This blog is not currently active, but I’ve made my older posts here available to read if you’re interested. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to take up blogging about tango again …
I was feeling unmotivated, sluggish, dull … and the last thing I wanted to do was to go to a new milonga. A room full of dancers I didn’t know? The possibility that no leaders would want to take a chance on me? It was almost enough to keep me from getting in the car.
But I went. And after weeks of frustration, the cloud lifted. The space was warm and inviting, and the floor was full. Tanda after tanda made me want to dance, or at least to tap my foot and watch the flow. When I danced, it was invariably good. Leaders embraced me closely and we heard the music together. We played and connected and made mistakes and laughed our way out of them.
I forgot everything outside of that room. And when I walked out at the end of the night, everything seemed a bit lighter. I felt awake again. Ready to dance.
1. When you arrive at the milonga, take some time to say hello to other dancers—both leaders and followers. If it’s your first time, you could even mention that to the person at the door. Say hello to the people around you as you put on your shoes. Remember: This is a social event. Even if you’re a beginner, many people will be happy to meet you, talk to you, and dance with you!
2. Start the night by dancing with followers you know. It will give you a chance to enjoy their company, and other followers will see you dancing. If you don’t know any followers at the milonga, start by approaching followers who seem open to talking. Say hello, chat, mention that you’d love a dance with them later, and then walk away. Really. Approach them later for a dance.
3. Watch how the other leaders behave. At some milongas, it’s ok for leaders to walk up to a follower and ask her to dance. At other milongas, that kind of behavior is scandalous—in those cases, it is more appropriate to catch a follower’s eye and non-verbally request a dance. In all cases, it is helpful to catch the followers eye and make sure that she is not in the middle of a conversation or trying to get a dance with a different leader.
4. Listen to the music before dancing: Is it a tango, a milonga, or a vals? If you don’t know the difference, ask another leader. (Usually, the DJ follows a set pattern of tandas, for example: 2 tangos, 1 milonga, 2 tangos, 1 vals, …) All music is played in sets called tandas, usually with three or four songs each. A couple is expected to dance an entire tanda together (although either person can cut the tanda short by thanking the other person and excusing themselves off the floor).
5. Keep it simple! No one will mind if you stick to basic steps that you feel comfortable dancing. They will mind, however, if you try to do fancy moves that you haven’t mastered yet! It’s more fun for everyone if you play it safer. Also, this will help you watch the line of dance and take care of your follower, which is your primary responsibility!
What is musicality? Everyone seems to have a different idea of what it means to have musicality as a dancer. It could be dancing to the beat. It could be moving to the melody. It could be internalizing and expressing the mood of the song. According to Merriam Webster, musicality is fairly simple:
1. sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent for music
2. the quality or state of being musical
As we become more knowledgeable about and familiar with tango music, we are bound to become more sensitive to it. We will hone in on aspects of the music that interest us. We will become more comfortable expressing our understanding of the music in various ways.
When we dance, we choose how to embody the song’s mood, how to respond to changes in the musical phrasing, how and where to step according to the beat or the melody. When it comes down to it, I am very open to different kinds of musicality. I love feeling the differences in how my partners respond to the music. But I want to feel it. There is nothing more boring than a monotonous dance, a leader who seems to hear nothing in the music but a ticking metronome. Musicality is more than a beat; it is more sensitive than that. I look for leaders who open themselves up to the music, who pay attention to how I am hearing the music, and who share that musical experience with me.
Have you ever had a boss or coworker who can’t hide his or her emotions? Who can’t help but share every up and down with everyone else in the office? On a good day, that person’s high spirits and energy are contagious, generating the kind of work environment where everyone is inspired and excited. On a bad day, the negative energy just seeps through every person and project in the office.
I have worked with those kinds of people, and they make the office an uncomfortable place to be. You never know what to expect when you arrive in the morning. You can’t help but be pulled around by the changes in energy, exhausted by overwhelming highs and dragged down by persistent lows. It makes you wish for a boss with an even keel. Someone who can sense when the office needs a jolt of energy and when it needs to be calmed down.
Milongas need DJs and organizers with the same skills. A milonga that rides the highs and lows of the people running the show will never feel as good as a milonga that is run with professionalism and care, managing the dancers’ energy level consistently, night after night.
I just saw this new offering from Clay in Portland: Virtual Tango Instruction. Here is how he describes it:
The goal of this program is to give you, the student, the opportunity to take a brief tango lesson from a variety of great instructors from all over the world without ever having to leave your home.
Students videotape themselves and upload the video for the instructor to watch, and the instructor then provides written feedback. Students can pay extra for instructors to annotate the video with comments. My first reaction: Total disbelief. My feeling after some reflection: Tentative acceptance. Here’s why:
First Reaction: I can’t imagine, as a student, having a completely one-sided lesson. That is, dance lessons generally have some amount of back and forth. Students rarely incorporate corrections immediately, and teachers may have to find different ways to express themselves in order to be understood. (It isn’t enough to point out the error, and it is rarely enough to give an entirely mechanical explanation of how to fix it. Usually, students have to be tricked into the correct movement through imagery, intention, metaphors, or some other explanation that sneaks up on the problem.) A one-sided, written response seems very incomplete, not at all sufficient for learning.
Upon Reflection: Not everyone lives in a place with lots of tango. I have been lucky enough to live in a city that, despite the small community, has quite a lot of exposure to the rest of the national tango scene. Many dancers here travel and bring back insights from other places, and many organizers bring in guest instructors. If you are stuck in a small community with few opportunities to learn from different people, however, this long-distance learning may be better than nothing. And it’s at least an interesting experiment.
So even though I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who has access to other forms of instruction, this could be a great opportunity for a dancer who doesn’t normally have access to these kinds of teachers. I would be interesting in hearing the experience of someone who has tried this virtual tango instruction.
I just came across this video, produced by Ira Chaleff with dancers Sharna Fabiano and Isaac Oboka:
It is a nice illustration of the ways a follower can create problems in the partnership by being too weak or too domineering, as well as the ways a follower can contribute to the partnership by being engaged and supportive. I think it succeeded in showing how partnerships work in tango as well as representing the role of the follower in everyday partnerships and teams. Nicely done!