Scene: I had the pleasure of taking a day of Milonga Workshops taught by Fabienne Bongard, which were sponsored by Berkshire Tango. I love leading Milonga and wanted to expand my repertoire. I found Fabienne’s instruction to be very clear. She started with the basics and built layers that created a solid foundation for embellishments and improvisations. I highly recommend that milongueros attend her classes at Dance Manhattan in NYC and/or any of her workshops. I certainly benefited from the workshops. Something happened in those few hours. My lead became more confident, definite, and clear. Fabienne is also a member of Tango Mujer, a performance group of 5 women..Brigitta, Angelika, Valeria, Rebecca, and Fabienne.
Sunday morning, I woke Shawn and Fabienne up and we checked out Shawn’s new clothes that she bought in Miami. Wow..great lacy black stuff. I’m going to Miami for Tango Fantasy so I guess shopping has to be added to my list of things to do. Then Fabienne and I sat down at Shawn’s dinner table with our coffees and baggy eyes. What can I say? We had a late night.
Q: Yesterday I mentioned that Valeria, in describing tango dance styles by element, said that you were water. (Please see interview with Valeria) You were surprised because you see yourself as earthly. Well, I danced with you last night and I think you’re water. You flow.
Fabienne: Of the four elements, I identify with water most. It’s the place I want to be.in the water. I have always felt like a fish but have considered myself more earth like in the dance. Maybe dancing with Rebecca and Brigitta, who are air, and Angelika, who is fire, has transformed my dancing.
One day I was at the pool where I have a membership and it was so beautiful with the skylights, stars, etc.. and I was swimming on my back. I was imagining the grace of a whale in a vast ocean and then in the midst of that beauty I bumped into someone that I was sharing the lane with and she was outraged. Obviously I wasn’t in the ocean.
I felt ashamed because I teach leaders not to get lost in the moment and the figures but to be conscious of the other dancers. Whatever magic you try to create with your partner is gone when you bump into someone.
Q: Valeria has said that Angelika is fire, do you agree?
Fabienne: I would agree. She has this tremendous thing that is boiling. She is very dramatic.
Q: How does it translate to dance?
Fabienne: I don’t mean that it’s harsh. It’s soft but can also be explosive. Because she is a woman, she has a soft side….not like men who you would say are fire. I would think that men would love to be labeled as fire. (laughter)
Q: We talked about the elements (see interview with Valeria), but let’s approach it differently. How would you define your style?
Fabienne: I like the close embrace style and the more rhythmic tangos best. Within the dance I like to play with the lyricism as well. For instance, you might have a prescribed rhythm that is on the surface but at the same time something else is building within the music, which might cause you to approach the dance differently at that moment. That’s fun.
With milonga you must be grounded in the beat. The play and the shaping come not so much lyrically but rhythmically through the use of double time or traspie, which means to stumble.
Q: What attracts you about milonga?
Fabienne: I’m attracted to milonga because of its joyful quality and the fact that it is the origin of tango before it became sophisticated. Milonga is not pretentious. If you dance milonga and you have a wrinkle in your forehead, you have a problem. I say, “Give yourself a break. Things don’t always have to be tragic”.
Smile. Some people will say that this attitude is so untango. There is a reverence to Tango in the way you have to look, your presentation, your clothes, and if you smile you may lose the aura.
I saw a movie, “The Human Nature”, about a scientist who finds someone in a jungle who is not civilized. Anyway, the scientist works to give him culture. When he shows off his product, the ultimate proof of civilization and culture and sophistication was the man’s ability to tango. Can you imagine?!
Q: Shawn: Do you feel that anything has sullied the dance? How about alternative music?
Fabienne: I like alternative music. However when I teach I am more likely to use traditional music with a stronger beat.
Q: Shawn: How about the new “hang” movements coming from Argentina and the West Coast?
Fabienne: I love single axis turns. They are beautiful and thrilling. It’s like being on a roller coaster. It looks good and it feels even better.
