Why Tango? Conversation with my neighbor, Albert Rombold

Interview: Albert Rombolt

Owner and Instructor, Tango & Salsa Dance Studio

Gillespie Park/Rosemary District Neighborhood



April Doner (TWIS):
One of the things I noticed about you before I ever me you was that you’re always sitting outside in a chair, and that always rerally struck me because  I think it’s nice when people sit outside, I think it makes it more human-feeling. So I was wondering, why do you choose to sit outside your studio?

Albert Rombold:  First of all, I like to be outside. Second of all, I am smoking sometimes, and I can do that not so much inside my studio. And, it gives me contact to people. People ask me about the dance studio and all that — it’s good advertisement for the studio to sit outside like that.   (AD) Have you met any people that have come to dance here?   Yes, I met them outside in the cars, they  ask me and I give them cards. Not all of them, not a lot of them, but some of them, yes. They came.

How long have you had the studio?
It’s now 17 months. I went through this recession, and I’m still standing. It’s still working.

Did you have a studio before you came here?
I was a dance teacher for 10 years in Sarasota in ballroom studios and because I didn’t want to do that anymore, I started the studio.  It’s because of “selling dance” instead of making it happen that people can enjoy dance.  That’s the difference with what I do in this studio. I make it affordable for $100 a month membership fee, people can come whenever they want.  So, in a ballroom studio you pay $85 an hour, and we were instructed as ballroom teachers to not teach–to sell.  And, this is not my philosophy. I want to create couples. I want to create good dancers.

And I have a small studio, I don’t pay a lot of rent, I can do a good price for my students and they’rre all happy. It’s growing slowly by slowly.  How many do you have right now?  Now at the moment I have thirteen. It’s actually the highest number in 16 months now.  That’s a lucky number too [laughing].  Yeah–fifty is more lucky!   So that’s a really great deal — $100 per month instead of one class for $85.

Yeah, the thing is–when you do a group lesson somewhere else in a dance school, you have mostly everyone [there for the] first time. And then you have, out of ten people 6 beginners, 4 girls or so know something, and mostly every group lesson you go [to], it’s a new start because you have to help somebody, or–but you do not really grow. And the only way growing in dancing is practicing a lot.

And, the people who come here, they form couples a lot of times, they find somebody. Out of thirty people we have 14 men. That’s amazing at that moment. I’ve not every time had something like that–and fourteen committed men.  Our age group is between twenty-two and fifty, and that’s very good too–we have very active people. It comes together like I wanted it.

How did you get started dancing?

When I was 18 years old, my mother forced me. She said, “You have to take a dance lesson with your sister.” And, I said, “No, I don’t want that because I’m a man.” [laughing] I played soccer, actually. But she said she’d pay for my driver’s license if I’d do that, and it was a good deal for me because, especially in Germany that is very expensive. And, yes, then I did that. My sister danced two years and I danced my whole life. I stayed dancing my whole life, I did nothing else.

Did you know at your first class that you loved it?

I was lucky to have a teacher who was world champion in the dance category, and he would teach in the studio too, and he told me immediately I would have a talent and I could do something with it. And it was like a mentor the first year–the first two years.   What was his name?  Renee Sagarra. He was–ah, it’s in Europe, nobody knows him here. He mentored me, he helped me a lot, and he pushed me actually. But, it was very fast clear that I would be successful in what I was doing. And I lived [off of] it since I was 18 years old.

And so how did you start?  Did you dance in competition?

Ah–you go there–I didn’t want to talk about it but it’s OK. [laughing] It is “Rock Acrobatique” dance sport. In Europe it’s big.  In United States, it doesn’t exist because of liability insurance and sueing possibilities and it’s a very risky–for the audience, not me–very risky acrobatic sport.  And, yes I was World Champion, German Champion twice and all that.

And then, I went to Costa Rica, made a little of real estate, stopped dancing because I thought I was too old (I was 31).  And, what a mistake. I…started a different life, and after 11 years in Costa Rica, Sarasota dance studio owner from Dance Fuzion Patrick Johnson saw me dancing again, like for fun, in Costa Rica and asked me if I want to come over here and dance.  Oh that’s so cool! What a coincidence.

