21 May 2009

Dialing in...

"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.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I thought the woman was supposed to do the dialing in as that is what I tend to do as every lead is different! I ususally have my lead figured out by the second dance.

Nice to know that you are an 'aware' human being and can learn from your 'mistakes'. Lectures on the dancefloor!!! So glad you figured that one out! Wish more men were like you are now.

Tina said...

to londontango: Yes, the woman has to dial in primarily... but if the man doesn't make the effort to be sensitive to where she is, it can be excruciating, no matter how much "dialing in" she does. :-)
Living in Buenos Aires, I danced with many milongueros - and each of them is really fixed in his own personal style. I of course had to adapt to them, BUT, they did their share of "dialing in", in the sense that they always waited for me to be where they wanted me to be. They were always sensitive to where I was, in every moment of the dance. If they hadn't done that, how would I myself be able to "dial in"?


Anonymous said...

Ampster, you are so wise. Yes, dialing in is a requisite for blissful tango. Wen both partners do it, nothing can go wrong.

Anonymous said...

do you know any good exercises which you can do on your own or with a partner to help get better at "dialling in"?

AmpsterTango said...

@ Anonymous,

When I first started, I was always under the impression that the lead was supreme. The follow needed to adjust to me. It was arrogant and presumptuous of me. The result, my "Good tanda" factor was low.

Here's my exercise. I learned to "Dialing in" by doing this...

Instead of rushing through one movement after another. Be patient and wait for her, Initiate resolutely, and lead something. Slow your lead down, allowing time for her to follow, when she does follow, ask yourself, "Is she where I want her to be? Is that what I lead? Is she doing what I asked?" If 'Yes," continue. If "Not quite, or No," then adjust your lead, embrace, step, pause, etc, etc, to make whatever she was doing flow into another movement. Don't just abruptly stop, nor muscle her, nor suddenly muddle and panic. Worse, don't get irritated. Do this a couple of times, and when you can react to her to make your common movement flow as one, then you've got her "Dialed in."

See Tina's response (above) that's what the follow is thinking, when they're led.

Followers do their part by following and adjusting to our lead. Now its time for leads to adjust and reciprocate by adjusting and dialing in to the followers' response

Anonymous said...

Ampster, Armando (formerly of Armando and Daniela) used to tell me about exercises where HE followed HER.

I think every lead needs to take at least one class where he is the follow, just to get an idea of what sort of clarity is required in the lead, as well as the amount of force actually required to be understood. It always is an eye-opener to them when they feel what "manhandling" feels like.

Anna said...

I'm glad we got to dance on Sunday! Looking forward to the next time!