"Dialing in" An old military term used to denote changing one's settings to adapt to unique and shifting environments enabling one to hit the target.
One of THE most difficult things I have ever had to learn to do in tango is to "Dial in" my partner. It was an excruciating exercise in patience and adaptation. I pushed through that because of my target... A good tanda, and my tango partner's joy.
Nothing but steps...
When I began learning tango, I was under the impression that it was all about steps and figures. A common beginner's mistake. I had to be able to do a gancho, a sacada, a giro, a molinete, etc, etc, etc. I also expected that my partners would also know a gancho, a sacada, a giro, a molinete, etc, etc, etc.
I studied long and hard, and eventually I could perform my steps and figures well. I thought I had it. I honestly thought (at the time) that if I collected enough good step patterns, I would be fine. I took to the milonga floor and imposed... No, INFLICTED this on unsuspecting partners. In my zeal to perfect my steps, I sometimes ended up teaching them to my partner... my sincerest apologies. I did not realize (then), that this was rude in tango.
Starting to lead...
There was an event that made me realize my step collecting folly. My first teacher and I were watching someone someone on the dance floor. He could barely dance, and he was trying to teach a hapless beginner steps. It looked bad, very bad. My teacher told me,
"Look at J... It just upsets me when someone tries to teach something he can't even do himself."
My head blew up after hearing this, thinking—I was just like that! Ewe! I need to figure things out. My epiphany was this: I told myself that steps are fine, ONLY if I could lead them well. If I can't, I won't.
I learned to lead. I learned to dance with simplicity. I was on my way down a new path. Much to my amazement, making the decision was the easy part.
Leading is not easy. Women dance differently...
Learning to lead was not the defining moment in my tango. It was the beginning of many, many, many headaches to come.
The source of my consternation... Women dance differently—Each and everyone of them! Gaaaah! I discovered that having learned how to lead, I only knew how to lead ONE way. My style of leading only worked for one type of follow. That made one out of ten dances good. The rest, I would not even call good. I had to figure something out if I wanted to have decent dances.
Lessons from the past: Dialing in...
Being an old and broken veteran, it was once my job to hit distant targets under varying environmental and atmospheric conditions. In order to compensate for variances, I was trained in the very mental exercise of "Dialing in."
You become aware of your environment and the elements around you and your objective. You know your strengths, capabilities, and limitations. You make your assessments and compensate by (literally) "Dialing in" to adjust your settings. Done right, your target is easily achieved. Done improperly (or ineptly), you waste a good opportunity.
Becoming aware, tweaking the dials...
When the dance starts, we go into an embrace—the abrazo. I feel my partner's breathing rhythm. I feel her level of tension, or relaxation. Where does she hold her weight?
I immerse myself in the music. I feel it. I feel her. I move off, one foot... then the next. I feel her move with me. The dialing in begins.
Does she go long, or go short? Do her steps feel choppy or smooth? Does she feel heavy or light? Does she follow what's led, or does she misread the lead?
Whatever she does, I adapt, and dial in my settings for my lead to match her level of follow. That way, regardless of what and how she follows, by dialing in, I can try to make everything flow into that magic called tango.