2017 brought 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. Newsletters and social media breathlessly extol the virtues of these “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 the standard and quality of social Tango dance?
Guest teachers may encourage new entrants to try the dance and may encourage beginners to keep dancing. Many offer enjoyabe performances at associated milongas.
You can't learn (or learn about) Tango in a week. It’s like learning a musical instrument, It takes years of dedicated learning, practice and discussion. 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.
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.
Some of the guest teachers are, we know, very nice dancers, others are (or have been) high-profile performers. Others are less than inspiring. Some of the promotional videos demonstrate a seriously deficient Tango technique for social dancing and, in some cases, performance. Reading the cv’s of most of the guest teachers reveals that many are the product 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 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 $200.
Much of what they teach is figures-based modified performance. it is understandable since it's what we see on YouTube and in stage shows, however people are learning a style of modified demonstration/performance and creating a new social dance. It’s OK if that's what you want to dance. Perhaps it suits the Western sensibility and understanding of dance as a fun recreation, like jive, swing, salsa or New Vogue. 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 the British ballroom teaches to create a judge-able curriculum? Sound familiar?
Whilst the visiting teachers (and their local supporters) “talk the talk” about improvisation, creativity, 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 through to 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. 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 connection, relaxation and silent communication. What results is a sublime partnership.
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. Your local teachers deserve more respect.