perjantai 23. tammikuuta 2015

FACE TO FACE WITH - Gustavo & Maria

On our third trip to Buenos Aires, in 2012, my companion and I were introduced to Gustavo Benzecry Sabá and María Olivera, and we were immediately fascinated by their eloquent and elegant Tango Salón. We have resorted to their group and private lessons, ever since. In December of 2014, I had the fortune to interview them for this blog.
Gustavo and Maria visiting Turku in September, 2013.
Before his tango life ever started, Gustavo made a career as a journalist in newspapers, in magazines, and in the radio. He also worked as an art director, making advertisements for TV and, from the age of 30, run his own graphic design studio. When he, at the age of 40, took up tango dancing, it was meant to be ”just for dancing”. But very quickly - as we will learn - things turned out otherwise!
María´s interest for dancing was evident already as a child, when she loved to dress herself as a ballerina, and perform for her parents. As a teenager she did go out, dancing Swing and Salsa, but only after having graduated as a political scientist did tango appear into her life - just by chance, and with an important twist of serendipity. A fried of her insisted on taking tango lessons, and gave María a list of tango schools. The class María picked happened to be the one run by Gustavo!

”Circumstances pushed me towards a tango career”, Gustavo explains. ”Even though I did exercise 30 hours a week, and went to milongas almost every night, I only had studied tango for four months, when I performed at Grisel, and got favorable comments from Gustavo Naveira. After one year of studying tango, I performed at Villa Urquiza.”
Very early on, Gustavo was engaged in teaching, first as an assistant, but eventually as a main teacher. The classes were in Villa Urquiza, and later in San Telmo and in different places in Palermo. Eventually, after 3 years of teaching, Gustavo started a tango school of his own, quite close to Salon Canning. This was the school that Maria picked for her first lessons.
”María was amazing”, Gustavo tells, ”I gave her difficult things to do, and she always learned”. ”Well”, says María , ”I also practiced as crazy. My pair and I would practice 5-6 hours a day, every day of the week, often all night long".
Gustavo moved his class to Salón Canning, and the class rapidly expanded from about a dozen, first to 40 people, and later even to 60 people.  Very obviously, if Gustavo needed a student from the class for the demonstration of a step, Maria was picked. And eventually, in 2004, María became Gustavo´s permanent teacher pair - and later his spouse.

When I inquire about the ´Do´ and ´Do not´ principles of their teaching, they start by outlining their ´Do not´ principles. ”We never say to the student: ´do not do it that way!´. Instead, we try to figure out what specific suggestions would help the student, and say instead: what if you would try to . . .” As students of Gustavo and María , we can subscribe to this statement. How often have we not heard Gustavo´s kind voice stating ”ok, you have grasped the basics - but it will need some polishing.” Another not-to-do thing, that they mention, is to teach too demanding things (such as ganchos, or complicated turns) too early, when the student´s basic skills are still insufficient.
From the technical point of view, because Gustavo studied for Rodofo Dienzel (”everything from his method book, except for the last two pages, because nobody was able to teach them to me”), they subscribe to the use of the ”basic eight” as a starting point in a class. Another important issue in their teaching is the walk. Again, as students, we can confirm that every class, private or in group, starts with Gustavo´s meticulous repetition, and exercises, of the technique of walking.

”I had done 2 years of studying follower´s techniques, and had been practicing as a follower for one year”, says Gustavo, ”but with María , the teaching of followers was improved, and we could start to split the group for certain moments, to teach leaders and followers separately.” Maria states that Gustavo is ”more analytic”, and his teaching contains ”more concept issues”, while her teaching has a ”more physical approach”. But, as María says, ”Gustavo is also extremely good at ´reading´ the needs of a student.”

Having witnessed a number of stunning performances by Gustavo and María , I am curious to hear their views on performing. ”First of all - we never choreography our performance. We just go onto the floor, and start dancing. We even do not always care to specify the music we are going to dance to!” As a spectator, I subscribe that a non-choreographed performance stands out, from a choreographed one, as much more ”genuine” and intimate - and thus more interesting. They comment, that when a choreographed dance is performed with extreme talent, it may be a wonderful experience. But with less talent, the result is often quite the opposite.
For a YouTube link, I have difficulties in choosing between their eloquent Tango Salón and their stunning footwork in a Milonga. Instead, let us enjoy a recent performance of the Argentine vals.

