When worlds (and tango dancers) collide

Worlds colliding

There you are, whizzing down the motorway and you come across a car in the outside lane doing 67 miles per hour, no more , no less. Traffic is building up behind, but the driver just does not move over. Then people start overtaking on the inside lanes, making the situation dangerous.

Or you’re passing through a variable speed limit area. Every time an overhead gantry appears the car in front brakes because while they are happy to break the speed limit between gantries, they don’t want to be caught. An example of the law of unexpected consequences, making a situation more dangerous.

Or you’re coming up to a junction, and a car cuts across from outside lane to peel off at the junction, all at high speed and within 100 yd of the junction itself. Ouch!

You get the idea. Eventually something goes out of control and… collision!

If like me, you find this sort of behaviour annoying on the motorway, its even more annoying on the tango piste! There is no need for tailgating, lane changing, dangerous braking, space grabbing behaviour in a milonga.

Everyone who goes to a milonga wants to enjoy their own dances, of course, but at the expense of everyone else around them? Some of my worst dances had nothing to do with my performance, or my partners, the music or the venue, but simply because I seemed to spend an entire tanda defending myself and my partner from getting bumped, kicked, and having to constantly cut movements short to avoid collisions.

But here is an interesting observation – it’s rarely to do with the amount of space available to dancers. I have danced in some of the most crowded milongas in the world, among good dancers who know their floor-craft. Didn’t get bumped or kicked once, and the flow of dancers around the floor was nice and steady, even when it was so crowded I only managed to travel one circuit in a tanda.

So it seems to be more to do with the general lack of floor-craft skills of dancers in particular dance halls. I don’t think these unruly dancers are ‘bad’ people setting out to deliberately inflict damage or be selfish (maybe one or two…). I just think that in some venues and classes not enough attention is paid to teaching people how to behave with respect for dancers around them.

I have also observed that some teachers have a different concept of floor-craft. Ducking, diving, weaving their way through dancers at their own milongas, using their obvious skill, but not bothering to teach their students how to do that safely.

This whole lack of floor-craft teaching may be because teachers, when demonstrating, or show dancing, always have the entire floor to themselves so they don’t need to think about floor-craft too much. Some like to teach movements that need a lot of space, but don’t teach how they can be modified for use in a crowded tango piste.

Presumably these teachers believe floor-craft is a skill you have to learn for yourself (and we wonder why the drop out rate for learning tango is so high when beginners and improvers find some milongas too difficult and frightening to dance at!).

An alternative point of view, which I share, is that we need to not only respect our partners, but also respect the dancers around us, so that everyone in the dance hall gets to enjoy their dances. So within this school of thought there has to be three things taught in class:-

1. How to manage your own dance so you are not impinging on dancers around you. For example the leader (or follower) can choose to cut their own movement before they force a problem on another couple. Resist the illogical urge to finish ‘a move’ even when you know you haven’t got room. Be aware of what’s going on around you by the simple act of looking around on a regular basis, and improve you’re spatial awareness, as in ‘I just left a space and I know (because I looked) there was nobody close enough to claim it, so I can move back in safely’, rather than ‘I left a space 5 seconds ago and I’m going to assume nobody has moved into it so I’ll reclaim it’.

2. How to anticipate what the dancers in front, behind and to the side may be about to do which might affect your next movement. How can you do this if you’re not a mind reader? Well, for example, if you are a leader and know how to lead well, then you can observer the dancers in front of you, and make a pretty good guess that if the leader starts to turn, his partner is going to be shortly arriving in the space just ahead of you. You can then react before the loss of space becomes an issue. Same if you intend to move backwards or sideways. Take a look first to make sure you have room. Don’t dance ‘blindly’, and assume everyone else will get out of your way.

3. How to avoid those dancers who have not had floor-craft training. You’re always going to come across dancers who haven’t (yet) been taught these simple rules. They will get in the way, they will cause chaos, and most likely be oblivious to it.

One of the things I do when dancing in a familiar environment is to simply avoid dancing near the ‘usual suspects’. Chose to dance among those leaders, and with followers, who exhibit good floor-craft awareness. In an unfamiliar venue don’t rush onto the dance floor as soon as you arrive. Wait for a tanda or two and just watch the dancers as they move around the floor. You can then spot the knowledgeable, and the unruly, and take appropriate action when you chose to join the piste.

