I am really impressed at how quickly it seems you have picked up tango and to such a high level. Do you feel that there is something about your life before tango which contributed to this?
For as long as I can remember, I was always more of a physical person. I was into basketball and into movement in general. I think if you’re an active person and just more physical in your life in general, you’re used to telling your body to move in certain ways. You’re used to isolating certain parts of your body and just having more body awareness. And this is really important, especially in tango. So perhaps that gave me an ‘advantage’ in terms of learning tango quicker.
And you used to be a bartender before, right? I think bartending is an art in itself. A bartender friend of mine even described her job as a dance on some nights. Do you see any parallels between your life as a bartender and the way you teach or dance now?
I never thought about it before, but probably the social skills I developed while being a bartender helped me with my teaching in some ways. I mean, I was already used to expressing myself around many people, through bartending. I was already dealing with so many different types of personalities on a daily basis and in a very busy environment. And I was used to keeping people entertained with humor and stories, and learning how to read what people wanted. It also got me into the habit of navigating around a room full of people.
I imagine the fast pace would keep you quick on your feet and well coordinated.
Now that I think about it, with the bartending, you do always have to always be aware of your environment and change direction quickly. And you’re used to balancing things on a platter, or dealing with the weight of different things. I used to flare as well, as a bartender, so I was manipulating objects in a quick reflex kind of mode. And I definitely had to be precise in that line of work. Of course, that helped with coordination and that kind of thing. So yes, maybe bartending did indirectly contribute to some of the ways I deal with dancing or teaching tango.
I am always seeking answers to how certain people learn things quicker than others. Sometimes, I get frustrated when I can’t pick something up as quickly as the person next to me. It makes me want to know why, or what I can do to get there.
Well, what I’ve learned, with my years of teaching is that often, it’s not about the talent that you have in something that gets you far. Sometimes, those that are more talented and get good quite fast, unfortunately stop there, because they don’t really have to work for it. They don’t know how to work at it because they have never needed to.
Yet those who really work for it, because they have to, become more disciplined. They actually practise a lot because that’s the only way they can improve. And often, it is these people who are really passionate about tango, but who aren’t naturally necessarily gifted at it, that end up being the better dancers.
Yes, because they work at it, and they put the time into it, and they put the discipline into it. And if you’re really passionate about it, usually, you go even further in the long run because that passion drives you.
For me, I strongly believe that ten percent of it is talent and 90 percent of it is work, for many things, not just tango. And you can reach a lot with your ten percent of talent. But if you never put the work into it, you’ll never reach the dream of whatever you had in mind when you started.
It’s just a matter of investment of your self. The more you give to the dance, the more the dance will give you. And I think it’s the same for anything, not just dancing.
As a former teacher, I really appreciate the way you seem very aware of how to reach different students at their own level and for their individual goals, while still challenging them to learn something different than they expected.
Well, I don’t believe in bad students. I believe in bad teachers.
I think it’s important to be passionate about the dance to a point where that passion ignites in your students. And then you need to find ways to keep feeding that passion all the time.
Yes, but I think it takes a lot of skill to be that kind of a teacher.
You have to find what each student loves about the dance and feed them on that. And as they discover other things, then you can open up their minds to concepts or ideas they didn’t even know they wanted to learn or see.
It helps me as a student and as a teacher to be reminded that every student is there for a different reason. It’s beautiful when you can figure out that reason and use that to expand more of the student’s learning and curiosity. But remembering to start first where THEY want to start is a really important point you bring up.
Yes, because, for example, if somebody really wants to perform, and they’re more about the show and learning how to dance in front of an audience, well, teach them for that purpose. Because that’s what’s going to make them stick to the dance. And even though, especially in tango, it might not be how you learned or what you originally came to the dance for, the student is there taking classes originally for that purpose. You know that. So give them what they want first, to give them a connection to the dance. And the great thing is that that way, they will probably eventually get what YOU want them to get out of the dance as well, because now they want to stay and learn more. The other way, you just lose them.
Wow, that’s very well put. I like that.
What about tango made you want to stay and learn more. What do you feel is unique about tango compared to other dances?
Well, when I started tango the first time, I was in love with the relationship between the guy and the woman in the dance. It can be really intense. It doesn’t have to be, but it can be. It has a very strong connection, not only in terms of the bodies, but you can see the connection of the souls too.
There is something in the movement that is extremely graceful, and fluid, yet at the same time, there is also an agility, a sharpness, and a precision to it. Maybe you can find that in other dances. But you can’t find all of that WITH the same connection that tango brings.
I think tango is the mother of connection dances.
Is that what made you choose tango as your focus?
What really hooked me onto tango is when I realized how this dance was actually always improvised. I found that I had millions of options of where to go and what I could do from any point in the dance. And that creativity – the freedom of creativity that the dance itself allows me – was one of the things that attracted me the most to tango.
The other aspect of the dance that really drew me in is that I feel that tango is very much about respect. The guys in this dance generally really act as gentlemen. And the women act as ladies. And they respect themselves. And it’s beautiful to witness in a world where I strongly feel that respect feels kind of lost these days.
What makes you feel that there is this loss of respect?
Well, to start, I witnessed so many ugly, disgusting, dirty things in the years that I was a bartender in terms of how women and men were relating to each other. Just being a witness to that every day was not fun. I hated that dynamic. And I wanted to surround myself with a more respectful atmosphere.
I think tango is great for all the new generation because they need to relearn how to touch another body, another person, respectfully. To get that deep into knowing the person that’s in front of you without even speaking, to respectfully connect physically without a word, but just thoughtful gestures, is beautiful.
I think that connection in the dance made me believe in respectful relationships in general between genders, but also between generations.
Yes, because in tango, you’ll have a kid who is twenty years old who is still in college or university and he’s beginning his life. And in the same room, you will have this older tanguero who might be eighty years old, dancing right next to him.
And you might meet a lawyer and a plumber and a stay at home mom all in the same room doing the same dance, sharing the same passion. You have people from all social classes in the same space. You have people from all ages, and people of all different cultures connecting through this common passion.
Tango allows me to make these unlikely encounters that I never would have made in my daily life otherwise.
To read Part 2 of this Interview, click here: