20 July 2009

Things that get in the way of a good tanda

My early years at tango was fraught with issues and erroneous assumptions on my part. Knowing them and their negative effects helped me be aware which aided my improvement.

The following are my visceral observations on why some tandas (in the past) didn't happen...

Distractions to a good tanda

  • The blow-by-blow sportscaster in my head
There are times when I just could not shut up the voice in my head. The sportscaster that gives every detail at every second. It gets in the way of good delivery because I could only think and concentrate on one thing at a time. Listening to the blow-by-blow account of my tango (good or bad) gets in the way of dancing tango.

Rectifying this was a matter of confidence building, brought about by (correct) practice. When I developed an acceptable level of self-confidence, then self trust happened, quieting that annoying voice. It took me about a year to get over this.

  • The over-analyzer in me
This happens when I put too much thought into the dance, seeking perfection in every step. In the desire to achieve perfection, the brain ponders and formulates
what, how, and where to place this foot, where to time this weight change, etc, etc, etc... ad nauseam. One is talking to one's self and giving instructions to the body, causing and brain to be confused. One side of the brain is thinking of what to do, and the other side is telling the body what to do—simultaneously. Doesn't work very well.

I overcame this by developing muscle memory. Simply put, you train yourself as proficiently as possible. This includes proper technique, execution, and (eventually) improvisation. Keep doing this until it becomes second nature. Then forget it. When you need it, the brain will remember and it just happens.

  • The pseudo show dancer
In the very beginning, I thought that being good at tango meant having the killer moves. It was that way in the ballroom world, and I had assumed (mistakenly) it was the same in tango. The result, at the very least, makes the recipient of the "moves" annoyed. At worst it makes the recipient feel (possibly) humiliated. It was a mistake born of ignorance.

I was (at one time) one of the people who can be hazards on a crowded milonga floor. In order to do show moves, you need space. Valuable space which is not always available in a crowded milonga.

Learning of appropriate protocols in a milonga opened my eyes to this and quit it. To my amazement, dancing simpler was much better.

  • Mirror watching and being self-conscious
While learning tango it was always a struggle to answer the question, "How do I look?" When you ask people, they won't tell you that you were bad. Chances are, they'll patronize you for fear of hurting your feelings.

To answer that nagging question, I would take advantage of looking at myself in the mirror whenever I had the chance and asses my form. It did nothing positive, as it causes me to concentrate on myself and not on my partner. I wasn't paying attention to her, causing my lead to be tentative, causing her to misread my lead. A flub resulted.

Correcting this was easy. I made a conscious effort to concentrate on my partner. After all, it is all about her.

  • The talker
If tango were not such a complicated dance, talking would be fine. However, tango being as intricate and as instinctually intense as it is, lends itself to being ruined by simple distractions—such as prattling away incessantly. I perpetrated this for a simple reason. I was trying to hide my lack of skill.

I realized this as a mistake when I danced with someone who did just as I. I found it distracting. It made my leading harder... much harder. If it made it difficult for me, then it must have made it difficult for my follow—Shut up I did.

A really good tanda
My objective for having a really good tanda would be one that was soulful–where my partner and I achieve that level of fervor that makes you WANT to dance with that person at that time. It's almost a trance-like state where each one is so in-tune with each other's nuances that the exchange of leading and following is as natural and purposeful as water rushing into a majestic waterfall. It is a magical experience where neither can explain why nor how the tandas was beautiful. It just was.

None of the beauty that is tango would be possible if the aforementioned distractions permeated. It takes a conscious effort to improve. Its hard to break old habits. But, in the case of tango, the return on investment via progressive improvement is well worth the effort.

14 July 2009

Let go and let it happen

Learning tango has been one of the most difficult learning endeavors I've undertaken. My post grad course of study was easier. It was however, not as fulfilling nor as fun. These are the experiences I've encountered during this long process. Some lessons I've applied to tango and other activities in my life.

Beginning to learn tango
Learning tango was a particularly painful learning process. When Mrs. Ampster and I first took up this beautifully intricate dance, we ended up in a lot of fights. We contested who was right, and who was wrong. We postulated on the creation and origins of tango. We practiced techniques which we weren't really sure of the proper execution.

If we weren't fighting we were struggling. My brain ached. My body was short-circuiting from muscle memory versus contravening synapse commands.

Too much training
The learning process lead to many peaks and troughs. We have learned so much, forgotten more, then re-learned again. The dance repertoire grew by leaps and bounds. Many an hour was spent perfecting and practicing balance, form, movement, placement, steps, patterns, figures, etc. etc. etc.

