Just dance

Courtesy of morguefile.com

It had been an evening of favorite music - I couldn't believe my luck. I can't dance as often as I would like these days, and it seemed like I was making up for lost time in warm, wonderful dances. A Rodriguez tanda started and I was smiling so hard my face almost hurt.  Halfway into the first song, my partner tried a somewhat complex sequence and, in close embrace, it just didn't come off.  Once around the floor, he tried again, and again it didn't work well. We shifted a bit, got back on track and continued. During the next song, he broke the embrace and pushed me away, led the sequence completely and then brought me back to close embrace.

I couldn't get the connection back. I can't think of any other way to put it than my feelings were hurt. To me it felt like he put the "move" before our embrace. I didn't want to settle back against his chest if he was going to just push me back out again.

I wish this were a rare occurrence, but especially after workshops or a festival, it becomes ever more common with lots of dancers. There is a difference, to my feeling, between expanding an embrace to accommodate for comfort and/or musical expression - and breaking the embrace to perform a pattern or a move. I can't explain it well - it's just a feeling. There's a difference in technical execution of course - how smooth you can make the expansion feel - not too abrupt or sharp for example. But there is also a difference in how the intention feels.  As a leader, are you expanding the embrace for comfort - or breaking it just to "do" something? Is the move you're trying to work in worth making your partner feel like she's just an accessory to your dance? If you're working on something that you can only really do in open embrace then just leave the embrace open - or better yet, wait until practica to "work on stuff."

Sometimes it's not even a matter of breaking the embrace that's the problem - but the feeling that somehow the dance is flawed or worse, ruined, if my leader can't get me to follow some move or pattern. Ideally, when a move doesn't work, we just transition into something else and keep going. With some of my favorite partners there's a mutual, grinning "whoops" like kids playing a game. Not serious at at all - just an opportunity to do something else instead. Sometimes though, far more often than I'd like, I get a feeling of disappointment from my leader. Disappointment in how he led something - disappointment that I couldn't follow it. It doesn't matter if a leader thinks it's all his fault, or all my fault, or somewhere in between - the feeling of disappointment like that should have no place in a social dance. The worst part of that feeling is that it's infectious - I end up unintentionally carrying it with me to my next tanda. I get self-conscious and feel like I must be dancing badly. I don't want to bring that mentality to my next leader - it's not fair to him. It brings an unwelcome third party into the dance - a judge.

At practicas and in classes and lessons, I want to work - and work hard. I take my dancing, and my technique, seriously. But at the milonga, I want to dance socially. I'm there to connect with the music, my partner, my friends and relax. If things fall apart - they fall apart. So what? I'm not obsessing over my embellishments or the depth of my cruzado - why are you?  This isn't an operating room. No one's going to lose a limb if the molinete doesn't work out.  We're supposed to be getting away from the stress of our workaday lives, right? Can't we take a break from the constant evaluating and comparing we feel in our everyday world?

I just want to dance.


11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love it. As a leader I take a long time to use a set of steps or pattern that I learn in a class in a social setting (ie milonga). I like to practice those steps on my own or with a partner until they are part of my body memory to use them on the dance floor.

Ghost said...

It's a leader thing :( It takes forever to understand this (following helps a lot though!)

A fisherman was lying on a beautiful beach, with his fishing pole propped up in the sand and his solitary line cast out into the sparkling blue surf.

Along came a businessman came walking down the beach, trying to relieve some of the stress of his workday.

He noticed the fisherman sitting on the beach and decided to find out why this fisherman was fishing instead of working harder to make a living for himself and his family." You aren't going to catch many fish that way," said the businessman to the fisherman, "you should be working rather than lying on the beach!"

The fisherman looked up at the businessman, smiled and replied, "And what will my reward be?"

"Well, you can get bigger nets and catch more fish!" was the businessman's answer.

“And then what will my reward be?" asked the fisherman, still smiling.

The businessman replied, "You will make money and you'll be able to buy a boat, which will then result in larger catches of fish!"

"And then what will my reward be?" asked the fisherman again.

The businessman was beginning to get a little irritated with the fisherman's questions. "You can buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!" he said.

“And then what will my reward be?" repeated the fisherman.

The businessman was getting angry. "Don't you understand? You can build up a fleet of fishing boats, sail all over the world, and let all your employees catch fish for you!"

Once again the fisherman asked, "And then what will my reward be?"

The businessman was red with rage and shouted at the fisherman, "Don't you understand that you can become so rich that you will never have to work for your living again! You can spend all the rest of your days sitting on this beach, looking at the sunset. You won't have a care in the world!"

The fisherman, still smiling, looked up and said, "And what do you think I'm doing right now?"

Terpsichoral said...

As an beginner/intermediate level (not advanced) leader, I still dance milonguero style, i.e. without opening the embrace at all. That´s because I can´t dance the moves that require a little more space to be danced comfortably yet: or, at least, I can dance them in class, but not at the milonga in a way that is smooth and comfortable for the follower and I don´t want to compromise on the quality of my dance or make the follower feel like my practice partner.

My ultimate aim is to dance a salon style tango with a flexible embrace which we can open and close to accommodate some of the lovely moves of salon (which are equally fun for the follower). But those take more time to master. And the dance floor is not the place to practise them.

