Samstag, 25. Oktober 2014

Tacheles mit Tangueros 6: An Interview with Murat Erdemsel - Part A

It started - as always - with an idea. After attending a class with Michelle & Murat and listening to Murat's intriguing ideas on Tango Music, the subject I love. I tried to set up some time with Murat for some more, detailed discussions. Murat was very willing but it wasn't easy to find times that worked for both of us. Sometimes Murat's travel and work schedule got in the way and at other times, which suited Murat, I was too busy with my own work. So we just had to be patient for a very long time until we could find time slots which it worked for both of us.

I gratefully acknolewdge the enormous help from Tricia Bruce (from England). She patiently read the text and added some corrections. Thank you, Tricia!

Murat Erdemsel
[04.06.14 23:55:15] Cassiel: Hi Murat, nice to meet you in virtual reality. Where are you now? What are your plans for the next days?

Murat Erdemsel: I am taking a short warm break here in Zadar, Croatia. Excellent timing, it is right in between two colder climates to work, Denmark and Norway.
Zadar, Croatia

Cassiel: How long will you stay? What time do you usually need for recreation between two working-weekends?

Murat Erdemsel: For about a week. I do not take breaks in general. Usually a lazy Tuesday and a decent Wednesday with dizzy flights are enough distraction for me to clear my head before another heavy weekend of work. I must say, last week’s Copenhagen Tango Festival was an intense one. Well organized event, but I danced every night until 5:30am then woke up to go teach workshops. And I guess some drinking (which is not my thing really) made it worse. Staying here in Zadar and eating lightly (maybe not at all if I can), meditating, sleeping, swimming. This is a little bit of heaven for me.

Cassiel: How would you describe the difference for you as a teacher attending a huge festival or teaching in a small community?

Murat Erdemsel: ‘Love’ is the keyword defining that difference. It is harder to love what I am doing if I am teaching at giant festivals. Harder to connect with the students, less likely to make friendships with my colleagues. Not able to find time to sit down for a tea with the organizers. Instead you get picked up at the airport, go through the whole thing, and meet afterwards to get paid. You don’t even feel how it all passes. Don’t let me exaggerate and categorize harshly, it is not only about giant versus small events of course. There are always exceptions. But smaller events, make more things possible for my palette. A little more time with everybody, shorter distances to run, and dedicated students only studying with you, seeing them again and again. Being able to look at their eyes during workshops.

Cassiel: Maybe we should add a few biographical details from your life (I forgot that in the beginning) How did it all start?

Murat Erdemsel: I followed my parents as a child and studied fine arts, painting. Specializing on fresco making. Of course in real world out there, there are no clients who will hire you to make real frescos, rather you do acrylic murals and wall paintings for commercial commissions. That kept me busy working after the school hours. And being a workaholic, I used to challenge myself by making giant murals for hotels and restaurants. After sleeping in my car in the garage level for a few hours, I used to go to my class to heat up the room so the nude could pose for us. That took up a few years.
Murat Erdemsel in front of one of his murals (1996)

Cassiel: Seems there would be absolutely no space for tango dancing in this scenario, right?

Murat Erdemsel: True. Except, there was a woman, a great friend, Jülide, who used to help me organize my artistic work and lectures, was also happened to be a tango enthusiast. I kept ignoring her insisting invitations to join her at local tango classes. Took a year or two until she finally deceived me. That’s how I started dancing tango and never quit. (1996-1997)

Cassiel: So that’s how it all began, in Istanbul. Who were your teachers?

Murat Erdemsel: 
I belonged to a small group of dancers led by Çetin Cengiz. We used to open the weekly milonga by performing as his students. Learned a lot with them.

Cassiel: How did you end up moving to The United States?

Murat Erdemsel: After finishing the college and during my work as a commercial artist, I lost a very dear friend of mine whom I used to think of him as my god father. I got severely depressed and wanted to run away from many things, including my family, friends and the whole thing really. In 1998, I immigrated to New York, USA. So, in short, I escaped.

