Damian Thompson Interview Transcript (2018)
Well, Damian welcome back.
Feels good to be back?
Oh, to Australia? Yes. It’s good.
I’ve been here for six weeks now.
How long has it been since you’ve been back?
Since I’ve been to Australia, the last visit was in 2014.
OK, so 4 years. This is where you started tango?
Yeah. I had my first lesson in Tango in Perth in Australia.
And you were living in Brisbane at the time or was it in Perth?
I was difficult to answer that question. I was based in Brisbane, but I spent most of my time in Perth.
Okay, so what drew you to tango? What was the initial attraction?
The first time I saw tango was the dance teacher I did my first lessons with in Perth. And as I walked past the window, I saw these people dancing, I said. Wow that’s pretty cool. Women are willingly dancing with this guy and he seemed to be like this older gentleman, not particularly fancy or amazing, but he just had a big class of people dancing Tango. I thought, wow. If that old fella can do it, I’ll have a crack at it.
And I wasn’t so good socially, so I figured it’s a nice way to introduce ladies into my life. So, to speak.
And you are now?
Yes. Better with ladies.
How would you describe the way you dance now?
It’s interesting because I spent a lot of time teaching and studying and doing classes in the US and Europe. I spent a lot of time down in Buenos Aires at one point. And when I got to the US. I heard about people dancing organic tango. I didn’t really understand what that meant, but after spending a lot of time there, I said my tango become quite organic and as natural as possible.
Don’t try to do fancy stuff with my feet first thing, I allow, or I encourage and hope that the lady to do all the fancy stuff. If she’s at that level, the decorations aren’t going to interrupt with the lead of the dance. So that’s how I say its organic. And it certainly involved a certain change as much more patient than it was. And that would vary on the partner, the music, the floor space, and dynamics of the room. What style are we in, so it all changes with respect to that.
Do you have a recollection of what it was like in the early days? As a dancer?
Horrible, totally horrible. I think I was one of the worst. Definitely one of the worst around. It wasn’t a good beginning. I wasn’t a good learner.
So, was there a point in your Tango journey where you felt you got it?
Every three to five years. Yes, I can dance the tango finally and then every couple of years I’ve got to learn how to do this again. It’s never to the point where I’m ever satisfied, that’s something I like about dance and always re-learning, finding something I’ve learned in the past and putting back into my body Yeah, it’s a continual process. Becoming more patient and deliberate, I guess.
How long did it take you to get to a point where you were comfortable dancing?
Once, I wasn’t thinking about technique. I wasn’t thinking about the music, I knew both intimately. And I was comfortable in feeling that when the partner I was dancing with was feeling comfortable with the music and me then you can be patient and allow the partner to do more things.
So, for a beginner, for example, I’m patient in the essence that I’ll let her begin to make many mistakes. I’m not stressed about it. It doesn’t bother me. You’ll find lots of interesting things through mistakes. So, I find that to be a nice challenge myself, to find something new. So, I’m very patient. I don’t have any ego in the sense that I get pissed off if there’s a mistake or if they haven’t done something perfectly, even if I led it right, a good leader in my opinion continues and makes it look as if that’s what they meant to lead.
So, looking back, what advice would you give yourself? When you were first starting out, would it be patience or something else?
I think I would have given myself advice like my martial arts teachers, like just spend more time repeating the one thing, gathering really consistent, solid technique, so that you don’t have to think about that before moving to the next step.
Like most young men, I wanted to do everything now. So, I was just like trying everything at the same time instead of mastering or at least getting a skill to a point where I don’t have to think about it and about mastery and then move to the next point. And I don’t think the teachers these days have enough patience with the students as well, to let them learn something, they also want to teach more, teach more, teach more. And that’s a big challenge.
Is it a case situation you think that wherein you felt a need to do that in order to keep the students?
Yeah. And there’s an expectation that if you haven’t gone from class and you feel like you haven’t learned something that has been a waste of time and waste of money. And we all know that whatever we do now that life whether you’re an architect, a dancer, an engineer, whatever it is, teaching over time, you realize that the process that put it into your body or your mind is actually repeating in time and time and time again.
And when you’re in that learning curve, and that seems easy or quick enough.
It is a catch too. At some point I’ve been that teacher in combination. I don’t really enjoy that, but I teach a combination as well. So, people feel like they have something, but it’s always tied in with the class technique or talk. It’s a big catch.
So, who has influenced your dance in your journey so far? Is there one person that stood out?