Yeah, it’s like–it’s funny. And I had nothing at the moment, I got divorced in Costa Rica and I thought I knew the next step would be America, and I said, “Why not” and came over.  I started again–dancing ballroom, teaching ballroom.

I was not very interested in teaching ballroom. I wanted to bring my sport to the United States but I figured out very soon it was not possible because of liability insurance and all that.  I stuck with my job and I liked it for awhile, but I did not like the sales aspect of it, that you really have to take the lifeblood out of students [that makes] them have fun.  And then I thought, “I have to find a way to open a studio that I can still live with, be as a teacher, but the students always have an opportunity–a real opportunity to practice.  And I think slowly by slowly, it will grow.  

It sounds like you have a good following. Have you found Sarasota to be a good place to start?

I think Sarasota is a wonderful place. I guess in a city like Miami if I would do that I might be more successful maybe because there’s way more people, way more youth, way more interest because of the amount of people. But, I started in Sarasota and I feel home, and I said “I can do that here too. I just have to get a small amount of young people to dance, and I can do that.”  But it’s getting better and better all the time.

What have you found to be the most effective way to find people so far?

It’s all word of mouth. Because in other studios–I had a studio earlier in Sarasota but it went down, it was early in the recession. I wanted to go the ballroom way, a lot of private lessons, high money and all that, but it didn’t pay off–especially when the recession began.  And, we did advertisement. We paid the yellow books, we paid Herald Tribune and invested more money it never came back. The only thing that comes back is when people are happy, when they love you, when they like to dance with you, when they see success in what they’re doing.  Then they will talk to their friends.

It takes a long time, it’s been 16 months now, to feel stable a little bit for the first time and it will take another 16 months now, but I have people who love to come here already who have been here over the 16 months, they’ve stayed.

Not all of them, of course–only the most committed, they stay.  But I don’t care about most because I want to create. I want to do something with it.  And you cannot do something if somebody is just wanting to dance for a month and says, “OK I’m socially OK now, I can dance outside.”  Yes, I do that too–and welcome to everyone, but I’m interested in creating something professional, something who is not just a small social dancer. I want to create good couples. This is my goal.

And so, how do you like being in this neighborhood? ‘Cause this is my neighborhood too–what’s your feeling, what do you like about it?
Oh I like that Rosemary District is very near to downtown. And when I drink a coffee it takes me two minutes.  Where do you go?  At Pastry Art, maybe, or Mattison’s sometimes.  It’s a good neighborhood and it deserves to get help a little bit. Through the recession you can see Central Ave, businesses are closing. You see it on Main Street too, you see it everywhere. I hope that it comes back because it’s a nice neighborhood, it’s a beautiful neighborhood. There are very interesting people here.

Why do you love Tango?

[laughs]  Why do I love Tango…?  OK…

[With] my Rock  Acrobatique stuff it was a totally different story. It was nothing about feeling, has nothing to do with salon dancing. It was rock and roll.  It’s rough, it’s flying it’s fun, it’s everything. It gave me my youth–I’m still in my youth really–it satisfied me totally because I was like a little body-builder, I wanted to get stronger. It was something special. So ballroom for me is nothing special, because everybody’s doing it.

When I was in Miami three years ago and I tried to dance Rock Acrobatique again with a Russian girl there, I found her there. She danced in the 90’s  in Europe too, she was world class too–and we came together, we tried, we practiced, but that didn’t work out because she had two little kids and a business so not enough time to practice.

But on the other side of the street was an Argentine Tango studio and thought, “OK with my spare time, I have to do something.”  And I was interested. And now since this day now, it’s never let me go because Argentine Tango is creative. The man is in charge. The man has to play with the music. The man has to lead the girl [so] that she feels good. And the girl has to–I don’t know if it’s the right word, I say it always–submit totally to the man.

