Perpetual beginners and useless teachers


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The lost beginners’ discussion

In one of my previous posts about the lost beginners, a reader of the blog shared it with a phrase he remembers his teacher telling him. “This is a perpetual beginner… he said. The discussion that followed was a very interesting and enlightening one and it went in the direction of whose fault and responsibility it is to inspire and transfer knowledge in order to expand Tango. On one side a friend supported that it is the students’ responsibility to learn what they are taught and on the other hand, I supported that it is the teacher that should be responsible for transmitting the knowledge effectively. I turned the question in my head for a long time and I think I finally have an answer. Both are correct!

As I mentioned in other posts multiple times I had the opportunity to teach in my professional life in subjects totally unrelated to Tango. Having had this experience I realized that I approached tango differently. I always tried to see how my teachers were trying to transmit their knowledge and how well that worked. Maybe I could take ideas to improve my teaching I thought. So although I entered the process as a student I wanted to have a peak on the other side. Moreover, the question raised in the comments I described above is something that I also had discussed many times with my students under an obviously different context.


In order to understand the problem I took a step back. I realized that teaching and learning are not really the same process. One person can teach people that nobody learns anything and one person can learn something without someone teaching it to them. Actually, we might be going towards a society where learning is mostly going to happen without a teacher (at least in the sense we now think of). Remember the video about School in the Cloud by Sugata Mitra? Having this distinction in mind we can easily understand that a student is responsible for learning while a teacher for teaching.

A student is responsible for taking the knowledge provided by the teacher and understanding it. Learning means that you take the information, analyze it, process it, understand it, and finally make it part of you… own it! This is a process that in many cases will create new questions from the student where the teacher will then come into play.

On the other hand, the teacher is responsible for teaching. Teaching first of all means that you have gone through the process of learning and you now own the knowledge you want to transmit. Then it involves finding the right way to transmit the knowledge in a way that the student can take it and pass it in the learning process. You need to be able to make yourself clearly understood and since every different student might have different backgrounds and needs you must be able and adjust your methodology based on what will work better for each student.

Whose fault is it?

As it is obvious this teaching-learning process is partly a communication and partly a self-work process. Every part must be able first to communicate their part (be it the knowledge or the questions) but most importantly they must be able to work by themselves either to learn or to refine and adjust their teaching methodology. This is where the problems start.

When this process fails it is very easy for each part to blame the other for the failure. It is very easy for a student to say… “This teacher is useless…”. It is also very easy for a teacher to say…“This student is a perpetual beginner… They will never learn”. The difficult part is to look at yourself and ask. “Do I do my part to the best of my abilities? Could I do something better to make it work?”. As usual, our minds will take the easy route. They will try to blame someone else, avoid responsibility, and relieve themselves from the effort of searching for an improvement.

Why learning tango is different?

Learning tango is obviously a teaching-learning process like any other. However, there is a slight difference from the traditional school experience.  In the traditional school experience, you are usually forced to go to school and learn what you are taught. Nobody asks you if you like or if you are interested in what you learn. Somebody else has decided that this information is important and you must learn it. For the most part of it, this is true. The skills you learn in basic education are fundamental for your life in general. As you progress through and form a character, some things will be more interesting than others, and therefore learning maths for example might be more fun and interesting than learning a foreign language. This is a crucial factor in the learning process because it provides motivation. When you have motivation you will be more likely to devote the time and effort required by the learning process. Otherwise, who cares?

Tango is not part of a standard basic education curriculum that you need to take in order to finish school etc. Tango students enter willingly a class and start taking classes each one for their own reasons. Some because they are amazed by shows like “Dancing with the Stars”others to find a partner .. other because they need some exercise in their life… etc. The common denominator is that nobody is forced to take up Tango. Therefore they all have an interest and some motivation. The teacher therefore doesn’t have the excuse of the lack of interest. This is a given.

The teachers’ biggest problem

Given that the student has an interest it is then up to the teacher to take this interest and build on it. As already discussed many people enter Tango having false expectations. But that also happens for so many other hobbies. It is up to the teachers to first of all manage and turn these expectations in a somehow more realistic direction. If as a teacher you manage this in your first classes I believe it will definitely help create and maintain a healthy and fruitful interest and motivation and it will help you raise your success stories.

Having said that, it is also important as a teacher, since you are the one who is in the position of power and authority to make clear your expectations from your students. That means that you need to make clear that you can only provide some information but the actual use and evolution of it is in your student’s hands. You need to tell them that learning means working and that you expect them to do their part of the job. Now, this is the tricky part. Very few people are prepared to take over more work when they start a new hobby. I mean… If you tell that to your students they can easily turn around and go away thinking… “Yes… I want to learn Tango… but do I have to work for it? Forget it. I am working all day… I didn’t come here to work even more!”.

Here I think is the crucial point of failure for many teachers. They fail to give you a reason for doing that work. They fail to explain to you what is at the end of this process. What is the reward you will get? Why do the hard work? Because explaining the feeling of happiness and joy from heavenly tandas, the feeling of connection, the feeling of emotional relief, the satisfaction of musical playfulness, etc. are all so intangible and theoretical that only by experience one can understand them. You need to be that good in your communication and delivery as a teacher to make this something so relatable, understandable, and most importantly inspiring enough that will convince your students to take the effort to get there.

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango is the biggest problem tango teachers face. Inspiration. They lack the tools to inspire their students so that they stay and take up the necessary effort to finally let the dancer come out of them. There are many versions but I think the one of D’ Arienzo is more fitting not because it is more inspiring than others but because it binds the inspiring melody with a strong stable and easy-to-understand rhythm to make it more relatable for beginners.

