Las Rosas del Tango
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04-Oct-2016

Getting the most out of a private lesson

In a cupboard by the table there lies a handmade notebook with a red leather cover, the sort that has a tie to close it, and thick, creamy paper leaves inside. When I open it it falls open at the same page each time, a set of notes made long ago, that I come back to time, and time again: ‘relax right arm’, ‘collect’, ‘rib cage in but not tense’, ‘double time on giros is slower’, ‘boleos - keep chest towards leader and tuck knee behind.’ These are the notes I made after one of the first private lessons I ever took, sometime in 2004, with Jean Sébastien Rampazzi. It’s more than 12 years later, and I smile as I remember that lesson, the atmosphere in the room where we danced, and the long path to integrate this teaching into my dance. It’s surprising how long this hour in time has stayed with me.

 

When someone comes to me for a private lesson, that memory is always in the back of my head, and I use my experience as a student to try to help my own students get the most out of their time with me. Here’s what I suggest:

 

Know what you want

Come in with something that you want to work on. Be as specific as you can. It’s your lesson, so come prepared to get the most out of it.

 

Just one thing

Better to work on one or two things and to spend some time exploring and integrating them during your lesson than having a crazy shopping list of half-remembered sequences or things that you’ve seen on YouTube!

 

Review

Make sure you’ve understood and ask questions. The questions a student asks me give me the insight I need to understand how they learn, and what they need to make progress. There are no dumb questions, so ask away.

 

Take notes

Write down the 3 things that most helped you, or stuck in your memory. Try to do it immediately after the lesson, before you go out of the room or studio and back to ‘normal’ life. Put what you’ve learned into your own words, so that you understand it and it makes sense to you, even after time has passed. Come back to your notes after a few weeks (and months, and years) to remind yourself what your learning focus is at the moment, and to track your own progress. Writing things down by hand in a special notebook works for me: you might have other preferences…

 

Practise

It’s not enough to passively absorb the information or advice that you hear during a lesson, it has to be actively integrated, little by little, into your habits of movement, your posture, your dance. So practise what you’ve just learned. You can practise alone at home if need be - pop the music on for 15 minutes, find a mirror, and get going. Visit a practica, or a practice salon. Or get together with some other tango friends in your area and practise in each others’ living rooms, garage, attic… wherever. And when you practise focus on just one thing at a time (or you’ll find yourself getting crazy trying to juggle a long list of ‘corrections’).

 

And finally…

many of us try to practise while we’re dancing at the salon. I know because I am sometimes guilty of the same bad habit myself! But it’s not optimal, not for anyone concerned. The salon or milonga is a place to relax, to socialise, and to be fully present and available to our dance partners. That isn’t truly possible if you’re mentally checking off things from your list: ‘relax right arm’, ‘chest in and relaxed’ , ‘collect!’. You take my point. Learning is learning. It needs a learning mindset and some time and space to filter its way into your dancing. What has already been integrated you can bring to the dance floor. The rest remains work in progress.

 

 


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