Teaching Tango

Advice: Traveling for Tango

Traveling for Tango 

I recently received a message from a young colleague who was asking for some advice on becoming a traveling teacher and expectations on traveling for Tango.

I know some of you are experienced in traveling for tango and some are just starting out on the great adventure. Those of you who are my longtime students will come to understand all that goes into traveling for tango.

I have put together a list of things that I have learned that you might find helpful.Traveling Norway 2015

As most of you already know, Tango for me is about connecting with others, it is essentially about relationships, and when you decide to host someone or to ask to be hosted you are forging another level of relationship with someone and their community.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always as glamorous as it might seem. And again I can’t emphasize enough, that you want your experience to be win / win for all parties involved. It does not pay to burn bridges. And in this day of social media, word gets around FASTER than before!!!

So here’s how I go about it…and I know more experienced teachers might have things to add (so please feel free to comment).

1) THE INITIAL CONTACT  

It could be via email or Facebook, with an invitation to me or with me requesting to visit.
If I am making the initial contact I try not to put too much information in this message, and of course depending on whether I know them or not, I also include my website. If I have dates in mind I put those, if there is something special I want to do, I will include that. If a host contacts me first it might take several emails before I actually get all the information I need to make a decision. I use my experience from my Executive-to-the-CEO days for these introductions and requests, i.e: be polite, make it clear what I want, check my grammar, etc.

So

2) FROM CONTACT TO CONTRACT
Whether it be a formal contract or an informal email outlining my understanding and my expectations, this is a must.Train Station 2016

Things to consider

Obviously the goal is to teach, to work, to make money. For some it is also about networking and building relationships. Sometimes I have had to weigh the pros and cons. Will I make enough money or is it best that I go to build a new network. Is it more about networking or about working?

Your transportation – Plane, train, taxi, bus, car rental. Know what your transportation situation is and discuss these logistics with your hosts. This includes will you drive me around? Will I be taking the subway?
Your lodging – What kind of accommodations are you willing to have for the time you will be teaching. Do you need your own room? Are you happy with a couch? Again you don’t want any surprises about this.
Food – Is food included? A food stipend or not. Do you expect to get fed? And how often? When you are teaching? 3 meals or 1 meal ?? do you need access to a refrigerator or a kitchen?
Other important things – for another colleague of mine it is important for her to have her own bathroom, maybe you have allergies. I put it all in writing.
Space – Where am I teaching? I like to be clear about this expectation too. Is it in someone’s home? Does it have mirrors? Do I care? Is it a studio? I’ve taught in homes, studios, churches, cold places, warm places. All good to know. In most communities the studio rental is expensive but an obviously necessary overhead.
Price – such a sensitive subject for some cultures and not so much for others. (A whole other blog!)
I know several teachers that either work a 70/30 for a weekend of workshops after transportation and studio fees. OR others who request a flat fee. I have done both and again it always depends on the situation. However, I still try to have some very clear ideas and goals before I hit the ground running.
I found all this a challenge at first, not to sell myself short and yet wanting to break into a scene and the ultimate goal to be asked to return.
It is important to be clear on what you need – you can always negotiate. And also take into consideration the local climate and the exchange rates. I find it valuable to ask my host for price ranges on private lessons. This gives me an idea of the price ranges the community is used to. Some communities were all about private lessons and some communities, forget it. I was told by someone in one community that “our teachers here are so good that students just don’t pay for private lessons from any guest instructors no matter who they are!!”
And how do you want to get paid? Cash? Deposit to a bank? Do you need to make an invoice to the hosting organization?

3) COMMUNICATE COMMUNICATE COMMUNICATE 

No one likes surprises! It is so important to communicate with your host/s, exchange phone numbers etc. When in doubt call or send a message.
For those who are hosts, remember that if a teacher is traveling a lot consider time zones and when they might be teaching. I don’t want to put a time on what appropriate response time is but depending on the urgency of the matter (and even that can be argued over!) let at least a day go by before assuming that the event is off or that they have cancelled on you.

