Tango Tips by Fran

 

As most of you know, Fran and his partner, Pat Altman, have been with Firehouse Tango since we started and are a major reason for our success. 

 

Fran is one of the most highly regarded Argentine Tango teachers in New York City. He teaches at Dance Manhattan and the Argentine Consulate.  He is a also very successful freelance writer, who even takes over this newsletter when I’m out.

 

 

January 10, 2019

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Some friends/students of ours are headed to Buenos Aires this week. It will be their very first visit, and our specific advice to them was to spend as much time as possible in the milongas, watching and learning.

“What about lessons?” Bob (not his real name) asked. “Where do I find shoes?” Mary (not her real name), chimed in. “Take lessons, if you want,” I responded. “Buy lots of shoes.”

“But,” I reminded them, “don’t miss this golden opportunity to watch and learn.”

We live in a kind of fantasy world here in the U.S.A. Our overall impression of Tango for the most part is that it is a flashy, splashy — look at me, everyone! — highly complex dance, brimming with fancy steps and sequences that take years (not to mention lots of money!) to learn. This overview is undoubtedly encouraged by YouTube extravaganzas, along with the majority of today’s popular teaching professionals (whose undeniable bias is firmly rooted in flamboyant performance vocabulary).

And, of course, being of a flashy, splashy nature ourselves, we love it! Even if we’ll never be able to master this form of the dance, we lust after steps, we stockpile sequences, we act as if ….

And then we make a pilgrimage to Buenos Aires. And if we’re really keen on finally opening our minds to the joys of social Tango, we watch and learn.

When Pat and I returned to New York after our first trip to Argentina, we found ourselves literally astonished at what people were doing here. Not that we weren’t doing the same things ourselves before our visit to “the homeland.” But now, our eyes were wide open, our bodies were finely tuned, our minds were changed completely. We finally understood what the (few truly inspired) teachers had been trying to tell us. We knew as if a bolt of lightning had struck us what our friend Carlos Gavito had meant, when he said, “Tango is a way to walk.”

We’re looking forward to our friends’ return from Buenos Aires. If they’ve managed to carve out some time between lessons and buying shoes, and engaged in the essential enterprise of watching and learning, we’re quite sure they’ll be wide-eyed with wonder (just as we were) at what social Tango really is. They’ll be anxious to spread the word, to immediately convert all their peers to this “way to walk.”

They’ll probably ask Pat and me why we never spelled it out for them in vivid detail, so that they could have known the truth before they went. Like us, however, they will have had to find out for themselves through personal, one-to-one, nothing-takes-the-place-of-being-there experience. There’s really no other way.

Which brings us to you. Would you like to find out what social Tango really is? Pat and I try our best to explain it you every time you take a lesson with us. But nothing — I mean nothing — beats actually being there, and seeing for yourself. With that in mind, we strongly urge you to get on a plane at your earliest opportunity — how about, let’s say, tomorrow, for example — and go. Buenos Aires awaits, real social Tango awaits, your own mind-boggling epiphany awaits.

Watch and learn. And when you get back, be sure to tell us all about it.

 

January 3, 2019

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. In teaching our class at the Argentine Consulate this week, I happened to mention in passing that even though I’ve been dancing Tango for well over 30 years, I’m still immersed in the ongoing process of learning. Yes, learning, and proud to admit it!

One of the students shook her head in disbelief. “How can you say that you’re still learning. Aren’t you supposed to know everything there is to know about Tango by now?”

The answer, of course, is a definite no. One of the really important things I’ve discovered over the years is that the act of teaching is actually the best learning experience in the world. Every time I engage in trying to communicate to students the complex processes involved in the lead/follow collaboration, I automatically come away from the interaction with insights I didn’t have before. Every time I address a student’s question about some difficult or possibly controversial aspect of Tango, I open my own door (often very wide!) to a better understanding of whatever it is I’m talking about.

Teaching, I’ve come to realize, is learning. The more I teach, the more I learn.

This can sometimes be a difficult concept for students to grasp. I remember vividly my own early years as a student. I had no doubt in my mind that every teacher I encountered possessed a bottomless reservoir of unassailable certainty about dance, which I could never even begin to achieve.

As I slowly progressed in my own learning process over the years, however, I began to notice that many teachers — particularly the ones who professed to have all the answers — really didn’t know very much at all. They seemed to spend a lot of time protecting a small fortress of very limited knowledge — rather than engaging with their students in the mutual quest to develop real understanding and insight about the art of Tango.

The mutual quest.

I don’t know everything there is to know about Tango. But trust me when I say that I do know a lot. My personal goal for this year is to convey to you everything — I mean, everything — I’ve learned about Tango over the past 33 years. When Pat and I teach a class, we’re committed to offering you the best possible information you can get. What we ask you in return is to join us in this mutual quest to master the art of social Tango.

Pat and I welcome you to 2019. Let’s work together to make this our most successful year ever!