Strength in Diversity- Interview with Gabriel El Huracán- Part 2

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. Continue reading

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Why Tango?- Interview with Gabriel El Huracan- Part 1

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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. Continue reading

Kizom-what? – Part 2

Kizom-what?– Part 2 –Interview with Eddy Vents- discussing Kizomba Dancing (continued) To view Part 1, click here

Tasleem: At the end of Part 1 of this interview, you talked about the importance of the connection in this dance.  Because it IS more about that connection and energy, it’s really hard to describe kizomba to someone else.  Often, I hear it being described in terms of other dances. The description “Afrieddy vents2can tango” has come up a few times, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that.

Eddy: I think people describe kizomba that way because they need to refer to the dance with something that is more familiar.  If I explained kizomba to you by talking about the other dances it’s connected to or came out of, you probably won’t know what I’m talking about, because you’ve never seen those dances.  So ‘African tango’ makes it easy for people on this side of the world, who have not experienced those African dances, to imagine the dance using something they already know.

Continue reading

Kizom-what?- An interview with Eddy Vents- Part 1

Kizomba. What is it, and why are more people talking about it?  The word itself seems to stir up a whole range of reactions from those who have never danced it.  Some of my favorites are:

“Oh, is it related to Zumba?” 

“You’re referring to that NEW dance, right?” 

“Yeah, I think I’ve seen it and it reminds me of high school dancing. Not much to it.” 

“Oh, I can’t do THAT, being glued to a partner that way?”

“It looks so simple.”

I laugh, not just at the reactions, but at how I can relate to them because, before I started learning kizomba myself, I’m sure some of those thoughts ran through my head as well.  But it didn’t take long for me to realize that there is so much more to the dance than what it appears to be from the outside.   In fact, all of those perceptions above disintegrate when the magic of the true kizomba takes a hold of you. 

Continue reading

Reminiscing on Carlos Gardel – A Tango Photo Fantasy

I decided to pull out a few of my favourite photos that I took at the Carlos Gardel Show a few years back in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“What makes the dancing different in Argentina, compared to here?” a few people asked me when I got back from my trip. “I mean, tango is tango, right?” they often commented, “Why did you have to go all the way there to dance it?”

The best way I can explain it is to say that yes, tango could be danced anywhere.  But it’s not just about the people and the movements and the dance.  It’s also the atmosphere that surrounds you when you’re there.  I felt as if even the walls in all those high ceilinged, old buildings at the milongas in Buenos Aires whispered secrets built up over so many years and years.  And they invite you to listen-  to become a part of those generations of secrets oozing through the walls as you stand in those very same spaces where it happened.  Dancing, observing others dance, and being intoxicated by the music in the city where it all began, it is hard not to get drawn in.  Even outside, despite the litter and pollution, there is something alive in the music on the streets, and faces of the Portenos who pass by (the people born and brought up in Buenos Aires).  It’s like a silent acknowledgement that they still carry somewhere with them the energy of their ancestors- that it has never really died. And in fact, tango seems to be what has helped it live on.

It was an amazing feeling, that I think only Buenos Aires, with all its history, passion and depth of stories, could stir up inside us and around us. And all of this gets brought back out through the dancing.

These photos from the Carlos Gardel Show help me to hold onto that feeling in my memory- a memory of how a dance- the Tango- drew me to a city that should have been completely foreign to me. But instead, it made me feel so at home, alive, and inspired.  And I still miss it and think of it often, even after all this time.

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Tango … it will be waiting…

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“But it’s true that [tango], it’s like a drug.  Once you understand it, you will never leave it.  You will never quit. You will take some distance.  Sometimes you will get tired, you will get fed up, but then it’s going to be there.  And tango will wait for you, because tango is expression.  It’s going to be there, always.  Even if you go away, it will be waiting.”- Caesar Coelho

Interview With Cesar Coelho- “Tango is more than a dance…”

It was a pleasure to be able to sit down and talk to Cesar Coelho after his tango workshops in Manhattan. Despite having given an intense set of classes during the day, and needing to rest for a photo shoot early the next morning, Cesar gave up his time to walk over to a coffee shop nearby and share his insights and thoughts. The passion and openness with which he spoke was much appreciated. Cesar has an extensive background in tango, ballet and jazz. He is well known for his precision and energy on stage particularly as the lead in the Broadway show “Forever Tango”. Cesar proves to be a talented dance teacher at such a young age, driving his students to understand more than just the steps to the dance. “He is amazing,” commented one of his students, “I take his classes every time he is in town, and each time I work with him, my dancing progresses so much further.” Continue reading

Kizom-what? (an excerpt)

Kizomba. What is it, and why are more people talking about it?  The word itself seems to stir up a whole range of reactions from those who have never danced it.  Some of my favorites are:

“Oh, is it related to Zumba?” 

“You’re referring to that NEW dance, right?” 

“Yeah, I think I’ve seen it and it reminds me of high school dancing. Not much to it.” 

“Oh, I can’t do THAT, being glued to a partner that way?”

