11 June 2010

The dreaded... MILONGA!

Milonga (place): A term for a place or an event where tango is danced.

Milonga (dance genre): Also refer to a musical genre. The song was set to a lively 2/4 tempo, and often included musical improvisation.. Despite 2/4 formula, rhythm is irregular. It is syncopated, consisting of 8 beats with accents on the 1st, (sometimes also 2nd) 4th, 5th, and 7th beats.

Regular 2/4 rhythm:  [1]  2  3  4  [5]  6  7  8  
Milonga rhythm:  [1]  2  3  [4]  [5]  6  [7]  8, sometimes also [1]  [2]  3  [4]  [5]  6  [7]  8   or   3  3  2  [1]  2  3  [4]  5  6  [7]  8

If you watch the milonga floors (in Seattle), you'll notice that once a milonga tanda starts playing, the floor opens up. Why? A lot of people do not dance milonga. The single most common reason? "I'm not too good at milonga."

The milonga was MY nemesis for the longest time. It was the dance that made me feel uncoordinated, clunky, and clumsy. Attempting to dance a milonga made me feel so inadequate. In an attempt to cope, I researched the milonga from a historical and technical standpoint. None of my research helped.

Realizing this inadequacy, I decided to do something about it.

My milonga pitfalls
I decided to do some introspection and figure out what it was that made my milonga dancing "Blow up." I postulated that, knowing my faults, I would know how to address them.
  • Trouble with milonga music
    • The primary hurdle. I did not get milonga music. It was obvious that it was fast. What baffled me most was the patternThere wasn't a consistent one. I couldn't tell the downbeat because the orchestra did not use a bass. Furthermore, like in tango, the rhythm would change several times during the song. Only now, it was much faster!
  • Troubles with leading
    • Learning to be a competent leader dancing a tango was a challenge that took at least a couple of years (for me). Learning to be a competent leader dancing a milonga was worse. It took me at least another couple of years. Because, not only did I need to navigate, lead steps, apply musicality, be in tune, etc, etc, etc... but now, dancing milonga seemed more frantic, chaotic, and frustratingly fast, fast, FAST! My milonga leading would normally disintegrate into an unrecognizable blob of shame.   
    • Leading speed and tempo badly
      • My musical challenge with leading a milonga lay in the fact that it was fast, and the tempo, irregular. I was used to dancing with a steady downbeat, and consistent rhythm. To my chagrin, this was not the case with the milonga
    • (Really) Rough leading
      • As I was not to sure of what I was doing, I would try to fake it. This lead to several embarrassing results, for which I am fully to blame. None of this made for a pleasant experience for any of my hapless partners (at the time). These occurrences happened before I started paying attention to my partners. Back then, it was all about me. 

Milonga epiphany
As in any endeavor that you spend time, effort, and money in, when it works, it becomes an enlightening and magical experience. It is therapy for a frustrated milonga heart.
  • Understanding the dance
    • I tried, and tried, and tried. I took classes, took advise, experimented. Nothing seemed to work. I did not get this milonga thing. One day, I attended a class that seemed to tie all the milonga concepts together.
      • Muma's lesson 
        • She showed up in Seattle once and I took a class. She was neither fancy, nor flashy. She only taught one thing—Milonguero style tango. The significance of her class to me was this: She used the same steps for Tango, Vals, and Milonga. The difference was HOW you delivered it. Tango had drama. Vals flowed, and Milonga was in staccato. Keeping this simple principle in mind, I realized that I could do it too
  • Recognizing the music
    • Now that I understood the dance, I now had to understand the music. Instead of listening for a downbeat, I listened to the top of the music—The rhythm and danced to it. It was there that I found the pauses, the stops, goes, and flows of the music. Knowing this, I learned WHEN to place my motion
  • Delivery size
    • It was always a problem for me to keep up with milonga music. That was, until I remembered a lesson from my ballroom days. 
      • If the music is slow, feel free to step large. If the music is fast, step small. That meant, if milonga was twice as fast, I lead steps were twice as small. That way, I could keep up with the speed without having to expend excessive energy

In the end... 
I can consider myself as a passable milonga dancer. Not bad, not painful, but passable. It took so much time. It took so much effort. But in the end, my reward is the extra space that I and my partner can dance in when the milonga floor opens up when a milonga tanda starts.

