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.
- 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.