Interview with tango teachers Tracey & Leo

Photo of Tracey and Leo

Popular teachers Tracey Tyack-King and Leonardo Acosta run a successful tango academy in London, host several regular milongas and a teacher training programme. I caught up with Tracey before she set off to launch new classes and milongas in Dorset.

Tracey, you and Leo are well known for your teaching style and performances. Tell us how it all started, did you both start dancing young?

Yes, very young! I danced ballet from the age of 4 years old and took lessons until I was about 14. After that in my early thirties I took up Ballroom and Latin American dancing which I loved and competed in for about 10 years. I started dancing tango about 16 years ago I think, it’s difficult to remember exactly when because it feels like forever!

Leo has danced tango all his life as he comes from a tango family so he was surrounded by dancers, musicians, singers and theatre. He started tango when he was about 7 or 8 years old with his father in Buenos Aires. As a young man he trained at the Teatro Roma and went on to dance and sing at many shows in Buenos Aires. He also choreographed performances and directed the Alma de Fandango which promoted tango studies at secondary schools. He moved to the UK almost two decades ago, looking for adventure and a new life! He started hosting milongas and had a busy performance schedule. These days his broad experience means he also dances cumbia and rock ‘n’ roll as like most people in Buenos Aires, during any tango dance they usually play alternate rhythms to break up the evening.

Did you both always want to be dancers?

Not at all, as a child Leo wanted to be a priest! I wanted to be an artist, all I was interested in was drawing. I subsequently became a graphic designer and worked professionally for about 20 years before giving up everything to teach tango. The skills still come in handy now though for promotion!

When did your paths cross and you decided to teach and perform together?

Some years ago Leo came to a milonga in Reading that I was co-hosting called Tango Nirvana. I started having lessons with him and he re-trained me in his style. After about two years, we started to work together with classes, workshops and performances and developed our business activities to include tango holidays and more recently teacher training. We have a great connection which is why we are able to do all our performances as improvisations.

Tracey and Leo improvising a vals at La Perla, 30th April 2016:

Tell us about the teacher training programme.

We started this about three years ago and have been running it from October to June at our London Argentine Tango School facility. It’s been extremely successful. Some of the students are now operating their own groups using our methodology. We support them by providing monthly workshops which work very well. Anyone can apply to be part of the course. You don’t need to be a professional dancer – maybe you just want to understand the dance in more depth and don’t want to teach. This year we are starting a new teacher training venue in Dorset which will take place once a month in Bournemouth from October 2016 to June 2017.

Last year you published a book together on your tango method. How did the book come about and what has the response been like from your students?

The book was a realisation of four years of discussion. When we started teaching together, we started to define our teaching methods. It took a long time because you have to analyse and completely understand your body movement before you can define technique. We had to be sure that what we taught worked in every aspect. Eventually we thought it would be a good idea to write all this technique down to help other people as we were aware that people were very confused with lots of contrasting information being taught. We’re not trying to criticise other teachers methods but we wanted to define our own methods. Now whenever people see the London Argentine Tango brand they can be sure that whoever is teaching the class is teaching our methods. The actual writing of the book was the most difficult part as the English language can be very misinterpreted. However, once we decided on the way the book should be written – as an ABC – this made the whole process easier and then we were able to illustrate the key points with diagrams and video. The response from the students was terrific and the first print run sold out very quickly, we even had orders from Australia!

You have a very busy calendar. Where can we find you teaching at the moment?

We are currently teaching in Kingston, Balham, Putney and further afield we have just started weekly classes in Bournemouth.

I was at your Putney milonga, La Perla, on its first night. I loved the floor and there was an excellent mix of dancers in the huge crowd. How is it going now, several months later?

The La Perla milonga at the Dance Lab in Putney is a fantastic ballroom and we are very lucky to have found it available on a Saturday evening. Several months on from its opening it’s attracting even more people and they are always great evenings. We have tried to introduce a little of the Buenos Aires experience at this milonga, so people can book some of the tables in advance which we think is a more civilised way of going out for an evening!

Our other milongas include the weekly el Portenito milonga on Thursdays. It’s in Balham at the Bedford and is one of the longest running milongas in London. We also offer monthly Friday milongas with el Berretin at the Kingston Working Mens Club. The new el Portenito at Ferndown near Bournemouth started last weekend and will also be monthly on a Sunday evening. We also have occasional special events, including a Tango Supper at the Waldorf Hilton in London.

