Saturday, August 18, 2012

Do us a favor. Don't teach!

ave you ever found an old letter that you wrote?  

It is amazing to go back to that moment.  There's a good chance that the relationship with that person is now totally different.  But what if that letter was to yourself? Chances are that the relationship with yourself has changed.

Today, I was looking for something else, and I came across a letter-to-myself, telling myself that it would be ill-advised ever to become a tango teacher.

So the good news is that I have taken my own advice not be a tango teacher.  Well, kind of.  If I fail at being a Master Beginner, then I will default into being "one-up," and start teaching.  I do not want to say bad things about teachers!  It's just that I don't want to be one.  
I have had amazing teacher/mentors in all departments of my life.  They all had a special quality and expertise.  I appreciate all who endeavor to bring others forward this designation has many more poor examples of helping others than good examples.

So, the goal is not to be a teacher but a "Master Beginner."  This alternate term, Master Beginner, which I used in my last post, surprisingly does not appear in any Internet search engines.  The Zen term shoshin is a highly developed concept that speaks to the same concept of the Master Beginner.  However, as I understand shoshin (beginner's mind), I wish not to be the expert who uses a beginner's mind but to truly become the beginner and help other's to avoid becoming "experts" away from their center.   Many experts find themselves having to return to Square One.  My guess is that we should never leave our starting point.  And to remind myself I am not a teacher, I won't charge at the little studio who has invited me.

Back to my letter to myself.  I wrote this in Washington DC, back in Noverber 2010:


Here is a letter to myself for the day that I get the (probably ill-informed) idea that I might be ready to teach tango:

Dear Mark:

Please remember these seven things, if you think you are now ready to teach, especially #7 --

1. Diversity is Good:  Respect the spectrum of tango (milonguero, salón, nuevo).  You don't have to do what theologians have done and start wars and kill each over our differences.

2. Help the Gene pool:  Have your students go to different milongas from different teachers.

3. Take care of your own soul:  Dance 100% with the person you are dancing outside of a lesson.  You have danced with teachers who examined you but were not truly present -- like someone listening to a Bach Cantata at a concert next to you, but not there with you.  Hold that woman. Make her feel as if she is the only woman in the world.

4. Practice the Art of Dancing for Yourself:  Dance with people outside your "stable."  It is amazing how limited teachers become and are unable to read anything they do not intellectually/experientially know. You can dance all night with all levels of dancers, and then a teacher cannot follow the same thing you have done with everyone else -- a true sign that they have been dancing within in their own studio too much.

5. Performance Anxiety Medicine:  Talented teachers help dancers from seeking blame when things go wrong.  The music is the leader ideally and both partners create together when the leader is fully acknowledged.

6. How to Protect a Woman:  Floorcraft is the science of many couples dancing together.  Ultimately it is protecting one woman and then protecting all the woman around you.  Their legs are exposed.  Floorcraft is the main subject in every class on social tango, right?

7.  The Real Subject is NOT Tango:  This could have been #1, but I saved it for last as it is the most important.  The real subject is not tango. What you are teaching mostly is how a person can enjoy themselves, love themselves,  reach out to others and feel the tender touch of another person.  An ocho cortado is only a way to get to this real goal.  The greatest teachers in history have inspired the student to thirst knowledge not to HAVE knowledge.  If your students feel depressed and you make them feel as if they know so little after your class, please consider just going back to dancing and not teaching.  Two towns that I know of that have an inordinate amount of judgmental tangueras, and in both cases this phenomenon is the teacher's misunderstanding of the Real Subject.

In a few words:  Teaching is a calling.  Mark, tango communities need teachers who are advocates for the love of primarily dancing not watching tango and the succor of a vibrant, local tango community.  Be a good teacher with the goal of making great tangueros/tangueras.

You will be a good teacher.
You will be a good teacher.
You will be a good teacher.
You will be a good teacher.

Note on this 2010 now on 18 August 2012:  My letter to myself was pretty good advice, but some things will be amended.  More on that later!   


  1. Yes, I think that's a nice, brief examination of the pitfalls of being a professional.

    It brings obligations, it has big dangers and disadvantages, and it takes preparation, thought, and the right sort of personality to fulfil the obligations and overcome the dangers and disadvantages. I see different people struggling with each of the things on your list - which is most difficult varies.

    Of course that assumes that the person still wants to be a good social dancer and has that as a real personal priority, which is not the case for everyone. For some it really is just a profession. For them the tradeoffs are different.

    I suppose all professions have their hazards - mine has rounded shoulders and eye strain.

    1. Hola Ms. Hedgehog! So glad to see a comment from you. Of course many are great teachers and SHOULD charge and SHOULD make a living. We can benefit from their teaching. But they also might consider using their talent to PROTECT the very thing they love -- tango. I perhaps am overstating for others, but the title was for myself. Teachers who try to make dancers who get a thrill of having the whole floor to themselves and the tango community as a captive audience do a great disservice to the future of tango. Any dance or music that becomes too complex will soon dwindle and die. Jazz did that. Again, perhaps I overstate, but I do see our tango communities as being fragile, easily destroyed in just a few generations. Make that years or even months. -- Mark

  2. Thanks, Mark! I posted a Russian translation of the Seven Principles here apropos a discussion about "true tango" in general, and sprinter's vs. long-distance runner's tango in particular.


  3. Mockba! Thanks for sending us the link. It was interesting (via a translator) to read your Russian discussion page. You describe me as a bit naive but sincere! Maybe this is the best compliment I have ever received. (But I am not sure because I am naive.) :-)

    My desire to avoid teaching had me invent a term I like: Master Beginner. Shouldn't a Master Beginner be "Naive but always sincere"? :-)

    The 7 things to remember are not Principals, and I have changed these "important things" over time. That, as I mentioned in the blogs final sentences, will have to be a future blog. The 7 important points to remember were to future self who has met himself in the older letter. In the updated thoughts on "being present" (also known as teacher), I am now telling myself, I still will not be a teacher. I will be present and if I am successful, I will not have people dancing like me, but dancing who they are.

    Truly you have given me a great idea about naivete and sincerity. I tell my "patients" as a "therapist" (something I never call them or myself) that in order to overcome PTSD, one must join in the delusions of the masses (that we are safe -- because being delusional is "normal"). So it is with being naive: Join me and be sincere too. But in this case it is NOT to be normal but be who you are which is very far from normal and very close to unique. Servus aus Deutschland! Mark

  4. Yeah Google translation is mostly on target, if with a few rather peculiar exceptions (like thinking that tanda is "tandem" and "cute kitty" must be a Navy SEAL LOL).

    Naivete-wise, I think it cuts quite close to "integrity" in tango, although a tango cynic may also be brutally honest, too! I think I often play your therapy tricks to myself around the dance floor, sort of blinding myself to perceptions of snobbery or cliquishness, instilling a belief that we are all in the same boat / in the same benevolent secret society. Because to think that there are dangers of bias and rejection and contempt in the social circle of fellow tangueros, it would only make me bristle with reverse contempt, and that's not how I want to be at a milonga!

    PS: there's another beautiful translation from your blog in the same Russian forum - alas, not mine.


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