I've always asked people why they started tango - what they wanted from it. It's an important question and it's related to the question I ponder a lot these days, "What kind of dancer do I want to be?"
Which really translates, for me, to what kind of follower do I want to be?
I spend a lot of time watching other dancers, teachers - both local and visiting, in person and online. I try different things, different techniques, different ways of expressing the music. I try a few things on and see how they fit. When something doesn't fit or feels off, I try to figure out why. Keep what works. Let go of the things that don't work.
Here are the things that make up the kind of dancer I want to be - in no particular order.
I want to be soft.
Many of these descriptors are going to be troublesome to explain. All can do is kind of dance around the idea and hope I get it clear by the end of my explaining. "Soft" is one of the tough ones. Some dances feel "hard" - not in difficulty, though they often feel that way too. It's similar, in my head at least, to the way some martial art forms appear to emphasize the "snap" - sharp, precise movements. Other forms, like Tai Chi and many others, emphasize a kind of fluidity. All styles have elements of both - but which ones are stressed is what's important
My most comfortable leaders move softly. No jerking, no snapping, no "popping" my leg out for displacements, no whipping the head around, angry tango. Even very quick changes of direction (for boleo leads) feel smooth, effortless - fast, yet soft. That's also not to suggest I want a weak lead - I love the very strong torso lead, what Gustavo, one of my teachers explains by saying "walk like you are walking 'through' her!" But it's the strong torso lead that makes the softness in the steps, and fluid movement, possible.
See what I mean? So hard to explain with words. I love the dances that feel soft.
I want to be musical.
Unlike some of the posts on Dance-forums.com, I do believe that musicality, to a large extent, can be taught. Or at least you can expose one to it. I believe that if we want to progress as dancers, we must learn about the music, learn the structure, the purpose of it (which means learning the context and history of it) - the music is why we're here.
I know that when a leader feels strongly about a piece of music - I can feel it. I appreciate it. I admire it. It moves me that he is moved.
Of course, to be musical, we must listen, so . . . .
I want to be quiet.
If I close my eyes, as I frequently do, on the milonga floor, there are a few dancers I can hear no matter where they are on the floor. I can hear them talking, I can hear the way they strike their heels against the floor. Not random whispers and taps - but identifiable sounds unique to those dancers. During a performance, taps and strikes mark and emphasize the music, but during the milonga, it's distracting. Just as a non-stop conversation from the couple behind me can be. (And I know I've been guilty of this - and have been corrected accordingly.)
This is, for me, a "quiet" and "soft" dance:
I want to be gracious.
Have blog, will bitch. Arlene wrote about it on her blog here. I can get too negative. I can get pissy when I'm hurt, or tired, or especially when I'm both. I have my preferences for things which means other people get to have their preferences too. No more getting drawn into the neuvo vs. salon vs. apilado vs. whatever, debates. Losing battle - by which I mean everyone loses. I was told when I started tango it only really required two things - be kind and be willing.
I want to be adaptable . . . to a point.
Here is where I get caught between two truths in tango:
- "To be a good dancer you must learn to adapt to your partners" (especially true for followers) and,
- "You can't please everyone."
I can't be good at everything, but to "specialize" in tango can make me seem unfriendly and unwilling. I have a small (and getting smaller) amount of money, time and energy that I can spend on improving my dance and so I have to make choices. To spend $30-$50 on a nuevotango workshop is not time or money well-spent for me. I will do my best and when resources allow, to try to expand my knowledge. But for me to give my best and get what I need and want is to focus on what I enjoy most and can do best/most comfortably.