by Holly Darling
As we celebrate the theme of unbridled enthusiasm and passion for Tango in this new Year of the Dragon, we decided to interview someone who embodies these qualities: O2 student and recent Tango Challenge grad, Bruce Blair. Linking marathon training to Tango, he says, “I believe that whatever your marathon is, you should run it. I’ll tell you and I’ll stand on the street corner and preach it: this body is a gift! Experience it. You’re not going to have it forever.” Making time for intense tango study despite a busy job managing a restaurant and raising a son, Bruce is a testament to committing to one’s passions. He clearly follows the sentiment echoed in his own rhetorical question, “Why say ‘no’ to yourself in life?”
Questions on the topic of unbridled enthusiasm and passion for Tango:
How did your unbridled enthusiasm and passion for tango begin? (i.e. how did you become interested in learning tango)? What inspired you?
I’m just going to make a disclaimer. I might tell you more than you expected. This journey has been very emotional for me on a lot of levels. It’s one thing to go to O2 and dance, and learn how to dance, and go through the ‘torture’ that we go through (which we start to crave). But as to my motivations, and what led me to tango, and to seek it out… well, I had a close friend who had tango’ed, so I had heard about it, but there wasn’t any space in my life for it. I’ll just tell you, I lost my wife two years ago, and it’s just me and my boy now. In her illness, I started running to curse the heavens, and meditate. It was my way of screaming at the heavens. Before I knew it, I was running marathons. I entered a marathon in her honor. The next year I ran the LA marathon again. That was the time I started thinking of something else for me. I saw a flier for tango, and signed up for their intro deal. It was intriguing, and kind of a cliché… a bunch of nervous rabbits trying to learn some ballroom dancing. One day the teacher said, “just move.” He put on “Milonga Triste” by Diaz, and it’s very slow and mournful and beautiful, and he turned the lights down, and I thought, “I think I get this now.”
What led you to Oxygen as a breeding ground for your tango enthusiasm and passion?
So I wanted to find some teachers who I really connected with. When I saw their website, it was the best one I saw. So I found Oxygen, and I thought, “this IS THE PLACE.” The tango is something I do FOR ME. After I ran the marathon, which I had never had any interest in my life before, I thought, “Wow, I can do this. Why would you ever say no to something?” We’re here to enjoy. These bodies are a gift. We’re here for a limited time. Why not experience as much as we can. And I thought, “Tango is the ultimate dance.” So, when I walked into Oxygen, it made me drunk. I thought, “These people are wonderful, how can you not want to be around this kind of energy?” And I quickly realized, you cannot learn this going once a week. If you want to learn this, you have to jump in.
What inspired you to dedicate serious time toward tango study via the Tango Challenge program?
I think two things: once I tasted it, I knew I really wanted to do this, in a really deep way. Like I said, it touched all kinds of buttons for me. And, their (Mitra and Stefan’s) passion inspired me. It’s infectious. Some people were really encouraging me, like Pez and Shariyar. Some of my best dances in class have been with Pez. I was leading him in a fast milonga in close embrace once, and he closed his eyes, and when it was over we were just giggling and laughing. I don’t think I stepped on his toe once. But, really, just getting a taste for what tango could be in my life, and going on youtube and seeing amazing dancers.
How did you find time for daily tango study with your busy schedule managing a restaurant and raising a son?
Adding my commute, I was doing 20 hours a week. I was really ready to do something for myself. And I’m the kind of person that if I say I’m going to do something, I just do it. But it wasn’t easy. I wanted to involve my son. So I asked Preston. He agreed and I was so proud of him. During a class, Mitra asked all the students, “How would you get out of this tricky navigational situation?” My son raised his hand and said, “You could do a rock step!”
What advice would you give other tango enthusiasts who believe they don't have time to learn tango well?
Make the time. Why say no to yourself in life? Life is too short. I’ll tell you and I’ll stand on the street corner and preach it. This body is a gift. Experience it. You’re not going to have it forever.
What fuels your passion for tango?