What I'm trying to do instead, when I´m in the leader´s role, is to connect with my partner, with the music, create a smooth, comfortable quality of movement and snuggly embrace for her. And negotiate the floor well without disturbing the other couples. That's already a lot of multitasking (the leader is a Jack of all trades). I´m certainly not going to practise set figures as well!

happyseaurchin said...

hmmm...
i might swim against the current here
which is very unusual :)

i agree that someone wanting to practice a move
at the expense of the connection
is terrible
but that's because i don't think about moves

but...
the other day
a woman agreed to dance with me
and it was like she was doing me a favour
which perhaps she was
but there was not much warmth
so
the tango that emerged was somewhat edgy
which actually brought her to presence

and
sometimes it is the music that brings out things
breaks and all

and finally
i must admit
my response was probably most inflamed by your words
"just dance"

i know you are incredible in your writing
and more importantly
in your perception
and i put this down to my lack of reading skill
that i have got out of synch
forgive me

TomK said...

Just love for this post....

Mari Johnson said...

Anon - thank you for your comment. For some reason, especially in the pre-milonga classes, the teachers encourage the students from the class to practice their new moves during the milonga that night. I think that sets up the problem in so many cases. Of course mine is not the prevailing opinion. *shrug*

Ghost - Excellent story - thank you for sharing it.

Terpsichoral - Thank you for commenting. I always love your comments since you can speak from both sides of the embrace. You said it - the connection is really paramount.

Happyseaurchin - all I can say is what my teacher told me: to make your partners happy, and yourself happy, stop *trying* to dance - and just dance. I'm not trying to use a condescending or diminutive term by putting "just" in front of it. I'm truly wondering why dancing (without a constant struggle to perfect) isn't enough in itself? In the milonga, it is the feeling I'm going for - not the steps.

Though I think it can be often attributed to a skill issue - I've had many experiences with very beginner leaders who've brought so much of themselves, their history - their attentive presence - without knowing more than the basic walk and rock step. It really is the feeling I'm talking about. I wish I could explain it better. *shrug*

Cinderella said...

The story Ghost published was written by German author Heinrich Böll. Just in case someone's interested. ;)

Ghost said...

I think the problem starts when someone begins to learn to lead. You try to walk and it's a mess. So you try to "fix" it. Which is the first fundamental mistake, because that's going to take about 7 years! Sure you still want to do that, but you need another solution in the meantime!

And so maybe you try just being in the embrace. Taking small steps so you don't step on her toes and pausing a lot with your weight kinda split so you don't fall over. If you're really lucky you do it with someone who's interested in the feeling of the dance and you realise they're happy and what you are doing has value.

But then you'll dance with other people who don't feel that way. Who walk off after the first dance, or give off "I'm bored" and start doing their own adornments or randomly try to gancho you etc. And you look around and see people doing beautiful walks and boleos and you lose heart. Maybe you were wrong? Maybe the feeling isn't enough? To cross-over into your other post, maybe you're just not worth enough?

And in fairness for some (probably most) people, that's actually true for them.

And it takes a lot of conviction to be the one guy shuffling around when everyone else is doing "stuff".

And so you go back to your original plan of getting it right and probably learning the various boleos annd sequences along the way because that seems to be the only way to appease some women and you don't know enough to understand where the lines are drawn. And gradually you forget about just shuffling in the feeling and you stop dancing and do things like "kicking" the woman out of a close embrace to do a sequence :(

The way around it is to find the people who do value the feeling ASAP. Who are content to shuffle around the floor in a sincere embrace with someone who is only doing what works and is dancing with it. And not worry about the others.

And then gradually you get better, seven years pass and yay!

It really helps if followers who feel this way find the guys who feel this way and actually tell them how they feel. Give them permission to just dance. Or get them to follow and understand how wonderful "shuffling" with feeling is :)

Something I always take heart in is this. I could be happy and make a woman happy with the "feeling" when my dancing was much worse than it is now! So I should be able to do it tonight ;)

@Cinderella - thanks :)

Mari Johnson said...

TomK - thank you.

Cinderella - thank you for the reference.

Ghost - I think you're dead on about so many things in your comment. It also reminds me that I need to commit more time to the beginner classes and practicas. My friend, La Milonguera, makes that a top priority - not only to be encouraging to new dancers, but also hopefully to round out their experience.

And you're right that leaders get pretty mixed signals. One follower gets bored if you don't lead a high boleo in every other phrase. Another follower thinks you're irresponsible for leading them at all. It takes awhile to figure out what makes you happy - and to find your dance - and then to find the partners that share your feeling. That sentiment of course brings up the question of cliquishness, but a certain amount of that is simply preference.

Thank you again for your comments - you really helped clarify things.

Tango Therapist said...

Mari... This is a good post to remind tangueros that most women are at the milonga for a connection to others, not to be "impressed" with latest thing someone knows/just learned. Even if they have done a million cool move with the last guy, I have been amazed when they say, "Finally, someone was listening to me," when we dance simply and musically.

Mari Johnson said...

Tango Therapist - thank you for your comment. I would only add that many gentlemen are at the milonga looking for connection as well and aren't too impressed with followers doing the latest thing they learned at the workshops either. :)