It sounds like macho or something like that but actually the girl’s feeling better on it than everybody else.  This is what came out of it later on because–I mean, in every dance the woman is the follower, she has to follow. One cook has to be on the soup, not two cooks–it’s not working. But in Argentine Tango it’s so extreme, the woman is like a musical instrument and the  man plays the musical instrument according to the music, and if you find this feeling one time, if you as a man the feeling to be in charge, and the woman feels to be stroked the whole time. Even if she’s not stroked.

It looks sensual but it–there should  be no touch actually, in Argentine Tango. Everybody thinks, “Oh they’re making love on the dance floor”–it’s not like this. It’s all illusion–it should be illusion.  Some others, they don’t make illusion out of it, but I mean the tease is the fun of it. It asks for creativity of a man and for the woman to give totally up for three minutes. She has to give up everything, and so every thought she has, everything. She just has to go with the flow. And when you achieve that, you never give up Argentine Tango because it’s the best feeling you ever can have.

Well, it’s interesting because we did a couple of hours the other week and it just really made me stretch my listening and responding–you know, really really listening.  And sometimes I feel like in our culture, we celebrate so much to be assertive and aggressive and–that’s a wonderful thing, you know, to be able to control and direct something, but I think that an equally valuable skill is the ability to listen and the ability to respond.  

So, in my mind, if we can be in the modern world and try to be equal as men and women in the world, I look at it  as, “OK, now’s my chance to practice really listening and really responding–as a human being.”  It doesn’t have to be that I’m not powerful, because I’m powerful if I’m able to listen. I don’t know how you feel about that…

No, I have heard that before.  I have a student, she opened a business, a big business. She came out of the recession too.  She invented a pizza and it goes with Whole Foods now and it looks like shhe will grow with it and she says she comes to Tango dancing  because she can let go. Because like I told you, when a woman goes with the flow, she don’t have to think, she has  to let go of everything, it’s kind of like meditation for her.  And she said, “This is my two hours a day or my hour a day where I can let go, I just feel the music, I go with the music, I listen to the music, and it’s a calm music, it’s not anything rough, and it calms me down.” And she is very busy at the moment and still she find every time an inch to come in. And that’s kind of what you said, I guess–that she can chill out tango dancing.

Why do people stay once they’ve started?   We are a clique, we go out dancing.  It’s not just that we practice hard–no, no, we go together dancing, we become friends. Some more, some less. We go out together, we dance together, we have parties together. It’s  a social environment where everybody helps each other.

Because it’s not that one sticks with the same partner every time.  That’s not recommendable because everybody’s different, every woman reacts different to a lead, every woman feels different when a man wants to lead it, and the best is that you dance with everyone.  So, younger and older, everybody comes like this together and likes each other because they’re practicing together.  It’s like a social club where you can come whenever you want.

I say to come to practice, you should partner up at the time, but it’s not a problem, you don’t have to bring a partner.  Partners are here–they will dance with you, it doesn’t matter how old, how young you are or whatever. And at the beginning I will be there to bring you up.

We will start to do more public [things].  I am planning to do an open air milonga (milonga is a tango dance party) and we wanna do it on Main Street somewhere.  So, one night a week or something, the man dancing in a suit the woman in a nice dress and outside. Actually, in Argentina and Buenos Aires they are doing them all the time. Tango should be danced on the street, that the public can see it, and I think this would be the best advertisement we could have.

At the moment is there anything, like an event, that people might come out to?

Whoever comes in here dances.  This is a little YMCA–people can come in here, I never know when they come, I never know when it’s full. This is my thing, I have to be here. Usually after five o’clock, six o’clock usually there’s more youth. Depends, it always depends.

I can never say when something’s here, I can only say I am here and whoever walks in here will dance if they want to–no problem.  Open door policy.

Can you tell me the story of how Tango was created?

The music was there–by composers.

And somewhere in the 1800’s there was a war between Paraguay and Argentina and all the circle there.  The soldiers were alone, there were no cities where they could have gone. The music was there and so they started, between men, to tango. And, of course, there is no woman–you don’t want to be so sensual with another man, so there was all this kick stuff, you know what you see when the man kicks the woman or something, and there was all this rough dancing of tango.

