Last night
I felt your heart beat
as we danced,
and it felt like a secret.
So I held you closer,
smiled against your cheek,
and I didn't say anything.

Sitting out

At the milonga . . .

Our out-of-town visitor sat almost the entire milonga, dancing only three tandas all night. I was disappointed not to get to dance with him, but I knew he had taught workshops all day and likely just wanted to unwind. In this Texas heat, I don't think anyone has the stamina they have at during the Fall and Winter.

When the milonga was over we gave each other a big hug and he suddenly, and emphatically, apologized for not dancing with me, which was really unexpected - and very kind. He went on to say that the music he prefers to dance to simply didn't get played very much, so he sat and listened. He only wanted to dance to the music that really moved him. I thanked him for choosing to sit rather than dance to music he didn't care for - and I meant it.

Reflections . . .

This is one of those things we hear about in North America, the milongueros who sit and wait for the music that they love - even if it means sitting all night, but it's not all that common here where milongas are a very social event. It's simply a different experience here, and mostly I can accept that. Especially since I know that it can be very difficult for leaders to sit out tandas, when there are more women than men, with all of those (perceived) accusing eyes asking, "why won't he ask someone to dance?"

Yet for me as a follower, there are few things more disheartening than dancing with a leader who clearly doesn't like the music that's playing. I've had more than one leader tell me, as he was walking me to the dance floor, often for a milonga or vals tanda, that he really disliked that particular song playing. Another gentleman told me that he felt completely bored by the music that had just started, yet still stood there with his hand out.

Then why ask me to dance to it???

When I've suggested that we wait for the next tanda instead, I get a wave, and a "no, no, let's give it a try."

I'm sorry to be blunt, but "give it a try" during practica or class. Milongas are for dancing to music that moves you. If it doesn't move you - if you really dislike it, sit down. Milongas are social events and many times we dance with people simply because we're good friends regardless of the music that's playing. But when you don't feel any connection to the music, is it really fair to your partner to subject him or her to dancing with no connection to the music - especially if you feel like you have to suffer through it?

I would like to draw a distinction here between not knowing what to do with the music, or how to interpret it - and not liking it. There's a big difference. I know that appreciation for the complexities and possibilities of tango music can take a long time and a lot of listening and walking to the music. Often it does take dancing with people who *do* love it, to really feel it. I'm specifically talking about dancing to music one doesn't like out of a feeling of obligation or duty.

For example, I love milongas. I almost can't contain how much I love them. I spent a year being completely afraid of them and sitting them out, so now maybe I am making up for lost time. I seek out leaders who love them too so that I can share that experience - that love for that type of music.

Here's the tricky thing - I learned to love milonga by dancing with people who loved milonga. Makes perfect sense right? But I danced with them at practicas and in classes - not at milongas. I encourage people who have a difficult time with a particular orquestra like Biagi or Pugliese, or other types of music like milonga or vals, to seek out the dancers who love it and ask for their help. Most of the time dancers are more than happy to share their love of a particular type of music. Practicas are fantastic for this. At the milonga however, I really believe a dancer should not be expected to dance with a partner who, at that point in time, simply doesn't like the music.

Have you ever danced with someone who felt like they'd rather be doing something else than dancing to what was playing? Do you ever dance to music you really don't like just because you feel you should?

Ganchos . . . again . . .

(Image courtesy of Emilie Boudet: http://www.emilieboudet.com)

From the Facebook comments on my "Expressing the music or dancing for tables" post:

"But adornments can become problematic when they interfere with something I'm trying to do. (I have enough trouble as it is). Some of these are basically harmless and don't really bother me that much. Like some ladies insist on doing a gancho whenever I lead them to step over my leg. I'm mostly amused by this. Some girls just like their ganchos and will seize any opportunity to do one."

Predictably, I have several problems with the above behavior.

First of all, they aren't "their ganchos"! The gancho for the follower is led. It is my (nearly fanatical) opinion that it should never be an adornment or something the follower just decides to do on her own. As someone who is now attempting to learn to lead, the last thing I want to see, or heaven forbid feel, is a stiletto heel near my crotch. Sorry to be so blunt, but that's how I feel.

In the follower's defense, however, I think I can explain why it appears to happen that way.

When a leader leads me into a well-placed gancho, it would actually take effort for me not to do it. He is, or should be, interrupting my step and creating the movement. When led that way, I hardly notice the move and it really doesn't bother me to do it. I also don't mind ganchos that really end up feeling like small or low leg wraps. Those can be slinky and take up very little room - they also don't usually require breaking, or contorting, the embrace.

