Monday, August 8, 2011

Tango Jocks vs Tango Teachers

An interesting supposition: Every great performer on the football field is going to make a great teacher/coach.


Equally unlikely:  Every great performer on the dance floor is going to be a great tango coach.

There are people who have a wide spectrum of talent -- more than one great talent.  Here's an example.

By "both," I meant to say, "both football and dance talent."  Coaching talent and performing talent often do not go hand in hand.  Would you make the assumption that he is also an excellent coach?  It is truly difficult to find is who is a world-class performer and teacher. It's just the way it is. Including in tango.

Last month, I mentioned my friend, Alex, an artist friend (see The Unbalanced Tango Faculty).  My conversations with Alex have taught me some things about the art world, which have some great parallels to the art of tango.  He told me that the students at the prestigious art school he attended noticed a trend:  The best teachers tended not be the best "performers."  The students called this the "dumb jock syndrome" -- a phenomenon they all had experienced in their high school and undergraduate years:   Some great athlete would be able to play very well, but the same athlete perhaps was not the best spokesperson for the sport, nor not necessarily the best candidate to coach others.

In the tango world somehow this phenomenon is not recognized.  How is it that in the tango world we are blind to the same phenomenon in all areas of great talent?  Great performers in every art discipline are not necessarily the best teachers.   Is tango the exception?  A great performer and teacher, Gavito, once complained that people turn to tango performers for great philosophical wisdom.   But why?  Few people in this world have a huge spectrum of talent.  Albert Schweitzer was a physician, an accomplished musician, a J.S. Bach musicologist, a philosopher in ethics, a theologian AND he practiced all of these things while being a missionary helping people in rural Africa as a physician.  I cannot think of a single person who had such a wide spectrum of talent.  I do not mean to disparage talented athletes or performance artists.  Having one extremely developed talent is already way above normal.

So maybe your ONE talent is to be a teacher.  Maybe you are the great teacher in your community.  Don't even pretend to be the best dancer.  Just motivate your students to dance and never stop this wonderful practice of human-movement-as-art.  Teach connection and musicality as the most elementary aspects to tango.  Market these two pillars; so they are not drawn to dancing for others when dancing for one's partner is so powerfully fulfilling.  You would be a genius coach and motivator if you can do this because it is so easy to be pulled into the world of performance and forget your true talent.

May I suggest a syllabus?  Your students will excel because they will:

1.  Learn to walk to music in such a way that their bodies exude joy just from walking.

2. Learn to walk from the start with their partner in close embrace.  (Use a pillow between your students to help simulate connection and leave room for their feet as they focuses on the music.

3. Learn turns -- ONLY because of traffic. Turns can be fun.  But walking, fully tuned to the music's nuances is primal.

4. Learn the life-long practice the above, with the the greatest value for connection and the joy of movement through music.

That's it / Nada mas
Graduation, and off to practice for the rest of one's life.  Go back to number one, and focus now on "walk to music."  That will take a very joyful and interesting long time.  Tango, you see, is the simplest of dances but tango takes a lifetime to learn.  Interesting paradox?

If this sounds easy, then the point of musicality was perhaps lost.  In the four steps above, music, was the only element that was repeated four times.  Your students have just taken up a musical instrument -- their bodies, and it will take a lifetime to become great musicians of this fine instrument.


  1. Mark, I agree that you do not have to be the best dancer to be an inspirational teacher. A great teacher has found a style, technique, moves, etc. s/he feels inspired to share. The syllabus you lay out might be your nucleus, that you will share when you teach. But I don't think there is one set syllabus for a great teacher.

  2. Querida Anónima: You have read between the lines. It is my syllabus. I have no reason to be a teacher -- at least your teacher because I have taught you everything I know already. :-) Also see: "Why I am not a teacher" (homage to Soccrates who said the same).


Please leave a comment with four options:
(1) Here on the blog.
(2 & 3) On the links given above for Facebook/Google+ links.
(4) Comment via email at, which with your permission, I can paste into comments.