5 Point Guide to Private Lessons
Whether you’re a beginner or an advancing dancer, or feel like you’re Jesus H. Christ that walks on water, at some point in the near or distant future you’re going to find yourself in the position of needing, or more than likely, wanting to study with X. ‘X’ being the amazing couple or individual that you’ve seen in YouTube videos or in person. And as a result of that ‘want’, this is going to mean, especially for Followers, after a certain point in their development, private lessons only. For Leads, it will mean going to group classes for the barebones of the vocabulary or musical interpretation being taught, and then private lessons for the numerous refinements and retooling that has to happen to their embraces, their walk, and not to mention the innumerable amount of feedback that is required to refine things further. Because there’s doing it a few times in a session with a teacher who’s expecting it, and then there’s reality on a social dance floor. And that is a whole different ball of wax! However, Today’s Tango Topic isn’t about that. It’s about the process that you absolutely should go into to get into a private lesson with a teacher. And in specific a Five Point Guide to Private Lessons.
(notation: This is a longish article. There are no pix. There are also some, somewhat controversial ideas that you may or may not agree with. So for the sake of argument let’s just say that in the 12 years that the author has been teaching, these things tend have tended to come up and these things towards generating a successful private lesson experience that changes the student for the better. So take it with a grain of salt, or not. But please, don’t lose your proverbial mind over it. If what you think is attitude is getting in your way, just skip to pink parts and you can read the rest later or not). 😉 Have a nice tango day.
Go in with a plan to work on ‘X’. Where ‘X’ in this case could be but is not limited to: Your back steps, your side steps, your forward steps. The Follower’s Molinete, Traveling Ochos, Milonguero Ochos, Forward Lead Sacadas, Follower Back Sacadas, The Argentine Cross, Ganchos, Boleos, Paradas, The Media Luna, The Ocho Cortado…just to name a few. Pick something that you find difficult and challenging and go to said teacher and ask for their take on the vocabulary. And if you don’t know the name of the vocabulary, ask the people that you’re dancing with what it’s called so that you can properly identify it to the teacher. If it’s a sequenced move, then try to get someone to record it as you’re doing it with a partner and show it to the Teacher. This makes things so much easier for the teacher to help you with your issues instead of having to guess through a series of steps that it might be.
First and foremost, if you’re going to the hot-flavor-of-the-month teacher because they’re cute, or you like their embrace, or you’ve heard that they’re amazing. Then you’re going for all the wrong reasons. If you’re going to study with someone, then get your head out of the clouds and go for all the right reasons. This is no time to be wasting valuable dollars/rubles/euros/pesos on the superficial. You’re there to WORK. So here are the reasons you should go:
1.) You want to change your dance from what it is today to something better than you can imagine in the future.
2.) You want to have more fun with the partners you currently dance with.
3.) You like the way that they dance and believe they can convey that to you.
4.) You have reached what you think is the end of your development or that you think or believe that you’re stagnating.
5.) You recognize that there are gaps in your knowledge and it’s becoming apparent that you need to address that stuff asap. (Can you say Milonga ? Wow, good, you can. In that case, visit Milonga Madness with Detlef and Melina!) and/or you need a reality check. “Am I screwing up ?”.
If it’s anything beyond that, then you’re going for all the wrong reasons.
You go to private lessons because you want to improve. Not to sleep with the instructor (Sorry! Ok, not sorry!) or to feel their body up close (Not!)
You go to private lessons to change your walk, your embrace, to clarify and refine your skill set. Not to blow smoke up your a$$ for an hour of platitudes! “Oh you’re doing wonderful! Fabulous!! Wow….so much better”….and the like. You want and need absolute, strict, honesty from your teacher. Anything less than that and you’re wasting your time and money. And we don’t mean ‘nice-nice’ honesty, we mean what you would call ‘brutal’ (and you absolutely have to use this word with them) honesty. Otherwise, they’re going to blow smoke up your ass for an hour, and then collect their fee. They don’t want to hurt your feelings, and they believe that if they tell you the truth, the whole truth, the unvarnished truth, that they’ll turn away a cash cow of a resource. They have bills to pay too. However, you have to be firm, and state with absolute certainty that you want the absolute truth with them. They’ll say “Are you sure ?”. You’ll nod. And then they’ll tell you, hopefully. Be prepared for some truth bombs dropped. And if they’re still giving it to you ‘soft’ and ‘nice’ then it’s time fire that teacher and go find one that speaks the language of truth.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in our tango travels it’s this: Truth is a requirement towards better. The more truth that you have the easier it is to change towards that idea of ‘better’ (more on what ‘better’ is below). Truth does not need to be harsh, and that’s how some people will hear this reality. Truth can be delivered without demeaning behavior. Truth can be delivered without a charge to it. Truth is also an active process and both parties must be able to hear it as well as to speak it.
