Monday 17 January 2011

It's a job - for god's sake!

Teaching Tango is a great thing to do.
You get to know a lot of people, make friends, explore an interesting culture and you receive a lot of positive feedback and self-affirmation. Enough reasons for quite a few to give up better paid and secure jobs. It‘s about following a dream. And those who manage to make a living out of it are perceived as particularly blessed. We few, we happy few!
But the job is not without disadvantages and what I want to focus on, is a specific characteristic of occupations in the recreational field or the arts. I am referring to the fact that teaching Tango, as a result of it‘s merits and because of the friendly relations you make, is widely not perceived as a real profession. Very often this results in unprofessional behaviour by teachers, organisers and consumers.
Already within the first months of dancing Tango, I was surprised by the amount of unprofessional comportment on the side of the teachers, some of them obviously some kind of stars: coming too late to class, not being prepared, fighting in front of the students, insulting customers... You all know, what I‘m talking about.
So when I started teaching and organising events, I wanted to do better. But although I was behaving correctly, my job was not taken seriously by all of my customers. The participants of our regular courses e.g., did not understand, why I might be tired after class and wanted to go home, instead of spending the rest of the evening (and most of my earned money) in a restaurant. Some of them, even made me feel bad about taking money. And I still remember them wishing us a „happy holiday“ when we were about to start our first tour to the USA. What? Running to catch a Metro in New York after hours of privates to get to a pre-Milonga class without having had dinner is definitely no holiday!
And during all those years, I unfortunately also met a lot of organisers (private persons, Tango clubs or Tango schools) who have shown their share of unprofessional conduct: overbooking classes, not doing proper announcements, letting people wait for a Milonga ...
As always, I polarise and let‘s not forget all those great people, who are doing a great job. But still... 
There are far too many out there, who do not understand the following: The moment, money is exchanged for a service, you are dealing with a professional situation and you have to behave according to it.
And because I‘m obsessively correct, I decided to compose a list of „do‘s and don‘ts in Tango-teaching business“. An incomplete handbook. Ein kleiner Leitfaden. It is adressed to teachers (both travelling and local), organisers and students.

People pay money, so that you help them to learn Tango or inspire them with a show. You are an employee or at least a person who renders a service. You are entitled to a fair payment and correct behaviour on the side of the organisers and students and to whatever additional compensation that your contract with the organiser agrees on.
Do‘s & don‘ts:
  • Be clear in your communication with organisers. Respond to their mails or calls and give them whatever information they need to prepare the event. If possible, provide a pre-written contract  or at least a paper with your conditions. Prepare an invoice.
  • Prepare instruction thoroughly. Knowing a step is not sufficient. You have to know how to structure a class, to initiate exercises and to be able to explain whatever is necessary to understand your concepts and ideas. It‘s called pedagogy. You can study it at universities, in case you are not yet properly equipped for the job.
  • If possible and necessary, learn languages to communicate with your customers. Nobody will expect you to speak French, if you go there for one Festival only. But if you are invited repeatedly, you may want to learn a few terms in order to facilitate your instruction.
  • Be punctual.
  • Do not drink or take drugs before or during classes or Milongas. It‘s likewise not cool to come to class with a hangover from yesterday‘s night out!
  • Be polite to your customers and employers.
  • During classes, give personal feedback and help to students. It is not enough, to show a step and then sit back to drink Mate.
  • Do not bring your children to a gig, definitely not to class. They will distract you.
  • If you teach social Tango, behave socially at a Milonga: It is not cool to sit and dance only with your colleagues or buddies. Do not think, that you're too good for the civilians. If you have to, please refuse invitations to dance or to communicate in a polite way. 
  • Being at a Milonga is part of your job to promote Tango culture. This is why it is likewise arrogant, to show up 5 minutes before the demo and go directly after it‘s done, if you do not have a real good excuse. (I‘m not talking about a longer Festival here. Nobody can expect that you participate at every Milonga in this special case.)
  • Prepare the music for your demo and co-ordinate early enough with the DJ, so that he/she can plan accordingly.
  • Having fun at a Milonga is one of the perks of your job, but do not overdo it. It‘s possibly not a good idea to stay until the end of an all-nighter, if your next class starts early the next day. You‘ve got a job to do!

