Teaching Tango

How much for that tango?

Today’s topic is one that not many people discuss or at least haven’t discussed with me or my partner and that is: why do organizers charge what they charge for visiting teachers? Who decides this? How is it decided?

There is no standardization or written rules anywhere for exactly how an organizer brings a traveling teacher or tango maestro to their community. Often organizers who keep organizing say that they don’t make money off of it but yet they keep doing it. Some have quit their day jobs to become full time festival organizers and host tango teachers to their communities. Sometimes local teachers often end up feeling forced or maybe coerced into bringing outside talent. But really no one talks about this subject openly.

Now don’t get me wrong. What I would give to be able to bring a tango couple each month to my city to share in the joy of tango. And many of my students have heard me dream of this for years.

As a tango teacher and co-organizer I am often approached with requests from traveling teachers and from agents helping teachers who want to drop into our community to teach. I very often have to politely explain to them that our city isn’t big enough to support them.

But let’s look at this a bit more closely. What little I know about business models there first needs to be supply and demand. For me I look at it simply as what price do I need to charge and how many students do I need to have to cover my costs.

Now, most teachers or a teaching couple will want: 1) a flat rate of about $1500 – $2500 for a weekend of workshops (this is not their festival fee, this is just a weekend visit), 2) their RT airfare paid for, 3) lodging (which sometimes is in someone’s home), and 4) food, well, that has been a vague one, however, some teachers request a stipend of about $100/day others do not.

So now, let’s say I am organizing for a couple, I have to print off flyers; go to milongas, practicas to pass out flyers to get the community excited; book a studio which could cost anywhere from $15 – $35/hour; have liability insurance; transport the dancers from/to airport, home, studio, food, restaurants, etc.

Does this look like a good business model?

Let’s look at it from another perspective. If the organizer has a personal interest in that couple, that dancer, then it was never really about business or was it? Having some beautiful people in your home or in your car for a weekend to discuss the various ins and outs of tango life, then it might just be worth it.

This has created a particular phenomenon whereby the traveling teachers find a good business to spend their time going to different communities but the organizer who wants to make money is obligated to raise prices. And if the organizer is a teacher as well, they risk losing their profits for that week or the month if they don’t raise the price of the event with the traveling teacher.

If there is a large community, this isn’t much of a problem because the numbers make up the overhead.

But it’s particularly challenging when the community is small and even harder when smaller numbers take classes. I am speaking of a small community being about 50 people who come to milongas regularly. Of those 50 maybe ½ will actually take a workshop. And if from this ½ they have to choose between their local teachers who they take from regularly or if there is more than one traveling teacher per month, often times, the price will be the deciding factor. They may splurge or they may stick to what they know.

We haven’t even spoken about quality or how this visiting teacher would contribute to the values and growth of the community. How do you as a dancer in the community make educated choices about your dancing needs? The model that most of us use to measure what we are doing is the milonga in Buenos Aires. We dance Argentine Tango therefore, I/we would like to emulate and dance like it is in the milongas there, to be social dancing, regardless of style. Without getting into a cultural philosophical discussion about how it’s impossible to be culturally the same as in Buenos Aires, the idea is still to strive for that model. I haven’t heard anyone say, I don’t want to be social or dance like they do in milongas in Buenos Aires. (Not yet anyway!)

As an organizer, my partner and I have brought a handful of teachers to the community, from high end maestros/maestras to lesser known but intelligent teachers with our same philosophy and ideals in tango. And there have been different price ranges because we care about the community and we care about our own developments and understandings of the dance form. Or maybe we weren’t good business people to negotiate or set a standard price, which brings us back to where I started, what is the standard? And how do teachers determine this as well? Can they charge the same in Los Angeles as they do in Kansas City? (I picked those cities at random, assuming that LA has a bigger community than Kansas City.) And how do teachers know how big your city is? Phoenix is huge yet the tango community is relatively small.

So what are the solutions? I would love to hear from you. But can you understand why there is jealousy among teachers and a fierce sense of competition?

I know that better communication always helps. In my dream tango community there would be different teachers and organizers that communicate with each other who would be respectful of each other to give each other equal time throughout the year to bring guests. And this could be exciting if each teacher/organizer acknowledges their style, their values, and they bring a teacher who supports that. For example: Let’s say there are 6 teachers/organizers in a community and each were to each bring 1 guest per year in a cycle of every 2 months. (ie: 1 teacher/organizer is in charge of Jan/Feb, and the next March/April, etc). You get variety, quality, you get support from the community and remuneration for your work as an organizer. Or what if community organizers could get together and agree on a price for all visiting teachers and the costs for classes. Ok, so don’t laugh, they are just ideas!

Just another blog….

 

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Informal with a judge

Sick as a dog on the eve of the Finals. The smell of menthol is on everyone’s breath at the milongas. Everyone seems to be sick or with some scratchy throat.

