I think of "duende" as the "passion" or "soul" of something. Merriam-Webster defines it as "the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm."
What is it that attracts people to tango, and then holds them in tango's embrace?
I don't think it's the steps of tango, or the music, although I am hooked on both myself. I think it is tango's demand that both the leader and the follower must interact with another person's energy and spirit, in order to dance well. To dance tango, you need to take an emotional risk and open yourself to another soul.
What made me think of this was a joyous, laughing beginner who tore up the floor last night at my lesson. When I fired up my Naughty Toddler exercise, he flew around the dance floor with a more experienced follower, and led her in moves that I KNOW he does not know. He put his entire heart and soul into that dance, and it was breathtaking.
Now, tango is not a solo dance, so you need a partner willing to risk all as well. Last night, a quiet, sweet follower turned up the volume, met this beginner's energy, and did the best dance I've ever seen her do in a year of dancing. She looked phenomenal; she took risks I've never seen her take, and it paid off.
It looked FUN! It had passion, it had groove, it had soul; for a moment, the duende of tango peeped out.
Maintaining beginner's mind
All of the tango beginners who showed up quickly got the idea that the shared energy counted more than perfection of steps. As we explored, the more shy dancers started to play, smile, risk more, and began to dance with energy, with spirit, with soul.
More experienced tango dancers were less sure. I saw the skeptical looks exchanged by the "experienced" dancers (something along the lines of "I think she must be nuts" as far as I can read facial expressions). A teacher is telling us that it doesn't matter how well we do the steps?!?!
Some of those dancers did not walk on the dance floor with an open mind. When I left, they were practicing dance moves--without any spark of connection. Well, you can't change anyone's mind except your own :-)
One more experienced dancer took the challenge. Over the course of a few dances, I watched tentatively try out "misbehaving" as a follower. She started to smile. Her dance improved, but it was not easy for her. I honor her for daring to step out of her comfort zone.
My job as a teacher
I used to think that teaching perfection in each step was my primary job as a teacher. After twenty-four years of teaching dance, I no longer believe that. In the past two or three years, I have come to realize that I needed to relearn how to teach, in order to serve my students better.
My job is to release joy, confidence and pleasure into the world; to facilitate personal fulfillment. For some people, that does mean reaching perfection in a dance style, and I am happy to share my expertise (and my anal retentive nature!).
However, for most of my students, I find that their goal is NOT perfection. They have different goals: find a boy/girlfriend; spend time in our unconnected lives to touch other humans; to express themselves to music; to build balance and flexibility in order to dance into old age; etc. For all of them, they seek those magical moments during a song where two energies meet and two souls touch. Perfect dancing should be perfect connection. Tango entices because it offers an opportunity to reach that perfect connection every dance.
That is what I try to teach. Ask me about the Tiger Growling exercise sometime! Or, come to the Eclectic Dance at Norse Hall on Saturday night (lesson 7:30) and experience it for yourself!