Tag Archives: Teachers

Perfection

We wrote this a while back when there seemed to be a shared Tango consciousness regarding great teachers having or lacking the ability to be star dancers and star dancers having or lacking the ability to be great teachers…

Mark at Tango Beat wrote, “Great performers in every art discipline are not necessarily the best teachers. Is tango the exception?” He makes a valid point and we have had the experience of learning tango from dancers who seemed to dance well, but couldn’t teach to save their lives. However, we have also been fortunate enough to have as our maestro, Andres Laza Moreno, who has the “wide spectrum of talent” that Mark speaks of. Andres is both an incredible teacher and a phenomenal dancer.

Meanwhile, Bora wrote, “People’s tolerance for your mistakes goes down when you enter the ‘experts’ circle.’ After all, who will want to learn from you or see you dance if you fail to live up to the occasion, even if it’s during a social dance at a milonga?” Although we understand and partially agree with this comment, it depresses us tremendously. We’ve witnessed performers flexing almost every muscle in their body in order to avoid making a single mistake. Yet those with an eye for it, can see all the “mistakes” happening underneath this guise. They’re only fooling those very people who don’t want to learn from people who aren’t “perfect”! It is satisfying and oh-so-real to see the Tango greats make mistakes and own them! THAT is real Tango; as is understanding that there are no mistakes in Tango; there are only miscommunications.

Thankfully, there are those who understand and have said that a good dancer does not necessarily make a good teacher, and a good teacher does not necessarily make a good dancer. Nor does that need to be the case. THANK YOU. The old adage “do as I say and not as I do” fits nicely here.

The two of us do not need to dance like Sebastian Achaval or Ricardo Vidort in order to be great teachers. And at least we have the wherewithal to know that we are not even in the same realm as some of those great dancers (although that doesn’t seem to be the case with most teachers)!  We can, however, still be excellent and lovely dancers with an ability to teach the most “advanced” dancers in our community… without being perfect or being perfect technicians. In fact, we have been told and reminded that Tango should NOT be perfect and it is during those times of “imperfection” that Tango can enter your dance (Gracias, Javier). That little comment is a Tango-jewel. It’s something we treasure and pass on whenever we get the chance.

Finally, back in our ballroom days, our teacher and coach (a National champion) told us that you don’t need to be a champion or among the best dancers to be an incredible teacher. Some people need to seriously reconsider why they think they need to learn from the “best” dancer who teaches in the world when they’re unlikely to ever dance better than the “worst” dancer who teaches in their community. We’re not saying this to limit anyone’s potential, but rather to encourage students to seek out the best teachers (especially in their own hometown) instead of only those they THINK are the best dancers.


Buenos Aires – First Few Days


View from our balcony - Photo by Jorge

The Travel

Ack! It was horrible and it’s starting to become our travel norm. As usual, we left packing (and cleaning) until the day before and this meant that by the time we left home, we were stressed beyond belief. However, passing through American customs (where the custom officers think they are world Gods) went smoothly and quickly, and we were on our way to Miami.  We arrived in Miami to see that our next flight was “on time” and proceeded to wait 3-4 hours for our boarding time. We’re not sure why we didn’t learn from our travels to Seoul in May, but we forgot to keep checking on our flight status. We made the erroneous assumption that “on time” four hours earlier meant the flight was still going to be on time come boarding time. WRONG. Our American Airline flight (going bankrupt anyone?) for 11.20pm was cancelled due to “maintenance issues” and was rescheduled for 7am. After waiting in line for an hour to have our tickets rescheduled, we were given food vouchers and a night’s stay (5 hours) in the Sheraton.

By the next morning, we were tired and feeling pretty lousy. Our flight left on time and we arrived in Santiago for another 5-hour layover. This meant we arrived in Buenos Aires at 12.35am instead of 9 hours earlier in the afternoon.  Not so bad considering, but it meant we were sleep deprived and arriving in the middle of the night with no plans to have someone meet us at our rented apartment (we were unable to get internet connection when it mattered the most). Luckily, we called the one contact we had been given through BYTArgentina and they were able to meet us at the apartment along with the owners to check us in!!!

