Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Renovating my Tango House

I have been dancing Argentine Tango for twenty years and I have been even leading for a long time. This need for renovation became very obvious when I had tried to change my dance to a more dynamic one. Unsuccessfully. During that process I had also become aware of the generation gap in the skill and style between the younger dancers and me.

I have seen a dancer use sequences from my first dance years and became aware of how old fashion his dance looked and I heard the others comment on the conservated years. I heard also how new dancers commented on styles fully recognizable for me but unknown to them. They said it was not tango. (I could count backward when they had started to dance  . . . :))

So there was a need to update the look of my dance by adding new steps and techniques which the younger dancers also could recognize!

Another way to describe the situation is to think of what a house owner is experiencing!  You maybe are living in a house or your friends have one. Usually there are continuously some renovating project going on but then after 20 years stay you noticed that a more profound, more large-scale actions are needed. You maybe must rebuild the fundament or a basement renovation is needed before some other changes can be processed!

That was the case of my Tango house!

I wanted to change my dance and therefore a better fundament was needed to be clear and strong enough to carry the new top floor. I had been planning and working for a new type of dance for some time but the new additional floor to my tango house did not get completed.

What was keeping me back?

At the time I started to tango the techniques for a stable and solid base were not available. I grabbed and put together material I could found somewhere.  It was not possible to make a plan or choose a style but you got a basic figure here and later on something else with a totally different technique. The wind was blowing through the cracks when different techniques did not fit together. Some figures were with center oriented techniques while others were using centrifugal principles and you were continuously forced to move from one technique to another during a tanda. It happens also that the dancers in the couple have different techniques on figures they try to fit together during a tanda. In other words, it was hard to create a harmonious dance on that base of unfit blocks, unfit moves.

To start with I would have needed some kind of evaluation of the situation but it was hard to get. So I planned the content and set up the lesson structure as I needed with cooperative teachers. Lucky me to get teachers with good skills and pedagogical insights for this project!

I am building, I am renovating!

September was the busiest month with 3-4 lessons a week combined with the preparation and repetition hours at home. The later part of October was easier with 2-3 lessons instead but as busy as earlier at home and it goes on . . . .

Friday, August 30, 2019

Dance Like No One Is Watching - WROOOONG ?

I agree that an excessive search of audience approval is not good but so is the total neglection of audience opinion.

I see the process of forwarding the tradition (or creating something new) as a dynamic balance between individual dancers and the community. When dancers make their dance visible during a tanda the community approves it by accepting their cabeceos later on or it disapproves the dance experiment by focusing on other dancers or they speek out their disapproval!

On the personal level my dance should look from the outside like it feels during a tanda. For a while ago some followers were positively surprised by the feeling during a song and that triggered some new learning initiatives for me. I need to do my dance more visible for the audience to attract other dancers. Teachers have given me positive feedback but when some experienced followers do not get my skill right i need to do what I can to make it easier to recognize.

I have a friend who has a background in music and a strong opinion about how to express the beat. When we were on a ws with appreciated local teachers with 20 years of experience he made the fastest/erliest landings of us all. Clearly before us all. I talked with him later about that but he just stated - That is the way I want to have it! His own inner experience was the only guide for him but here it pushed him off to a totally private solution.

So IMO there is a healthy level of audience/dancer attention vitally forming the future of the dancer, the tango community and the tango.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Partnership in tango is like an aquarelle

paper water - the music
dancers with different colors
new colors and totally new steps

The Partnership period

At the partnership stage the leader and follower know how to move in tango, how to take steps and adapt to each other. At the beginning of this period you slowly grow out from the leader/follower roles and are transformed to dancers with much more equal impact on a tanda than earlier.

In many important changes in my life, the relevant aspects of a situation come together in a picture embodying the values playing at that moment. So was the origin of this metaphor. I still remember the follower and the spot on the pista where I was struck by the idea about an aquarelle as an equivalent metaphor for our dancing.

The sheet of paper is the base and together with the pure water they represent the music.

When we start to dance, her colors are trickling from one side of the paper and mine are coming in from the opposite side. Our movements make the water move and blend our colors to totally new ones. There are new paths, forms creating themselves on the paper as well. 

