It is exactly 10 years since I first put a hesitating foot on a festival dance floor today. So I thought it would be fun to refresh my memories and reflect a bit on where I was then, and what I still keep from that time.
We were just entering the local tango scene, and didn’t really know anything about tango at all. We had seen Carlos Saura’s Tango, maybe Sally Potter’s Tango Lesson, but probably not yet at that time. Nobody in our community at that time had ever been to Buenos Aires. There was no youtube. Most, if not all of the visiting teachers were regional teachers.
There was a lot of buzz, we just had to go to this festival.
In addition to a few regional teachers, the festival featured Gustavo Naveira & Giselle Anne, Antonio Cervila Junior & Vanina Bilous, Julio Balmaceda & Corina de la Rosa and Javier Rodriguez & Geraldine Rojas. None of these names meant anything to us.
The workshops were spread out on several venues, so we had to run around to find the next workshop, and in the few moments in passing by the few people we knew from before, they were making comments on the dance floor quality (whether it was slippery, coarse, hard, soft etc) which puzzled us, as that was not issues in our thinking about dancing. It was a strange world, this tango scene.
The single workshop I remember most clearly was with a couple that should well known to anyone that has been in tango for more than a few months (this is the presentation on the festival website, 2000):
**Javier Rodriguez** & **Geraldine Rojas** (Argentina) Geraldine is only 18 years old, but she surprises everybody with her capacity as a tango dancer. The couple is one of the "hottest" at the moment. They expose a youthful enthusiasm and joy that the public loves.
I’m pretty sure we signed up for workshops at the lowest level with visiting instructors, Beginner II (Just above absolute beginners):
Beginner II: Approximately from 3 months to 1 year of classes and practice of dancing. Should know: Walking forward and backward, the two basic salidas, forward and backward ochos and placing of the body in all the cases.
As a warm up exercise, J&G did forward ochos, the woman doing overturned ochos and the man doing forward ochos as sacadas. It was a disaster. Not one single couple in the class were able to do it. J&G must have been terribly disappointed with the level of the class. They were mumbling ‘catastrophe’ among themselves as we tried in vain to stay on our feet with a minimal degree of dignity and control.
Nevertheless they made a lasting impression. Despite several detours over the years, this was the tango we eventually came back to. Calm, controlled, elegantly walking and with a great heart. I think watching this amazing couple at an early stage was very important in creating a vision of what tango was really like in my mind. Even if I didn’t know it myself at the time.
Both Julio and Corina and Gustavo and Giselle were teachers that we would take many lessons with over the following years. Unfortunate circumstances prevented us from taking lessons with Javier and Geraldine again, even if we did try. And when we finally managed to take lessons with Javier again, he and Geraldine already split up.
Two years later, Natacha Poberaj, then touring with Roberto Herrera, asked in a workshop whether I was taking lessons with Javier and Geraldine, which was hard to answer since we did not take many lessons with them, but we liked their dancing a lot. So yes and no… She asked because something about Simba reminded her of Javier. I still have no idea what that could have been, though.
It could be that I put too much weight on this, but from my own experience first impressions matter. Which is one reason I think it is so important to bring first class dancers to my community. Not some mediocre regional couple. Some of the best. The real deal.
Before we can expect people to find their own tango, they have to see the real tango. Smell the real tango. Touch the real tango. Listen to the real tango. And feel the real tango.
That is what happened to me ten years ago.