Rommel had the opportunity to speak informally and interpret for a teacher and a judge who was at the house coaching. Some highlights of that conversation follow.

This teacher/coach/judge considers himself a teacher, a maestro, and not so much a dancer anymore. He recommends that dancers should take classes with teachers not with other dancers. The teacher will show you how to dance as opposed to the dancer who will show you how he dances.

He expounded on how he reads the rules that are presented to him for Tango Salon. He needs to give points based on the the following criteria.

the Embrace – el AbrazoPre Finals
the connection
the step/or walk – la pisada
musicality
and execution of movement.

This last one is not on the rules for us. Maybe it is understood. He interprets this final piece as how does one feel what they are doing/dancing, como se siente lo que bailan. Rommel further interpreted this as the quality of movement that is directly powered by feeling. He sees many dancers as too tense or trying to impress the judges doing steps.

As a judge he has 15 seconds per couple (there are usually 10 couples on stage). A judge will see you at least twice and he needs to see all those things in that time.

He spoke about Tango Culture – la cultura del tango – one has to live the tango to be able to feel it. And in this journey find your true identity in tango that isn’t a copy of last year’s champion or of a teacher that you’ve had. So if you dance your own tango you will dance calmly without tension.

If you review previous champions, they all have their own tango identity in their dancing. They have their own style. He believes that the next champion has to be different than what has come before.

This is fascinating to me as it all is still so so subjective. But, yet, a common theme from all these maestros, has been the mention of uniqueness, individuality, and finding your own tango.

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Having just returned from the Finals in Luna Park. What an interesting experience. 41 couples participated. Again the results are Winners 2012somewhat hard to figure out. They showed the point results on the screens for the top 5 couples. It seems strange that couples’ scores could range from low 7’s to high 9’s, like no single couple’s scores from the judges (as shown on the screen) were consistent. Clearly some couples were favored with high scores by some judges and low scores by other.

Beautiful couples from Argentina made the top 3 spots. You can see the dancing online.

I have seen some amazing dancers this trip. It has been a fantastic journey to have shared stage with great dancers from all over the world.

Tomorrow night is our last night and we will be performing at a milonga Salon Canning. I think I am more nervous for that than I was for the Championship!

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El hombre que no marca no baila

It really has been inspiring and a delight to take classes with these old milongueros. They are so funny and sweet, they share from their heart. They definitely have seen changes in tango.

We took a class with Manolo y Marta Anton and again it was more than just a step that we learned.

We had heard about the Salida of the 40’s but Manolo taught us the Salida of the 30’s, which looks the same! We tried to find out the differences between the 2 but that led to a discussion of the heart and not the step! So no answers to that yet. He also showed us a beautiful parada step. He and Marta went around to each couple, answered questions, danced with each of us, told us more stories! These figures start with the leader facing to the outside of the circle of the line of dance. He said that you don’t want to go towards the middle of the dance floor but in the direction that you are dancing. His style had a lot of dramatic bent knees.

He began dancing when he was 16 and he is 80+ years now. He says he pursued Marta for 16 yearsManolo y Marta Class!

Manolo reminded us that any step by itself is a pavada (translates as silliness) but it’s the person who dances and brings his heart to that step and to the dance that makes it look good.

He was adamant about not using your whole foot on the paradas or sandwiches, only the tip of your shoe, so you don’t look pigeon toed. We were reminded that we are connected as a couple through the sternum. A man who doesn’t marcar (translates as lead but meaning signal or convey the lead) doesn’t dance. This sounds much better in Spanish: El hombre que no marca no baila.

There seemed to be an ongoing theme this trip about personal identity or finding ones own identity in the dance or simply your own dance.

We are taking another class tomorrow with one of the judges. Rommel had time to chat with him informally this week and I am looking forward to sharing that with you.

 

 

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“Mente Corazon y Pierna”

Raining inside Club AtlantaThe Head, Heart and Legs, you have to feel the dance in these 3 places according to Eduardo Pareja (Parejita). You dance what you can and what you feel.

As I said in the last blog, I was so moved by all the fantastic information and stories that these Maestros recounted, that I wanted to continue to share some highlights here.

Out of the 8 planned classes only 6 actually happened due to the maestros cancellation or sickness. We took a cab during rush hour to arrive timely for these 2 hour classes. When it rained the space became flooded and the organizers would be found mopping. Mariella and Rolo were wonderful organizers of the event: young, enthusiastic, passionate, fun dancers, inquisitive and just lovely to be around!

All of the teachers spoke about their learning to dance and yes, they learned men with men. For example, El Toto Faraldo told us that he had an older brother who would come to the house with his friends and they would practice moves from the milongas at the house. Toto had a keen eye and would end up correcting the guys if they were doing the steps incorrectly.

Clase con Los AgudioElvira Agudio said that she learned to dance with her girlfriends at home. Her husband, Osvaldo, recounted that he grew up just a few streets behind the Club Atlanta and the guys would be practicing out on the streets. He was young then. He would go to them and ask them to show him a figure and they would tell him to go watch in a milonga and bring steps back to practice.

