Interview with a tanguero

Fernando WaisbergFernando Waisberg is a dancer, tango teacher and performer from Argentina. We sat down and talked about his passion for tango.

How long have you been dancing and teaching?

I started in high school, but more actively a few years back. I wasn’t living in the city, so it wasn’t easy to find courses. Only after moving there I started to dance more often, take lessons, practice, meet with other enthusiasts. I also started to travel, and one day I was looking for a milonga in Peru and I only found a lesson online, no place to dance. I went to ask there and I was told they had no place to dance. They asked me to give lessons during the next month, and I said yes.

What are your first memories related to tango?

Some popular TV shows that used to be shown on Saturday and Sunday and other programmes about tango.

Was it this that made you start with tango or was there some other event in your life?

I just really enjoy dancing. If you put on music, I start to move my head or my feet, do rhythms with my hands.

Why did you decide to dedicate some much of your life to tango, what do you get from it?

It just started to happen. The connection and the sensation are so intense. When these things started to happen to me, I was like ‘wow, I want to have this’. It was like a drug, I just wanted to have more.

What else does tango mean to you and how has it changed your life – except you don’t probably get much sleep?

One day I just realised that right in the morning I’m thinking which milonga to go to. I was still working but I was waking up and thinking about tango. I remember one Monday milonga that ended quite late (4 or 5 am) and if you have to go to work at 8, it’s not good. Next year I moved my Monday/Tuesday classes to the afternoon. These kinds of things start to happen to you. Tango starts to reorganise your life.

Is there any other area where your life would be affected by tango a lot?

Yes. I have much better posture when I’m standing. I also started buying different clothes. My friends might laugh a little about my obsession, but I still go to rock concerts occasionally etc.

How would you best describe the essence of tango?


Is it different from what you would get from other dances?

Yes. Other dances I dance just for fun. I don’t take them so seriously. The connection is strong in tango. In other dances you lead with your hands, you push or pull. In tango, the conversations happens chest to chest in close embrace and in the middle there is this connection so strong, but at the same time so sensitive and so precise.

Is this connection close to meditation since it is so much about being present?

Well, in meditation you connect with yourself and your body and in tango you connect with your partner because it’s a conversation. It’s about moving your body in open space and about the chest – hands are just extensions. Essentially, tango is just walking in embrace. You need to know some code, but you can dance with just four steps and enjoy it if you connect with your partner and the music. And in tango you can choose the musicality. You have the freedom, you can choose. This is the best thing and also the hard thing, you can choose.

You use your body like a channel, you move your energy within and you prepare it to give clear information, how you use this to have a nice conversation to nice music. I’m a leader but I also follow. I choose the choreography but I need to follow what my partner is doing and feel what she needs or enjoys. Everybody is different and the connection is different too.

If you just dance, without complicated stuff, but you have the connection, people around you feel it, stop and watch. The connection is powerful. You forget about the time and space. You send your mind to another dimension. You are not just your body. You have your body, the partner, the music and it’s the synergy.

When I hear you talk about connection, I have to ask – Do you think that tango can help relationships?

Both. It can help but it can also make things worse when they start accusing the other that it is their fault, they pushed too much, they didn’t turn. I have seen it so many times.

Have you had any cultural shocks here in Finland?

It’s so different from Argentina or any other country I have visited before. It took such a long time for me to hear the car horn here in Helsinki. Buenos Aires is so huge and noisy. The culture here has a very different logic. I’m still trying to understand it. When I moved here and tried to organise something, like an event, it was so frustrating, it took so much time and the way of doing things here is so different. Now it is better. I have my own milonga, I have organised workshops with a couple from Argentina doing a tour here, my own courses etc. The other difficult thing was the winter, the no-light season. It was my first experience and for me, the sun is like air, I didn’t use to think about it, it was just always there.

Does tango help you get through the long winter?

Yes, during winter I really focused on tango, I was training like five or six hours a day, Monday to Friday.

What do you think about the tango culture in Finland?

The amount of milongas is very small, but the tango community is very nice here, so friendly. In Buenos Aires the community is so large, but it is very competitive – you have to find your milonga. Here, if you are new and go to a milonga, somebody invites you, but in Buenos Aires you can wait hours and hours in a chair.

What kind of services do you offer here?

This June I’m having a seminar about leaders technique, four lessons. From August until December I will be giving lessons to beginners and intermediate students in El Ático, Pasila. We are also planning other cultural events. We want to open the space and create a more relaxing atmosphere. On Mondays I have my own milonga in Ravintola Havanna with a dance lesson in the beginning. I give private lessons as well. With my dance partner, Sofia, we offer performances, workshops and lessons.

What is your specialty in tango and in teaching?

I use all my teaching experience. I studied to be a PE teacher and I used to work as a personal trainer, so I use various techniques and create exercises. Everybody is different and there are different needs. I try to give tools in my lessons, but I want people to create their own dances. I believe that if you start teaching steps and combinations, you start to see clones dancing. Of course, you need some basic structure, but with too much structure you don’t have your own building. A lot of teachers teach steps. Sometimes people come to my lessons and they don’t need more steps, they know too many steps. For me, less is more when you dance. But it needs to be clear.

Do you still go to classes sometimes?

Yes. Tango is a lifetime process, it changes all the time. I enjoy the more traditional style, but every style is ok for me and I’m evolving all the time. It is important to take lessons with other teachers.

Tell us more about your milonga La Maleva, how did you choose the name?

Maleva started last June so I really needed a good name, easy to pronounce here in Finland. Malevo is a tough guy in the neighbourhood who you don’t want to have problems with. And Maleva is a tough lady who doesn’t need a guy to protect her, she knows how to protect herself and she is the best dancer. Now people in the tango community recognize La Maleva. I started hearing from people about the good ambience, you can see beginners and more advanced dancers, even professionals sharing. I’m so proud about this and it’s one of the best moments of the week for me.

What’s next? What are your dreams, what do you want to create here?

I want to put tango more on the streets. And I would like to have an open-air milonga – find a place with a nice dance floor and protected from the sun and the rain. I think I’m going in the right direction, but it takes time.

Any final thoughts, message to people who think about starting tango, but are scared?

Tango is not such a difficult dance. You don’t have to imitate professional dancers or performers. Just walk and enjoy the rhythms. It’s easier than people think. Just be considerate towards other people on the dance floor, try not to kill anyone with your heels.