Then, of course, there is the understanding that you want to change what you’re doing. Perhaps you like it, what you may not realize is that you may be creating or generating issues that may in fact be getting in your own way and/or others! And the only way that you’ll know that is by asking for truth from your instructors. But if you have a timidity to hear these things, if you persist in a self-delusion, if you continue along the line that everything you’re doing with said teacher is absolutely frakkin’ amazing…then well, you’ll get what you paid for….which is, if you’re a Follower, this. And if you’re a Lead, this.
So it’s a good idea to have a teacher to be honest with you, and to drill down to the absolute truth with them.
Dance Two Example Dances with your teacher and video both of them in good light with good sound. Then watch the resulting video with your teacher, and say nothing while it’s happening. Make mental notes about what’s going on and then explain to the teacher where there were areas of confusion or concern. Why only two example dances ? One in Open Embrace, and One in Close Embrace. That’s why. Also, dance only to a Tango or a Vals. If you’re there to work on Milonga then pick a milonga (usually one by Canaro). Know thy Milongas! Oh, and shameless plug – Not to put too fine a point on this…but have you seen Milonga Madness ??? And then when you’re done with the dance and your notes, and feedback. Try to get their feedback either on video or in written form (write down what they say and if you can get it with time stamps of where X, and Y happens in a dance that’s even better). This is insanely important as it will give you something else to work on.
The Teacher Component. We have to address the quality of instruction as a factor here when taking private lessons. We need to remove the teacher from the equation, sort of, and focus on the student and not the teacher as a potential cause for why a student would or wouldn’t necessarily improve. Why ? Answer: Because not all teachers are alike. And not to misquote the book ‘Animal Farm’, “Some are more equal than others”. Meaning that some are better than others. So for the moment, what’s below are 5 points to points to consider that can help you to determine if you’re picking a teacher with some mad skillz to help you in your quest of getting to ‘better’:
1.) Look at the students that they generate. If there is a long, long, long, long line of students of theirs that everyone raves about dancing with, then that might be someone you want to spend some time with. This isn’t about the popular dancer-teacher, it’s about the dancer-teacher that consistently generates a series of dancers that are very desirable to dance with.
2.) Look at how they move because you’re going to look like that in some way, shape, or form. Teachers tend to create mirror images of themselves. While there are some necessities to this, what you’re looking for is a wide range of dancing skills in their movement. Specifically, someone that is well versed in the various forms of the Embrace like Open, Close, Vee (Open Vee, Closed Vee), and the like. You’re also looking at how they land their feet in the three steps. Whether they land heel to toe or toe to heel consistently. Or whether their steps are varied for the movement that they’re engaged in (in case it’s not clear, you want the last one – varied). You’re looking at how and if they apply disassociation (what you erroneously think of as a ‘pivot’), or whether or not they ‘cheat’ and throw their leg behind them in the Follower’s Molinete, or a Back Sacada. You’re looking for how smoothly they apply that disassociation or whether or not it’s jerky and broken. The details matter here for a whole bunch of reasons. You’re looking at whether or not they invoke compression, force, and tension in their embrace, and if they do then this is an indicator of being pushed, pulled, and squeezed. In other words whether or not they use their arms and hands to direct their dancing partners. Uuuugh. Yes, sadly, there are teachers that do this. It’s not ideal but it’s what happens. These are just some of the things to look for in and that matter in choosing an instructor.
3.) Everything you will ever need to know about a particular Teacher, and the quality of their instruction, resides in their Beginner Lesson. If it seems ‘fast’ to you, or they skip over salient details of the embrace, the walk, the whatever…then this is probably not a teacher you want to spend a whole lot of time on. If on the other hand, you see in their beginner lesson they balance the intricacies of one’s walk, and their foundation with a use case at a Milonga. If you see that they show you basics and what you can do with them. If they generate elegant and the simplicity of walking and all the things you can do with it on a social dance floor. Then this is a teacher you want to spend ooodles of time with. Vocabulary means NOTHING. Walking well is EVERYTHING. Anything else is a waste of your time and money.
