Thursday 16 October 2008

The Beginner's Questionnaire

Suppose that you've never done a partner dance before. You take a deep breath and you jump in. You don't know what's normal or where you are going, but you are intrepid. How do you know if you've been to a good class? What should you have expected? Did you waste your time?

Well, I know what I think a good class is, and here's my handy Beginner's Questionnaire.

Answers with high numbers are better. Some of the questions won't make sense if you've only taken one class, because there isn't time to deal with what they mention in an hour. Other questions will help you make a decision right away.

However, what I've written reflects my character, experience, and opinions, and you have no way of knowing if I'm right. In fact, Everything below reflects my character. Especially the bitchy bits.

Approach, content, and outcomes

Were you told what to do with your soul, or to imitate the action of a tiger/kitten/river/snake or any other animate or inanimate object whose relation to yourself was purely metaphorical?
  1. A lot
  2. Sometimes
  3. Once or twice
  4. No.
Were you told clearly what to do with your body?
  1. No
  2. Once or twice
  3. Sometimes
  4. A lot.
Were you taught about the line of dance?
  1. No
  2. Mentioned briefly
  3. Mentioned repeatedly
  4. Emphasised and acted upon.
Were you given advice on floorcraft, for example, that the leader should protect the follower, look where he is going not at her, never step where he can't see, and the follower should be careful with her heels?
  1. No
  2. Mentioned briefly
  3. Mentioned repeatedly
  4. Emphasised and acted upon.
Were you given advice about how to behave and what to expect when dancing socially, for example, how to request, accept, or decline a dance politely, what and how long a tanda is, the meaning of 'thank you', or even what to wear?
  1. No
  2. A few tips
  3. Yes, lots of useful advice
  4. Yes, with encouragement to dance at one or more specific places or times.
Were the mechanics of the embrace explained at all?
  1. No, we just watched and imitated what we saw
  2. Once or twice
  3. Sometimes
  4. A lot, with different possibilities discussed.
What (if anything) do you think you were taught about when the follower should cross?
  1. She should remember to cross at a specific point
  2. I think she is meant to know when to do it, but I'm not sure how
  3. Not sure - I'm confused about this
  4. Do whatever steps are led.
What (if anything) do you think you were taught that the follower is supposed to do in a turn?
  1. Once the first couple of steps are led, she should remember to keep going back-side-forward until stopped.
  2. Basically keep going back-side-forward, but I think it might be different at a more advanced level.
  3. Not sure - I'm confused about this.
  4. Do whatever steps are led.
Were the followers taught to follow, and were the leaders taught to lead the various movements?
  1. We learned steps seperately and then worked on synchronising them
  2. We learned the steps seperately, but the followers were told to wait for the lead before doing them, and the leaders were shown how to lead them
  3. We learned the steps and then broke them down into leading and following simpler movements
  4. We were taught to lead and follow simple movements, and we built up the steps from there.
Followers: were you given useful general advice on HOW to follow (as opposed to just where to put your feet and in what order)?
  1. Not sure what this means
  2. Not really
  3. A few tips
  4. A lot.
Leaders: Do you now believe that you could lead whatever was covered in the class with a more experienced follower you had not met before?
  1. Maybe if she'd taken the same class
  2. Not really
  3. Yes, some of it
  4. Yes, a lot of it.
Professional and conscientious teaching