Q: Shawn: I used to think that it would take a certain leader, but I was dancing with a pimply, pale computer nerd type and I just listened to the music and I actually had what I call tango heat with him. I was amazed.
Fabienne: Were you having tango heat with him or having tango heat with tango?
Shawn: That’s an interesting question.
Fabienne: Sometimes you can have tango heaven and your partner is not in heaven. Everyone’s tango heat/magic feels different. When you apply yourself and you are open, all kinds of magical things can happen in the least expected places with the least expected partners. On the other hand, if he is not the partner of your dreams, there’s always the music, the feel of the floor under your feet, the embellishments you make, or maybe the texture of his shirt.
Q: What is tango magic for you?
Fabienne: I was in Buenos Aires attending a Milonga workshop taught by Pepito, the “king of the milonga”. At the end of the workshop, he asked me to dance and afterwards he said, “Oh, we just practiced for 5 years”. I was flying and in the clouds for a whole week. It was a piece of heaven.
Another time I went back to Buenos Aires. Brigitta had told me about this man. And she was right. It was incredible. It was like he was whispering things. You had to pay attention but once you understood and listened, it was like you were on a mountaintop. He was like wind.
Q: Has teaching altered how you feel about Tango?
Fabienne: At the beginning, when Rebecca and I were practicing a lot, it felt like we had a toy…this puzzle..it was so exciting. Now, sharing this puzzle with my students and watching that same excitement occur for them is very gratifying.
Q: What is the most difficult aspect of tango and milonga?
Fabienne: For milonga, a difficult aspect is to stay grounded and to not let it take you. For tango, it’s keeping it all together..the music, the pattern, the floorcraft.
For teaching, it’s difficult to alter how students relate to the floor. Another delicate area is what I call “stretching” the musical ear. Like hearing the syncopa.
Q: How would you describe your ideal partner?
Fabienne: From a leader, I look for musicality, inventiveness and if there’s humor, it’s bliss. Also I like it when they don’t break your arm with a frame that is only conscious of its image. A good leader accommodates the follower and looks out for her well being on the dance floor and within the embrace.
From a follower, I like someone who is good enough that you can be creative and not have to watch out for them constantly to make sure that they do the cross etc. Good energy and staying in the moment is also important.
If your partner is limited just play with the music and keep the movement simple.
Q: Okay, being in the Berkshires now, a small town, do you feel tango is different outside of New York City?
Fabienne: Well, the scenes are smaller and there is less variety. And I think that, when you rely on guest teachers, you have just sketches of style and method Of course, when options are limited, it’s better than nothing.
It’s good to go to different teachers once you have a good base because sometimes a teacher just gives a different perspective or angle and suddenly you understand. It becomes clear. Pablo Pugliese tells me that his father would say “Just stay with me for two years and then go out and experience other teachers. But first, be grounded in one. ”
Q: When did a light go off for you?
Fabienne: The light still goes off for me. I can look at something and say, “This is brilliant!” and then suddenly realize that it goes back to a simple component. I get a kick out of learning a new way of explaining things.
Q: We all know that the tango schools in Manhattan have different personalities. What is Dance Manhattan’s?
Fabienne: I would say that we have a very open approach at Dance Manhattan. Each teacher has a different personality and approach, and therefore, we attract a wide range of people. I think a school needs to keep its mind open to new possibilities and that’s what we do.
We’re also different from other schools because our basic program is designed to make people think in terms of the follower. It’s a strong, demanding program that lasts for 16 weeks.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Fabienne: I came to the states saying that I wanted to stay here 6 months, thinking that maybe I would stay longer but not saying anything. I don’t know. My husband is from the West Indies. It would be nice to be in the sun and somewhere near water.
Q: Tango is…
Fabienne: Evolving. We see that the experience of yesterday is not the experience of today. You have to be open in order to create more magic for yourself and others.