Gary Love considers himself to be a really, really bad Tango dancer. But Gary is proud of this level of dancing, which he considers an indication of his progress in a mere seven months of learning this dance. He says Tango surprised him by how simple it looked from the outside, and how difficult it can be in reality. His drive to improve led him to host the popular Practica of Love, and he sees himself dancing Tango still when he’s 180 years old. Gary’s experiences in other forms of dance and martial arts have given him a vision for where persistence will lead, and inspire him to “stick it out and get what you want.”
What drew you to Tango initially, and how did you find Oxygen?
I was looking for something different. I was dancing salsa and mambo for 12 years, and I just got tired of that crowd. I always wanted to dance Tango, and then I found Oxygen, and that was it.
Oxygen was recommended to me by a friend, who was a salsa dancer and a Tango dancer, and she knew about Oxygen, and they had lots of classes for beginners. So I went up and tried it for a week. As you know, it takes more than once a week to learn, so I went there every day. I had tried three other schools on my own, and felt frustrated, so I was happy to find Oxygen because they have classes for beginners every day.
What challenges do you face in Tango and what keeps you in Tango despite the challenges?
Oh…. The challenges. It seems like a really easy dance to do until you start trying to do it.
People say if you can walk you can dance Tango. Bullcrap! I’ve been walking all my life, and I can still barely dance Tango.
Especially for the lead, it’s so difficult to make it smooth and fluid. Obviously, there are also the challenges of navigation and keeping your partner safe.
I see people like Mitra and Stefan dance, and I think if they can do it, I can too. Some days I just feel like burning that Oxygen Tango card. For whatever reason, some days I just don’t get the move taught in class, and I’m like, forget this. But then the next day I’m right back at Tango.
I still feel that the dance is incredible, and that others have been through this before. It’s a challenge, like anything else. I remember when I started Judo, that there is this transition period, and that I just have to stick it out.
When you start Tango, you’re really, really, really, really bad. That’s four really’s. Now I’m just really, really bad. So I’m progressing. So now I’m just trying to get to bad (with no really’s in front of it). I’ll be so happy if I can get to that. But it’s so true. I was really, really, really, really bad. I’ve knocked off two of those really’s. That wouldn’t have happened at any other school, not in seven months.
Do you think it takes a special kind of person to endure being a beginner in Tango?
It takes a person with a vision to see what is down the road. When I go to a milonga, and see people dance, I know they didn’t just wake up one day being able to do that. Men, especially, have a hard time sticking it out, with their egos. Guys are like, no, forget this. They don’t want to look bad in front of a woman. Like, for me it would be so much easier to go back to mambo and salsa.
But I don’t see any 80 year old salsa dancers. But in Tango I see 180 year old Tango dancers, and they are transformed in the music and the dance.
It’s amazing to see 75-80 year old guys dancing like it’s nothing. I don’t see that in mambo and salsa.
Do you see Tango as a lifelong pursuit?
For sure, definitely, without a doubt. Life experience has taught me that if you stick it out, you will get what you want. It might take 2 years to even become a sort of good leader. That sounds like a lot, but it’s not. I just know there’s a payoff. And then, the Tango begins. As it goes on, it just gets better.
What surprised you about Tango?
The difficulty of it. It looks relatively simple from the outside looking in. But I was really shocked at how difficult it is, especially coming from another dance. After 6 months of Tango, there is still a long, long way to go.
We hear people say that Tango changed their life. Has Tango transformed your life in any way?
I don’t think it has changed my life. It has opened up a different circle of people. I have a circle of friends who dance mambo, who do Judo, who do jiu jitsu, who hang out for my son’s basketball team. Tango has opened up a new circle of people. All the people who have come into my life are amazing.
What kinds of friendships have you made in Tango?
I did the Tango Challenge, and on day one I met Pei Pei. For some reason, we instantly and magically hit it off. And she is my best friend. There is not a week that goes by, when someone doesn’t ask if we are dating. We get that question all the time. It’s hard for us to see, because we’re just being us. Both of us are a little eccentric, except we don’t have money, and eccentrics usually have money. So we get each other. But from the outside, it looks like we’re dating. Everyone asks. One day, I was in Pitfire, and the DJ asked me where my girlfriend was. (laughs) But, no doubt, she is my best friend. We support each other in our Tango journey and I am dating someone and it’s not Pei Pei! (the truth is finally out).
Some people say Tango is a little bit sexy. Do you agree or disagree?
I think initially, I would agree. But once you get into the dance, that aspect leaves the dance. When I first started, I was like, wow, this close embrace….but the more I danced it, I realized it’s almost impossible to connect in a “sexy” way with so many people in one night.
I just see it as a connection that goes beyond anything sensual or sexual. I had a great dance with a guy, and what does that mean? Uh oh. Do I have a gay gene in me? Did I just make myself gay? (laughs)
So, no it doesn’t have to be sexual. When I dance with my girlfriend, it’s different because I have an emotional investment in her, so it’s a different feeling.
Some people say there is a spiritual dimension to Tango – is there?
Not really. I don’t see tango as a spiritual dimension. We embrace and we connect. Either the connection feels good or it doesn’t.
What is connection?
The connection is the most important thing, over the dance. With some people there is nothing there, and it’s like dancing with a block of ice on roller skates, with bad ball bearings in them. In all honesty, maybe it was me! For whatever reason, we just didn’t connect. Sometimes it just doesn’t work that time, or people have stuff going on. But I’ve noticed there are a couple people who I consistently have horrible connections with. I see them dance with other people, and they look great. For some reason, we don’t fit. Maybe it’s completely me, it could be all me. It’s weird. Maybe when I get to be just “bad” my connection level will increase. As of now, I’m happy with the amount of people I can connect with. Out of ten tandas, one will be horrible, and she will leave the dance floor with her hair on fire, two will be okay, and seven will be really good connections. But since now I’m only really, really bad, I’m happy with that number.
What has the Oxygen Tango community brought to your life?
Well, I really love Mitra and Stefan’s community concept for Tango.
It’s refreshing to go to a school where there is this Tango community. I try to keep that concept in my life, the community of whatever I’m doing at any time in my life. It’s refreshing to have that running theme at Oxygen.
My jiu jitsu is like that too, and it’s interesting because it’s the opposite end of the spectrum. In one community, it’s 100 guys and I’m trying to rip their arms off, but in another I’m in a suit gliding across the floor embracing a beautiful woman. But both are about community.
You are currently hosting the Practica of Love. How did that get started?
I was done with the Challenge, and people were scrambling to do things to stay in the community. Someone recommended me for it, and I’m guessing it was Pei Pei. I wanted to spend more time working on dancing, not really DJing, so I was reluctant, but I gave it a try. This Sunday is my last one, and I’ll miss it. It has helped my musicality, listening to my playlist many times before I play it, and so now I know where the breaks are in the music, and can dance to it better. I know when to make the steps slow, or drag it out. That helps a lot. The Practica of Love just lucked out with the name.
How do you envision the school changing and growing in the future?
Wow, yeah. What I would like to see, is definitely a space where Oxygen was controlling its entire own destiny. The place now doesn’t say Oxygen on top of the building. It would be great if it did, and if it were owned by them, and they were leasing it out to other people maybe or other dancers, but the core root was still Oxygen Tango.. But the good thing about Oxygen’s current space is it really forces you to learn to dance close and small!
Gary’s basic tango stats:
Dancing since… September, 2013
Favorite orchestra… DiSarli
Lead / follow / both?... It would be a shame to say “both” but I am practicing following
One word description of your cabeceo… Different… quite long... could last an entire song