Weekend Warrior: Jean-Paul Gravel knows it takes two to tango

ThroughConversation CEO Jean-Paul Gravel tangos with his business partner

The ThroughConversation CEO dances with his business partner

Nine years ago, Jean-Paul Gravel went to a Vancouver dance party and fell in love.           

A friend had taken him to a milonga, a social event where aficionados dance Argentine tango. “What I saw was such an incredible connection between the dancers, and the play between leader and follower struck me,” Gravel explains, with quiet intensity.

One person has to lead in tango, but it’s difficult for people to take complete control. The other has to follow, which is equally challenging because they must surrender to and trust their partner. At the same time, the person who leads is also following because they need to be aware of what their partner is doing. “It’s a beautiful interaction,” Gravel says.

Wearing a crisp, white, open-necked linen shirt on a hot summer day, he sits back in an armchair next to his office window overlooking downtown Vancouver. He compares tango to a form of personal development because it reveals the dancers’ characters. “It creates this dynamic between the man and the woman where they actually see themselves, and what you see, you can work on,” Gravel says. “I’ve never encountered any dance that is as difficult, as intense, as subtle, as beautiful. There is intimacy. There is passion. There is connectivity.”

Although Gravel, who grew up in Montreal, has danced since he was eight and was a seasoned urban dancer by the age of 20, he found learning tango “beyond hard.” He trained four hours a day, five to seven days a week, and attended tango festivals in Seattle and Portland.

After a while, he convinced his business partner, Olga Kniazeva, to take it up. At first they trained separately—”best of friends but can’t dance together,” Gravel notes—but they eventually became tango partners. They travelled together to Buenos Aires to learn from the masters, and Gravel had a breakthrough.

“I remember this one night where everything changed for me,” he says. “I’m looking at this guy dressed in green. He’s dancing, and at some point I get it. I understand the dance.”

Gravel realized that tango is not a sequence of steps but a single movement. “From the moment you embrace her, and that is a movement in itself, that’s tango,” he exclaims. “To the moment you let her go, that is one movement.” It transformed his dancing.

Now the pair go to milongas all over the world. They travel frequently, and wherever they find themselves, they make a phone call or check online to find a local event. “That’s the beauty about tango,” Gravel says. “You can go anywhere, and you’ll make friends, you’ll dance, you’ll have a social community.”

One of Gravel’s favourite milongas was in Paris, where hundreds of people from various countries danced outdoors beside the Seine River, but he and Kniazeva will visit Argentina again soon. “Down there they really respect the old traditions of tango,” Gravel says, admitting that he hadn’t really respected them himself before seeing the dance in Buenos Aires. “The room breathes,” he adds. “You watch people, they’re moving in synchronicity. It’s breathtaking.”

A milonga in Seattle led to another revelation. Exhausted from dancing for 14 hours, Gravel and Kniazeva removed their shoes but found it tough to navigate the slippery floor. “That’s when we got another part of tango: balance,” Gravel says. “When you’re sliding so much, you have no choice but to be so aware of your balance and where your axis is.”

So now Gravel often dances in stocking feet. “I love dancing in socks,” he confesses. In tango, “there are rules, but some people break them. I’m one of those people.” 

Warrior Spotlight

Jean-Paul Gravel launched ThroughConversation, a one-on-one coaching system, in Vancouver in 2004. He assists people suffering anxiety and depression, couples with relationship problems and business executives who want to perform better. In the past year, Gravel‘s focus has shifted toward his “inside-out” peak performance program for high achievers. He helps top performers advance in every area of their lives and to do more with less effort by increasing their clarity, focus and ability to connect.