by Mitra Martin
Beyond being our Runner Up Tango KaBloom winner, Edith Chen is an Asian American Studies Professor at Cal State Northridge. She’s been to almost every salsa joint in the US and now she’s on the Tango path. And she says that the most important things in her life are diet, exercise, friends, and sleep ! Hear that ? So not all Tango characters are 100% nocturnal. Edith and I had soup & sangria at Pitfire Pizza this week and talked about the role Tango plays in her life and her experiences in the community. Bottom line, “There’s nothing like it.”
How did you start Tango ?
Well dance wasn’t something that was necessarily encouraged in my household…but I’ve always liked dancing since I was little. There has always been this inner dancer within.
Salsa got me through graduate school. Grad school was… a challenging experience. What was my mental health break is that every Sunday I would go to the boathouse and go salsa dancing. I was an addict !
When I started dancing Tango, well it did NOT come easy to me.
What made you keep trying ?
Well, you sign up for the six lessons ! And watching the teachers demonstrate, I was like WOW. I really did look forward to it and I did feel like I was improving. It’s interesting what helps you past year two. There are so many dropout stages in Tango. There is a very frustrating thing for 2 and 3 year dancers.
What’s really helped me is improving MY technique. Even if I’m dancing with a partner who is less experienced — I can be focused on improving my own technique.
What makes someone good at Tango ?
You have to have that inner dancer, but also you’ve got to have thick skin !
Funny isn’t it, you have to have thick skin, but you also have to be in touch with your emotions and be able to express them, right ?
Tango really makes you work on yourself emotionally. So you don’t get any dances…are you going to let that define who you are ? Are you going to let that stop you from dancing ? I give myself a little pep talk — ‘I’m on my way to phenomenal !’
How is it to come to 100-level classes with your friends ?
It’s really fun, I like being there. In the beginning class, you pay more attention to the nuances — it’s all about the nuances. And it’s a challenge ! I’m learning the other role, leading and navigation is really difficult.
You did your first public demos recently — how was that ?
It was terrifying ! But I was happy to help Alex out. We practiced during the practica the night before, and before the performance. I think he did a great job ! Seeing myself on video was … challenging. I think it’s a good idea to have more planned video tape sessions as you learn a lot by looking at yourself from the outside.
[ Here's the video ! We think they look very fluid. Dancing here to Di Sarli, Chau Pinela, 1929. ]
Why do you dance ? What do you get out of Tango dancing ? What do you get out of Tango that is worth all the pain and suffering ?
When I was explaining it to my friend Khoa … well I wasn’t really planning on inviting him, because he works all the way out in Pomona … I was telling him what Tango is, I said, it’s like a walking meditation. You’re meditating with someone else to music. You’re sharing this moment. You have to be very in tune to each other. It’s kind of like yoga, but yoga with another person ! And this third element of the music; and it can be this very beautiful experience that is like nothing else.
So I think it’s this shared connection with someone. And of course it’s different with different people. With certain people you feel more comfortable in playing or experimenting more; and with others you are like “I just want to follow. I just want to enjoy what that person has to offer.” So it’s that connection and with each person you are connecting in different kinds of ways. For some it’s more fun, for some it’s more melancholic…there’s nothing like that.
It’s one thing to listen to and enjoy music. But when you’re dancing Tango it’s almost like playing an instrument together with a person — it’s so organic ! There’s nothing else like it.
You have to forget about anything else. Especially in that first year, I always would have to close my eyes. If my mind wandered, man I would definitely miss a step. Your focus has to totally be on that person. And that is such an interesting experiment. You have to totally give your attention to that person. You have to leave all your troubles behind, your work, whatever.
What is it that attracts you to Oxygen ?
I really like the community you guys are trying to build. And I like the pedagogy, how you guys break things down — it’s very student centered. I like the practicas. And it’s very close to my house !
Yeah it should be a neighborhoody thing !
Yeah ! And I enjoy taking pride in introducing something positive to other people. I like being able to share this talent that we have in LA to other people. I’m honored to be part of the process.