Sunday, September 3, 2017

Some Myths About the Tango Walk

I remember going to a workshop some years ago and being told, "In Argentina they used to make you walk for 6 months before they let you do anything else."

Right.

And when I was a child I had to walk 6 miles to school in the snow.

Uphill.

Both ways.

I have danced Tango for 30 years, all over the world, with dancers who started dancing Tango as long ago as the 1940's. Not one of them ever spent 6 months "just walking" - if by "just walking" you mean pacing around the floor by yourself, in eternal search of "the perfect walk".
But Tango is a walking dance. So let's explore some of the myths of "The Tango Walk".

Myth One: "There is one Ideal Tango Walk. And we all aspire to it"

There are many different ways to walk in Tango, and none of them are the "One True Way". Here is a suggestion: google "great Argentine Tango". Watch how the couples dance. You will notice that the walking styles look very different. They use their feet and knees differently. Some walk heel-toe, while others appear to walk toe-heel. Some lean forward, or stick their chests out. Some stand straight over their feet.  Chances are you will like some more than others. That's OK. Tango leaves lots of room for personal style.

The best dancers have many different tango walks. A good dancer will modify his or her walk to fit each new partner, to fit the music, to suit the quality of the dance floor or the quality of the other dancers on the dance floor. You do not dance the same on a concrete surface as on a smooth wooden floor. You dance differently on a crowded floor than on an open floor. Even the shoes you wear can slightly change your walk.

Myth Two: "You can learn the Tango walk by yourself"

You can practice such things as finding your axis and balance, transferring your weight, forward and backward swivels, and so on by yourself. But it truly takes two to Tango, and you cannot really learn the so-called Tango Walk without doing it with a partner. Balance changes when you have to take into account the balance of your partner. Swivels feel different when done with a partner. The axis of a partnership is not exactly the same as your individual axis. Your walk does not really become a Tango  Walk until you can do it with a partner.

Myth Three: "You need to learn how to walk before you learn anything else"

OK, there is some truth here. But not the way we often think of it. Walking in Tango involves far more than just mechanically schlepping around the floor putting one foot in front of  (or behind) the other. Tango is all  about walking. Everything we do in Tango involves walking. We learn to walk to the heartbeat of the music. We learn to speed it up or slow it down. We learn to change directions. We learn to incorporate rock steps,swivels, and turns. But this is ALL walking. Everything we do in tango involves learning to walk, improving our walk, finding different ways to walk. In Tango we never stop learning to walk.

 Myth Four: "All a leader (or follower) needs to be an enjoyable partner is a good walk"

Again, yes and no. Certainly without a balanced, comfortable walk you will never be a truly enjoyable partner. But if all you know how to do is put one foot in front of the other you will NOT be an enjoyable partner, no matter how elegantly you do it.

You need a whole lot more to be a good tango dancer - things you should be learning from the very beginning. You need to be able to dance to the music, which involves listening to and understanding the music, and interpreting it with rhythm changes and pauses. You need to be able to maneuver in traffic, which involves learning how to dance in place. A"good walk" must include all these things. As a leader, you must not only be able to do these things; you must be able to lead them. And as a folllower, you need to be able to do all these things as your leader leads them.

 What you don't need is a whole lot of fancy, impressive figures. Those can be learned later, if you like. But most, while fun, are unnecessary, and indeed, are impossible to execute safely on a crowded dance floor.

A good Tango Walk is balanced, relaxed, comfortable to the partner, and done to the music. Everything else is personal style. Yes, a good walk is important. But it is less important for how it looks, than for how it nurtures the partnership connection. Because that connection is the one truly indispensable aspect of Argentine Tango.




Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Jumping Into The Debate About the Dreaded 8-Count Basic

The so-called 8 count basic, where the leader starts with a back step, then a side step, a lead to the cross, followed by a forward-side resolution, is taught by many tango teachers to total beginners. I have heard lots of explanations as to why they do this - it gets beginners dancing,  it has all the basic movements of the dance, and so on.

I never teach the 8 count basic. Here is why.

1: It is NOT the basic Argentine Tango step. The basic Argentine Tango step is the walk.

2: Good dancers NEVER use it. Why would you teach something that you, personally, would never use?

