In Part 1 of this interview- “Why Tango?” Gabriel El Huracán discusses what it was about Tango that drew him into the dance so deeply. I have begun this second half of the interview with some of the words Gabriel left us off with at the end of Part 1. They just seemed so fitting to the theme of Part 2 of this interview: celebrating the beauty of differences, the strength of diversity.
Gabriel: 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.
And you met your girlfriend through dance as well, right?
Yes, I met Melanie -Melanie B. Rose – my “wife” and dance partner – through tango in Montreal. She is awesome! (smiles) She’s also a musician, which is great. We help each other grow so much. And we still teach each other a lot. I think it’s so important to find somebody that inspires you, who believes in you and can make the difference between the personal relationship and the professional one. Someone who can really work when
it’s time to work. This is so hard to find. I’m extremely happy that I have that, that I have her in my life.
Was it an organic process when you two became dance partners?
It feels like a highschool story, actually (smiles).
We were both dancing for about six months, but in different places. We started dancing around the same time. But we hadn’t met during those first six months. That’s how big the Montreal tango scene is.
But when we did finally meet at the tango school she was going to, we danced all night that first night. And we decided that we’d meet again two days later. And that second night, we danced pretty much from 9pm to 3am as well. And then I told her I was looking for a dance partner, that I wanted someone to practise with. And she said she wanted the same. And that’s how it came about. We just had so much fun dancing together.
And does teaching together while you’re in a personal relationship with each other make things harder or easier or…? How does that work?
It’s ‘harder’ in the sense that there’s no break from that person. I mean, we see each other at work, we see each other at home, we see each other in our social life. It’s all blended together. But at the same time, if I, personally, can make the difference in my own mind, when I’m talking to my girlfriend and when I’m talking to my partner, and when I’m talking to my friend- because she’s all three of those to me- that helps a lot.
Sometimes, I tell her, ‘I want to talk to my girlfriend right now. I don’t want to talk to my dance partner right now’. And sometimes, I say, ‘I need my dance partner right now, because we need to work on this and solve that. And this needs to be done’. And she can do the same. So this is how we find things work better, if we can separate the roles when we need to.
What is it about this partnership that works well in terms of teaching dance and performing together?
Melanie has so many great ideas all the time. She adds so much to everything I bring. And she completes it perfectly. Plus, we’re very different in our way of learning and in our approach to the dance. I’m much more of an action-reaction, physical, movement kind of learner, in terms of body awareness. These are all my strengths. Her strengths are more about connection in the sense of listening to the partner and connecting with the music. She’s a musician, after all. So, as soon as the first two notes start, she already starts visualizing in her mind where things can go and all the possibilities.
I hate counting the music because I want to feel the music. But she understands the music on a more intellectual level. Yet, she is also really good at letting the music reach her gut. So even her way of teaching and dancing and moving completes and compliments mine, instead of clashing with it.
It’s just the truth. I mean, I’ve sometimes had the most amazing dances with dancers that are exactly like me. But I feel like I can become more, and learn more and grow more from Melanie because she’s not the same as I am. But our different strengths make it so much better in my opinion. I think we get much better results in the end BECAUSE of our differences.
That’s a great way to look at it- celebrating differences and seeing them as strengths.
You also seem very appreciative of the diversity of backgrounds and learning styles in your students. Can you talk a little bit about how you use that in your teaching?
Well, if someone is an auditory learner, don’t just show him the step. That person is not going to learn that way. It is not their learning style. You need to explain to him vocally and with descriptions, what he has to do. And if someone is a visual learner, then don’t explain it, SHOW it to him or her. They learn better by SEEING the move. And if somebody is a kinaesthetic learner, you have to make them FEEL what it is.
Some people need a combination of these approaches. A great example is that in tango especially, there are so many engineers. And engineers in general benefit from a picture drawn for them – a mental picture that is both auditory and visual. You might need to then describe the shapes they should form in a move- like how they need to create a circle here or a curve there, or a triangle in another part of the move. And then they get it much more clearly.
How do you figure out what kind of learning style a student is so quickly?
Firstly, the key is to speak to the student in their own language and then they will learn. And be patient enough, as the teacher, to find HOW they learn. Don’t be ashamed to ask them directly, How do you learn the fastest? Most people know.
They’ll say, oh, I’m an auditory learner. And then you know. Address the person with explanations. It’s a priority for teachers to find this out. And if the student doesn’t get it one way, then find a way that he will get it. It’s your job as the teacher.
The students are here to get the information. You’ve got to find a way to make the information cross the bridge and reach them.
Bridging is a great word because I feel like you really demonstrate in your teaching and the way you talk to your students that there is a back and forth connection- a bridging relationship- between you two. It doesn’t just go one way. In one of your last workshops, you actually said, in particular, that you love all that you learn from your students. Can you give some examples of this?
Well, it can be on any type of level.
A student could, either consciously or not, do a move in a certain step or on a certain part of the music, by accident. Maybe he fell, and it ended up that made him step on a different count or beat, or syncopate the step differently than I had originally asked or shown to the class. And I might take a note of that because I like it and hadn’t thought of that.
And then I might try to technically replicate it with a bit more precision and more purposefully this time to show them they can create something from it. And then it becomes something new. So it’s just another idea, but it’s fun because I picked it up from my student. And they learn that they can also create and have fun with it.
I think acknowledging that you can learn from your students, and that you might not know everything, is actually a sign of a really good teacher. Because it’s not like you think you’re the cap of everything that they learn. It’s a relationship again that goes back and forth between both of you.
Yes, definitely. Because it’s important that the students understand how great they can be. Sometimes, a student will compare a move or a concept to something they know in their own life, or something they saw earlier in the class. And they might open a new door that I didn’t see before. Because their mind works a different way than mine, I would maybe have never opened that door on my own, if I didn’t pay attention to what that student was asking, or stating in that moment. And I love that.
Your passion not just for dancing but also for teaching definitely comes through.
It’s so enriching to teach. To this day, it’s really the teaching part that is my favorite. I learn so much. Even about myself.
I strongly believe that tango saved my life. And at the same time, some students have told me that I made them reconnect with tango or that I gave them the passion to continue.
I can definitely attest to that. When you come to Vancouver and teach, I get more excited about tango all over again. You make me see things in it that I might not have seen before. And I know other students have also said the same- that they appreciate your attention to detail in both your dancing and your teaching. And it inspires them to do the same.
This is the best pay, by the way (smiles).
It is the best compliment I could get. It is what is the most pleasing, as a teacher, to hear- to know that I have made a difference in my students. Thank you.
To check out Gabriel and Melanie’s dancing in action, click on this video link below.
The musicality alone is so captivating. They make it all look so effortless.