Scene: Pablo and Dana in Buenos Aires at their new studio DNI at 2140 Corrientes. Ronnie, who has agreed to help translate, Asa, and I arrive and go upstairs where workmen and Pablo are painting the walls and a mural of the school logo over the mirror.
Pablo is barefoot and a real sweetheart. Very intense and focused when he speaks... when he does anything. Dana is a bundle of energy with a ready smile and kiss for everyone. Both of them together, make an extraordinarily dynamic couple. They are two of my favorite teachers in BA and I was fortunate to take classes with them at El Pulpo's Festival which were well attended but small enough to receive individual attention and with plenty of room to move.
Dana hasn't arrived yet so we began with Pablo. The entire interview took 3 hours and no one was bored!
Q:You definitely have and teach a unique technique --- how did you develop it? What was the impetus?
Pablo: We first started to think about our own dance because we felt that it was uncomfortable... perhaps it was some detail that we noticed about how we walked or how we communicated with our body. We (people) never think about how we walk because we were only one year old when we started walking...but when we start to dance, we change many things that are natural for us. For example, we embrace each other one way in life and then we change the embrace for the dance. We stop hugging and communicating with our bodies. When people in general start to dance, there are obstacles that they put up that prevent natural movement. The older milongueros/as dance with so much heart... Unfortunately, these feeling are impossible to teach, so the young people had to try to interpret. We felt we needed technique in order to learn to express ourselves. So we started investigating natural movement in order to achieve what we felt was missing from the old learning.
Q: Why aren't young people able to learn the same way that the milongueros/as did?
Pablo: I think that young people learn by looking at things because this is the age of imagery. I learned that way too, and I had to reeducate myself. I can become the image but the image has to have feeling. The image is only a part... like the drawing of what we want to present.
Q: I'm guessing that this is similar to discovering a person who looks great on the dance floor but doesn't feel good in the embrace
Pablo: Image is structure and how you get that image is what you do inside. If a person is looking at an old milonguero, they have to codify what they are seeing. So Dana and I looked for a bridge so that we could show people how to achieve the feeling inside, between two people.
What we want to transmit is not the old style versus the new style. They dance Tango with their own visions. So the work we needed to do, was to codify what already existed and take all the information and put it into a new system and than relate it to the body.
Q: But how is it different for the new generation?
Pablo: Bodies are different and women have more roles in society. For example, Dana is a very active independent person. I can not say, "You do that... you do this".The result is a change in the dance. The dance of Tete is a wonderful way of dancing but it is expression. We needed to find our own personal identity in the dance.
Today, my generation needs to relearn to feel. They have lost the most common feelings. Life isn't like something in a movie... it has to do with simple contact...with themselves and others. I knew the figures and forms but I needed to connect with Dana... wanted to make the two go together. So we started out by deepening our own communication and then looking for a way to show others how to connect more profoundly.
Dana is very intuitive... she naturally feels things ..all things...she makes easy connections and you see it in the dance as well. I was studying the form, movement but with her, I started thinking about movement in space and then Dana brought it down to a finer level. With the combination of our personalities, it just became totally different. We each brought something different to the dance, so we had to find a common language. Basically, our teaching technique uses language based on anatomy but the motivation is two people who want to communicate through a common language.
The old milonguero went out every night... dancing the Tango ...holding lots of different women, and he can't help but have certain feelings about these women. It's not a real life today to do what the old milongueros did. I envy their ability to stay out all night but is that the life I want?
Q: I know we were talking about the need for a new communication but why can't the youth of today learn the same way? Is it possible to learn by going out every night, dancing all the time?
Pablo: I have 3 points...
1. Society has changed - there are different people dancing today... with professional careers... so they have another life outside the dance. Also the milonga has changed... perhaps the milonga loses its mystique because of the changes. I don't know if it's good or bad. For example, people want to dance in big spaces. They want to express themselves, be more open. And there is another generation that wants to be close. So people will sometimes say."This is Tango" or "This is not Tango".
We dance mostly open but we don't want to reject the old style or be in conflict. This is very important because I don't want to make a distinction that this works... this doesn't work. To be able to have a dialogue with Dana - that's what is important.
For instance, women always had to close the legs. We think .. open your legs.. express yourself. It used to be that the man defined everything. Today, he creates a space for the woman to be beautiful. He decides the space, and rhythm and the women make it beautiful.
2. The dialogue with the other people as the spaces change. There's a difference in what you can express in a class vs. a milonga. In class we keep adding things... but in a milonga, you take out ... select... filter...and explore this kind of sensation. Maybe 5 years from now, the dance halls will be huge. Today, the reality is that you train your body with what you learn in class which is huge, and take it and make it small for the dance. It is harder to do the dance small. To translate the big things to a small movement is the most difficult. So the milonga has this intimate characteristic. In Europe, where sometimes the spaces are bigger, it doesn't make the dance more intimate. It makes it different. What is important and beautiful is to learn what you want to do. It is important not to lose the quality of intimacy within a space surrounded by other partners.
