Expressing music or dancing for tables?
Too much of a good thing?
As sort of a follow-up to my thoughts on technique, I've run into a little snag I'd like some feedback.
When I get compliments about my embrace, I'm absolutely elated. When someone compliments the way my walk feels, I feel accomplished. Compliments about my musicality - ditto.
When I start getting lots of compliments about my foot work, however - I get worried. I shouldn't right? A compliment is a compliment, and should be taken graciously. It's certainly meant as a positive thing. It's a good thing if a dancer's feet are pretty - why else would everyone wear those silly, yet gorgeous, shoes? But like Richard Dreyfuss staring down his plate of mash potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I can't help thinking it means something.
Something not good.
I don't mean like a backhanded compliment - but more like a fear that my priorities have unintentionally shifted. Maybe it's a community thing. Online I very often read leaders' complaints about followers' adornments and suggestions that women who adorn are "dancing for the tables", or secretly want to lead etc. etc. Yet, when I'm dancing in the milongas here, I've noticed that my increased effort on foot work has resulted in a greater number of invitations to dance. (Of course I'm very aware that how you look can get you that first tanda with a dancer - but how you feel determines if you get any invitations after that.)
So at the last several practicas, I've been asking leaders - how do I feel? Am I too "noisy" in the dance? Do I feel like I'm disconnecting? I asked leaders who I knew would be freer with criticism of my dancing and got a lot of good feedback - which was reassuring. I still felt connected, some leaders said I felt even more so lately. My walk was still strong, grounded and mostly smooth (which is pretty much par for the course.) Okay, so that's a bit of a relief.
And then more questions.
So I experimented a bit (again at practicas - not in the milongas.) I tried "turning off" the embellishments and particular foot placements, but found it much harder to do than I thought it would be. Even when I dance very, very quietly, I'm careful and deliberate in how I place my feet. Deliberately not moving my feet that way felt like I was sucking the life out of the music - and not really answering my partner's musicality.
One leader told me that when he could feel something that could be categorized as an embellishment, it didn't feel like something I was doing on my own, but an answer to what he was doing - which is how it felt to me. So what about the leaders who say when a follower embellishes, she's dancing by herself? Where is the line? Is it just something that varies from leader to leader, which would be understandable, or are there really some embellishments and adornments that leaders find noisy generally?
And where is the line between an embellishment and simply how someone moves? I was told that an embellishment or adornment was anything a follower does that is not led by the leader. Which sort of makes sense, and sort of doesn't. After all, the leader leads me to walk - but not exactly how to walk. He leads the length and speed of the step, but how I place my foot is up to me. I choose according to the music and the style he is leading. And choose is really the wrong word here. I'm not weighing my options and choosing the best one. I'm responding to what I feel from my leader and how he moves. If he moves softly and smoothly, I try to move softly and smoothly in return. If the next leader dances more sharply and rhythmically, with sharp collections and taps, and I adjust accordingly - when am I embellishing, and when am I simply following?
For example, the partner that I quoted above and I were dancing to a milonga. One thing that I do that had received compliments (and bear with me, it's difficult to describe) was rather than just collecting my feet, if the music was right for it, I would slow my foot down as I collected almost like building momentum and then at the last moment on the sharp beat, snap my feet closed. When done at the same time as my leader, who collects in a similar way during that particular milonga, it creates a great connectedness when marking the end of the phrase. It just plain feels good to do it. When I didn't do it, it felt sort of flat to him and to me - like I was muffling the music and the lead.
I'm sure there are lots of very strong feelings on the subject (pulling on my asbestos knickers) - and I look forward hearing some feedback (really). What I would like to avoid however are blanket, black and white judgments about the character or motivations of dancers who adorn or don't. Those kinds of statements, like the ones I quoted above, don't really further the discussion. I'm much more interested in hearing from dancers about when or how adornments add or take something away from the dance experience. What makes a dancer (leader or follower) feel "noisy"? Where do you draw the line with interpreting the music? When it's a problem - is the problem with the adornment, or could it be an issue of poor technique while executing the adornment?
I do still allow anonymous comments, so should any local dancers like to weigh in on this, I strongly encourage you to do so. (Even if the feedback is, "damn chica, you've been going too nuts with the feet lately.") Try not to swear too much since my grandmother reads this blog. :)