Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Twenty tango lessons: Part 20: The greatest job in the world

DJing is just one unexpected bonus part of my work.
Here is the last instalment in my series on 20 lessons I have learned in 20 years of tango.

Lesson No. 20. I have the best job I could have.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an actress, a dancer and a writer. The path of my life has by no means been a straight one, and what I thought those things would mean was quite different from what it turned out to be, but almost half a century later I realize that the job I have now means I get to be all those things and more.

Through my tango school I wear the hats of dance teacher, studio owner, milonga organizer, performer, show producer, DJ and, of course, blogger. All this means I work pretty hard most of the time, but since I love what I do, a lot of the time it doesn't actually feel that much like work.

As I mentioned in a recent post, the tango business is not always easy. But I count myself lucky to do what I do, because my days are filled with:

Dancing. As I said, I always wanted to be a dancer. I took my first ballet class at 4 years old, and while I gave up the ballerina dream and eventually ballet altogether in my teenage years, I have not stopped dancing since. The fact I get to dance every day keeps me happy and healthy, body and soul.

Teaching. I grew up with an intense fear of public speaking and in my youth I never, ever imagined I would become a teacher. I began teaching through my previous career in journalism. I was the main newsroom trainer on new technologies at the newspaper I worked at and for years I taught a university course on newspaper design. This was all terrifying to me at first, but I grew to love teaching – and people kept telling me I was good at it. Teaching is both challenging and rewarding and I can truly say I am passionate about it. Once I started teaching tango, well, I really knew I was onto something.

Connecting with people. Beyond the dance itself, this is what tango is all about. I love people, all kinds of people, and tango is full of human connections that are varied, often intense, fascinating and satisfying.

Building a community. My partner and I didn't necessarily plan this one when we were launching our little tango school, but we realized pretty early on that we were not just teaching people to dance, we were building a community and therefore facilitating the creation of all kinds of relationships. I love seeing friendships and partnerships forming around me and – partly – thanks to me.

Throwing parties. Through my teens and 20s I loved to throw parties. It was pretty straightforward to me: provide a table full of food, lots of loud dance music and invite everyone I could think of. I loved planning the food, preparing the music and building the guest list. So I guess it makes perfect sense that I enjoy hosting and DJing milongas every weekend.

Performing and producing shows. Had I started tango and plunged into it full time at a younger age, I would probably have done more of this. Despite my shyness I do love to perform, and the experience of producing shows with all the creativity and backstage excitement involved is absolutely exhilarating.

DJing. This is another unexpected bonus of my job. From mix tapes to CDs to iTunes playlists, I have always loved to put music together, whether it was to work out to, to play in the car or – especially – to get people dancing at a party. Now I find myself spending hours researching tango music – classic or alternative – and building tandas.

Working for myself. Again, not always easy, but so satisfying. It would be hard for me to go back to working for someone else at this point. It's not that I like being the boss so much – I don't think I'm very boss-like at all – but I sure like being the boss of me.

Working on myself. I have always been active. Tango helps keep me fit and mobile, and keeps me aware of my posture and the effect everything I do has on my partners. But it takes more than tango to keep in shape – for dance and for life. Besides my lifetime of dancing I have run regularly for 25 years. (I keep trying to give it up because combined with all the tango it's too hard on my battered feet. But it's hard to give it up; I just don't feel the same when I'm not getting that intense cardio!) Meanwhile, one of the most life-changing by-products of my tango career has been the discovery of yoga. I took it up a few years ago to try to increase my flexibility, and I quickly gained not just flexibility, but improved strength and balance as well as a whole new understanding of posture, alignment and my own body and self. I have since delved ever deeper into yoga, exploring the aspects that go beyond the physical poses and, earlier this year, obtaining my teaching certification.

Blogging. As I said, I always wanted to be a writer. English was my best and favourite subject through high school, and my post-secondary studies were all related to languages and literature. I studied translation for a while and worked as a copy editor for several years. In that time I did some writing, but nothing regular. Three years ago I realized that with all my observations about tango and all the analytical thinking I did about it, I should probably start writing some of it down. So I took the plunge and wrote my first blog post, and now I actually have a following! This blog forces me to write regularly, and people read my stuff. Cool!

So, being a small business owner is not always easy. And the tango business, because it is so close to my heart, can be tough emotionally as well as financially. But the rewards of doing what I love make up for the fact I work long, late hours and don't make much money.

When I was contemplating leaving my career to start a tango school, my mother and my financial advisor told me not to do it. I had young children, benefits, a pension plan and debt, and opening a small dance school as I was pushing 40 was not a sensible choice. So I did it. The tears I had shed and the aching, empty pit in my stomach I felt once I had decided not to go for what was probably my last opportunity to follow my lifelong dreams could not be ignored. I had the full support of my partner and a year's worth of money to make a go of it, so we held hands and we jumped, taking our young family with us.

In just a couple of months, our tango school will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Difficult and demanding though it has been at times, I have never regretted the plunge I took a decade ago, but I know with absolute certainty that had I not taken it I would be regretting it every day.

And when I am compiling tandas for an upcoming milonga, laughing with students as I help them  execute a difficult move or mingling with dancers at a milonga I am hosting I still can't get over how lucky I am to do what I do.

The lesson I leave you with is this: If you have a passion, follow it. And don't let fear hold you back.

Previously: Lesson No. 19. Tango is a voyage of self-discovery.

Read the series from the beginning.

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