Jun 08

Mistakes and struggle: endless discovery?

This post by Johanna is great. I would only digress by stating that not all professionals look sterile. In fact, those are the professionals that I personally admire for many reasons, the main one being that they have not fallen into the “technique trap“. This trap consists in your technique being so good that by that alone you are a very good dancer and are able to become a professional dancer. I definitely do admire professionals that avoid this trap by also putting their heart into the music and that I truly believe are interpreting the music with their heart every-time they dance.

That said, I agree with a lot of what Johanna says. It’s beautiful to see a couple dance and observe the two of them discovering new dimensions of the dance, smiling or looking really surprised. You get a glimpse of someone else’s tango journey.

I decided to write this post because I am feeling kind of sad lately. Maybe it’s post-denver blues or just (I hope) temporary sheer lack of inspiration. Nothing is coming out fluidly as it was and I am feeling deeply repetitive and unoriginal. I have been feeling comfortable in my knowledge zone and avoiding a bit venturing outside and feeling the frustrating pain of failing at new stuff…

I will force myself to make mistakes and struggle for newer ways of doing things. I need to recover the joy of closing my eyes and inventing new moves. Then find a willing follower of my new attitude 🙂 easier said than done…

May 08

The joy of a mindful floor craft

The more I go to milongas, the better I can see and appreciate a good social milonga floor craft. This means that I’ve started cringing when I see people switching back and forth between lanes, overtaking, and making everyone else in the dance floor cautious about getting hurt. Truth be told, I may even not dance if two or more couples of kamikazes are on the dance floor. It’s just not worth it.

I’ve been reading a bit on blogs about how you behave and respect others on the dance floor. This of course implies that you can dance small and are mindful of everyone else in the floor. I see a lot of debate about what makes a great dance which always include, obviously, how you approach and dance with your partner. You need to put your heart in it. I don’t – at least as prominently – see people talking also about how social dancing implies everyone else on the dance floor. It is totally different to dance in a smaller setting where you are totally relaxed, not worried about anyone hitting you or being less mindful and a more guerrilla dance floor where you want to have a great dance but you know some kamikaze may ruin it.

I get joy of respecting and sharing the same floor in a respectful manner with other dancers. They are my tango friends and peers. Why isn’t this respect more widespread and why isn’t tango culture doing a better job at cultivating the joy of a shared experience? It is real.

May 08

Perseverance shall pay off

I have a passion about human nature, both in a social context and as an individual. Most of my attention span is almost always a bit split between what I am doing and observing others. It’s a passion. I love to see how different people react and how that fuels the building of social texture that we all share.

While going through some older posts of some tango blogs in my news reader, I ran across this post in Mark’s blog. It bridges current scientific knowledge about performance at high levels and how it can be applied to the tango world. Broadly speaking, it applies to every activity really. The bottom line is that perseverance in pursuing your defined goals will pay off. It is interesting to stress the – now famous – expression called deliberate practice. Here’s a rough explanation from here:

The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call “deliberate practice.” It’s activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.

Mark did a great job of summarizing a lot of Anders Ericsson’s work and translating it Tango (for fun, also read this articles by Steven and Stephen). After reading Mark’s post and some original research papers (I am geek, I’m sorry) I immediately looked into what has been my experience as a tango dancer. First and foremost, I have not deliberately practiced as often as I should have. In class or practicas, it’s easy to default to things you already know and just enjoy it along with the music. This is easier said than done because sometimes absolutely beginners make puppy eyes and you can’t escape dancing with them. Also, getting a serious dance partner would probably help a lot at this stage.

On the other hand, it got me thinking as to why some people don’t have a serious drive to improve. Roughly half of the persons in my community aren’t seriously into technique. When talking about professors, most of them say that my teacher moves too slowly for them. I agree. Too slowly in giving you moves. But the professor makes you realize how you can’t even properly do simple things with absolute control. It requires a lot of technique and not guesswork. It requires countless times of trying it out and thinking hard about what makes what you’re trying to do work.

I have come to realize over many years of different physical activities that technique is important from a physical point of view but also from a mental one. Normally, people think of technique as a mere physical outcome. The more technically talented persons I know, the more I have found that they have deeply pondered about ideas, concepts and surrounding affairs concerning what they excel at. Concerning tango, they’re not amazing dancing robots. They have developed their own ideas through countless hours of practice and discussions with others. They’ve tried different approaches and conceptualized ideas that they are willing to share with others. That is, in essence, one of the reasons that keep persons motivated and actually deliberately practicing. By constantly assessing where you are, where you want to go and how to reach it – by thinking hard about it – you are always creating new goals to achieve. Newer pieces of the puzzle that make perfect sense.

My naive observation at this time is that communities tend to create subgroups of persons depending on how they see and live Tango. It is my wish that the technique focused ones will grow at a faster rate than the others. 🙂

Apr 08

Boppers and beginners!

Alex coined a great term: boppers. My golden-standard to check if the follower “bops” a lot is to do some corridas. It’s one of the best feelings to feel both of us glide instead of trying to manage her boppiness… I call them bouncies.

At any rate, Alex’s post inspired me to write about why I love dancing with beginners. Why? First and foremost because I still consider myself a beginner and I make a point of reminding that to every person I dance, specially if they start going on about how good I am. I always tell them that they still need to dance with great dancers to have an honest opinion. That said, there’s much more as to why I really like dancing with beginners.

