Monday, 13 February 2012

What Beginners Want? Really?

Every now and then I see remarks vaguely in this form, more often than seems justified by any evidence that I know of:

"I suspect/believe/am sure most beginners were like me/you/her/him and attracted to the big flash moves you see on stage and screen ..."

Well, I wasn't that beginner, and I don't see any grounds for saying "most".

I'd seen a tango performance which wasn't of very high quality, and did include some of that sort of stuff, but what I was attracted to was the way the couple were wearing relatively ordinary clothing, weren't faking cheesy smiles (nor, in that particular case, cheesy fake foreplay) and seemed to be principally concerned with each other rather than the audience or with wiggling around. I had no dance experience, I just wanted to get out and dance. I chose Argentine Tango because even a fairly bad performance looked so much less fake and less flash than any kind of ballroom performance. And I guessed that a social form existed, which I might take up. I had very few preconceptions about what it might be like, except that obviously, as a matter of common sense, it would not be very like the stage form; the whole point of going to classes was to find out.

Maybe "most beginners" are one way or the other, or maybe they are very diverse. You can't just extrapolate your own mind to "most" of a population.

How would you even tell? You could, of course, ask them on Day One, but it seems unlikely to me that they're going to say anything more specific than "I saw X and I thought it was amazing". You can't assume from that, that it was the big flash moves in X that attracted them. When you don't have any dance experience, you don't even perceive anything specific about what sort of moves were done in something you saw. If a particular movement "attracted" you, you don't know why. All you get is some overall emotional effect that X managed to communicate, and this could be almost anything. If you ask someone to articulate that on Day One from a position of total ignorance, you put them on the spot, defending a position, and fix their ideas in a way that is unlikely to be helpful. What's the point?

If most of the people who turn up to a class that's intended as social-style tango, really are unshakeably "attracted to the big flash moves you see on stage and screen", and totally unwilling to consider anything that comes from the real person standing in front of them, I would also want to at least briefly look at how the class was marketed, and who to. Did that just play along with a main-stream-media stereotype, or did it try to say anything else?

Yes, there is lots of stuff out there making people think they want a tango class when really they just want to be on stage. It's possible that this really does totally overwhelm all resistance. That could be the truth. But I'm sceptical. There are lots of different people out there, the ones who didn't turn up as well as the ones who did.


Matthew said...

I didn't start because of any performance. I started because I wanted to get something musical into my life. I really wanted to learn to play the piano, but a) it looked very expensive, and b) I had a couple of not-very-encouraging conversations with potential piano teachers.

So I picked tango because it happened to be taught nearby, and because the advert for it persuaded me that, yes, even a complete beginner who'd never done any other form of dance would be welcome. And luckily that encouragement continued.

I honestly had no picture whatsoever in my head about what tango was before I started.

You're right though. Even though this was my experience, I still assume by default that most beginners got sucked in by seeing ganchos and sentadas on Strictly.

Anonymous said...

I think the only generalisation we can make about a beginners first impression of Tango, is that these first impressions are quickly dispelled and that the dance turns out to be something really quite different to what one first expected?

David Bailey said...

Mmm... I think you're unusual, MsH.

Or at least, a lot of beginners I see (maybe 30%-40%) do tend to have, at best, some misconceptions about impression of tango.

At worst, they explicitly want to learn "the kicky flicky stuff"...

rob said...

What beginners want? A pleasant uninterrupted dance, without intimidation from the experienced guys. And yes, it does happen: aggressive ganchos etc. And it also happens from other beginners who have no idea of floor craft. A first rule of floor craft IMO is keep up with the couple in front. Don't stop for some stupid embellishment that you fluff up anyway. Timing is everything. When you get connection, then everything else is secondary (apart from the line of dance!)

bdrasin said...

What beginners want and what they need are not always the same thing. And that applies to a lot more than Tango.

Plain Jane said...

I didn't go into tango for the flashy stuff either. At various times in my life I had enjoyed watching show tango, but it wasn't until I went to my first milonga - as a non-dancing spectator - that I knew I had to do it.
It was the intensity of the interaction between each couple that riveted me - and still does.

msHedgehog said...

@Jane, yes, I think that really appeals to a lot of people.

And I know other people - really excellent dancers - who've come in for the same reason as Matthew, above. And that appeals to me strongly, too.