Other tango blogs have covered this topic extensively, and I’ve also written about it several times before. But it’s worth mentioning again.
During a milonga, do not correct your partner while on the dance floor.
Don’t do it.
Even if your intentions are good.
Even if you’re the most polite and tactful person in town.
Even if your partner claims to be okay with it.
It’s not okay.
Many other tango blogs will do a better job than I will explaining why this is detrimental on an emotional level. And they’ll provide persuasive information on why we should continue observing this tradition of tango etiquette.
But in addition to good manners and not making yourself look like an arrogant prick (the emotional aspect), here are three practical reasons why we ought to refrain from teaching on the dance floor:
Beginners need the tough love
Beginners are going to make mistakes, and they’re going to feel bad about it. But the majority of them are also mature adults, not vulnerable little snowflakes. As experienced dancers, we must resist the urge to offer verbal advice, and keep our mouths shut. By keeping silent and allowing beginners to make their mistakes, we’re not being harsh and uncaring, even if it seems that way.
Good tango students will know when they’re doing something wrong. Mistakes are a valuable opportunity for them to learn self-awareness. It also tests their commitment to improve. Keeping quiet while they struggle isn’t mean or sadistic. It helps beginners understand that learning tango is about improving themselves, and not about gaining the approval of others.
Patience makes us better dancers
We know that tango is more than just learning steps. And as we get better technically, we’ll need to improve our patience as well. When dancing with novices, we’ll need to get a sense of our partner’s level. And from there, we’ll figure out which steps they’re comfortable doing.
Perhaps we’d prefer to break out our sacadas, volcadas, and ganchos (oh my). But if our partners are only comfortable walking, pausing, and doing rock steps for the time being, so be it.
Ramping it back will require patience, and the tanda won’t go as smoothly as it would with a more experienced dancer. But dancing with novices makes us more aware of the importance of clear communication/connection, especially from our end. And the more in tune we are with that idea, the better we’ll be able to dance with anyone. Beginners always appreciate patience. And patience can motivate them to improve in ways that words can’t.
It fosters community cohesion
It takes a lot of courage for beginners to attend milongas. And newcomers are vital in order to keep the community growing. By not correcting a novice’s mistakes on the dance floor, we are not granting tacit approval of one’s shortcomings nor showing cold indifference.
We are, however, acknowledging that the beginner is welcome. Acceptance into the tango community is a very powerful thing, and shouldn’t be commensurate upon a dancer’s abilities. We aren’t accepted into a tango community only after we’ve become better dancers. Rather, we become better dancers by first being part of the community.
Constructive criticism and giving advice has its place in the weekly classes and prácticas. This isn’t to say that we don’t learn at a milonga. But the milonga should be seen as a place where we enjoy tango as much as we can, by making the most of the dance skills we currently have.