The biggest influence on my dancing was a teacher I saw many year ago and is the only reason I’m still dancing. I watched him dancing, obviously other dancers before as well since, but there was one particular dance he did, and it’s a home video I had nobody else will have it.
He was dancing at sea. Then it was 2002, 2003, something like that. And they were just at the back at the after party and they did a performance. And for me, it was the most magical performance I’ve seen. Almost to this day. I still think that’s the only thing I watched for many years, and I get lots of inspiration from that performance.
How do you continue to grow as a dancer now?
Uh, luckily, I live in Europe these days. So even though I don’t necessarily get up as much as I would like to being around other people who are inspired and inspiring and they dance is the biggest part, finding people, not necessarily the same level or the same language, but if people had the same drive to work on something new, to recreate or tear something apart and find out how it works, that’s the most interesting. And that’s what keeps me going.
So, do you, how often do you practice yourself or take lessons?
I practice daily. I still practice daily. I don’t do a lot of practice now. It’s quality practice rather than quantity.
I still take lessons as often as I can, which is not often enough. That’s the unfortunate part, for example, earlier this year, I did lessons with Mariana and it was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. An advanced teachers the only class that I managed to get to, because I was in Barcelona and it was probably the best taught class I’ve been to in my life. Even better than what Gisela has. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the ultimate professionals in teaching, but this particular class of Mariana, everything worked perfectly when you practice it the way that I would teach it. And it made sense, it was logical. Everybody was fantastic. That was probably a very big turning point for me this year.
Is there one big thing in your dancing career so far that stood out? That’s creating a buzz for you?
I think this year was a nice year for me in being invited back to Chicago, to a festival, with friends who were running the festival. And even though I’m their friend that wasn’t the reason necessarily they invited me, but being to dance and perform alongside those dancers, that was just fantastic. So, for me, that’s probably been the biggest high light and I’ve taught and performed with other professionals before, but dancing and teaching alongside those teachers in Chicago, I mean, it’s always inspiring and just realizing that you can dance at the same level with them, and sometimes they’ll make a mistake with you. Sometimes you make a mistake with them. And they were just like oh, sorry about that. The same as everybody else. That’s nice.
Do you consider yourself a creative dancer?
Yeah. Often, the feedback I get from a lot of ladies is they have no idea what’s about to happen and the reason that they can follow it normally is that the lead is very complete without force or disturbance of their dance. So that’s a nice thing and you get that sort of feedback.
They have no idea what you’re about to do and they dance. And it’s just like waiting for a point and timing in the music when something may be appropriate, so finding time and space and then waiting to see what they will do.
And does that creativity come easy to you?
It does because of the teaching I think, because when you teach something. To teach something, you really need to know every aspect of it. The lady’s technique, the men’s technique, and I don’t differentiate lady’s or men’s techniques let me rephrase that. The leader’s role or the follower’s role, the technique is the same. But when you can tear them apart, and put them together, add the music, change the combination, change the leg, and change the side direction.
And you start to find thousands of combinations. And I teach a class that you’re teaching in Central Perth, teaching how to create tango. And that’s where I started to realize that I let this one in what size again, for Mariella, she doesn’t meet all the time. She was with a guest, Jose Carol was dancing with Matisse. And there was, they were the two main couples, and then there were four or five other couples of teachers and they all been together for a Tango Practica.
Yeah. And they had this way of practicing. All right, we’re going to do this, that we have to do this. And then they did the same number of moves, but they had to do it with a different language, a different direction. And so, it kind of created a way to think. Hmm. We always really find out different ideas, different thoughts, we could do this, we can try this.
And then that was when I started to learn the different terminology for stuff I’d never seen before. Coming from Australia. So, it was a very big offer.
Are there any other outlets in your life where you can express creativity?
None at the moment. It was in the past.
So, what other interests do you have aside from Tango?
Uh, I used to be heavy into photography and doing photographs. I would do roughly 2000 thoughtful / creative photos a week, I would divide that down to maybe 50 photos I really enjoyed or liked.
Photos, I’ve done much for a long time. So, I enjoy that. That’s not really a creative process, but it’s a process. I enjoyed doing outside of tango. And that’s more to these days.
So, if you stop dancing tango right now, what would you do?
If I’d stop dancing Tango now, I’d have to start a business. I don’t work for other people very well.
So, what do you love about Tango?
Tango, for me, it’s probably it’s up there with martial arts. It’s one of the most intellectual things you can do. It’s using artistically one of the most amazing writing styles of music that there is, which touches many aspects and teaching tango, then you add in the different learning types, the different personality types, and different body types, but people physically, what they really wanted to do, what they can do, how they learn, that’s a time alone together.
