When I started tango, I got hooked right away. At night before falling asleep, I tried to remember all the steps I had learned. It was not easy to visualize clearly where my partner’s feet should go, and where I should put mine. The variations were complicated and endless. I was totally mesmerized.
I took classes from many tango teachers. The more traditional ones would show some step, let us practice, and point out how we could do it better. The newer-generation teachers would teach us the principles by which steps are created, so we could learn more systematically and later create our own. Whatever the method, learning tango was about learning steps.
I continued like this for a few years. But as I was able to do more and more steps, the dance was also becoming less and less fun. Frustrated, I traveled and looked for inspiration elsewhere. It was at Taipei Tango Festival in 2006 that I met Javier Rodriguez and Andrea Missé.
It was the first time they had worked together. Before then they were both already established stars. Florencia and I took all ten of their group classes. The way they taught was very different. Instead of showing us steps, they talked a lot in class. Sometimes what they said had little to do with the class topic. Some people found them long-winded, but we listened to their message with great interest. One thing they talked a lot about was how to behave in milongas.
They talked about how men and women should invite each other to dance, how they can accept and reject invitations, and how this behavior is critical in improving the dance level of a milonga in the long run. They explained on the dance floor, men need to connect with each other. Once men make this connection among themselves, the ronda will flow and the dance floor will have a sense of unity.
They also talked about how milongas are not only for dancing, why there is no need to dance every tanda, and how people can entertain themselves in other ways. It is easy to think of milongas as dance parties with tango music, but Javier and Andrea helped us understand that they are not the same.
When it came to teaching movement, Javier and Andrea focused on having the right mindset and intention first. They explained in tango what roles men and women play, how they should carry themselves, and how they should treat each other. They talked about being confident, calm, sensitive, direct, and respectful when we dance.
Such things may be difficult to see, but our bodies follow our mind. With the right attitude our posture becomes natural, and we can feel our partner more clearly through the embrace. If we precede our movement with clear intention, we can move with our partner in harmony, and dance with more freedom and joy. Without the appropriate mindset, it is futile to just muscle our bodies through all the steps. To Javier and Andrea, elegance comes from being natural with our bodies and our mind.
Later I realized, although Javier and Andrea had to spend a lot of time to explain these things to us, Argentinians do not need to learn them deliberately. Their concept of men and women forms naturally when they grow up. They have seen how tango dancers carry themselves countless times. When they go to milongas, they copy the behavior and etiquette of those around them without thinking. Argentinians learn all these things by socialization. What they do need to learn from tango teachers, are the steps and the technique.
But for us, even if we try hard to observe and imitate the movement of our tango teachers, we will not automatically understand their psychology and social etiquette. Javier and Andrea were revealing to us the part of tango that is beyond what we can immediately see. They were teaching us how to learn tango from within.
Florencia and I went back to Korea and practiced what they taught. It was very helpful to us and to our students. Over time we understood why certain things in tango are hard, and the solution is not always about how to use our bodies. So we invited Javier and Andrea to Korea to teach. Later when we started Seoul Tango Festival, we asked them to come every year too. We wanted them to transmit the spirit of tango to as many people as possible.
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A few years later, Andrea passed away suddenly in a car accident. It was a big shock to all of us. Javier had lost a close friend and a partner. We were in a daze for weeks. Javier summoned the strength to resume touring and teaching shortly thereafter. His classes were still unique and inspiring, but without Andrea things of course did not feel the same.
When we reminisce about those classes with Javier and Andrea, we remember how Javier was so humorous and wise. He made everyone laughed. Andrea was very well educated and spoke excellent English. She was always elegant, but she was also quiet, sometimes even aloof. She translated what Javier said into English, and added her own thoughts occasionally. Because she did not talk as much, it was easy to get the impression that Javier was the one who came up with all the ideas of their classes.
After Andrea passed away, we slowly realized she was just as much a driving force as Javier. She was proud of tango as a heritage of her country, and she cared deeply how tango is transmitted as a culture outside of Argentina. Although she did not speak as much in class, her presence and integrity was just as important in inspiring us to learn and to dance.
Javier did not speak English before, but after Andrea was gone he started using English to teach. He said, “I was next to Andrea for all these years, listening to her English. I did not realize before but now her English is in me. When I teach I speak her English.” Javier still feels Andrea is with him. We also feel there is a part of Andrea that stays with us too.
Thank you Andrea, we hope you are resting in peace.