Meet Miriam Orcutt & Dante Culcuy. Tango Teachers/Performers at Miriam Orcutt & Dante Culcuy Tango, Oxford
So! Who is Miriam Orcutt & Dante Culcuy?
Dante: I have been dancing now for 10 years. I started back home in Argentina when I was 18 years old, I use to do ballet and folcklore dancing before and took part in regular shows in theatres. Miriam is my first dance partner and we have performed in many countries and festivals so far. I have been teaching for the last 8 years, I started teaching tango in my hometown of Jujuy and now have been able to teach all over the world.
Miriam: I grew up dancing and trained daily from age 10 as a ballet dancer. I was a member of the National Youth Ballet and Royal Ballet Associates and performed at many different venues in Canada and England, including at Sadler’s Wells. When I was 16 I left school to train full time in Stuttgart, Germany. However, I soon found myself missing academic work and made a huge decision to give up training professionally and return to the UK and my A-levels! I have been teaching for eight years now: I actually started teaching first in yoga, after I completed a yoga teacher training course. But in tango I started out by assisting Dante and learnt a huge amount from his teaching. I find that every class I learn something new from the students. Dante and I have performed tango in festivals and theatres in various different parts of the world – probably one of the most unusual was in Nairobi, Kenya where we even ended up teaching a class on an open porch with warthogs watching us intently from a couple of feet away!
Tell us about your Tango School in Oxford, England?
Dante: I am based in Oxford, where I have my own tango school. This school also organises monthly Milongas and the Oxford International Tango Festival once a year which became very popular.
Miriam: I teach and perform with Dante in various locations, both in the UK and abroad but I am not able to dedicate myself to the school full time.
How did tango find you?
Dante: I was at university studying law but also in the afternoon I used to study piano, and at the music conservatory I met a guy who would become one of my best friends later on, he introduced me to Tango. He didn’t know much at that time but he was already teaching, for economic reasons, but he didn’t have many students. He was only 17 years old at that time and I was 18. At the beginning I didn’t want to learn as I felt it was a dance for “oldies” but he tried to persuade me telling me it was a good chance to meet girls so finally he succeeded in getting me to class! Despite the fact there were no one to dance with I fell in love with the music and connected with it on a deep level. Because there were no girls to dance with we started dancing between ourselves, and in this way, without knowing that this was how it used to danced before, we started dancing tango between men! We carried on like that for about a year and we became addicted to tango. The economic situation in Argentina worsened and my father lost a lot of money in his business so he couldn’t afford to pay my university fees. I still remember the day when I went to take an exam and they wouldn’t let me walk into the class because of my outstanding fees. I became upset and disheartened and I turned to tango. I started to dance full time and then to teach and gradually to make a living from it.
Miriam: I didn’t start tango until I met Dante in South America and we became life and dance partners. Being immersed in a different world I gradually came to understand and love not only a dance, but a culture and a language. Tango didn’t come naturally to me at first: coming from a classical ballet background I found it very difficult to follow, be grounded and keep my knees together! I learnt through dancing with Dante and also learnt a huge amount through assisting in his classes. But I probably learnt the most from coming to understand Spanish and the Argentinean culture, it was the whole world of tango that had me hooked! As I came to understand tango I was also growing up, and I still find today that tangos which speak to me shape not only my dancing but me as a person and also express emotions and sadness and injustice in the world which is hard to verbalise and even harder to understand without tango. I came to understand tango as a language and as a means of expression. Now the most joy I get in tango is when I am able to be so completely in the music that my body and feet move as if another instrument in the orchestra. This for me is dancing tango.
Who has inspired you, present or past?
