Interview Transcription - Conrad Sernia (2019)
David: So welcome. Thanks for your time today, Conrad. I’d like to start with how you first come to dance tango.
Conrad: Okay. ‘97 I was doing lots of salsa and Latin dancing. And as a background, I was a musician when I was young and I used to play lots of types of music, tango, at least on my mind I wanted to sort of branch out away from that. So I just made sure to my salsa teacher whether we could learn some tango. No one was there in Brisbane. Then she got hold of some videos and this is early ‘98 and that’s how it started.
David: So what kind of music were you playing?
Conrad: When I was young, well you know, this was back in the 60s and 70s. In weddings you do play a sort of ballroom, people do tango, cha-cha, waltzes and sort of social dances. Not folk dance. Because I got an Italian background so weddings used to do European style.
David: What instrument do you play?
Conrad: I play the clarinet and saxophone.
David: Good, do you still play?
Conrad: No. I used to play in the orchestra as well so I was quite skilled with the clarinet but surprisingly, I am actually very introverted. The idea of taking and perform on the local streets, it was my first time here, I think I like a peaceful lifestyle. I didn’t like the nights and the weekends and Christmas. At the age of 24, 25, I gave up. Big change. I became a scientist instead which suited my introvert personality.
David: So you’re playing tango back in those days?
Conrad: Yep, 60s and 70s.
David: So were you dancing in that stage as well or any salsa?
Conrad: No. There’s just the typical teenager groups and rock and roll Beatles, that sort of stuff. I wasn’t interested in dancing as a form of expression. I think I was just too busily studying working when I was a gradate in the university.
David: How again did you start, with the salsa you started it first?
Conrad: It was ‘97 when I really started and became serious about this form of expression that combines my musicality and made me more sociable which is important to me because I was getting to, I was approaching my 50s so I just felt I need to socialize a bit more.
David: So you started dancing salsa in ‘97, how long did you first start tango?
Conrad: A year. It was in February 1998 that I started learning tango from videos.
David: And is it predominantly tango you dance now?
Conrad: Yes. I do still dance Latin but only for fun and that’s it. Because once I started, tango take over both my musical interests it provided the physical stimulation that I need as well. It’s always about music and what is it about tango music that I find interesting. You know, as a musician, I just found that tango got this, it captures your emotions very quickly but emotions are always ambivalent you know there’s always a bit of sadness in tango, in this way there’s always a bit of joy in tango. Tango is not purely sad or happy and the music itself is very interesting, the compositional structure, it’s very interesting. So that was the first one that I wanted to dance, it was the music that captured that.
David: So how would you describe the way you dance or how does that music impact the way you express yourself?
Conrad: Absolutely yes, that’s a good question. Because I do respond basically to the music. I don’t think of my body first, then I dance, I don’t do that. I spend always spend outside the first few bars just withdrawing and allowing the music to enter my brain, my feelings, and then let go. So music to me is what is really the overwhelming reason why I dance tango and music actually dictates what my body does, basically I immerse myself in the music and I find that totally captivating.
David: Very good. So how important is tango to you?
Conrad: It has now become my soulful, musical and I’d say physical expression as well emotional because the unique thing about tango is a communication that you have to have with another human being. It’s only the thing that I know of those associations that should be total agreement with another human being, you have to be very, very close physically. You have to engage yourself, you want to allow the other person into your own space. And for me, the communication aspect, an emotional communication becomes extremely this become like an addiction because because if you don’t dance tango for a while, I sort of feel that music is missing. But the emotional peace that I feel, grounds me and it sort of focuses me into a part of human nature which is optimistic, you can forget everything. And not that I have terrible thoughts, it becomes a world of reflection and cooperation and goodness. You know it’s a good thing to do. And negative thoughts and energies and attitudes just dissipate. There’s no room for negative attitudes if you really dance tango because if you immerse yourself in the music and then you allow another person to communicate, there’s no room for anything else.
David: Beautiful thing.
Conrad: Yes, absolutely.
David: Do you remember what it was like the first time dancing tango?
Conrad: Yes. It was all physical because it’s like 10 pairs like it’s a cross between gymnastics and chess because gymnastics where you have to allow the body to learn patterns the body must think to move the path you’re walking on. But even walking it actually becomes unnatural and tango takes it into a still, into a more simple natural form. But apart from that then your body and your muscle have to learn particular patterns just like gymnastics. But it’s like chess because where each body movement also dictates movement which can be used in conjunction with another move that you’re planning or by itself, you can move a pawn, or you can have that here, moves like that. But each physical movement in tango is like chess that’s why when I dance, I can improvise because I don’t learn sequences, but each body movement once I’m gonna reach the gymnastic side really merge particular basic moves. Then I’d use that collection and interaction to give me a unique dance every time I dance.
David: So you mentioned music dictates how you dance and you can adlib or create as you need. How do you describe the style with which you dance?
