I’m in Austin TX enjoying the weather, visiting with my parents, and reflecting on my previous life and dance training. During this time I finally decided to step back into the contemporary dance studio. I have promised myself this for years but never drummed up the courage to do so. Why? Well, simply, I’m not the same body that used to dance train 3+ hours per day!
While not as easy as it used to be, my body fumbled around movements that my brain said – “oh yes I remember that” and yet it took what seemed like very long minutes for my body to execute some semblance of what the teacher demonstrated. Nevertheless, I have been enjoying wandering around the dance floor again barefoot and grounded and it got me thinking….
What I learned from being a trained dancer and an athlete in my youth! (I was not only a dancer but also a competitive swimmer, a gymnast, ice skater, pianist, and volleyball player!)
- All my free time went to what I loved doing. I worked hard because all I wanted was to do that thing – dance (swim, etc).
- That there is always someone better: more skilled, prettier, longer limbed, faster, stronger, lighter, smarter, etc… but you keep going to practice, to rehearsal, to class, because you love it. It is like the air you breathe, a necessity.
- That rarely do you become a teacher without a following and without merit. For example: just because you have a degree does not mean you will teach, just because you dance does not mean you will teach. If you come with a name this will help you, ie: if you performed and danced with a certain dance company you can leverage that name to your advantage as a teacher. If you are an athlete you leverage your winnings to help you teach/coach.
- That not all amazing performers are good teachers – teaching too is a skill that takes many hours of dedication – not all athletes are good coaches.
- That thanking your teacher after class is a nice thing. Teachers appreciate it. Sometimes the teachers take an interest in you as a dancer and will compliment you in return as well. I remember getting complimented by my very stoic, famous, Cunningham technique teacher for having nice choreography. That was such a great moment while living in San Francisco. Or the time I was taking classes in NYC and the teacher came up to me after class to ask me who I danced for because she enjoyed my dancing. Or the moment the director of the studio where I trained told me directly, “dance needs you”.
- That the community of dancers is small. It’s competitive, yes, but we all know what it feels like to be that 1 person who lands that 1 spot in a company at an audition with 300 dancers. You might be angry that it wasn’t you but it made you work harder, filled with hope, to be the next one to land a coveted free spot.
- That you really have to love what you do because the journey is arduous, sometimes painful, sometimes lonely, but performing (and teaching) is the biggest high.
- That a lot of times, as you get older, you are left with amazing memories, sometimes no health insurance, no safety net, and you have to begin to find a new identity for yourself. Some performers have to stop due to injury or the company they have worked with has folded. Whatever the case may be that next phase is challenging. My dear lovely teacher is nearly 70, still teaching, and also an acupuncturist. His schedule is so full because it has to be.
- That performing is important: for exposure, to engage community, and to share the creativity of the performers and choreographers. I knew “lovers of dance” who would not miss an opportunity to see the performances from the studio where I performed many times in Cambridge, MA. They too are a part of the dance community – an important part.
The world of tango is not like this – the world of tango has taught me different things. But maybe one comparison is that many who were bit by the bug early have to either, continue to “fight” graciously for their work in the world of tango or, too find a new identity for themselves.
I really feel the difference between the world of social tango and the world of dance. Being a dancer usually meant that you started early on, and if you made it through puberty and you still loved it you would continue, and if you made it through college and you still loved it you’d continue. And if you were lucky enough to land in a competitive dance college or in a dance company, you were trained by then, to be one of the best.
In tango many are talented with little training, with little understanding, and the public doesn’t know better. But those who have been around their community for more than 10 years are tired too. How can they be enthusiastic when they have been abandoned by those dancers who “became better”? And those dancers who ungratefully decided to enthusiastically begin their own classes competing with their first teachers.
It is always interesting to talk about tango. Being holistic in my teaching approach, I obviously view tango holistically – meaning I can’t speak about one aspect of tango without really mentioning another aspect. How can I speak about teaching without talking about community or talk about performances or the culture or the body, etc without bringing it back to the whole?
So what can you bring today to make your tango experience in your community brighter? Maybe it is taking a class with the local teachers – or support a milonga you have not been to or maybe thanking your first teacher or thanking your current teacher. OR maybe it is getting back to class by really researching what you want out of your dance. Could you lead in your community by setting an example that resonates with your beliefs?
There has been and I suppose there will always be a lot of whining in tango. I think we really have to take responsibility for our desires, our intentions, and importantly our actions. When you dance tango you are a part of a community. It is very difficult and I know people who do, dance in isolation, put themselves and their favorite partner in a box and never share. But why do it then?
Why are you dancing then?