While waiting to be admitted to the room for their first ‘Beginners’ Tango’ class, participants chatted about their reasons for being there. Some were very keen to learn the dance and were genuinely enthused by what they believed lay ahead in the next couple of hours or so. Others had been ‘dragged’ along, more or less willingly, by partners and friends. One rather nervous-looking couple explained they were only there because they had been bought a voucher for the class as a Christmas present and didn’t want to offend the relative who had given it. Another person said that everyone in their office had been mandated, as preparation for a forthcoming ‘away day’, to demonstrate ‘a new skill’ they were learning outside of work and, as time was running out and they had learned other dances successfully in the past, this class would have to do.
Once invited into the room, participants were surprised to find not the open floor space and strains of bandoneon they were expecting, but rather seats clustered around tables and, at the head of the room, a huge projector-screen bearing the words: ‘Tango Dancing Skills’. A few commented that this was no doubt a temporary initial measure: perhaps they were going to be shown some videos of the dance steps they would be learning as an initial guide before getting on with the dancing itself. As the session progressed, however, it became clear that, no, this really was it. There was to be no actual dancing, no rehearsal, no observation of more experienced others, no learning from mistakes under instructor guidance, no breaking down more complex routines into smaller constituent parts etc. Instead, the time was spent discussing in groups questions such as: ‘What is the Tango?’; and ‘What characteristics does an effective Tango dance possess?’ etc. They did get to watch one video, but this featured several dances other than the Tango. The instructor claimed that this didn’t matter so much as certain aspects of dancing were classed as ‘generic dancing skills’ that could be ‘transferred’ to all dancing situations. Towards the end of the session, the instructor gave everyone handouts of the slides and explained that next week they would be discussing the ‘assessment criteria’ that would be used to judge their Tango dancing in their end-of-course exams. It was important that they read this criteria carefully, the instructor said, as they contained what they needed to know in order to dance the Tango well.
Finally, participants were asked to complete a feedback form in which they were invited to state how far they agreed with statements like: ‘The session introduced me to the characteristics of effective Tango dancing’; and ‘The instructor was enthusiastic about their topic’; and ‘I was given ample opportunities to discuss my views with others’ etc. Reading these after the class, the instructor was pleased to see how many ‘Strongly Agree’ and ‘Agree’ responses there were. A few unsolicited free-text comments complained about the generic nature of the session and the lack of opportunity to actually do any dancing. One went as far as to say they suspected they would be no more able to dance the Tango by the end of the course than they had been at the beginning. Taking these comments on board, the instructor resolved to be even clearer about the learning objectives of the course in future – so as to anticipate these kinds of objections and more effectively ‘manage expectations’.