforementioned article describes many tango teachers start teaching way too early after only 2 or 3 years of dancing. As a result they get stuck with their own bad habits. To keep up the pretence of being an expert they necessarily have to stop going to classes themselves, they get stuck with their prematurely formed opinions and quite likely fail to develop their dancing further since there necessarily is a lack of input from the outside once you yourself are supposed to be the expert. The worst thing about self-proclaimed experts is that as a result their bad habits ripple through the tango scene. Here in Berlin we have many of those “experts”. Some joke that every second dancer claims to be a teacher.

The other day I witnessed a class that encouraged leaders to walk backwards in a tight circle. This is beyond being a bad habit, it’s sheer madness in my view! This finally explained to me why many of the milongas here are chaotic if not even dangerous. Nobody seems to tell people that they should be considerate enough not to invade the space of other dancers. No matter how tightly you spin that circle when you walk backwards in such a fashion, it won’t grow you new eyes on the back of your head. While you move backwards all sorts of things could happen behind you and you won’t even know since you don’t see where you’re going. Sure, a tight circle lessens the danger of collision somewhat, but it’s still inconsiderate dancing behaviour, because you’re likely to invade the dancing space of dancers behind you without even noticing. If you teach your students this bad habit, you might as well encourage them to dart sideways into the way of other dancers if you need space, or you could actively teach them this awful habit some people have here of turning in wide circles with their elbow outstretched on a full dance floor.

Yes, an outstretched elbow will open up some room very quickly. Yes, going backwards can give you space too. Even darting sideways into the way of other dancers will get you space. You’re actually stealing the space of other dancers! I watch these experts dance and many have all of these bad habits. No matter how good their dancing might look at times, there is one basic lesson they have not learned themselves: How to be considerate! Although tango can be hard, this part is not exactly rocket science. Dancing in an inconsiderate fashion just to have enough space to show off might be enough to impress beginners. However, the people who actually know a thing or two about tango and just want to have a nice evening won’t be impressed at all. And that means that they certainly won’t go to your classes either.

The picture shows a church window I see almost every day.

4 responses

  1. jantango

    It’s interesting that you mention “walking backward in tight circles.” I commented to a dance friend the other day that this is something done by most of the old milongueros with whom I’ve danced, but yet it’s not something that is taught. The old milongueros have no problem dancing with limited space. Those walking circles (forward and backward) are useful for that reason. I believe they are called “corridas.” They are used in tango and vals with variations in rhythm. I enjoy them.

    October 31, 2011 at 4:56 am

    • You’re right, I also know leaders who can pull off such a backward circle without a problem. It’s a matter of being able to predict the space behind you, which is possible in certain circumstances. My issue is more with teaching it to people before they’re advanced enough to handle it in this specific environment. What I write is generally also very specific to Berlin, because the dance floors here are very full and very unpredictable with people overtaking, changing lanes and darting into any open space without care or consideration. Here it’s actually hard enough to predict what will happen in front of you to abandon the possibility of walking backwards for the reasons I described in the post. As far as I know the dance floors in Buenos Aires are much more ordered and predictable and this becomes indeed a very enjoyable addition to the repertoire. I assume why it’s not taught there although the old milongueros do it is precisely because you have to be able to judge when it’s appropriate and when not. A “corrida” is as far as I know double time walking (, but nevermind, I also mix up these names. Thanks for your interesting comment!

      October 31, 2011 at 10:46 am

  2. jantango

    The corridas don’t require anymore space than a turn. The problem is those who take big steps on crowded floors. The music tells the old milongueros what to do in the dance, so the corrida is useful for dancing on spot instead of progressing.

    Tango for the old milongueros is improvising in the moment, walking and turning. I consider the corridas basic to tango, not advanced. If learned from the beginning, they are easily incorporated at any time.

    I’ve been dancing in the milongas of BsAs regularly for the past 12 years. I can’t describe them as ordered and predictable as they were years ago. There are Argentines and foreigners alike who cause the chaos. It takes only a few couples without consideration for others to make it unpleasant for all. Those who can’t keep up with the flow of traffic cause the problem.

    Videos of Ricardo Vidort present examples of an old milonguero who used corridas.

    October 31, 2011 at 4:17 pm

  3. Great perspective in your photo which is emphasized by the bit of branch framing it at the top. Beautiful simple brickwork pattern too. I can’t comment on your tango talk as I know absolutely nothing about the dance except it is lovely to watch and the music is intriguing.

    November 1, 2011 at 11:57 pm

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