Dana joins us and gives us all kisses and hugs.
Q: And the third point?
Pablo: I forgot (much laughter)
Q:and teaching... do you enjoy it?
Dana: Yes. I enjoy it. There are a lot of people giving classes that shouldn't be, but it's not just giving classes. You must be able to teach. Many dancers are really good dancers, but I don't believe that they are great teachers. There aren't a lot of great teachers, because they don't study to become great teachers. Their lives aren't about serving as a teacher. To be a good teacher, you must know anatomy and understand how the body makes the movement happen. And teachers must have a love for what they are doing. So when we're talking about a teacher, we're not talking about teachers that get gratification from applause, or have their picture on a big poster. They have to feel happiness when the student learns. There are people who work very hard to become good teachers.. but not a lot.
Q: So a quality of a good teacher is to care for students?
Dana: The teachers have to understand how people function in their heads. And all the different cultures. Every culture has its own problems... physical and psychic. Everybody brings their own baggage or sense of self from their culture so when we are working with that person, we must have an understanding of that student's background. The teacher must also understand themselves.
Pablo: The Tango reflects what we don't want to see about ourselves in the other person. For example, if I dance with Ronnie, and it doesn't work I am seeing a reflection of my inability to lead in Ronnie and vice versa. But instead of understanding this reflection, we might say to each other, "You're not following" or "You're not leading well".
I might go to the milonga and hear something in the music and I want to express some feeling or movement but I can't because I am dancing with another person. So in dancing with any given partner, I have the opportunity to discover something new, that I haven't discovered with Dana. So each partner brings something different and it is an opportunity.
Dana: Pablo's way of expression is not common and that's because he enjoys dancing with most people. He really likes to explore what he can learn and experience with different people. That's what is lovely about dancing with different people and that quality of exploration is something this generation needs to do. It has to do with humility, lack of ego, and a desire to share. Just because you know the dance, there is always the opportunity to learn more. The professional dancers need to be reflective and careful of their own path because they can lose the love for what they are doing.
Q: The two of you dance with an aura of intimacy. Is that quality the most important to you?
Pablo: For me, it's what I'm looking for the most, but you can't achieve it with everyone. The intimacy has to come from both sides. Sometimes one part wants more than the other and they have to find a common ground. Sometimes you go into embrace but you don't feel anything... just the weight. It's not that it's bad. It just has its limits.
Dana: The toughest but the most rewarding search is going within oneself. If you don't go inside yourself, Tango is just like anything else. For instance, you can sit with a friend and have a coffee together and you can get to know each other through dialogue but not physical.
Q: Tango adds another quality?
Dana: The emotion comes before the intellect in Tango. An aroma, physical contact, musica.... We don't have to speak English, Japanese, or Spanish. It is not important. So the marvelous thing for me about Tango and what I think will last in history is that they come together... the cultures come together... doesn't depend on social class, intellect...these two things that are so important in today's society don't matter in Tango.
The embrace and how I present myself and the senses are important... and that's why it's so fabulous. I began speaking English two years ago, but I've been teaching Tango for 8 years and I have taught Tango all over the world. Obviously there's something that transcends the spoken language. Sometimes you go to a milonga, and you meet someone you might not say hello to on the street.
Q: But don't you think that the milonga has its own classism? Young blond women getting asked to dance more, regardless of their dance ability?
Pablo: I think the milonga reflects what is going on in society. In the old days, the young people had to stay on the sidelines. Now the young people can go out and do their own thing. Maybe the older generation feels bad about that.
Dana: That thing about blonds is inevitable... that's life. The goal should be - how can we be better people not just better dancers. People who are older must have more love and believe they can change the situation. There are some people like Pablo who dance with people who really want to dance. It doesn't matter how big, how old. etc. The most important thing to convey is your attitude... that you "like yourself" and people will notice and ask you to dance. If they don't ask the older lady in the first hour, you must not get tense. If you do, you will certainly not be asked to dance. Everybody needs this kind of attitude because there will always be young pretty girls... and even with the young women, they can go to a milonga and not dance as much as they want.
So in a milonga where you have all age ranges, the idea is to generate a group of people who know each other, and these people dance with each other to become more of a close group... more solidarity. For example, we go to a milonga together and we dance all night... but maybe Sebastian isn't dancing. I see this and will say, "I want to dance with Sebastian". Another night when I am not dancing, Sebastian will ask me. This is the way life is. We may want to dance with a particular person so - what do we do? My advice is to learn to dance better and when you dance with someone, open your heart and give something that maybe the pretty girls can't. There are pretty women who have only had 4 classes, and they will dance at the milonga but the really good dancers would rather dance with a unattractive person who dances really well.