4) GRATITUDE
You would be surprised at how many of these details are often overlooked by those who are hosting and therefore, I had to take charge of the conversation. And when I didn’t, and I didn’t get paid what I thought or didn’t even know what I was being paid, well, I couldn’t complain now could I? It is so important to protect ourselves as teachers, as artists, as servers to community.
And in turn it is so important for us, as artists, to be gracious. Because if you are not, you kill it for other artists.

During my stay in an unnamed european country, I was warned that if I stated that I was from one part of the world they would not be happy to receive me as they had had so many bad experiences with teachers from that particular region. I was shocked but then understood everyone’s hesitancy about hosting me.

There is a difference between being a diva and treating people well.

I recently heard a shockingly horrifying story from a colleague who was put up in a sparse apartment (including the visiting vermin, yes, rats!) with an empty refrigerator and was told to walk to the local convenient store at night alone for food. REALLY? I was so horrified by this story. I again ask that hosts take a look around and decide if they would want to be treated the way they are treating? And to the teachers on tour, make sure to bring your credit card along and be ready to use it if you need to. In this situation, the host was not willing to assist, or make things better, or move my colleague. My colleague took the matter into their hands and spent the night (awake) looking for a hotel and then moved.

So I leave you with my utmost amazing hostess experience…

My hostess did all my advertising for me, collected fees in advance from participants, communicated regularly with them via Facebook and I was able to see some of that communication and participate by adding my excitement to the event. She picked me up from the airport, took me grocery shopping, fed me as much food as I could possibly eat and then some. I had my own comfortable room and bathroom. She drove me to classes and to the milongas. I felt so comfortable there I slept amazingly! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! – you know who you are. Happy teacher Happy classes Happy community!

May all your travels be joyful and easy!!
If I forgot something I would love to hear from you….We can always help each other to make it easier and safe for all of us.

 

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Classes in May

I will be substitute teaching at TangoLoft Berlin in May while Lilia and Jens Christian are away.

The Classes in May schedule looks like this:

Saturday 7, Mai  – 1800 – 1900 Introduction / Beginners
1900 – 2000 – Open Level Course
2000 – 2100 Practica
Wednesday 11, Mai  – 1900 – 2030 Advanced
2030 – 2200 Intermediate
Wednesday 18, Mai – 1900 – 2030 Advanced
2030 – 2200 Intermediate
Saturday 21, Mai  -1800 – 1900 Introduction / Beginners
1900 – 2000 – Open Level Course
2000 – 2100 Practica
Wednesday 25, Mai  – 1900 – 2030 Advanced
2030 – 2200 Intermediate
Saturday 28, Mai  -1800 – 1900 Introduction / Beginners
1900 – 2000 – Open Level Course
2000 – 2100 Practica
Monday 30, Mai  – 1900 – 2030 Intermediate
2030 – 2200 Beginners

Course fees for tango lessons in TangoloftDaniela Teaching Classes in May

Individual lessons: 10, – / reduced 8.
10 value card (10 times): 80, –
Practica 5, – including the milonga: 9, –

Classes will be conducted in English and when possible I will have a German speaking assistant to help me with translation.

Any questions please or private lesson bookings, send me a message or also find me on FB @accesstango

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My Milonga Tips for Those Who Don’t Get It

My Milonga tips, the dance and music, not the place, for those who have a hard time getting it.

The dance, milonga, seems to elude people. You either love it, somehow plod through it, or avoid it all together. Which is a SHAME! Recently one of my fun dancers, a lead, asked me to teach him milonga. What? Why? “Because I just don’t get it”, he said. No wonder we never danced it before, we always seemed to dance the romantic tandas.

I mention this because I perceive tango and dancers in 2 categories: rhythmic or melodic. Not that we can’t be both but in general my experience (and remember my experience has been mostly with beginners at the university) is that people tend to lean towards one or the other. They might actually favor one over the other too, and it is reflected in their learning as well. Maybe not a great example but I love romantic tandas; I grew up listening to classical music and playing classical piano to become a concert pianist. Rommel (my former partner) grew up on salsas and cumbias, these are close to his heart and he manages to find rhythmic parts to even the most melodic of tangos!

