15 tips on how to find a good tango class

Among the numerous regular classes or periodic workshops offered all along the year, you will certainly find what you're looking for. Here are some guidelines to help you along your way :

1- Set your objectives

What are you looking for ?
  • to be able to dance with a partner at a ball,
  •  to know some rudimentary steps so as to be able to flirt without coming off as a total ignoramus,
  • to know all about the culture of tango (music, dance, litterature),
  • to practice a group physical activity where you don't have to think to hard,
  • to perform on stage as a professional dancer,
  • to become part of a select few who share their passion among the best of the best
  •  or merely to enjoy yourself while meeting others in a relaxed atmosphere ?
  • These are all laudable goals. There are tango teachers and dance schools to fit each and every need. Since not all teachers have the same teaching style, it is wise to be warned what type of class you want so as not to be desappointed.

    2- Don't choose a class based only on its location or cost

    The price of a class is neither an indication of quality nor mediocity. One can find a very good class at a very moderate price, very bad classes at high prices, vise versa, and every thing in between !). The price of a group class varies from 100% free to 22€ per class and upwards. Special arrangements are often available for students. Don't opt for a class just because it is a "bargain price", either.
    Likewise, do not automatically go the class "just around the corner", instead, look for a class which  your objective. Your commuting time will undoubtedly be more than compensated for by avoiding the frustration which ensues from a classs where you don't fell at ease.
    Don't get caught up in the "from Buenos Aires" argument. First of all, you should know that the Argentine Tango comes from Rio de la Plata, and secondly, that the Uruguayens claim egual paternity to the Argentinians in spawning argentine tango (the most famous tango song, "the Cumparsita" was even written by an Uruguyen !)
    Teachers exist who are equally as good as "the Argentinians" (or equally as bad, as the case may be !). Don't be impressed by pseudo-diplomas. Diplomas sanctionning the quality of an argentine tango teacher exist neither in France nor Argentina. Overinflated credentials usually mask a serious lack of knowledge of the Argentine tango. Go instead to balls or practice dances where you will have the opportunity to meet professors who really know how to "walk the walk"  (and dance the dance !)

    3- Compare classes

    Consider teaching styles, prices, location, ambiance, how you relate to the teacher, whether the students switch partners or not, whether singles are permitted or couples only, if there is a balance between men and woman and if not, how it is handled.

    4- Choose substance over style

    Pick a class where you will really work on the basics : your posture, how to lead/follow, the rhythm, proper use of the space, all with appropriate exercices... rather than a class where you are wowed with fixed routines that you can only repeat over and over. That only gives you a fish so you can eat (dance) for a day" rather than really learning how to fish (dance) so you can eat (improvise) for a life time.

    5- Choose a teacher who rigorously respects proper class levels

    A teacher may just want to pack in the maximum number of students to make money, and so will accept anyone irrespective of previous training. Watch out for "all levels welcome" classes where the level usually drops to those present who have the least skill.
    In addition, the real meaning of "level" can differ greatly from place to place... For some, "beginner" means "those with no previous training", while for others, "beginner" signifies those with one year or less of experience. Some teachers label "advanced" as "more than one year of practice" while others wouldn't dream of accepting an advanced student who had less than 4 years minimum of practice....
    Don't be offended if a teacher denies you permission to participate in his class, or recommends that you try another class better suited to your skill level. This kind  of teacher is really looking out for your best interests by kindly refusing to let you skip important basic steps that you would later regret skipping. Since it is essential for the sake of learning that students switch partners during the class it follows that it is imperative that they also be all at the same skill level.

    6- Once you've chosen a class, stick to it, especially in the beginning

    There are myriad different teaching styles. Many of which are perfectly sound.  Viewed from the long-term, each one makes sense in its own time, but practiced simultaneously they can spell disaster for a beginning student (kind of like trying to follow different diet plans at the sametime to try to lose weight !). Therefore, it's wise to try to stay with the same class for about 6 months and re-evaluate at that time whether you're making headway with that class or not and want to continue or try another class.

    7- Don't overdo it

    It takes time to absorb what you learn. You're not going to make progress if you're impatient and jump quickly from one level to a higher one without really taking the time to master the easier level, or for that matter, one teacher to another (even though they may have the same philosophy).

    8- Whatever teaching style you end up choosing, make sure it's with a teacher capable of teaching you to respond, to improvise, to any possibility that may arise when you dance

    It's not just the steps that count, you've got to change with the music, with different partners, with the size and shape of the dance floor with how crowded it is and how you're feeling and what you're wearing on that particular day.... Unless you've decided to become a professional dancer and learn a predetermined routine you will perform over over, that is, if you've chosen to take up tango as a social dance and not as a performer, make sure you have a teacher who will teach you how to properly integrate harmonious into the delightful but possibly atmospher of a ball.

    9- Avoid classes where the teacher simply tries to create rubber stamps of himself !!!

    A good teacher his teaching to each individual student. He takes into account their personality, morphology as unique beings and doesn't try to force a prefabricated teaching style down their throats. For each dancer there is a style that suits him or her- the argentine tango is not a standardized dance... It has evolved for a hundred years and continues to be in constant evolution....

    10- Make sure your teachers practice what they preach

  • Do they themselves go to balls and practice dances ? or are they just teaching to “pay the rent” ?
  • Can they themselves dance fluidly and appropriately utilize the space or do they step on toes and bump into others like chimpanzees ?
  • Do they simply put in appearances at nightclubs and balls to be seen and/or pick up new students, or do they genuinely enjoy the dance for it's own sake ?
  • Do they openly share all information they can about all tango events or do they jealously cloister their students in ignorance like a mother hopping her children won't  “leave the nest” (and be stolen away by a fellow competitor) ?
  • Are students paid lip service to in class where they are paying customers. But ignored should they be encountered elsewhere ?
  • 11- "Tango is neither a philosophy nor a religion..."

    It is as much a dance as it is a culture. No one has a right to proclaim himself a guru or messiah who must be blindly followed. Each teacher has something to offer but no one has exclusive rights to claim their way is the onlyway” (Ricardo Calvo, lecture at Prayssac july 2001). Use you common sense and don't let yourself get brainwashed by philosophic hot air which often mask a serious lack of The knowledge. In some classes the time spent philosophizing greatly exceeds the time actually spent practicing. Better to leave class with pleasingly sore muscles from a great practice rather than a headache from a lecture of Tango 101.

    12- Watch out for the “village crier” constantly promoting his or her class

    Some teachers abuse the system of referrals by reminding their students ad nauseum about their “collegue's events.    Don't get tricked by these con artists. The best way to find a good ball or practice or class is still word of mouth. 

    13- Practice makes perfect!

    Practice between classes. There are many practice balls around town just for that purpose. These practices allow the spontaniety of the ball but in more relaxed atmosphere and with people from class, and new faces too. A practice ball is a great way to judge whether you can recreate what you thought you learned in class. Be brave and adventurous – try many different practices. You can find just about everything that exists on this internet website ("Classes and dance schedule in Paris") or in our brochure, or by reading the magazine “La Salida” which includes a calendar of all the tango-related events in France. “La Salida” is also accessible on our website.
    You can find out about some of the more practices (which are not on our website because they are a bit exotic) by chatting with fellow classmates. There is a practice to suit every one (from free to 10€, often with complimentary drinks).
    So dance in between classes, otherwise you're wasting your money and your time ! Even beginners can go to practice dances –don't be intimidated by more advance dancers – you'll be just as good after a few months !

    14- Argentine Tango charter

    Before deciding on a class, if you'd like a better idea of what the argentine tango is all about, and how it has come to be what it is today – from the point of view of the people and associations who started the “tango ball” rolling in France, have a look at the Argentine Tango charter featured on our website   on this page
    You can even leave comments and share your opinion on this subject and/or  others on our forum !

    15- Finally, keep in mind that in reality there's no sure-fire recipe for finding “the perfect tango  class” – the best class for you is where you feel the best !

    ©2001 Pierre Lehagre tango-paris.com