Conrad: Oh, style, well, it’s very fluid. To go back to what was like when I first had to go to 2 or 3 years of doing, going to gymnastic so that, the physical moves are very, very fluid. I think that’s a journey that everything a dancer that I know has to take, we have to become a refined gymnast before we can start to improvise really. So that we find according to your capacity. But I started I spent the first 3 years doing every possible new culture, everything I could imagine. I’m sure I told you many parts. And then I go back but the music then when you have a repertoire, physical abilities or physical moves, then the music and the connection takes form. I think that’s the journey that every tango dancer whether they realize in hindsight that you can see that. Now, how do I dance now? Fluid is the best way I can put it. I am not tied to any particular style of tango in terms of impress, impress is really forward and it change the pattern that I dance with. It changes with the music that I dance to. And it changes within one song. So I can go from some types of musical side have to be understood in historical context because they were designed, the music was designed for a particular form of dance. So once I sort of mind over these possibilities, make very fast, then I decide what sort of style but fluid is baseline and certainly always creative. That’s the first thing in my mind. So the style is secondary to the creativity. And it’s more creative with a particular type of music to dance, close embrace, and to dance very close, do very small, very delicate steps, always well-defined. That’s something, my dance is well-defined and the timing has to be perfect. It’s no point to being physically able to dance tango if you can’t absolutely know the timing. It’s the gauge in modern dancing in the conventional way but if you gonna be creative, you need to get inside the music and follow the timing. Because timing in tango is elastic and that’s what makes it different from other dances. Timing is everything to be able get your body to be spot on time with the music, with the elasticity of the music and once you then extend of shorten the time, to create your own dance in style, physical style is secondary to that. And this entails so far that when you’re dancing as a beginner, your style and the physical part is very restricted but you know the creativity doesn’t have to be stifled. And what you do then, as a beginner is to give them an opportunity, a feel of what it’s like to lose yourself in tango by just taking them to the next step, doesn’t matter how much of a beginner they are that they have not yet experienced and makes them, oh, that’s what tango is. It’s a feeling, it’s not what my comrade and I are doing, this is what tango. So to answer your question, it’s very fluid because I concentrate on the base of what’s inside me. But having said that, physically you have to know your stuff. I’m not saying that I know a lot of tango, just the physicality of it, I got my movements, my body shape. But I’ve explored and has to do, I’ve explored the physical side so it’s always fresh. It’s the other thing that’s important in creating a tango dance. When I was dancing, just simply I’ve been dancing five years ago I would bet that it would be totally different to the way I dance now.
David: To take yourself back to say ‘98, ‘99, what advice would you give yourself then from your concept?
Conrad: Something which was impossible to get yourself a really good at least one teacher not necessarily one, but get yourself a really good teacher. Listen to just as much tango music as possible. And then look at the great of tango to get what tango, the essence of tango. Know the great tango dancer Naveira Gustavo and Arce, they’re just great tango teacher for me. It’s just fabulous. Anyone studying now, I’d say, get yourself at least one good teacher, doesn’t matter what style. Listen to as much tango music and and look at the greats of tango not because you want to dance like them but to learn what could tango feel and looks like on the dance floor. They had been I mentioned, they got all the elements, that perfect timing. No one else will ever get to dance on time but themselves. They’re the most creative dancers and their partners, I can’t leave out their partners because the partners do change. But they’re always very, very high standard with their dance partners. That’s all I would say.
David: So all the teachers that you have, who have been in contact with personally or by video, who has been the biggest influence on you?
Conrad: Teacher for one, actually I know this year I learned from videos which were made by Zotto, Osvaldo Zotto and his partner. His state now is brilliant, he’s actually taught me elegance and timing wonderfully that tango has to have fluidity gives rise to elegance and vice versa. You have to be elegant, you have to be suave and to be smooth. So it was my initial, Zotto, Osvaldo Zotto. But then it was Naveira because Naveira revolutionized tango in a way which is accessible to non-Argentinians. That was actually Naveira who was reinventing tango you know, which was authentic, which was accessible to Americans and to Europeans. And then later on, he teach in a convention, there was a very young man who was there with Naveira. It was exceptional from the very start and let’s say now, if I want to say, and there’s Sebastian Arce as well, but that can be later about teacher and Arce. If you wanted to see contemporary masters, I look at one of those, there are lots of others of course. In terms of those who were pivotal to the history of Argentinian tango as progression from Zotto, Naveira and others to the more modern contemporary. I look at those pedigree, that’s what influences me and even now, I just go to a teacher and I just get mesmerized. A teacher is the best one to look at someone who plays with timing. Now the stretch of time, the teacher matched that slowly timed down, doesn’t matter what the orchestra is doing, as a dancer you can create your own. Does not physically that, but you can, either timing is not linear in tango, so even when you step, you can start step fast and you slow down or vice versa. So there’s lot of things that you don’t get from class, you just get from experience. So teacher is the one, then he puts his foot there and slow down because as much as you like he puts his foot down besides it on time and it’s perfect. So that’s my thoughts.