Q: What are the qualities that a leader should strive for?
Pablo: They have to be very prepared for whatever happens. For example, if I dance with Ronnie, she surrenders her body to me and why should she surrender her body if I don't lead well. And the leader, as I mentioned before, is constantly receiving his own reflection from his partner.
The greatest challenge for the leader is to recognize what he doesn't know - what he needs. Typically he doesn't want to his partner to know what is missing but he must be aware. So he has to show all the good stuff to his partner and understand at the same time what is missing.
Dana: To lead, work with the partner, the space, the music. all at the same time.
Pablo: I think women are used to juggling many things at the same time. It's more difficult for men. When Dana wants to explain a movement to me, she will say, "Move this way with this music, feel my weight, relax your hand, stretch out your leg, relax your hips, flex your weighted leg. And don't forget to breath". (Everybody laughs and Dana gives Pablo a big smile)
Q: And the qualities for followers?
Dana: Sensitivity... being open and able to accept what the leader is proposing.... listening to the music and to propose their own part of the dance. To make the leader feel good, which is the most difficult part. Technically speaking, he proposes and I have to respond immediately. I need to learn how to follow but, afterwards, I must be willing to take risks. It is the difference between dancing and following.
Women want to learn what they think they don't know... the figures. I feel that they need to learn how their body functions when transferring weight and in connection with the leader.... what it feels like to be on axis... how to get to the next step in continuous contact with the leader and what to do with my free leg at the same time... that is Tango technically speaking.
Pablo: The follower doesn't need to learn the structure of the dance but it is important to Dana because she wants to learn everything.
If the follower knows a lot about the dance, she can become unhappy because the more she knows the more she expects. She thinks the most important thing is the figures. I think the more important thing is if she feels good in the embrace.
Dana's mother teaches yoga here. We started to take classes with her 6 years ago. Now, Stella is starting to change her technique by incorporating some of our work... to discover Tango movements within yoga. This works well because you work alone in yoga and can focus more on the body.
Q: What are the qualities of a good student?
Pablo: Someone who has their child part well explored.
Dana: The person who really tries to understand what is being proposed, asks questions, and works after class. I can always tell who is working hard.
Q: And going back to the concept about relating to different cultures, do foreign students have common traits?
Dana: German, Nordic - They tend to be shy and have stiff hips. Most of their motion is in the upper body. Also there are problems with ankles, flat feet, and shins. They are also not accustomed to using their joints.
Pablo: Asian - The men have more flexibility, mentally and physically, than the women. Maybe it's because the women were oppressed for so long. For instant, if I want a boleo, it is less work to make the man to do the boleo than the woman.
Dana: Americans - trust. When you want to learn, a student needs to trust. They always want proof that you are a good teacher... your credentials.
The French are like Argentines. They think they know everything. (Laughter)
Q: In Tango, describe some light bulb moments - when you feel excited?
Dana: When I practice, am at a milonga, or in an exhibition, I take off. Sometimes I die of pleasure. Sometimes I find myself in a big embrace.
Pablo: When I rehearse and discover something or, before, when I used to go to milongas more, something would be revealed.
In class, it's when I am able to convey something serious in a playful light manner. In exhibitions, it's the time before the applause... when it breaks the silence.
Q: How about perfect moments for the two of you?
Dana: All day - everyday but not when I'm tired. I need a vacation.
Pablo: When we communicate - cooking together - in bed (whhhhhhoooooaaa - and squeals from the spectators) - being silent together but breathing together ... and this is not always. We achieve this in one moment but it is the result of all the work before.
Dana: Being able to laugh together... especially when we fall.
Pablo: When I feel her weight and it is totally dependent on me - at that moment I feel her total trust and it doesn't matter if I make a mistake.
Q: Please describe Tango as a color with shape and movement.
Pablo: The form of our logo - round - when it goes in one direction something responds in another.
Circular movements - it's like big drops of color... radiating. The base is a plain color but the drops add color - suddenly a drop of red - a lot of dynamic because if it wasn't dynamic, it wouldn't shine.
Dana: I totally agree.
Q: Any last advice that you would like to give?
Pablo: Don't be afraid to dance... to sing... to paint. We carry these things inside ourselves. Everyone is born with these gifts. We can't say we don't like it. Everyone likes it! It's just that we are afraid. There's no particular age to explore, to discover movement. You have to stretch yourself. Movement is a natural expression. Anyone who teaches Tango does a favor for Tango and it's up to the student to respectfully obligate the teacher to learn more. It's wonderful that anyone is teaching Tango.
Dana: In this way... I agree... I thank people who teach Tango in the world but they need to keep learning.