However, most of the time what I get is the leader opening his legs and expecting me to figure out what he wants. There are teachers who actually tell followers that even if they're not correctly placed, or the interruption of the step isn't felt clearly - they should execute the gancho anyway. After all, we're always talking about how the leader "invites" a movement and doesn't force it. (There is actually one aspect that applies to this - I can chose, in certain situations, to perform an amague instead of gancho, depending on my leg position and that's usually my preference.) That particular principle, that you can simply invite the move, is tricky to apply to ganchos.

If a leader stands there with his legs open and his knee against my knee - that's not an invitation to execute a gancho, that's just him standing with his legs open and me wondering what the heck he wants me to do with that.

Fast forward to the milonga setting where we have dancers with the best of intentions trying to work out the gancho thing. Mostly I see one of two things happen:

1. The leader opens his legs, places his follower hurriedly and somewhat awkwardly and waits for her to "do a gancho." When she seems to hesitate, he frequently (I'm not kidding, it happens all the time) either verbally tells her "you're supposed to gancho me here" or pushes her harder until she "gets it". So the follower gets the idea that the gancho isn't a very precise movement and if the leader opens his legs, that means gancho.

2. The second scenario, depicted in the comment above, is the follower performing ganchos whenever she sees or feels the opportunity to do it - on her own - probably because she never got the idea from class that the move is supposed to be led.

I frequently fall in the middle. After a leader chides me several times for missing his gancho leads, or following it with an amague because it's more comfortable for my knee, I execute one when I think he wants one, and then get it wrong.

Which always leaves my wondering, why the heck I'm trying so hard to do a move I don't even care about?

A note on leader-ganchos . . .

I am now going to give up any pretense of writing about technique issues, and just state my (very unpopular) direct opinion. I am annoyed when a leader "ganchos" me. I don't like the way leader ganchos look, and I really hate the way they feel 99% of the time. (On the other hand, just to give a more balanced view, sometimes I barely notice them because they're very fast and light - so those aren't so bad. If I don't have time to really notice them, I don't have time to get particularly annoyed, do I?) Still, I have to wonder was there no other way the leader could express the music??

When I watch this, and similar videos, on leader ganchos - all I can think is that none of it looks elegant, or graceful. So often it just looks forced and uncomfortable.

Oh, and the "double gancho - trap my leg" move (especially if the leader is not supporting his own balance), makes me not want to dance with that leader again. It's personal, it's just me - I'm not making a judgment on the value of the move - I'm only saying I really don't like how they feel. Again, does this really express something in the music that couldn't be expressed any other (simpler and more comfortable) way?

From the super-brilliant Learningtango.com Ghost Guide to Ganchos page - a video, with follower's comments) on the double gancho:

Quoted from the above mentioned page:

"As the Follower points out in the video, there comes a point where she's literally trapped. That's not really tango. At tango the lady should be able to step out of any position she's in easily. Also you end up in a position where your legs are tangled up, you're both balancing on one leg, she's pivoting and most likely in heels! If another couple crashes into you, you're going to fall over. There's simply no way to take avoiding action. Take a moment and imagine how painful landing in that position is going to be..."


I am very sincerely sorry for the leaders who have led those with me and are reading this now. I have tried to tell leaders at practica, but when I do they tend to look at me like I just insulted their mother and kicked their puppy. I actually feel guilty that I don't like them when they look at me like that. So I comply and hope they don't lead it more than once in the tanda. I'm sorry I don't like them. I have tried - really, I have. I even worked on them in a private lesson. I just don't get the attraction at all.

If a leader leads it at a milonga, I'll try to make it work so that we don't both fall down. I will suppress the urge to say, "knock that crap off" and just do it. But depending on how uncomfortable the leader makes me in completing the move, he may be getting an early thank you. There are loads and loads of followers who love it - so by all means, lead it to them. Go crazy. And during practica, sometimes I'm game to work on them for a little bit (for many of the same reasons listed at the bottom of Ghost Guide to Ganchos, linked above.)

Leaders have been telling me for two years that some day a light will just turn on and suddenly I'll love ganchos.

I'm not holding my breath.

Striking a balance

(Picture courtesy of morguefile.com.)