Settling In

Our studio apartment is nice but very spartan. It being a new rental, it’s missing a lot of the things we had in our last 2 rentals here.  However, it’s bright, it has air conditioning, the shower is great, there’s a balcony, we’re right beside a subway station, AND there’s a pool with a nice deck.  Unfortunately, this city that usually doesn’t see much rain in the summer has been giving us some rain every day (except today) and it hasn’t been super warm!?

We’ve been out to get groceries, eaten empanadas (K wants to eat them every day!), gotten a SIM card and minutes for our old Nokia phone, and been screwed over by Argentinians. Those who followed our meagre travel blog last time around know that we’re not in love with this city. We love this city that lives and breathes Tango, we love many of the people of this city, but when it comes to safety/security, appearance, and quality… We’re not in love with it at all. So when we bought our first media lunas (croissants) and took them home to eat, we discovered hard, day-old (maybe even 2-day-old) media lunas that were inedible. The jerk purposely gave us the crappy ones instead of the nice fluffy ones on top.

Aside from that, we’ve felt far safer and far more confident this time around. We know where we’re going and we know how to get there. We’ve already taken the subway numerous times and we went to and from the milonga the other night by bus. We’ve also located our nearest laundry and empanada places. Now, we need to find a milonga routine.

Milongas

We’ve been to El Beso twice and to Nino Bien once. The first night at El Beso was Milonga Cachirulo and we had a really nice time.  We caught up with some friends (from Toronto, Buenos Aires, and Seoul) and we got our milonga feet wet. We were both quite nervous and trying to remember how this all works.

Wednesday night at La Bruja (El Beso) was extremely quiet. Jorge was told by a local woman that this year has been very quiet in the milongas and there are far fewer tourists. The level of dancing was lower than the night before, but we still had a good time.

Thursday we headed to Nino Bien, against our better judgment, and discovered a tourist milonga. There are many who complain about people saying they want to avoid “tourist milongas”, but this is what they mean: It’s not just milongas where tourists go, it’s milongas where the dancing resembles what is seen back home in their own country. Within 10 minutes, we already wanted to leave. But being the frugal (cheap) people we are, we decided to stay and suffer.

Lessons

We love learning. We love private lessons. We love our teachers.

We’ve had 3 private lessons so far and this time around we decided we would not only take privates as a couple, but also individually. The first private was Jorge with Andrea Misse and it was a fantastic lesson. Andrea had Jorge work on making his right chest (teta) more present and passing all the leading information through it. In combination with that, adding more of a connection between his left hand and right “teta”. Finally, he was asked to add more colours to his dance… and be more brutal. This is a constant theme for Jorge… and a constant struggle for a calm and gentle man.

Our next 2 lessons were with Andres Laza Moreno. The first of which was only with K. After a first warm-up dance, Andres said, “You’re dancing like a student. Dance like a woman.” K understood perfectly what he meant. Otherwise, Andres wanted K to connect her right hand to his, connect her free leg more to her right hand, stretch more between her chest up and lower body down, and some more focus on ocho technique.

The following lesson with Andres was as a couple. We worked on adding shades to the dance, tuning into each other’s weight changes, K slowing down, and Jorge leading earlier (giving the woman plenty of time to read the next step). Jorge was also told for the first time, something that may seem obvious, that everything the  man does in Tango with his body is to move the woman’s body (aside from disassociated movements like adornments).

Shoes

Of course, we’ve made a purchase of Tango shoes. This time, we put our money on NeoTango. Once Jorge finishes processing the photos, we’ll add them here.

Off we go to enjoy more Tango fun!


Some Things Are More Important Than Tango

A local Tanguero recently put up a Tango video of a very famous male dancer (we’ll call him Tango Jerk). Tango Jerk is known (yes, through rumors and gossip) to beat the women he dances with. What’s frightening is that we’re quite certain many of you know exactly who we’re talking about with only that small amount of information.

