For years, Scott G. G. Haller has contributed time, energy, creativity, and love to class after class of Tango Challengers. Dozens of newcomers to Tango have been warmly supported by Scott, who has gone above and beyond what's normal or necessary to nurture the next generation of Tango dancers in his role as a volunteer Assistant Facilitator of the Tango Challenge. So many wonderful people who are now active Tango dancers have been touched by Scott's encouragement, humor, and kindness in their first few months of Tango. We wanted you to meet Scott and hear his perspectives on Tango and his community work.
How did you get involved in Tango?
I didn’t start social dancing until my 30s. A cousin got into swing dancing and convinced me to take lessons with her so that she’d always have someone to dance with. After doing Jitterbug, Lindy Hop, and Balboa for a number of years I stumbled onto Moti Buchboot’s Sunday night outdoor milongas at Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade and started taking lessons from him because I was drawn to being able to move in a more relaxed way connecting to music which was closer to the classical music I’d grown up with playing ‘cello. You can put my tango “birthday” at January 3, 2006, since I wrote Moti a check for my very first lesson and my accounting software provides specific evidence of my first steps. I always admired his experimenting with possible ways to move. (“Now that we’ve done this to the right, can we do the same thing to the left?”)
How did you get involved in Oxygen Tango?
I had started expanding my tango exploration with Linda Valentino’s classes in Hollywood and Yolando Rossi’s Culver City milonga when I found out that “Mar Vista Tango,” as it was originally called, was opening up in my neighborhood. I started hanging out there because having weekly prácticas nearby to work things out at was very appealing.
How did you get involved in The Tango Challenge?
Frankly I was unaware of the intensive beginner program until early Challenge student Katya Kosarenko asked me to be her practice/recital partner. I was more worried that the required 40 minutes of practicing together would bore her than I was nervous about the final recital.
What has been your role(s) in the Tango Challenge?
In the Spring of 2012, Mitra asked me to help her with the Challenge. She wanted administrative help and felt that the coursework could use some polish. As the son of English professors and a graduate of a fine liberal arts school I worked over the written material for greater clarity and even got some chances to present ideas of my own. The first team I assisted with was The Lucky 7 -- the fifth semester of the program. Besides providing hands on coaching and another perspective in class discussions, I also took pictures and the “before” videos at the start of the term, then used my film school skills to cut together the recital videos for the clearest presentation of how far the students had progressed. Since my professional work has ramped up on the other side of town on top of the class schedule shifting from periodic Sundays to early Wednesday evenings every week it’s been difficult to give the same level of personal attention.
What do you get out of this work?
It’s been fascinating being an “Uncle” to an expanding family of graduates who frequently find their niche in the Los Angeles tango community. (Of course, some are never heard from again.) I think it’s very true that you learn something much better when you have to figure out how to teach someone else to do it. While it’s easy to stress out when learning something new – I’m always reminded that in the intimate connection inherent to tango it’s important to cultivate calmness so that you can put your focus where it needs to be: on your partner. I also want to make sure that beginners don’t forget that dancing can be fun & playful; they don’t have to rely on patterns and can just go step by step -- and especially with a walking dance there’s nothing wrong with taking one’s time. I quickly figured out that the best sign off I could put on e-mails to the cohort was to “keep breathing” to encourage them not to stress & rush all of the time.
What are some treasured memories from your experiences as an Assistant Facilitator?
There’s always a thrill seeing the light bulb go on over people’s heads along with the smiles when things start falling into place. My personal goal is to make sure that beginning dancers don’t forget to connect to the music as well as have fun moving around. I was thrilled when one student led me by collecting, pausing with a breath, and waited for the right moment to take a step. Another time I was striving to convince a Challenger to keep her free leg connected to the floor and visualize drawing on the surface with embellishments; eventually I experimented with putting colorful sand on the floor for her to tangibly “draw” on – the idea got through and she was very excited about the possibilities. Shooting ideas back and forth with one experimenting Challenger led to making Velcro vests and Spandex “tubetops for two” to provide solid connections and lots of laughs.
How has the Tango Challenge changed over time?
I come from a way of thinking of less talk, more action: learn by doing. Using the graduating student feedback to nudge for the private sessions to be actual mini dance lessons instead of talk therapy has been a good step.
Of course, when the teacher changes – the experience of the program comes to reflect that leader’s experience and perspective.
What would you like to see more of in the Tango world?
Too many people learn sequences of steps and get comfortable using them over and over when there’s this interesting music which we’re supposed to be dancing to. It’s better to shape the steps and pause periodically to match the shapes of the sounds filling the air. Musicality shouldn’t be a technique put off for later. It’s pretty easy to use very basic steps and vary the way they’re done to more closely match what’s going on in the music.
Another problem with so many classes based on sequences is that too many dancers don’t connect – they’re struggling to move the way they’re “supposed” to instead of engaging with each other and moving together.
There’s also the stereotype that all tango music – or at least the “true” tango music – is sad & dramatic. Like classical music, there’s a range of emotions in the arrangements & performances and it’s so limiting to ignore what doesn’t fit the melodramatic reputation.
And there’s the weird ghettoization of more modern and alternative music. When I started dancing a decade ago the DJs would provide a range of music and the dancers happily embraced whatever was played. Now there’s a fundamentalism of only playing Golden Age music and the eclectic material can mostly be found at specialized milongas or afternoon sessions at festivals. The thing is, of course, that back in the day the milongas in Buenos Aires had live bands – so the whole concept of tandas and “traditional” cycles is a more recent development. The bottom line is that plenty of dancers get excited when they hear something “extra-ordinary” to dance to.
What is your work outside of Tango?
I cut sound for motion pictures. More accurately, I do the sonic equivalent of Photoshop for the dialogue recordings captured along with the visuals. It’s a stealthy ninja-like job where if I do it right – no one knows I was there.
What role does Tango play in your life?
It’s a chance to play. Like many people, I sit in front of a computer all day – so moving around (and still being able to move around) is something to celebrate. Also, dancing is a chance to perform: to create little mini-movies to an ever changing soundtrack weaving across the floor. In the end, if I can make someone else smile through sharing what I hear in the music… it’s a good day.
What is important to you, as a person, in your life: what qualities do you seek/strive to cultivate?
Joie de vivre should not be a foreign concept. Everyone should create a little happiness around them.
Many things are possible if you can deconstruct them to their most basic elements and build up bit by bit.