There has been a good amount of discussion lately about getting feedback from your partners. I can’t imagine not wanting feedback, and not giving it when asked at appropriate times. That is why I go to a practica almost every week, and why I try not to treat it like a “milonga with the lights on.” I could take all of the technique classes I wanted to take, but it would be useless if the dancers I regularly dance with don’t find that technique comfortable/enjoyable/etc. (Which is not to say that I don’t take technique seriously!)
I have a friend who is very careful about distinguishing between dancing and practicing at practicas. If someone asks him to dance at a practica, he always clarifies, “You mean practice, or just dance?” That way he knows what they are looking for. I love practicing with him, because when you want to practice he’ll really practice with you. He’ll work over and over on things that he wants to figure out, and he’ll ask for the follower’s feedback, and he’ll work on things that the follower wants to work on (and give tips if he has any), and he’ll encourage the follower to trying leading while he follows so that each person can get a sense of what the other person is doing. It’s really fabulous. But I don’t need all of that to be satisfied at a practica – even just dancing one full song and then exchanging comments and opinions can be useful. I always file these comments away under mental categories like, “This Leader’s Preferences,” “Things To Try With Other Leaders,” or “Ideas To Share/Check With Other Followers.” I am usually very aware of the level of the leader I am talking to (just as I always try to make leaders aware of my level when they ask for my feedback).
Interestingly, I have gotten a lot of good feedback at milongas that has really helped me. I definitely don’t condone practicing on the dance floor, or giving critiques of someone’s dancing. It is not the time nor the place. I will, sometimes, chat with friends about technique while we are sitting at a milonga, but it is always out of the context of dancing with them. That does not happen often – most often the only milonga-related technical discussions happen on the drive home. (“I felt a little tense tonight, did you notice?” or “How did my embrace feel? I felt like it was a bit different tonight.”) But the good feedback that has come from milongas and really helped me was a different sort of feedback – it came in the form of positive, sincere comments. Things like, “You felt so relaxed, it was amazing!” and “Mmm, you held the connection so nicely while we were in close embrace.” That kind of feedback tells me what is working, what I should continue improving and thinking about.
For the past six months or so, I have thrived on this kind of feedback at both milongas and practicas; my schedule hasn’t permitted me to take any group classes. But my dancing has improved significantly! I have all of the other leaders and followers to thank for their help and feedback. I am finally hitting a point where I think it would be nice to have some really technical pointers, someone who can recognize the details and give me professional feedback. I think I might schedule a private soon, my first ever private class in any dance genre (intimidating! although I might do a semi-private if I can rope someone into it), and I even think I know just which teacher can give me the kind of feedback I am looking for.
All of which is just to say that, if you are open to it, I think there are a lot of ways to keep the lines of communication open – whether in a class, in a practica, or even at a milonga.