Why is this so difficult?

The floor at Friday night's milonga was enormous. All of the dancers I asked agreed we could have fit a couple of hundred dancers on that floor. Instead we had a few dozen. A nice crowd - but we still had what seemed like acres of room. With all that room you would think there would be no need for any leader to overtake another couple on the pista. (That's what I thought, anyway.)

And yet a couple of tangueros not only tailgated and overtook another couple on the right side (the other leader's blind side, which is why you don't do it) - but they overtook many, many couples - practically "lapping"(1) the other dancers on the floor.

I couldn't keep the "Are you *&%$# serious?" look off my face when a leader repeatedly got within a few inches of my partner and me (leaving a full 6+ feet between him and the couple behind him), and then passed us. Twice. It's not like we were holding up the line of dance either. We were maintaining the same few feet of distance that most of the other couples were keeping. And it didn't matter who I was dancing with - Mr. Race-car-driver raced up behind, and then past, nearly every couple on the floor.

It's not like this subject hasn't been well covered. Here are 10 pages that cover this topic online.

1. "In Tango, the rule should be 'never overtake, unless absolutely necessary' ". It's not a race, there's no requirement to achieve or maintain a minimum speed - the enjoyment is in the dance, not in the amound of ground covered." -- Milonga Driving

2. "Avoid passing. Tango is not a race. If the dancer in front of you is advancing more slowly than you would like, alter your dance so that it is more circular and less linear. Learn to dance well and happily without much forward advancement. " -- Tuscon Tango Festival

3. "One shouldn't attempt to overtake nor should one let too much distance evolve to slow down the couple behind." -- Tango Etiquette

4. "Keep your distance to the couple in front, and avoid overtaking." -- Thames Valley Tango

5. "There is a simple truism that eludes too many of our tango friends: Tango is not a race: there is no finish line. Therefore, there is no reason to overtake." -- Tango-L Essay

6. "Avoid passing the couple in front of you. NEVER pass a couple on their right side (your left side) while in the line of dance. (It continues to amaze me that some experienced dancers routinely do this.) " -- Tango Chose Me

7. "This means that I’ve started cringing when I see people switching back and forth between lanes, overtaking, and making everyone else in the dance floor cautious about getting hurt." -- Tango Padawan

8. "You will be expected to dance in an anti-clockwise route around the dance floor, not overtake, and dance appropriately i.e. no drops or aerials etc. " -- Ms. Hedgehog

9. "With respect to passing: Don’t do it unless there is a major accident." -- Tango Student

10. "No passing or overtaking. This is absolutely important, it may challenge you to figure out how to dance in a tight space that is barely moving." -- Niko Salgado

There are dozens more links and resources on this - just check with Google. Also, every teacher I have had has told us not to pass unless absolutely necessary - and especially not to pass on the right side. So please enlighten me - why is this such a difficult concept for some dancers to grasp?

- Don't tailgate.
- Don't overtake unless there is no other option for maintaining the line of dance.
- And if you absolutely have to pass another couple, do not do it on the right (the other leader's blind) side.

(1. Overtake (a competitor in a race) to become one or more laps ahead.)

Workshops with Javier Rochwarger

Here's a little example of his dancing:

Just a (long overdue) quickie summary -

What I loved:

I loved his focus on the embrace - on locking into your partner (Important caveat: He did not mean *squeezing* your partner!) by keeping your intention forward. One of his classes was labeled "Complex Sequences in Close, and very close, embrace." How could I resist a class with a title like that? And of course the additional two milonga classes made my weekend! One of my dance partners convinced me to sign up for a shared private with him (to work on milonga some more - that was a pretty easy sell) and I'm so glad I did.

Javier's focuses (in the classes I took, and in the private):
- Embrace, embrace, embrace.
- Ways to reduce "play" and bounce between partners (unintentional movement/being out of synch) with a firm (again, not squeezing) embrace and forward-intention connection.
- Staying up and forward - not rocking back and away from partner.
- Slow down.

Notes from the private lesson in milonga:
For me:
- Keeping my hip square (not dropping it - or breaking at the waist)
- Try harder not to anticipate and in particular, avoid auto-collecting.

For my partner and me -
- Zipping up the hip when collection. This is one of those visual things that's easy to explain in person, but hard to explain in writing. Mostly it keeps both partners from rushing one another and is closely related to the next technique Javier hit on . .
- Landing/finishing the step before continuing on - really land it (push into the floor).

