Broken Record

(picture of Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt from La Planchadora's LOLTango.)
The Good News
Another lovely weekend of dancing with beautiful music from Li and Fil - both at Esquina and at Tapestry practica last night. In fact last night's practica was very productive. I was able to work on a pretty full range of styles - from shared weight/apilado/carpa movements to very open nuevo moves (including soltadas (yes, even soltadas), shadow leading, volcadas great and small, boleos, ganchos and leg wraps.) I'm usually up for almost anything at practica and I really enjoy the practice. It is only at milongas that I get fairly conservative. So while you may see me doing series of boleos, ganchos and leg wraps all over the place at practica, don't be surprised if you get less enthusiasm for those from me at the milonga.
Just saying...
The Not-so-Good News
"Ladies, you can blame your partner making you bump into somebody. You can also blame him when someone steps on you, but you can never blame him when you step on someone’s feet – it happens only because YOU LIFT YOUR HEEL UP when you dance, otherwise it would just be another bump." - Royce's Tango Thoughts

As if I needed another reason for that hesitance, I got a good reminder Saturday night at Esquina's crowded milonga floor. I followed a nice (and what I thought was pretty tight) ocho cortado from my partner and as I was coming back to the cross, I felt the front of my skirt get snapped down (not all the way, thankfully - but certainly enough to catch my attention.) I opened my eyes, which I should probably never closed on such a crowded floor, in time to see another follower pull her heel back from the hem of my skirt. As she looked at me sheepishly for just a moment before moving on, I'm fairly sure my expression read: "W. T. F. ???" How do you catch your heel on the front of another follower's (mid calf length) skirt?? I whispered, "what was that?" to my partner. And he answered, "She boleo'd your skirt! Are you okay?"

I answered that I was fine and we continued dancing. I'll be fixing a torn hem on my skirt tonight. I know it was very likely the leader who led the boleo that I should be blaming (and I do), but honestly I think followers share the blame as well. The leader may lead a high boleo, but we still have the option (most of the time - though sometimes the momentum is strong enough to pick up our feet, which is a different problem) to follow the boleo low to the ground.

"On the note of floor-craft, it is not only the leaders job to be aware of the surrounding space. The follower must also pay attention and never pick her feet high off the floor unless she is sure she is not going to stab anyone with her stilettos." from Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt's website.

I got that lesson very early on. After watching one of our community's more seasoned followers get speared in the leg by an errant stiletto, I overheard her (after shooting the sheepish leader a rather menacing look) tell the follower responsible, "when the floor is crowded please . keep . your . heels . on . the . floor." That moment is seared in my mind. Until that point, the only lesson constantly drilled in my head was follow what the leader leads. Period. I asked my teacher about what happened - about how to follow boleos under different floor conditions. She told me, "you always have a choice - it's your decision how high to follow it."

We all commit errors of judgment - judgment of how much room we have, how much time we have for a move etc. Tango is a partnership, and followers are not furniture. I've seen several followers peg other dancers, and then shrug and say, "he led it!" Yes, he did and he shouldn't have. But we have options in how we follow leads - how high, with how much momentum, etc. That night the floor was packed, and I clicked heels with a couple dancers - I'm pretty sure we all did. But brushing heels is quite a bit different poking a high heel into someone's skirt, or calf, or foot.

And when you do, for heaven's sakes apologize! I've knocked heels with someone, or brushed someone (as I mentioned above) and by the time I got turned around I had no idea who I'd bumped, so that's a bit different. But if you do some damage to someone, whenever possible (without endangering anyone else on the pista) own up and apologize. If you have to, wait until the tanda is over and find them. I've had to do it when I've not paid attention well enough, and accidentally bumped or kicked someone. I'd like to think I'm getting better and better about controlling my movements and being aware of my space. But pushing it off as strictly the leader's fault feels, to me anyway, like a cop-out. This is especially true when I've seen the look of horror from a leader when he sees his follower execute an unled boleo into another dancer. Led or not, he knows he's getting blamed for that move. As followers, when we execute adornos (not even unled boleos) that take our feet off the floor and hit someone - our leader still gets blamed for that. That's just another reason I look at the dance as a partnership of responsibility rather than only one person's job to keep the other safe.


Anonymous said...

I may be nit picking here, but frankly, you can't walk backwards without your heel being up. Tango is not a shuffle dance, and although one mustn't lift one's feet up high off of the floor, one is meant to step with the heel up and slightly keep in contact with the floor with the front of the foot. Try dancing with your heel down and see what happens, nada mas.

Accidents happen and yes, a woman should keep her movement low when dancing in a crowded environment, but it is generally accepted that the leader is responsible for the dance. He should know how his dance partner dances also and be more selective. It goes both ways.

Mari said...

londontango - you're right, the heel has to come up to step. I was referring to picking your feet up completely from the floor for high boleos and adornos - and I should have been more specific.

Regarding a leader needing to know what his partner is going to do - ideally, you're right, he should. But a follower who last week was perfectly predictable in her following can turn into a boleo-machine after she's had a weekend workshop on "fancy flicks and kicks". (Just like a normally conservative leader can be a back-sacada'ing maniac after a special class on the subject.) My point is things change all the time. It would be great if leaders would watch the floor first and see how a woman dances before cabeceo-ing her. (And followers should watch leaders.) But if it's a new follower to that milonga - someone has to take the chance and ask her to dance first or she's going to be warming a chair all night.

Also, the leader's lead may be unclear, or the follower's interpretation may be off. Any number of things can and do go wrong all the time. A general rule of thumb to keep boleos and adornos low to the ground minimizes the impact of unpredictable moves on both sides. Just my two cents. Well, more a like a buck and two cents. :/

Frances R said...

Thanks heaven it was just your skirt, could as well be your thigh! That was dangerous and totally unacceptable.

The Accidental Tangoiste said...

Yikes! I agree, that was dangerous!

Might I also add: Linear boleos on a crowded floor! Why? WHY??

msHedgehog said...

And to be fair, it's quite possible to lead a high boleo by accident, especially if you're not used to followers it really works with and/or something happens to make you panic and try to pull out of a pivot too late.