Considering his career as a graphic designer, I am not too surprised to hear Gustavo say ”On a dance floor, I see lines and shapes. I see the rectangular form of the floor, and also smaller, concentric rectangles. I see lines both on the floor, and in the dancers. I see their spines, shoulders, and arms as lines. There is the quadrant of the torso and an inverted triangle down from the shoulders. When I dance, I see curves and shapes on the floor. I look at lines, all the time.”
María  tells that in her childhood family, tango music was always played. ”I have always understood that Argentine tango is a popular form of classical music”, she declares. ”When I went to my first tango class, without having listened to Tango music for some 25 years, I realized that I knew all the lyrics!”
When we talk about different orchestras, Gustavo names D´Arienzo, Troilo, Pugliese, Di Sarli, and Canaro as the five most important orchestras. He tells that ”when dancing to two different orchestras, I am not using the same steps”. Interestingly enough, he ”sees” the music of the orchestras in colors. ”D´Arienzo is splashes of red and yellow. Pugliese has a lot of colors, but they are painted more discretely, perhaps a line of red on the background of dark blue . .” So-called Canyenge-type music does not inspire him, because ”is just stripes of black and white”.

The strong writer´s vein of Gustavo (”already at the age of seven, I wrote short stories on my grandfathers typewriter”) has not been silenced by tango dancing. On the contrary; he writes columns for tango magazines and has published two books on the topic of dance, and  one on tango vocabulary.
In addition to a DVD included in the latter book, Gustavo and María have published two DVDs on tango techniques; one for leaders and another for followers. Details of the publications are to be found on their home page
Gustavo being a keen investigator of the history of tango, the two have co-produced a film on tango dancing by dancers of the Golden Ages. The film has been showed at tango events, both in Buenos Aires and abroad.  

As teachers, Gustavo and María travel a lot. ”Well”, says María with a laugh, ”as a child i did want to be an astronaut..” So far, she has been satisfied with travelling on the North-American and European continents. ”In 2006 we made a ´scouting trip´to the USA, and held a workshop in Canada; and in 2007 we were ´scouting´ in Europe”, tells María. ”Since 2008 we have been touring the USA, Canada, and Europe on a regular basis”. Their European tours have reach as far north as Skellefteå in Sweden, were my companion and I attended their tango camp in August, 2012, and had the great pleasure of hosting them during their subsequent weekend course in Finland, in our home town, Turku.
”While the Argentinian approach to tango is rather ´social´, the approach is more ´sportive´ in the USA”, tells María. "Abroad, the students are more eager to learn, and do so more quickly, and they may obtain a better technical level than an average Argentinian dancer. However, in a ´sportive´ approach to tango, an essential,´Argentinian´ flavor of the dance may be lost.”

What wisdoms would Gustavo and María want to convey to anyone, who is starting to take Argentine tango classes? ”If you are coming to Buenos Aires, you should understand that here are more than 500 tango teachers. It is OK, for a while, to do ´tasting´, i.e. attend the classes of different teachers, but eventually you have to choose a permanent teacher.”
Gustavos advice for choosing a teacher stresses personality matters: ”Choose a teacher that matches your own character: your intellect and your sense of humor!” María points out that ”You are not just learning ´a dance´. You will learn to connect to people, you will gain social contacts and familiarize with a whole culture. Tango will influence your perspectives of life.” She adds that ”Argentine tango connects people of any age: a person of 18 years may dance, with great pleasure, with one that is aged 80”! Gustavo urges you to remember that ”Argentine tango is a great way to guard the health of your brain, heart, and soul.”
As a general advice to people starting studying Argentine tango, María stresses: ”Some frustration must be endured. The process takes it due time, and you have to defeat your impatience!” Her closing words still ring in my ears: ”There are no greater obstacles than ourselves.”