My belief is that we can all hear music but some sounds resonate more than others. I often notice this in my classes as well. I have been known to change orchestras based on how I perceive a student moving. I had a student who couldn’t figure out a Di Sarli but managed well with Canaro!

So let’s get back to my friend who can’t find his milonga!

Because we had to establish a baseline for understanding I told him I’d start him off like I do my beginners so we would have a foundation and a shared language.

Firstly, I create some soft rules, for as we know rules are meant to be broken (sometimes)! They are: no using “la cruzada”, only use parallel system, remember that milonga is happy, and follows be ready to move. I find this allows the student to focus on finding the music and their “milonga-body”.

After establishing this the mind can relax a bit and I we continue:

1) Listening and putting music in the body. I play some Canaro milongas and I encourage students to find, what I call the stepping or marching rhythm or beats and we walk to these.

2) Finding the “milonga-body”. How the body is – a certain tone in the body to start with (since most beginners lack body awareness I find that hips and ribs and shoulders and knees can be moving all over the place) in order to arrive on the beat in this “milonga-body”, which has to feel different than their tango body. The body can’t be too lax at this stage because your body will be delayed in arriving on the beat of the music. In order to find this “milonga-body” I asked my friend to soften his knees (which means bend them) and imagine stepping with his whole foot.

3) The accent is down into the floor, if you straighten your knees you will tend to move out of the floor and look like you are bouncing.

The above outline comes first. Repeated to several different milongas and worked on alone.

The next phase is that I use “la milonga basico” or a variation of “la baldosa” step as a an anchor. I normally have introduced parts of this step in my tango classes so the form looks familiar and I now have them repeat the step to the music with a partner. I use parts of this pattern to launch into other combinations of steps and later into traspie.

Remember, I am just getting students jump started into their milonga and to not fear it. Also, when I taught semesterly at the University I spent about 6 hours on milonga and then would play milongas in subsequent classes as refreshers and practices.

So tell me, what has worked for you as a student or a teacher? Any of my former students feel free to comment as well.

(dedicated to NC – enjoy your milonga training until we dance again!)

Here are 2 videos of milongas: by Dany El Flaco Garcia y Luna Palacios en Buenos Aires and the other Maximiliano Cristiani y Jesica Arfenoni

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TeaHazPetraJózsef and KrisztiánThe TribeThe Tribe 2

On the Road Again – Bye Budapest! Hello Switzerland!

And yes I am on the road again!
Bye bye Budapest! Hello Switzerland!

5 weeks have passed in Budapest. And this post is probably the least about tango!
I had quite some adventures in the end! Like: Having tea in a very eclectic TeaHaz called Zold Teknós (something TeaHazabout turtles!)– decorated with actual teepees and native American paraphernalia. It was a maze of a place, and I can imagine many teenagers escaping here for a quick make-out session in one of the teepees or in a quiet corner behind a giant totem pole! There were over 173 kinds of tea to choose from! Black tea, white teas, red teas, green teas, herbal, etc… Really yummy!

The most fun part about going to this teahouse was the lovely person who suggested it and accompanied me. Her name is Kitty Kiss! What a great name!!! Although Kiss is a popular last name in Hungary I love her name! And she’s a really super nice person too! She has pretty blue eyes and is from outside Budapest. She too is gluten and dairy free so she was immensely helpful in guiding me to some places I had not discovered yet in Budapest.