How about you? How inspiring was your first teacher? What role did they play in staying with tango? Did they manage to inspire and motivate you or did you find that motivation in something else? How would you try to motivate your students if you had any?… Or how you do it already if you are a teacher? Let me know with a comment below, an email, or a PM on Facebook… oh… and if you liked it… don’t forget to share it with your friends.


7 responses to “Perpetual beginners and useless teachers”

  1. Türkan Bulut Avatar
    Türkan Bulut

    Thank you for your sharing, I also shared about this issue last week. Teaching and and motivating students to learn are mostly the teacher’s job in all kinds of education. Especially in exercise, dance and sports branches, students should be under the supervision of the teacher until they reach technical proficiency. For beginners, in the first 6 months, lessons, practice and technical exercises should be strictly under the control of the teacher. There should be 90 minutes of class 2 days a week and practice one day a week. The success of the student is achieved with correct and frequent repetition, regular attendance and a teacher who has knowledge of formation. 🤗

  2. Andreas M Avatar
    Andreas M

    I could not disagree more with some of the statements.
    First rule: A good dancer is not necessarily a teacher.
    Second rule: A good Teacher is not necessarily a good dancer.
    Rule three: Rule one and rule two do rarely come together.
    A teachers responsibility is to have the ways to efficiently transfer knowledge. Therefore, he needs to know the rules and basics of dancing as a whole. Starting from Music to Steps and the respective technique.
    Example. Learning basic movements of many dances is essential to mastering a single one.
    The same goes for all dances.
    Knowing the roots of for example Tango and the mixture of dances that have influenced it’s starting is more basic than learning the tango walk.
    Once you know the 3 main dances that make up Tango, Tango itself is a snap to learn.
    Responsibility of the teacher is own education and the ways to break things down. These small successes is what keep students focused!

    1. Christos Kouroupetroglou Avatar

      I can’t really understand the disagreement… I don’t think I wrote that a teacher is not necessary to have the knowledge and transmit it. This a given. How can you teach if you don’t know something well in the first place?

      I just wrote that apart from this, if you manage to give a realistic inspiring motivation to your students… you can become an even better teacher. A teacher who will have many more success stories.
      But apart from all this… I have a question in my head for a long time…How does one know that they are ready to teach tango?

  3. David Phillips Avatar

    Usually, I enthusiastically embrace Goodnight Tango articles for the way they cogently describe important Argentine tango issues, then cleverly tie them to a particular tango song.

    Not so this one that treats tango as an academic subject, with teachers imposing knowledge on students tasked with working hard to understand it.

    “… you are the one who is in a position of power and authority …”
    “… you need to make clear …”
    “You need to tell them …”

    Do we want to be “a sage on stage” imparting knowledge through lectures and presentations, or “a guide on the side” using carefully constructed explorations for students to gain first-hand knowledge of what works well?

    Dance is a physical skill with mind-body-emotional connections. It wants to be experienced, not intellectually appreciated. Dance instruction is much closer to sports coaching than academic teaching.

    Students come to a dance class to dance, to move. Not to stand around trying to intellectually understand what a teacher is telling them they’re supposed to do.

    “Because explaining the feeling of … are all so intangibe … that only by experience can one understand them.”

    And yet:
    “You need to be that good … as a teacher … that will convince students to take the effort to get there.”

    No. We want to be teachers who have studied, wide and deep: dance, teaching, coaching, biomechanics, mind-body systems. Then use that knowledge and experience to devise activities, experiences, and explorations that are fun or provocative. And that expose the student to the range of possibilities, helping them identify the approaches that feel most useful, comfortable, and clear for each situation.

    When we do that well, and students discover their success and growth, then inspiration need not be (cannot be) imposed, it will well up naturally in the ways that best suit each dancer.

    1. Christos Kouroupetroglou Avatar

      David, I always enjoy your comments too. This one in particular, even more than others because of the honest and healthy criticism.
      I understand what you mean about the academic approach. My teaching experience was mostly in academic settings, hence the way I present the concepts.
      So yes… I totally agree… You first study… Study deep… And then at some point you decide to teach…
      I do have a question though… Kind of philosophical… When do you know you are ready to teach Tango?

      1. davidtangotribe Avatar

        Christos, thank you kindly for hearing my remarks in the positive spirit I intended.

        For me, the decision to teach came when I felt I had a message to share with my fellow dancers. A message I wasn’t hearing in my local community or on my travels.

        To be sure, I gained knowledge and acquired skills, both for dancing and teaching, from nearly all of the many teachers I’ve worked with!

        I’ve been an informal teacher. As a teenager, I read the book my mother got from the library and then taught her how to knit. One summer, I observed the crew of neighbors maintaining the community pool. The next summer, with a new crew and an undocumented procedure, I taught them what I’d learned. At university, I taught short courses on computer topics.

        I have an analytical mind that wants to understand principles and then combine them into bigger concepts.

        With dance, and the Argentine tango more than most, I was often frustrated by how much talking there was and so little specific exploration of the concepts they described. It also annoyed me that many teacher interactions seemed oriented toward finding faults rather than building on what worked well.

        But in the final analysis, I think there’s really one key motivator for dancers to go into teaching — they want a chance to have the dance floor to themselves. 😅 ¡Abrazos!

        1. Christos Kouroupetroglou Avatar

          Thank you very much! That is really enlightening!
          Especially the key motivator in the end!

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