I recently was able to attend a workshop taught by a teacher dubbed as “a master of the art” who received much fan-fare from many because of what and who he represented. I admit to jumping on the promotional bandwagon to support a dear friend’s event where he would perform. It read something like, “When the masters come to town. Not to be missed!” and had a link attached. I ended up spending some quality time with a friend that night and missed the performance because I got there late. As the week ensued, I saw him and his partner perform twice in two different venues. Incredible energy, speed, technique, musicality (most of the time) and versatility (he also rocked a swing to an Elvis Presley hit). Quite a spectacle actually, I’m glad I didn’t miss them
After a long week of hoopla and excitement at the prospect of learning from this great dancing couple, I decided that I wouldn’t attend due to financial reasons. It was hard to justify stealing from Peter to pay Paul for something as frivolous as dance lessons. However after having a couple of conversations with two people very dear to my heart, I decided to go ahead and carry on with such thievery so to speak. I held out till the very last segment on the last day that included a practice session after. As I arrived, I noticed the pulse of the people weak and subdued but this was typical after an intensive workshop where complex concepts are hammered out – down to the most minute detail, people get physically and mentally tired. After exchanges with a few of my peeps, I noted the underlying current was that they were weary from hearing lectures lasting better than twenty minutes at a time that were bordering on insulting. I dismissed it as typical for someone of accomplished stature in any art form to be cocky sometimes and if you got the chops to back it up “then go on with your bad self” I was there to learn something masterful from a master and was very eager to get started.
In many capacities, I have recently became a student again. Including college courses, vocational school and many dance classes with different teachers teaching different concepts all over the city. I am a the proverbial sponge, very active in participation in class and like making it entertaining for myself and everyone else. What can I say, I am a bit of a ham when comes to being in front of people, chalk it up to ADHD. Master or not I was there to learn and have a good time, to be engaged to understand and bring out the best from my teacher by asking pertinent questions to secure the root of his tutelage.
The concepts taught in the class were superb, concise and clear. I came away with more tools and applied them right away, it will take some repeated application to fully grasp the possibilities and scope of application for said techniques but I’ve got nothing but time. I got it: the concepts, the chance to engage a talented teacher, the opportunity to practice the concept with his coaching and another day on the dance floor with my peeps because I love my community. So why did I hear sarcasm and grumblings from people who have been dancing this dance longer than I have as well as the newbies? What was missing from this workshop?? One word.
He claimed that those who do not dance like him are lacking respect for tango, his culture and all the teachers that went before him. He also stated that those who didn’t speak Spanish could only grasp something like 40% of the meaning of the form. He wanted us to respect the culture and not even dance to music that wasn’t tango music. “When you are in this studio while we are in a milonga, you are in Buenos Aires” he said. “Not Chicago” All the while saying, “I’m sorry” and shrugging his shoulders. Does someone who is so aware of his culture and swears by those credos not expect that he may be insulting another’s culture? The American culture is a testament to change and reform. We came here after the first settlers (or conquerors) because it held a promise of a better life with new opportunities, new resources, where we could be free from tyranny or lack of possibilities. We came to the Americas from Europe, Asia, Africa, Russia and a thousand islands spread the world over. In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the phrase, “the new deal” during his acceptance of the Democratic nomination when he said, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.” He intended to bridge the gap between the classes and breath new energy into the people in a crisis. He also said, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is, fear itself — needless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” We are a people who were taught to believe that anything is possible. We are free to live productive, prosperous and full lives. We are free to follow our cultural and religious heritage without fear of being persecuted. We are free to take what is useful from those customs other cultures bring into our lives because we have the opportunity to live among them. Even our currency says it, “Novus Ordo Seclorum.” New World Order. We are a young country that brings traditions from many cultures who’s diversity enriches all of those who let it. In 1783, George Washington wrote: “The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period.” We are here just like the Argentine ancestors were on the docks and living in conventillos, all cultures contributing concepts to a whole. Just as, for one of many examples, we preserve what is American, African and European by holding the works of Charlie Parker in highest regards. An American of African decent playing an instrument that originated in France.
Does our teacher, who so boldly claims that all that is not Milonguero from his heritage of teachers, should also be shameful to admit that the Italians, Germans, Austrians, Spaniards, Meztizos, Gauchos and Africans of the lowest of classes had influence in the creation of the dance. What would their respective cultures and historians have to say have said about it? They would most likely be proud that something so beautiful, no matter how small or diluted, came from some cultural influence of their own. Does he realize that the swing that he danced represented an era of great change and innovation in the history of our nation. A veteran swing dancer would probably not complain that his back kicks during that “hot as hell Boogie Woogie” he did to end his performance set were actually “back voleos “… “and that isn’t swing.” Rest assured he would have shook his hand and congratulated his innovation and flexibility in such wonderful presentation.
I also expect that because he may have seen so many different levels of dancers with so many influences he may have had a bad taste in his mouth… who wants to eat in a restaurant with a bunch of rookie cooks that all use different ingredients that may insult a discriminating palate? After all, this is representative of his culture and his art and he thinks high of it as well he should. Those dancers that take their advancement of the art seriously (as opposed to those who are involved for more social aspects) will gladly share and explore concepts with him but a lot fewer will accept the teachings at the cost of insult to our other teachers who are beloved for their generosity, form and style in an art that all do the same thing:
Honor Argentine Tango
On his next visit we would like to have him and his lovely partner here longer and gladly accept his offering to preserve the art of tango as he teaches it. But it goes without saying: The house just may come down on someone who steps on some blue suede shoes in Chicago…
As you might expect, I had something to say…
Thanks for reading,
Fabrizio Sonny LeNoir