I acquired a dedicated private student, who with a Russian temperament struggled to clean his tango but also torn by his love for “all the cool moves” he knew. He spent a lot of time quoting other teachers, “X told me to do it this way”, “Y taught me this”, “Z said never do…..” – and I just kept encouraging him to understand the nature of what he was doing – essentially giving him an intensive dose of technique. My desire as a teacher is never to criticize another teacher so I tried to remain calm and as politically correct as I could. I think some things get lost in translation and sometimes, short cuts in teaching are easier than explaining things. I also think that often times the student hears only what they are capable of hearing in that moment.
My unsolicited advice to any young teacher is to get dance students moving – their bodies know… the brain gets in the way….
As for a student learning – my advice is to find teachers you resonate with, ask other students about their experiences with teachers, educate yourself. Often times beautiful performers do not make good teachers. I experienced this first hand in the modern dance world first. I would admire a beautiful dancer – their technique, agility, stage presence – and then I would take a class with them and wonder where that confident person went. In this case, often times professional dancers have trained not to be teachers but to be beautiful dancers on stage in front of an audience as an instrument of a choreographer. And they do that very well. And sometimes they don’t really want to teach either.

I digress. My last weeks in Budapest had some of my students take me to a “Ruin Pub”. Exactly what it sounds like my friends! A dilapidated building being used as a bar. Fascinating places! I actually went to 2! Although my Hungarian is still at pretty close to 4 words (including thank you, nice, and a very useful (not really) mild swear word), and many of my students’ English was limited, we managed to laugh a lot. The recurring joke was that there were 50 words to express almost anything in Hungarian. With 40+ letters in their alphabet and all kinds of sounds that even my years of French è, é, û, couldn’t help me with!

I rode the 4/6 tram almost every day and the stop before mine made me laugh every time. “Tekeshektekesik” – was basically what I heard! How could so many consonants together make a word or sentence? But it was the name of the station along with the announcement of the next stop.

And I really had some more firsts! I tried my first Hungarian stuffed cabbage, which was too rich for me, but I did taste it! Thanks to Viktor!  and I finally went to a spa and hung out in pools of different temperatures, to 3 kinds of saunas until I became a prune. The main bath in the spa called the “Turkish bath” was a common pool more or less circular in size with a dome like ceiling, the water was a perfect temperature, the design of the room was so that all the talking sort of merged into one muffled sound but yet quite loud. And those who are dying to know, this wasn’t like a german spa for all those blogs/stories you have read, so swim suits were required!

It is the time for the Christmas Markets everywhere I go and I also had my first roasted chestnut! How did I manage not to have roasted chestnuts before this? The smell wafted from every corner and one of my students bought some for me to try!

The final fun for me in Budapest was performing with my lovely host – Bela. He has been out of town all week so we did not practice at all. I was nervous about this but a lot of our students were at the milonga and the minute Bela and I started dancing I recalled our playful nature. Bela is so good at listening that even when something goes amiss he knows exactly where I am and we both recoup! As I watched the video of our performance, sometimes the recuperating doesn’t quite show through! But I prefer a dance filled with joy from both partners in this case.

I send a quick thank you to the lovely Budapest tribe that made me feel welcome and helped me out a lot during my stay: Bela, Kitty, Krisztian, Zsolt, Viktor, Petra, Robby, Joszef, Arbi, Zsofi, Kata, Judith, Katrine, Ildi and Laszlo from Costa Coffee for making me laugh!

So I am now in Switzerland doing a little exploring, of the area and of the milongas.

Some of you may be asking “what’s your plan?” And I am sorry to report, I still don’t know…. I am on trains and planes and seeing places I never thought I would see, meeting some really interesting people, also seeing how much we are alike… our dramas, our sorrows, our desires….

I am also beginning to see a bit of what is “American cultural identity” – or how they are perceived by some.

I was told by an older student in Budapest, in translation, “you are so free, so individual, you don’t follow”. This was hard for me to grasp at the time as he stared at me with his big blue eyes, I asked him if he thought it was a cultural thing? He said maybe but also individual, that women in Hungary follow. Then recently I was talking to a Swiss born young person who was saying that they wanted to start teaching something specifically in tango, and I said, “just do it”. And he commented that this was an American thing not a Swiss thing. The Swiss way is to study and wish and want and never really do. Interesting perceptions.

