I had the pleasure and honor to be interviewed by Vance Woods (Independent Writer/Editor | Team Lead – Translations/Copy Editor – USA | Archivoz Magazine | Cataloger Valley Library Oregon State University) for his blog “Becoming Argentina”.
We talked about how did I get to where I am today and how did the Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires come into being; about Tango as a multifaceted manifestation in dance, music, poetry, and more; he asked me what is my favorite tango lyric; about Tango, Argentina, and Buenos Aires; about the effects the Covid-19 pandemic has had on tango culture; about what it means to be a milonguero; on Tango as an industry as opposed to Tango as a cultural practice, and how these two aspects interact; and why do you I think that Tango has so strongly appeal.
I enjoyed so much this interview and I know you are going to enjoy it too.
Practice regularly and consciously, taking care that the practice provides nice sensations of joy to you.
By doing so, you are making yourself generous in extending this joy to your partners and the other dancers that share with you the dance floors of the classes and milongas.
That’s not all:
Dancing shouldn’t be your biggest challenge.
It should rather be the time of amusement, of creativity and exploration of yourself, socializing, relaxing, and releasing stress in a calm and friendly atmosphere.
However, in other to be able to dance with such sensation of freedom and confidence, you will need to expose yourself to a challenge that is greater than dancing Tango, and that is the class and practice.
Take care of yourself, with stretching and regular exercising.
Healthy habits of eating and sleep will positively influence your dance.
Dancing Argentine Tango presents itself as a way for you to organize your life towards empowering yourself, helping you to achieve your life’s goals, and even provides you with such goals:
About virtual Argentine Tango classes and private lessons
Virtual classes are a powerful aid to the improvement of your dance, having always in mind the ultimate goal of dancing embraced.
In virtual classes, we are able to observe in detail our students dancing, and count on it as a magnificent tool to organize the presentation of our knowledge to them.
Even though what is unique to Tango are its in-person aspects, successful teaching methods will always require:
These elements are amplified in the case of virtual classroom technology.
We strongly advise you not to miss this opportunity.
Virtual classes help you to understand things differently, making you pay attention to aspects often passed on at the in-person classes, and facilitating you to make your communications more clear and efficient.
Here we want to share with you what we consider important for you in the process of virtual Argentine Tango instruction:
Take advantage of what only virtual classes can offer to you.
For instance, since your teacher cannot dance with you or physically move you, he or she will break down the movements into its most elemental constituents, helping you to fully understand what movements and how to execute them, in a way that will provide you with the opportunity to practice the move in a “timeless” and “spaceless” fashion, a more thoughtful way, and eventually a more aware way.
Let experience teach you.
Since this is going to be a novel way to learn Argentine Tango, you will find on your path problems that will be only resolved with later corrections.
For instance, your floor may not be the best for dancing Tango, or your furniture gets in your way, or your internet connection is too slow.
All these are problems that get fixed much more easily than fixing your Tango. Go ahead and move your furniture, look at hardware stores online for plastic tiles that you can put over your carpet, call your internet provider.
At each class you will get a better set up for your learning environment. And since we are a community, please share your questions regarding solutions to these challenges. I like to ask my students how they are fixing their particular problems, so I may be in the possession of an answer for you already.
Avoid distractions. If you are not alone at home, let your relatives and spouses know that you’ll be “away” for one hour.
Even though you are physically at home, you are virtually at your Tango class. This “virtuality” is very real. You need to be fully engaged in your class. You won’t be able to be in two places simultaneously.
Even if it is your living room or garage, it is the classroom for the duration of the lesson.
Do not hesitate. Your instructors need constant feedback to know that the communication is effective.
Let them know you did not understand something, or you could not see it, or whatever passes your mind that is related to what is worked on during the class.
Your teacher has modified his/her teaching style to the online channel, so you need to change your usual learning actitudes. Even technical questions related to the technology used for the class are admissible questions.
Plan your class.
You will need to adapt your teaching style to the TV or computer screen’s two dimensional space.
Keep in mind that your student needs to see you all the time. That is why turns are particularly challenging to teach in the virtual class set up, but not impossible.
