Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Actors advice to a tango dancer

An actors advice

In an earlier posting I presented the idea about the similarities between the acting and dancing processes. With other words the actors have the script, their lines and all their skill is needed to blow life to those lines in the way the director points out. In dance we have the choreography, the steps and the dancers skill will get those steps to come alive while the choreographer is showing the direction! These two are quite similar processes, aren't they? 

Even when we do not cooperate with a choreographer on the social dance floor the actors advice can still be useful for us. I think we can agree about the actors strive for true and meaningful emotions, gestures and movements to express the character and his life and the same seems to be valid for the dancers too; they are also searching a true expression, a true dance where the movements are meaningful. Below you have three suggestions on acting aspects which I think could be valuable for the dancers too!

1. Investing in the moment

There is an old tango saying: Dance as if there is no one watching! In other words it is about focusing on music, partner and dancing in a way so you are not aware of the onlookers. 

Robert Carnes video is about how the actors can train themselves so they can identify the most essential aspects, the issues which are critical for the performance. The training makes them capable to change their focus when needed and you can as a dancer to do the same! You can broaden your capacity and choose to focus on an essential aspect, to an internal aspect of dancing or the aspects and emotions you want your dance to express. In that way you develop your dance and it can be better for you and your partner. 

2. The range of emotions in your service

To be able to express the emotions presented in a song the dancer needs to have access to the whole range of emotions within her/himself. This need can push us to search the keys to the locked areas within us and make us to grow as human beings. In his video Robert Carne gives the growing actors training advice how to increase their emotional registry. He uses the films but a tango dancer could pick different songs and explore the emotions these songs are carrying to the listener!

The following questions could help you to find a way to a more open inner landscape: What does he mean by the emotional muscles? How could you train the fibres? or find the keys?


3. You are not listening!

This listening feels now to be the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of connection!

A Finnish milonguero, Kristian Salikoski, has written his thesis about tango. (available in Finnish) In this context he points out how essential a touch is for the tango; a touch to understand the other person. It is a listening touch between the partners and this ongoing listening is part of the unique connection between the tango dancers. You reach to the other person and when you touch your partner you do it deeply focused and your senses are fully active.

This quality of listening is also part of the acting process!

In the video below you get the story how an actor is fine tuning is listening. When he understood what the deep listening means he could start to train the skill but still it took him several years to complete! To understand what the goal was gave him the direction to work for and I am sure kept him motivated during the years!


The Best Acting Lesson in the World sounds to be the best Dancing lesson too!

Personal experiences

It can be hard to recognize the processes taking place within oneself; what is happening and what is the content of an experience. Here I describe a few situations which I think are related to the connection: How well I am/we are connected to the music? or How alive is the connection between us, between me and my partner?

Meaningful steps

The feeling of meaning when taking a step was an early experience for me and since then it has been the guide for my musicality. Actually the first experience was the opposite: every now and then I felt how ridiculous it was to march alone at home to a tango. Little by little I understood that these feelings were created by the changing relation my steps had to the music. This became an important tool to monitor how well my steps were related to the music: the good steps generated a positive feeling, a low key satisfaction, meaningfulness but the unsuccessful steps were connected with feelings of ridiculousness or discomfort. I was lucky to get this tool which creates a joyful relation to musicality without anxiety.

Feeling the flow

During the 15+ years I have been dancing a few moments have been deeply different. The main features during these tandas have been a feeling of flow and a strong unfocused concentration. The feeling we/partner and I shared seems to have been visible even to others because for most of the cases someone came afterward and spontaneously told us how great it looked. The words they used made a match with the feeling I / we had during the dance.
An other way to say it is: When we are connected - there is a flow and it is visible.

To choose a state of mind

It seems that I can switch between mental states during a tanda, roughly between two states. Sometimes when the dance is not going on easily, when I am tired or not engaged in the music there is a possibility to gear it up by deciding to dance better. If I do an effort I can feel the change and my partner has comment on that too.

