A common question overheard at milongas or practicas is, “ How long have you been dancing?” This is often asked in the middle of a tanda, when curious as to long it took that person to get good. Typically it takes about 1-2 years to become competent, about 5 years to feel confident and about 10 years plus to have Tango embedded in your body. Although, I have seen some people become amazing dancers in just a year, while others maintain the same level no matter how long they have been dancing.
Tango, one of the most subtle and complicated of all partner dances, requires not only discipline to learn but continuous learning to improve. Perhaps that’s also why so many engineers and artists are drawn to this dance. It’s for people who like to delve deep and become immersed in all its intricacies.
Argentine Tango is made up of elements that are really quite simple. A step, a pivot, a weight shift… and yet a multitude of possibilities abound by just combining these few basic elements.
Ah, but the challenge is not in learning the basic elements, but how to combine and execute them properly, all with another person. This is why one needs good training and determination to learn Tango.
Thankfully, there is a new tango school in San Francisco that can help. Headed by Christa Rodriguez and Neeraj Korde, Mission Tango provides a program with multiple levels that is not only helpful for the beginner dancer, but also experienced dancers. Both Christa and Neeraj are very serious about their teaching methods and in cultivating top quality tango dancers with their program.
Mission Tango, established in the Spring of this year, is the sister school of The 8th Style School of Tango based in Seattle, Washington.
The 8th School of Tango was founded by Jaimes Friedgen in 2006 and is know for its curriculum-based methods, teaching foundational elements in a progressive manner. Just about everyone I know who has learned from the 8th School of Tango is a good dancer. Actually, not just good, but great.
So who are Christa Rodriguez and Neeraj Korde?
Christa had been working with Jaimes Friedgen for 11 years, starting with apprenticing him in his local classes, and then eventually touring with him internationally. Christa recently decided to move back to the Bay Area, where she is from originally, in order to be closer to her family. When I asked her about teaching tango she said, “Teaching locally is my passion. Starting a dancer with their very first tango steps, and watching them grow into beautiful dancers, for me, there is nothing more rewarding. So of course I wish to continue my passion for teaching tango wherever I go!” Jaimes and Christa still teach gigs together, collaborate of new tango ideas and pedagogy, and both still own and operate The 8th Style School in Seattle.
Neeraj’s love for Tango began in his very first Tango class at the University of Michigan during his very first Tango embrace. After completing his masters in engineering, Neeraj moved to Seattle where he continued his study of Tango with Maestro Jaimes Friedgen, and became one of the lead instructors at The 8th Style School of Tango. Now that he lives in San Francisco, Neeraj spends his days as a software engineer, and in the evenings at the local milongas and practicas, teaching, DJing and of course, dancing. Neeraj’s love for Argentine Tango is fueled by his continued study of the dance, and in sharing his love for Tango with his students.
I was invited to drop in to one of their classes to find out first-hand what Mission Tango was all about. The class I took was Level 103, and was the fifth class in a six week series.
The class began with drills. Lots and lots of drills. First we began with forward ocho drills, stepping on the 1 and the 5 count, and then again, extra slow on the 1. And then it was time for back ochos for another whole song. And yes, I was sweating after all of these drills. I was grumbling, and sweating and my legs felt it the day after, but I don’t regret it one bit. Drills may be hard, but they are a very important to gain strength, find one’s balance, and most importantly, do the step correctly.
After the drills, we were split up as leaders and follower depending on which side of the room we were standing. I just happened to be on the side of the leaders. They demonstrated the pattern to be learned and then said, okay your turn. I immediately freaked out when I realized I had no idea how to lead what they just showed.
This method of teaching and learning strongly relies on students coming to class consistently. If even one class is missed in a series, it’s often hard to keep up. As a drop-in I found the class challenging even though I have been dancing tango for several years. I was very familiar with the topic of the class, molinete to parada, ocho cortada and cruzada, however, I was not prepared to LEAD all of these elements. I’m quite comfortable as a follower but don’t often lead even though I’ve tried to learn at various times. As it turns out, everyone in the Mission Tango program is required to learn how to lead and follow. Perhaps not everyone will dance both roles, but when learning, it is incredible useful in understanding the dance.
So, by the end of the 90 minute class, I was actually quite thrilled to have learned how to lead the patterns, although not perfectly, it was progress. I also realized that dancers of all levels can benefit from this program. No matter how long we have been dancing, we never know it all. Tango, as in life, requires continuous learning.
The dancers I met in the class who had taken the series from the beginning were quite good. So, don’t be like me or a couple of others, and just jump in at a random class. It is highly recommended that one take the classes consecutively as each class builds upon the prior lessons.
Here is your chance to start your Tango regimen:
Tango 101: An introduction to Tango
September 24th – October 15th
Mission Cultural Center For Latino Arts
2868 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Tango 104: Los Ochos Atras
September 26th – October 17th
Alonzo Kings LINES Ballet
26 7th St #5, Studio 6
San Francisco, CA 94103