My solution to this problem is to segment the turns in its constituents, in order to keep training a fundamental element of Tango, avoiding making students having to look at the screen while they turn away.
Have the right tools.
Supply yourself with a good camera and a good microphone. Since your communications will be exclusively visual and auditory, you need the best tools that you can provide yourself.
I’ve been using a mini iPad for the camera and a wireless microphone. I like to show the moves having students behind me, so I am doing the with the camera at my back, so the microphone has been essential to make the sound clear even while I am talking looking away fro the camera.
Although I have to say the iPad and Zoom (the video conference system that we use) are very sensitive in picking up the sound waves.
Have good lighting.
I am using all the lights of my home studio pointed at me, and added an extra lamp with a styrofoam board to reflect light on my face when I get close to the camera.
Use screen sharing to play your music.
This will make your students hear to the music you choose for your class with much better sound quality than if you make it stream from your microphone.
Keeping things in order.
Use the waiting room feature and close the admission at ten minutes into the class to avoid interruptions.
You can also have an assistant to work as admin. That is my case but it may not be yours.
Here are some examples of what we have been working in our virtual classes:
Looking for tips about learning Argentine Tango dance?
From absolute beginner to a great milonguero/a Tango dancer.
Because you have realized the value of Tango, we are offering here a guide into your Tango journey.
You’ll become more yourself within a community.
Our human nature makes us social beings: we cannot survive in isolation, hence, success is possible for an individual only with the support of one’s peers.
That is to say: you learn to dance Tango not only because of your personal taste and choice. There is also a group of people who share your affinity for Tango, and even you will not agree (and you do not need to agree) with everyone in matters of taste and choices, your success regarding Tango will be always tied to how you relate to those other dancers.
Even if you never dance with most of them, you will still be sharing the same dance floor and seats around it at the same milonga.
Not everybody has the same sensitivity.
If you are willing to take the challenge, as a great milonguero/a does: aim for the highest, most beautiful, most poetic, and most sublime.
For me, that is Tango.
With such people, I feel at home, and that is my environment.
That is what I would like to share with you.
My reason for doing so is that my goal is always to become a better dancer, and by inviting and challenging you to have the same goal, I count on you to challenge me in the same way.
We mutually challenge each other to become better dancers.
This is not going to make us rivals or enemies. On the contrary: we will develop a deep friendship.
I won’t be distant (like on a stage). I will be approachable. I will dance with you or next to you on the same dance floor. I may have more experience than you, but it may turn out that you are more talented. However, on the dance floor of a milonga, we are equals in essence.
The goal of becaming better dancers cannot be quantified.
How do you quantitatively express a good example of a human being?
How do you quantify excellence or the admiration that someone awakens in you?
It is easy to get confused in a world that values quantification the way our civilization does.
For instance, does the number of members in my Facebook group express the level of my dance?
I could set a goal to end the year with over 2,000 members.
That is really easy to do. By the end of this year, I will achieve this goal. Will that make me a better human being?
Let’s make a thought experiment (you now know I like them):
An alien comes to our planet and meets with several people. He meets an industrialist called Henry Rearden, a writer and poet called Oliverio Girondo, Gordon Gekko (a banker), Doug McKenzie (a garbage collector), a nurse called Ratched… etc. and a milonguero called Blas Catrenau…
What this alien will immediately perceive is the egalitarianism and spontaneity of the milonguero, who approaches him the same way he approaches everyone.
He will be surprised he even hugs him as a greeting.
Another aspect is the way the milonguero moves, his expressions, the way he walks: he seems easily in control of himself.
His words are sometimes a little cryptic. He speaks assuming that the alien understands what he is talking about.
However, he speaks with such comfortable self-confidence that the alien cannot avoid agreeing with Blas, even he does not know what Blas is talking about.
For Blas, and for any milonguero in general, it does not matter the way you look, your degrees, your wealth, or your job. If he has something to say about you, he would say it only if you ask his opinion, and only in regard to your dance.
Now you can continue on your own with this experiment.