This post was inspired by a comment from another blogger who wrote:

"One thing you should also bear in mind is that you can't please everyone with your tango. Some leaders like a follower who decorates a lot and others don't. It's not always possible to tell which is which. As followers, we have to strike a very delicate balance between being dance chameleons who try to adapt to every leader and finding our own personality, our own character as dancers. It's a fine line. I'd love it if you'd write a whole post about it." from Terpsichoral Tango at http://www.tangoaddiction.wordpress.com

Coincidentally, I was already working on a post addressing this, so I'll give it my best shot Terpsichoral.

Above is a 7-ish minute long video with only a few sentences that I want to point out. Whenever I hear (or read about) anyone talking about the follower's musicality - this is what I think of. The bit that I'm referencing starts about 4:25 as Gavito is teaching a class on giros. The sound quality is poor, but this is what he says to the followers:


"We accompany each other (during the giro). [ . . . ]
Do I have to push her? Does she listen to the music? Is she deaf? I don't think so.
Are you deaf, girls? You listen to the music?
Then prove it. Prove it that you listen to the music."

In a different comment on another forum, a dancer stated that the follower's job is follow the leader's musicality - not impose her own. While I agree that interfering with a leader's expression of the music is asking for a very unpleasant tanda, that's not all there is to it. I am not deaf. I can't help but have my own feelings and interpretation of the music and my body is going to respond accordingly. How much I allow myself to respond directly to the music depends on my leader and the connection we have. If I have no feeling of my own in the music, wouldn't I feel rather like a piece of furniture you have to move around?

When I agree to dance with a leader, I am agreeing to listen and adapt to his interpretation of the music. Otherwise the dance is a struggle, and it really shouldn't be. Of course it's easiest when you and your partner share a very similar interpretation of the music. That is when we are both most free in the music. When you hear the song the same way, the connection can be incredibly strong - the feeling is simply amazing. Everything seems effortless, seamless - the line between dancers seems to disappear. The more divergent my interpretation of the music is from my partner's, the more I have to adapt. My dance becomes quiet while I listen very intently to my leader, to the music, and to the way his body expresses the music. If he expresses what I consider to be a very melodic piece, very rhythmically, I adjust. I sharpen my steps, change how I place my feet. If he steps softly, I step softly. If he collects slowly, I collect slowly. Most of these things I can feel in his lead, but some things are left for me to interpret. Generally, if it's possible and comfortable, I get closer or more "locked in" to his torso to get as much information as I can from his body. If that's not possible, I just work with what I have. That's why I dance open embrace so rarely and usually only with people whose style I know well.

When it goes well it reminds me, as Terpsichoral Tango wrote, of a chameleon changing color against a rock. It's not that I'm making conscious decisions to do this or do that, I just let his movements inform mine. I listen to the music through him. When it goes very well, it changes forever how I hear that piece of music and opens new possibilities in my own interpretation.

When it goes badly - when I just can't hear the music the way he does, it's much more challenging. I feel like I have to suppress my connection to the music altogether. That is thankfully very, very rare. The longer I dance, the more adaptable I become, and the less that happens. When it does happen, I simply make note that he and I don't have a good connection for that orquestra. It's not personal, it's not a statement about his skill or mine - we just don't fit well together in that music. If I know I can't adapt enough to a leader, or more often that it would be painful for me to try, I avoid his cabeceo or turn him down directly if he asks directly. If the opportunity arises to try again at a practica, then I may seek him out at that point.

Followers, how do you adapt to your leaders? Are there occasions when you just can't make it work? And leaders, have you felt a follower adapt to you? Or danced with a follower who seemed to hear the music completely differently than you? How much do you adapt to your followers?

Expressing music or dancing for tables?

Too much of a good thing?

As sort of a follow-up to my thoughts on technique, I've run into a little snag I'd like some feedback.

When I get compliments about my embrace, I'm absolutely elated. When someone compliments the way my walk feels, I feel accomplished. Compliments about my musicality - ditto.

When I start getting lots of compliments about my foot work, however - I get worried. I shouldn't right? A compliment is a compliment, and should be taken graciously. It's certainly meant as a positive thing. It's a good thing if a dancer's feet are pretty - why else would everyone wear those silly, yet gorgeous, shoes? But like Richard Dreyfuss staring down his plate of mash potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I can't help thinking it means something.

Something not good.

