Shane Crosby is an educator, writer, and longtime social dancer who stumbled onto Tango less than a year ago. More than anything, his recent love affair with traditional Tango music surprised him, as he finds himself bobbing his head to Biagi and the bandoneon, rather than the R&B, hip hop, and salsa he grew up with as a dancer. Besides illuminating the surprisingly rocking beats from the 1930s, Tango has taught him to overcome feelings of self-doubt and have faith in his own learning process. You can find him practically living at Oxygen Tango, where he volunteers, cleans floors, and dances almost every night of the week.
What drew you to Tango initially?
I’ve been dancing for a while, social dancing since tenth grade. I’d seen Tango mostly on television, but never live.
It was something about the intensity between the two people dancing, the seriousness. I’ve always been curious about tango.
Years ago, when I lived in Atlanta, I took a series of tango classes that were hard as hell. What the lead had to do to get things to happen just seemed so impossible to me at that time. The lead seemed so subtle and stealthy. Nothing made sense to me so I ran away as fast as possible. At the time I was also learning to salsa and I didn’t feel like sucking at another dance.
How did you discover Oxygen?
Through a friend. I had had conversations with salsera friends who are also milongueras, and on occasion they would choose a milonga over a salsa social. I couldn’t understand why, and that further raised my curiosity. And then one of these friends sent me a text about a Groupon at Oxygen. So I went to the Oxygen’s website and it really drew me in. Its design and content spoke volumes to me about how serious they were about what they were doing. At the time the website had a video that talked about many things outside of the dance, like community, that were really important to me. Oxygen seemed like a cool place, and the next thing I knew, I was there. That was August 2013, and I’ve been damn near living there since then. I volunteer, I pick up trash, I clean floors. It all worked out. Oh, and I’m dancing too.
I met so many cool, interesting, friendly people and nice and nurturing instructors.
They helped me figure things out. Many of the people I stumbled around with were also new and the intermediate and advanced dancers were willing to let me try things out with them. All that kind of overrode the impossibility of what I was trying to do.
I guess you could say the community helped me overcome a lot of the problems I was experiencing which is really amazing when you think about it. You don’t usually get that when you go to dance schools or dance classes.
At Oxygen, you watch people walk in, hugging each other, making plans to go out, drink wine, and even knit together. It’s like it’s always Thanksgiving at Oxygen. People get together and enjoy each other’s company. LA is so spread out, and you can feel disconnected, so Oxygen is a bridge for people to get together.
What surprised you about Tango?
The music surprised me. As a dancer I was raised on R&B, hip-hop, salsa, and the beats and rhythms are really in your face but with tango music, I just wasn’t feeling it. From August to January, it wasn’t sinking in for me, but then by the end of January, I realized the music had downloaded into me, and suddenly there was tango in my iPod, and now I can feel the same energy and attitude in Tango that I feel in R&B, hip-hop, and salsa.
To the outside observer, seeing me with my headphones on, bobbing my head, he or she might think that I’m listening to Kendrick Lamar or Public Enemy, but I could easily be listening to Biagi or Troilo, or some other orchestra from the 30s.
Tango has made me listen to music differently. I pay more attention to it. It has kind of made me a music snob. I would have thought that I would like Nuevo more, but that hasn’t been the case. With traditional tango music there is so much more for me, as a lead, to tune into, like the vocal, piano, bandoneon, violins, and downbeat. With Nuevo music (well, at least the kind I’ve been exposed to thus far) the downbeat is more salient to me and as a lead I am bored out of my brains. The multiple layers of traditional tango music are fascinating.
Once the music downloaded into my body that’s when I really started having fun. Just last week, I was driving to practica, thinking about specific things I wanted to practice, but then another side of me just wanted to have fun with the music. I just wanted to dance, and whatever came out I’d be happy with that.
What challenges do you face in Tango and what is it about Tango that keeps you here?
The biggest challenge for me is self-doubt; self-doubt keeps me from moving forward. Lately I’ve become better at managing my thoughts of self-doubt. It’s kind of like a meditative thing, saying to myself, “ok let these feelings of self doubt come, and I’ll just listen and observe”, saying to myself, “trust in my learning process” – meaning if I just listen and observe and move forward, things will get better. I’ve had times, when I’m in the middle of the dance, I’ll become aware that I’m doing what I was struggling to do a few months ago. Those are really good moments.
What are the different kinds of relationships you have experienced with Tango friends and partners?
I guess my core group of friends would be the people I met in the Tango Challenge. We had a bonding experience. At least three of those people are still consistently coming to Oxygen, and actually working at Oxygen. Pei Pei is a member rep, Phoebe is a tango bear, and Gary ran a practica. These people are close to me. Everyone who comes to Oxygen is open minded and trying to learn something, and because we have that in common, there is this familiar, instant connection between us because we are doing this thing together.
We hear people say said that Tango changed their life. Has Tango transformed your life in any way?
It’s hard to say because I’m still in the flow and flux of learning the dance, and it has been nonstop since August. I completed the Challenge, and I’ve been an intern, so I’m at the school a lot. I haven’t really stepped outside of the experience to check myself. I don’t have a real answer yet. It would be better to ask me in a year or two.
At the very least, Tango has made me hyper aware of my learning process and that I just need to sit, observe, listen, feel “sucky”, keep it moving and that’s my learning process. So that’s big; if I can apply that to other aspects of my life that would be major.
Some people say there is a spiritual dimension to Tango – is there? Have you experienced that?
I think the word “spiritual” is so over-used; it’s almost cliché. If anything, Tango is an opportunity to connect to another human being in an up-close kind of way which is what most of us have been trying to do since we were kids. Tango fulfills that primal need.
How has Tango brought happiness and meaning to your life?
It has definitely filled in the social gaps in my life. I just moved back to LA a few years ago, and finding Oxygen has filled a need I had for community. We need each other more than we think we do, and Oxygen reminded me of that.
What has the Oxygen Tango community brought to your life?
I really enjoy the conversations I have with people who dance. Tango people are really well established in their careers. Bio-chemists, journalists, teachers, lawyers and lots of PhD students trying to find some release. Basically, a broad spectrum of professionals and with that comes a variety of life experiences. People who are well traveled and have been all over the world. You can have some really interesting conversations at Oxygen. I’m a nerd at heart, so I like that.
Some people say Tango is a little bit sexy. Do you agree or disagree?
I agree a thousand percent. It is very sexy. And then tango also has the added element of sensuality, and from what I’ve heard, read, and experienced, there’s a difference. Tango is sexy plus one or sexy squared, to music, with an added meditative/yoga thing to it. Awesome.
How do you envision the school growing and changing in the future?
I think Oxygen has a really good thing going right now. As long as it can maintain the focus on community, I’d love to see a bigger space with more teachers, like a Tango University. With Mitra and Stefan at the creative core, they can do it. The school has to keep the same heart that it has now. More people need to experience Oxygen. More people need dance in their lives, big time. I’ve got friends who are sitting, watching TV, drinking a beer, while I’m lacing up my Tango shoes. They could even offer classes to married couples – way better than marriage counseling!
Shane’s basic tango stats:
Dancing since... Tango since August, 2013 (social dancing most of my life)
Favorite orchestra... Biagi and Troilo
Lead/follow/both?... Both (lead at milongas)
One word description of your cabeceo... let’s-do-this!