In this interview, Diane Yoon shares some tips on how to break-in to festivals and milongas in new cities, find new friendships through Tango, and overcome barriers like low confidence. A dancer of many dances, Diane reveals what is special about Tango, why it’s addictive, and what she especially loves about it.
What drew you to Tango?
I’ve always been attracted to the aesthetic of Tango. I’ve been dancing since I was a little girl and I’ve done either a little or a lot of most dances out there. But I had never found a place that would teach me Tango the way I wanted to be taught, as an actual improvised experience. It’s hard to learn Tango without a concentrated syllabus, because there is no basic step. I loved the twistiness and sinuousness of the dance. I very quickly learned about the Tango connection, which was one of the things that really drew me – this instant intimacy.
How is Tango different from other forms of dance that you know?
I think the learning process of Tango is different from any other dance; it’s a very deep language, and there are very few dances that have so much to explore yet no set vocabulary. I mean, Tango does have some vocabulary, but a lot more opens up with some analysis. Also, I think learning to be so close to another person, right there chest-to-chest, touching your head, is definitely a skill to learn with Tango.
What are the challenges you face in Tango?
There are so many. I think Tango is conceptually one of the most challenging dances I’ve done, if not aerobically challenging. It’s actually a fairly low-impact dance, compared to ballet. There is a bigger learning curve for leaders—understanding the music, floorcraft, vocabulary, and then trying to translate that into something the follower will understand. And for the follower, the technique can be a lot to integrate into your body; for example, as humans, we are not used to walking backward. Just learning to feel the floor under you and using it to pivot and step can be hard, and using your alignment to get the disassociation going, too. Tango goes so deep; you can’t finish Tango ever. Not that you can finish any of the other dances, like ballet or tap or salsa or swing, but it feels like Tango will always have the same degree of challenges forever.
I guess that’s why it attracts nerdy people.
It does. There are so many intelligent people in Tango. There is so much analysis. It’s like doing proofs, very mathematical.
Some people, when they start Tango, stop all the other dances. Did that happen to you?
I found Oxygen, and I did the first month’s special, and I think I came every day. For the first maybe 3-6 months, I would occasionally go out to salsa once a month. But it’s basically only Tango now. It’s addictive. It’s hard to go back to other dances.
What do you love most about Tango? What makes it addictive?
I don’t think I can pinpoint one thing. One of the things, I think the most physically apparent thing, is that hugging people for that long just feels good. It feels good to be in a Tango embrace and dance while hugging. I think all Tango dancers have had that experience of going home after their first Tango high, and saying, what is this? How did this happen? And feeling on cloud nine. I remember the first time that happened to me, who I was dancing with, and even the song! Outside of that, I think the people are just wonderful. The Oxygen people are obviously fantastic and warm and welcoming. But having started to travel for festivals, I’ve found that the larger Tango community tends to be also warm and affectionate. It feels like such a safe community. Even though Tango has a lot of introverts, so it can feel cliquey or snobby, if you take the time to talk to people, everyone wants to know each other. And there are all these interesting, wonderful people to get to know.
You have become a skilled Tango dancer in a short amount of time, dancing in different cities and at national festivals. What advice would you give to new learners of Tango about breaking-in socially to the national Tango scene?
It took me 4 or 5 festivals to begin to feel comfortable at them. I think that is a whole, separate skill that is necessary in Tango—how to break into a new community, how to break into festivals. It is part of the challenge in Tango, but it’s something I’m working on.
Generally, there are going to be a couple of people who you know going. Make an effort to cultivate an extended friend group. Introduce people to each other. Maybe you can get a group together for drinks afterward, or coffee before. Especially at festivals, making plans outside of dancing can be really fun, and you get to see the city you’re in instead of just the milonga venue! Karaoke in Portland! Swimming holes in Austin! Monuments in DC! Group dinners everywhere! Also, it’s important to not feel like you have to dance all the time at milongas. If you’re sitting out, and you don’t like the tanda, then talk to the people around you. Tango is a social dance, and the social aspect doesn’t end when you walk off the dance floor.
I’m kind of an extrovert, which is apparently rare in the world of Tango. But we all have self-esteem issues: is my dance good enough? These girls are so pretty. I feel awkward here. But those things matter less than we think; people are friendly. On some level, your dance matters less at these functions than your willingness to make friends. Without the social connection, it’s not really Tango.
How has dancing Tango affected your social life?
I have this awesome new group of friends. Now it feels like I can go anywhere and spend a couple of weeks, going to milongas or classes, and have this community almost instantly, of people who I know are like-minded people. I moved to Paris in 2012 and spent 6 months trying to make friends! How do you make friends as an adult? You have to have multiple, unplanned interactions every week. Also, because Tango has this weird effect on your brain chemicals, it feels like you are instantly connected with all these people. I know that if I go to a new city, there will be people who I can make friends with quickly.
How did you become part of the Oxygen team?
Like I said, I came every day that I could. At the time, they had classes five days a week, and I came five days a week. Luckily, I started the first day that one of the Challenges started, and so I had these 8 people to work with who were being very diligent about their study, as well. Then, I started DJing and hosting the Sunday practica, because why not come to Oxygen some more? That was really fun, and forced me to learn about the music very quickly. Around that time I jumped into the role of Membership Relations Manager.
Can you describe your role at Oxygen?
Right now it’s minor. I keep up with what’s going on, and I hope to get back into “bearing” someday. There have been a lot of changes that have happened since I left. So that will be exciting to see. I love that Oxygen is so volunteer-heavy, and that the people who do volunteer get to do what they excel at. Like, I’m an operations person—that’s what I do for my normal job—like streamlining processes, that’s what I love to do and I’m efficient at it, and that’s what I love to do at Oxygen. Along with Membership Relations Manager, I was the Care Bear. I was involved with coordinating the volunteer team, and any new volunteers, figuring out what they wanted to do. Basically, whenever students had any questions, I tried to help them as best I could. I’d love to get involved with that again. I like Tango people, and I know how it is to start a new dance, and come into a new community feeling scared and alone.
How do you see the school growing and expanding?
It has changed quite considerably in just the last few months, and I’m really pleased about all the changes. It makes Oxygen accessible to new students, especially in terms of cost and commitment. But the challenges allow students who want a deeper experience to have that – studying in a more structured manner. I think I’d be interested in seeing a way of helping students make that big jump to going to milongas and festivals and feeling confident. There are several of us who have made the jump. But it’s tough. Going from Oxygen, a school environment, to this big, dark, scary world of milongas, where you don’t know anybody can be tough. I would like to see more of a support system for that. Someone pointed out to me that especially the men from Oxygen who have made that leap, all have previous dance experience, which means they are used to rejection. I think that’s an underrated advantage. Dealing with rejection is always tough. That’s terrifying. I think Mitra mentioned a festival challenge at some point. I would love to see that happen. I’m huge on supportive groups.
What is your favorite orchestra?
DiSarli. I like squishy goodness.
How would you characterize your cabeceo in one word?