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.
Great video of Alejandro Hermida, thanks for posting it. Not often are milongas shown to be also a smooth, quiet, flowing dance.
Sophie - That video was originally posted over at Ms. Hedgehog's blog (which, of course I highly recommend): http://mshedgehog.blogspot.com/ I just love watching his smooth steps. Wow. Thank you for your comment!
I think that "The kind of dancer I want to be" In your own words is very similar to the lyrics of the Tango:
Así Se Baila El Tango
Letra: Marvil (Elizardo Martínez Vilas).
Música: Elías Randal.
Specially when you said "I want to be quiet" and "adaptable...to a point"
In "I want to be musical" Do you mean that you would like to know the meaning of lyrics?
Soft, musical, quiet, gracious and adaptable. I'm with you, Mari. I love to watch Alejandro Hermida dancing with Ayelen Quiroga: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvAC3UdH6-o
It is nice to see a young couple dancing without lots of butt and shoulder movement. They progressed line of dance and ended with feet together. This shows the latest trends among young dancers in BsAs. Women have the left hand low and elbow out--a hazard on a crowded floor. Women dance with heels off the floor. No other social dance uses that technique.
You already are the dancer you want to be whether you realize it or not. Dance classes will not change your dancing. You bring your energy to the dance, and that is what you bring to tango. It is who you are. High energy souls demonstrate themselves with high energy in their dancing. They are usually the ones causing collisions on the floor.
@Eduardo - thank you for the reference - I'll check it out. As far as musical, I'm mainly referring to my expression/ interpretation of the music - but I think that knowing what the song is about is key to expressing the music well.
@tangopassionista - thank you for your comment and for the video link - it's beautiful!
@Jantango - your sarcasm is refreshing as always, but I've made peace with tango in BsAs being a completely different animal than tango anywhere else. It's sad in so many ways - but a hard fact that one must accept. Plus this is a performance video, and not a dance on a social floor. As far as the dancers' technique goes, their butt/hip/shoulder action wasn't really the point of my posting it - the comparative "quietness" of their walk was.
And I'll continue in workshops and the like while I continue to get something from them. Lately I've been taking musicality/music appreciation classes that I adore. I take what I need from the classes and practicas and leave the things I don't need. Sometimes, unfortunately, I have to leave a lot behind.
I quite agree that adaptability and a broad range of skills is very, very useful up to a point - for one thing, it gets us tons of practice. But at a certain point we have enough information to develop more personal goals.
I like your goals.
Nice post, Mari.
I wonder - does the music you like influence how you like to dance? Or does the way you like to dance influence the music you like?
For example, 'Asi Se Baila El Tango' (the Tanturri version) is a fantastic song to dance to (I forgot about it till Eduardo mentioned it). But personally I can't quite feel how one could dance "softly" or "quietly" to it. Same with most D'Arienzo songs (e.g. Pensalo Bien), and perhaps even Pugliese.
For me, it's the music which drives everything.
@msHedgehog - thank you for your comment (and your inspiring blog)
@gamecat - It's a little hard to say because it's really my leader's response to the music that drives how I dance. However, when I "hear" a song slowly, and my leader "hears" it fast, I do have a harder time keeping up. Rather, it's a little more work for me. When I'm practicing on my own, the music definitely shapes how I move, how long I extend my leg, take a turn, etc. The music is everything. (Pugliese in particular would be hard for me to dance slowly and softly to (depending on the song) naturally, but I could adapt that way if that's the way my partner led it.)
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