4.) The teacher that can swap roles is the proverbial bomb. If they dance both roles, socially, not at a practica now and again where they look all gangly dancing their non-gendered role, then you’re onto something. If they dance at a Milonga, their non-gendered role, on regular basis then this is someone you want to spend lots of time and money on. Why ? Look no further than some of the world’s best teacher-class dancers! In this clip on youtube, brought to you by 030 Tango and the Lodz Tango Festival in 2014, you have Sebastian Achaval dancing with Fabián Peralta, Sebastián Jiménez dancing with Juan Martín Carrara, Roxana Suárez dancing with Stefanía Colina, María Inés Bogado dancing with Josefina Bermudez Avila. And then they switch it up again, the men all rotate, and the women do to. See for yourself -> Here. You might be inclined to think that this is an isolated incident. It’s not. There are many of these ‘fun’ Cambios de Roles (changes of roles or role changing), this is just one among many. Why is this relevant ? Because it’s clear from watching the clip that they actually know what they’re doing and aren’t all gangly with their opposite role but they’re quite facile with it all. This speaks to the larger skill set. They’ve been working on their non-gendered role for a long time. But why, you may ask, is this relevant to picking a teacher with skillz that you want ? Here’s why! Because a teacher that understands both roles, and dances both roles, and teaches both roles can speak to the whole of the dance and not just one side of it. Further a teacher that actually dances the other role is speaking from personal experience and not from some cocked up theory of dancing. Hmmm and now that we think of it, one more rather important reason: A teacher that dances both roles has discovered that one role is the core of the other. And that by learning one, you’re really learning the core of the other. And still one more: A teacher that dances both roles has also learned that both roles are a necessity towards a more well balanced and well thought out form of the dance instead of the genderization of the dance. This is why it’s important. This type of teacher usually imparts this type of knowledge to their students and as a direct result of that, their students tend to develop a little more quickly and tend to be more balanced dancers.
5.) The teacher that focuses on Foundation, and the importance of walking. This may sound simple and everyone mouths the words but a teacher that actually enforces that you do nothing else for weeks if not months on end ? That’s a teacher that you want to spend oodles of time with. Why is this important above all else ? Because the teacher that forces you to work on your walk knows that the key to better tango isn’t the steps, patterns, and figures. It’s your walk. Fix that. Change that, and everything else about your dance will change. Everything. So private lessons with a near militant instructor on the need to work on your walk and probably nothing else for a very long time is what you’re really after.
There are a few other telltale signs that you’re dealing with a quality instructor like the attention to detail, minutiae is their calling card. An apt expression and explanation of the music and not the typical 8 beat count or phrases mantra that occurs quite frequently. The ability to analyze and diagnose movement not from the Resistance-based Dancing methodology (push here, lean here, pull there, etc) but rather the Intention-Based dancing camp is ideally what you seek. Why this and not the other. Go look at our article on Intention-Based Dancing. It answers most of the why. Moving on. The ability to build a community of dancers and not just clones of themselves. An accepting personality of all ideas of Tango and not just one narrow vantage point that one idea of tango is right over all others. Tango is a living breathing organism that is changing daily. Not this idea that there is only one original Tango and that’s it. They include all dancers and not just the young, pretty ones. Size, age, disposition doesn’t matter. What matters is skill, patience, and time. Of course, not being a conceited _____ (ahem) helps too that and having a sense of self-depricating sense of humor is also a plus…not required, just a plus. 😉 Hmmm, probably one thing that gets overlooked is the ability to empathize with where the student is at, and then have the ability to help them past their emotional stuff that’s holding them back. Calming someone’s fears, their personal issues and challenges is sometimes what can change someone’s dance from “Please! God! NOOOOO!” to “Hmmm, yes that was pleasant”. Sometimes. This is who you’re looking for to study with.
