Tardis Tango: Space / Time distortions and Tango classes

26th April 2009


Something occurred to me recently. Tango classes - and the value of them - are distorted by both time and space.

I shall try to explain...


"It's a strange thing about determined seekers-after-wisdom that, no matter where they happen to be, they'll always seek that wisdom which is a long way off. Wisdom is one of the few things that looks bigger the further away it is. ~ Terry Pratchett

Mr Pratchett could have been writing about Tango. Maybe he was.

Shall we glamourise?

In the original Japanese version of the movie "Shall We Dance", a character is talking in reverential terms about the World Ballroom Championships. And when he finally mentions the location, the hallowed Mecca of ballroom dance, he breathes out a single two-syllable word: "Blackpool".

The audience in the UK couldn't help but laugh at this - I mean, come on, Blackpool? Glamorous?

But, to him, it was. Glamour is acquired by distance. To someone in Japan, Blackpool is a mysterious and exciting foreign city.

Tango experts

"Do you know what the definition of an expert is? Someone from out of town."

Tango guest teachers are a mixed bunch. But on the whole, I can honestly say that I've not learnt as much, on a per-class basis, from out-of-town teachers, as I have from locals.

There's the language problem, of course. When every phrase from the teacher has to be translated, you lose half the value or more.

More subtly than that, though, there's a cultural problem. Tango in London is developing; I've seen that myself. We're creating our own styles and social conventions; at the moment, there's much debate about these areas. London is not a clone of Buenos Aires; it has its own culture and its own scene, and the codes and conventions we're creating here are different. Sometimes this is irrelevant, sometimes it's not. But either way, you can't expect a guest teacher to be familiar with these subtle differences. And more importantly, we in London aren't familiar with the conventions that the guest teacher is familiar with.

Tango isn't a science; or at least, some parts of it aren't. Some things aren't universal.

That doesn't mean guest teachers are all worthless - of course not. But it means that, sometimes, they're operating under constraints which will reduce the value of their classes.


"Some seem good on the day and collapse later. Some are poorly received at the time and go on to grow in stature." - Frank Field

Whilst Mr Field was talking about UK Budgets, it seems to me that this also applies to tango classes (well, except for the multi-billion-pound deficits). Sometimes, you can only really understand the value of a class from a distance in time.

Some classes are mesmerising at the time, but are ethereal - you try and capture what you learnt later on, and it disappears, leaving you with only disappointment.

Some classes seem trivial at the time, but stick in your mind, and hopefully help you make a permanent improvement - maybe a favourite move, maybe a posture tip, maybe an explanation of balance. It may be small, but it's there, and it stays there.

Charismatic teachers are great - they inspire, they hold your attention, you keep returning to them. But too much charisma and you convince yourself that the lessons were better than they actually were.

To really appreciate a class - good or bad - you need to step back from it, and then revisit it, mentally and physically.

Down to Earth

The reality is, if you want to improve your dancing, you need to find a good local teacher, and stick with them for regular classes.

But that's too boring for most of us.

- David Bailey, 29th April 2009

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