Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Osvaldo Centeno and 10,000 hours

Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success suggests that 10,000 hours' practice is the key to success in any field; 20 hours a week for 10 years. Matthew Syed's book, Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice reinforces this. If you tell kids, or any students, that they are 'talented' you suggest they don't need to work hard. But of course, no one works hard if they're not enthusiastic. We often ask 'How long have you danced tango?' where 'How many hours have you clocked up, to date?' might be more appropriate. At a rough estimate, I've got about 6,000 hours ahead of me: being a tango commuter limits the hours available.

It's strange to think of the 'old milongueros' as teenagers, desperate to reach 18 so that they could get into the milongas and dance the smooth, perhaps revolutionary dance of 60 years ago, milonguero/salon. Enthusiastic, they must have passed 10,000 hours by their early 20s. One of these is Osvaldo Centeno, the latest in Practimilonguero's great series of interviews and dances. His account of how he learnt the cabeceo is wonderful, as is his description of the tango police patrolling the dance floor and throwing out anyone aged under 18: it's great that the interviews are now longer and give time for these insights. Curious that so many 'milongueros' were born around 1935. & so many of them define tango as 'pasión': I wonder if this means extreme enthusiasm, which we express by the rather negative word, 'addiction'.

Osvaldo Centeno's dance is worlds away from the cloned elegance of too many younger dancers and teachers. His Troilo is a revelation; I wonder if Troilo is an acid test for tangueros. Like the dance of all his generation, it's totally individual, reflecting his own nature, as well as the circumstances he learned and danced in. I could recognise him immediately on a dance floor by the way he moves. 10,000 hours, and no shortcuts.


tangocherie said...

I always enjoyed dancing with Osvaldo!

Unfortunately the beginners of today don't feel they have to put in so many hours to be "adequate" dancers.

But it was a different world then. We have to appreciate more those who grew up in the milongas. It doesn't happen any more.

If someone has had 20 classes they are now promoted to "profesor!"

msHedgehog said...

I think it's the intention that matters, not the time. I know a fair few young men who dance extremely well and are a true pleasure to dance with after one or two years regular dancing. Whether people's dance improves over time or not, and how quickly, seems to depend on luck, on how serious they are about wanting to dance well, on whether they take action that might help them do so, and on how intelligent they are about choosing those actions.

Tangocommuter said...

True, and I don't take the 10,000 hours really seriously in any case. But enjoying plenty of regular dancing does help!

Thanks for your comment.