The Rise of the Know-It-All

For some time now I've been somewhat bemused by the growing onslaught of self-appointed experts in the field of tango. You may know the ones I'm talking about. The ones who, hearing the first strains of Dime Mi Amor, start giving lectures about how Maure is a poor substitute for Echagüe. The ones who, watching the milonga from the rock star seats (most milongas have them), lament about how much it sucks compared to Sunderland. Et al. Usually their unsolicited expertise comes in the guise of a weary complaint or as a dutiful correction of someone else's ignorance. Sometimes you'll see two of them go head to head trying to one up each other. It's kind of like watching that scene from Good Will Hunting where the snobby Harvard guy gets his comeuppance by the more knowledgeable main character--but with both the tango guys being the Harvard guy.

I suppose it's understandable. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so the saying goes. Once someone gets hooked into tango it's natural to develop an appetite for facts and figures, and since information is so readily available nowadays it's not hard to research. I guess what I find a little annoying is just how susceptible so many people are to feeling like big shots so quickly, and with no more than the discovery of Todotango.com. Or perhaps from a trip to Buenos Aires, which automatically imbues them with expertise. Among the most annoying of this ilk are some of the lucky souls who have the means to relocate down south for extended periods of time. The ones who seem to have the attitude that their living in tango mecca trumps everything else and so they lord it over anyone who ever has a different opinion. "I've lived in Buenos Aires so I know..." Entire books have been written by some of these people.

Specific to the dance front, this supposed prowess often comes as a result of having studied with such-and-such and so-and-so. Or with the sheer amount of time one has spent with tango. Neither of which necessarily means anything. One question that I'm sick of hearing when meeting someone new is, "How long have you been dancing?" Though it may appear innocuous, it's a question with loaded expectations, and I often get the sense that there is an evaluation being made depending on the response. But everyone knows people who have been dancing for a good amount of time but who still, to put it mildly, kind of suck. Of course, some of these people feel that they've put in the hours and have earned their degree, and become "teachers" in some form. Either by actually holding classes, or more informally by instructing people they meet in the milongas and/or prácticas.

I wonder if it ever occurs to them that considering themselves authorities with such relatively little time, effort and/or ability actually diminishes their subject of supposed mastery? That, if they are experts already, it must mean that the history and culture of tango really isn't all that rich and complex, or that the dance isn't all that exacting?

Personally, I'm happy to consider myself a relative child in tango. Knowing there's so much more to learn is a big factor in keeping me interested and pushing me forward. When you're already a master, where else is there to go? What else to discover? (Hint: if your answer is "a lot" then guess what--you're not a master).


Frances R said...

Aye, aye, guilty.
I have got those fits of the adolescent tango arrogance from time to time. No, I did not start a class or write a book. But I have caught myself loudly judging others' manners, and dancing, and working ethics...
Thanks for the reminder: I shall keep my pie hole shut more often than not. :)
And as for people around me to improve and learn more, the best I can do is to set the example by doing so myself.

RealityPivots said...

I've had it pointed out that the quote says "learning" not knowledge and that changes the meaning.

Malevito said...

Hi guys, how are you?

Frances R: I think there's a difference between having an opinion--which, of course, every person has a right to--and self-promotion, which is the intent behind what this post is about. You shouldn't feel bad about having and sharing strong feelings and perspectives. The thing that is a turn-off for me is the kind of attitude that some people have, whether it be patronizing or of outright superiority. Though I will say that what mostly irks me is when this is clearly unearned. When it comes from someone who has paid their dues and can back it up with their experience, knowledge and ability then I really don't mind it so much because their perspective carries weight.

As far as the people around you, I like your attitude about bettering yourself and setting a good example, but to be honest I don't think there is much one can do about a lot of these people and one shouldn't even really concern themselves with them--with the exception of such immediate things as avoiding them on the dance floor and (politely) refusing to dance with them.

RealityPivots: yeah, I knew about the actual quote but I decided to use the other because I think it's the more popular phrasing and the gist is understood to be the same, despite the change in literal connotation.