David: Is that the means with which you continue to improve now by watching videos of people dancing?
Conrad: Absolutely and the other thing is now I keep in mind some slowing down, things have become a lot more, still the simplicity, tango is simplicity now. I work on a little thing like, how to just to stretch my leg left or right and I work on that for 6 months, nothing but that and no one notices. So I work on very simple things and my posture, going both right and left. And I work on to take on one idea and work on at least 6 months and stay for a year or introduce maybe 3 new things for me. They have to be versatile because if you dance tango like I do, I have chest pain. You need things that are adaptable to anything you wanna do. So the simple things, never a sequence, I never learn a sequence in my age. I break the sequence down and then I use the elements of the sequence whatever suits me. And the music tells you, provided that your body is trained, your muscle brain memory has been trained to execute that particularly. And there’s the other thing I’m saying the art of gymnastics, in tango, you learn a little bit because your brain thinks fast because you can execute like a scale if you’re not thinking in terms of sequence, but in terms of what it is then you can execute that so fast in your brain, that you can use it creatively and it gives power in the music without actually thinking, it’s just happens. You match things very, very rapidly. So for those who want to dance in a creative way to do movements, do simple body movements and then to forget that they learned in class, now the brain will do that for you. If you can walk correctly, if you can do a spin, if you can do whatever moves, you just think of the idea and the body does that. It’s a matter of having combinations and limitations of the same move you can do. And the brain moves that and you can put it together in a creative way.
David: You used to teach tango, for how long, and why did you stop?
Conrad: No. Don’t get me wrong. I taught tango only because my partner, she was very keen to introduce tango to a lady and reach around Montreal and the Central coast. So for said five years, we taught tango. I enjoyed it that you know I’m a university lecturer didn’t want to teach. But I did enjoy because I approached it from the I’m a dancer and I’m not a teacher and I still do that. I was saying you teach them enough. And also, I have never been paid for anything so whatever money I got for that did not go to me. And in that way I maintained the right attitude of tango for me. But I didn’t want to be a teacher. So it’s different from other people that got different perspective so I love it and I love the communication, I love the people felt comfortable with my teaching because you have to execute the move and I could see straight away that things would happen. So we did that for five years, enjoyed greatly and to the point of any and myself that community is so very vibrant now. And those dancers in those classes are still dancing now like 15, almost 15 years ago so that’s a trivia. Yes, to answer your question, I don’t see myself as a teacher, I’m a dancer and someone was to show that something of joy as a dancer and that’s it. You know, to me, tango is a personal creative thing and it’s a way of serving back to the community. But it’s not a way of me, teaching is not, it’s something else that I do. Another world that I lecture and I teach, in tango, I express myself, I innovate and I communicate.
David: Speaking of achievement, you know at the university you’ve been teaching a couple of times now, how does that affect your tango or does it not?
Conrad: I mean being a research scientist gives you a very analytical approach but at the same time you’ve got to exercise perspective so being in the university gives me the disciple to organize to communicate really well to relate to the audience. You know it’s a single person on the whole dance floor, and you know I DJ as well so that’s the way of me communicating to the audience. And the way the university trained is real, give me, it’s always difficult from that angle. And being a scientist can be a balance between to be analytical and to be expressive and creative. So it’s been just both a marriage of left and right brain as they say. And also, tango balanced my heart from the purely, I mean scientist very, very creative but it’s very solitary. And tango is very solitary but at the same time, it’s paradoxically you’re dancing for the whole community but it’s very solitary because you’re not dancing for yourself. In the end you aren’t dancing for yourself, you can’t dance better than yourself, at least as a leader can’t. And there’s the other paradoxical thing about tango, you can’t learn to dance as good as you are as a leader. As a follower, I think you can dance better because that’s a tradeoff, that’s the equality and aspect in tango, you know you’re responsible to me but you give up the chance to explain something you never experienced before because you will dance what you know. So you are limited by itself. Whereas a follower, if the way they tradeoff you know why, the initiative they start in doing that, in doing so they can spring something which they never thought was possible with the right creative mind. It’s a whole new area of discussion. But certainly to me, that’s an area that I’m very, very conscious of you know it’s mutual sign, selection and can be the intellectual side that tango has given me. And the intellectual and analytical side and tango’s sort of balanced my life emotionally.
David: What has given you the biggest buzz in tango so far?