6 months later, I moved down to Washington, DC and started painting at George Washington University masters program. I was also avidly dancing in local milongas, making small shows. Being an artist in Washington, DC was very challenging. One day I realized I had exhausted all my savings. I had no money coming from any of my artistic work. I forced myself to teach private lessons in dancing, started to teach group classes afterwards. Organized milongas and finally moved back to New York City in 2005, where I met my wife and dance partner, Michelle.
Murat and Michelle at home in early years. 2004, Brooklyn, NY.

Cassiel: Perhaps, I should ask you more about your background as an artist. But I can’t wait to tell you that I first became aware of your work by this video on youtube, which I can see has been viewed more than 45 thousand times : 
“Improve floor craft on tango dance-floors” PART-2

Why is floor craft and etiquette so important for you?

Murat Erdemsel: Short answer or long answer?

Cassiel: Either way you like.

Murat Erdemsel: You know how wise people talk about the value of simplicity? Less is more etc. Those are the people who went through many journeys before arriving at this kind of conclusion. There is an unfortunate order of learning this dance. At least it happened in my own experience. Like many others, I also wanted to learn the steps and patterns. Took notes of how many I knew. These are the first two years of dancing that I did not even like the music yet. Then came the challenge of improvisation, embrace, connection, self awareness, musicality. In that approximate order. Then I realized, no matter where I went, I heard the same music, venues looked alike, floors, speakers felt similar. Shoes wore out, I replaced them with new ones. But finally I realized that the “people aspect” is the richest one. Every person we meet, every community that exists, is completely unique and offers you something else. This is one of the reasons I travel “homelessly”. It feeds my heart if I can get to become a part of a community, even temporarily. You know, at that point you slowly start to drop the other stuff, steps get simpler, embrace gets closer, anxieties disappear and you find yourself like a happy fish in the big pool, where you are not alone. I value that. And love sharing that happiness with my friends by teaching the etiquette around social dancing.
Murat Erdemsel - teaching floorcraft and navigation 2014

Cassiel: Isn't it hard to leave new friends after a weekend?

Murat Erdemsel: Sometimes. But knowing that I am not going home to one place, the fact that I will continue to move, actually increases my chances of meeting them again sooner. For example next week, here in Zadar Tango Festival, I will meet one of my oldest best friends from Washington, DC, even though he has been living in Kiev. Tango will put us together in Croatia.

Cassiel: You travel a lot. Do you notice cultural differences in the behavior in tango?

Murat Erdemsel: Yes, I do and I appreciate it. It makes it more colorful.

Cassiel: Could you briefly give an example?

Murat Erdemsel: In the beginning, I did the same mistake that many grasshoppers made. Compared people to people from different cultures, teased them in conversations. Tried to come up with conclusions like why Italians are like that, Germans like this and Americans like those etc. It takes time and patience, and a little virtue to understand, every experience is relative and somehow attached to it’s culture. It challenges me, yet, acts as a decent discipline to acknowledge these differences, then, instead of trying to change them, actually to change myself and adapt. Just like, how we dancers are actors in our own ways. We take the music, blend it with who we are in order to make a dance in a beautiful fashion, within a well written story. Traveling and dancing is another level of finding ways of becoming somebody else. Somebody I always wanted to be.

Cassiel: You have just mentioned „comparing” and a bit earlier you talked about „self-awareness“. I am close to finishing part 4 of my tango-etiquette articles. The topic is: dealing with the own self in tango. I think maybe „comparing“ or - to be more precisely - „competition“ is the main source for misunderstanding. Do we need competition? Should we distinguish between „good“ and „bad“ competition?

