Tango: my life as a not-so-good leader

And you thought that YOU were the worst dancer in the world ?

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Choreography workshop

I recently attended a four-hour "choreography workshop", during two consecutive days (twice two hours). It was limited to eight couples, and the idea was, for the teachers, to help the students to build their own choreography. A song had been chosen, and the teachers gave us an audio CD. It was quite funny to get a whole CD including one single song, but well, nowadays, recordable CDs are much cheaper than they used to be.

Each of us worked on this same song (Recuerdo, by Pugliese) and tried to put together enough steps for three minutes. The teacher didn't provide any sequence, we had to use the stuff we already knew. (Well of course, they helped people to refine some particular details, or make the steps more "stagy"). Yet they did provide something, and something very useful; the musical structure of the song. They dissected the succession of themes. First there is an introductory sequence of 4x8 beats. They called it "A". Then comes another, clearly separated, 32-beat sequence, named, unsurprisingly, "B". The teachers played and replayed, time and again, the "A" part, until we all identified its beginning, end and subparts.

Then they gave us some clues about what an introductory sequence should look like. "Part A is basically just the meeting of the leader and the follower; the big steps have to come later." This is where the problems began for me. I was there only because a lady had required me, at the last moment of course, to be her partner for this workshop, so I come fully unprepared, without any great ideas (and even without any idea at all...). And my partner, in quality of follower, claimed her right to fully rely upon me, because the leader is supposed to be in charge of everything. As a result, our introductory steps were the simplest ever seen on earth: she goes in front of me, I hold my hand, she takes it and comes in my arms, we make a side step, end of "A".

During these four hours, we had to listen to "Recuerdo" maybe twenty times, so I can't stand it any more and I think I'll skip it for a while at the milongas. But at least by now I'm quite aware of its structure:
Part "A", 4x8 beats, introduction
Part "B", 4x8 beats, main theme
Part "A" again
Part "B" again
Part "C", 5x4 beats, introduction to "Fantasy"
"Fantasy", 2x8 beats
"Final", 4 beats

And here is our nice choreography. No copyright, you can dance it without having to pay dividends to me:
Part "A": abrazo and pauses
Part "B": sandwich and pauses
Part "A": walking steps
Part "B": salida
Part "C": back ochos and side steps
Fantasy: front ocho
Final: close embrace

In the end, each couple demonstrated their creation, and it was video-taped for posterity. Charitably, the seven other pairs applauded our dull performance. I felt rather satisfied; after all, we did not fall, and I didn't step on my partner's toes too frequently.

The teachers also spoke about their own stage performances, and the time it takes them before a three-minute show is "stage-proof": between two weeks and two months. So we didn't need to worry if the result we got after two sessions was not as great as "Tango Pasion" or "The tango lesson". They also spoke about what to do in case of a sudden memory failure: don't stay glued on the floor with a puzzled face, improvise something until an easy-to-identify sequence of notes put you back on the track.

Yet the main question remains: What did I do it in the first place? This lady is not one of my usual partners, we don't go to the same milongas, and there is no perspective of having to perform in a short future. Well, after all, the question is also valid for tango.

posted by Pablo  # 5:26 AM (0) comments

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

About the value of feedback

"A majority of women will like your lead; but this does not mean that your lead is good", my tango guru said. I found it a bit confusing. (Would it be good news if a majority of women told me that they don't like my lead?)
She meant that not-so-advanced followers (hence, the majority of them) will find my lead clear, and easy to follow. But advanced followers don't like being "instructed" to make steps. They prefer to be "invited", and make them by their own will. They prefer subtle hints to dull directives. This is what she meant.
Note that it was not a matter of soft or firm abrazo, and neither a matter of leading with arms or with chest.

Her point was: the advanced women will like a subtle lead because it is a proof that I trust them. They will appreciate that I let them take charge of some of my responsibilities.

Well, I suppose that it makes sense at a certain level. With my real-life followers though, when I try to lead this way, the ladies just miss everything, they look at me with a puzzled face and leave me after the first tango of the tanda, saying "What happens to you tonight, you're not leading anything!"

The guru knows about real life tango, and suggested that in order to avoid taking bad habits with these unsubtle women, I sould invite only advanced tangueras. But they're a minority. More over, they're most unlikely to accept an invitation by a beginner like me.
So, I'll ignore 80% of the women, and I'll get refusals by 90% of the remaining 20%. Instead of 50 tangos in a year, I'll dance one.

posted by Pablo  # 7:47 AM (1) comments

Monday, June 14, 2004

United colors of Tango

I took again one private. My teachers told me that despite all the nice classes I was taking with them, no improvement was there. So they suggested this private as a sort of last chance.

During the one-hour session, my salida was revisited, as was my walk and my abrazo. Almost exactly was this very same teacher tought me a little more than one year ago. What happened in the meantime? Well, I took classes with other teachers, who revisited my walk, my abrazo
my salida. And what is good with teacher X is bad with teacher Y. Note that all these teachers proclaim, with their hand on the heart, that they don't want to create clones of themselves, that each person has to find his own style, and so on.

Tango is a sad feeling that can be danced, they say. A sad feeling of schizophrenia, I would add.

posted by Pablo  # 2:44 AM (0) comments

Thursday, June 03, 2004

How will I know ?

How will I now (if it ever happens at all), as an argentine tango leader, that I left the beginner's hell and entered the "intermediate" area ?

Is it a matter of numbers (Like when you turn 21, you can drive a car and vote.)
-) I'll have been taught a certain amount (say, 500) of sequences by my teachers.
-) I'll be able to actually lead a certain amount of sequences (much less of course, say 100)
-) I'll have danced a certain quantity (say, 1000) of tandas
-) A certain number of years (say, three) will have passed.
-) the number of bumps caused by me (usually when doing a back step) will have reduced to something infinitesimal (say one per milonga)

Is it just a kind of magic:
-) I'll have gone to the Chacarita cemetary (Buenos-Aires)
and put a lit cigarette in Gardel statue's hand
-) I'll have tried all of the seven different kinds of empanadas

Is it a matter of partner's feedback:
-) Women will stop running away and trying to escape at all costs when I enter the milonga
-) Once I catch one, her "thank you" will come after one tanda (and not after one tango, or even after half a tango)
-) When a tanda begins, a woman will come spontaneously to me for a dance, and then another woman will intercept her, saying she had already booked me (Well, maybe this is too much for the
intermediate level; maybe this happens only to advanced leaders).

Or is it something I'll feel by myself? Like in Dante's Divine Comedy, the souls in purgatory for several thousand years, one day know by themselves, without any angel having to tell them, that they're allowed to enter the Heaven?

posted by Pablo  # 3:09 AM (0) comments


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