It should be noted, that while what’s above is ideal, there are times and places where because you only have access to small or very limited number of teachers that studying with the noted tango god above may not be possible. You’ve got what you’ve got access to. And that’s all you’ve got. Which is not to say that the homegrown variety isn’t da bomb, it’s to say that sometimes (not always) that the just because they live in a small town doesn’t make them undesirable. Far from it. Typically the teacher in the small town has to serve many roles and they end up having many hats to wear. So don’t take this as a disparagement of the local teaching crop. It’s to say that the ideals above are what you’re shooting for but sometimes a corner must be cut here and there. That’s why it’s insanely important to study with visiting instructors, and when there is an instructor passing through your region that you go spend a few hours. A single instructor does not a tango dancer make anymore. That used to be the case. That’s not true any longer. It takes a village to raise a tango dancer these days. And the more voices you have, the more ideas you’re exposed to, the easier this gets!
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Try > Our Tango Music Course
Ask a series of detailed questions about your form, your walk, your embrace, your … everything. Here are some examples of what you should be asking of your teachers on a regular basis, with every session:
a.) How does my posture appear and feel to you ?
b.) How does my embrace feel to you ? (this is a loaded question that needs some clarity – see below).
c.) How does my walk look and feel to you ?
d.) How does my Forward Step appear to you ? What should it look like ? How and where should I land it and in what situations should I change the shape of my foot and the direction it lands ?
e.) [Followers] How does my back step appear to you ? What needs to change or improve about it ? [Leads] Am I generating enough forward intention to create the Follower’s back step ?
f.) Am I stable ? Do you feel me using you for my own stability with my hands ?
g.) What needs to change or to improve about my walk ? And how do you do that ?
h.) What does the visual line of my extensions (projections) look like to you ?
i.) Am I using my hands to push or pull you ?
j.) Do you feel compression from my forearms on your back or sides ?
k.) Am I generating ‘resistance‘ ? And if so, where do you feel it coming from ?
l.) [Followers] Am I extending enough in Back Traveling Ochos ? [Leads] Am I collecting in Traveling Ochos ?
m.) [Followers] Am I creating enough Applied Disassociation to generate rotation for the back step of my Molinetes. AND/OR Am I stepping away from you in the Molinete. [Leads] Am I actually leading the Follower’s Back Step and/or Forward step of the Follower’s Molinete.
n.) [Followers] Are my crosses clean or dirty? And where should I be in relation to the Lead in an Argentine Cross ? [Leads] Am I actually Leading the Cross or inferring it ?
o.) Am I stepping into the middle of the step in Sacadas or the Trailing foot ?
These are just some of the questions you should be asking your Teacher in a private lesson. Print out this list and take it with you. Do not rely on your memory for this stuff. You can’t. You will misremember it. Print it out and take it with you.
Don’t just go and be a sheep. Get involved in your education. The teacher is not magical. They’re not god. And they are fallible in certain conditions. Stop revering them as if they walked on water and get involved in your own development.
One more thing along these lines: Do you want to look your teacher when they dance ? Or do you want to look like you imitating them ? Or do you want to do your own thing with their ideas incorporated ? If it’s the latter, then you’re onto something. Tango is all about individuality. So…BE Individual. Correct your issues. And then … here’s the hard part grow beyond your original programming!
Let’s get one more thing out of the way, while we’re on the subject because this stuff is all related in a myriad of different ways: No matter what you do, unless you invoke an Intensive Study Program (hint, hint, hint), you’re still going to be less-than-desirable in a whole host of areas even with Private Lessons. Let that sink in for a moment.
Also there is the prevalent idea that with just a few Private Lessons that you’ll ‘suck less’.
Ummmm…..nope. Sadly not.
The ‘sucking less’ part will go on for a long, long, long while. Years in fact. The reason ? Habits. You have habits that you’re going to revert to for a variety of reasons. Most notably is because you are comfortable doing what you’re doing, and diverting from that is a conscious effort that takes time and patience. What needs to occur is that you need to eradicate those ‘habits’. First by recognizing them, and then by altering them, and then removing them altogether, one by one. That will take time. Lots of time, with lots of verbal, visual and pointed reminders. Ooooodles of them.
Also that while you’re in this state of ‘change’, and we’ll call it that for the moment, you’re going to develop habits that are not born of the teaching your receiving (either in group classes or in private lessons) but rather through dancing with other people and less than desirable partners and convenience. Those habits that you’ll develop will quite literally get in your way. It’s kinesthetic convenience really. It’s easier if you do this or that. When the ‘right’ way, the desirable way is more difficult at least from where you’re sitting right now.