Develop your emotions

I share Robert Carne's opinion that the actors need to have access to a large range of emotions and when it is so it enables them to express those emotions in their work. This is the way I understand the dancing too and therefore I have tried to train myself in emotions carried to me by the songs. Instead of watching the films I listen to tangos and let my body express the emotions which the song is releasing within me. It is a mild or wild solo experience and the outcome will be later modified to a form suitable for a pista.

More than once a follower has told me that an uninteresting song got emotional content by the relation I had to it. She could recognize my positive attitude, emotions and she got a better experience herself.

Kristian Salikoskis theseis - I am sorry but the content is so far available only in Finnish. He has later on continued to to explore the touch aspect in dance but I think the basic idea of touch is valuable to us all.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Choreography: The connection and advantages

The connection

A dancer can get clear advantages from the work on choreography according to the Joy in Motion blogger. (JinM) Your ability to create a strong, living connection between the steps, the movements, the choreography and your body, your personality can grow dramatically when you are working with choreographies. You can experience this connection as the difference between the mechanically taken steps and the same steps deeply touching your heart.

Joy in Motion  puts it in this way:
“The physical aspect of the dance is not about putting something in the body; it is about encouraging something to arise from the body.”

This happens on several levels. It is a very physical, very technical thing, but it is also mental, emotional, relational, and musical.

After I had this realization, I began to search for the feeling, the intention, the essence of each choreographed phrase in a very personal way.

According to JinM the results were visible immediately and her dancing was also complimented by the teachers. This convinced her that this awareness is important and one of the main messages in the posting is that a choreography work is a good training method to grow your skill in good connection. She did it and you can do it too!

With other words there can be a huge difference between the steps taken and the very same steps which have come alive. That's the reason why a good choreographer is so passionate about the connection - it is all, the most important goal to work for. Only after the steps have come alive he starts to pay attention to how to polish the movements and to create the ultimate precision.

I have always thought that there is a fundamental difference in the mental state of a choreography dancer compared to an improvisation dancer. I have some vague memories about a difference between musicians who were used to play from sheet music and who were able to carry on a jam session. The first one needed a stable structure but was unable to let an intuitive improvisation process to take over. The participating brain areas for these two mental states varied; some areas were activated for one state but were shut down for the other and the ability to switch between these two requires some learning and training.

This may still be true but from the Joy in Movement viewpoint the two types of dancing are similar by sharing the search for form/dancer connection. If the improvised steps  lack this connection they are as mechanical and dead as the choreographed dance with the same failure. In my mind this idea boiled down to this: the degree of connection is the degree of life in the dance!

Quite often an unsatisfied audience is calling an improvised dance for too choreographed when something is missing, when the dance feels too mechanical. After reading JinM's posting I agree that it is more accurate to call this for a connection error, too vague connection or something similar.

Dancers vs. Actors

I haven't ever worked with a choreographer so I am only vaguely able to understand the aspects JinM blogger is writing about. To get deeper I relied on my usual strategy and tried to find a more familiar situation with same structure making it more easy to broaden my views. After a while I landed on the process actors are going through when they are preparing for their next role.

Most of us have seen interviews were an actor is telling about the research work: all the reading, visiting locations, working in certain milieus, learning gestures, way of talk and so on. It is not only information collection but it is also about building up different skills needed so they can create a true character. As audience we just see the tip of the preparation ice berg but the huge hidden part of it makes the character and role true - we do not see it but we do feel it.

With other words the actors get the script, their lines and all their skill is needed to blow life to those lines in the way the director points out. In dance we have the choreography, the steps and the dancer's skill will get those steps to come alive while the choreographer is showing the direction! 

Quite the same isn't it? 

I can understand the reasons why the huge amount of work is motivated when the actors want to embody a role and now it is also easier to understand that the corresponding areas need to be addressed even in dance: among them the physical, technical, mental, emotional, relational and rhythm/timing areas.

