Ever since September 2016, when Alejandro Jaime started to visit Turku, my partner and I have enjoyed both his teaching and the chance to spend some spare time in his company, both in Turku town and in the archipelago. Alejandro is never boring, and a conversation with him may include both playful elements and deep philosophical pondering.
|Alejandro during the interview at his tango studio.|
To the tango community of Turku, which lacks a local professional teacher of Argentinian tango , Alejandro is a much needed resource. I am happy to be able to present this profile of him, to entertain present and coming students of his, and others.
A CULTURAL CHILDHOOD
Alejandro grew up in the Buenos Aires neighborhood (barrio) of San Christobal, known for its artistic community. The European roots of his mother were in the Russian-Polish population, known for its cultural richness, and Alejandro describes their family as not having been wealthy, but very educated. Family pursuits included reading literature, and listening to and playing music. Very early, Alejandro´s mother started to teach little Alejandro letters and words from signs, labels, and advertisements in the streets. As a result, Alejandro was reading at the age of three — and later "felt very bored at school". Also at the age of three, a prediction was made. Little Alejandro was sitting on the floor when his mother was doing vocalizing exercises, while her teacher accompanied on piano. Observing the boy´s reactions to the music, the teacher predicted: "he will be a musician".
The cultural ambience of Alejandro´s childhood was not restricted to his family. In the apartment building where they lived, the neighbors included painters, writers and musicians, and people interacted lively. At home, as well as in the whole building, Latinoamerican music, folklore, rock and tango sounded. The mother, a language teacher, was an amateur singer of latinoamerican music, and studied in the conservatoire. Alejandro’s father was an excellent amateur singer of tangos. The father died when Alejandro was very young, but Alejandro tells that he "can still hear his voice singing". When the mother entered her second marriage, Alejandro got the stepfather Edward, who played the guitar. Luckily, Alejandro and Edward developed a very friendly relationship, which has persisted into Alejandro´s adulthood.
The kindergarten that Alejandro went to at 1-3 yrs of age, was situated on the other side of the street, opposite to his home. As a prophesy for Alejandros adult life, this habitat was later turned into a milonga place — the Cachirulo! A place where he would later be dancing and performing...
Between ages of 6 to 11, Alejandro attended an Arts school for kids in the morning, and the normal school in the evenings. The curriculum of the Arts school included Music (singing, playing instruments), Theater, Visual arts (painting and sculpture), and Body awareness/dancing. "I loved theater", he recollects. I ask him what he remembers from the dance lessons of folklore and tango. "I remember the embraces, but nothing else", he tells with a laugh.
"As a youngster, I used to listen to, and sing folklore, pop music, and kids´ music", Alejandro recollects. At the age of 10, he played the keyboard. But his instrument was to be the guitar. In his family, this instrument was played a lot, and there were weekly intellectual gatherings with a lot of eating and singing, with guitar accompaniment. He remembers that "something turned on in my ears", and at the age of 16, he was hobby-playing the guitar. But the decisive moment came at the age of 18. A brother of one of his friends was said to be very good at the guitar, and Alejandro got the opportunity to listen to him. He was playing the Allemande from Bach´s Suite N:o 1 and Las Abejas by the Paraguayan guitar composer Agustin Barrios. "I was amazed", says Alejandro, "and I instantly decided, that I wanted to play that music". The next 12 years he would be rehearsing 6-8 hours a day...!
|Diligent guitar rehearsing for the International |
contemporary music and composition Festival in Cordoba 2010.
Initially, Alejandro was practicing by himself. One day, when he was walking in the city with a guitar friend, and they passed the the Conservatory Manuel de Falla, they heard guitar music from inside. They went to see, and in the corridor someone was playing the guitar. Alejandro and his friend joined in on their guitars, and soon the other person approached and suggested that he would introduce them to his guitar teacher. "The stubborn old man" — Alejandro remembers — "told me that I should apply to the Conservatory".
Alejandro decided to apply, but a few days later he learned that the application date had passed two weeks earlier! He now started to practice even more than before. He moved to the friend´s place, literally a woods workshop with no regular facilities, one hour´s travel from the center of Buenos Aires. "We were three men, connected by a passion for music and literature". The days were filled with intensive training and lively discussions.
Allemande BWV 996 by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Next year, there were six hundred applicants for the 25 vacancies at the Conservatory Manuel de Falla, which is the most important guitar playing conservatory in Argentina. Alejandro not only succeeded to get enrolled — he got the highest position! He spent 8 years in the conservatory, also studying composing and Early music. From the very day of his admittance, when he was taken to perform in a venue, he steadily gave performances, and was also giving private lessons. Until ultimately a period would arrive, when tango dancing defeated guitar playing...
Earlier, Alejandro had been dancing popular dances, such as folklore, bachata and salsa. At the corner of the Conservatory, there was a salsa studio where he used to go three times a week to dance salsa! Some of his friends at the Conservatory attended the Department of Popular music, which included tango music, and they invited him to try tango dancing. Alejandro immediately felt that "his body remembered" something from his childhood lessons at the Art School. He liked the feeling, and he promised himself "I will do this in the future!" Not yet, because he had recently got a scholarship from the National Arts Foundation, for postgraduate guitar studies.
The definitive decision to be a tango dancer was made some time later — as a result of jealousy! He was dating a girl who went to milongas (alone). "I was very jealous", Alejando remembers, so when she invited him to join her for a milonga, he accepted. At this local milonga, he immediately felt comfortable and easy. However, when he went to more advanced milongas, he started to "feel terrible", because he understood that he was not yet dancing at a good enough level. As a result, he started to join his girlfriend to classes given by Helen "La Vikinga" and some colleagues of her. This training lasted only one month, because the girlfriend moved to the USA, but it had one important consequence: Alejandro learned to know Javier Rodriguez, who was a friend of La Vikinga. This would have later consequences, but at the moment Alejandro considered Javier to be just a ´friend of a friend´.
