Like with any learning process, there’s something particularly satisfying to the ego when your mastery of a particular activity or skill reaches a certain point that it’s recognised and appreciated by others. A compliment here. An applause there. A request to perform. An invitation to assist with a lesson. Maybe even an invitation to substitute for a teacher.
External acknowledgement can come in many forms, but the truly interesting part is what you do with it. Some people interpret even a minimal amount of it as a sign that they’ve earned themselves the title of ‘expert’ and decide to devote themselves more seriously to teaching, performing or a combination thereof. After all, that’s what an expert does, no? They show others how it’s done. But in my eyes there is a danger in this transition, particularly if it’s premature in one’s evolution of tango skills.
If you bestow upon yourself the authority that comes with expertise, you have to preserve it constantly. People’s tolerance for your mistakes goes down when you enter the ‘experts’ circle.’ After all, who will want to learn from you or see you dance if you’re fail to live up to the occasion, even if it’s during a social dance at a milonga?
You become more self-conscious of your body as you feel other’s eyes scrutinising your every move. You don’t want to embarrass yourself, so you practice tried and true moves that will meet those expectations. But in becoming concerned with other people’s judgments, you are more likely to stay within your comfort zone and avoid doing in public anything that you don’t know well enough to deliver them as they should. You don’t challenge yourself with variety, which implies risk. You become a [insert orchestra name] kind of person, dancing only to songs that match that particular style or sentiment. You may not even dance with as many people as before for fear that they might not be at the ‘right’ level to make you look good.
And because you’re already acting as an expert, your mind will catch up with it and start to become self-righteous and close itself off to possibilities. You’ll believe that enlightenment comes only from certain maestros or styles and that nobody else can have anything valuable for you to learn. In becoming the expert, you’re likely to lose Shoshin, the mental openness that student has when learning a subject, especially as a beginner.
Does this always happen? Of course not always. There are many people who truly know tango and the pedagogy of teaching it and don’t act like arrogant know-it alls. Neither do they stop pushing their skill level and are humble about always being on a learning curve. And by ‘teaching’ I don’t mean helping people out at practicas, sharing tips, or even giving friends the introductory lesson. By teaching I mean building a whole business around it. I’ve also come across people who have rushed to establish themselves as ‘teachers’, with negative consequences for themselves and the community.
They suffer because their growth stalls and they become isolated in a time capsule as the need to look good at all times prevents them from trying anything even remotely risky. Even worse, the community as a whole suffers because these people, while pleasurable to dance with, don’t necessarily have strong technique. Even if they do, it doesn’t meant that they’re able to break down movements in all their components as well as the order in which they occur, so that someone else can replicate it correctly. When they attempt to correct mistakes in other people, they focus on symptoms rather than causes. As a result, gets filled with people who start their tango journey with the same bad habits that their so-called teachers didn’t have the awareness to get eliminate back when they still could.
These bad habits are like an infectious disease and if one really believes that a big source of pleasure in tango comes from freedom of movement, then it doesn’t’ make sense to start teaching without being completely clean of them yourself. If you love tango, you owe it to the art itself to not spread it in a tainted form to other people who, not having been exposed to anything else, consider you to be the ultimate source of truth.
‘Experts’ and ‘beginners’ aside, let’s not forget that tango is about the intimacy of the embrace with another human being. And the most intense and beautiful embraces can come from anyone, regardless of where they are in their tango journey.