Conrad: So far, I don’t know but me personally there’s two ways to answer the question. Dancing, when I only danced with myself, dancing with my extraordinary talented international teachers and experiencing the enormous generosity and simplicity of these people that has sort of allowed me to free myself, you know absolute, yet very conscious. You’re never quite afraid because you’re conscious of your partner. And often I feel, not because I’m a great dancer but because often with different stages I feel strange well because that’s for me at least, I began to dance with following this influence to international teachers and exploring talented in every way. And you dance with and you realize that you can be free to do whatever you do than with you but at the same time it’s so simple. There’s nothing complicated dancing there in the safe space, physical, emotional, musically and to me as a person that’s best, that’s the biggest joy. The other biggest joy, another experience for me is to be able to give to the community through festivals or through organizing events to give experience which is beyond their imagination. But they doubt, they’re like a joke, they doubt, I do doubt myself. But I know I can push the boundaries because I want them to experience to be inspired by something that even they, what I don’t think that but imagined that it could be such, would affect them so much. And to be able to show them, communicate not show them, but communicate with them a little bit of what I see about tango about it being used as inspiration to your life. So that’s the two levels, personally when we’re dancing with someone, we are totally free and that’s personally. And secondly, the biggest joy for me to break my own expectations and give something to the community. Something which is not only, you know, is good to watch, everything runs smoothly but is inspiring. It is just a sort of they just, it’s just an awesome feeling that they have when they see these people the way these teachers or whatever performers, the way what they can achieve through tango.
David: You often DJ? What enjoyment do you gain from being a DJ?
Conrad: Yes, sharing my joy. It’s all about joy when I DJ. If my milonga is really ever not from my joy, then I think I’d give up and that’s what people feedback. That’s why they come to my milonga, my milonga is always joyful, so joy but how do I do that is simply by communicating with the audience. I always say DJing as once you, it’s like dance you know what you know your moves, once you know the technicalities that’s the beginning exactly. So you’ve got to know your music then what I do is I want to give audience particular experience that day which I have in my mind, could be the weather, could be what I feel and then I start the milonga and create the experience could be, I wanted to be slightly more slow tempo, slightly more reflective music. But never to a point when they feel comfortable. That’s why I always make the dances to feel a little bit challenging. They are technically involved with the music that they are dancing. It must not be so easy that it becomes a routine to them. In that case, that’s not the way I DJ. So that’s joy and to create an experience for that milonga which is different from the experience of the previous milonga and the next experience of the next milonga. And that is the risk that a DJ takes. I wanna create a feeling, I wanna create an experience. And you can only do that on the spot by taking risks. So I download the playlist, I have ten dance and I put dance together according to the audience and the dance they’ll be responding to. Who’s there, what level, you know, the level of tango, the time of day or night. And the end of the milonga tells me if it had been successful. If everyone is on the dance floor and they don’t wanna go, then it’s been a great milonga. That’s really what I’m trying to do. Milonga DJing to me is like an organized system, it’s giving back to the community what they give to me. I got to give them back, they gave me a lot. If I can give back a fraction then by DJing and experience sharing my joy and through festivals by sharing my vision then to me, that’s what I do.
David: Very good. If you stop dancing tango right now, what would you do instead?
Conrad: My God, it’s a difficult question. What would I do? I have no plan to substitute tango with anything. What would I do? I’ll have to shift to some other creative enterprise. Whether it will be back to music, whether it would be some other creative process but I have to be creative. Certainly more scientific studies but it’s limited what I can do there because I’m tired. But it would be creative enterprises. It would be art but I think it would be back to music. And something which could be interactive with the audience. So I’ll probably stay to be an organizer of some sort whether it’s dance or not but it’ll definitely be creative. But I’ve given it no thought because in fact, tango is fresh to me. You know it’s fresh to me now as it was in 1998. That always surprise me and I get up and DJ, will get up and dance. And it just feels fresh and it feels like I’ve been there before. I didn’t know why it is.
David: The dance has always evolved and you evolved with it. It always change.
Conrad: Yes, it’s important to, there is life to tango, to say that tango is microcosm of life, perhaps a mature one but if the matter stay open a little time, little tango dance is great. And every time I get up on the dance floor, every day is a new experience. I never got bored of the dance, it doesn’t seem to happen. Maybe it’s like the wisdom of life, you got to be totally open to new experiences and never be smug about this situation because lots of people are better dancer than you. Never compare yourself and take the openness. And looking at other people and see how beautifully they dance just all the things that bring joy to you. And I think all that together makes me, as you say, I basically like, changing over time. You keep it fresh.
David: Is there anything to dislike?