People give you money, so that you hire teachers or organise Milongas and Festivals. You are an employer or at least an agent. You are entitled to a service as described in your contract with the teacher/artist and a complete payment by the final customers.
Do‘s & don‘ts:
  • Be clear in your communication with the teachers and students. Respond to their mails or calls and give them whatever information they need to prepare for the event. Post complete info on the net with whatever details might be relevant.
  • Announce your events in due time. A good and early publicity is the pre-requisite for a successful workshop, festival or Milonga. Half empty classes are bad for your budget and for the general morale!
  • Do not overbook classes and try to keep class sizes reasonably. Every student above 12 couples will minimise the teaching quality, as it does not allow for enough time to correct each student individually.
  • Be punctual and organise enough helpers, if needed.
  • Do not forget to arrange breaks in the class schedule.
  • Provide correct lodgings for the teachers. They will need a bedroom with enough space to store their clothes and an appropriate bed or beds. A private bathroom is good and lodging the teachers in a hotel is even better. Tango teachers are sociable people, but many of them travel the entire year and will need some privacy.
  • Provide food and drinks according to the needs and tastes of the teachers. They will work hard, so they need proper nurturing.
  • Lots of Tango teachers travel all year. They will most likely not have the time and energy to do sight seeing. If you nevertheless suggest it , please accept a „no“ without being hurt.
  • Pay teachers fairly. It is not Ok to overbook classes with 20 couples, and in the same time try to keep the salary of the teachers as low as possible. It‘s totally acceptable to aim for a profit, but the income should at least be shared 50/50. Teachers who work on a shared-income basis and not on a fixed salary, will might even ask for a share of 70%.
  • Announce demos properly and try to cheer up the audience. Performers need an alert and eager audience to do their best.

You pay the teachers and organisers to provide a sound education or amusement at an event. You are a customer. You are entitled to a service as described in the announcements and furthermore a polite and proper treatment by both teachers and organisers.
Do‘s & don‘ts:
  • No matter how good you know the teachers, give them some privacy. Do not crowd them during class breaks or at Milongas. They might want to prepare or just need some time-out. Sitting in the corner with the feet up and eating a sandwich does not signalise: I want to have a chat!
  • Show up for class. If you've pre-booked a class and cannot come, please cancel early enough, so that the organiser can give your place to someone else.
  • Be punctual for class.
  • During class, do not interrupt the teachers without a show of hands and do not chat during their explanations. It‘s likewise impolite to leave the room for a longer period without explaining why.
  • Please do the exercises that you were asked to do. If you do not understand them, ask the teacher. If you do not agree, explain why.
  • Accept corrections without moping. It‘s the teachers job to give feedback and if you feel, that you do not need instruction, please do not attend a class. 
  • Do not idolise a teacher. You‘ve got the right to question his or her concepts and didactics. If you feel, that something does not make sense or if you do not share an opinion, you may say so politely. If the teacher does not behave in a civilised manner, comes to late or doesn‘t do his job properly, complain with him/her and with the organisers.
  • Ask in advance, if it is allowed to videotape the class summary or demo. Do not post it on Youtube without permission.
  • It is permitted to invite teachers to dance, but please do it respectfully. Collecting dances with „Maestros“ is purely stupid. Use cabeceo & mirada to express invitations and accept a „no“ if given. Apart from being tired, a teacher may have the same reasons to accept or refuse an invitation as anyone else. You pay teachers for instruction, but they are no taxi-dancers.
  • When inviting a female teacher to dance, do not try to impress her with all the great steps you‘ve learned. She will definitely be bored or annoyed. Dance simply, musically and with a nice embrace and she will love it.
  • Do not mistake an intimate teacher-student-relation with a real friendship. Making friends with a teacher takes time and requires personal exchange - as it would with anyone else. I‘ve made a quite few friends amongst students and organisers, but these are the relationships that transcend Tango and this article.

Oh gosh! Against all good intentions, I posted another Tango-related long article. I'll try to do better next time. I promise. ;-)


Unknown said...

Great point. Customer service, treating each other well is very important. I am glad you made these important points, people will listen to you.

Gentoo said...

There are many people from all three groups that could do with this printed out, put in a plastic protector and kept with their dance shoes.

(Actually, not just Argentine Tango but many social dance styles)

Thank you for your blog it is always an interesting read.

Roham said...

What about Do's & Don'ts for tango DJs? It's a job too -- for god's sake! ;)

Melina Sedo said...

@ Roham:

You are totally correct. But there are many great DJ-sites that refer to this topic already.

A good night to everybody!

Kevin Seidel said...

Vary interesting article.
Do you heaven Do and Doughnut for Tango masters like me?
There must be special ruelz because someone important like me should have extra privileges on a milonga, like a free lane on the pista.

Melina Sedo said...

@ Kevin:
Yep. Special rules for MASTERS! Plus you get the hot chicks! ;-)