In the last three years [of the war], the government sent the prostitutes, you know.  And the music was there–the soldiers did the dance to it, they invented, if you want, the dance to it. And the prostitutes, they came to it. And then, out of that–because of course, the prostitutes, they try to sell themselves through the dance, and from that comes the stroking, the sensuality, all comes to the dance.  It came out of this environment.

And then, the war was over and the people came back to Buenos Aires and all that andsome people got sent to Europe to study, to Paris, and the reason why tango is so big in Paris is because of that, because  people from Buenos Aires brought tango. And waltz was there–you have some waltz moves in tango also. It’s a mixture, and there is a tango waltz that is on 1-2-3 beat but you dance a tango but on a waltz rhythm with different kind of music. This came together and they came back to Buenos Aires and slowly this form–what is today tango–formed out of it.

Now at the moment comes the new music: this is electronic tango. They are pretty famous already and the youth picks it up again because it is electronic music, and they start now with electronic and in the background playing the old melodies, and they mix that.
In Europe it’s a big thing already.  In Miami, it’s a big thing. I guarantee you, you go to Miami right now and you can dance tango more than any other dances socially. You can dance Miami everyday in Miami. [If] you go to the website www.tangomango.com, you will see how popular tango is in the world.

Sarasota is a small town, it needs a little time to grow, but it will be big here.

What’s the difference between ballroom and Argentine Tango?

The difference between Argentine and Ballroom Tango? It’s like everything–let’s talk about the ballroom business again: everything in ballroom is structured.  They have the judge in the competition, they judge it. Everybody has to do the same steps that the judge can say, OK there is a difference between this. So everything is structured in ballroom.

So, Argentine Tango is a street dance: there is no structure. The tools of the man or of the woman to follow them are the six basics, nothing else. When you have the six basics down, you do them without thinking–well, then, the man creates the dance. There is no step. It’s never a step who everybody’s doing in the world…  the variety is so big that there are no rules. You can do whatever you want. The important thing is, the man has to hear the music, not the rhythm. With other dances like Salsa it’s the rhythm–1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3. It doesn’t matter what the guy thinks or the band plays–you dance just the beat. Swing, rock and roll, whatever you do, you dance just the beat.

In Tango, you are dancing with the melody, and that actually gives you the feeling. Because when you hear music like Argentine Tango, it can be very sad, it can be very loving, it can be very upsetting–ya–and you try to play your instrument (your girl), and it makes it free.

It’s a free dance. You can do whatever you want, there is no rule. When you use the six basics, you will see, you have millions of options. You have to be creative as a man, you can’t just say, “OK I learn this, yeah, I go home in two months.”  Argentine Tango, no, nobody learns in two months. It’s never-ending.

I guarantee you, you dance twenty years Argentine Tango, you’re still learning. And me, I know who dances Argentine Tango and tells you, “I’m still learning.”

Marcia Kramer is an organizer of the tango community in Sarasota. She’s a very lovely lady, and she’s coming to me now too, she’s here too, and she’s dancing also. She said, “I’ve been dancing so long, but what I did with you I never did.”  That doesn’t mean I’m the amazing one or something like that, but, it’s never-ending. She never ends to learn. Everybody’s doing it different. What you’ll see, you have five hundred different men you dance with, and everybody’s doing it different–how big the range is, you know?  How much you can learn.

In Sarasota, you can go to Milonga, I don’t know, every month. The biggest Milonga or tango dance party–we call it Milonga–is at Bobby Jone’s dance course. And Mattison’s is catering this. It goes up to 11 o’clock at night or something, and Marcia is dancing. In Sarasota there are already around 200 Tango dancers–in Sarasota, Tampa, we bring them all together. They all come together.

And there are various places, I guess every week now in Sarasota you can go somewhere, to a restaurant or something, to dance Tango. There is a club Ceviche, Fridays and Saturdays, the band Quabal is playing there, and we are sometimes there dancing there.

Can you tell me how it’s been to start this in Sarasota?

