26 November 2009

The hips don't lie

No, this post is not about incorporating "Cuban motion" into tango. Rather, its about what I learned in an eye opening lesson with Eva and Patricio.

I had asked to not be taught steps nor patterns. I wanted technique, technique, technique. In the span of a couple of hours, my brain ached from trying to absorb all of the corrective lessons. One lesson imparted upon me was so simple. So small. So clear. It's effect, remarkable—The weight is where the hips are.

Somewhere between clueless and passable...
As I slogged through the morass of learning tango, I was determined to (hopefully) be proficient someday. I thought I was progressing well, as I had a vast repertoire. I had become an accomplished "Step collector." Despite this, I felt that my dancing to be awkward and forced. It didn't dawn on me that my (pseudo) technique left me over/under-reaching and generally off balance. I was just compensating by muscling and counterbalancing.

I know that I had to do something and find better options.

After the first couple of years of dancing, I discovered the milonguero style of tango. In this paradigm, where you are weight forward, simplistic in delivery and connection is paramount. I had discovered what I was looking for (at the time).

I have been dancing "ala milonguero" for a couple of years now, and it has worked well for me thus far. My issue at hand is variety. Every now and then, I feel like I've hit a plateau and sometimes, I feel my dance to be repetitive. It's a good thing that in tango, we switch partners often. Being stuck in this paradigm with one partner would make things really boring.

I was once again looking for improvements. This time, I was looking to refinement of technique for the answer.

Enter Eva and Patricio...
They went about my conundrum very methodically. They had asked me to dance with Mrs. Ampster. Also, unknown to me, Patricio had observed me in a recent milonga and had some observations to share.

Their method was to watch, diagnose, correct, and improve. They did that, very well.

We had a slew of observations, recommendations, and corrective actions. The one adjustment they made that made a world of difference for me was where to place my weight.

Weight placement and hips...
Where you hold your weight determines your posture, which determines what you can (and cannot) do in tango. The adjustments were very slight, their effect huge.

Hips very slightly back, your upper body pitches forward, putting your weight slightly forward of the balls of your feet... Milonguero. Perfect for dancing tight.

Hips very slightly forward, you straighten up, putting your weight vertically above the balls of your feet... Salon. Versatile and opens up new movement possibilities.

The sliding hip adjustments provided a technique that allowed for a more dynamic and fluid dance. I found myself always in balance, eliminating the need to muscle and counter balance.

I hope now that I can impart a better tango experience to my partner... We'll see if it makes a difference.

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Eva and Patricio have danced together since year 2001. Both of them started dancing at a very young age.
Eva started at age 7 as a ballet student. Patricio was 10 years old when he took his first folk dance class
They have more than 15 years of experience as professional dancers.

In the most recent years Eva and Patricio were starred in different important productions, the most notorious include Luis Bravo's Forever Tango Show; and ZAIA, the first show staged by "Cirque du Soleil" in Asia, at the Venetian Hotel in Macau. Eva and Patricio are the first and only Argentine Tango couple to be part of this world famous company.

At the moment Eva and Patricio are working in the creation of their new show, which is expected to be fully conceived and presented to the public in 2010. Meantime, the continue to share their art with people all over the world.

01 November 2009

Lead & follow in tango is not "black and white"

I have been in many a conversation before regarding who and what is "Leading and following." This is my opinion on the subject. It is agnostic cultural nuances. Rather, it is based on what I've heard, experienced, and observed.

Traditional Lead-follow dogma—The black and the white
The following is what I know, based on what had been initially taught to me.

–The leader (Active role)
  • The leader is in control of the dance and is the authority
  • The leader initiates the moves, pace, steps, tempo, etc.
  • The expectation is that whatever is led, is what is to be followed
–The follower (Passive role)
  • The follower is the person who follows whatever the leader initiates
  • The follower completes the initiated movement
  • The follower determines the embrace (close, open, etc.)

Did this paradigm work for me? Yes and No.

Yes, it worked for me when I was a tango beginner. It gave me a starting frame of mind to build on. I thought that it was an absolute rule and treated it as such. Not knowing any better, it worked for me.

No, it did not work for me when I learned how to "Dial in" to my partner. I started feeling the whole exercise to be forced and un-naturally rigid. The only one who was having fun, was me. Dancing with followers who were experienced enough to compensate for my shortcomings were the only ones where I felt the tanda to be (acceptably) good. Otherwise, it felt awkward.

Dynamic interactions—Black, white, and shades of grey

As I grew in my tango, I found that more and more, the rigid lead and follow model wasn't quite working out for me. The dance with my partner was less and less enjoyable each time. The more I learned, the more I realized that forced leading did not work for me, much more so for my partners.

–Dogmatic dynamism of lead and follow
I am not advocating the abandonment of the traditional lead-follow dogma. On the contrary, it is a standard that must be kept as it is one of the pillars of tango that makes it great, endearing, and enduring. It provides the roles that makes tango work.

That being said, what I've learned to do is to maintain the traditional standard and tweak it into something much like a real time loving relationship

  • Active and passive leading
"Active leading" is leading like you mean it. Lead with confident conviction with the expectation that you have put in the work to improve your technique.

What I have learned to apply is what I'd like to call, "Passive leading." It operates under the truth that all followers follow differently. When a movement is initiated, give time for the follow to finish. Feel where her weight's at. Feel where and when she tenses and relaxes her muscles. Feel how she feels the music. When the time is right, the leader FOLLOWS and compliments her movement to flow and make it look and feel right—Regardless if she's right or wrong, it doesn't matter. Leading has to be give-and-take and mutually rewarding.

  • Passive and active following
"Passive following" happens when the follower, follows the led movement... as led.

There will come a time when the follower will grow out of her beginner mold and develop a tango persona of her own. When that time comes, there is a very strong chance that she will engage in "Active following." She will hear the music and dance to it. She will move within your movement. She will embellish within the following. Her following is now dynamic and highly personal. When this time comes, one will know it and feel it. One must be prepared to adapt and assimilate her uniqueness into the overall leading and following dynamic.

= = = = = = = = = = =

This leading and following thing was simple in the beginning. However, as time and technique progress, so does the lead-follow relationship needs to evolve. It is necessary to make it happen for the follower... by leading well.