Did the teacher(s) single out any student(s) in a way you felt was less than kind?
  1. Yes
  2. Maybe
  3. Only as a means of managing attention-seekers
  4. Never.
How much did the teacher who did most of the talking, talk about him/her self?
  1. A lot, it was all about him/her and I was annoyed/bored with it
  2. A lot, but it was useful/funny/informative/I liked it
  3. A little bit - just to be friendly
  4. Not much or not at all.
Did ANY of the teachers appear to be doing ANYthing in class other than teaching to the best of their ability, whatever that ability might be?
  1. Yes, leching the students or sleeping off the dope
  2. Yes, showing off, leching each other, or manipulating people to gratify their vanity
  3. Yes, something else (are there other possibilities? My goodness, I've got to hand it to them for imagination)
  4. No.
Did the teachers observe the students while they were practicing, give feedback, and make themselves available to answer questions and resolve problems?
  1. No
  2. A little bit, or only some of that, or not very kindly
  3. Yes, but not very intelligently, there was a bit of autopilot there
  4. Yes, and they treated the questions with respect and thought about how to answer them.
Did the teachers check your progress by dancing with you personally?
  1. Never
  2. Occasionally
  3. With some students/when necessary
  4. With most or all students.
If the teachers did dance with you once or more, and setting aside your own embarrassment and nervousness, do you think you learned from this what tango is supposed to feel like?
  1. Don't think so
  2. Maybe
  3. Yes, I think so
  4. Wow!
After the class, did you feel good about having been there?
  1. No, I felt bored/mystified/discouraged/ripped off
  2. Not crazy about it, it was very stressful, or I had a few mishaps
  3. It was fun or interesting, I felt all right
  4. I felt good.
You're not going to get all the 4's in an hour, and you could get some 1's in a good class. But if you've got a good score, you landed OK.

[Edit 19th Oct - added 'feedback' question - thanks for reminding me!]


Elizabeth Brinton said...

WEll, those are good questions. I think of one more thing:
For intermediate or advanced dancers: Does your teacher encourage you to branch out and take lessons and workshops from other teachers?

Anonymous said...

This is so brilliant, Ms. H. Flippin' brilliant.

Should be handed out at every class.

maya said...

This is a very good way of putting together good practice. Thanks

koolricky said...

Very nice! A very nice reference for people who are teaching and an even better for those who are pseudo-teaching!

Anonymous said...

Oh I like. Very useful.

One I hear from beginners a lot which athough a little harsh, is
"How well does the teacher speak English?" - in particular it can be scary enough asking a question in front of class, but when the teacher doesn't fully understand you and then they reply with the dreaded "What you need to do is, hmm what's the English for < something spanish > ?"

The other one that crops up is how well does the teacher retain students. I know a guy who was well and truly put off tango because each week the beginners class was filled with new people, who needed to start at square one, so he felt he couldn't really progress.

maya said...

One more thing: Class management, Does the teacher rotate couples often enough. Quite important when there is an imbalance of leaders/followers, or people with different levels.

msHedgehog said...

These are good supplementary questions. I didn't include one about language - it matters, but its importance depends so much on the student that they really don't need my advice on it. I feel it's covered by the basic requirement to communicate clearly. I'm undecided as to whether I really think having more experienced classmates is important for progression, compared to the quality of the teaching. I do think rotation is quite important, because it's essential to the basic skills of social dancing, and it can be managed well or badly. If someone manages that badly they're almost certainly doing some of these other things wrong as well, just because they're paying insufficient attention to the students' needs. A good point though.

msHedgehog said...

And yes - it is a very good sign if your teacher encourages you to try other teachers. At the end of my first beginners' course we were actually provided with quite a long list of teachers they considered OK.

AlexTangoFuego said...

Yours is better than mine, not that any of mine was original, but a much better, more positively tuned approach, positively tuned with a little reverse psychology. Very clever. Are you a psychologist?

I even have links to other teachers on my teaching website...

How did I miss this post?

Very good...but then I said that already...

msHedgehog said...

I'm not a psychologist. But I have experienced a lot of education, of varying approach and quality, on many different subjects, and there are lots of common patterns. Tango isn't special. It's just funnier. said...

'Were the mechanics of the embrace explained at all?'

Oh, i didn't know there are mechanics in the embrace. Can someone tell me more about it?

msHedgehog said...

For the avoidance of doubt among other readers, "mechanics of the embrace" = "how, physically speaking, to create a embrace that gives you a good connection".

John Fisher said...

"The other one that crops up is how well does the teacher retain students."

Yes that's an important one. The worst teachers manage to retain students for years. The goods ones lose them to the the milongas in just a few months.