K couldn’t hold back.  She felt the need to comment on the video to say that she had seen a picture of the female dancer with bruises, (allegedly) from Tango Jerk, and therefore, the video shouldn’t be promoted. The resulting comment, from this very sweet and nice Tanguero, was that it was Tango Jerk’s personal life and therefore he didn’t care, nor was it any of his business. Before many of you become irate, let us assure you that if you knew this Tanguero, you would know he didn’t mean it to sound as heartless as it sounds.

K then responded that if abuse has actually occurred, then she does care, Tango Jerk should be in jail, and again, no one should promote Tango Jerk. Four females proceeded to “like” K’s comment and that made sense. Unfortunately, no males “liked” the comment (besides Jorge). But what we found particularly baffling was that a female had liked the Tanguero’s comment about it being Tango Jerk’s personal life.

Please comment dear readers.  Tell us we’re not the only ones who understand that domestic violence is EVERYBODY’s business and that we ALL care about it.  Please tell us that Tango talent does not supersede a woman’s safety and the law. And please feel free to pass this on.


What Makes a Good (Tango) Student?

Taking Gabriel Missé’s workshops allowed us to make some observations about ourselves in the role of student.  We compared these observations to our own students, as well as to students we’ve seen in other teachers’ classes. This is what we realized:

When we take someone’s class, it means we’re there to respect the teacher. We become blank slates, we believe the teacher knows best, and we do as we’re asked. We push ourselves hard. We listen while the teacher speaks. And we ONLY work on what a teacher has asked us to work on. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons why after almost 4 hours of lessons with Gabriel Missé and Analía Centurión, we were (more or less) dancing in their style and using their technique. That’s not a pat on our backs. Rather, it’s a thought to you, the reader, to ask yourself what you do to better your dance when:

A) You struggle with body awareness

This isn’t an insult.  This is a fact for many people. You are struggling with body awareness when you are constantly being given the same corrections from every teacher you take a lesson from (or even from one single teacher). In the same way you might work on technique, body awareness is a skill that needs to be developed and (re)learned.

B) You learn from many different teachers

There is an issue when specific techniques you use come from different teachers and you are not working on only one specific set of techniques. Mixing and matching is dangerous in Tango. Every teacher you take a class from will try to correct the other teacher’s technique you have (unless their focus in on figures/sequences or they have a complete lack of desire to see your dance improve). With that said, we have observed teachers who choose to avoid “wasting” their energy on a student until they see that the student has a genuine interest in learning from them.

C) You believe you are the best judge of your Tango.

Do you argue with the teacher?  When a teacher asks you to do something, do you say, “I am doing that!” or “I can’t!”? Do you claim to prefer doing something a certain way? If you answer “yes” to any of these, then you believe you know best and we believe this will hinder your ability to improve.


Gabriel Who? Gabriel Missé!?

We’ll be perfectly honest.  We were undecided about taking the workshops. Our technique in Tango couldn’t be any more different. That’s why, to help us make up our minds, we decided to email our friends in Seoul to get their opinion. Their opinion was that although our styles are completely different, taking lessons with Gabriel Missé is like taking a little trip to a Tango Museum.

That little piece of info combined with the fact that when Miguel Zotto was flown in for the same event* last year, we noticed (in pictures) that not many people had attended the workshops.  And so, we thought, why not?! We registered for three workshops on one night – each of which was an hour and 15 minutes long with 15 minute breaks in between.

*See below for more information about the whole Toronto Tango Summit event.

Small Class Size – What Up Toronto?!

We couldn’t have been happier that only a few other Toronto tangueros came out for the workshops on Friday.  It meant that we received a ton of individual instruction.  However, it was mind-blowing to NOT see anyone else there.  We couldn’t understand how people who have specifically said they love Gabriel’s dancing weren’t there.  We couldn’t understand how people who normally flock to any visiting instructor weren’t there.  We couldn’t understand why Toronto tangueros who have been learning from other “V-embrace” teachers weren’t there.  We just couldn’t understand… but we kind of did.

