Teaching Tango

Published by MelinaMistral on

“Teachers should never impose their favorite patterns on their students. They should be finding out what works for them, and what does not work for them. The individual is more important than the style.”       

–  BRUCE LEE

Rain, no classes, and coffee. The perfect combination for memories to take shape and for questions and answers to intermix. Oh and, let’s not forget, the ideal moment to read.

In early May, as I was walking on Roncesvalles Ave in Toronto with a baguette under my arm and a coffee in my other hand (yes, I know, so french), I fell upon a cozy little bookstore. In it I found a book that brought me back to my years as a martial arts addict and cinephile; “Bruce Lee, a life” by Matthew Polly. Lucky enough, I found it again a few weeks later in a library of Montreal.

Reading it, I realized that I connected greatly with one of Bruce Lee’s philosophy. A philosophy that I came to believe in after years of struggle with myself as a teacher and a person:  

“Teachers should never impose their favorite patterns on their students. They should be finding out what works for them, and what does not work for them. The individual is more important than the style.” – Bruce Lee

This is, in my humble opinion, just as right for a teacher towards a student as it is for the way we are in our everyday lives. There is a constant battle between traditional and contemporary thoughts and behavior, a push for one extreme or the other. We are surrounded by mixed signals and encouraged or pushed into specific directions from our families, friends, school, … And it is the same in Tango. Forcing a student in a certain style or technique that doesn’t work for them or throwing a multitude of information to their head without a clear explanation as to how they, personally, can use it, is just as harmful to their dance and understanding of it.

So what made me, and I am sure many other teachers as well, come to the same conclusion as Bruce Lee? Let me tell you:    

“It made me realize that all artists arrive to the same point I was in at some time in their career, and the difference between making it past that point or giving up is a mix of 4 things.”

My first job as a Tango teacher was in the first school where I learnt Argentine Tango. First, as a part-time assistant and then, as a regular teacher. My methods and words used as a dance instructor were repetitions of what my first teachers preached. However, as is ritual between students and teachers, there comes a moment when the first starts questioning the latter’s ways, trying to find and build their own path. So, after a few years, I started seriously studying under other maestros who would come to teach in Montreal, practicing with dancers outside of my school and partnering with teachers from other cities and countries. This pool of differing information and introduction to a much larger Tango world confused me greatly and made forget why I danced Tango in the first place. Add to that all the drama that resulted from the social aspects of Tango, the low work opportunities and instability, a misplaced ego, the wavering self-esteem, and you have the perfect cocktail mix to create a facade of a teacher. A pivotal and important point in my career as a dancer where I almost quit Tango.

During that time of uncertainty, I decided to try and find a 9 to 5 job and only teach part-time at the Tango school I had now been working at for more than 5 years. Part of my new job consisted in meeting with artists of all disciplines. I would sit with them, get to know them, their successes and failures, ask them about their work, their creations and their goals. It made me realize that all artists arrive to the same point I was in at some time in their career, and the difference between making it past that point or giving up is a mix of 4 things: 

  1. Being ok with uncertainty and taking risks, not falling into a state of convenience. 
  2. Constant learning and questioning. 
  3. Understanding and accepting your strengths and weaknesses. 
  4. The want and need to share something through your art. 

“Now, when I dance, I share MY Tango, without shame. I let myself become vulnerable to my partners, which in turn also allows me to truly see the dancers that are in front of me, without a preconceived idea based on their bodies or personalities.”

Once I understood that, I started a new phase of my life and my Tango. First, I decided to quit the school in which I first learnt Tango and in which I had been teaching for many years, cutting, in part, my ties to convenience. I then started practicing again with teachers from different schools, as both a follower and a leader. Following this I decided to quit my full-time job with very little savings in my pocket. This taught me to be ok with uncertainty and risk taking. Once I came back and slowly began teaching again, I started, painfully at first, accepting my strengths and weaknesses as a dancer, while watching my students go through the same process. Before Tango I wanted to be taller and thinner, like the models in the magazines, but when I started dancing I actually wished for the opposite: a smaller frame, one that could be easily carried and manipulated through movements. Teachers and dancers would often say things like “you are not a small woman”, “you have a strong body”, “you have an imposing body”, … And all those words would eat at my self-esteem. All of that gradually changed when I stopped saying sorry for the body that was mine, a body that has become a part of my dance, of my style, that fills the space and grabs the attention, a body that I now respect and am thankful for. And that is when I found some of the things I wanted and needed to share through my dance and my teaching. Now, when I dance, I share MY Tango, without shame. I let myself become vulnerable to my partners, which in turn also allows me to truly see the dancers that are in front of me, without a preconceived idea based on their bodies or personalities.

Going through this phase in my life, with the support of family, friends, colleagues and teachers, taught me that I need to understand the weaknesses and strengths of my students, and that rather than force my style of Tango on them I need to search and uncover what fits them best; what their Tango is.

 

Categories: Blog

4 Comments

Anne Royer · June 27, 2019 at 2:07 am

Merci Mélina pour ce texte sur le tango, ta perspective de professeure et danseuse de tango.
Ta phrase sur ton corps … » i stopped saying sorry for the body that was mine. .. » ma fait réfléchir .
Je fais 1m78; inutile de dire que je suis grande! . Malheureusement, je ne cesse de faire des excuses pour le corps qui est mien et qui fait partie de ma danse…
Merci de m aider à m assumer et de laisser faire le reste….
Maintenant en espérant que ma danse s améliore!
Anne

    MelinaMistral · July 3, 2019 at 5:38 pm

    Salut Anne,

    Désolée de te répondre si tard, je viens de voir ce message qui est parti dans mes spams…

    Je pense que ce qu’il faut que tu trouves plutôt que, comme tu dis, des excuses pour le corps qui est tien, c’est les qualités que ce corps peut apporter dans ta danse. C’est ce qui fera que tu trouveras ton Tango à toi, plutôt que de te comparer à d’autres danseuses qui sont beaucoup plus petites que toi, un corps complètement différents et donc des forces et qualités complètements différentes.

    Ne lâches pas la recherche! 🙂
    Bisous

Sabine · August 22, 2019 at 2:01 am

Merci pour ce beau texte qui s’applique à… à peu près tout dans la vie ! Se rapprocher de soi est la condition pour se rapprocher des autres, partenaires ou élèves. Pour ma part, j’ai passé beaucoup de temps à rester dans l’ombre – pas parce que j’étais embarrassée par mon corps mais parce que ça arrangeait mon entourage. Je me donne aujourd’hui TOUTES les autorisations dont j’ai besoin. L’une après l’autre, à mon rythme. Dans TOUS les domaines. Et la vie n’a pas finie d’être savoureuse… Quant aux remarques faites par les partenaires de danse sur notre façon de danser ou notre physique ou whatever, elles sont tout simplement déplacées pour une raison très simple : la danse sociale est avant tout une rencontre. Si on n’est pas prêt à vivre cette rencontre, il est préférable de danser seul. 🙂

    MelinaMistral · August 30, 2019 at 4:36 pm

    Sabine,

    Oui en effet, se rapprocher de soi (que je considère être le cas quand on devient honnête avec soi-même; avec nos besoins, nos désires, nos capacités) est critique si l’on veut une réelle rencontre avec l’autre. Si l’on ne veut pas se regarder et qu’on se cache derrière un personnage, il est impossible de voir les autres. Très peu de gens le sont réellement (honnête avec eux même). Et souvent cela vient en vagues (ce qui est normal).
    Mais c’est super que tu te donnes les autorisations dont tu as besoin, j’espère que tu arrives à encourager ton entourage à faire de même!

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