I am so tired. Nap-at-my-desk tired. Coffee-didn’t-do-it-today tired. This is what I get for carpooling to the mid-week milonga with friends who like to go late – and who don’t have to get up early! I had some good dances, and I enjoyed a beautiful performance, but overall I wasn’t really feeling the energy last night. My guess is that I was a bit tired to begin with, and on top of that the performance drew in a larger and different crowd than usual. I am used to this milonga having a certain feel and a certain social vibe, and instead I found myself just wanting to hang out and watch people.

While sitting by the floor at one point, I was watching two very fun dancers. I enjoy their playfulness, the obvious way that they enjoy each other, the interesting things that they try as they dance. After a particularly enjoyable bit, the song ended and the leader who was dancing behind them (who happened to stop right in front of me) leaned down and told me not to be drawn in, that it was all choreography.

*blink blink*

I know these dancers. I have danced with both of them. I have done many of the things that the follower was doing (although not with her poise). What they were doing? Not choreography. I was surprised to hear an experienced dancer make a comment like that. Sure, what they were doing was not his style, but he should know the difference. I could see them improvising as they danced – I saw it in their faces, in the moments of decision, in the play that was happening.

I recognized certain things that yes, they must have practiced before. But it isn’t like any difficult step? You practice ganchos and boleos and volcadas and the like over and over to get them just right. And then they flow in the middle of, that’s right, an improvised dance. I happen to know that the leader in question is very good at helping followers discover those playful steps; he has lead me to do these supposedly choreographed moves without me having any idea what he is trying to get me to do.

Of course, none of these words were readily available to me last night. The leader who had quickly leaned over to share his opinion just as quickly hopped back to his partner for the next song of the tanda. I was left feeling a bit at a loss … and now do I go back to him and tell him my thoughts? Or do I just let it slide?

And on another level, what counts as choreography in your mind? When you are watching teachers who improvise performances but include moves that appear in many of their performances, do you think of that as choreography? Or do you see it as highly in-tune improvisation as the result of lots of practice? (Yeah, I know, I phrased those questions with just a wee bit of bias. Feel free to disagree with me!)