Two Choices: Spread your wings and fly, OR, Crash and burn
Late one night at a recent milonga, I was quietly minding my own business when out of the corner of my eye, I spot somebody making a beeline for my table.
Uh-oh. Beelines are always trouble. Anyone who wants to seek you out from their table twenty feet away even though you are trying to stay off the radar is determined and has a purpose. It could be an intrepid tanguero who wants to ask me to dance without the cabeceo [not again!] - or worse.
"HI THERE! My name is __________________!" A cheery hand is offered. I take it and shake it. "What's YOUR name?"
"My name is Irene, nice to meet you," I reply.
"Wow! I haven't seen you before, is it YOUR first time here?"
Au contraire - I think it's YOUR first time here. "We come here all the time - we're regulars."
I don't think she cares - she is aching to tell me a little bit more about herself. "I usually go to _________________ [The place with the worst level of Tango in Toronto]. I have been dancing Tango at __________________ for a few months already. I haven't seen you there before!"
As if everyone who dances Tango in Toronto should go there. I try not to frown. "We don't go to ________________________."
"We used to go there but we don't anymore." I make a gesture of my fists bumping into each other. "Too many collisions."
"What do you mean?"
Do I really have to explain? "The dancers there have no control."
Her eyebrows twitch upwards. What, dancing at _________________ is not the best thing since sliced bread? The newbie is surprised at my candidness but is still undeterred - as I said, she wants something. "I see that your husband dances non-stop and he asks all the ladies to dance [Oh, I get it - you want to dance with Man Yung then. No beating about the bush for you!]. You know, the other men - they sit and sit and they don't ask anyone to dance!"
"Maybe those men have low energy levels. I have low energy levels myself - that's why I'm sitting off in a corner and not dancing [hint, hint, leave me alone]." I change the topic. "So, who are you taking classes with?"
"I used to take classes with __________________. Do you know them?"
I nod but I don't express any opinion. I consider it rude to volunteer any opinion about another person's tango instructor no matter how bad they are unless that person sincerely and explicitly requests it. It's none of my business and I'm sure she wouldn't want to hear about it.
"Now I'm taking classes with ____________________!" She certainly looks happy about it.
It's my turn to have my eyebrows twitch upward. "Do you know him as well?"
"Oh dear - I mean, oh, really." Don't share, Irene, don't share. The person she was referring to was at that very moment terrorizing the dance floor by tailgating other couples, charging around bow-leggedly and flinging his unfortunate dance partner left and right with huge dips and boleos thrown in to spice up the mix. Man Yung and I are not the only dancers to grimace whenever this guy shows up at a milonga - we are all thinking "There goes our last chance for a tranquil, orderly dance floor tonight!"
Nevertheless, I'm not about to criticize her instructor to her face. And I'm definitely not about to offer my husband up as a sacrificial tanguero - I'm sure her instructor would be upset and think that we are trying to make him look bad to his student by showing her the difference! Man Yung has unknowingly danced with students of substandard instructors before (he can't stand the ladies sitting for a long time without dancing) - and the said substandard instructors end up feeling so threatened, they immediately take their student for a mad, frenzied spin right afterwards to demonstrate to their student with their triple enganche/colgada/boleo combination that they are indeed better dancers than Man Yung. As if.
I want to be helpful but I've been in Tango long enough to know that no-one - not even a newbie - really wants good advice, they just want you to nod and smile and validate (or even envy!) their pitiable choices. I keep my rigid smiley expression. I did have one last thing to say though.
"I hope you enjoy Tango and stick with it. Toronto Tango has a lot to offer. You could go to different milongas and try different classes [I genuinely hope that you do - otherwise you are wasting your time]. Have fun! [What else can I say?]"
When Man Yung came back to the table after the tanda, I tell him about the whole disturbing conversation. You'd think that, in this day and age with Youtube and examples of good dancing everywhere, that Tango dancers - especially someone so obviously intelligent, articulate and forward (I'd say even aggressive) as that poor lady - would do their research beforehand and pick an instructor who at least looks competent. For god's sake, even if you know zilch about Tango - and Lady, you have been dancing for almost HALF A YEAR! - why on earth would you pick an instructor who looks and dances like a circus clown act, instead of an instructor who looks and dances like a human being? It sure boggles MY mind.
* Man Yung adds: "We ourselves have been dancing for eight years - we can say that we are going in a direction that we are satisfied and quite happy with and we have been very lucky with our choice of Tango instructors. But there are still many things that we can learn to improve our dancing and understanding of Tango. We won't bill ourselves as experts by any means and we don't consider ourselves qualified to give advice this way or that. But there's one thing - when a person new to Tango enters into Tango for the first time, they should have an idea based on their personality and level of aesthetic appreciation as to "What kind of Tango do I want to dance? Do I want to dance the flashy tricky Tango for Stage to show myself off or do I want to dance a calm, social Tango-for-enjoyment?" There's nothing wrong with dancing Stage Tango and I'm all for people taking classes with talented Stage Tango instructors to learn how to do this - and even to perform, in the correct context of THE STAGE. There are some wonderful Stage Tango dancers and teachers in Toronto who look great and dance amazing - and moreover, they tell their students the difference between movements suitable for the stage and movements suitable for a social dance setting. What irks me are those so-called instructors who are neither here nor there - they look awkward, even horrible when they dance, they make no distinction between "Stage" and "Social" Tango, and they will dance dangerously and without respect to any other dancer on the dance floor because 1) they don't know, or don't care about the difference, and 2) they WANT TO DRAW ATTENTION TO THEMSELVES ANYWAY IN WHATEVER METHOD POSSIBLE. They don't have the talent to really make it on the Stage but they have to do something to impress potential students - everyone on the dance floor will just have to make way! I feel sorry for their students - but yet their students have to be responsible for their own choices, especially if they have been taking classes with these reckless teachers for more than a few weeks. You have eyes and you could see what's going on around you and even perhaps on Youtube and you know that you are learning from someone who is not up to par. Wake up! Irene, you are right in telling the lady to go out there and try dancing in different milongas and trying different classes - knowledge is power." **
** Wait a moment, didn't I just write a post called "Ignorance is Bliss"?