Everyone has to start somewhere.
In Tango, we were all beginners at one point. But once we get past the point of being a beginner and become moderately competent, most of us do not want the challenge of dancing with a beginner again. It might make us look bad, or much worse, we may get hurt. I must point out this situation does differ between men and women. Followers usually pick up the dance a lot quicker, and if they are fairly attractive, usually have no problem getting dances, even when they are just starting out. But for leaders, its a different story. Many of my guy friends have told me that when they first started, they just watched and rarely danced. Or, they were too afraid to ask advanced followers. But I can’t help but wonder if they would improve faster if given a chance to dance with better dancers, perhaps like what they do on “Dancing with the Stars”. he he.
The topic of dancing with beginners is much debated and not easily solved. In this post, our guest writer, Tanguera Escondida, tackles the subject:
I recently said “yes” to dance a tanda with someone who turned out to be a complete beginner. I kept my game face on as he led me through a series of painful moves, careful to keep our embrace open so that I wouldn’t be knocked to the ground. We danced, topsy-turvy, in and out of traffic, plowing our way through the middle of the dance floor to take up residence in the already-moving line of dance. And then, we still managed to weave between the outer and inner lines of dance, stopping and starting on a dime to avoid crashing. He tried to lead me into a boleo (which I refused to do), tried inserting his foot between mine to execute a very poor sacada, and proceeded to attempt a smorgasbord of complicated dance moves. Some of these moves are even hard for an intermediate/advanced dancer to master. And after each song, he smiled, eyes big and round and innocent, and said, “That was great!!” I knew he was trying his hardest. I knew he was having fun. But I also started to wonder, “Why would a straight beginner even KNOW about these moves? Why isn’t a beginner just focused on walking? The embrace? The FUNDAMENTALS of tango?”
Well, I posed the question to my “all-knowing (heh)” tango partner, Klondike, who’s been around longer and seen much more than I have. He told me that some teachers sell tango lessons by introducing fancy, fun moves. That beginners want to dance tango like, “Dancing with the stars!” That they’ll get bored practicing the basics for days, months and years on end. That the only way to keep selling and selling and selling is to teach boleos and ganchos and sacadas. I know not all teachers are like this, that some focus on teaching the basics, even to experienced dancers. I just wish all the other teachers would follow suit, and help save followers from being thrown around and man-handled. What is the point of creating a herd of beginners that don’t even know how to walk?
After that particularly painful dance with that particular fancy-pants beginner, Klondike pulled me aside and said, “You know, when you dance with people who don’t know what they’re doing, you may not be asked to dance by the people who do.” I looked at him incredulously. “Really?” I said. “Just because I chose to put myself out there, to dance with a beginner, it means I’ll be shunned by other leaders?” It was hard to believe. Aren’t we all beginners once? Isn’t it lovely to see a teacher dancing with a beginner? Shouldn’t we all try hard to make beginners feel included, and say “yes” to them once in awhile? But then again, I understand that everyone watches everyone to figure out who is a good partner. If an experienced dancer sees me hobbling around with a beginner, maybe they’ll assume I’m a beginner, too. Or they’ll assume that I don’t pick my partners carefully (which is sometimes true). It seems slightly unfair. I don’t think I would turn an experienced leader down if I’d seen him dancing with a beginning lady. As long as he dances well with ME, and our chemistry is good, I’m happy.
I don’t mind dancing with beginners. What I do mind is dancing with a beginner who doesn’t have the slightest grasp of the basics. Several months ago, I danced with a wonderful beginner. He only walked me around in the line of dance, smiling sweetly. He held me in a slightly open embrace, and tried very, very hard. He was a little wobbly, his forward motion wasn’t very powerful, but boy, was he trying to master the WALK. I’ve had the joy of watching this dancer progress, and he’s gotten exponentially better. And he still asks me to dance. I’m glad that I gave him a chance, and made him feel welcome. If I’d snubbed my nose at him, maybe he would have never asked me again, even as he got better and better.
So, it seems more experienced dancers are treading a fine line when it comes to dancing with beginners. Maybe it matters more for a follower to dance with a beginning leader, rather than a leader dancing with a beginning follower. I don’t know the answers.
Maybe some of you have thoughts. How do you interact with beginners? At what point should beginners attempt to navigate the complexity of the tango dance floor? Why are they so focused on all these fancy moves? Do you discount a more experienced dancer seen with a beginner? How can we help them become a part of our community?
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