Meet your teacher: Math teacher moves to the music through tango career

In this installment of “Meet Your Teacher,” math teacher Gabriele Stahl discusses her experience in dance.


Kathy Fang

Stahl dances the evening away with tango partner Sam Safadi. “If you want something challenging, then challenge yourself with Tango,” Stahl said.

by Rose Guan and Kathy Fang

A singer fills the air with a plaintive melody. Dozens of tango dancers locked in tight embraces sway in time with the rich music, covering the room with intricate series of steps. Among them is upper school mathematics teacher Gabriele Stahl.

[Teaching] relates mostly in lessons that I take. When I go dancing at night, I try to leave the math teacher at home. But when I take lessons, I always look at the teacher in terms of his teaching, so I always assess him, whether that’s my job or not. I can’t help it– ‘Oh my God, he should have really reviewed this because he takes the next step’ or ‘Oh, he should go around more and help individually and not stand by the music and look at his playlist’—that kind of thing.

— Gabriele Stahl, math teacher and Tango pro

Argentine tango, the style that Stahl dances, emerged near the border between Argentina and Uruguay in the late 19th century. Argentine is one of many styles of the rhythmic social dance, distinguished from the likes of ballroom and Finnish tango by its melancholic music.

When you watch a ballroom tango, it is very stylish and very oriented toward the outside, so the people dance for the spectators,” Stahl said. “The Argentine tango is absolutely not like that. The couple dances just for itself.”

Stahl’s own journey with tango began when she observed a workshop on Argentine tango at the Esalen Institute, a retreat center in Big Sur, in the early 2000s. She had previously performed and taught ballroom dancing, but she prefers tango for its more spontaneous nature as opposed to the rigid choreography of ballroom dancing.”

Argentine tango, danced with a close embrace between a leader and a follower, relies on improvised, rather than rehearsed movements.

The leader has to make sure he’s very clear in his communication and his moves are very subtle, and then as a follower, I have to pick those up and then follow his lead. There is a challenge in there, and that is giving up control,” Stahl said. “It’s very, very intimate. You feel like one body, almost, that moves with four legs.”

Stahl attends a milonga, or a social event featuring open dancing with different partners, in the Bay Area every week, and she also takes tango classes and dances in cities around the world.

“When I travel, I always dance in the cities that I visit,” Stahl said. “I have danced in Bangkok, I have danced in Seoul, I have danced in Munich, I have danced in Barcelona—all of these cities—and I meet a ton of really, really cool people.”

Stahl tries to apply the lessons she learns from tango to her teaching in the classroom.

“When I go dancing at night, I try to leave the math teacher at home,” Stahl said. “But very often, I feel like my own students when I take classes. When a teacher teaches something, and I try to do it and it just doesn’t work, and then the teacher comes [and says,] ‘OK, let’s look at Gabi and see how we don’t do it’—that feeling is always a reminder for me in the classroom.”

Stahl recommends tango to any students who want to experience what she calls the “deep, deep satisfaction” and spontaneous style of the dance.

“If you want something challenging, and if you want something where you learn about yourself, where you find yourself in a different situation being in the embrace of a stranger, then challenge yourself with tango,” Stahl said. “And I promise the reward is absolutely awesome.”

Kathy Fang

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on March 30, 2018.