Tango and Martial Arts.

There is a argument in our beautiful Tango world as to who should be teaching and who should not. If he/she dances Milonguero style, Nuevo style, Salon style, his/her own style. Why does this happen?  There are many reasons. It’s very common to hear, “oh this guy/girl hasn’t even been dancing a year and is already teaching,” “ they’re teaching Nuevo, that’s not tango,” “they’re teaching Salon, I want to have fun.”I’m going to try not to offend and I hope I won’t be misunderstood. Why don’t we take a look at the Martial Arts System, which by the way is a relatively a new late 19th Century invention and not from ancient times as many people think. When we use this analogy, the first belt we think of is the “Black Belt.”  I’m sure many fantasize themselves as Tango Black Belts, untouchable on the dance floor. Well, this belt has to be earned. The white belt is the lowest and the black is the highest, and from there further subdivisions occur which are called DAN. Each belt means growth, growth in knowledge, ability, performance, maturity etc.  This is usually monitored by a master, teacher, or Sensei.  The word “Sensei” is also used to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill: accomplished puppeteers, novelists, musicians and artists, for example, may be addressed in this way.Who is a Tango Sensei? What is the official parameter in which to define someone as Sensei: his participation or creation of a tango show, play, festival, certain choreography, certain amount of turns, a certain degree of creativity?  Is there a Tango Oscar for best performance, lecture, teaching ability or an UNDER THE RADAR ACCEPTANCE BY THEIR PEERS?  It’s a difficult question for many of us to answer and at the same time, a very easy one. I have my own scale of reference I choose to keep to myself.  According to the Sensei definition above (which I copied from Wikipedia) I know many dancer/instructors who have accomplished this status but the Tango world is so open, with no rules, no levels, no tests, which dilutes the meaning of Sensei. From the moment anyone decides to teach, they can say I have my style, anyone can say what they believe Tango is or is not.In the Martial Art World, to earn each belt, a series of exams have to be taken, Kata in Japanese, Toulu in Chinese and Hyeong in Korean.Kata originally were teaching/training methods by which successful combat techniques were preserved and passed on. Practicing kata allowed participants to engage in a struggle using a systematic approach, rather than an individualistic disorderly manner.  If we take this analogy to Tango, Antonio Todaro, to name one of them, is one of the original creators of a Kata Tango with certain combinations he created and taught to many tango dancers of our time. I am trying to make an analogy here! So please abstain from commenting, but in Tango we don’t fight we love, express, blah la blah… We all know that.The basic goal of kata is to preserve and transmit proven techniques. By practicing in a repetitive manner the learner develops the ability to execute those techniques and movements in a natural, reflexive manner. Systematic practice does not mean rigidity.  The goal is to internalize the movements and techniques of a kata so that they can be executed and adapted under different circumstances, without thought or hesitation. A novice’s actions will look uneven and difficult, while a master’s appear simple and smooth. Why this is not applicable to Tango?  Or is it?  The answer is both. I came to the conclusion that it depends on the sensibility of the person approaching this dance. Many professional Tango Dancers or dedicated Tango aficionados would approach the dance with the Kata goal if there were one because they have the sensibility of movement, quality, precision and technique to accomplish this goal.  Others just want to dance and have fun.  Now many people will say, “I just want to share a night expressing myself with someone in my arms,” this does not betray any of the approaches.  It’s not one or the other, it could be both because there is no OFFICIAL KATA to determine who nails it or who doesn’t because the dance is an expression and what it may be simple and easy for one person may be difficult and ugly for another.  In the Martial Arts world YOU HAVE TO ACCOMPLISH THE KATA TO EARN THE NEXT BELT, LIKE IT OR NOT, and the reason this happens is because there is a united compromise, with many many years or centuries of discipline that sustains the knowledge and recognizes those who are in the position to judge.Many times in Tango lessons the good teacher who knows what he’s doing gets criticizes by the students because the lesson is to hard, or to boring or this or that. I wonder if the same attitude happened in any Martial Art lesson.  Maybe the impression of a black belt is so big, that the attitude and self-opinionated personality inherent in everyone of us, becomes tamed for those two or three hours.But Oliver, this is a dance, don’t be so strict, I want to have fun, I want to enjoy, blah la blah…
What would be the reaction of someone who dedicates his life to know about anything, any craft, wine, coffee, tea, cooking, martial arts, medicine, etc… Still we can have fun, but there is a confusion with Fun and Enjoying what we do. Sometimes fun is an escape or an immediate satisfaction pursuit in order to avoid the difficult, challenging, painful process of learning something new.  It is very understandable for someone who took a few tango lessons to stop learning because he/she is already satisfied with the knowledge they’ve acquired, enough to go and dance Tuesday nights etc… Is this wrong?  NOT AT ALL, people are different, think differently and appreciate differently all over the globe. This is a fact. Period.Should we start using belts in order to start teaching? A Tango Black Belt will always be a good teacher?

IMHO
Oliver

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