by Holly Darling
Rebecca Smith shared her insights and experiences on the topic of Love and Tango, as she spent some time with us after teaching at the San Diego Tango Festival and at Caltech. She says that Tango teaches us about love because through the experience “we re-examine ourselves with what we have to offer, what we want to create…and through that process we grow a potential to expand our best qualities.” This duality in the dance of offering and creating serves as a beautiful metaphor for the concept of love, as Rebecca explains it. Her insights are full of wisdom and beauty.
Before we get into the topic of love and tango, tell me what drew you to Tango initially?
I saw a demonstration of Tango and the role of the follower/woman looked so powerful, captivating, and enigmatic. I had never seen anything like that before in a partner dance (maybe once in a flamenco performance) and it was clear to me that there was a lot more going on than the man leading and the woman following. And that was in 1999!
What challenges do you face in Tango and what is it about Tango that keeps you here?
I think the answers to those questions change with time. There are all these different phases of tango evolving and morphing into different roles in my life. The challenges I currently face are balancing the growth of my business with seeking and finding inspiration. So, feeling the need to throw myself 100% into marketing myself, exposure, and networking but also keeping space and prioritizing continuing to learn from a variety of sources, but also putting myself into situations where I can still be surprised and inspired while dancing...
Tango is endlessly interesting. There are infinite layers to it. It’s such a versatile medium of expression, that no matter what phase of life I’m going through, it has a place and keeps its place. I can treat it as my best friend, or I can leave it alone for a while, or I can use it to express all kinds of emotions, I can use it to meet people, I can use it to relax with friends. I use it for my bread and butter. I use it to learn about myself as a small business owner and as a teacher- teaching on its own is such a vast area of exploration! I think the travel aspects of Tango always remain fascinating. Hmm… what is the most interesting thing about Tango for me right now? I think what I am most curious about is the development of international community. I want to experience the evolving tango scene in the world: European marathons, festivals, and different kinds of gatherings. I am insatiably curious about emerging tango scenes in different places. I really want to visit Asia! But I mainly just want to be involved, present, and be engaged in this historic time.
When you have a connected Tango with someone, is that love ? How is it similar/different ?
By my own definitions of love, I think you can connect in the dance without it, but I think it becomes a more shallow expression of the dance.
As a teacher of Tango, how do you suggest beginners/newcomers to Tango navigate the confusion they may experience -- feelings of love toward people they dance with?
I’ve only experienced feelings of lust being an issue ;) But I think the broader definition of love is certainly a part of the beginners’ education. The Tango relationship requires focused attention, supersensory awareness of the other person, vulnerability to expose something about oneself, so that intimacy is very much a part of the beginner experience. I don’t ever package it in terms of love, but I think you could. I’ve always been amazed, that no matter how horrible your first teachers are, it hooks the people who are going to be hooked, and it really has nothing to do with the teachers at that moment, it has to do with the power of the dance that is so universally compelling. Through the form of the dance, you sense all the things that are deeper within it. Different teachers have different approaches. Eric and I teach simple structure in the beginning with a lot of fun and joking and lightheartedness. But our students sense the magic of it from the start. Of course I think peer camaraderie helps when everybody is feeling awkward and bursting their personal space bubbles together.
In Tango, we talk a lot about technique. Is technique part of love?
I think technique is very much a part of the connection you have with the other person. Some technical things contribute or detract from the experience of the couple, and it has a lot to do with how you hold yourself, how you relate to the floor, how you hold your partner, the kind of space you move in, and your psychological state.
Is it possible to have a Tango partnership without love?
Well part of the magic is that you can have a strong connection with a stranger or with someone who you can't verbally communicate with. Connection on the dance floor can be indicative of a personal connection, but I have also been proven wrong in that direction many, many times! Connection in any way can transcend skill level. I don’t get bored dancing with a beginner who I also personally like a lot, whereas I can get bored with somebody who is technically strong but emotionally dry.
What are the different kinds of relationships you can have with Tango friends and partners?
Gosh, to answer that question broadly- there are student-teacher relationships, strictly milonga relationships, friends you hang out with on and off the dance floor. You can have a celebrity relationship, like be in awe of somebody you don’t ever dance with or know personally. You have your peers in learning, about your same tango age, who you’ve gone through the journey with, and obviously you have your flames: boyfriends/girlfriends, relationships you’ve found and left. I think there’s also the infrastructure relationships of “staff”—the organizers, Djs, and volunteers that shape the atmosphere of local dancing.
What comes to your mind when you hear the words love and tango together?
Unfortunately, a lot of clichés about the "Passion of Tango,” and games of seduction. But when I think about the depth of the definition of love, then I think about it being the authentic experience of the social dance, and all the ways we relate to and connect to a wide variety of people. And I think that also it is the answer to why we are attracted to the dance, and why ultimately we keep dancing.
When I first mentioned the idea of an interview on love and tango, the general response was…whoa… that’s quite a subject… opening a can of worms!!! Why does this the topic of love and tango engender this type of response?
Well, Tango is a very versatile medium, and love is a very personal and ever-changing emotion (I’ll say emotion for lack of a better word). I think everybody has a different love experience with Tango- and often a love/hate relationship! I think it’s fraught with danger of it being cliché and it easily turning into an overly-played-out dramatized fantasy. In so many ways, love is the essence of the dance. If you took it out, we wouldn’t dance tango, or it wouldn’t hold any of its power over us. It’s very personal and ends up being such a contentious truth, like a religion can be, when everyone has a different belief about it. For this reason I can't stand most tango literature.
What are the challenges that you face as a teacher of tango who is expected to create community and be a role model? (i.e. be compassionate and loving toward all)?
I think the expectations on me as a teacher from my students and community keep me in check with myself. They keep me honest about my behavior and responsibilities, personally and socially. It is certainly not always easy!
How can tango teach us about love? Or what does tango teach us about love?
I want to give a corny answer! I think Tango asks sacrifice of just about everybody who endeavors to go down that road. That sacrifice is often an emotional one, I think. As we experience the transparency of people we dance with, we re-examine ourselves with what we have to offer, and what we want to create. And so through that process of learning about ourselves, we grow a potential to expand our best qualities.