Saturday, July 11, 2009

Es Facil!!!

One of the weirdest things I remember is my mother "not-teaching" me how to knit.

"Well," you say skeptically, "I've heard about people teaching people how to knit. How can you 'not-teach' someone to knit?"

Once, in my youth, I said I wanted to learn how to knit, and my mother grudgingly agreed to teach me - but only after many lectures on how difficult it is to learn how knit, how much patience it would take (I guess I didn't have any), and how impossible it would be for me to understand the many factors that go into the making of a knitted garment that was passed onto her through generations and generations of ancestral knowledge. It was also severely stressed to me that I simply did not have the right combination of DNA to embark on such a complicated, dexterous, lady-like activity such as knitting - apparently all the robust and hefty women on my father's side of the family were more suited to farming, ditch-digging and hog-wrestling than delicate craftwork). Given all these difficulties, my mother made it clear that teaching me how to knit will take a lot of effort and time and probably shave off a couple of years off her young life - and I better be grateful.

"Hey Mom! Hog Wrestling takes skill too!"

All that nagging and we hadn't even started. Finally she got out the yarn and the knitting needles. My mother cast on the stitches. Then she knit a couple of rows to show me how to make knit stitches. I tried one or two stitches - but they weren't to her satisfaction so she unravelled them and knit them again. I tried a few more - not perfect, and therefore not satisfactory, and so forth. Even when my knitting was "passable", I was not allowed to knit to the end of the row, or to purl on the wrong side - my mother took care of all of that. Why bother to explain to me how to do it and let me try? I wouldn't "get it" anyway.

So the whole bizarre experience had me knitting a few stiches on every other row, and my mother frowning and cursing and knitting all the rest. I came out of the experience with absolutely no clue as to what I was doing.

My mother had effectively "not-taught" me how to knit.

Can you blame me for dropping the needles and not picking them up again until a good two decades later? And when I finally did, I got myself a "Knitting for Dummies" book out of the library, spent about half an hour figuring out how to cast on - and within weeks I made a sweater!

OK, that sweater was knitted top to bottom completely "wrong" - I twisted every single stitch I was supposed to knit - but the important thing was that I did it all myself. I simply learned by doing, without being held back by nagging doubt or disparaging voices of doom.

And guess what? I found that knitting is EASY. There was absolutely no basis for any belief that I was "fiber-craft challenged".

After this life-lesson, I found that a lot of other things were easy if I put my mind to it (without shortening anybody's life). But with my kind of childhood (you can only imagine) occasionally I can slip up and start wallowing down The Memory Lane of the Pits of Despair in the Slough of Despond.

Tango for instance. How many times have I looked at some dancer, teacher, performer executing some seemingly impossibly skillful elegant move and said "I'll never be able to do that!!!" All too often. And there are dancers and teachers out there who will smirk and tell you precisely that you would never be able to do what they can do. That is, unless you take plenty of private classes with them - because they hold the secret to all of Tango-verse and you will never, ever get it unless you shell out the big bucks, perhaps even sell...your...soul.

When we first began learning Tango, there was a very dedicated middle-aged lady who was "not-taught" Tango by a local teacher. Every week she would pay $100 for one hour of private class, and her teacher will proceed to criticize every aspect of her posture and dance until she was bathed in a cold sweat and too terrified to even move.

She was dancing just ok when we first got to know her - she could follow a bit. But after paying all that money to the local teacher and all that working over in a year of private classes, she was so embroiled in the nightmare of her own inadequacies she couldn't dance at all. No-one wanted to dance with her, not even the worst leaders, because she would be so paralytically unresponsive. She soon dropped out of sight.

How refreshing it was then for us to encounter wonderful teachers like Martha and Manolo. Whenever we would say that something they were teaching us was "difficult", they would tell us no, not at all. Emphatically, they would say - "Es facil!!!". Yes, learning Tango is (and should be) Easy.

When they taught, they really taught. And if we didn't "get it", they encouraged us to try, try, try again. They never made it seem like learning Tango was some big mystery. Just practice, repeat the moves, let your body get accustomed to what you are doing - and you'll eventually get it. And if we were still encountering difficulties, they'd steer us back on the right path with a simple explanation.

In our experience, the best Tango teachers won't be spending half the class talking and sprouting incomprehensible mumble-jumble about Tango history/philosophy/spirituality, and the other half of the class criticizing and belittling every move you make until you are paralyzed with fear. Whenever you encounter any teacher using such methods to step on you and elevate themselves to some kind of "private-class worthy" pedestal - beware.

Man Yung was never too impressed with the naysayers. His favourite saying: "They have two arms and two legs, I have two arms and two legs - what's the big deal?" It's a good thing to keep this in mind and also this little tip from Martha and Manolo - "Es Facil!!!" Don't let anyone tell you anything different.

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Alberto Dassieu

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