Why Missing The Workshops Made Sense (For Us and/or You)

TECHNIQUE

As we already mentioned, the difference in technical style was a big deterrent for us. EVERYTHING was different from what we’ve learned and from what we teach. From walking toe first, to leading 90% with the right hand/arm, to an embrace that barely touches… It just couldn’t get any more different. That’s why this was more of an academic and let’s-try-it experience than a let’s-change-our-dance experience. As teachers, we can’t be wishy-washy with our technique/style or our students will be confused – and we’ve been on that side of the coin as students! We’ve made up our minds about how we dance Tango, but that doesn’t mean we can’t expand our knowledge.

STAGE vs SALON

Aside from technique, it seems that every youtube performance we’ve seen of Gabriel is a choreography. We have not been interested in learning from dancers whose priority is Stage Tango. We truly believe that if you want to learn how to dance socially, you should learn from teachers who primarily dance socially.  Analogy: It’s like taking photography lessons from someone who shoots with film when you want to learn how to shoot digital.

BODY AWARENESS

The general tanguero with very little previous dance or body movement background often lacks a necessary sense of body awareness to learn from various teachers with differing technical styles. And yet it has almost become a cliche for people to say and believe they have the ability to pick and choose the essential points/technique from each Tango teacher. Given our extensive background in dance, body awareness is not a major issue for us and we are able to understand what our bodies are doing when we try different techniques.

However, body awareness is only one factor. The other factor is the idea of the “complete package”. We cannot use only one or two technical aspects of Gabriel’s dance and make it work within our technical style. When you learn the technique of one teacher, you need to learn it all.* These two factors are legitimate reasons why tangueros learning a different technique were probably better off missing these workshops.

*We would say that many people incorrectly believe that by learning every aspect of one teacher’s technique, it will make you a clone. It’s possible to look very different and have the same technique.  In fact, most people wrongly assume that our main and most influential teacher is Javier Rodriguez (due to Jorge’s similar body-type more than any other reason) when in fact it is Andres Laza Moreno.

Why Taking the Workshops Made Sense (For Us and/or You)

BECAUSE IT WAS GABRIEL MISSÉ!?

Gabriel is from Buenos Aires and learned from the Milongueros starting when he was a small boy. Many of the Milongueros he learned from have passed away and are considered icons in Tango.  He enjoys teaching specific movements that he learned from these Milongueros and he is very clear to tell the class that he teaches social tango and what he does in a performance is different.

Gabriel does not apologize for telling you bluntly that REAL and AUTHENTIC Argentine Tango is this, this, and this.  He also has no problem mocking current techniques and styles of dancing Tango or saying that many of the old dancers currently being called Milongueros are NOT Milongueros. He told the class to learn Spanish and respect Tango because it’s a dance from HIS culture. All things which would cause many North American tangueros to have a conniption fit.  We, on the other hand, found it honourable and respected him for it.

All this to say, we really enjoyed the workshops.

THE EVENT

Let us add that this event, the Toronto Tango Summit, entailed more than just workshops. In fact, the main event was the Grand Ball on the Saturday night which included dance exhibitions by Gabriel Missé & Analía Centurión and Roxana & Fabian Belmonte (the organizers of this event), and music by a live Tango orchestra. This year’s and last year’s Grand Ball were both very successful and were a good time for many dancers and non-dancers alike.


Javier Rodriguez, Castration, and More

Oh Javier… how we love thee.

If you haven’t been fortunate enough to have learned from Javier Rodriguez, let us share some of his wisdom with you. But first, let us give you a mini-summary of Javier in his role as a teacher.

Javier is blunt, has no shame, and shares all that he has learned and knows about Tango without apology. We’ve heard that (North) American Tango dancers/communities have found him to be too abrasive and too frank (ex., he has no problem telling women to stop squeezing their “chichi“) and he doesn’t work as a teacher so that he can lie to you and tell you how good your tango already is.