Conrad: Dislike. Maybe, something that I dislike, oh, not about the dance itself. It’s about the culture that goes around the dance. Not about the dance, you know it’s right, it’s a very good question, you know. Thinking about tango, people tend to confuse what they feel about tango dancers, with what tango is, you know. When you dance with one to one with another human being, that is like a sacred space and I don’t have any criticism of that provided the other person doesn’t carry the resentments or attitudes that they have in their life to the dancefloor because that really cuts you because it’s something, you feel it. So if someone’s got a bad attitude, sort of some resentment, some resistance, you notice, and you can’t dance tango, still dance, but it’s not tango. So when you look at that side on one-to-one basis I have no complaints about tango. It’s got the right balance of closeness, communication. It’s close but you still maintain your personal space, doesn’t matter how close you are, you are still two individuals. You choose to cooperate so I love that. Now, something I don’t like about tango then it goes to our side, the way you interact, the attitude. The way they turn to overlay social and political interpretations of tango and what you do in tango. For even as simple as asking each other to dance there’s a political and social overlay which can be unfortunate. On the dance floor, there’s a certain gain, it comes through different personalities. That is where if anything, it doesn’t even have to happen but where things were involved, it could be better but tango itself in the one-to-one basis is really unique. I mean I don’t know any other dance form like that. So the answer is no, I think tango is good quite right. Well, the music always as it is evolving the way it allows that perfect expression between the two individuals whether it’s man and woman, man and man, what matters is a follower and a leader. Whether the music always allows that, I’m not too sure, another long debate whether at what level, at what stage in the evolution of tango music and the dance were the closest in terms of having the same vision, the same allowing the biggest, the largest expression, personal expression through the dance. Was it the old tango or the golden age. To my mind, it’s very likely, Pugliese later on. Now, as the music evolves, to answer your question, research is that perfection of communication between the follower and the leader, is that’s possible? I mean, I’m not sure. All I know is like a lot about you don’t know whether to get artists any good if you’re honest with yourself unless it stood the test of time. And even though some music doesn’t, you know, we’re talking about not the traditional golden age but as it has evolved later on. You might think it doesn’t go around personal expression within the partners in tango. Surprisingly, I think it does but I just don’t know which form is going to have.
David: Do you think that might depend upon people dancing that are dancing as to how it has influenced them? How to interpret that?
Conrad: I think it’s absolute but I think it’s true. I mean the way the dancers are culturally, emotionally and musically is going to determine how they dance to a particular music so someone who’s culturally and you know emotionally does not relate to golden age, to the early d’Arienzo is conflicted to the dance because you can’t emotionally respond to it. And someone who hasn’t kept in mind getting back to whatever keeps it fresh, ever kept in mind open to possibilities that there are musical expressions that are not, don’t appear on the surface to be rooted in tradition, thus they suffer as well. Because emotionally and musically, they can’t respond, they don’t allow themselves, I should say that they don’t allow themselves. Then on top of that is a culture like there is no doubt that our culture, we’ve got lots of problems with person’s status, and there’s a political overturn about achievement and misunderstandings about tango that just ruins the whole person’s experience. But unless you want to you know, you can discuss things about this it’s part of evolution of any artistic form. And all I can say is time would sort it out. What sort of tango at the tango community will evolve. It’s gonna fall differently you know in Munich or Berlin, whether it’s Sydney, Melbourne but over time because these overlays of cultural sensitivities are going to infiltrate the tango as an art form and become recognizable. At the moment of strategy and homogenous but there are these currents as you now can cause heated arguments. So I’m beyond all that because I just think I got my own personal sensitivities, but it doesn’t say, you know, I enjoy Beethoven music and as much as Beethoven but I prefer Beethoven in emotional level. You see what I mean, but I don’t have that want to cut any type of experiences out. That’s what’s going on with tango now, so you got these all previous types makes tango very interesting. So is there anything like I don’t like about tango, well, at first sight I what I want to love is almost perfect form of personal expression is what goes beyond there on the dance floor what people take on the dance floor. The way they brought community, the way they use inspiring musical heritage and the cultural and political actions will infiltrate tango. And you can’t separate any any of those and just go and embrace the whole lot and do your own bit, you know cultural activities and just dance the best you can with the person in front of you. If they’d be nice enough to say yes, you know you’ll accept it, that’s it, you’re committed. It doesn’t matter who they are and what music you will dance to, you really gonna let go.
David: Talking about Brisbane community specifically, what changes if any, as I can see take place here?
