Recently in a conversation with a lady about musicality I described one quality that more mature leaders look for in followers. I described it as “I’d like her to follow me even if I was heading to an abyss”.
This vision originates from one of the most remarkable things I witnessed in the dance floors in Buenos Aires. Individuality and musicality are very tied and it was an amazing sight to witness dancers that had a distinctive, unique and coherent musicality. Don’t get me wrong, anyone can have a very distinct and unique way of moving. All beginners do in fact. But in order for it to make sense and present itself as artful event it needs to be rooted on solid musical grounds and make sense as a whole.
A dancer’s musicality needs to be built and nourished with creative elements upon solid building blocks. It is the life long arduous work of a creative dancer to constantly keep tuning these elements. Some times a re-thinking of some groundwork is in place, to revisit what we learned in our first classes. Other times we strive for refining tiny details that for some reason we believe are deeply important.
All these changes will reflect itself on fundamental approaches to the whole dance. Changes in the groundwork of our musicality building may change a milonga approach radically. We may shift from a more straightforward stepping on most beats to a seemingly less comprehensible way of moving like emphasizing instruments or global mood of the song. Higher level tweaking manifest themselves in how one swings rhythmically just like a jazz musician swings through a melody. As one matures these things keep driving us towards a higher understanding of the dance and music.
Now, how to bring this back to the milonga dance floor? Nothing makes sense except in the light of our connection to our lady. One can go about doing what one wants somehow disregarding our partner. Apparently that is fine for a lot of people but that is another post altogether. So we must adapt, concede and encourage musicality. Throughout our life on the dance floor we will find women that are at different stages of musicality. Reactions will range from pleased (and sometimes impressed!) to downright disconcerted when presented with less
fashionable common approaches as far as musicality goes. As one grows as a dancer, it is part of our developing social interaction repertoire to be able to handle and cope with this diversity. It is also very important to remain humble and understand that we are simply exposing someone to our current state of development.
On some glorious days we will find a lady that understands us and appreciates it. A thrilling experience I cannot emphasize enough! These tandas will make all of our efforts and musical growth seem worthwhile and provide stamina for subsequent pursuits in this elusive goal. On most days, we will not. And that’s when we want the lady to follow us to an abyss. Because this involves ignoring their pre-conceived ideas of musicality and take a leap of faith into someone else’s world.
These abyss goers don’t understand it yet but they are performing a much harder task than the more musicality mature ladies. They are shutting off their clinical brains and just dancing. Just dancing. Blissful dancing.
I often say to followers to “walk as if they were a queen” if I feel their forward walk is lacking confidence and energy. That normally works! They walk bolder, with confidence (what I’m going for) and mainly, with their torso instead of over reaching with their legs.
The other day I realized that everyone knows how to walk as if they were queens. Very interesting for a country that never had monarchy
As I am getting mentally ready for a weekend full of dancing – can’t say I’m physically ready – I’m inclined to share something that has been in my mind for a while now. It’s a bit long for nowadays’ 30 seconds post standard but it just might be worthwhile. It was definitely worthwhile for me to get it off my mind! Let me know what you think.
I’ve recently started to experience a trend with some of my favorite followers. They do the same mickey mouse moves on certain parts of some songs, over and over. Sometimes they do the exact same little spiel every time we dance to the same song.
I believe this is born out dancing repeatedly to the same songs with leaders that end up doing the same thing they see people do in their scene. Unfortunately, they all end up with the same rhythmic interpretation, if not the exact same steps, syncopated in the same exact way. It gets boring.
This poses two problems for a leader 1) he has a hard time getting away with something different, quiçá, more surprising and tasteful 2) he feels he has to do what they’re expecting him to do thus avoiding the ignorant/not being a cool kid vibe.
The first point is more close to my heart as I believe it can really start to stifle creativity. Early on the dancing career it’s ok one thinks – “she can do her spiel as she really enjoys it” – but after a while it becomes annoying. My mind goes something like this: “I’ve done what you’re expecting me to do lots and lots of times before so can we try something different this time? Trust me, we can even enjoy ourselves just listening to it while pausing. You know what, we are going to be the cool kids because we’ll be different than anyone else!”. You’d be surprised as to how hard it can be just to pause sometimes. It is even harder to explore together new rhythmic interpretations.