Dante: I don’t really have a teacher, in my city the tango was very little at that time, my friend Sebastian, the one I was talking about knew some steps but really bad! so basically we have learned together and watching a lot videos, it wasn’t that easy, with the time I have to change my dance a lot. Sometimes I wish I had a maestro to follow, but sometimes I am happy I didn’t have one. Then later on I have taken a few classes in this 10 years but not enough to have teacher, I think that in my 10 years of dancing I have taken maximum 6 classes. I was always very practical, so I think in my case it worked out a quite well, don’t get me wrong, it was a hard way without a master but I didn’t have much options, if I would have a chance of course I would prefer to go to classes. But a big inspiration to me, I saw all his videos, is Roberto Herrera, inspire me as a dancer, I think he is one of the best of the world, but also proud because he was also from Jujuy, a few steps from my house!
Miriam: Dante was my only teacher and I learnt by dancing with him. I was also fortunate enough to travel with Dante to Argentina for a couple of months each year for the first couple of years. And there I discovered the secret world of the milongas and learnt by watching, listening and dancing. I am inspired by dancers who interpret the music and express emotion; I find Gavito’s dancing inspirational.
What are your aims for the future?
Dante: To always keep learning. And to make the most of all the opportunities I now have to take classes. I also want to develop myself further as both a teacher and performer, because they are two very different things.
Miriam: To always keep improving and to be able to express the music in different ways each time I dance; to convey emotion and harmony in dance.
What do you do when your NOT dancing?
Dante: I have always been very active. I feel a lot of love for both art and sport. I play football, do fencing and even a bit of boxing now! It is very different I know, but it is good to adapt your body to different types of energy and try many varied things in life. I also enjoy riding horses, reading, playing piano sometimes, and going to galleries. I like travelling a lot, so every time I can I escape to discover somewhere new. Miriam and I are both passionate about ballet so we go to the Royal Opera House a quite often, it is nice that we share not only tango but also interests in other things as well. And she has a lot of different things she does as well, believe me!
Miriam: I am a junior doctor and I am passionate about helping under served populations. I have volunteered in hospitals and clinics in different continents but it is the shared humanity and need for the basic necessities: not only food, shelter and safety but care and love between people which is apparent in every community. This translates across cultures, and so I feel, does tango: sharing and respecting each other across divides of language, culture and race- in a simple embrace and moving in harmony and connection.
If you could give one piece of advice to anyone learning tango?
Dante: Patience, in all senses. I noticed that people in England sometimes give up too easy. I know tango is hard and it brings you both bad and good moments, but they are both important aspects and it is impossible to be always in a good moment: the bad moments we have are an essential transition from one good moment to another. And always remember, it is just a dance. Sometimes our dance doesn’t need more technique or more passion or more posture, sometimes it just needs time.
Miriam: Never stop learning and be humble- there is always something to learn from every teacher and every dance you have.
What is the greatest challenge to teaching tango?
Dante: To believe in yourself as a teacher, and to always try to improve your teaching; to adjust it to every single person in the class. We all have different bodies, different understanding of tango, so one word will have a different meaning to everyone. It is necessary to try to find a way to help everyone to understand tango in their own way, which sometimes can be very hard.
Miriam: To transmit the true essence of tango and the culture, especially when students may not be from that cultural heritage.
What’s inside your head just before you go on to perform?
Dante: The music. I would say the public but I would lie, it is the music. I feel that I am performing to and for the music; it was made for me and I have to give my best to pay that honour.
Miriam: That I’m going to give it my best and enjoy it and that it is a privilege to be sharing our dance with others in this unique moment.
Which performances are memorable for you?
Dante: If I can see Miriam smile, from inside. Then it is a good one.
Miriam: Any performance where I feel we have transmitted an energy and emotion to the audience and have lifted them to a different place, even just for a moment.
Truth! How many pairs of shoes do you own?
Dante: Now I have about 7 pairs, but I use only one!
Miriam: I am also similar, I have about 8 pairs, but I always have my favourite pair on!
If you had one last tanda would you choose Vals, Milonga or Tango?
Dante: It always changes! But this week I would have chosen a tanda of vals.
Miriam: I would have to say tango, but I love all three!
Dante: D’arienzo and Pugliese
Miriam: At the moment, Pugliese
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Posted by Rita Horne
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