The only things I was disappointed in were his limited time with us in Austin (I so wish he could return more often and/or stay longer) and his reluctance for videos to be put on YouTube. I think his refusal for posting videos online is completely understandable, but he has very little online presence as it is, and I was actually reluctant to take classes with him because there was so few examples of him dancing online. I know performances are generally not a good indicator of how much I'm going to like a class, but it's still something to view.

I recommend Javier very much and look forward to his next visit to Austin!

Teacher Condescension

rant . . .

When I'm in a class, or in particular a private lesson, I make a conscious effort to be open to criticism. It's a little bit my Buddhist learning, but it's really a whole lot more about economics. I am paying to learn. Getting defensive wastes time and money. That said, I am also aware that every teacher says something different - often contradicting what the last teacher said. The best advice I received regarding that all-to-common phenomenon, is that the teacher of the class is correct at least for the duration of lesson. After that, you have to decide what works for your body, your situation, and your comfort. So for the duration of the class or lesson, I try very hard to give the benefit of the doubt.

So let me repeat (mostly for my own benefit) that I try very, very hard to stay open to criticism. I may not always welcome it with the grace that I would like, but I do try to be a receptive student. I can take a teacher being abrupt, or abrasive - even short tempered (to a point).

What I don't handle well is condescension directed at an entire group of dancers based on style preference. At one class I was informed that "close embrace" or "milonguero" style tango is only done in the Buenos Aires' "lower class" milongas simply because they tend to be more crowded. Lower class milongas? Do you mean like NiƱo Bien, or Salon Canning, or Porteno y Bailarin, or Los Consagrados, or maybe Cachirulo (which wasn't crowded at all in this video.) In the days before YouTube, maybe you could get away with saying something like that - but now I can simply search for myself and see video of dozens of milongas all over Buenos Aires. What I see is close embrace danced practically everywhere.

And even when overt comments aren't made, the attitude is still there. The attitude of close embrace dancers dance that way because they aren't good/skilled/creative enough to dance any other way. For the record, I don't accept that open embrace or nuevo dancers are insensitive or disprespectful either. Generalizations on both sides do no good. If there is an action or specific behavior that needs to be addressed, then address that behavior and leave the personal jibes out of it.

Anyway, I'm sorry to get so ranty about this topic. It's been building up a little while.


Why I Embellish.

Of Silk Purses and Sows' Ears.

When I started dancing tango, I had constant problems with my balance. Actually, all tango did was make the problem with my balance more obvious to myself and others. I've always had terrible balance. Much of the problem came from the way that I walked. Both of my ankles and both of my knees have been seriously injured at different times in my life, and as a result I have excessive supination of my ankles and feet. Basically, I walk on the outside edges of my feet. (Read: a little bow-legged.) Not only does it look bad (especially when I'm dancing), but it makes me feel unstable to my partner. Almost more frustrating than that was that I could never seem to express the music the way I was feeling it. I couldn't answer my partner with my body. I felt clunky. Uneven. Ungraceful. And before I looked into correcting my lack of solid technique, it was also making it quite painful to dance. My knees and back were paying the price for poor alignment of my ankles and feet. Different teachers, first Mardi Brown and Stephen Shortnacy from Georgetown Tango, and then Daniela Arcuri in Austin, took up the task of correcting my walk.

Daniela in particular is famous for her foot and posture exercises. She immediately set to work on my feet. First she gave me a series of strengthening exercises for my back, legs and feet - even my toes, that brought more balance to my walk and made me feel much more stable. Then she started on adornments. At first I balked since I didn't have any interest in adornments when my walk was still, to me anyway, a little iffy. However, as I worked on them - even though I very rarely used them - I noticed that being able to place my feet in an intentional way was enough to counteract the habit of turning them under.

Learning embellishments gave me control of my feet, which is what she intended. The stronger my feet and legs got, according to leaders I danced with, the easier I became to lead. I was also able to express my feeling for the music in more nuanced ways. I responded more quickly to my partners and to unfamiliar music. And when things went wrong, when I misstepped, or slipped, or ended up in a different place than my partner intended, I could recover almost effortlessly. (Actually, I'm almost sure that the majority of adornments came from something gone wrong. "Silk purses out of a sows' ears".)

So in classes, practicas and at home, I work very hard on my adornment technique. I do strengthening exercises and stretching to make my feet (and legs) stronger and faster. However, when I'm dancing at the milonga, I let go of all that and just dance. I used to feel the need to apologize for working on what seemed like "the looks" of the dance, but not anymore. The feedback I get from my partners is that I'm more stable and manueverable than ever. After speaking with my podiatrist and my regular physician, I'm pretty sure I will always battle weak ankles and the tendency to turn my feet under, but at least I have some tools (granted, rather pretty tools) to address it.