Sunday, 22 January 2017

Choose your partners carefully

There’s value in seeking out particular partners to dance your favourite D’Arienzo tanda, Tanturi valses, or a Di Sarli/Rufino tanda.  You know who dances these in the style you enjoy.

But what about all of your other partners?  By this, I mean the other couples already on the floor!  It may be wise to survey the line of dance for a moment, before entering the ronda.  You probably have no desire to dance in front or behind a couple who are dancing in a dangerous fashion (high boleos, large unpredictable movements, poor body control, etc.).  And then there are the couples who are dancing to the music in a manner very different to how you would, e.g. you may prefer to dance to some Pugliese slowly, without any complex moves, whereas your neighbouring couple may be fast & furious!  This will certainly disrupt your focus on the music.  It certainly distracts me! So, look for couples who will dance in a way that complements you  ….. and men, there’s also a lot to be gained by dancing behind a very good male dancer!

When I visualise dancing at my favourite milongas, I see a crowded floor, with my dance space on the outside ronda being no more than a ‘baldosa’ – maybe one metre square.  Yet, there is rarely a bump, because the dancing reflects the music very well, and the navigation skills of most leaders allow them to incorporate their neighbours’ movements into their own.  In this milonga, despite its busyness, I can normally relax with my partners, because I trust most of the other leaders that surround me.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Music is the leader

Much is said about men as leaders, and there’s a lot of merit in “he leads, she responds, then he follows her”.  However, more fundamental to the dance is the ability of the couple to let the music lead them. Thanks Tango Therapist for articulating this concept. 
But it appears not everyone places such a supreme value on the music that they dance to.  This can be seen in: “I’ll dance tango to anything”, couples already on the dance floor before the music even starts, and others who carry on conversations during their tanda.  However, these are exceptions; I believe most dancers want to connect with the rhythms, emotions, and cadences of every piece that they dance.  To go some way to achieving this, some dancers even reserve a particular orchestra or a vals tanda for particular partners.

Listening is essential, and it starts with the man & woman listening to each other’s bodies at every moment, with every move, every lead and response.  Then there is a higher order skill – listening to and interpreting the music.  Higher order, because it is premised on good physical technique & control, a body memory of movements that will respond to music (rather than the dancer engaging in a thought-process), good floor-craft, a strong familiarity with the music, and a sensitivity & respect towards one’s partner.

So, is this listening to the music the man’s domain alone?   Absolutely not!  When I dance, I want my partner to hear the music, and to feel the congruence of my response to it.  I want to take her on a journey, but one that she will feel is guided by the nuances of the music.  If her total focus is ‘listening’ to my movements & responding to them, then she is not engaged with the music.

To listen to the music and be taken on this journey, a woman needs to trust her partner – trust that he will lead absolutely clearly, giving her the time she needs to respond; trust that she will be physically secure; trust that he is dancing for her, and not for himself; and trust that he is truly listening to the music.

Ladies, once you really listen to the music, you will be less likely to be surprised by any lead or timing, because it will “feel right”, and you will be more likely to respond in a way that will enhance the dance.  

Saturday, 7 January 2017

It's all about the milonga

What draws you to tango?
People take up tango for lots of reasons, but for me, it’s all about the milonga.  

Some people spend a lot of time & money taking lessons, going to practicas, and milongas.  Yet, some see attending milongas as the least important, and rarely put their skills ‘on the line’.  

I’m a great believer in dancers getting explicit & expert advice on the essentials: posture, embrace, tango walk, body control, body lead, rhythm.  Then, add some fundamental tools to these essentials to enable people to improvise: ochos, cross, simple turns, etc.  A good teacher will blend these essentials & tools into functional movements.  Now the dancers must practise, and a practica is the most appropriate place, as well a safe place to get constructive feedback.  

At some stage, however, the dancer needs to take the plunge: attend milongas, do a lot of watching & listening, and have the occasional dance with a trusted partner. It will be pretty obvious that the milonga is very different to a practica – intimidating is a fair description to the novice. Gradually skills & confidence develop with regular milonga attendance, just as familiarity with potential partners will grow.

Compare this with taking up a new sport. You are taught the fundamentals at training week after week, then you play practice matches before the season starts, and the main event is ‘the game’.  No-one wants to go through the season playing just the occasional match – likewise, tango dancers shouldn’t be satisfied dancing in the milonga just now and again (or never!!).

What is the magic of a good milonga that makes you want to keep coming back? 
For a start, like the sports match, it’s the real thing.  It’s a total experience - venue, music, the dancers, the etiquette, the energy - and the delicious challenge of the unexpected.   Maybe the magic is the personal connection we have with particular milongas - El Maipu and Lujos (video below) in Buenos Aires are two that come to my mind.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Are you missing out?

At yesterday's milonga, a native Spanish-speaker remarked on the huge impact of the lyrics of tango on his dance. Some lyrics enriched his experience beyond description.

It makes sense when you think about it, doesn't it?  Consider for a moment those tangos which absolutely summon you to floor. You hear the opening bars of the piece and feel that you have to dance. I'll wager that it's the emotion of that music which plays a huge role in making you look around - almost with a sense of urgency - for a partner. How much stronger is that emotional response when you also know something of the story, or if you understand the lyrics as they are sung?

Tango is a feeling which we share when we dance with our partner. How much richer could that shared experience be, if we understood something of the poetry?

So, if you now suspect that you might be missing out, look up a few of your I've-got-to-dance-to-this tangos. You can read translations while you listen. Here are some of my favourites in Poesia de Gotán and Embrujamiento.  One website thoughtfully provides subtitled Youtube videos, too!

Here's one of my favourite Pugliese tangos subtitled by Tango Decoder:


Monday, 10 October 2016

Things my mother taught me

When guests come to your home for the first time, you show them in, you introduce them to other people who are present. You help them to feel at ease.

So, in your experience, do milonga organisers make you feel welcome and show you where there are free seats?  Or are you expected to fend for yourself after paying your entry fee? As a newcomer, are you introduced to a few dancers, to help ease you into the local scene?

When going out, I was expected to make an effort with my attire and grooming.  It showed respect and appreciation to my hosts and fellow guests.

Isn't it lovely when men and women at the milonga have donned some nice clothes for the event, which also helps them leave their day-to-day lives at home, at least for a little while.

When wanting to engage in conversation with someone, I learned to read the other person's body language first, to see whether they might be interested in talking with me.

It's wonderful to see more and more people in milongas confidently using the cabeceo, the "Are you interested in dancing with me?" non-verbal form of invitation.

My mother also taught me to say "No", when I felt uncomfortable.

So, I don't understand why otherwise assertive women put up with some dance partners' behaviour. Are they afraid of hurting his feelings? What about their own feelings and self-respect?

If we bump into someone while walking down the footpath, we automatically apologise, and pay more attention as we walk on.

How many times have you been bumped or kicked while dancing at a milonga, with no acknowledgement from the perpetrator, let alone an apology? Nowadays this is infrequent in Adelaide, but it does shock me when it happens.

Should the milonga be any different to other social situations, when it comes to common courtesy? I think not.  Yet, why do some people forget what their mother taught them, when they go to a milonga?

Maybe it's a question of maturing and feeling comfortable in one's tango skin, and realising that  tango is not about executing steps. It's about relating to others.


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