When you are ready to join the tango piste, don’t just muscle your way into any little space that opens up (and try not to let your over-excited follower do the same πŸ™‚ ). Try to catch a leaders eye. Many will just dance past with no acknowledgement, but if you get nodded into the line, you’ve just found someone who is aware of floor-craft etiquette and can protect your back :-). Beware though – he might be wanting you to deal with the unruly couple in front :-). If you are really lucky you can sometimes find a small group of good leaders dancing together in the line, and get invited into the middle of the group.

So the followers amongst you may be thinking this is a problem just for leaders, nothing to do with you. Oooh no… Followers can help the partnership by also being aware of the space around you. Many followers like to dance with their eyes closed to really feel the connection. This is not advisable in a crowded milonga. The leader has some natural blind spots (where the followers head is, for instance) reducing the field of vision, but which the follower can see. A follower could resist, or cut a move if the leader is trying to put them into a dangerous position.

Also followers; in a crowded milonga, don’t automatically do high kicks and flicks even if the leader is trying to lead them. Keep your feet low to the ground and shorten leg extensions if necessary.

So, to conclude it is incumbent on all tango teachers to teach their students how they can enjoy their dances in the social milonga environment with respect for their partners and the dancers around them. If your tango teacher is not teaching floor-craft, seek out one who will.

If we all danced with a little more respect for each other, the tango world would be a slightly less dangerous place and more enjoyable in popular crowded venues.

Happy (and safe) dancing to you all πŸ™‚

How to Make the Best use of Practicas

Dart in target bullseye

If you want to improve your tango dancing, you have to practice, of course. Many people go to practicas and just dance, and that’s OK as far as it goes, but sometimes they just dance the way they always dance, without really thinking about what needs improving.

It may be more useful if you practice with an objective in mind. For example, an obvious set of objectives if you’ve just attended a class would be

a) to make sure you can do the figures taught in the class,

b) to make sure you understand the techniques used to perform those figures, and

c) to make sure you can integrate those figures into your normal improvisational dancing.

I would also argue that if you are self aware of your own tango abilities (i.e. you know what you do well, and also what you perform poorly), then you can give yourself objectives related to practising the things which you know need improvement, or which you have difficulty performing consistently.

If you have teachers at the practica, then you can ask for input just to check your doing things ‘the right way’ (i.e. with reasonable technique, control of balance and axis etc.). They will be able to see problems you might not be aware of and suggest better ways of doing things, as well as exercises you can do at home.

Of course, this relies on you being able to judge your own abilities reasonably well, and being able to accept that you may have faults which need rectifying. Not all people are willing to admit their faults.

If you recognise yourself here (and I accept it’s difficult to have someone tell you you’re not doing things right, even if they have more expertise), then I would ask you this.

  • Do you want to get more dances?
  • Do you want to have people pleased to dance with you, rather than trying to avoid you?

If so, and you are not feeling that this is the case right now, then you may need to put ego aside in order to improve your tango. Judge your tango guides/teachers by what they can do, and how they teach, and let them help you improve. Listen graciously to the feedback from the people who will dance with you, and make a plan to improve.

Also don’t forget to keep doing the things you do well. We can all get a bit jaded and sloppy if we neglect practice on even the basics of tango.

Don’t waste your practice time. Practice with purpose. Put in the right kind of effort, and the Gods of Tango will smile down upon you… πŸ™‚

How to dance more musically

Musicality in your dance is 50% of the work. Knowing figures and decorations is one thing, but applying them to a given tango tune in a musical fashion which enhances not only the external look of the dance to your audience, but also enhances your own enjoyment of the dance, is another important factor.

So how can you improve your musicality and improve your Argentine Tango interpretation?

1. The most obvious thing is to listen to lots of tango music… traditional tango music… every day… until you begin to recognise all the popular tunes you hear at milongas. This will take time, but will tune your ear to the rhythms and structure of typical tango tunes.

If you don’t have the money to buy tracks/CD’s you can listen to tango tunes from your favourite video service or music streaming website, and if you have on-line radio, there are some good tango stations out there who stream hours of tango music to listeners. So, no excuses! You can squeeze in 1/2 hour of tango music while travelling to/from work, walking the dog, out running, etc. every day πŸ™‚

2. Learn the structure of what you’re listening to. Most Argentine tango tunes (especially those from the Golden Age (early 1930’s – late 1950’s) do have a recognisable structure.