01 June 2010

A journey through my incompetence

In practicing the way of tango, one of my most poignant "lessons learned" was that I was not as good as I thought I was.

In order to (continually) improve, I first had to admit it to myself that I was flawed. Secondly, I had to discover and learn what my shortcomings were before I could learn how to deal with them.

Ampster's Incompetencies
  • Problem: I didn't know where my follower's weight was
I can't lead someone, if I can't tell where she had her weight. I didn't know how to tell if she was planted, or if she had landed firmly on one leg. This malady caused me to Not know know if my partner had completed the step I was leading. I frequently knocked her off her axis, and always rushed her into steps before she could complete the previous one I just (tried) to lead
      • Resolution: Patience and perception. I learned how to wait for my partner to settle, and feel her. I stopped myself from bulldozing through figures, and concentrate on reading her movements. I waited and made a conscious effort to feel her shift until she settled on one leg.There will be a very slight moment where I could feel all of her weight settle... Then stop—Which gave me the signal to start the next movement.

    • Problem: My previous dance experience applies to tango
    Coming fresh from the ballroom world, I had (mistakenly) assumed that my previous dance experience can be transposed into tango. I tried, and it didn't work. The results were quite embarrassing.

      • Resolution: A little humility. I had to cast aside my previous assumptions. I had to swallow my ego and learn tango from scratch. That way, when I did learn tango, it was not "tainted" by the other dances. I stopped saying, "When I danced (blah, blah, blah) we did it this way..."

    • Problem: Figure oriented
    I thought that if I memorized a few steps, it would carry me along. It was like this in the ballroom world. Why would it not work in tango? Painfully as it was, most especially for my follows. This did not work. It made for a boring and mechanical dance.

      • Resolution: I had to learn how to lead dynamically. That meant putting together all the lessons learned and apply them holistically. Then, deliver and improvise based on the rules of tango (e.g. Line of dance, musicality, rhythm, improvisation, etc). The figures I did learn (e.g. Ochos, giros, etc.), were simply building blocks that I needed to string together as seamlessly as possible.

    • Problem: I expected the follower to "Know" what was being led
    I thought that when my tango teacher taught a move, everyone was supposed to "Get it." So, I expected the follow to "Get it" too. This only succeeded in frustrating me, and my follows to not want to dance with me.

      • Resolution: Learn to lead. This is what makes tango... "Tango." It is a conversation without words in the form of dance. In order for the follower to move, I (the leader) needed to lead clearly first.

    • Problem: I expected the follower to keep up
    I lead, she follows... At my pace! Now, what was I thinking??? Tango is an expression of emotion. It's neither a race, nor a competition.

      • Resolution: Wait for her. I have said in this blog (many times), that tango is all about her. This being no exception. I need to wait for my partner to finish, settle, then continue on. I don't need to rush her, as she needs to enjoy the dance.

    • Problem: I did not understand Tango music
    When I first started tango, I preferred nuevo music. It was contemporary, had a heavy beat that I could hear. I could relate to it.

    I didn't like traditional tango music because it was old and scratchy—and there was NO BASS! I couldn't follow the music, because I couldn't find the repetitive patterns.

      • Resolution: Understand tango music structures. I wrapped my head around the fact that traditional tango music changed rhythm several times in one song—A revelation! Tango music doesn't have a distinctive bass because it doesn't need it. It's in the rhythm—Another "Aha" moment! knowing that, and listening to tango music profusely, I understood the dynamic range of the music. This made perfect sense as you had to lead the dance dynamically anyway. Understanding the musical structure of tango was the lynch pin!

    When I danced ballroom, we were taught that tango was a "Dancer's dance." In ballroom, that was simply a standard line they feed you. Transcending into the real tango world, I now truly understand why that is.