In North America (and we’re starting to think in all English-speaking countries) everything needs to be sugar-coated and oh-so-positive. That’s why anything goes in North American Tango. We don’t want to be told what Tango is or how to do it. We’ll tell people to follow Gavito’s advice when he tells a class to only speak positively about Tango and to only say what we like  about a person’s dance (although we don’t know the circumstances behind that comment and in fact, he has told dancers to also notice what they don’t like),  yet we won’t listen to Gavito when he says the embrace and the walk are what make Tango what it is. We think we can do it better and we think we should change it to make it our own (while calling it by the same name).

Meanwhile, in Asia, many of the cultures may be more direct (How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children? Why not?). However, they sure as hell aren’t used to hearing about “chichis”. Yet it’s these same Asian communities that embrace the traditions of Argentine Tango and will happily do as they are asked. They respect and look up to their teachers.

With that said, let us divulge some wonderful insights Javier and Andrea shared with the class in Seoul:

Don’t Castrate Your Partner Women, pull your hips back and make room for the men. When you keep your hips flat, you castrate the man you are dancing with by stripping him of his freedom to walk forward without restraint.

Javier demonstrated this with multiple men and we don’t think there was a person left in that class that doubted this assertion.

Hierarchy Among Dancers  Javier & Andrea were asked about a problem that exists in various communities. What happens when the best dancers only want to dance with the best dancers, the mediocre followers only want to dance with the best leaders, and the mediocre leaders are left wanting? Javier responded (in a way that most of us North Americans don’t like to hear) that this is the way it is everywhere around the world… and this is the way it should be. If the mediocre dancers want to dance with the best dancers, they need to become better dancers. If the best dancers are already dancing with them, the mediocre dancers have no reason to improve.*

* There are too many dancers who no longer take lessons OR who only take lessons that teach new sequences rather than those that improve (BASIC) technique (which is where the problems lie).

Hierarchy on the Dancefloor  Many dancers understand the dancefloor setup now. There’s an outer lane and one or more inner lanes. Javier & Andrea told all of us what many people learn after going to Buenos Aires: The outer lane is for the best dancers. It’s for those who understand floorcraft and who can dance well. Those who cannot follow the rules of floorcraft and, more importantly, are not very good dancers, should dance in the inner lanes.*

*Swallow your ego and place yourself accordingly on the dancefloor. In the same token, deal with the crappy floorcraft and try to dance in the outer lane if you’re one of the better dancers in the community.

Our Thoughts on What Others May Consider IDOLIZATION

We’re not sure where the loathing of “idolization” has come from. We understand that some people take their idolization too far… and obviously a teacher is not a god. But it seems that people are loathing the fact that some dancers look up to their teachers as mentors – with respect and adoration. Those dancers who respect and learn from/follow one or two professional teachers tend to be the best dancers in a room. It’s those dancers who learn from anybody and everybody who CLEARLY show no progress in their dance.


Ballroom Dance Studios

Ballroom dancing and Argentine Tango are two entirely different beasts (we’ll also post about the different beasts within the world of Argentine Tango eventually). Having a background in Ballroom dancing allows us to fully appreciate just how insane it is that instructors/studios of primarily ballroom dances are teaching Argentine Tango.

In Toronto, those ballroom studios who teach Argentine Tango (and most of them do since it is all the craze) have instructors who have never set foot in our city’s milongas!? Plus they offer this definition of Argentine Tango (which we stumbled upon on the Arthur Murray Dance Studio website):

“Argentine Tango: (arrabalero) A dance created by the Gauchos in Buenos Aires. It was actually an attempt on their part to imitate the Spanish dance except that they danced it in a closed ballroom position. The Tango caused a sensation and was soon to be seen the world over in a more subdued version.”

What, what, what?!

The history of Tango is a blur and that seems to be the only historical guarantee. The other guarantee is that Argentine Tango is NOT danced in a closed ballroom position. A reminder of the difference between a hold and an embrace can be found here.