Weaving these massive personalities, different body types to try and work out. How am I going to get this person to do it with this person who learns by touching the space? So that process I find very intriguing. Intellectually, it’s a great challenge. More than anything else I’ve done.
On the other side of that, what do you hate about Tango?
The thing I hate most about Tango is the lack of generosity. I find that I still dance with beginners and I don’t object to doing that. I object dancing to beginners who’ve been dancing for 15 years and I find that horrible. I wish that the generosity of the better dancers was such that they would dance more with less experienced people and less experienced people would have the experience with dancing as a dancer.
But I really wish that the people who think that they can dance, would go back and take some classes. So, it’s just the way it is.
So, you live in Poland now?
Tell me a little bit about the tango scene in Poland and how that compares to Australia.
Tango scene in Poland is excellent. I really enjoyed the dancing level there. It is very nice, very nice. Actually, I think it’s one of the best in Europe. I’ve danced in most of the countries.
I find that the Eastern European countries tend to have a much nicer embrace just personally from my experience. And the Italian and the Latina countries tend to have a little bit more creativity and some other aspects of the dance. But overall, I find Poland to be excellent and a far better level than Australia. But that doesn’t mean that level in Australia is not good. It just means that they’re at a far better level.
And Australia’s a much smaller community, overall. So, you’re not going to have the same quality time and time and time again, unless you’re traveling with the same friends all the time. That’s a different story.
What advice do you hear dispensed that you wish wasn’t? With regard to Tango. Or what’s the worst advice you’ve heard?
I don’t know, to be honest, I find people I’ve got to answer it this way. There are some teachers who think their way is the only way, and they would actively say, this is the right way to dance tango. And I just tell students, I tell my students, if you find those people just run, they’re not worth taking the lesson from. Even if there’s someone like Gabriel and that’s his attitude, and that sees that, he’s like, no, if you haven’t danced for 20 years in Buenos Aires, and if you don’t do it my way, you’re not going to be a dancer. You certainly shouldn’t be a teacher. And he said that probably in a few different cities around the world. And I just find that atrocious because actually when I watched Gabriel. Often, I don’t like a lot of what I see, when he’s dancing and he’s a beautiful dancer, amazing, and he’s very quick. It doesn’t mean that when he dances all the time, that he’s elegant, that his music or that is he’s looking after the lady, all that he’s making the lady look like a good dancer. And I’m just using that. I find that very disappointing.
So, what do you believe now that you may have changed from the past?
Actually, the biggest change in me is that most of the teachers I had all had the same philosophy that tango was difficult. And it’s very hard to know. I think that’s complete shit. I think tango is really easy to know and I think it’s really easy to get into social level of dancing and tango in a couple of years. And I’m in a very good social level.
It’s not necessarily easy to get that last 20% from them saying that and only 80% dancing to a 100% dancing. That last 20% or the last 10% or whatever it is, is the level it takes you from being a good teacher to a professional dancing level, that’s a challenge, that’s a lot of work, that’s timing, that’s energy, that’s floor, but to be a good social dancer in tango? That’s easy. And it doesn’t take a lot. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad teaching. There’s a lot of teachers who demonstrate. But don’t actually teach. They don’t understand technique. Even if they do know how their body works, they teach the old, horrible outdated way. That just don’t work well instead of actually doing what you see them, do, their teaching something else.
And that’s why I came up with the way I teach, teaching principles. See how they work, write it down, finding the commonality between all this. Tango is very easy to move. It’s very easy to dance, very easy.
What would you say tango reveals you about that isn’t revealed outside of tango?
Probably that I’m a big softy at heart. Most people are scared of me to be fair.
Can’t see why that would be!
Kind of understandable
Just a few quick questions to finish but you don’t need to necessarily answer quickly.
What is an indulgence for you?
Having a weekend away with my wife.
Do you have a favorite tango movie?
What style of Tango music do you prefer?
Who’s your favorite Tango Composer?
What music do you listen to when not Tango?
None. Pretty much just tango for me. My wife might put on some other stuff, but not for me. I like tango.
There’s couple of the old classics that I like. But that’s it.
And do you do any other sort of exercise, other than martial arts to enhance your techniques?
I do a lot of walking. I do a lot of walking with my daughter, chasing her as well down at the beach. Mostly walking, I’m not a big believer in exercise or not necessarily agree with that physically or health wise. Just enough.
Alright, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Good to see you.