interview with Holly Darling
Alex Bartos’ dedication to the study of Tango stems from his admiration of the art of persistence. Like the myth of Sisyphus, Tango has taught him the beauty of an elusive pursuit, and how that pursuit will stave off complacency. Alex says that the intensive programs at Oxygen have helped him stick with it and find consistent improvement. And through his dedication to this art, he has found connections of shamanic quality and deep friendships.
What drew you to Tango initially?
I had signed up for a salsa class, and there was a Tango class right after it, so at the suggestion of a friend’s parents who danced Tango, I signed up for that one, too. So partially it was just convenience. I didn’t see anything particularly special in Tango; I committed six weeks to it. It’s really difficult to recall anything about Tango that spoke to me initially. I’m not sure what drew me in. I remember thinking it was hard, but things that are difficult usually have a payoff. And I saw in other dancers what I really wanted to do, so I kept at it.
So how did you overcome those challenges?
There are so many low points when you’re learning. It’s easy enough to just stop.
If the reason you’re doing it is because you think you’re going to be the best Tango dancer, that’s so far away. If that’s your goal, it’s really easy to get discouraged and stop. I learned to really appreciate the small wins.
There is also the social aspect. You show up, and there are people you know there. It’s kind of like high school, but in a good way. You can show up to Oxygen for a few hours, take classes, ask for the answers to last night’s homework, and hang out with your friends.
What keeps you in Tango despite the challenges?
It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of times when I wasn’t excited about the dance, and frustrated, but the small wins kept me going. I remember there was a practica where I had this amazing dance, and I was like, wow where did that come from? That was a breakthrough moment and another one of those small wins that kept me motivated. And then when I danced in Spain, there was a woman with whom I could not communicate at all, but we had some really nice dances.
I remember thinking that because I had spent so much time and effort working at this dance, I was able to have a really nice connection with someone who I wouldn’t normally ever be able to connect with. That’s what keeps me in Tango.
There are other, I guess more philosophical, reasons why I stay dancing Tango. I heard once that the reason kids don’t like a lot of foods that older people like, is because some foods register too loudly.
Kids don’t usually like dark chocolate because they just sense “whoa! BITTER!”. But as you get older you can sense and understand a lot of things in dark chocolate – bitterness, sweetness, texture, aroma, as well as changes in the levels of those things when paired with other food or drink. Tango is kind of like that for your body.
Tango allows me to explore physical nuance in a way that I didn’t get to in any other activity I’d come across before. The idea of communicating movement through the smallest movement possible… there is no endpoint to that. So, it becomes this Sisyphean effort that I love the idea of exploring.
Doesn’t the myth of Sisyphus – this guy who tries in vain to roll a rock up a mountain -- carry a negative connotation?
I don’t view the myth of Sisyphus as negative. I mean, the reason that myth exists is because it describes the human condition.
So, Tango is the human condition in a dance: a search for a meaning or connection that you might never attain. That may sound bleak, but it’s like, what’s the alternative? I think, what else is there? Complacency? Indifference? I don’t want that.
What surprised you about Tango?
Initially, I was surprised by the borderline addict quality it took on with some people. I was talking to someone in SF at a festival and she was telling me how she would dance all night for six hours. At the time I would be done after an hour; got my fill, good night. I didn’t get it; it seemed like overkill to do anything for six hours straight.
For a long time I didn’t understand what people were chasing in Tango.
But now I think I understand that she was trying to get this elusive feeling from the dance. She wasn’t getting that feeling every time, but she was dancing for six hours looking for it; being ready when it arrived.
But recently I’ve had a feeling that was beyond anything I ever expected to get out of a dance. And I would chase that. I would chase that needle all night! (smiles and seeing the confusion in my face whispers: it’s a drug reference).
Who is your favorite person in Tango?
Alice is my favorite person in Tango. She was the first person with whom I developed a relationship that extended beyond Tango. And now I just love hanging out with her. Within Tango, she is super intense. She just achieves. And when I went through the Tango Journey with her, I remember thinking that she set such a high bar for herself… I didn’t want to ever be unprepared. She’s someone who always makes me want to be way better.
We hear people say that Tango changed their life. Has Tango transformed your life in any way?
I think I would really try to avoid saying that it changed my life, for a long time, just because I heard it so many times. For a while, I just thought it was fun, but not life changing. But I think, if I look at some of the relationships that I have as a result, I feel so happy that I have them, and I feel that my life would be much emptier without them.
I think Tango has helped me find a richness in life. I think that I put a love into things that I didn’t before. It’s really easy for me to be cynical and Tango has helped me to recognize what would happen if I put everything of myself into something. That’s life changing.
Some people say Tango is a little bit sexy. Do you agree or disagree?
A little bit sexy? Way sexy.
What is connection?
I had this amazing tanda in San Diego. She actually asked me to dance in this really clever way. I’ll spare you the details but what’s important is that I dance very self-consciously all the time, and during this tanda I was transformed.
I wasn’t self-conscious at all. I had no worries about being wrong or messing up and we created the exact dance we were supposed to, in the moment, together.
It was an amazingly different feeling for me. I just want to get back there. It’s like a warm blanket. I was convinced she was a shaman. She was also maybe 20 years older, too, so goes to show, you never know where, or with whom, connection will happen.
What has the Oxygen Tango community brought to your life?
Great relationships. Great friends. Something to do on a Thursday night. The intensive programs provided a smooth road on the mountain.
It was a lot easier to get to this point in my dancing with Oxygen because my mind liked their focus on the structure of the dance and my heart liked the love that they have for the dance and my pancreas liked all the great people that I met.
How do you envision the school changing and growing in the future?
I imagine multiple venues, teaching far more students than they do now. I see Oxygen as a model for other communities that really want to develop their dancers. I think we’re doing a lot already. We have a clearly defined vision. I think that we need to continue to make sure that students understand how special Oxygen is, and how special Tango is in general, so that they are advocates who can go out and spread that seed.
Alex’s basic tango stats:
Dancing since… 2008
Favorite orchestra… Pugliese
Lead/follow/both?... Lead mostly, follow a little bit
One word description of your cabeceo… Work-in-progress … or… Look-at-me!!!