You need to be able to listen to the music and react to it rather than just hearing it as a background noise. Typically, tango tunes are split into phrases which are repeated (with variation) through out the tune. There are often two or three musical themes repeated also, in an ‘A-B-A-B-A’ or ‘A-B-A-B-C’type pattern.

So as well as getting to recognise popular tunes off by heart, knowing the typical structure of a tango tune allows you to anticipate how you might dance to tunes you’ve never heard before as you begin to listen to the first phrases of the tune.

3. Practise dancing musically, of course! When you are in a Practica, don’t be afraid of trying out steps such as rock steps and rebounds to accentuate not just the stepping beat but half beats too. Try out your adornments in a similar manner, and don’t forget to use pauses as well. Smooth elegant tango dancing will always have some pauses in it. Music is written in phrases and sections. Singers have to draw breath. Each of these elements will result in a natural pause in the music, so use them.

In conclusion, if you make a regular habit of listening to tango music, understanding it’s structure and practising your interpretation at Practica, your dancing will become more musical, and your partners will notice πŸ™‚

For more information about dancing with musicality read our new series called ‘Musicality in Tango Dancing

So this thing called leading…

Annoyed CoupleSo this thing called ‘leading’ – it’s entirely up to the tango leader to get the follower to go where he wants when he wants, right? The leader is in charge, yes? There is also this other thing called ‘following’ where the tango follower only has to wait to be pushed around, to be given impetus and energy by the leader, correct?

Well, to observe some tango leaders and followers you might imagine this is the case, but it’s not right. I haven’t yet met a man in the whole world that can actually get a woman to do exactly what he wants her to, and it’s true in Argentine tango. Leaders can invite the follower to take a step in his favoured direction but he can’t force them to take it.

Remember that tango is a partner dance and leaders and followers dance in partnership. It really does take two to tango! πŸ™‚

So leaders; allow your followers space and time to express and make adornments. You don’t have to step on every beat, or be in constant movement across the floor. If your follower wants to do a few adornments which might take time, allow it (she might even think you’re a better dancer if you do…), and followers;

if you see that your leader is inviting you into a recognisable figure such as an ocho or giro, please get on with it (while keeping an eye on his lead just in case it’s not what you think πŸ™‚ ). For example, when a leader is stood on one foot trying to turn on the spot while leading you around in a giro, there isn’t much chance he’ll be able to give you energy and impetus as well, so you need to get on with doing the giro, while not getting too far ahead of the leader.

So to sum up, it’s a partner dance, each person has their own role and should be given assistance, space and time to carry it out. Each person is in charge of their own balance, axis and motive power and should not rely too much on the other to provide them (but there will be times… and that’s OK… occasionally…).

By working together you can make a dance seem wonderful. By working against each other, resisting a lead, not being clear in a lead, not allowing time for expression, the end of a dance can’t come soon enough…

Let’s have more wonderful dances! πŸ™‚

“It’s not just a dance…It’s Tango.”

Yes, there is some choreography, there is technique, but much more than that, there is the pleasure which comes from sharing with a kindred spirit something beautiful and unique, but which lasts for only a few moments in time.

If you’ve been dancing tango for some time you’ll recognise what I’m saying. If you’re new to the dance you are in for a treat.

If you want to experience the Argentine Tango for the first time, or feel you would like to improve your existing Tango, please allow me to be your guide. Check our Classes page to see how we can help you on your tango journey.

One of the fascinating things about Argentine tango is that you can dance with the same partner, to the same tune, in the same environment, on two different occasions and produce an entirely different dance. While most tango dances contain recognisable figures or patterns of movement, there are no long sequences of learned choreography. There is only your mood, and your partners mood, your dance technique, and the music, which together produce ‘the next step’ at that instant in time.

The roots of Tango start in Buenos Aires, and if you have time (about an hour), watch this video to get a feel of what tango means to some of the legendary tango dancers of their day.

The wonderful thing about the people in the video is that they are ordinary people like you and me who came into contact with Tango (sometimes quite by accident), fell in love with it, and who loved social dancing. Any fame, or professional careers which they may have achieved sprung from their love of the dance.

So if you haven’t taken the plunge into Tango, start now. It might change your life!