I also think it is a bit American or part of American to be positive or maybe that it’s not so uncommon to be able to say in America, be positive or think positively and be ok with it. The pounds of negativity or maybe I should say Kilos that I have had to wade through has been difficult. I think the language barrier has helped a lot! But still, everyone has demons they wrestle with but for how long? And when can you just exorcise them, make a decision and move into your life?

Even though I am surrounded by Christmas markets and music in malls I have sort of forgotten it is Christmas time. I wish all of you a wonderful holiday. I hope that you find peace and enjoy being with family and friends at this time. More adventures for 2016.

I leave you with the videos of Bela and my performances. There will be another more professional version on youtube and Facebook soon….

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What I Remember by Patrice Davison

During my years at ASU I was really really blessed with so many creative and talented students. I’ve read poems written about tango, short stories, photographs taken inspired by tango, paintings made, illustrations, buildings designed for tango, boardgames for tango, songs written and played, you name it! All these things were presented as part of the Tango course and submitted for a grade. Tango clearly inspiring the young! I have also been lucky that some of them keep in touch, and on occasion I will get a message or see their lives on Facebook. (Those who follow me on Facebook may have seen some of the comments they post.)

Although this assignment wasn’t submitted as part of a grade, I was so moved by how intensely and clearly she captured her tango journey that I asked her if I could share it on my blog.

So with Patrice’s permission and initials used instead of names of others, I give you a beautiful write up of what Patrice calls What I Remember:

Looking back at this year (2014), I thought I should write my What I Remember About Tango. But half the problem is I don’t know how to translate it for you guys. Tango is its own culture, its own vernacular, its own celebrities, its own family drama.

How do I explain how long it takes to walk, to extend, to stay on your own axis? How hard it is to listen to someone else and translate that in your own body? To understand your body, the spiral in your core, the lengthening of your spine. To know the music so completely that you stop at the end of the song whether you’ve heard that specific one before or not.

How do I express the joy of dancing the perfect tanda with A to live music in Albuquerque? The first time E cracked a boleo on me and I felt it spiral down my spine and through my leg and foot? The shock and amazement of G leading me into a seamless volcada after hours and days and months of trying to strengthen my core and trust enough to make it happen? The joy of following every tiny movement T makes in a milonga tanda and not missing a single traspie? The humor behind the tanda with D in Albuquerque and why I couldn’t stop laughing? The jump some random guy led me in San Francisco? Finally fulfilling my dream of Chacarera on the beach?

Patrice and Juana 2013How do I impart what amazing people I’ve taken classes with and how I have grown so much from them? Chicho and Juana, Martin and Maurizio, Maxi and Jessica are some of the best in the world, the most influential, and the most creative. And yet the names can mean nothing to you.

It would take hours to explain, pages of definitions, and still, when you aren’t in it, you can’t understand the obsession. How it feels like a drug; the need to dance constantly, to dance with “your” leaders, the high highs and the low lows. Not saying that there isn’t mediocrity, there is. Trying to teach the new generation as you were taught only a short year and a half ago. Knowing exactly what someone is going to do before they even lead it on you because of repetition. And a hundred meaningless tandas in between that one amazing one of the night.

All I can tell you is that it has consumed me and changed me and I can’t live without it. Sometimes I wonder how I got here. If it was B in my African Dance class telling me about tango, or the first day of class when T told me I was a natural, or Daniela and her brilliant teaching, or finally, feeling how great it felt to dance with T, or A at Comic-Con telling me I had to take tango two, or him asking me to take the Chicho and Juana workshop with him. I think it was all those things and none of them. The one thing I distinctly remember is standing in my bathroom one night after a practica, my feet feeling like they wouldn’t stop moving, and being unable to imagine not having tango in my life. This was before I had tango friends, before I had traveled, or done any of the amazing things that have since defined me as a dancer. I simply knew deep down that I had to continue. Now, after tears, frustration, sweat, anger, joy, laughter, and friendship, I wouldn’t change that decision for the world.

Patrice is now in the Peace Corps in Ecuador and she has actually shared tango with some fans in Quito! She hopes she’ll make it to Buenos Aires before her time there is up!

Daniela and Patrice 2014

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