Murat Erdemsel: Your question answers itself beautifully. I agree with you, and can also add, trying to find “the good“ in such idea: “competition” is some serious amount of work. Better to go the other way. I certainly should not ignore the benefits of being competitive. But in the bigger picture, if you look at the past, competitions were always there for the public entertainment. And always involved some profit even money. From the Olympics to beauty pageants. For example, Coca Cola and Pepsi needed to compete. While water never looked ambitious, ever needed to spend millions for hiring Michael Jacksons and Britney Spears to say something about itself. But didn’t we like fizzy sugary drinks when we were kids? Yes we did, some still do. It took time to understand the truth; water was “it”.

Cassiel: I was thinking of an „evergreen“ of tango self-questions: „Why is she/he not dancing with me?“ At least for me there is a lot of comparison/competition in this question and sometimes this leads to an unhealthy point of view on tango … How should we deal with our social environment in tango?

Murat Erdemsel: True. Do you think tango triggering these “actually non tango based“ behaviors? We had these problems during the high school.

Cassiel: Hmmm... sometimes tango seems to be like real life... and sometimes it is completely different. I think Tango can be like a catalyst. These questions are amplified by tango.

Murat Erdemsel: Perhaps we become kids and teenagers again while learning this dance – at least for a while. But now being adults, we feel like we have the right to get mad and to criticize others, unlike when we were little.

Cassiel: It seems to be like in every art... the „real masters“ go back to the roots.

Murat Erdemsel: I hear you.

Cassiel: I would like you to explain one sentence I found on your website: „I and my partner, listen to the music and move with our friends around us“. Why is this so important in tango to honour these 5 relations? Or is it even more? Is this the social definition of tango?

Murat Erdemsel: Thanks for asking that. In my understanding, this is simply the definition of the entire tango experience. I believe that particular sentence regulates everything that we struggle within our learning, teaching, organizing tango events. These 5 points, are the everlasting yet always changing while remains to be the fundamental ingredients of what we do. I thought of this theory simply to provide a self educating tool for our students. Whilst believing in a good balance of these 5 aspects, it is good to acknowledge that every person has their own ratio. And as long as every person stays true to themselves and face the reality of how they belong in these 5 aspects, and how they can embrace their goods and bads, they will get to answer many of the questions by themselves.

Cassiel: I see only one “problem“... How should we deal with demos or shows in tango? In my opinion at least one aspect is missing, and that is “friends“ …

Murat Erdemsel: If you left it up to me I would not do shows anymore.

Cassiel: Is it a real "problem"?

Murat Erdemsel: "the friends"?

Cassiel: yes, they are not participating in the show (hopefully)

Murat Erdemsel: oh, got you … Well, when I mentioned "friends around us", I actually meant the space with the other dancers in, along with who they are and all the social aspects that are attached with it. I did not mean “the friends” who watch us performing. But if you do a demo, and if audience are inspired or learned something out of it, you did your community work as a performer.

Cassiel: Does this imply special behaviors in a show? Do you influence dancers directly in the milonga with a show?

Murat Erdemsel: I called it a demo. Talking about “show“ has a little more of the twisted intentions inside don’t you think?

A class demo in Catania, Italy.
Show in Catania, Italy.
Cassiel: ok, sorry

Murat Erdemsel: We get paid for the show, we do a demo to help students and dancers. Let’s talk about “shows“. I think you want to be more specific with it, am I wrong?