Conrad: Well, first of all, I mean, since 1998 with the evolution of Brisbane tango community has been very interesting. Because I mean it isn’t just the fact that we start later but it’s you know, you know, Queensland attitude to dance, Queensland attitude to dance now up to Melbourne but you know I’m basically from Europe but I know enough Melbourne, Sydney or in the country or Queensland, the Queensland attitude to dance is different, it’s different. It’s very conspicuous and a bit more uncomfortable, even with a type of dance but then, would you choose something which is very different, dance South American, European. So we have that sort of initially that’s what you can do so Brisbane, came from along the way they’ve been certain sticking points, that was the first one, it was very, very foreign. The other sticking point is that while Queensland is pretty good as we said before, we are very proud of small change in areas. We’re actually not, don’t wanna be very proud of that much else, we just wanna be laid back. And we look at is cooling off, been a little bit of perfectionist, that didn’t sit with me very well. So again to go through the way we were at stage where I think now the Brisbane community has actually become very innovative. We came from the stage where even dancing to some tango was very, very difficult from that point of view. When we think about we have very good workers, very good teachers. We actually initiated, we’re the first tango orchestra. We have the longest running festival. We have the most innovative things going on here. We introduced, you know art into festivals and now everyone’s got announced. We made a musicality. Music is essential so we mainly come from really been very difficult, from dealing with a foreign form of dance to be very innovative and leaders on this thing and other states are looking at us right now. We’ve done all of that, to think about apart from a certain school at the moment. They’ve been, they once achieved what they made. But really to be honest, if I never had been to a university in Brisbane, I didn’t have professional tango teachers until recently. Now, that is the moment that I’m very, very proud of the Brisbane tango community now. And serving small part run there, I’m very happy for that. And I’m very happy with the fact that we’re not afraid to meet it to a great extent. They’d been difficult times. That would be a very competent community. So all that I can speak very, very highly of the Brisbane tango scene. We actually had head gigs in the past, that’s a different story. Someone has been different in the beginning tango but we have cemented that, you know. So now we finally, we’ve got good standard of in spite of not having professional dancers trained as teachers. We’ve got great perspective, we’ve got very innovative music, we’ve got very innovative festivals and we’ve got forward-looking tango community and very inviting. Now that’s an exceptional and organized really, really well. We don’t need to select anyone, we got everything. Brisbane, they got many sights they go to add like any other scene. I can say that about the cities and in the end I think that’s gonna be really good with Brisbane tango community. We are welcoming, so that was the style of 1998 and now 20 years with a reflection. We’ve done, you know, coming from way behind simply by being innovative and waiting the others, never been full of ourselves, always humble. We’ve become, we are really now in the forefront in many respects, we are the leading community in Australia. And I’m happy to say that to any one city now.
David: So how do you see Brisbane community in two, three years time, where will it be?
Conrad: Well, you know, the biggest, the biggest problem, the for every province is the loss of good quality dancers from our tango community because we’re not very much. So the biggest challenge, not challenge but something which I’m sure will do you know it’s like that’s something which will naturally do because it’s an extent and because we are becoming a very confident community. And because, you know, the organizers kind of become leaders, organized whether they’re teaching, they’re actually very cooperative. So we just stopped losing good dancers to the reality of organizing. We need to appeal to the younger generation and give them something to aspire to tango as a lifestyle. Another thing you need to do, that Brisbane needs to grow is what we’ve got. We’ve got all the innovations, we’ve got all the vision, we just don’t have the critical mass yet which will just, you know, you need the critical mass to really, it’s like an enterprise in order to inspire, in order to progress because you support each other, you stimulate each other, you look at what each other is doing. Because you got something to share your joy in the dance. I think that that has been the case because Brisbane bleeds from quality dances, and bleeds from, and suffers from lack of new generation dancers.
David: So what do you think can be done to inspire the younger generation to want to dance tango?
Conrad: I’ve asked this, it seems to be, you know, it seems to be the critical element seems to be that young people need to see other young people do it. In Argentina, what turned the tide in well, you know, my grandmother and grandfather danced tango, oh I have nothing to do with it. To suddenly see one or two class where they trained and go to tango and they were mid-30s. And all of a sudden, the other people say, oh, you know, we Argentinians, that’s our dance. You know, and these are not other person, these are just my grandparents. So that seems to be the critical thing and why Brisbane hasn’t make a quick step, what I think a city in Melbourne ahead, there’s a better way to go. I don’t know, I think it’s because they will promote their own excellent teachers into dancers which was allowed to perform and exposing them to a wider community. And we haven’t had those who teach where they’re self-reported teachers were you know trained teachers that are the right age group. When you don’t know how to say fantastic but we need more of those and we need a variety of them where more young people can gladly discover tango. So I think the greatest need is to show that tango is a form of creativity, of self-expression which isn’t for those unfortunate 50 but this more like, it’s more like you know, young teenagers love free form dancing, right. The jazz dancing and they do that instead of classical ballet. And they need to see tango as more like that to make a stylized form of dance like ballroom dance which is classic, great creativity. So that’s the transition to make, we need to make tango part of the creative arts and not part of the night club dance or the ballroom dance. Tango is part of the creative arts which is open from high school or lower age group. So you ask me, I think Brisbane can do that. I think there will be multiple, I’m sure I think some might but, you know I’m…
David: Talking people in the community do to help foster that…
Conrad: Yeah, well it’s up to, I think it’s up to the organizer, to people like me to do these things like I’ve been doing so far to, you know, encourage and support those who take new initiatives because it’s really hard in the community for new ideas, for new people to come and establish you know, past structures they can call organizational structures more correctly. So I think it’s got to come two ways. One, either for one is already an organizer or an organizer seeks some more opportunity to allow some of these new plan to come through, new vision. Even now there is a community, may disapprove initially, we’ve seen that before. So note that I’ll keep my eyes open, you know to whichever assemble younger people as soon as I see those were capable of got the jive, the very subtle why don’t you do this. And why don’t you dance for us and do more of that. And then the next step is to do what you’re doing if something new school, website when it gets into social media and then the wider community gets to hear about it. I think it’s welcome. You know the 21st century comes, this happens fast. So fortunately get a turnaround and an enormous influx of young people within three to five years but you know, think the teachers have to be ready. You can’t, you can’t, be conventional teaching. You got to put yourself in a modern-day teenager, as I said before with the cultural, political and musical background. And say what you understand from people to how do I get from who they are to I think tango, what tango is. So once you get the opportunity to bring people then it’s up to the teachers to take advantage of it. I mean as a DJ I can, I can adapt. I can see straight away what people respond to and I have, what’s the plan, playlist, that’s where the community is. You can only learn so much and show new ways that in the end, you have to move with your community. It’ll get ahead but not too much. So as soon as young people come in, then the rest of us respond. So I hope that answered your question. It’s not easy but there are some pointers from the way other communities have done. If you ask me how does that lead to it, you know how does young people see it, I just don’t know how they managed to get so many young people to dance tango. I don’t know, not many Europeans are more responsive to tango from their own cultural background.