In a milonga, the same tanda would feel different with a new follower, because they come with a different personal set of colors. Followers have also impact on leaders steps but the effect is not always easy to recognize. It can be easier to notice with a new partner. Totally new combinations and forms evolve when the personalities fit.
I would call it inspiration and that happens! 
We have seen and heard about it.
 Many times!

The road & The car as Following & Leading metaphor

music as the landscape

the leaders construct the road and fix the signs

the followers drive their car on the prepared road


Following & Leading period

From the very beginning, I have been uncomfortable with the idea of following to be a passive role but it has been a challenge to find a way to describe the active parts included. It has also been impossible to find one picture integrating the whole life of a dancer. The feeling during the first years was totally different compared to the experience of a tanda 20 years later.

What kind of a metaphor could then describe the first years when the leading and following roles have the strongest presence in the couple. In the beginning, we are learning how to move our bodies to Argentine tango and how we relate to music so the dance becomes enjoyable even during your first years!

In classical music, the idea of a musical landscape is common so the idea of tangos creating their own sound landscape was a logical development. Even if some of the song texts are about soccer, heart, blood, and difficulties the music still creates different parallel paths the leaders can choose their favorite among. This is the leaders advantage or often a responsibility during the first years.

The Road Constructor

It is also easy to think a leader as a road constructor when he is choosing the musical path for his feet and body, building the road, which he is offering to the follower too. His skill to navigate and adapt to the other couples will create a safe road on the pista for the couple. Is your road rough or has it a smooth surface? How can your follower recognize the signs for speed limits? Other signs? Are there spaces for scenery stops?

The Car Driver

The follower is not a car as suggested so many times but the driver. It is the follower's decision how to drive that car! It is her decision to keep the vehicle on the offered road and to follow the speed limits and other road signs from the leader during the journey. What is your style of driving? Is it slow or fast? Is the driving occupying all your capacity or are you able to enjoy the path, the musical landscape around you?

The lead/follow period is about learning how to create the tango movements and sequences with your body and how to communicate all that to the partner. It is much more about learning and not so much about improvising yet.

Yes, this is just a metaphor and it doesn't meet all the leading and following aspects but it shows a possibility for a dynamic experience in both roles.

This is the metaphor for the first period on a dancers path! You can here below find the different possibilities there are for us!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Three stages of tango - follow/lead, partnering and mature pista periods

Following - Leading


Mature pista

It took time but when I discovered this 3-stage development in my dance it facilitated the acceptance of certain difficulties. I knew it was not forever but for now!

This development chain can be activated in different situations during the dancers' life. It is the main tendency but it can also be activated when you want to learn a new skill or technique. Sometimes you maybe need to adapt your dance to a partner or pista at a different stage.

Following - Leading period

I consider that these two roles were created just for learning purposes! When we were starting up no one knew how to take the steps together in tango so the process would have been chaotic - to organize the learning the split of responsibilities was activated as well as the leader/ follower hierarchy. During this period the dancers learn to manage their own body and tango moves as well as the communication with, to and from, the partner.

I still remember how I was physically moving the follower during my first leading year. When she started to recognize my lead and we were able to complete the sequences then the lead, the physical impact could be lessened. Back then the leaders talked about moving a piece of furniture during a tanda but I am sure we were many, who acted as a moving service even when the follower was doing her part beautifully.

Later on we learn to communicate more effortless but my ability to adapt to surprises was still fragile. If the follower didn't respond by the book, if her response was not the one I expected the dance crashed, we stopped and restarted the sequence from the beginning.The same happened when another couple disturbed us!

Both groups will learn their own movements and communication. On top of that the leaders work on some additional responsibilities - they need to know the follower's steps, create the content and musicality during a tanda - making the leaders learning period longer. When the followers had learned their own part they could start to enjoy the dance with those leaders, who could offer some flow and smooth steps. Some followers will take this further and start to fully rely on the skilled leaders, who provide the musicality and more complex movements.

When we have developed our tango movements, a stable communication and we can manage surprises then we are well prepared for the next stage where we will meet more like equal partners. The leader/follower structure is changing to a dancer/dancer structure.