Cassiel: Yes, sure …

Murat Erdemsel: You asked: Do you influence dancers directly in the milonga with a show? Here I go with a drastic opinion hopefully without upsetting some friends out there. Performing shows, has something to do with the history of tango. Before world did not know what it was, there were young, talented, gorgeous dancers who performed the dance to introduce it to us. It was certainly needed. We all enjoyed watching it at one point in our lives, didn’t we? And I am sure it will continue to inspire newcomers. You know these shows I am talking about. Nevertheless, every passing year in our tango journey, more and more we danced in milongas, we became “the dancers” and were no longer the audiences. And the less we started to like those shows. Because, we began to feel it inside and loved it, rather than watching it from outside and craving for it. A few incidents also happened in the mean time. Let's choose the example of Broadway, because I lived in NYC and experienced these moments. Performers of these shows would pass by a local milonga late at night after their work on stage. They would not dance socially when they joined us, for a number of reasons. One, they just danced for the paying audience a few hours ago at the theater, now should they dance for free for them? By the way, I am unbiasedly speaking as because I was there in both sides. I worked in NYC and was hired to perform shows regularly with major orchestras and artists, such as Color Tango, Héctor Del Curto, Raul Jaurena. But again, spending more time in milongas took me to the other side eventually. Today's avid dancers do not even want to be interrupted with performances during the milongas. They want to get their dance and watch performances later on youtube. I can understand. In the future, we will be performing shows less and less, scene will be more occupied by the marathon dancers, who need a place, good DJs and just dance. I will be there for it by dancing for myself and by giving inspirational lectures to serve others.

Cassiel: In almost every festival, teachers perform their choreographies during their performances. I know you improvise your dances but, still, do you observe „traces“ of your performance afterwards in the ronda?

Murat Erdemsel: I can sense what you mean by saying traces. Our main projection in our performances is to dance and show the audience the awesome sound of the music first, second we want to demonstrate an elegant relationship as our selves being a mature couple in a marriage for 10 years. 3rd, a quality of movement, that is soft, smooth and peaceful while playful. Beyond all this, there might be other good traces and maybe some bad traces we maybe leaving.
Murat and Michelle Erdemsel, La Capilla Blanca
Murat and Michelle improvising in Yolatango Austin, 2012 "dancing in small space"

Cassiel: I have one last question about the etiquette/milonga complex - it is related to one of your recent videos: Floorcraft 3 the left hand of the tanguero - Is humour a good assistant in teaching these things, or was it "just" entertainment in this special situation?

Murat Erdemsel: Humor is good because, we tango people all have some level of ego, we take it too seriously, don’t you think? Who can stand up, in the middle of the milonga and tell dancers what to do, what not to do? They are there to dance, not to take a workshop. In the other hand, the best place to share such thing is right there in the middle of it. Before they forget about it, before they have chance to ignore. Humor is my good friend there, conveying such difficult messages.

Continue reading here:
An Interview with Murat Erdemsel - Part B
An Interview with Murat Erdemsel - Part C

2 Anmerkung(en):

Anonym hat gesagt…

Schöne Conversation, ein Punkt sehe ich auch als wichtig an:
Cassiel: It seems to be like in every art... the „real masters“ go back to the roots.
Das heisst man war auch woanders und kann immer wieder dahin zurück. Das sollte man nicht vergessen. Die können auch anders. Man kann es nicht weglassen. Die Techniken auch zum Milonguero kommen nicht allein. leider wird das manchmal vergessen. Dementsprechend entwickelt man sich da nicht weiter und schunkelt sich durch jahrelang den Tango.

Gruesse Bert

Elijah hat gesagt…

hi Murat and Cassiel,

thank you for part A of your conversation. Short version of comment: yes, yes, yes.
Long version: please, keep teaching the tough stuff with your good sense of humours, Murat. The tango world is to sincere to laugh about themselves, and I wish we had more insights brought up by humor... (I remember Jenny Gil teaching "you are the princess"... when I come up with a mockery of it, we are in a good mude and remember her point very well, so ... somehow it works).
I watched the little videos and had to smile about these soooooo torn questions like "how long are you dancing tango? _ where did you learn?__" - an over the world ritual, obviously. And a useless one.
As soon as I as a dancer follow your invitation to "decide how weird I am", the milonga gets a place with lots of joy and less stress.
I am sorry, I cannot bring much of discussion up here, as with "the people aspect is the richest one" you "fed my heart" directly, too.
Maybe, because our natural sense of curiosity can be met when diving into new communities. Maybe, because the teacher-teachee-connection is such a good one. And maybe, because if you do well, a student will take some of you to live it...