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.


      David Bailey said...

      Blimey, it's like reading all about myself!

      Good entry - I strongly suspect many or most of us have had to go through the same process.

      Elizabeth said...

      Ampster, Probably every one of us has had to reach that point where we recognize that we aren't as good as we thought we were. That's when we arrive at the dance as eternal beginners. It really helps to have leaders with open hearts and a sense of humor, as you do.

      Anonymous said...

      Well said. I've always said that if I come to place where I think I have nothing to learn from every tango experience, I will retire my gorgeous tango shoes. I can't bear the pain of shoe separation, so I call myself a learner of tango.

      Joy in Motion said...

      Nice post, Ampster.

      I like the point about not expecting the follower to know what is being led. From the follower's perspective when learning, it is helpful to know that even though she may know what the leader is attempting, it is much more helpful for both partners is she follows what she feels instead of just going through with a step because she knows (or guesses) that's what the step is supposed to be. A lot of beginners get in this habit from classes where they can see what the expected outcome is. Not only do they end up doing a lot of guessing instead of true following on the dance floor, but leaders have difficulty knowing if they are truly leading something correctly or if the lady is just compensating for him. There's a balance though because adjusting to minor mistakes to keep the flow of the dance is also important.

      Mark Word said...

      So much truth to this post. President Regan was was especially good about taking the full blame. That is better than blaming. We leaders have so much to learn. Just like the followers.

      AmpsterTango said...

      @ David Bailey: A kindred spirit

      @ Elizabeth: A sense of humor really helps me with the learning process. I've found that if I take myself too seriously, I resist, causing mental blocks

      @ Joy in Motion: Thank you. Followers who truly follow (as opposed to "Auto-follws") helped me a lot in learning how to lead. It provided feedback on how effective (or not) my leading was

      @ Mark: IMHE, I needed to accept that I was wrong, before I could recognize and correct my faults

      Anonymous said...

      Perhaps what I love most about you, Ampster, is your humility and objectivity in identifying the problem, accepting responsibility for it, and formulating a solution. Plus, always keeping the woman foremost in your care :-)