What is Tango? It’s more than just a partner dance. It’s a partner dance where two people connect at the heart, and by putting the other person first, by putting all your focus on the other person (and the music of course), it can become sublime. Whether you’re watching it, or whether it happens to you, it’s deep. It’s a philosophical question: why are we here on this earth? I know why for me: it’s to connect with other human beings. That’s why we’re here. What does that more deeply, on a one-to-one-level, than tango? No words, just a focus on the other person’s happiness.
An excerpt from Bruce’s Tango Challenge “Values” assignment:
Our own cyber-dis-connected age offers a counterfeit intimacy, which, I believe, leaves us similarly isolated. Despite the world’s ubiquitous accessibility, authentic experience and true connection are all too rare. I believe people are yearning for an authentic, personal connection. The human experience is a shared one. We survive, thrive, and grow best through empathetic bonds that reveal the “other” as ourselves. What could do that more completely than a partner dance where two people aspire to physically become one, bound at the heart, meditating on each other, and fully embodying that connection through music?
How can we maintain our passion despite the busy lives we lead? How do we maintain our dragon spirit?
I understood tango emotionally, but how do you stick with something that you have to get into your muscles? Sharna said something to me about how humbling it is to do this physical discipline because there’s no shortcut. I think running marathons taught me something. You don’t run a marathon in one day. You have to train the body to do this thing it doesn’t want to do. Your body is saying STOP and then it becomes a mental thing. Then there’s the payoff, crossing the finish line. It gave me a sense of confidence. I guess for me I have this example of running the marathon that helps me appreciate that it’s a journey, that it won’t come in one day, and that if you stick with it, it will happen, and there’s a payoff.
Where do you see yourself tango-wise in 1, 3, 5 years?
I’m going to steal from Stefan on this one. In one year I hope to go to a festival and have a good time. In three years, I hope to go to a festival and have a psychedelic time. In five years… it would be really nice to be helping other people learn how wonderful tango is.
An excerpt from Bruce’s Tango Challenge assignment on Partnership:
I long for Tango Partners who share my thirst for this dance coupled with an open, generous heart that can remain nonjudgmental as I move through early learning stages in my quest toward elegantly decisive leading. I strive to maintain the correct attitude that Denniston speaks of in her text: “It is attitude that makes the Tango dancer. Skill improves the dancer, but attitude is the essence of skill. People who learned in Buenos Aires in the Golden Age learned the attitude as inseparable from the dance.” By embracing the attitude of respect for my partner, in the true tradition of Tango, I seek fun partners to grow with.
Do you think tango attracts people who are particularly Passionate?
I think so. I think YES. But I think people are surprised at the passion they find in themselves after coming to it. It unlocks something in them. Tango IS passion. But too many people limit what they mean by passion. It’s not just physical lust, but you can have a passion for painting, for cooking, for anything. Tango, for me, is a passion for connecting on a higher level, almost on a spiritual level. It’s an artistic expression of individual desires unified in time and space.
What do you think about the Year of the Dragon and how it relates to tango?
I think if you want to get the most out of tango, unbridled enthusiasm is pretty important, because of how difficult tango is. You have to have something to fuel you through the challenge of it. The unbridled passion part of it…tango is so deep…it’s like life…tango is a dance in which you can fully explore and express the full range of human emotion. Other dances are more like just pure physical exuberance. Tango is a dance that can be exuberance, but it can be sorrowful, bitter, heartwrenching, playful, lighthearted… the full spectrum of human emotion can be fully expressed in this dance. That’s what makes it so rich and deep.
How do you envision Oxygen growing in the future? In what ways would you like to see the school grow?
I would like to see Mitra and Stefan realize all their dreams. I have some idea what their dreams are, including a bigger facility. Selfishly, I’d like it to be closer to Pasadena. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a facility with also a restaurant or a bar, to have a place where people can go to relax? But that’s adding on a whole thing to the business model. One thing for me, that I’ve realized, and it’s my personal dilemma, is making tango fit with a busy schedule, so something like more daytime practicas and milongas would be great! I’d love to see some kind of youth classes so my son and his friends can stick with it. I’ve seen some examples on youtube and the kids pick it up so quickly.