Partnering period

One day we will notice that the material is enough, the movement vocabulary and rhythmic patterns are enough so we will have satisfying variation during a tanda. Our ability to adapt to partners' unexpected moves and to react on surprises from the other couples grows and we will be able to manage the most situations on the pista without losing our dance flow. This increases our freedom and we can lessen the hierarchical structure of the roles and the dance will be a more equal type of partnering. In the beginning, I led every step but later on I knew that she was able to place her steps to music so I just communicated positions and directions. I actually danced with her upper body only and she took care of her own steps according to music and how our torsos were moving.

Because both dancers are now dancing more intuitively without constant mental control so there will be free capacity to pay attention to the partner and music. After 10-15 years of leading I was blown by the diversity among followers.

I have met the active partner followers as well as the relaxed, meditating followers and it is equally fantastic to dance with them. It seems that followers (leaders ?) who have been meditating or active in yoga have easier to relax while moving. In those cases my role has been to provide a flow of steps which is not boring but not too energetic either, just leaving the follower in the relaxed state of mind. If the dancing crowd is experienced then even I can relax and trust on the other couples' navigation skills.

A partner follower can create steps without the lead but she needs to follow the navigation lead which we have to maintain on an immature pista. If she is doing a Noelia, a rhythmic drill, she should develop a skill to continue even if the leader has to navigate or starts to dance too. It is the same demand as on the leader - I need to be skilled enough to change direction, speed and so on if the pista conditions force me to but keep our dance going on.

It was a rhythmical tango tanda where I was doing a quite fast path in the song. Suddenly I felt how she softly fall into a slower path also available in the music. It was a good choice so I hang on to the same path. I could have continued and she could have followed her choice but this time we went together.

We can also melt together when the following and leading are lost and the intuitive dance takes over. The dancing is not controlled, planned by the intellect but just happening, following the music playing. You often loose the feeling of time!

We are not any more leaders and followers but two dancers and we both listen to music and choose our steps. The challenge now is how to combine these two individual dances to one dancing couple. How should the arrangement be done for these two bodies?

Mature pista period

I had been dancing for some hours without a collision. Then suddenly I bumped twice to the same couple before me. He told me later that they were beginners - to my eye quite good dancers. That moment created the idea about a pista skill the experienced dancers have.

If you are driving a car you also know how smooth (some) experienced drivers can advance together. At the moment when you have a newly licensed driver before you the situation changes - the reactions can be too fast or too slow. They react differently and you need to pay special attention to those cars. The same can happen on the pista!

Experienced dancers are doing different steps but still they share a musicality, pista rhythm, so the movements are predictable. They go when the music is driving forward and they advance slowly when music is asking for that. They feel how different crowds move on a pista or what kind of speed certain orchestra creates on the ronda.

One of the navigation skills must be about musicality but it is also about the ability to turn your figures so you are coming out and continuing in a planned direction. The ability to vary step lengths within a figure gives you also flexibility to adapt to ever varying pista situations.

All these skills are needed to get a mature pista providing you the feeling of total freedom in your dance and the feeling of dancing to the music, with your partner as well as with the total pista!

The mature pista can pulsate! You can see it on some videos, here you have one!

How long time does this main development take? I have an estimate just for the lead/follow period coming from a tango teacher. She said that the preparation to partner stage usually takes five years and if the transition has not happened by eight years it will probably never occur.

URL for the video

Friday, March 29, 2019

Solitaire learning: Am I growing weeds?

beginner luck - long development
are you gardening weeds?
the need of a teacher to tell apart crops and weeds

Have you seen how someone near you starts a new thing and performs really well but on the second try an ordinary beginner struggle takes place? Beginner luck with high results - then a long development period until you get there again.

Why is it so?

Could it be so that you are actually as good as the results showed at your first try but you are causing the flashback yourself? I got this idea when learning a new solitaire game and facing a downward tendency after some high score start games. It was so obvious that I had developed a skill or skills which were harmful to a good result. After a while, I understood that my tendency to organize the cards in rows was the reason - the cards should be moved as few times as possible.

It is like gardening - you start to work on it, fertilize the soil and all kind of plants start to grow and it looks wonderful and it feels wonderful. Everything is growing - but do you get the right results? or are you growing some weeds?

This episode made it very clear for me how important it is to have a teacher telling me what moves are the correct ones to continue with and which one I must let go. This is quite a difficult fact for me who always want to proceed on my own, find my own way . . . .

any of various card games played by one person, the object of which is to use up all one's cards by forming particular arrangements and sequences.

Here you find an earlier experience!