I like Sarasota. I’m not alone able to build Miami up. Miami is already built. There are already teachers, there are good teachers there. And in Sarasota, this is the only place [that teaches Argentine Tango.]  If you go to Marcia’s Milonga, they have a group lesson there. If you go to Gotta Dance to Mike and Angie, you have a group lesson there, but the only Argentine Tango studio where you’ll really be able to practice–if you really take it seriously. You learn from everyone.

What is it that makes you a good teacher?

Oh…  That’s a good question.

Well, I was one time World Champion–in a different thing of course–but I know how to get there. I created couples, I created German champions in my time, in this sport. I lived it for myself and I did it with others. My goal is to create great couples. It is not to create someone who is a nice social dancer. I want to work with someone. And, there’s just one thing: I can show you a step, but how you do it is upon you. If you exercise the step, if you work and really practice hard this one step, you will get there.  But I think that if somebody gives you motivation, if somebody pushes you, if he knows what’s wrong at that moment–I think this is a good teacher.

The opportunity that you can practice more than anyone else because you can be for nine hours here, that makes it good. It’s not just the teacher. It’s what you feel, what you want to do. Steps is not the problem, you invent them in a second–this is not the problem. [It’s] what you want to give to it. I think I am a very good teacher because I know where and how to go somewhere–how to achieve something in dancing. I will not say “I’m the one, the best teacher.”  No, I’m the one with the best possibilities to learn.

I do private lessons, of course, but some people, especially young people, they can’t afford it, they don’t have $85 an hour for a teacher and then three times a week or four times a week. There’s no pressure or something like that to force people to do private lessons, but if somebody wants it, of course I do it.  If somebody wanted to become a member, I don’t pressure for private lessons, I don’t even talk about it because that’s why I left ballroom.

This is a wonderful job because we have fun with people, we make people happy–definitely we have people happy. But the other side of it is, after a day of dancing 6 hours, your body is like you have been working on a construction site, you know–you’re tired, you want to go home. This is what it is as a business. It’s not just dancing all day, it’s really body-work. And every student is different, no student is the same. One person if you say something will be offended, another will say, “Give me more.” You have to be careful and all that.

I’m curious, coming in from out of Sarasota, what has that been like for you?

I’m German. I’m coming out of a society who is always under pressure. In Gerrmany, i’s workring workring working, making money, everything. But working, working, working is in Germany like the premise. It’s just a total different life. Germany was and is, for me, way too extreme. Everything is rules, regulated like crazy.

Then I come to Costa Rica–nothiing. Nothing’s got rules, everything is wonderful. It’s just beach and all that. When you grow up in one culture and you go to the other extreme, it’s not good either. It’s like you’re used to these things are working and they don’t work there. And you don’t like laziness so much. When I take 50% of my education, how I grew up, I’m still way too stressful for Costa Ricans. But I love Costa Rica–this will be the place I die. I will go back for sure–to retire.

I came to Sarasota because he invited me. I was not going to Sarasoat because I wanted to be in Sarasota. I wanted to dance, that’s it. There should be more done for youth. For example, when I see Main Street, it’s pretty dead. It’s not that organized, you know. What we have in my hometown in Germany, we have the main street and there are no driving cars, you know–it’s just for walking. We have, like, every 20 yards a street cafe. An Italian cafe, a Mexican cafe, a French cafe and whatever. And, you know, artists, then you have a little cello orchestra. Then on the other side  you have an Italian opera singer who sings in a big atrium, you know, in a church entrance or something. And people just go there because there’s this attraction for people. Because, when we go out in our hometown to this street, always there is something happening. Always there is something fun.

St. Armands is a little like that [here], but St. Armands is not for everyone. And I think Main Street needs to be something like that [street in Germany]. At 11 o’clock you want to eat something–closed. The only thing that stays open is fast food places.

But there is the ocean, that is wonderful. There’s a cool population too, you know, you have many cultures here. I can speak Spanish, I try to keep up with it by practicing and I can practice here [in Sarasota] so I don’t lose it.  It’s good multicultural living.  And I like that here, there are people making something happen, working hard for it, but not killing themselves for it. So this is the middle of [the two other places I’ve lived].

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