Clean Slate. Yes, they don’t tend to have vices, obnoxious unlead quirks, etc. I try as much as possible to make we feel as equal instead of me giving them a lesson or helping them out of pity. Sometimes it is a bit impossible if they’ve only had very classes/dances. But in general, in practicas I ask if they want to work on something specifically and then ask if we can work on something I want to work on. Not only I try to level our dance relationship but I also try to get somewhere together. It helps the community feeling of learning tango and makes us more accessible to each other in the future to try/practice something out. It’s also a great way to meet peers and since I’m shy with people I don’t know, the more the merrier.

No attitude. Very rarely I’ve seen beginners with an attitude problem. But they exist. It’s all good, I don’t dance with them. Recently I was taking a beginners class and a woman there apparently had something against me. I had never spoken to her neither did any harm to her. But she had a problem with me. I won’t be dancing with her since I am very sensitive to all kind of less positive feelings coming towards me and I dance to enjoy the music and its positive vibe. The moment I stop enjoying it, I’ll do something else. Life’s too short to waste it on unhappiness.

Pushes my technique forward. They’re beginners so when I try stuff I’m not very good/proficient at, I really have to do my best to lead it really well. Chances are they don’t know what I’m trying to lead and neither they’ve done it enough times before to have muscle memory for it. This helps me become much more clear in my lead and take into account the follower, their shortcomings and own pace. It’s a humbling experience that I recommend to everyone.

Helps me become a better tango citizen. The more beginners I help out to become better dancers, the better I get at it. The more I realize what works in helping out someone become better follower/leader, the more insightful comments I can give to anyone in the future. This will be better for the community as a whole.

Future dance partners. Obviously, if they practice a lot with me, they will realize what I feel is really important to me in a follower. It’s a selfish driver but it is more unconscious than otherwise. I am fully aware that other leaders will enjoy different things in a follower but I don’t force any ideas.

There’s more but this is enough for now 🙂

Apr 08

Tango path

I feel my tango isn’t evolving as it should. I can see how I am being a bit trapped in technicalities for the time being. It’s keeping me from fully improvising to the music and to generate new ways to move around. This is partially due to the fact that my technique shortcomings still rank high on my things to improve 🙂

This is why I am becoming a bit tired of some classes. Of so much input to parse and let it grow in me. But specially, because I see that this Tango thing is hard. I’m musical, I’m sensitive and gentle, but I still lack technique. I feel thankful for the fact that I am very musical, which has made “well-known” followers ask me directly for a dance (how anti-cabeceo!!). Me, on the other hand, would never have. I always feel they just want to dance with the best dancers and doesn’t feel right to me to ask them. To rob them away from a great tanda with a great dancer.

But it is hard because no matter where you are in your tango stage, you always want to narrow down what is currently annoying you. What you really need to improve on. And why do you need to? Because every time you finish a tanda with a great dancer – be it technically or musically – you always feel you could have done a bit better. You could have given the woman a better dance. You feel that deep down, you may have disappointed her a bit.

It is only healthy if you want to improve to give the women better dances, not for your own ego. But those two are tricky to separate and wishful thinking is easy…

Apr 08

The embrace reciprocity

Johanna writes about why women can’t sometimes understand why other women get all the dances.

I must say I can relate to this (imaginary?) point. If you really dance tango because of the music and are deeply connected to the music, you want someone that also has that passion. I couldn’t care less if she can dance upside down or has impecable technique (just needs to have balance of course…). If the embrace is musically sterile the whole thing is pointless. Besides, great dancers tend to have this big ego and that just screws up people’s minds.

Lately I’ve been growing a bit annoyed of women that dance with a guy as if it was just a dance. It isn’t just a dance. At least for anyone serious about it. It has to be an experience, a moment unique in time and space. Just sit if you don’t feel like dancing in the deepest sense of the word. This isn’t a practica. As someone commented on Johanna’s post, you can have a feeling of what lies ahead the moment you embrace a woman.

With a great dancer you want to dance forever simple moves, slowly, melodically and eager to see how she interprets it. How her smile (that you can’t really see) will get right back at you as a tsunami of confidence. With the plain vanilla technique obsessed dancer you normally try hard to convey feeling and you get back a sad face because you didn’t do/try the latest and greatest trick of a recent workshop. The dance will feel like a workout instead of a blissful magic moment shared by two human beings.

Let go of technicalities and spend 3 times more time listening to music and feeling, interpreting and dancing it in your mind than practicing the latest technical challenge. In the grand overview of it all, any man will rather dance with you than anyone else. The more experienced I get, the more I see how enjoyable it can be to dance with a very beginner follower that is into the music…

Unless he’s not there for the music experience. I am sorry for you then.

Feb 08

Current status:

Dancing more than ever before.

I am now going to practicas more seriously and really focusing on my shortcomings. I am worrying more about the technique and trying to figure out what works with followers and how to find my own style. It’s still very hard for me to realize when I’m failing to lead or when the follower is not actually following. There are definitely different schools of thoughts and it’s very hard to find out what is going on when you dance with someone with a different mindset.

I normally like to start by walking outside and if the follower immediatly goes for the cruzada, then she’s in auto-pilot mode (which sucks for many reasons). If that doesn’t happen then I need to kind of figure out how much do I need to lead to get her to cross. My dissociation is still not automatic, which means that if I’m worried about something else, it’s not there as it should.

I can’t even walk as I want to walk. Never thought it would be so hard to just walk. I love the challenge.