When Gan Shuxian went for her very first tango workshop in November 2015, she wore her gym attire and sports shoes, which raised some eyebrows among the teachers there.
A colleague had told Gan about the workshop, which was held at one of the local dance studios in Miri, Sarawak. At the time, Gan was working there as an accountant in an oil and gas company.
Despite being away for work at that time, she changed her flight tickets and flew home a day earlier in order to attend the workshop.
“My instincts told me that I just had to go for the workshop. I had no idea what tango was about or what to expect.
So, I wore my gym attire and sport shoes – and shocked my teachers with my outfit,” recalls Gan, 35.
After the workshop, she could not stop raving about the dance to her best friend. And within a year, she quit her job to move to Kuala Lumpur to learn more about the dance.
Gan had two teachers – one taught her how to dance for herself, and another, how to dance for others.
She met her first teacher Rodolfo Saile, a Filipino, at the workshop. “He taught me to believe in myself and to let go of any insecurity so that I could represent myself in the best possible way every time I get onto the dance floor,” says Gan, who is still a practising accountant.
She met her second teacher, Marguerite Brodie, in Kuala Lumpur. Brodie is one of the founders of tango in Kuala Lumpur and around the region.
“She taught me to dance for the person in front of me, to care and to give my best on the dance floor. Over time, I realised that they were both teaching the same thing but in slightly different vocabularies. It is only by being the best version of yourself that you can give to others,” Gan shares.
Her first exposure to tango was when she was around 12, thanks to the movie Evita, the 1996 film starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas.
“That was my earliest impression of tango and Argentina. A few years later, I watched a Lonely Planet episode on Buenos Aires, and told myself that I would travel there some day and learn to dance the tango,” adds Gan, who was born in Kota Kinabalu and lived there until she was 18.
Today, her passion for the dance form continues to grow.
“I love so many things about tango. I love its music – it is rich in history and character, and has the most beautiful and melodramatic lyrics. The music transports you to a different dimension. The songs are centred around a story – of heartbreak, longing, memories of something or somebody – and are performed by an orchestra.
“It is not an easy dance to learn. Tango is danced in couples, and requires one to be sensitive to the other person’s rhythm, musicality and energy. Having the self-awareness and learning how to adapt to different people is very difficult.
“I love the people I have met since I discovered tango. Tango is danced in competitions, but it is also danced in social dancing parties called milongas. There are milongas in almost every single city in the world. One can drop by any milonga and dance with somebody you have never met, or somebody that does not even speak the same language as you,” she enthuses.
However, many people still have misconceptions about tango.
“I think most people think of high kicks, complicated movements and a rose in the mouth when they think of tango. That is far from the truth. Tango is really gentle – it is basically just two people walking, together!
“The beauty of tango is its simplicity; it is not showy. It is about connecting with the person in front of you,” adds Gan, who is single and “still looking for a husband who loves tango” as much as she does.
To introduce the dance to more people, Gan mooted the idea of a Malaysian tango festival.
“I travelled to Tokyo last June to watch the Asian Tango Championship because my teachers competed in it. People from different countries expressed themselves in different ways. An Indonesian lady expressed femininity in a very different way from a Singaporean woman or a Japanese woman – it was so beautiful to witness that.”
From there, she saw the need to create a platform for Asians to explore their identity in tango. The opportunity to do that arose when she was approached by her organising partner Maximiliano Cristiani, the 2013 World Champion.
“We are aligned in our values and approach, and we saw the potential in creating this platform, for tango to grow,” says Gan.
She organised the Malaysia Tango Festival and Preliminary Competition 2019, the first of its kind in Asia. It is open to dancers and the public. Four couples from Malaysia will be competing. The preliminary champions will compete in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from Aug 8-21.
Preliminary competitions are held in major cities around the world. Malaysia is the first official host for the 2019 Tango Mundial Preliminary Championship in South-East Asia.
The festival offers various exciting activities such as milongas and workshops given by artistes such as Ivan Romero, Cristina Sosa, Daniel Naccuchio and Cristiani, the World Champions from 2004, 2008 and 2013.
Also coming up is the Malaysia Tango Open Day. The highlights will be a free one-hour introduction to tango, taught by Cristiani, and an exhibition on the history of tango.