Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ask Helaine: Inviting a maestra to dance

Today’s question comes from an anonymous tanguero in England:

Dear Helaine,

I am reflecting on the lost opportunity created by self doubt.  I was at a Milonga on Sunday where [famous Argentine couple] had been teaching for the weekend.  It was not busy and there were many opportunities to cabaceo M., which I avoided doing with some English determined reserve.  So,  I missed an opportunity for learning something about my dancing through a simple loss of nerve.  (I did not attend the workshop.) 

For the future, would you agree that I should enter the Milonga with more of a "Who dares, wins" attitude  towards visiting Maestras in terms of cabaceo?   Should I go ahead and ask for a dance, retaining my commitment to limited vocabulary perfectly executed?  Hopefully this will be a winning combination.

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Dear Cautious Tanguero, 

Don’t beat yourself up over your recent reticence about inviting a tango professional to dance.  Your intuition was not all wrong!

I do like your intention to dance with a very advanced tanguera using a limited vocabulary, well executed.

But here’s my take on the overall question:

Not all tango professionals consider milonga time a learning experience (in particular, learning with the guest teacher) for students.  While I do know the maestra who was in your town with her husband, I don’t know how she feels about this.  

Some tango professionals, when they’re visiting a city to teach, generously do everything they can to build warm relationships in the community, including dancing with as many students as possible.  Some professionals invite or accept invitations with the hope or intention of gaining another student for private or group lessons.  And some professionals attend milongas where they teach to enjoy the hosting tango community, but also to dance for their own pleasure.  Unless it’s in the teacher’s contract to dance socially with students (rare!), doing so is purely at the teacher’s discretion. Sometimes a professional might dance with students because of relationships established in class. Or they might observe a student’s nice dancing during the milonga, and invite/accept for their own enjoyment.   

Some female tango professionals, myself included, have experienced injuries over the years from dancing with men (in my case, my colleagues’ students, not mine! ;) ) who don’t respect the line of dance, who don’t have good balance, or who don’t know when they are in crossed system. So we can be very cautious about accepting invitations from students.  In addition, many professionals have been dancing so many years and have such deep understanding and love for the music, that unless we know it’s going to be a quality experience for us, we’d rather just socialize off the dance floor.

And I’ll tell it to you straight:  some professionals consider it an act of arrogance when an intermediate or advanced student skips the lessons, but expects the pleasure of, or free learning from, dancing with the pro!   

But you're not the only one who's had this expectation.  When I had been dancing tango only 2-3 years, I thought I was so good that I didn’t need lessons anymore, and I’d show up at milongas expecting to be invited by the visiting maestros.  I’d feel quite annoyed when that didn’t happen!  Years later, when I organized workshops for visiting artists, I’d hear what they had to say about students/non-students who do this!

My recommendation is that if you want to learn from a professional you respect, invest in at least a group lesson, and establish some rapport with her there.  That can increase your chances of dancing with her in a milonga.    

Now, having said all that, I DO encourage you to be more bold in your inviting.  As an early member of Tango Improvisation Mastery, you have access to my “7 Steps to Unshakable Tango Confidence”.   Please listen again to the teleseminar recording for Week 7 about how to invite with minimal risk of rejection.  In that recording, I give you many tips about how to pre-screen a tanguera so that you’ll know if and when you can invite her and that she’ll likely accept.  You can apply the same tips to inviting a tango professional.  

I hope you'll let us know how you handle the situation the next time a visiting maestra comes for the weekend to your community.

And to you and the rest of our readers, I'd love to hear your thoughts about today's question and answer.    Please comment below!

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  1. Thanks Helaine. Very thoughtful response but I do disagree with you!. I think it is insensitive when students ask visiting teachers/professional to dance at social milongas following workshops. I have experienced several times that the teachers were "forced" to dance with students. They are professional dancers and as you mentioned, if they are injured due to lack of experience on the student side, it may affect their whole career. Also, I think it is taking advantage of the situation. Most teachers are very generous and we should treat their generosity with care. I think the rule should be that it is up to the teachers to decide when and where to dance with the students socially.

  2. Thank you for posting, Anonymous! I appreciate your sensitivity on behalf of tango professionals. But aren't we saying almost exactly the same thing? Where are we in disagreement? . . .except for my encouraging Cautious Tanguero to be aware of teacher "rights" and prerogatives, while not squelching his need to grow and become more confident. It's he who'd still bear the risk of a "no".