Giving good dance
A Leader's Rant
A rant follow-up
Something is happening in the tangosphere. On three separate continents at the moment, tangloggers are blogging about Giving And Getting Good Dance.
- Sallycat in Buenos Aires has labelled it ‘The Gift’ and is thinking about teaching it. (Bottle it, please, and send some over)
- Mari in Texas has noted how the best leaders do it (‘On the fly!’ by following).
- And here in blossomy Blighty, I too have been pondering the empathetic aspects of the dance.
More than pondering. On your behalf, dear reader, (600 of you at last count. Wow!) I have questioned teachers and dancers from the USA, Russia, France, Argentina and the UK. Men and women who tango in cities like Cambridge, Kansas, Karachi, Vancouver, Chicago, Moscow, Minnesota, Marseilles, Bristol, Buenos Aires, London, Liverpool, Oregon and Oswestry have opened their hearts and shared their wish lists with me. (OK. I lied about the last one. Oswestry’s not a city, but it’s got a damn good tango teacher who understands this stuff)
Giving Good Dance articles
I plan, in a series of Giving Good Dance (GGD) postings, to offer you the wit and wisdom of these good folk; and of teachers of other dance forms too, in the belief that there are some tenets of good leading and following that are common to all.
The entries presuppose a certain level of competency. That’s not to say we tango students don’t need more work on technique. My balance, posture, precision and musicality are going to keep me challenged for many a year to come. But in the meantime, I need to know how to get more of those Mills & Boon moments. Or what Christine Denniston likens to the Vulcan Mind Meld, “the sense of being completely known, completely understood and completely accepted.”(The Meaning of Tango. 2007. Portico: p. 50)
The Avatar intertwining tendrils-thing, said a follower trying to explain the psychic nature of GGD to me.
Unlike some of the Muchas Milongueras writing about this, I have limited experience of the salons of Buenos Aires where the gift of good dance abounds, according to sallycat. But I’ve been lucky enough to have my moments con los angelitos so I know what I want to feel again (and again and again) on the floor. I believe I have an inkling of what I must give in order to get it, but it’s only an inkling. I want to know more and perhaps I can learn this from hearing what other women say about it and from finding out what leaders (aside from those who seem only to be borrowing my bones for the struggle) want.
So, I plan to ask you too. The blogmeister has kindly set me up with a special eddress LaDulce@learningtango.com - so you can contribute your two pesos worth to this fascinating subject. Your identity will be protected, so anonomize, disguise, metonomize, whatever...
A little taster
Meanwhile, here’s a little taster of some of the answers I’ve already had to my question: What can a leader or follower do to Give Good Dance?
- “(No) "adas" (volcada, colgada, sacada)…”
- “She should share the music in her body.”
- “He should remember the million possibilities for dancing on one floor tile.”
- “She should follow what she feels, not what she thinks.”
- “My ultimate leader understands how threesomes work.”
- “…on a good night, if I’m lucky, I can fall in love half a dozen times…”
Kick off your CIFs , sit back and read on...
~ La Dulce
3rd May 2010
A contribution about how NOT to Give the hombre Good Dance. It’s written by one of my favourite partners, here wearing his GOM (Grumpy Old Man) hat. He says what hundreds of frustrated student leaders all over the tango world feel, I reckon.
Wisely, he’s never curmudgeoned to me when I’m in his chivalrous embrace.
Perhaps less to do with my skill level than with the fact that I wear 9cm CIFs, whose heels are stained with the blood of former critics....
~ La Dulce
Decorating or The Problem of the Free Leg
“My free leg belongs to me”, she said. This just about sums up the problem of followers who decorate to excess; in other words most of them, most of the time.
Well no, I don’t think so!
I like my tango quiet, understated, and elegant if possible, not a mad tangle of stolen ganchos, boleos or other horrors. Walking with good connection, dancing to the music, floor craft, in other words tango salon. Watch the old maestros on YouTube and you barely see a decoration. After all, who are you dancing for, your partner or onlookers? In close-hold your leader can’t see most of your decorations but he can feel them. Too often it is like dancing with a pneumatic drill. Just stop it, please.
Some time ago, standing chatting with a couple of guys at a popular London milonga much frequented by lovely young followers, an acquaintance who runs a small milonga in the suburbs approached us with an irresistible offer. “Come to my milonga next week. I can’t promise you beautiful young followers but the ladies who dance at my place don’t anticipate.” We went.
Of course all followers know they shouldn’t anticipate but still at times they do. It is obviously not easy to get it right all the time. I am a reasonable man (known for it) but on occasion I have to have a quiet word. It usually goes like this. “Dearest Creature (always a popular opening), relax, just be your usual submissive self and all will be well.”
Generally this provokes a thoughtful reaction ….like walking off the floor. Best to say it at the end of a tanda.
- Not staying on the foot on which I have clearly placed you.
- Hanging on my neck.
- Abusing my axis. “I’ll respect yours, if you respect mine.”
- Not giving me enough weight. It feels like I am having to chase you around the floor.