I laugh, not just at the reactions, but at how I can relate to them because, before I started learning kizomba myself, I’m sure some of those thoughts ran through my head as well.  But it didn’t take long for me to realize that there is so much more to the dance than what it appears to be from the outside.   In fact, all of those perceptions above disintegrate when the magic of the true kizomba takes a hold of you.  The small, subtle movements, as well as the close connection, require a control and sensitivity, as well as a trust and surrender that are not as easily attained as one might think.  And as far as the “newness” of the dance, tell that to the kizombeiros and kizombeiras, as they are properly referred to, who have grown up with the dance in their families for years!   What makes it ‘new’ to us is our lack of familiarity with the dance in this part of the world.   But to the dancers in areas of Angola, West Africa, where the dance originated, as well in Portugal, where kizomba later spread, kizomba has a history. It is not just this dance that we have come to have a fascination for most recently.  It goes back much further with roots from dances that a lot of us here have never even heard of.

That must have been why it didn’t sit right with me one day when I heard an organizer of a dance studio refer to kizomba as simply ‘African tango’.   A couple had walked into the studio inquiring as to what was going on that night.  And after seeing a sign for a kizomba social, they asked, “What is kizomba?”  Of course, I understood that the organizer was trying to give the couple something that they were more familiar with to relate to, in order to picture this ‘mystery’ dance in their mind.  And having danced some tango myself, I could see some of the tango nuances that were often used by kizombeiros in the dance.  But I also knew kizomba was not tango and that not all kizomba dances had tango elements in them.  I definitely did not have all the answers. In fact, I had very few.  But knowing how kizomba had affected me very deeply in such a short period of time, I felt like it deserved to be recognized for what it truly is.   Kizomba made me feel so alive, in a way that was different to anything else I had experienced before.  So I knew it had to have a life blood of its own, an identity, a history, and an essence that was individual.   I was touched that kizomba had invited me in, embraced me, welcomed me with open arms and heart, without even having known me.  And so, I felt I owed it to kizomba, to get to know it, not for what it might resemble, or what people might guess it to be. But for what it really is.  I wanted to learn its story, and help share it, because with every dance, I could hear it whispering that it had a story worth telling. And the whispering just seemed to get louder the further I was drawn in.

But in order to tell the story accurately, I needed to find someone who had years of experience in it, someone who had a deep understanding of kizomba and who knew it well.

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To read the original, full article, including answers to the questions posed above through my in-depth interview with the amazing Kizombeiro Eddy Vents, please visit Industry Dance Magazine by clicking on the following link: Kizom-what?

The Healing Touch of Tango

In a previous article, I described the impact salsa dancing has had on my health. Since then, I have been touched by the number of people who opened up to me about their own stories around dancing.
In particular, Peter Ferreira’s account of how he became a tango dancer is proof of the truly transformative power of dance.

Peter, formerly in the contracting business, worked independently for five years. His friends described him as focused, perseverant, vivacious and amusing. He worked hard and was goal oriented, and from the sounds of it, Peter didn’t let anything get in the way of his goals.

But in January of 2002, Peter was involved in a serious car accident that changed his plans and his life. Approaching Nordel Hill, in Vancouver, he was hit by an oncoming driver. Although Peter was in his own lane, going in the opposite direction, the driver heading towards him lost control of his car, and crossed the center line. Peter attempted to dodge the car but couldn’t. Witnesses say that the car that collided with the driver’s side of Peter’s van was travelling at the speed of about one hundred kilometers per hour.

Fortunately, Peter survived, but the impact of the crash left him with a body that needed much repair. Two of the major bones in his leg were shattered – his femur and tibia. Rods were placed along the length of these bones, along with anchoring screws, to help the bones redevelop. Though the hardware was implanted to aid Peter in his recovery, the screws were too long for the bones, and this caused him extreme discomfort and pain. Yet he had to endure having the equipment in his body for three years.

There were also many other repercussions Peter had to face because of the accident. One of the most severe was damage to his left frontal lobe. The result was a blood clot in his brain. This had a huge effect on his memory. “I went to bed on a Saturday and the next thing I knew, I woke up on a Wednesday in the hospital,” he explained. Peter couldn’t remember any details of the accident. In fact, there is a six month period of his life, around the time of the crash, of which he has no recollection.

Peter’s loss of memory did not just revolve around moments in time. He also struggled to retain information that had been built up over years of experience. He lost most of his contracting skills and was struggling to remember how to use the tools with which he had been familiar for over twenty years.

Peter underwent rehabilitation treatment for two years. He worked with physical therapists and was put through a series of cognitive tests. After some time, he tried working out – using weights and a treadmill- and also tried swimming to strengthen himself. But he was not seeing the results that he desired. He had trouble focusing, and the activities suggested to him were very solitary.

Understandably, Peter experienced much frustration and anger. The accident had a considerable impact on his daily routines. He was having trouble sleeping, he was in pain, and he didn’t know if he could ever return to his previous job.

Yet, despite all the setbacks, Peter still managed to retain his determination and perseverance.

“Resilience is a good word for Peter,” said Geraldine Goyer, “He had it when I first met him, and he still has it now.”

Two years after the accident, at a friend’s birthday party, Peter met Geraldine. She was a dancer and had been performing and teaching tango for over twenty years. Geraldine was moved by the story of Peter’s accident and encouraged him to try tango. She gave him her card, and Peter called her two weeks later.

Though Peter had not had any previous dance training, his attitude, teamed with Geraldine’s patience and teaching expertise, allowed Peter to excel quickly. Geraldine also knew something that Peter was yet to discover – that dancing had the power to heal, “I could tell he really needed the lessons, and there was no way I was going to let him walk out the door without seeing where the dancing went, and what it could do for him,” said Geraldine.   Continue reading