Kinesthetic Traditions and Learning

When I discuss tango teaching methods with other ballroom teachers, particularly with the previous generation of ballroom teachers, many of them reference a confounding mysticism that they experienced from "authentic" Argentine Tango teachers. I don't think this is necessarily a product of bad or inexperienced teachers, but rather the means by which those teachers were themselves taught.

Several of my own teachers have described learning in Buenos Aires in a sort of apprenticeship- having an experienced milonguero or maestro take an interest in them and teaching through demonstration. The expectation was that the student would learn through observation, replication, and experimentation.

There is much to commend in this method- an emphasis on action and movement rather than discussion and accountability on the part of the student to work some things out for themselves. Focusing on this method of teaching can come at the expense of future teachers- having never had language put to the forefront when learning, there is also less language or less consistent language at hand when teaching the next generation of dancers. Ever had two different teachers disagree on what a term meant?

Contrast this with highly codified dances like ballet, which despite its French vocabulary has managed to develop a strong and consistent pedagogy internationally, partly due to the risks of imperfectly performed movement.

Good teachers have to transmit their knowledge to students at whatever level and through whatever methods, whether through demonstration or explanation. While movement can affect us in ways that defy words, it takes carefully cultivated language in training to foster those abilities in a larger audience.