TEACHING THE TANGO
Building a community – Part One
By Petra Gimbad
This is an interview with Marguerite Brodie, who is a tango instructor and the founder of the Kuala Lumpur Tango Festival.
(Full disclosure: the writer studied tango with Marguerite in 2016 and 2017)
How did you start teaching tango?
M: I blundered into teaching. I had learnt the tango through a gift from my daughter, while I was visiting the US. Then I returned to Malaysia, and there was no one to dance with.
I wanted so much to dance, I wanted a group of people to dance with. Rather than losing the little that I knew I decided that I would share my knowledge with a group so that we could dance together.
You have to be passionate enough about tango to teach.
What motivates you to teach?
M: Teaching gives me a great deal of pleasure. Each time I teach, I learn. Each time I dance, I am so happy.
What, in your opinion, makes a good tango teacher?
M: To me, the instructors who are desirable are simply put, good people: honest, straightforward, who care about students, who pay full attention to students during workshops and who never think that their word is God’s truth.
Do you feel frustration in class as a teacher?
M: Everyone makes their own choices. You have to let students find out things for themselves.
It keeps me going when students or even when participants of workshops I have organised in the past (for other instructors) come up to me to say, “tango has done something for me”.
Recently, one of my students who is an emergency room doctor expressed what tango means to her. I am so proud of her and think she is doing such a fantastic job – where else can you get a doctor like that in the ER? And isn’t it wonderful if tango has done something for her?
These responses make teaching and creating opportunities for visiting instructors to teach worthwhile. That tango has done something for others is payment enough.
From what I understand, it is frustrating for more experienced dancers to dance with beginners at milongas. How do you feel about this as a teacher and the ‘founder’ of the Malaysian tango scene?
M: That beginners are not worth your while? No, for me, it is never a pain and always a pleasure. It is extremely satisfying for me to give pleasure to someone else who is still learning.
I think that it is all about attitude. In every tanda you give your best and put your heart into the dance. You can learn with every tanda. When you dance a good tanda – even with a beginner – you have made a difference. You can spend that time improving your axis, balance and sensitivity.
Everyone wants to dance with the best dancers but everyone was a beginner once. You dance for the other person. It is just 10 minutes of your life.
We have a few tango instructors in Kuala Lumpur, and some of them were former students of yours. What do you think of the challenges that they face teaching tango today?
M: As I stated earlier, when I started teaching this was because I wanted to dance and there was nobody dancing the tango. Even though instructors are no longer starting from ground zero, I still feel that there are challenges ahead for them.
In Kuala Lumpur tango instructors teach part-time and this is reflected in the way tango is danced here – where it is social rather than competitive. Of course, there is good and bad in this.
Teachers will continue dealing with the challenge of growing a community.
Where are you at the moment, in terms of teaching?
M: As a teacher and at this point in my life I am more focused on teaching the basics and enjoying this process – the basics meaning the walk and connection. This is important because you might learn steps to look good, but does it feel good for your partner?
You also need to prepare your students for the unexpected at milongas.
All teachers have the responsibility of sustaining and growing a community. We need to support each other as much as possible, and provide unselfish constructive support for each other.
In doing so, we have what I think is tango: which is the result of people coming together to share mutual passion.