Prompt: Why is learning important to you and how has it impacted your life?*
Learning to Tango
The rhythms of Argentinian composer Astor Piazolla's tangos are electrifying. Aside from a brief balletic experiment as a four-year-old, I am not a dancer. Yet, watching the expressive movements of two dancers to the live soundtrack of Piazolla's “Libertango,” I have the deep desire to leap up and learn those movements. Those spins and twists seem like the purest way to express the emotion the piece is begging to release.
Instead, I find myself digging into the pages of tango music, disassembling each rhythm, counting it out, discovering what lends the feel to that rhythm and why, and then letting all the notes fall back into a cohesive whole. This happens many times with each rhythm. Each exploration leads to a deeper understanding, stronger neural and muscle-memory connections, and a more fluid whole.
I played these tango rhythms in the cello section of the Ukiah Symphony’s February concert. Weeks before and weeks later, I find the rhythms still leaping from my fingers, and find myself moving to the beats when sitting. And, invariably, as I practice each piece and discover more connections within the music, my nearest family member patiently bears my enthusiastic explanations of the rhythmic complexities.
I thrive on discoveries like this, on learning. There is a simple joy in beholding something new, in striving to comprehend a novel concept that invariably leads to exploration and a deeper understanding of self and of life. I don’t feel the purported dichotomy between art and science. I love the messy, holistic, impreciseness of art and, at the same time, cherish the clean and beautiful orderliness of analytical study. As a result, I find this thrill of discovery across all subjects I encounter, from mathematics to the physics of light to bossanova songs to the arrangement of pieces on the backgammon board.
My natural reaction to learning, then, is to share. To seek an answer to the questions: Can this bit of knowledge, this idea, this way of viewing a subject, impact someone else as it has impacted me? Are there others who find these tango rhythms, for example, as electrifying and fascinating to study and play? What does someone else see? Where will the path of exploration lead another?
I am pursuing college because it is in these learning environments I find others who also love to learn and share and listen.
Mathematics is another one of my passions, and I am majoring in this field at the University of California Santa Barbara. However, math is not a subject that came naturally to me. I remember staring at my pages of math homework in elementary school, full of colorful toucans and giraffes, having no idea there was a logical process to those addition problems. In first grade, I thought math was about guessing. That understanding was transformed when my mother took a year to homeschool me and gave me the best foundation in math anyone could ask for. The math journey since then has been challenging and rewarding. Trigonometry, the Calculus series, Linear Algebra, and now Differential Equations… There have been plenty of tears and frustration and mystified wonder. There is something that feels so good, though, about being pushed beyond anything I’ve done before, to be shown a new place to inhabit with thoughts, to be shown ideas that stretch my understanding.
Through math, I have learned that I am deeply motivated to understand “why,” to touch the essence of a concept, to see the mechanics of a thing and how it works. To understand -- as my Calc II teacher says: not superficial knowledge but to literally “stand under” and behold an entire concept -- is a gift. It’s something worth working extremely hard for... but it’s not something I deserve or earn on my own.
For me, mathematics and learning are beautiful because of the people as much as the concepts. I owe countless thank you’s to the kind and brilliant mathematicians I have had as instructors and as friends. Learning to simply breathe when I’m frustrated, finding a new way to approach a problem, knowing when to take a break… these are all precious lessons others have taught me, through the math. Hours and hours of intense work, frustration, tears, "aha" moments, joy, confusion, encouragement, and wonder. Now, math is truly one of my passions.
Learning is never a static thing, but rather an authentic and dynamic pursuit. There are a multitude of math theorems running around in my head, but they are inextricably linked to memories of Calculus class jam sessions and food parties and exploring the universe together. Those tango rhythms I now know refuse to leave me alone because they are more than ink markings on a page. They hold memories of satisfaction and the bright stage lights and musicians’ laughter in the green room during intermission. Learning is so much more than reading a textbook. It’s a beautiful process that combines the ability to do new things with new perspectives. It’s a way to connect with others and also learn about oneself.
I hope to infuse this holistic love of learning and sharing in my work outside of school. Career-wise, I envision myself doing many different things, each addressing an aspect of my varied interests. Educationally, I want to be equipped with the proper skills and knowledge to do fulfilling and creative work that impacts others in a positive manner, via technology, mathematics, language... and tango music.
*This essay is written as a submission for an Activia Training US Scholarship: https://www.activia.co.uk/scholarship-us
April 30, 2017