It would be easy to do a big year in tango, chasing festivals across the globe. In fact there would be heart breaking choices as wonderful festivals run at the same time in different places across the world all year-long. I have been to a few festivals already this year at home and away. At one of them my dream teachers ran workshops and performed. I bought a full pass and leashed the butterflies in my stomach to attend every single class I could squeeze in. I arrived on a cloud of hope and was slowly day by day brought back to earth. I realized I’m not fond of teachers who want to be worshipped. Even if I secretly do! Day after day these teachers exhaled yoga tips, waxed poetic and clapped grade three music theories at a group of adoring fans. Who for some bizarre reason acted like the silly children they were being treated like… miss-clapping out counts of 4?! These assuming teachers didn’t touch their students, only each other. By the end of the last day I was bored, disappointed and ready to walk out and skip the last saccharine lecture on how we were all equals, all masters of something. The bull crap was hot and wet.
I teach. Specifically I teach art – commercial (Visual Communications) and visual shorthand in fine art. This is my take on it all: we are walking, breathing, eating, shitting, and pissing balls of feeling. All we do is feel. We feel when we rest our minds, when we are alert and when we day-dream or sleep. I teach technique or the refining of technical skills. We express our own feelings with those tools, with technique, with error in technique and knowingly abandoning technique in the pursuit of invention. I will almost never tell someone in my class how to feel, they are doing that all by themselves and are masters of their own feelings. I will help them have enough tools to better express — for others and themselves — what they feel. A pumping fist can mean victory or violence and a turn of the wrist conveys which. That is an example of understanding a technique for visual communication that has little to do with feeling but how we interpret or send a message with a gesture.
Dancing with an instructor during a workshop, class or private is like tracing when we are learning to draw. It builds skill far faster than fumbling around on the blank page. Not touching students? Well, my big lesson, those aren’t the kind of teachers I want. I also don’t need to pay someone to tell me how a song is meant to make me feel. It will feel to me one way, the leader I am with another, to you the reader another way altogether. Music is personal. Dance is personal. Expressing feelings is personal. Art and our interpretation of it is personal. What we can have conversations about, with as little confusion or muddled metaphor as possible is technique. The physics of a turn, foot placement that will help us sync quicker or with better balance. We learn very quickly that each partner’s height, weight, style and skill vary into an infinite number of combinations. A teacher’s corrections through touch are crucial. My mistake or misunderstanding maybe nothing like the learning curve of the woman to my left or to my right. A weight change is felt in embrace and often not visible from three feet away (or from a high tower). And what if both leader and follower are slightly off on the weight change? We do the move but we muscle through the entire thing, exhausting one another. If a teacher embraces their students in a workshop; errors can be brought to light almost instantly. Then blaming our practice partner (aloud or internally) vanishes; we become a team in practice. Hands-on teachers are invaluable. Tango is about the embrace. Tango is about touching and listening to one another. Teachers on a pedestal? I don’t care if they climbed up there themselves or students are keen to put them there, it just doesn’t work in tango — for me.
I came out of the workshops with a clear set of criteria for myself and what I want out of visiting teachers. I want to share space. Righteous teachers who don’t touch their students? Who expect to be treated like high-born royals with special gifts the common folk will never know? Meh, pass.