I met Ermis Karaboulas years ago and I learned a lot from him as he is my first Tango teacher.
Today I want to share with you a glimps of his valuable knowledge along with a few tools that can help you find your own mentor.
“Tango is a couples dance; if you learn one role, you only know half of it”—Ermis Karaboulas
Quick intro so you can get a bit of perspective…
When I started Tango I had no particular interest in the dance itself… I had done some American Ballroom in the past but really not any particular interest in Tango per say.
So, I wasn’t one of those people loved and hoped, and dreamed and wished they could learn this dance of passion.
I was simply someone who loved to dance and loved Argentina. So in my head the easiest way to get closer to Argentina from Greece was to learn the Argentine Tango.
When I saw a poster on the door of a dance school advertising Tango lessons I persuaded a friend to join me and we just signed up.
We didn’t do any reasearch on the best dance school or the best teacher or the different Tango styles, we just went for it…
Hell! I didn’t even know you had to wear normal clothes… My first class, I was like I came out from the 70s! haha
But when we got started, I still remember thinking: “I really want to learn this dance and I am going to learn it with him”.
Afterwards, we found out from all our dancing friends that he was in fact the best in town..!
So, yes, Tool #1 to find your mentor: Listen to your gut! Trust your instinct!
Who’s Ermis Karaboulas?
Currently he is the founder and teacher of Tango Project, a three year Tango training program, that brings together the practises of Tango, Qigong, Yoga and the rules of anatomy and Kinesiology.
(Anybody who has followed Bautanz knows that we are all about understanding and building movement patterns, so you can see how even from a far this person is still a teacher to me)
He has been teaching Tango and other dances for many years and has an extensive background in dance, martial arts, music and chinese medicine studies.
In all he has helped a great amount of students all over Greece and other countries, embody the basic principles of Tango and grow into dancers with curious minds, expanding movement vocabularies and distinct personal dance style.
With no further a do, Ermis Karaboulas
When I started taking classes with you, you taught different dances, and not only Tango. How did you decide to stay in Tango and not follow Salsa?
Ermis: When I started learning Salsa and Tango, music wise I preferred Salsa but dance wise I preferred Tango. As time went by and as my knowledge on Tango music expanded, I started to understand it better, appreciate and like it. I think this is the reason why I decided to stay in Tango.
You don’t only have a great experience in other dances, but also in martial arts. Did that help you with Tango, and if so, how?
Ermis: Absolutely! I was in martial arts from a very young age and that helped me develop my physical abilities. That, along with extensive musical studies, made Tango rather easy for me. Being able to progress rapidly thrilled me, and kept me going.
Martial arts gave me great body awareness and control over body movement. Let me give you an example; The last few years the term “center” is used a lot in Tango. The term is eminent in the eastern martial arts. In Tango, in my opinion, they present as something simple and easy for any dancer to tap into. It is, in reality, rather demanding for someone–who has only been taught Tango–to deeply understand the meaning of the term. Besides, we have been exploring biomechanics through Tango for a few decades while energy techniques such as Qigong have been looking into the human body for more than 2 millennia.
You studied chinese medicine recently, what led you to that decision? What did chinese medicine teach you about the human body and how do you apply that knowledge to Tango
Ermis: I was to led to study chinese medicine through Tai Chi. Through chinese I gained a different understanding of how energy flows in the human body. Making use of that knowledge along with eastern energy techniques, one has the opportunity to manage that energy in various ways, at different levels and in various activities–Tango is one of them of course.
You have experienced various pivotal moments and shifts in your career. How do you manage change and how is that connected to your philosophy about Tango?
Ermis: My philosophy about Tango is not any different than my philosophy about life. Therefore, I believe that changes do not need management. I accept them and I keep on going.
And so here we are, with Tango Project. What is Tango Project exactly?
Ermis: It is a series of workshops, timely structured in three years of study. The one vital characteristic of Tango Project, is that students train in both roles–leading and following–in order to gain well-rounded knowledge of the dance.
As I like to say: “Tango is a couples dance, if you only know one role, you only know half of it”
There were 2 key observations, that sparked the idea. One from my own training and the other from the Tango community.