David: Maybe it’s that they dance longer, young people have more time eventually.
Conrad: You know in Germany, the things from Germany is made from Germany because it’s an exemplary example of progressive advanced thinker. But the number of young people to, you know, to pass, you know Germany is a young country full of young people. And I think it may have something to do with it’s a young country, it’s young people given the drive to the nation. We don’t have that sort of experience. I don’t know, it’s just a speculation but you know, David, maybe, I’d been surprised with the changes Brisbane has made. But I’m pretty certain that Brisbane, it will happen sometime quitely quickly. So you know, I’m looking forward to being a natural guy who dances in variety of edges.
David: Of all the places you’ve traveled to dance tango, Conrad, what is your favorite city in the world?
Conrad: I mean Buenos Aires is a good experience. It’s a must but, you said it’s the best. You know I have to say that I thought Seattle was the best experience of having to dance. But it’s not a matter of question where I gonna have an answer because it’s not like I danced in every city and you know, if I dance in Paris really consider that a capacity. I sort of say that some of the American cities got attitudes that are most easy to ask, European cities I’ve got, their dancing is more refined, more responsive but it’s a bit more reserved and sensitive experience. I personally prefer the openness of the in terms of the community of Americans but it’s only personal. So I can say honestly in terms of it’s a very personal experience but I make a final comment there actually every continent now has got really pushed to say that one is better than the other. You know San Francisco, Berlin, Madrid, Scandinavian countries, Holland, each one has a certain experience but the inner city, Sydney, Melbourne and you can have a really good tango experience and that is very interesting because it’s a universal language in spite of what I said before that each country, each community is slowly evolving so feel taken at the moment. It’s very, very homogenous you can move into a community and you feel that you can dance. Provided you’ve got skills, you accept, you know what they want about, you understand the music and even though the language may not be the same, you can dance. So that’s basically the idea, I think.
David: What’s the worst advice you can dispense in tango?
Conrad: Yes, there is always, that this is the right way to do tango and this is the wrong way. I think that has been the worst and it happens all the time. There is only one way to actually dance tango with its move, with holding, whether it’s the right way to put your foot, it’s wrong. Cause I’ve seen them do it I’ve been physically ruined by early proponents who knew nothing about what learning along the way just like we won’t blame but it’s just, it was wrong. And honestly I’d had a sore shoulder and right hip. Because any bigger art form, there isn’t just one way and the good teachers say that this is the way we interpret, to communicate. So worst thing in tango is, when a teacher, not so much of the dancers, say this is the way to dance tango. Now, it’s very interesting because there probably is, there are limits to what tango is. And beyond that it’s not tango but I don’t know whether you can define it so precisely the boundaries. There’s areas that are gray in certain amount of time, the dancers will learn to dance more creatively. They will physically not be damaged. They will look better, more elegant as they take years of refined until the gray area becomes clear. That’s all I can say so that’s the worst thing and dancers giving advice which is lacking to other dancers, simply no, don’t do it.
David: How does tango affect your non-tango relationships?