Video the Session. Assuming that the Teacher will allow it. And if they do, then promise (and keep it) that you will not, under any circumstances, post it to youtube or share it with anyone else. Look, you may find this very hard to believe when it comes to Tango but your memory for what was said and what was done, and more importantly how it was done is incredibly faulty. You can not rely on it. Ever. Further, you can’t even trust that you what you think was said, was said. There is an exception to this, such as the person who has an eidetic visual memory type. Those people are exempt from this stuff. You, on the other hand, can not be trusted with this stuff. That’s what VIDEO is FOR!!!! Do not video the instruction part, just the dancing part. However if the teacher is cool with videoing the instruction part (very few are) then do it. If you have issues with video, get over it. Video doesn’t lie. People and mirrors do! Don’t trust them, and don’t rely on them. You need hard evidence of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
Have you seen the Golden Sacada video ? The Golden Sacada is a series of 6 Sacadas chained together to create a wonderful dancing construct that exemplifies one of our operating principles: Options & Opportunities.
See > The Golden Sacada
‘Better’. We have to address this idea. What is ‘better’ ? First and foremost, ‘better’ is a moving target. It’s a not a fixed item. It continually changes. Once you reach one plateau, you realize there’s another one above that and above that and above that and so on…it’s dizzying. Secondly, your idea of ‘better’ and your teacher’s idea of ‘better’ are two very different things. And in order for you to understand ‘better’ you will have to, for a little while take on the persona of your teacher’s vantage point of what they see as desirable or ‘better’, just for a little while. Thirdly, ‘better’ is not a destination. It’s not that you magically arrive at being ‘better’ one day. That never happens. Ever. So get that thought right out of your head. ‘Better’ is a process, it will take you time, patience, and lots and lots of trials to achieve ‘better’. And ‘better’ is also the recognition that ‘better’ doesn’t happen overnight. Truthfully it takes it’s sweet old time to get from point a to point wherever. 😉 At the same time ‘better’ is also a choice. You have to want to be that. It’s not something that you can just snap your fingers and it magically happens. No. You actually, god forbid, have to work for this stuff, rapaciously. ‘Better’ also comes with it a work ethic. One that is based in diligence, patience, practice (lots and lots and lots of practice). And ‘better’ is also based on feedback, and the realization that that healthy, truthful, honest, direct, clear feedback (see: Giving and Receiving Feedback) is an absolute component towards ‘better’.
Lastly, we have to address what a Private Lesson is NOT:
a.) Private Lessons are not a panacea. They’re not going to fix everything that ails you. What they will do is, if the teacher is worth their salt (and this is a huge if), is fix or address or create awareness of a series of underlying issues that plague you (usually in one of three areas: Embrace, Walk, & Habit). And then as a result of private lessons with them, you’ll be able to do more with less!
b.) One Private Lesson is not going to do much for you. The reality is that one private a week or per month or every six months isn’t going to do diddly for you! The problem ? The frequency. In order for Privates to have any effect on you at all, there has to be more than a few and that has to be consistent behavior with them.
c.) Private Lessons are not for training. Ideally we want to use private lessons for refining what you’re doing. These are used to take what you’re currently doing and hone it, taper it, remove extraneous motions and make it cleaner, sharper, crisper. To remove excess. To reduce repetitions.
Ask the Teacher for Practice Exercises that will help with at least one thing on the list above that you are to practice between now and your next session. Video the teacher doing exercise! Again, your memory is FAULTY do not trust it. You will misremember whole sections of what was said or done. Video the feet, the posture, the legs, get DETAILED!
Furthermore, ask the teacher for homework. You need to practice. So make absolutely certain before you leave that you have a dedicated homework assignment that you should complete before you see them again, preferably within the week.
Have you seen our Musical Interpretation Series ? It covers Walking, Traveling Ochos, Milonguero Ochos, The Argentine Cross, and the Follower’s Molinete and how to use them to interpret the Music in a structured but highly creative and inventive way: Using the 5 Musical Pauses!