- Giving me too much weight. It can be like pushing a fridge uphill.
- Pushing my head with your head. It gives me neck ache.
- Not being able to do decent giros in either direction. This obviously does not apply to beginners but quite a few experienced followers still have not mastered this. On a crowded floor, in line of dance, I need you to be able to do this.
- Wearing brooches or belt buckles that stick into me. Ouch!
- Low backed dresses. Sticky!
- Eating peanuts, salt & vinegar crisps, etc. I know that often they are put out on the tables but do you have to eat them. And smokers: the smell of stale tobacco smoke stays in your hair. Maybe when you pop outside for a quick fag you could put on a shower hat or something.
- When dancing in open-hold, quit trying to watch my or your feet. Or even worse, when in class, stop watching the teacher’s feet. It means you are looking over your shoulder when I am trying to lead you.
- Obsessive talking about shoes. Regrettably very common.
And what can I try to do to give my follower a good dance?
Don’t over-dance her. By which I mean, recognise the level at which she dances and adjust for this; dance for her and not for yourself.
Dance to the music. Don’t dance when there is no music - use pauses/suspensions, vary your step lengths, don’t jerk her around, don’t hold her too tight or too loose, know which foot she is on, give her time to get where you ask her to go, give her time to get her foot back down on the floor, respect her axis, protect her, make her feel safe, don’t get too close to the guy in front, be aware of what is going on around you, give clear leads, don’t use the milonga as a práctica, avoid doing too many tricks, save your advice/criticisms for the class or práctica, be nice.
So, on a good night, if I’m lucky, I can fall in love half a dozen times; albeit for ten minutes at a time. Perfect!8th May 2010
Further to the Rant posting, I sent GOM this:
Though I have a long way to go as a partner who unfailingly Gives Good Dance, I feel confident that I am at the post decorate-or-die stage of my development. When, then, does a submissive dance creature like me get to do adornments? Permit me to point out that there is only so much soulful walking a gal can take, despite her good, open heart.
Not surprisingly, most student leaders are so wrapped up in trying to juggle all the balls they are obliged to in tango, they forget to give us a few beats in which we might “bring an adorno into the dance for the enjoyment of the couple” as one esteemed teacher said. So, what’s to be done?
Yours in patient perplexity,
~ La Dulce
And the reply
Dear La Dulce,
Of course you spotted the deliberate mistake in my Leader’s Rant. When can she decorate, as decorate she must? After all, at £125.00 a pop, those 'Comme Il Fauts' have got to be shown off.
I think the 'esteemed teacher' has got it right.' It must be 'for the enjoyment of the couple'. Now I am going to tell you something that you and all your kind already know. We men are simple souls.
In order to 'lead' us (and again I'm going to state the bleedin' obvious) most of us need only three things: feeding, f---ing and flattery. Which brings us neatly back to 'adornos'. So, choose your moment, pause, look directly into his eyes and then decorate. The poor fool will think you are doing it for him.
Voila, problem solved. Everyone happy. On with the dance!
13th May 2010
I have, alas, never had the pleasure, but I imagine dancing with this diva must be out-of-this–world. See what she says about Giving Good Dance:
Have you seen Avatar with the intertwining tendrils enabling communication between humans and nature? I think following is like that.
At the first physical touch, I gently 'plug' into my leader and that becomes the new channel of communication. Verbal communication becomes redundant and often just gets in the way, unless of course the connection you make is so shockingly intimate that resorting back to verbal communication is the only way to pull yourself back into the room; that's when I often end up saying something really stupid.
Back to plugging in: I am listening very, very closely for non-verbal cues, signals, micro-movements. I process that information quickly. At the first touch of his hand against mine I am downloading information about him. What mood is he in? Is he confident, nervous? Does he know what to do? What is his physical state? Hot, tired, keyed-up, distracted?
If he is doing the same to me and listening with equal intent then you can pretty much bet that the dance is going to feel great. He might not be a technical master or a musicality genius but you will feel that he is dancing with you, not at you, or to impress you or to impress an audience.
La Dulce comment: If I didn’t know better, I’d think all three waves of feminism have left you bone-dry, sister. But having seen the quality of partnering you get in return for this psychic pandering, there may be something here for reconstituted feminists to consider.
As for dance floor prostitution, hark at this: My friend, Davicle, asked a well-known London teacher to dance.
Aghast, she enquired whether he was ‘Advanced’.
“No Ma'am, just a talented improver with vaulting ambition.”
“Then I can’t dance with you. I’m a professional.”
He reports that a shag was out of the question too.
But back to the lady who doesn’t become put out, putting out. Diva continues:
What about Leaders, dear Diva?
My ultimate leader understands how threesomes work. Me him and the music! He will take me deep into the dance where I feel free enough to express myself in the music and in the arms of my partner. I like to be drawn out of myself and have my limitations and ability challenged and pushed forward. I want to dance on my edge and then be pushed that little bit more. That is what leaves me feeling satisfied.
Mmmm, bring on the tantric tango.
~ La Dulce