Conrad: Do I have non-tango relationships? I think that, I do think it was possible, what I just think, let’s be honest, a lot must be, you don’t think that there is an activity which you do, the most of us would do with someone of the opposite gender, opposite sex that is so cooperative and so free, and so wholesome at the emotional level. And I just don’t think that tango, and I was not aware of that. So what does it give me and brings into my life is a certain level of, you know, inner peace. And eventually, little ways, teacher have social abrasiveness where you feel a bit tense, a bit hurt especially by relationships with the opposite sex. Well, I’m a little bit more understanding, forgiving and grateful that my relationships especially with women are absolutely because I just think so special that you give them opportunity to express themselves and vice versa. You know, we just get so few things in our side which are beyond the stereotyping of male and female. Gender activities, gender roles, and tango is inspiring, what I was saying a while ago, it’s one of the most freeing thing simply because regardless of who leads and who follows, it’s free. If you look free, you can freely give when dancing tango. So, that affects the rest of my life. You know, it does, it makes me more compassionate about myself, more embracing to other people and I’m not a difficult person anyway but I say there’s less reason to become unhappy about about my life. So yes, that personally I can tell you that tango has saved me thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands dollars in subconscious benefits. No, it’s just so healing, it is so healing. It gives you a chance to have meditation. Your mind quiets down in tango. If your mind doesn’t quiet down, you’re not dancing tango, something else is going on. And you know, I say, I know people who are close to me whose life has been transformed from very unhappy, not unhappy, just unscheduled people to the most really contented and also, those who have remained a little bit sharp edges, stretching our feet in tango has not seem to evolve. So it works both ways, you know. You have to emotionally open in order for tango to do its magic, and if you have this emotional resentment in some way, about the dance, about yourself, about your external relationships, you can’t let go, then tango also suffers and you won’t be able to progress if you keep unhappy around you, you won’t be able to focus in the dance, etc. It’s because the emotion do not open. I don’t know how to get them to open up but tango works both ways, you know. If tango increase your outer life and if you allow yourself to let go of something you have in life, then it improves your tango.
David: A few quick questions. What is an indulgence for you?
Conrad: Indulgence, oh my God, what is an indulgence. In tango you mean. Dancing with some like, some of my favorite dancer that I’m not gonna say but that’s indulgence because normally I bring one luncheon, one milonga and just dance to it but if there are some dance partners that I could feel almost attractive to me, that’s a form of indulgence. The right partner with the right music at the right time, it’s just, to me that’s it.
David: Do you have a favorite tango movie?
Conrad: Tango one it really was the one that for me personally brought tango, there was, I think its setting was 1998 in San Francisco. And even though I was aware of tango, tango was just put this way. And even though it was not a good film, even the tango there was not great because the main actress is a ballet dancer but it was a great film because it captured some of the essence of tango. Sure, it played out to the romance, to the passion, to the you know, this period if you like but to me that was the pivotal film for me that stuck in my mind. And the opening scene where one of the greatest tangos, you know is just wonderful. And to this day, I want to play that particular tango. You know, it’s just that the music in that particular scene was wonderful because it came from the very tradition which is the scene where he has a broken heart and he is dancing with a very bad English dancer. That film, went from the traditional to Piazzolla in one film. So they just introduced the musical side, the whole history of tango from early days up to Piazzolla. So that to me, that is the best tango film for tango, not as a film.
David: Is there a composer that you most prefer to dance to?
Conrad: Yes, Pugliese. Pugliese for me as a big Italian background. Pugliese is like, his music is like opera, Germanic, passionate, unpredictable, always tells a story, never relaxes you, makes you cry and laugh in the same song, in the same track. So Pugliese is for me, he’s absolutely captivated me, the back of my neck has goosebumps as soon as I hear from him, that got me a lot. So that’s true that I love a lot of other composers but what gets to me is Pugliese.
David: Is there any music you dislike?
Conrad: Yes, I’ll tell you what I must, it’s not dislike but I got limited tolerance for it. And there is the very early tango. Because some really early composer in that genre. Some of the really early tango. I can only take one or two dances but that’s very, very, it’s not that I dislike it, I’ve got limited tolerance for it. Not that I say remove it. I’m always open to new experiences, always. And you know these are music that I easily say I can’t take too much. Take some of the old, some of the early d’Arienzo, which can also be even Disarli. You know, they are rediscovered, it sounds fresh. So I listen to some of that music and it’s wonderful. It’s just we just got to get the right music for the right time.
David: What music do you listen to when not tango?
Conrad: Oh jazz, I love jazz. Mainstream and modern jazz, even female jazz singers. I really like them and that’s what I listen to when I’m not listening to tango. And I like flamenco, I love flamenco, and the soft flamenco and so that’s just good to listen to. And some soft Latin flamenco cross. So jazz therefore is the first. I love classical as well because I was classicaly trained. But at this stage of my life I want to listen to, I love Mozart. And then you’re asking what I’m listening to rather than what I like. You know, at the moment, it’s gotta be jazz and this sort of soft flamenco.
David: All right. Well, thanks for your time coming. It’s fabulous. Thanks again. Thank you very much.
Conrad: Thanks for inviting me, it’s been a pleasure.
David: Very good.