(Excerpt from As Men & Women Dance – by Richard Anton Diaz)
In 1974, I completed my college education and soon thereafter returned back home to live with mom and dad. One day while browsing the help wanted ads looking for a job, a very beautiful ballerina was featured in a full-page ad announcing a performance she would be giving at a dance studio. Still without a job and with little else to do, what better way to spend a day than to watch a beautiful woman dance. So I went. She was as beautiful as her picture but even more so when she danced! Somewhat infatuated, I lingered at the studio afterwards and signed up for her adult ballet classes. After each ballet class the dance floor would clear and transform into a ballroom dance studio with teachers teaching students waltzes, foxtrots, and cha chas. As I watched in fascination the manager of the studio approached me and asked what I thought of the dancing classes going on. I had always noticed his ad in the help wanted section looking for teachers and I responded back on how it must be difficult to find people who teach ballroom dancing. I told him that I had only ever experienced ballroom dancing during a gym class in my early teens in junior high school and that the classes were more about manners and social etiquette. He then went on to say that he actually trains applicants to teach and asked me if I would be interested? I remember thinking, is he really serious about offering me a job dancing and teaching and getting paid for it? I had no idea, that such a thing existed. Nor did I know that after accepting his offer that I would become a professional Ballroom and Latin Dance competitor for the next 20 years.
Advancing forward 10 years later, I married my then dance partner, Bonnie and together we went on to twice represent the United States at World Competitions, became undefeated champions in Latin International Style Basics figures, won a world title in Mambo in Switzerland, and traveled the world performing as one of the principle dancers of the American Ballroom Theater. (below: Bonnie and I are on the far right)
Dancing as a professional competitor and performer was a glamorous as well as surreal way of experiencing life. It was filled with beautiful people, wonderful travels, and in so many ways, a life totally removed from the real world. However I soon realized I was now dancing in a field of many well-trained dancers who like, Bonnie, my then wife and dance partner, had years of training that began in her early childhood. Here I was a grown adult, starting from scratch.
I soon realized that I could not dance at the level of the amazing champions I was competing against. I concluded that dancers like Bonnie and dancers of her caliber must have had previous lifetimes as a dancer and that this was my very first life as a dancer. I vowed that if and when I come back in another life, I would definitely come back for my second life as a dancer. I resigned myself to at least becoming a good teacher by learning and acquiring a sound foundation of how a dancer uses their body to create art in movement. I was confident that I could be a good teacher than I could a great dancer. Despite my percieved handicaps, Bonnie and I were able to reach a high level of proficiency enough to represent United States at world championship competitions and even win a world title in Mambo.
When Bonnie and I retired 20 years later Bonnie went on to perform on Broadway as the principal dancer in Grand Hotel. I, on the other hand, became very attracted to the Traditional Chinese Healing Arts where I learned and began to teach Tai Chi and Qigong, before advancing into to the more esoteric Taoist practices created by celibate monks of inner alchemy and sexual energy cultivation. I studied under Master Mantak Chia and became certified in the Universal Tao System. But that is for another chapter.
In 1985, Bonnie and I were still actively competing when we attended the debut of Tango Argentino on Broadway in New York City. I was mesmerized that average looking people, many over 50, and with non-typical dance bodies, danced with an artistry and technicality that was just as high, if not higher than, the very top level Ballroom and Latin dance champions. I was so inspired by these Tango dancers that I promised myself that after retiring I would learn the Argentine Tango. I wanted continue dancing into my old age and look as good as these “average-looking people” who could brilliantly transformed themselves into magnificent dancers. What I did not expect when I made that promise is that I would still be competing in Ballroom and Latin dance competitions.
A student, I had been teaching for the past 30 years, a current professor at Yale, urged me to continue to teach her and continue to take her into dance competitions. She had always had a childhood desire to be a dancer and was determined to fulfill that dream. Our mutual destiny’s to continue to compete together as a Pro/Am couple were a perfect match! We actually hold the distinction, of being the oldest Professional/Amateur couple on the competition dance floor today.
A great invaluable resource that came out of that decision was the encouragement, coaching, and training, I began to receive and continue to receive from my former wife and dance partner, Bonnie. You can learn more about her and even see both her stage dancing as well as our partnership dancing back in the days of competing professionally at her website at www.Ballroomology.com. The decision to continue to compete, now in my senior years, has been of the best decision I have ever made. It has become my fountain of youth! But when I am not dancing for competitions, I am pursuing my new passion in dance, with the Argentine Tango. It has not been an easy road.
Despite all my training as a Ballroom and Latin dancer, learning to dance Tango, reveals all the missing knowledge never fully comprehended in my former professional days of competing. But it is also not surprising that many of my fellow colleagues in the ballroom world have expressed to me the same humbling experience when learning to dance Tango. The unique style and technique of the Argentine Tango differs dramatically from the Ballroom and Latin competition dancing, but the fundamentals of Posture, weight change from foot to foot, and partnering through the dance hold or Embrace, are very much the same. It is no wonder that the Argentine Tango has become the world-wide dance phenomena that it is today!
I created this writing as a chapter to my future book of Memoirs and also to share my insights along the way as I learn to capture the inner “game” of Tango. Tango is the perfect synthesis of ballroom dance, which travel counter-clockwise around the room, and Latin dance, which are danced rhythmically in one area of the floor. But unlike the Ballroom and Latin dances, where the dance figures adhere to an unchanging recurring rhythmic pattern, Tango is danced to a variety of rhythmic and melodic patterns that demand a far more sophisticated level of awareness and improvisation to music that could be likened to the way a Jazz musician performs. But these complex aspects of dance movement and music unique to Tango, when learned and mastered, release an even greater experience – one that provides one of our most basic human needs – Intimacy.