As to avoiding the feeling of not being a cool kid it only comes with time and a friendlier community. Normally friendly goes alongside with knowledge, let us remind ourselves. The leader will have normally two reactions from the ladies. The condescending “oh, that’s cute” or the “oh, he’s trying something different, let’s check it out, I may actually like it and broaden my interpretation possibilities (followers do interpret the songs too)”. I know the one I like more.
To this date only one teacher has emphasized the idea of exploring the limits of music interpretation. He had us to try not dancing to the beat at all. It’s not straightforward specially if you’re musically inclined, or so I realized. It was obviously an exercise but one that has a lot of benefits and practical applications. Subtle interpretations of the dance can come out of it so try it out. It’s an extreme but you can slowly then start going towards the beat.
I lead most of the time I dance tango. I practice my follower’s skills in practicas. In milongas, I will sometimes follow in playful roles swaps with some lady friends.
I love to follow. It has been a process of re-discovering the dance. It made me gain much more appreciation for the dance and in particular, for how a leader can make a dance wonderful.
After reading this entry from tangopilgrim I realized why I love to follow. While leading I always need to be ahead of the follower and the dance in some ways, as a follower I release myself from all that and focus on the present. And the present only.
Am I the only one that doesn’t really like the jumpy holding hand?
Some followers even back-lead me that hand motion.
There’s something grandiose about a follower that truly follows, committing themselves to the moment and lead. It seems you only get that in blank slate beginners and extremely advanced dancers.
Too bad 90% of a follower’s tango life is spent between those two stages.
Practicing with beginners is great at many levels. It pushes my technique to boundaries that I normally don’t emphasize so much. For example, it’s challenging not to use my arms to overcome their insensitivity to the lead, thus leading me to be even more clear and powerful.
They feel raw, rough edges accompanied by an enjoyable naïvety.
Some beginners believe I’m a good dancer just because I was trying some acrobatics with someone before. I don’t like that. More often than not, those acrobatic moves didn’t feel good to any of the involved parties. Stumbling in their difficulties, they don’t (yet) realize that I am working on the same exact concepts they are.
Recently, while practicing with someone new to the dance, I tried to dance in close embrace. I had never danced in close embrace with her before. In fact, the only dances I had with her before were the two previous ones, in the same tanda. I immediately realized that she was used to using the arms instead of focusing on my chest to understand the lead. She did not realize what really having and nurturing a connection meant.
I proposed to practice without arms for a couple of songs. Soon we both realized how she was not matching my step size and rotation, causing her to come short of my new position almost every time. I encouraged her not to be shy in her movements and move with more courage and determination. Two songs later she had changed her attitude and was now becoming an active follower, powering her own steps. Before we parted, I tried to convey how the chest can have very subtle leads and how becoming more sensitive to it would open up possibilities in her dance. We both smiled and felt nourished with our short interaction.
Yes, she did not learn how to follow in close embrace in just 20 minutes. How could anyone anyway? I’m not a professional teacher and my experience in helping others has been rather limited too. I was just a guy that acceded to someone’s wishes to share some of my experience and ideas about the dance. What motivated me to write this romanticized version of the events was the end of the conversation: “You have totally changed the way I see and understand the dance. Thank you!”.
Beats any compliment from an hotshot. Thank you!
Today I got a thank you in the middle of a tanda. That was good to tame the ego. Far too high lately.
Why do some followers accept to dance with someone if they’re not really interested in dancing with that person? Is it even enjoyable for them?
I finished the tanda but I believe next time I won’t.
The follower I desired to dance with a while ago doesn’t captivate me as much now. I remember how her smile and apparent pleasure in the dance would make me desire to be able bold to dance with her. Several months after and a Denver festival on top, I am no longer afraid to invite her. I haven’t seen her in a while until recently in a milonga but was dancing mostly with friends I wanted to dance with.
Then a common friend and leader told me that I absolutely needed to dance with her. For him, she was at the top of the dancers in that milonga. She left before I could ask her. Then I realized that the fear was gone and had instead been replaced by curiosity. Tango can be funny…