Hearing through my Partner - a Confession
The Friday night milonga a couple of weeks ago was both incredibly beautiful and, at times, intensely frustrating.
I had several amazing, connected dances Friday with wonderfully patient and generous gentlemen. La Tazza Fresca has a wonderful vibe that keeps people coming back despite the hard, concrete floor that's murder on the knees. The sound system is a bit rough but the food and atmosphere are fantastic.
The rough sound system plus the number of loud conversations along the side of the dance space made it impossible at times for me to hear anything but the strong rhythm of the music. The problem is, only part of the frustration is the result of the venue. Most of it is me. I've yet to write about it, and have talked about it very rarely, because as a dancer I'm still embarrassed. I know better, but the little voice always comes back . . .
If leaders know I can't hear - no one will dance with me.
I have congenital Sensorineural Hearing Loss (when I was diagnosed as a child, it was simply called nerve deafness.) It's worse in my left ear than my right (and my eyesight is worse in my right eye than my left - which was very disorienting growing up.) SNHL isn't quite like other forms of deafness. I can still hear sounds fairly well - in some cases very well. Mostly I have problems differentiating sounds - s's, sh's, j's, and th's for instance. (Which makes Castellano challenging for me.) High pitched sounds are tough. Voices are the hardest - especially if I'm trying to follow a conversation when there are lots of other conversations going on in the background. And yet I'm very sensitive to loud noises - go figure. So it isn't that I can't hear the sound, it's that if there is background noise especially, I have a hard time hearing the smaller variations within the sound.
My hearing issues sometimes give me a bit of anxiety - which is why I haven't talked about it much. When I can't hear something, it's like I'm immediately transported to grade school, struggling to hear the teacher among talking students. Or understand dialogue in movies. I hate talking on the phone because it makes the s/sh/th/j thing so much worse. And I don't have the benefit of having the person's face to watch.
. . . but back to Friday night . . .
Wonderful music, warm, comforting leaders - yet I became increasingly frustrated and anxious with my dancing because I couldn't hear the softer components of the music. Tango music is beautiful to dance to because there is so much going on in each song. Shifting melodies, pauses - decorations to the music, that I can only hear when the ambient noise is very low. (And let's face it - that's pretty rare.)
Hearing Through my Leader
Between songs in a tanda, I had to have a mental reset. There is a way I cope with my hearing in dancing tango. It's one of the biggest reasons I love the dance so much. The trouble is it requires even a little more trust than I normally give to my partner. I have to let go a little bit of my interpretation of the music. I want to contribute and not just be moved around on the pista, but if I can't hear the music well, I have another option. I can let my partner provide the piece(s) that are missing.
It does make me feel a little guilty. Like I'm making him do all of the work. I am still listening to the music - I'm just listening through him. That night I felt like I needed to explain since I was sure my partner could feel my frustration - and I was so afraid he would think it was him causing the stress. He understood my situation, and what I was trying to do to remedy it. As usual, this tanguero was extremely supportive and I felt the weight lift a bit.
My experiences in tango somewhat echo Terpsichoral's post here (I highly recommend reading the whole thing, as well as the informative comments): .
The author writes, "When the leader is musical enough, you can tune your body to respond to the tiny changes in the way he prepares physically for each movement and read in advance the exact cadence of his step."
That has been my experience. I also rely on this when my interpretation of the a piece is profoundly different from my partner's. At that point, because I am following and not leading, I make an effort to turn down my interpretation, and tune in more to his body's response. I can feel the details in changes in my partner's breathing, the flexing or relaxing of his hand on my back, how hard he pushes into the ground with each step, the muscles tightening or relaxing across his shoulders and back. All of that creates a picture of the music overlaying my own. At times that Friday night, his picture was all I had.