Here some short interviews with several well known actors how they work for the connection between the script and their role:

If a good actor is able to create it so why a good dancer couldn't create a similar experience?

You can read the blogger's entire posting at Joy in Motion page!  Click here!

Links used here:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Choreography: The degree and rigidity

In the earlier posts we have watched performances where all the steps were planned for the dance. In other cases the dancers have decided and trained the steps for some musical moments in the song and are improvising the spaces in between. This kind of choreo gives the dancers more and easier options to adapt to the pistas different shapes. Have you spotted your favorite couple with this strategy?

To see what the dancers can do with a rigid choreography and how to gradually increase the improvisation degree. We start with the most rigid variation for this 4-steps figure with fixed positions for the couple, fixed direction of the movement, step length as well as fixed angles and then follow the step by step loosen up process .

The base figure from the leaders point of view:
parallel sidestep left, corida left side of the follower, corida/in, parallel sidestep to right.


Some of the variations to start with
1. synchronized change of step length - change of the step length but keep the positions
2, step length/angle (pivot CW, CCW)
3. break the step line (pivot CCW)

You can also turn the whole figure to be a mirror image to the right.

If you apply these principles to your dance you can easily spice up your dance. Your enter to a creative mood which will make your more focused and the feeling of life in your steps is increasing!

These visuals were created during a weekend on the country side. The berry picking was the main thing but during all those hours we talked a lot of tango and ended up to take some pictures and videos after the dinner!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Choreography: The space and audience

stage - pista audience 
huge - small space      
circular - linear choreo        
comparison playlist       

The tango performers have a quite many hidden skills, which we in audience maybe do not pay attention to. When the tango choreography is created it needs to look good in very different environments and I suppose the performers hardly know about the conditions for the coming season.

One challenge for the choreography is how the audience is seated. An ordinary stage performance places the audience on one side so you do all the interesting movements in that direction.  It is different for the pista where the enjoying eyes are all around the performing couple. It means that the interesting details must be planned carefully and they must be visibly to all directions so all in the audience can catch them. The following short glimpse shows how Pajaro and Maria Belen are solving that challenge geniusly! They present the airy movements to the audience on both sides . 

(video at 0.33)

Another skill needed is the ability to fit the choreography to different venues. Did you noticed how large the pista is in the video above  and how Pajaro/Maria Belen are dancing on the whole floor  from quite near the scene to the other end of the pista. I had the possibility to see this performance live and they were really filling up the space preparing for us a high class visual entertainment.

The same choreo on a smaller pista and please, pay attention how they are able to keep the same high energy level in spite of the changed options!

Pajaro and Maria Belen

It must be challenging to redo/maintain the whole choreography for two so different floors as these Russian and Finnish ones are.  The Pajaro/Maria choreography had a more circular type of form and it gives you better options. You can always go around the number of steps you need!  The second example, danced below by Pablo and Dana, has o more linear form with some round going sections every now and then. Spontaneously I think it must be more difficult to adapt, but they still managed it and did well!

We start with the huge pista

 Pablo and Dana in Tylösand   

and a smaller version  

What are these couples doing when they adapt to a new size of the pista?  

To get an idea about the options these dancers have I wanted to compare the performances and  try to spot the differences. I opened two browser windows besides each others so  I could stop one and watch the same section on the other one. My untrained eye had hard time to find any differences even when I knew that there must be some.

I noticed though that Pajaro and Maria Belen are dancing in a visibly different way for a part of the song. The small dance is going more around at the same space and the larger one uses a lot more of the pista. It requires a good portion of concentration and experience to modify the dance to this extent during a performance.

The small starts around 2.20 :

The large starts around 2.26 :

I did the same for the Pablo/Dana songs but I did not find spots which shows the different solutions for these two alternatives.  the other hand, as usual when I invest some extra time on something, I make a lot of bonus observations! Here it was the joy of how fantastic and humorous their dancing was. I still think of this milonga as Pablo/Dana milonga!