My teaching philosophy

9th July 2010

"His philosophy was a mixture of three famous schools -- the Cynics, the Stoics and the Epicureans -- and summed up all three of them in his famous phrase, 'You can't trust any bugger further than you can throw him, and there's nothing you can do about it, so let's have a drink." ~ Terry Pratchett


So, I've been at this teaching lark for over a year now, and I think it's going OK. I have students, they're clearly progressing, and they're returning to my classes. So I thought now's a good time to explain what I try to achieve, and how I try to achieve it, in my classes. For the moment, I'll call this my "philosophy".

"Caveats. Lots of caveats."

  1. I'm far from the best Tango dancer around; there are very many Tango teachers who are better dancers than me.
  2. Similarly, my knowledge is limited; many other teachers will know far more about a topic than I do. Also, alas, most of them are better-looking.
  3. Obviously, my approach will change over time - what and how I teach has evolved a lot in the past year, and I expect it'll continue to do so as time goes on. So this is no more than a snapshot of where I am in mid-2010.
  4. Yes, "philosophy" is a bit of a pretentious term. Think of it as "Teaching approach and methods" if you prefer.

With those out of the way...

What I'm doing / not doing

In sum, I'm trying to teach people how to dance AT socially. I'm not trying to teach figure-based show dancing.

Traditional and Simple

First and foremost, I'm trying to get dancers to dance traditional, simple, Argentine tango, walking to the music around the room, in harmony with each other, with the music, and with the other dancers in the room. So, I'm not teaching a complex set of figures or sequences; any such sequences will mostly just be shown as examples of principles.

Get Dancing Quickly

I'm trying to get them to a point where they can do dance socially, as quickly as possible, and then make incremental and continuous improvements to technique, musicality and other areas. So, I'm not trying to get them 100% perfect before setting foot at a milonga, or asking them to spend a year studying with me before they can attempt social dancing.

Enjoy the dance

I'm trying to "de-mystify" the dance, by breaking it down into simple components, so that people can understand some of the key principles underpinning the dance. So, I'm not trying to complicate things by talking about the soul, raising analogies with the movements of various animals, or over-using terminology as jargon.

Dance in the UK

I'm trying to describe the best way to dance at UK milongas, including UK codes, UK scenes, and UK styles. I'm not trying to import customs from Buenos Aires, or holding up Buenos Aires as the One True Way To Tango. Because almost all of my students will be dancing, almost all of the time, in the UK.

How I do it

At the moment, here's how I'm doing it...

One principle per class

Each class will have a single, simple, core principle - for example, dissociation.

Any movements, steps and sequences during that class will focus on highlighting that principle.

Write up class notes

I always write up my class notes, publish the write-ups, and let people know where they are (for example, here's June's class notes).

This allows students (and me!) to refer back to the key points of that class, and means they don't have to take their own notes during the class.

Work the room

Once my regular Sunday class is finished, I'm lucky enough to be able to use a back room in Ceroc Berkhamsted for a "practilonga" - that is, a venue where we play AT music for an hour or so, and people can dance and work on stuff.

During this time, I usually try to dance with as many people as possible, and this gives me a chance to see how they're coming along. It also gives them a chance to ask follow-up questions (and they frequently do) outside the class environment.

Back to basics

Always, always, keep emphasising the basics.

It's led from the centre. The centre moves first. Keep correct posture. Keep connected to your partner. And so on.


I'm not trying to do anything wonderful here, I'm just taking notes of what I'm doing and how I'm doing it.

There's every possibility that I'll look back at this article in two years' time, and find out I'm doing something totally different. In fact, I hope I will, as long as "different" means "better".

But for the moment, this is my philosophy.

~ David Bailey, 9th July 2010