Our milongas are run traditionally with mainly Golden age music but with alternate rhythm breaks. Leo plays in tandas of three which enables people to swap partners more frequently. We have very few rules apart from travel around the floor anti-clockwise and be respectful of other people on the floor.

Tracey and Leo improvising a milonga at the Waldorf Tango Supper, September 2013:

What do you love most about tango?

For me, I love the improvisation. As much as I loved ballroom dancing, I got fed up of learning choreographies and wanted more freedom. Tango is freedom. Leo loves the philosophy of tango, the whole thing – the music, poetry, dance, it’s a way of life. He loves the social dance more than anything.

What is always a challenge?

Performances are always a challenge as they are improvised and they are always dependent on great connection which can be affected by your mood for example. For Leo, it’s a challenge meeting new students and inspiring them to make them love tango as much as he does himself.

You’ve been performing together for a long time. Has anything ever gone wrong?

There was a classic performance where Leo got so carried away, he forgot where he was in the room and I ended up momentarily sitting on one of the audience member’s laps! It was very funny and we managed to carry on despite laughing a lot! The audience thought it was part of the dance I think!

What do you like about the UK tango scene?

Our communities are very friendly and we have developed some wonderful friendships with people which we treasure. Leo says that he likes the attitude of the people that come to learn a dance with an open mind and to try and discover the mystery of the dance. He likes the way that people change and how warm they become when they get to know him.

Do you have any favourite places to dance?

For me, (apart from our own milongas!), Negracha in London. Leo favours Negracha and Salon Canning in Buenos Aires.

Photo of Tracey and Leo at Negracha
Tracey and Leo at Negracha. Photo by Barbara Newman.

You must have had a lot of shoes over the years. What’s become important to you in a tango shoe and what do you tell beginners about getting shoes?

Shoes are very important and can make a big difference – it’s not just a ploy to get people to pay out money! Shoes, especially for the men can make a huge difference, particularly when they first start learning tango. If they come to classes with shoes that have great big thick rubber soles then it is very difficult for them to move and they can get disheartened. A proper dance shoe for the man is more comfortable for the lady too because he can feel the floor more and the lady feels more secure and assured that he’s not going to tread on her.

For followers, I see many ladies wearing inappropriate dance shoes. It’s natural, when you first start tango, you go for the prettiest, most beautiful pair of shoes, but unfortunately these are often very high, with an impossibly narrow heel. Many also give very little support across the front of the foot and you will probably develop pressure points that will lead to foot problems. Tango is a walking dance and contrary to what many teachers teach, the heel is used a lot! If you have a spiky heel, it becomes more difficult to move and to walk. Many women end up dancing the entire evening on the balls of their feet and they wonder why they develop foot problems! My personal experience of wearing a very well known ‘exclusive’ brand, (and I had 11 pairs at one point), nearly crippled me and I had to spend 6 months in trainers to rehabilitate my feet. After that, I reduced the heel height and made sure I used a shoe with good support across the front and not too skinny a heel.

For Leo, the shoes have to have good structure, not too flexible otherwise the pivot becomes difficult. The heel is important too for the man and the shoe heel should cover the whole heel of the foot for stability. Experienced dancers can use higher heels as they know the technique but they are not recommended for beginners.

What’s your favourite thing to do after a long night of dancing?

I watch a movie and have a cup of tea or glass of wine. Simple stretching is also a good idea.

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

No, I’m usually more concerned with getting there on time so I can get ready calmly without any pressure. Leo likes to get an empty mind so he can enjoy the experience. You can’t create a good improvisation with a busy mind.

Finally, let’s play Fantasy Milonga! Choose a venue and invite whomever you like, living or past – dancers, bandleaders, musicians, singers. Whom would you choose and where would it be?

Leo says he lives in the moment so his current favourite venue is La Perla! However, if he could invite anyone then it would be Juan D’Arienzo and his Orchestra. I would have to agree, that would be a fantastic milonga to experience.

Tracey, thank you.

You can find details of Tracey and Leo’s class schedule and milongas at tango-fandango.co.uk including the La Perla Masked Ball on 6th August. Their tango holidays are at tango-fandango.co.uk/holidays and book at tango-fandango.co.uk/tango-book. Find out more about their Teacher Training programme at lat-s.co.uk.

Shoes for beginners and experienced dancers are available for women and men at Amy’s, exclusive UK stockist of Turquoise, Mr Tango Shoes and Very Fine. Amy’s specialises in half sizes, custom orders and made-to-measure.

 

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