interview with Holly Darling
Michael Grandcolas is one of the very first sustaining enthusiasts of Oxygen Tango in addition to being an incredibly committed and longstanding member. He also practices Tango daily and has done so for more than a year without missing a single day, following the Seinfeld productivity technique that Avik shared in a guest charla at Oxygen. The discipline, challenge, and emotional connection of Tango keep him coming back for more for over eight years.
What drew you to Tango initially, and how did you discover Oxygen?
I’ve danced for a long time in other dances, and helped teach ballroom classes for about ten years. None of those other dances totally clicked for me so I was just looking around for another dance, and oddly enough Robert Duvall’s interest in Tango made me decide to take a lesson and see what it’s like. My first classes were out of Santa Monica College extension.
As it turned out, years ago, I actually helped teach Moti ballroom dancing so I went to the Promenade one time, and it was when I had just started learning Tango and this guy walked up to me, and I didn’t remember him, but he remembered me, and it was Moti. In those intervening years Moti had become one of the best Tango dancers in LA. So soon after that I started taking classes with Moti and did so for several years. At a certain point Moti stopped teaching for a while.
So all of a sudden I was left without my support group, because you know how it is, you get to know people from class and you dance with them. So I thought, where am I going to go?
I think I vaguely knew about Oxygen, and the reason I started going there was that some of the people I knew were going there, and it seemed like they had a lot of classes; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – so I thought there would be a night I could go. It was June 7th, 2010.
What surprised you about Tango?
I guess I would put this in the realm of surprised and delighted. What surprised me about Tango, and this is going to sound like it’s negative, but it’s actually positive, is how difficult it was to be good, that it wasn’t an easy dance to get good at, and it would always be a dance where you could get better, and there would always be a challenge to it. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to be decent, at least. I don’t say that in a negative way; I actually like that about a dance. So, I guess that’s what surprised me.
Tango appeals a lot to me emotionally and whatever scenes one may have seen in movies about Tango, it wasn’t necessarily that, it was better.
What challenges do you face in Tango and what is it about Tango that keeps you here?
There have been times when I’ve walked out of there thinking, “I suck” but everyone goes through that.
What I like about dance in general, but Tango specifically, is that it’s a silent communication with another human being, it’s not about words, but it is a way of communicating to another person. You’re both listening to each other and trying to move together, and I like that idea of sharing something nonverbal with another person.
I like the look of the dance and I like the feel of the dance and I like the music, from the classics to the Nuevo. On an emotional level, Tango resonates with me.
What are the different kinds of relationships you have experienced with Tango friends and partners?
I have developed friendships with several people because of Tango, including Mitra and Stefan. So, I’ve developed friendships and I’ve also developed, in a few special instances, a person who I’ve really enjoyed dancing with and they have enjoyed dancing with me, and it has lasted a while. So, those two things: friendships and long-lasting dance partners. And one of my very first Tango teachers is now one of my best friends.
We hear people say that Tango changed their life. Has Tango transformed your life in any way? How has Tango brought happiness and meaning to your life?
It has certainly brought a lot of joy to my life, and I personally would be sad without it. It is one of those things that I wouldn’t want to not have in my life. I like the discipline of trying to do something well, but beyond that, I actually like the doing of it. There’s a certain discipline that it takes to learn anything, but it’s especially true of Tango, and applying that discipline to myself in Tango has helped me to apply it in other areas. And on a really basic level, I think it’s good for my posture. I just stand up straight more often! No more slunking around. I wouldn’t want to give it up, for sure. It’s really something I cherish.
Some people say there is a spiritual dimension to Tango – is there? Have you experienced that?
I think it goes back to something I said earlier. I don’t know whether I’d characterize it as spiritual or not. I think for me, what’s spiritual about it, in quotes, is that there is something very special about having a nonverbal connection with someone.
It’s a physical connection because you’re touching, but beyond that… when it’s good you have two people who are not saying anything and are really in sync with each other, and it feels fantastic for me.
And it feels like a higher level of communication than you would ever get from words. To me, that’s what’s special about it, that there’s a deeper level of connection with another human being, even if it’s just while you dance.
Some people say Tango is a little bit sexy. Do you agree or disagree?
Yeah, I think it’s sexy and sensual. I mean, absolutely. I think it’s sexy and beautiful. I’ve always felt about dance in general that one of the responsibilities of the leader is to make the follower feel beautiful.
Is there such a thing as West Coast Tango?
I have nothing to compare it to, but I actually kind of hope the answer is no, in a way. I mean I know there are a thousand variations to Tango, the way it’s taught and danced, but one of the things I love about it is that it’s an international, communal experience. The basic elements of the dance are always there. I hope there’s no West Coast Tango, personally.
What has the Oxygen Tango community brought to your life? Why do you personally contribute to Oxygen Tango?
It has evolved over the past three and a half years that I’ve been there…. In the beginning, I’ll tell you the truth, I thought Oxygen was a little cliquey, and I felt a bit as an outsider, and maybe it’s the inevitable consequence of coming to a new place where there are already established relationships. But, I think the overarching thing during the time that I’ve been there, is that Oxygen Tango is something that I hope doesn’t ever go away. For me, it’s my emotional home base for Tango. And I feel a part of that community now; I really adore Stefan and Mitra.
I think the quality of the teachers here – Fabienne, Sharna, Isaac, Mitra, Stefan, etc. – are some of the best I’ve been exposed to. They all give specific and detailed individual instructions, filled with the small details that often make a huge difference.
Beyond that, I think Mitra and Stefan aspire to something great, to having a real Tango school, and building a community. So, what it means to me is it’s my home base for Tango, and I feel very protective of it. I want them to succeed and I want to help them in any way I can to do that. I see that it’s a home base for a lot of other people too.
How do you envision the school changing and growing in the future? What do we need to make those visions happen?
I think the first couple things are pragmatic, which are to make sure that it’s financially self-sustaining. In my mind, the three things that will contribute to that are: we find ways to continually bring in new students, keep the current students, and increase the number of monthly memberships. I also, however, believe, that anything new and anything aspires to be greater than it may currently be, also needs sponsors and angels to take care of it. That’s the second thing.
There is a whole history of patrons of the arts, going back to the Renaissance, so I think it’s important to increase the base of people who are willing to donate money to Oxygen, in order to help it be self-sustaining.
And the third thing, more of a medium-term goal, is to somehow find a space that Oxygen could someday either own or at least in the beginning, control the lease. At the moment they sub-lease, and it would be better for them to control the lease, and long-term, to own a building, in keeping with the idea to have a school. So, those three things: 1) increasing members and retaining members; 2) increasing angel donors; 3) getting our own space.
Michael's basic tango stats:
Dancing since… 2006
Lead/follow/both? … Both
Favorite composer… Astor Piazzolla
One word description of your cabeceo … Hi!
Holly Darling spent three years immersing herself in the LA Tango scene and learning at the Oxygen Tango School before relocating to Auckland, New Zealand, where she is currently dancing Tango socially at night and working on her dissertation by day. She is a graduate student studying education policy and programs and former high school teacher.