Alejandro decided to get to the very bottom of tango dancing. "I need to go to traditional teachers", he thought. As a recommendation from a classmate in the Conservatory, he found the tango classes in Palermo given by Jose Almar and Juliana Aparicio, who were teaching small groups only. However, he was soon disturbed by the fact that teachers quite suddenly went on tours, disrupting the coherence of the teaching. The solution: Alejandro rented a place with a big studio, equipped with mirrors. He started to analyze, very carefully, videos of dancers with different styles, including Ramon "Finito" Rivera, Puppy Castello, and Javier Rodriguez. Alejandro especially liked the dancing of Rodrigues. Why? "He is emotional, serious, sensitive, and deeply connected to the music and to the dancing", Alejandro explains.
Alejandro started to go to milongas in a very methodical way: initially to not-so-good places, to be able to dance as many tandas as possible, and gradually to better and better places, where he could dance with more demanding partners. One day — a week before his birthday — Hector Cachirulo, who was the organizer of the milonga Cachirulo, surprised him by saying "pick a partner and perform next week". The partner he picked was a girl from Brazil, named Arlety, and their performance was a success.
|First public performance, at Cachirulo.|
As Javier Rodriguez was mostly touring abroad, he was not an option to get classes from. Instead, Andrés Laza Moreno — a former assistant to Carlos Gavito — became Alejandro´s tutor, "to whom I owe almost everything", he says. Alejandro started practicing with many partners, gave public performances, and also won a competition night in Buenos Aires.
Maximilian Christiani invited Alejandro to join his dance company; and so Christiani became Alejandro´s trainer for a period of time. Some of the professional dancers in the milongas, knowing that Alejandro also was a musician, asked him to give private lessons. In 2015 he gave several workshops, and in 2016 special 4-workshops packages. In those workshops an organizer from Italy, and another from Belgium participated, and they invited Alejandro to come and work with them. In Europe the invitations multiplied, and soon Alejandro decided to stay in Europe. His partner had settled in Barcelona, and this became their home town for 6 months, until they decided to move to Helsinki.
Alejandro tells that he has always loved teaching, be it guitar playing, martial arts (see below) or tango! As a dancer with a deep knowledge in music, his special topic is Tango musicality for dancers, but he is also teaching issues related to Body awareness — a topic already familiar from the Arts school — and Dance kinetics. In tango communities, he gives seminars and leads prácticas to larger groups, but at his new Helsinki studio, he prefers to teach groups of limited size. For that, he has developed the Tango LAB concept.
|The tango LAB concept.|
Although now based in Helsinki, Alejandro will continue traveling on the European continent, both for teaching and for DJing. In the near future he will tour to Berlin, Minsk, and four Russian cities. Alejandro stresses the importance, for students of tango, of having an experienced, first-rate teacher as one´s personal tutor. But he warns that "do not make the mistake of trying to copy your master" — meaning that your tango has to grow from your own premises. He also stresses the importance of continuous, systematic exercises as a prerequisite for any improvements; and with his own daily training hours, he is himself a living example of this principle.
|Alejandro rehearsing in his studio.|
How to teach?
When I ask Alejandro how he would advice any new teacher-to-be person on what to teach, he present a list that is genuinely Argentinian — quite far the from European/Finnish thinking of ´give them many figures´. His advises are:
(1) Remember that you are teaching a culture!
(2) Let the students make contact with their feelings .
(3) Give them the music — the music is the essence of tango! Learn them to dance within the music.
(4) Learn them the pillars of tango: good behavior, respect for the music, a good embrace. Remember that the embrace is a concept, not just a posture!
(5) Teach them a good walk, a good side step — teach them how to step, how to land.
(6) Teach them the 6-8 figures they will need in a milonga: ochos, half turns, small movements. These 6-8 steps will transform into 30 steps, when you vary their rhythm, energy and intensity!
(7) Teach how to play elegantly with the free leg.
(8) Learn them milonga etiquette: how to invite, where and how to sit, how to dance in a ronda.
For a good dancer "less is more"! A good dancer is disciplined, focused and sensitive; observes the melody, the rhythm, the intensity and energy of the music — and a real master also knows the story in and behind every tango that is played. "Each tango is a little piece of life". An experienced dancer also learns to choose. He/she does not dance every tanda, but selects the right partner for the right music, at the right moment!
... AND OTHER ACTIVITIES!
During his active guitar period, Alejandro was also composing. A collection of those compositions have been compiled into a cute little volume.
Alejandro is frequently DJing, and he has an enormous catalog of tango music: almost 40 GB! Still, this is only 10 per cent of his whole catalog; the remaining 90 per cent is classical music. He is making thorough analysis of both classical works and tangos, and shows me a recent, huge analysis table of Di Sarli´s music, one of the 10 tango orchestras his has recently scrutinized.
Before he was studying and practicing music, Alejandro also took interest in Martial arts, specifically Taek Wondo. When he was 16, he won the Pan American Championship. The next five years, he earned his living by teaching Taek Wondo.
|Demonstrating Taek Wondo|
Literature has always been present in Alejandro´s life, and he still is a keen reader. With a background of 2 years of studies in philosophy and psychology at the University of Buenos Aires, books from these genre are well represented in his bookshelf but also other topics, such as anthropology and economics, especially the history of economics (Adam Smith etc.), and he also has a long interest in neurosciences. Russian textbooks plus dictionaries of the Russian language reveal that this language is now under study.
|Books at Alejandro´s bedside table|
Who knows what new activities Alejandro will embark upon, in coming years!
Alejando´s website address is http://alejandrojaimeweb.wixsite.com/misitio