2007, August 21

It’s a common game in a community with many teachers, to try and guess, seeing someone dancing, who his instructor is.

In my case the guesses are always wrong. Sure I took classes with all the big names but only one guy was really influential and he wasn’t a big name at all, not even an A.T teacher. A mere social ballroom teacher, and it’s during my years with him that I built my style.

The lead. Not just doing my half of the dance. Always wait to be sure that the woman is on the right track for her next step before stepping myself. “I’ll never pretend I can dance”, he liked to say, “but I guarantee you that I can lead”.

The appearance, good look, hair, attire. Pffft, couldn’t care less. He wasn’t interested in elegance or having your foot here and not there, unless it was detrimental to the lead/follow process. He taught social ballroom, not comp or show.

The long steps I like to take. It all comes from the Viennese Waltz. But natural long steps, not exaggerated. He liked to caricature the ballroom competitors, he would cruise the room in only three giant steps, making faces. “In competition, this is called a smile!” he joked.

Versatility. According my mood to the music. He taught us that. Rumba is sexy, cha-cha is fun, fox-trot is… well to his great despair we did not like fox-trot too much.

Generous. He gave me a pair of his dance shoes when he saw I had none. Well I’ve never been that generous but more than once I attended newborn, predictably empty milongas to support somehow the hosts.

Navigation. In ballroom it’s easier as everybody moves the same way. On the other side the general movement is much faster and when a collision does happen it’s at high speed. Plus, his classes were well attended and leaders had to grow a third eye to avoid collisions.

Efficiency. I still remember my first group class with him, paso-doble and cha-cha. Couldn’t get anything, wasn’t a born dancer at all, two left feet and a blank brain. A couple of years later in another studio the pupils would think I was the new teacher. Obviously, judging from my current (and low-level) skills in the milongas, none of the big A.T names was even half as efficient.

After switching to A.T I saw him less and less frequently, the last time was after my first trip to Bs-As. But I was still on his e-mail list, and every year in August when receiving his flyers I would consider going back to social ballroom. Alas I guess I won’t. Included in the envelope with the last-week flyer was a little piece of paper with just a few words, signed by his assistants.

“Jean-Jacques is gone, very far and high, with his dance shoes. He asked us to continue his task here below. The classes will be taught by…”

When someone dies he still lives in the memories, when a teacher dies he still lives in the dance of his pupils.


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