I want to ask you a question: What is your goal in learning tango?
Tango is a multidimensional form of art.
Most see it primarily as a dance. This is absolutely true: it is a dance. However, what I consider unavoidable to understand is that dance involves much more than an activity reduced to visiting a dance studio, practicing a series of body movements and gestures that later are going to be repeated more or less by heart, with attention only to the body movements, without any consideration of the music (and by “music” I mean: listening to every musical note, beat and silence of it, knowing the name of the song, who plays it, who composed the song, the general history of all of it and all of them ..), the environment in which the dance is going to be performed (in case of tango: the “milongas”), the social aspects of it (the codes of behavior at the milongas, its ethics and aesthetics), and the role that the dancer (as an individual participating in that whole approach to dancing) is going to take.
If I am going to learn all that, if I am going to dedicate that much of my time and energy to it, I would only do it if I am passionate about it.
And why? What is my goal in all that?
Sometimes, in my classes, I have to face the problem of letting my students know that dancing does not require “pretending”, but rather “being” yourself. A particular movement is usually so simple, that the real core of the move is the character that you imprint in it, which is your character, your “self”.
Since there exists a prejudice to see dancing only as a “performing art”, the initial approach is usually to “pretend”: something like pretending to be on a stage dancing for an audience. And a movement that in essence is very simple (and easy), comes out with a very artificial look. That is all unconscious. Naturally there is a tendency to hide ourselves from the eyes of others, and that artificiality serves as “defense mechanism” to protect you from whoever may take advantage of knowing you.
All that makes you put in a lot of effort. Dancing is supposed to be easy. It will be easy if you strengthen yourself.
Tango asks you to be honest, and show your honest self. Very probably, at the beginning you do not recognize yourself in what appears when you allow yourself to be natural, let it go, and you may not like it! But, good news, once you know yourself and how you actually move, you can change it, you can shape it, and you can work on making yourself more elegant without pretending. And that is going to make you stronger. And for that, you will be thankful to tango forever.
That is why I consider the process of teaching/learning tango as requiring some “familiarity” approach. Let’s be aware that the generation of my parents in Argentina learned tango from close relatives and friends, so those “defense mechanisms” were at their lowest level of alert.
When I came to teach tango for the first time to the Bay Area, I tried to adapt my teaching method to the general rationalistic/ballroom-like approach the students were expecting (my limited knowledge of English, and the fact that everybody was more or less of a stranger to me also contributed to the adaptation of that approach). However, overtime I realized that it mostly did not help students to understand the particular characteristics that makes tango what it is. So I decided to return to the “familiar” approach we all are used to in Argentina, although sometime it does not match the new students’ expectations.
Many times a new student asks me:
– When am I going to be ready to go to milongas?
My answer is:
– Whenever you want to go.
The student would reply:
– But I am a beginner, those people in the milongas are too advanced, and they are not going to dance with me!
What you really need, in order to go to a milonga and have a good time, is basic social skills. Basically, you need self-awareness and a good sense of placement. If you are nice, people will be nice to you. If you relax and enjoy of being at a place where everybody is enjoying the experience of tango, pay attention and listen to the beautiful music tango is, allow yourself to be happy (tango should make you happy. Why would you do it if were not so?), the aura of happiness makes people want to be near you.
Milongas are the best places to see people dancing tango. It is the place to see tango in its own environment. It is a great opportunity for you, during your first visits to the milongas, to watch the dance, to see the dancers. You will learn a lot just from watching.
Also, if tango is to become a part of your life, the milonga is going to be your home. Those who do not regularly go to milongas develop an abstract (false, incongruent) image of tango. Beware: there are many “teachers” on that list.
Tango is democratic. At the milongas, your title, either you are a PHD, a CEO, a Prince, a tango teacher or a performer does not matter. What matters is how good you are as a milonguero or milonguera.
When I talk about milongas and milongueros, my image is one of my favorite milongas in Buenos Aires. I work on reproducing their main characteristics here, in the Bay Area, organizing and hosting such milongas as Café Florida, Lafayette Milonga and San Jose Milonga, and educating my students as milongueros and milongueras in my classes. I want to take an opportunity now to say thank you to all my business partners, assistants, dedicated students and regulars of the milongas and classes I host. It would not be possible without you. Thank you!!!
In order to effectively recreate what I enjoy there, one of my key activities are my tours to Buenos Aires. I organize a tour twice a year, during spring and fall. These tours are very educative: Buenos Aires is a big city; you have hundreds of choices to do tango activities. But keep in mind that tango is, for many, a business, a source of income.
When tango came back to the mainstream in Argentina, during the middle 80’s, it was a” tsunami”. It suddenly inundated the sociocultural scene of Buenos Aires and other cities. It produced a big demand on the “market” that was very undersupplied. The milongueros at the time, were very unaware of that process. You can take a look to the documentary “Tango, bayle nuestro” (“Tango, our dance”), by Jorge Zanada, 1988. It that documentary you can see the old milongueros of 1987 stating that tango “had died”.
It happened that most of the people, who took the lead in satisfying the strong “demand” for tango, were “sociocultural entrepreneurs”, only tangentially related to tango. Some of them are still predominant in the tango scene of Buenos Aires. Their initial lead was essential to the revival of tango. They helped to create the conditions that allowed later the milongueros’ comeback to the mainstream, so the people with real knowledge of tango were able to organize milongas and teach new milongueros.
That is why, if you go to Buenos Aires without a guidance of a real insider, most probably you will come to know tango as an entertainment industry, much improvised, very “homemade”, but an industry, not a culture.
One last thing: is walking boring? When you exercise your walk at the beginning of the class, do you feel bored? I have to tell you: if you get bored when you do this exercise (walking), you most probably will be a very boring person to dance with, when you dance during the milonga later.
That is the moment to exercise your passion, your feelings, your emotions to come out in your walk, your connection with the music, not to show it off (the pseudo performer that pretends), but to explore your own emotions. THAT will make you a dancer who is fun, enjoyable, and interesting to dance with.