I don't mean like a backhanded compliment - but more like a fear that my priorities have unintentionally shifted. Maybe it's a community thing. Online I very often read leaders' complaints about followers' adornments and suggestions that women who adorn are "dancing for the tables", or secretly want to lead etc. etc. Yet, when I'm dancing in the milongas here, I've noticed that my increased effort on foot work has resulted in a greater number of invitations to dance. (Of course I'm very aware that how you look can get you that first tanda with a dancer - but how you feel determines if you get any invitations after that.)

So at the last several practicas, I've been asking leaders - how do I feel? Am I too "noisy" in the dance? Do I feel like I'm disconnecting? I asked leaders who I knew would be freer with criticism of my dancing and got a lot of good feedback - which was reassuring. I still felt connected, some leaders said I felt even more so lately. My walk was still strong, grounded and mostly smooth (which is pretty much par for the course.) Okay, so that's a bit of a relief.

And then more questions.

So I experimented a bit (again at practicas - not in the milongas.) I tried "turning off" the embellishments and particular foot placements, but found it much harder to do than I thought it would be. Even when I dance very, very quietly, I'm careful and deliberate in how I place my feet. Deliberately not moving my feet that way felt like I was sucking the life out of the music - and not really answering my partner's musicality.

One leader told me that when he could feel something that could be categorized as an embellishment, it didn't feel like something I was doing on my own, but an answer to what he was doing - which is how it felt to me. So what about the leaders who say when a follower embellishes, she's dancing by herself? Where is the line? Is it just something that varies from leader to leader, which would be understandable, or are there really some embellishments and adornments that leaders find noisy generally?

And where is the line between an embellishment and simply how someone moves? I was told that an embellishment or adornment was anything a follower does that is not led by the leader. Which sort of makes sense, and sort of doesn't. After all, the leader leads me to walk - but not exactly how to walk. He leads the length and speed of the step, but how I place my foot is up to me. I choose according to the music and the style he is leading. And choose is really the wrong word here. I'm not weighing my options and choosing the best one. I'm responding to what I feel from my leader and how he moves. If he moves softly and smoothly, I try to move softly and smoothly in return. If the next leader dances more sharply and rhythmically, with sharp collections and taps, and I adjust accordingly - when am I embellishing, and when am I simply following?

For example, the partner that I quoted above and I were dancing to a milonga. One thing that I do that had received compliments (and bear with me, it's difficult to describe) was rather than just collecting my feet, if the music was right for it, I would slow my foot down as I collected almost like building momentum and then at the last moment on the sharp beat, snap my feet closed. When done at the same time as my leader, who collects in a similar way during that particular milonga, it creates a great connectedness when marking the end of the phrase. It just plain feels good to do it. When I didn't do it, it felt sort of flat to him and to me - like I was muffling the music and the lead.

I'm sure there are lots of very strong feelings on the subject (pulling on my asbestos knickers) - and I look forward hearing some feedback (really). What I would like to avoid however are blanket, black and white judgments about the character or motivations of dancers who adorn or don't. Those kinds of statements, like the ones I quoted above, don't really further the discussion. I'm much more interested in hearing from dancers about when or how adornments add or take something away from the dance experience. What makes a dancer (leader or follower) feel "noisy"? Where do you draw the line with interpreting the music? When it's a problem - is the problem with the adornment, or could it be an issue of poor technique while executing the adornment?

I do still allow anonymous comments, so should any local dancers like to weigh in on this, I strongly encourage you to do so. (Even if the feedback is, "damn chica, you've been going too nuts with the feet lately.") Try not to swear too much since my grandmother reads this blog. :)

More thoughts on technique

Two women who say it better than I can . . .

An excerpt from Ms Hedgehog's post on Technique:

"To feel somebody's heart through a good suit jacket, you have to zone in and he has to be in the right place as well. And even then, it only means anything if other things are right. It's awesome. I feel like I shouldn't talk about it. But the better I dance, the more those moments happen and the more awesome they are. It's that simple."

Read more of this great post here: http://mshedgehog.blogspot.com/2011/07/technique.html

And from Terpsichoral Tango, who also shares some great ideas for solo practice, makes this point particularly well:

"Of course, solo practice is not a substitute for practising with a partner or for social dancing in a milonga setting. When I am actually dancing, I want to be able to focus on quite different things - in particular, the interpretation of the music, the connection with my partner and the embrace - and not have to worry about technicalities such as my posture or whether my weight change is soft or clunky and elephantine. Like a pianist playing endless scales, I concentrate now on the boring, repetitive and purely technical challenges in order to free myself up to think about more artistic elements of the dance later."

The rest of her excellent post can be found here: http://tangoaddiction.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/solo/