If all this sounds like work to you then stay the hell home and save your money. No. Seriously. We’re not kidding. What you’re doing, if you proceed down this pathway of willy-nilly taking a private, has nothing to do with actually learning anything but instead is all about vanity and because you can. You’re not really there to work. You’re there for any other reason except to learn. Don’t waste the teacher’s time or your money simply out of vanity or because you’re bored and want a nice tanda with someone that is easy to dance with. No. If you’re going to go take privates, then take it with the utmost seriousness that it deserves. You really do have to show up. You really do have to your homework. You really have to go home and … god forbid… actually practice what you’ve ‘learned’. You really do have to put your head and your heart into it.
This is a dance that you love, yes ? Then why would you devote anything less than 100% of who and what you are to the process!
This is really simple, the haphazard way you’re going about studying tango hasn’t worked for you thus far, has it ? If it has, great! But this method of serious study is really about change. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for the casual observer. And it’s most certainly not for the person with way too much money and time on their hands. This process is for the individual that honestly, and genuinely wants to be the best dancer that they can be. Some people will see this is too much work to have a little bit of fun. And some people, those that know the benefits of this kind of work, know exactly how to take private lessons, and it’s much in this way. This process is all about investing your head in the game. Thinking about what you want to be when you grow up. Imagining ‘better’, and what that might look like. This process means being frugal with your mental energy and engaging in a targeted, surgical, methodical, if not tactical strike towards becoming a better dancer from within the private lesson process itself.
Have you seen the Milonga Madness series ? Over 2.5 hrs of pure Milonga Instruction GOLD with one of the best Social Milonga Teaching couples alive: Detlef Engel & Melina Sedó! It covers everything you need to know to get you up and running today with Milonga. Don’t delay, subscribe today!
Why should you subscribe instead ? Several reasons. 1.) Probably the biggest reason is to save a boatload of money. Buying these things outright isn’t cheap. Besides when you buy you only have access to the one video. Subscribing, on the other hand, gives you access to everything else so you can see the foundational material that goes with this stuff. 2.) Even if you’re a Free User, you’ll get access to free tips that aren’t available to anyone just reading the post like this one. 3.) Sometimes there are slightly different versions of the videos, that add a bit more content for the free user vs. an unregistered user. 4.) Because the Dancing Perspectives (Lead, Follow, and Dancing) are hidden to the open user. And that’s where all the information is at, unless you actually subscribe. Until you do, those very important textual descriptions of what’s going on for both Lead and Follow you want to read. 5.) And the real reason you should subscribe ? If you’re used to YouTube videos where you’ll see a performance, those Youtube videos don’t explain or walk you through how these ideas work! That is why! What you’re seeing is a presentation, a performance. Not how things work! And what you really need to see is how things work, and more importantly why they work! This website shows you that and more!
Remember that what you’re seeing is a couple that is performing for the 15th row for a room full of people, they’re not social dancing. Whereas this website is all about ‘Social Dancing’ or how to make things function on a social dance floor. Social Dance floor ? Your local milonga! They’re showing flashy moves as a presentation! But not stopping and talking about how this works, why you’d want to put that piece of vocabulary there, or how to make things fit. This website is all about those things and more!
You could watch those videos and thereby spend your time, trying to infer, and figure out how things may work in that particular situation. Bend your body this way or that, twist and force this position or that. Place your foot here or there and figure it out. This is known as Tango Twister. Which can be a lot of fun, but more than likely it won’t help you, because you’re missing something: The explanation from an experienced teacher showing you how to properly excute this stuff from a Leading Perspective as well as from a Following Perspective!
The goal of YouTube videos is to get you to study with those teachers in person. The goal of Tango Topics videos allows you to work at your own pace, in the comfort of your own space, so that you can play them over and over again to improve your understanding of the vocabulary or technique being described to therefore better your dancing experience. The goal of classes and workshops is to get you to come back over and over and over again, thereby spending more money with that teacher. This website and the videos under it are here to act as a resource for you to help you to improve your dance. Pay once and you’re done.
Eventually, one way or another you’re going to pay for this lesson, either here and now, or with them. TANSTAAFL! The difference between that lesson and this ? Is that you get to play this lesson over and over and over again. Further still, there are supporting materials (other videos) that help to explain the language and the underlying technique of how and why things work, so you can easily reference those things in the corresponding articles that go with the material, and or any language in the Tango Topics Dictionary.