There is such a thing as too much training. In this case, the "Law of diminishing returns" apply. It states:

"... In a production system with fixed and variable inputs (say factory size and labor), beyond some point, each additional unit of the variable input yields smaller and smaller increases in output. Conversely, producing one more unit of output costs more and more in variable inputs."

What does this have to do with tango? In the context of social dancing in a milonga: The more stuff you learn, the less you get to use and apply on the milonga floor. How much of your learned repertoire can you (do you) actually, realistically use on the milonga floor? Master the basics.

If you watch the experienced dancers (who are worth watching), you'll find that if you observe often enough you'll find that what they do is repetitive. They've learned to do, what they do, really well. The variety happens with different partners at different tandas. The practice of switching partners makes the experience new and fresh.

Too many mind!
I heard that in a martial arts movie shot in Japan. It is a literal translation of what amounts to "Don't think too much."

The scene takes place when an apprentice is trying (in vain) to match his opponents. He fails, and gets beaten up every time. He gets up every time, then the result is the same. Failure, frustration, dejection, and shame. His master walks up and says "Too much mind..."

Heroic efforts can only go so much. Like the law of diminishing returns (above), this also happens to the mind. Too much thinking gets in the way of efficient execution... a.k.a. Analysis paralysis.

You need to be aware of the environment. Other dancers, the floor, tables, chairs, the music, musicality, line of dance, and your partner. That is enough to think about. Thinking about what you learned and how to do it will cause an overload and ruin the dance for you and your partner.

"Too many mind, upsets harmony."

Let go and let it happen
Knowing what you know, it is now time to stop thinking and analyzing! Forget it all.

Your training which concentrates on the physical aspects of tango has already been engrained into your sub-conscious—That if of course, if you've done your due diligence and learned your lessons well. It's called muscle memory. Your body will remember what you've practiced and perfected when called upon to do so. You don't have to vacillate over them.

Stop thinking about what to do. Remember? Too much mind!

Get on the floor, TRUST yourself. Let go of all your apprehensions. Let go of figuring out your steps. Let go of thinking of whose watching. Let go of your repertoire. Listen to the music, lead your partner well.

Let go and let it happen. You'd be surprised.

04 July 2009

What tango is to me

"Why do I tango?" Is a question I've asked myself many times.

I remember the first time I wanted to take up dancing was the late 70's. My parents (after all) were once folk dancers—That's how they met. I wanted to join my university's dance troupe. It didn't materialize because I was lazy. Also, I thought that dancing was less than manly. I thought school work was too much as it was and extra curricular activities would detract from my studies. My goal was to finish school, get a really good job and get rich... Period.

Fast forward three plus decades...

In the pursuit of my professional career, dancing never even came to mind. Trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up took a few years, and quite a few transformations and life changes. I've been to exotic places, and have mingled with exotic peoples. I've lived my life's adventures and my fantasies many, many times over. I got (mostly) what I wished for.

Having fared well through a drastic change in profession, I find myself in a radically different world—A civilian world.

Discovering a new world

Its amazing how a whole new world can be so close. So close that you are astonished to find that you actually live in it and not even know it.

  • Tango as a gateway and tour guide
Upon taking up tango, the simple act of finding one's way to and from milongas was an adventure. Finding restaurants, shops, and sundry places of interest along the way was an eye opening experience. It way like filling-in the places on bank map. I have discovered more of Seattle pursuing tango, than any other search expedition before it. It has built a holistic and rich view of the world around me.

  • Tango as a social networking mechanism
My best and favorite people in my life have been met through classes at first, then through milongas. These evolved into networks of tango-centric parties, identification and alignment of interests, histories, stories. It became a life enriching experience. These are friends not bonded together by politics, nor money, nor alliances, nor business. We are just friends because we are—Thanks to tango.

  • Tango as boost to self esteem
Outside of the drudgery of one's job, Tango is something (I think) I can do well, share, and believe in. It's something I enjoy, and am happy to do. The tango world, albeit fleeting, is a place where I can be, a "Somebody."

  • Tango as a reason to be healthy
The close contact inherent in tango forced me to reexamine my health. It has helped me quit smoking and modify and balance my diet as I don't want to stink. I've worked out regularly, to build strength and endurance. I find that I now stand up straighter. It has been one of the best motivational factors for improving ones health.

So far, the preceding are major points of what tango is to me. I find that the more I go, the more I know. Thus, the more I grow. It is a continuous adventure in learning and discovery.