The myth of practice vs. dance

22nd December 2010

Introduction: do what you know

"Don't practice in milongas" ~ good advice that's usually ignored

"I'm gonna be naughty! I'm gonna be a naughty vampire god!"~ Quinn

So why is the advice ignored? Well, there's a variety of reasons.

Firstly, the Golden Rule in social dancing should be: only lead what you know how to lead properly.

To be honest, for a lot of people in London, this pretty much amounts to either nothing, or very little. So surely you have to practice stuff in milongas if only to fill out the dance a bit more and stop the follower getting bored?

Some performances

I recently watched several back-to-back performances by different dancers. There was an interesting contrast between the first and the last.

In the first, there wasn't really much quality of movement. The follower was off-balance quite a bit and uncertain in places as to what the leader was actually trying to do (in fairness I'm pretty sure the leader was contributing to this significantly and wasn't sure what he was supposed to be doing all the time either). And so it rapidly became about "moves"; lifts, back sacadas, how high she could boleo and so forth. After about 30 seconds, time really started to drag because they were running out of tricks.

Conversely, the other performance had beautiful quality of movement. I would have been perfectly happy to watch them just walk around the room for the whole song. What they were doing had its own intrinsic value. So sure they added tricks and "moves", but for me the dance was defined by the way the follower moved, rather than the moves she did.

Feeling the lead

Likewise, I've experienced two very distinct feelings in social dancing as a leader. The first was the woman seemed bored, so I would focus on doing moves. And in doing so I ran into the same trap as above. I ran out of moves. And because I was trying to remember moves, the quality of my movement and what I was leading started to drop. And so it got worse and I found myself looking forward to the end of the dance which seemed to be getting further and further away as time dragged more and more in a cruel version of Xeno's paradox...

The second feeling is wonderful. I start off leading vey simple walking and it's clear that the woman values this. And so I relax and focus on the quality of movement and musicality. And it just gets better and better. I often have tandas where I literally use less than you would probably learn in a beginner's class. And most of the time socially I don't even go beyond improver level.

In essence I know that my "basics" have value; what I'm looking for in a milonga are the women who agree with me :o)

Other reasons

So what other reasons are there for breaking the Golden Rule?

How else am I going to figure out how to lead it?

"Some people are always trying to ice-skate uphill." ~ Blade

The short answer is "practicas and private lessons".

However for a lot of people this isn't the way they want to go. And so ok, maybe it's not ideal, but it's not like it's a matter of life or death is it? And for every guy tying to figure out how to lead a back sacada, there's a woman trying to figure out a new adornment. All's fair in love, war and tango. Except that there's another reason why you shouldn't. Have a look at this.

Problem 1

The people that you're going to trying to figure stuff out on, have such a horrendous variation in what they do right, wrong and somewhere inbetween that you would need to dance with a crazy high number of people to get any kind of meaningful results - otherwise pretty much you're just trying to define chaos.

So not only is what you're trying to do pretty much impossible, it's also really frustrating. You'll spend a lot of time coming up with theories which are logical, clever and just plain wrong. I know a dancer who's been doing this for years, never gotten anywhere and spends most of the evening annoyed that whoever he's dancing with can't follow him.

Apparently Tangocynic has met him too...

Problem 2

To further complicate things, there are variables you're not even aware of at this stage. So it's like someone keeps changing the deck of cards while you're not looking. You can lead the exact same thing on the same woman twice and one time it'll work and the second time it won't.

Take a moment to think about that, because on face value it doesn't make sense.

If she can follow it the first time, and I lead it exactly the same the second time, surely she should still be able to follow it - I mean it's not like someone's come along and erased her memory or something?

And yet it's right. There's a whole bunch of factors like grammar, the music and floorcraft that can conspire against you without you knowing.

To further complicate matters, there's also the myth of lead and follow, but that's another article...

So how do you learn this stuff then?

"We have a good arrangement. He makes the weapons. I use them." ~ Blade

Tango comes down to a fairly limited number of positions and transitions between them. I'd strongly recommend getting a teacher to show you what they are, but you can then practice them in the comfort of your own home.

In a lot of ways, this is both better and easier than practicing in a milonga. For a start you can pause, go back, re-start, fumble, fall over etc., as much as you like.

Also you don't have someone else physically attached, so you don't have to deal with that aspect. And again - as I said above - given that the way they'll be attached and move will vary wildly, it's much easier to do this on your own.

The second way is after the fact. If you just dance what you know, every now and then you'll find that everything is in just the right place and you'll realise that you're perfectly set-up to do XYZ. Afterwards, look back and see - what was it that made that happen?

Wash, rinse, repeat...

~ Christopher O' Shea, 22nd December 2010

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