The idea was not to copy steps but to be inventive and creative. One milonguero would do his steps quickly in hopes that no one would see his moves and be able to copy them! This idea of creativity and uniqueness is something that Osvaldo Agudio expounded upon. He said what frustrates him is to see a teacher show a paso (step), then ask the class to imitate it, and then the teacher will ask the students to dance and they are all doing the same step, it looks like a choreography, like a ballet. The minute the woman moves herself it is no longer tango. Osvaldo Agudio was asking us about some moves and asking if they were really led. He didn’t seem convinced!

Clase con ParejitaBaila con amor, sin egoismo y con risa  Parejita

Translates as: Dance with love, without being selfish, and with laughter. Just another beautiful quote from Eduardo Parejita. He came to class with his wife who sat on the sidelines watching and his dance partner, Laura Grandi. He is 82 years old, so sweet and generous. Laura is 30 and she has been dancing with him for 15 of them. He spoke so naturally that you could feel his passion for tango and for his family. (He is a proud grandfather to a current famous soccer player.)

Another thing he said that completely stands out is never speak badly about a colleague, just do your dance. It’s hard sometimes for me not to be passionate and opinionated about what I do and I have never been one to keep my mouth shut. I will continue to strive to do so hearing these words repeated in my head!

Clase con TotoI dance what I feel and if I don’t like the music, I don’t dance. Osvaldo Agudio

We do that which corresponds with age, the youth bring the dance into the future otherwise the dance stays closed or boxed in with older people. Osvaldo Agudio

Disfrutar Disfrutar Disfrutar – Enjoy Enjoy Enjoy

El Toto told us that the ratio of men to women was 20:1. The woman would check out the men from head to toe and if anything was out of place she could refuse him. People were conscientious about their appearance. Everything and everyone were very humble in those days.

There were several other comments about the Championship and stories about milongas and orchestras, personal hobbies and ideologies, which I hope to be able to incorporate into future blogs.

Clase con Jorge RodriguezRommel was very interested in hearing their opinions about the Championship. I think for the most part there were very degrees of enthusiasm. With comments ranging from Great idea – muy bien to I was juror once and won’t do it again!

There was some discussion about labels and one of the maestros said, the labels are money. Easy for them to say living here where most strive to express the same thing in a dance called Argentine Tango to the music of the same name. It is very clear for them and they know amongst themselves who was where, in what neighborhood, when, and why moves were danced the way they were danced!

Such a wonderful opportunity to be with these milongueros. Thank you Maestros!

(translation is mine with some help from Rommel)

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“It’s an Art, not Gymnastics”

Club AtlantaMAESTROS de MAESTROS – The Teachers of Teachers, a workshop with those milongueros, who can speak about dancing in their early days with tango in Buenos Aires, and it, the workshops, started out, well, slowly! 4 days, 2 classes per day.

Rommel and I and Tyler show up to this famous historic stadium, Atlanta (which is right down the street from Tyler’s place). The previous night’s torrential rains caused a bit of havoc on the space. We arrived 20 minutes early to find the space being mopped. Not the whole space but a few very large places on the floor were covered in water. After 1 hour of waiting, the first teacher never arrived. The next teacher and his wife show up a little early so the young organizers arrange for those of us who were still there to ask questions and for this couple to tell us a bit about the building, Atlanta, and tango in the early days.

The neighborhood and the space is historic. It was the biggest dance club during its heyday. The actual place opened in 1904 as a soccer club. But it was and is an athletic club and had 1 of the largest dance floors in the 40’s. Many great orchestras came through here and it was known fClub Atletico Atlanta insideor its “Carnevales” – big parties during carnival time (before Easter).

http://www.atlantapasion.com.ar/historia.php

The first class was not really a typical class – it really felt more like a practica. The maestro would show a step, we would dance and dance and dance and he would walk around and check us all out!

As the week has worn on and we have gone diligently to these classes, I am fascinated, inspired, and touched by all of the teachers. They came and opened their hearts, shared stories, some personal, some silly, but all with a very real feeling of sharing. Some of them showed us steps and we worked on them over and over again. Some watched us dance and gave advice on our embrace or our walking. And some even talked about the Championship and their opinion of it.

We heard over and over again about how dancers need to slow down. We are not running, there is no race, the dance has lasted and has many more years to go! This was said by Jorge Rodriguez.

Most of the teachers commented on the “chaos” at the milongas that they see now, that it’s basically dangerous dancing at milongas with high kicks and tables being knocked about. Rodriguez said that the dance, “necesitamos apoyar a nosotros”, meaning that the dance needs the dancers’ support, the communal tango support on the milonga dance floor. The feeling that I got from his explanation is that all of us on the social dance floor are responsible for tango – for where it goes and how it grows.

Internet was down today and I tried desperately to post this sooner. More Maestros to be continued….

 

 

 

 

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