The Cost Of Learning

30th April 2010

"You are going to lose 90% of your audience unless you learn to keep it short!" ~ Richard Bach


Because Social dancers form the majority in classes and most workshops, teachers need to be able to express themselves very concisely. They can break it into pieces and teach each piece at a time one after the other. But if they want to spend say 2 minutes explaining a concept, most of their class will have lost interest after the first 10 seconds.

What this means is that it can be quite easy to come away with lightbulb moments from classes and workshops, because the teacher is forced to explain something in a very short and simple way.

"Are there any questions?"

Teachers will ask this periodically during classes and workshops and usually get utter silence in reply. Simply put, for social dancers, it's all a bit like buses. If you didn't get the last one, don't worry another one will be along in a minute.

Serious dancers on the other hand tend to want to ask questions. These are mainly the following types of queries

1. Something wasn't clear

Maybe the teacher did a weight transfer in the sequence and didn't mention it so you keep ending up on the wrong foot.

This is good. It lets the teacher quickly add the extra information so everyone gets it.

2. A technical query.

Does it work better if the embrace is open or closed? That kind of thing.

This depends. If the teacher can answer it in a sentence then good. If not, then they'll loose 90% of the class quite quickly. If you think it's going to take more than a sentence to answer, in my experience it's better to simply wait until everyone's started doing the next thing, then go to the teacher and ask them one-to-one. This is particularly useful for "could you lead it on me so I can see what it's supposed to feel like?" queries.

However it also means that some things probably aren't going to be explained in classes because it's just not possibly to express them in this manner.

Don't go to classes

So what does this mean? Well if you want to learn then classes and workshops really aren't a great idea.

Consider the "traditional learning" model

Social dancer

2-3 times a week for three years - mixture of classes (for the first year) and milonga.
Cost: 2 x £10 x £52 x 3 = £3,120

10 random workshops about "XYZ-adas and being sexy"
Cost:10 x £25 = £250

Total: £3,500

Serious dancer

Serious dancers tend to do something similar, but take private lessons as well, drastically increasing the amount of time and money involved.

A new model

Two years ago I proposed a different model to several friends who are Serious dancers. They all looked at me like I was quite insane (fortunately I'm used to this ).

Time passed and gradually they started following it too.

The model is as follows:

  • Forget classes and workshops entirely.
  • For the first year forget milonga too.
  • Use the time and money to take Private lessons once a month (it's probably a fair average - some will do them weekly, some quarterly) and go to practicas for a year.

The cost

  • Monthly private lessons for 3 years £40 x 12 x 3 = £1440
  • 1-2 a week practica (including sloppy milonga) where you work on what you learned in private lessons and dance: these vary from free to £5 so say £250
  • For next 2 years keep going to practica say twice a month say £100
  • But now also go to Milonga 1 or 2 a week: 1.5 x 10 x 52 = £780

Total cost: about £2,500. So it's actually cheaper...


There's several "revolutionary" ideas in there that I've heard counter-arguments to.

1. "It'll cost more"

Although it seems that way, especially if you're handing over £40 rather than £10, but if you look at the above maths you'll see it actually works out about a third less or £1,000 cheaper over 3 years.

2. "You need to dance with a variety of people in order to dance well socially."

This is where the "practicas for a year" bit comes in. You dance with a lot of different people, particularly at practicas which are sloppy milongas. You also get to do it in a far more relaxed atmosphere, where you can stop and ask what you're not doing right, or actually practice what your teacher gave you for "homework".

The big problem serious dancers face is that they're more aware of what they're doing and so tend to be more critical.

Simply put, Serious dancers tend to have a hard time actually relaxing and enjoying dancing. Spending a year in practicas is a very good way to build up your skills in a safe environment. But equally importantly, you can also "practice" enjoying dancing.

It wasn't unusual for me to spend half an hour or more dancing with one person. By that point you're well past worrying about whether you're doing xyz right and instead are simply flowing along contentedly. Plus the simple fact that the other person has stayed dancing with you for half an hour rather helps alleviate your worries that you suck far too much for anyone to enjoy dancing with you.

Workshop hell

Compare a couple taking a workshop on volcadas, with the same couple sharing a private lesson on volcadas.

It will probably cost roughly the same amount. But in the workshop they'll get one or two "lightbulb" pieces of advice expressed in a concise sentence or two. In the private lesson, not only will they get that advice, they'll get far more individual attention, as well as information that takes longer to explain.

So why does anyone do workshops?!

Well if you're a social dancer they make far more sense. If you're not going to learn so much as socialize, then really all you want is a couple of useful tips in the form of concise sentences during the workshop and the opportunity to chat. "I don't do privates as I'm not going to have someone nitpick over my technique for an hour" a friend once explained to me. Likewise social dancers don't want homework. It's the serious dancers who practice ochos in the kitchens.

Serious Workshops

Over the last 6 months or so I've started noticing a few workshops in London, such as those held by Joaquin Amenabar and Andreas Wichte, that were only attended by Serious dancers (indeed at least two teachers and two demos turned up to some of them).

This works remarkably well as they were able to give longer explanations and more detailed explanations, as well as showing how things "felt".

The catch? Because you can ask more detailed questions, there's more of a danger of it drifting away from the subject at hand, particularly to subjects that simply have no definitive answer and can be discussed pretty much forever (look at any Internet Forum for examples of this). But in terms of useful information they seem to be remarkably effective.

I'm not certain how you'd identify them though, other than by asking around.

~ Christopher O'Shea, 30th April 2010

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