Since I was a student, I trained in both roles. It was later on that I realized how much that had helped me. I gained a better understanding of the dance along with a better understanding of what my partner expected of me.
On the other hand, every time I went to milongas I would see followers show up, change their shoes and leave without getting to dance. The reasons might vary for every case, but for me that was saddening, and so I thought things might change if they learned how to lead.
In Tango Project therefore everybody learns to lead and follow.
They learn to accept the duality of human nature and effectively communicate better in the dance, through understanding their partner in the best way possible; by putting themselves in their shoes.
The teaching of Tango Project follows the rules of anatomy and kinesiology and incorporates knowledge from Qigong and Yoga.
That allows for the kinetic behaviour of Tango to be perceived to the fullest. It is much easier, in this way, for the basic principles of Tango to be introduced to an untrained dancing body; While, advanced dancers have the opportunity to enhance their personal styles by discovering “tools” that broaden their interpretation of the dance
Ultimately, each student acquires a well-rounded knowledge of Tango, and of course, they are able to dance and enjoy themselves in a milonga, regardless of their gender, dancing as a leader or as a follower.
You are not only teaching though, you are doing shows as well. What are you looking for in a dance during a show and what in dance during a milonga?
Ermis: I am deeply satisfied in a show when I manage to offer pleasure to the people watching. When I dance in a milonga though, what I am looking for is a giving, a sharing embrace.
Is there a song, you just can’t resist dancing to?
Ermis: Not in one particular song but surely to specific composers, D’Arienzo and Pugliese
I remember once you said to me: “I will go where there are people who want to learn Tango” and that is what you have done for many years. How has that affected your progress in Tango and your life outside of Tango?
Ermis: My teaching has surely been greatly influenced. Through these many years that I’ve been traveling I’ve had the joy to meet many new people of different temperaments and cultures–different relative to me and to each other. Thanks to the broad and heterogeneous audience, I learned to adjust my teaching so I can be understood by everyone. Plus, I discovered what it is that brings people together, no matter where they are coming from. Inevitably, the frequent moving means that I spend a lot of time in some sort of means of transport … Over time this becomes more tiring, but I have gotten used to this way of life.. (hahaha)
When you are not teaching or dancing, what do you like to do? How do you spend the valuable free time that you get?
Ermis: In my free time I truly enjoy doing nothing… I read a lot, bicycle and watch movies.
Is there one or more people whose work has inspired your work and your philosophy, someone who you’ve been following?
Ermis: The dancer who influenced my initial decision whether I want to continue dancing Tango or do something else, was Pablo Verón. My philosophy was generally influenced by several philosophers (hahaha) – and not Tangueros. Today, of course, I think I only follow my love for what I do in ways that express my own experiences.
What advice would you give your beginner, your intermediate and your advanced self?
Ermis: To the beginner: “Observe”, to the intermediate: “Think” and to the advanced: “Don’t think”
If we had a huge board here now, and you could write one phrase, what would it be?
Ermis: Observe without thinking
What does your schedule look like for now, any planned classes and shows, and how can someone contact you?
Ermis: Till July 2018 every weekend is dedicated to Tango Project, with workshops running in different cities in Greece. There are also a few festivals and workshops that I will be participating, in Greece and other countries. Anyone can reach me through my profile on Facebook and through the Tango Project page of course.
Ermis Karaboulas: https://www.facebook.com/panagiotis.karaboulas.7
Tango Project: https://www.facebook.com/TangoProject
How to choose a good mentor?
Tool#2: Find out their perspective on change
Tool#3: Find out their perspective on Tango
Look for people who embrace change, you grow and evolve.
Avoid people who believe they know the “REAL” Argentine Tango.
Look for people who have learned different styles and have approached movement and Tango through diverse paths
Avoid people who are egoistic, who are not curious. And look for people who ask more questions than the answers they give.
Look for people who inspire and challenge their students. And people who build communities and not just good dancers.
That is a good start for a Monday don’t you think?
Tell me about your teachers in the comments, below!