Imagine any other characters (anyone you want to include) and let me know how you see the alien’s experience meeting them. You can write it here:
Back on Earth, once you’ve made up your mind and accepted that there is no better way to spend your time in life than making it a work of art and that in this endeavor you won’t find anything that makes more sense than dancing Tango, hence, becoming a great dancer (a realization that can take you a period of time ranging from one day to many years), then, the following advice may help you:
1. Be disciplined, regular, and committed to your study of Tango. While dancing Tango is amusing, it is also different from other ways to amuse yourself. Choose these unique characteristics of Tango to be the main core of your dedication to learning it. Steps, choreographic patterns, socializing, close proximity to partners, are all aspects that Tango has in common with other dances and other kinds of activities. On the other hand, its music is unique; and, also, unique is the approach that milongueros have in relation to Tango: for them, Tango is not a “way of life”, but “Life” itself.
2. If Tango is life, then your Tango teacher is a life-coach. He or she is teaching you how to live Tango. Your relationship between you and your teacher is based on trust, mutual understanding, sympathy, and patience. Tango makes both of you meet at a very humane level, where both need to accept their own limitations and flaws, as well as good qualities. The potential for improvement of Tango is infinite. In the face of such a wide-open horizon, both student and teacher are students of Tango. Your teacher is your guide through Tango, but also your road companion. Choose carefully.
3. Tango is a world. Your Tango teacher is a bridge to it. Allow yourself to know that world, its inhabitants, its culture. A Tango teacher who is doing a good job will have different levels of approximation to your definitive contact with Tango and, eventually, living-breathing-existing-embodying Tango. The first pool in your “decanting” to Tango will be your teacher’s inner group of students. Not anyone who shows up to class, but those who show up in class regularly, and are noticeably there to learn about Tango. Be perceptive of this difference. Then, your teacher with or without this inner group will take you to your first local milongas. New questions will arise there, that you will need to discuss with your teacher. Eventually, you will visit Buenos Aires. You must trust your teacher with this. He or she, if authentic, is your most reliable connection to Tango in Buenos Aires.
Private lessons for couples, single students, and with two maestros. What to choose?
Private lessons are the best way to learn to dance Tango and the subtleties of this art.
What is the most efficient way to take your private lessons?
With a partner?
With a teacher of the opposite role?
With a teacher of the same role?
With a master couple?
All the options are good.
Let’s see the pros and cons of each approach:
1.1 Taking private lessons with a partner with one teacher:
The main advantage is that you and your partner can practice together. Both of you receive consistent advice because you are learning from the same teacher, and he or she is able to watch you both dancing together.
The disadvantage, in this case, is that you are dancing with another student and not with a knowledgeable and experienced dancer.
1.2 Taking private lessons with a partner and with teachers in both roles (a master couple):
The advantage here is that you both receive expert advice from an experienced leader and follower and that in addition to each of the teachers working individually with both of you, by dancing with you and watching you dance, both teachers can demonstrate elements that you’re working on by dancing together.
This set up is ideal; no cons.
2.1 Taking private lessons alone with a teacher in the opposite role:
You will be dancing with an expert. Your teacher can sense the internal mechanics of your dance and demonstrate the nuances of the dance by transmitting them directly to you via sensations.
It would be good for your teacher to have a chance to see you dance from the outside too.
In this case, you can take private lessons with a partner once in a while, take your teacher’s group classes, or ideally come to Buenos Aires with us, where we will be able to assess your understanding of Argentine Tango by dancing with you in the context of Buenos Aires’ milongas, watching you dancing with great local dancers, introducing you to our Maestros and getting their feedback on the state of your Tango.
2.2 Taking private lessons alone with a teacher in the same role:
You will be able to focus on the specifics of your role while receiving expert advice from an experienced dancer.
You will be able to dance with your teacher, but it is overall not exactly the same as dancing with a partner of your opposite role.
2.3 Taking private lessons alone with teachers in both roles (a master couple):
This set up is ideal because you can dance with both of them, receive feedback from dancing with them, and from what they can see watching you dance.
Your best option is to set up a combination of all of these kinds of private lessons, including taking group classes and going to Buenos Aires with your teachers, since they are the ones who, being part of the Buenos Aires Tango scene, should introduce you to it.