Teaching On the Floor

 This is about people who “help” without regard as to whether the recipient is interested.

One of the most annoying, insulting, offensive, disruptive experiences a beginner can have is being corrected, taught, critiqued, while he/she is dancing. This happens way too often and is perpetuated by dancers who impose their preferences upon partners who have less experience than themselves. It is especially offensive at a milonga and is not only frowned upon, it’s part of the Tango Code that milongas are not for teaching.

Teaching on the floor at a Practica can still be unpleasant and undesirable if a lesson has not been requested, but if a less experienced is dancing with a more experienced partner, and the experienced one ASKS their partner if they would like assistance, and the lesser experienced Ok’s it, or if the lesser experienced partner requests assistance, it’s appropriate to give a hint or two.  However, it should not be assumed that teaching for more than one song or at most, one tanda, is desirable. Lengthy instruction can quickly become unpleasant, frustrating and boring. If you’ve had this happen to you, you know how much fun it isn’t. Many prospective enthusiasts, men and women, have left never to return after receiving unsolicited, ego-shattering correction from one or more partners. New dancers are a naive target for those who prey on newbies. Older men who track younger women are especially predatory. They present themselves as being helpful and interested only in making sure the new ladies are danced with. Uh huh, right. Then they dominate a new lady’s time by continuing to encourage, correct, assist, converse, keep her occupied. She may be polite, but she’s thinking, “When will this guy get over himself and leave me alone?”

Some who like to “teach” prefer to dance with beginners so they can be the “expert” and thereby “qualified” to instruct. If an “expert” starts teaching at a milonga, and the “student” is not interested, he/she should ask to “Please, let’s just dance.” If the “teaching” continues, the “student” should say “Thank you” at the first convenient moment, walk away, and refuse to dance with that person again. If someone continues to teach after being asked to stop, the “student” should inform the Host and the Host should speak to the “expert”, warning him or her that if it doesn’t stop, he/she will be asked to leave. And if it continues, he/she should be requested to leave.

There are men who lay in wait for new women to show up, and watch for clues as to their experience level. If they appear to be a beginner, Swoosh!  The “shark” has a potential new victim, and the follower won’t know what hit her until she’s in the middle of the floor being given “instruction.”

Considerate instructors do not teach on the floor. They may give a slight hint, IF asked, but most will respond to a request for instruction with something like “Let’s just dance.”

At a Practica it may be understood that if a teacher is dancing, it’s probably ok to ask them for assistance. Those who respect the codes of tango understand that they do not have the right to impose upon their partner, no matter how helpful they think they might be. Each person should have the right to ask for help before receiving an unsolicited lesson. Excellent teachers, including Masters, teach by example, without words, and students learn just by dancing with or watching them.

People who consistently teach on the floor, and who stalk (yes, it’s a form of stalking) beginners quickly gain a reputation befitting their habits. Men who dance only with beginners or those with less experience than themselves, are known as “sharks” and are spoken of with disdain by followers who have been victims, yes, victims, of their prowling.

It’s insulting to a beginner to be reminded they are incompetent. We know when we’re not skilled at something, yet are trying our best to pick up on the hundreds of details we’re supposed to remember. When a woman is being taught by various partners, each of them teaches different stuff, in different ways, and usually none of them match with what the beginner’s paid teacher is telling them. I hear from women all the time how frustrating, confusing and upsetting this is. They are told thing like, “Your arm/hand/foot/leg/elbow/nose should go here/over here” or your hand/arm is too tight/is too loose/is too high/is too low/etc.” ad nauseum. Who would want to return for more of that? The same things happen to beginning men, however, experienced women typically prefer to dance with more skillful leaders at least part of the time. Women will dance once or twice with a beginner but they typically do not spend the majority of their time with them when there are partners who match their own skill level.

Men who teach on the floor tend to block traffic while they give their masterful (not) instruction to an unsuspecting partner.  Men who dance behind a self-proclaimed “teacher” can feel their blood pressure rise and often resist the urge to take them outside for the “Where did you learn to dance tango? Oh, that’s right, you haven’t.” speech. And possibly offer to rearrange a few body parts if they continue blocking the flow.

As a beginner and beyond, I danced with various Masters and masterful teachers and nary a one spoke while we were dancing. Each made me feel as if I were competent (I wasn’t and knew it). They led me at a level that matched my vocabulary, with interesting rhythms and changes of direction which made me feel like I was dancing way over my head. I was. Whatever errors/incorrect techniques I’d used, it was never apparent from their remarks. I walked away thinking I’d done well. Looking back, I appreciate how gracious and tolerant they were, and how grateful I am for their patience. This was a completely different situation than dancing with them in a class or workshop. where corrections were plentiful and extremely helpful. In the right place at the right time.

Men and women starting out in this dance have their head full of confusing information and the last thing they need is more details while in the throes of trying to remember everything. If you are an experienced dancer, and you remember how it felt to be the new kid on the floor, this will all make sense and might increase your compassion for novices. Imagine the confusion if every partner you danced with began correcting you as soon as you started moving.

Men who are in a significant relationship, and who teach on the floor are likely not welcomed to teach their life partner so they reach out to others who they assume/hope/figure will “appreciate” their expertise. This is self-delusional. Same with women who perhaps once were more skilled than their life partner, or maybe still are, and who seek out men who they perceive as needing their “help.” Beginners are people too. They do not appreciate being corrected repeatedly and they quickly learn that there are people who dance with them just so they can be the “expert” and those are the ones they begin avoiding.

Bottom line, if you are a “floor teaching/self-proclaimed expert” please reconsider your motives and actions. It’s not fun dancing with a critic, especially one who teaches bad habits that students find out about later and have to unlearn. Time spent working on someone else’s dance is time taken from working to improve one’s own dance.

If this article causes even one person to reconsider their “teaching” habits, or inspires someone to pass it along to someone who they think should read it, it may have protected a number of partners from having to endure unwanted, unprofessional, undesirable instruction on the floor.   I’d love to hear your comments.

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