3: It includes movements that are socially unacceptable. Starting your tango with a leader's back step is like merging onto a highway and immediately putting your car into reverse. In some places this will result in an immediate request to leave the dance floor.

4: Tango is an improvisational dance. An 8 count choreography is the antithesis of improvisation.

5: It doesn't work. A milonga has a unique ebb and flow of movement among the dancers on the floor. The 8 count basic never fits within that ebb and flow.

6: Once a beginner has learned the pattern it takes a long time to get them to let go of it. Why not just avoid the whole problem and not teach it in the first place?





Thursday, January 26, 2017

Tango Culture vs Tango Cult

 One of the things I love about Tango how it is infused with the culture that produced it. But in some Tango groups, appreciation of culture has crossed into slavish devotion to a cult.

 What do I mean by "a cult"? Well, in a cult there is a series of authoritarian rules. And members of the cult derive much of their identity from  unquestioningly following the rules of the cult.  Cult members dress alike, talk alike, act alike. Those who do not adhere strictly to these rules are excluded from the cult.

So when does Tango culture cross over into Tango Cult?  Here are a few examples.

 I have 3 pairs of Tango shoes. One very flashy "brand name" with 3-inch heels, and 2 much simpler, lower-heeled generic pairs. And I occasionally dance in low-heeled Ballroom shoes. Or jazz sneakers. Or moccasins. They all work. But there are communities where, if I do not wear my one pair of Comme Il Fauts, I get asked to dance less, and people assume I am a beginner. That is the sign of a Tango cult.

 I know the Spanish names for all the Tango figures. But I am just as likely to use the English names. English is my native language, after all, and I live in an English-speaking country. But in some communities people will correct me if I use English terms, even though they know exactly what I mean. That is the sign of a Tango cult.

 Tango Culture includes the unspoken invitation to dance - mirada and cabeseo. Tango Cult will not accept a polite verbal request for a dance.

 Tango culture recognizes that there are many ways to dance Tango. Tango Cult says there is only one true way to dance Tango - usually the style of the local Tango guru. Cults have gurus.

 Sharing Tango Culture should be an act of inclusion, not an initiation into an exclusionary club. Cults are exclusionary. I want my Tango community to be warmly inviting.

Not a cult.

Monday, January 9, 2017

You Don't Learn To Dance in Class

I had just finished teaching a drop-in beginner class to a group of 14 students. The music for the milonga was playing, and  one couple from the class started to change their shoes. I encouraged them to stay a bit and dance. One of them replied "We want to get good first".

This reflects a major fallacy among a lot of tango students - that they can learn to dance in a class.

You cannot learn to dance in a class. Classes give you tools for dancing - tools that you can then use to learn to actually dance. But classes do not teach you to dance. Neither, in spite of what many dance teachers tell you, do private lessons.

You learn to dance by getting out on the dance floor and putting to use all those tools and concepts you have been learning in classes and private lessons. Until you do that, you have not begun to learn to dance.

This is even more true for Tango than for most partner dances, given the improvisational nature of the dance. Almost anyone can learn choreography in a class. But improvisation can only be learned on the dance floor.

Beginners who start dancing socially from day one become good dancers much more quickly than those who wait. Don't be afraid of developing bad habits. Bad habits can be corrected.  And don't be afraid of what other people think. The ones who matter will respect your determination to learn.

So get out on the floor and dance - it really is the only way to learn.

A brief note to experienced members of a tango community. Encourage your beginners! A tango community that does not grow eventually dies.



Friday, December 16, 2016

Rules for A Crowded Dance Floor

(This is a repeat of a blog I published last year. but with all the holiday milongas on the schedule, I felt it was a timely reminder.)

 Dancing on a crowded dance floor is much like driving in heavy traffic, and the rules are much the same.

LEADERS:

1. Use caution as you enter the dance floor. Wait for a break in the flow of traffic. Make eye contact with the approaching leader so you know he sees you. Merge into the flow of the dance like a driver merging onto the highway - smoothly, with no sudden stops.

2: Travel counterclockwise, in the line of dance. Avoid stepping backwards, just as you avoid backing up on a busy street.

3. Be aware of the flow of traffic. On a crowded dance floor dancers travel as a group, starting and stopping together. Maintain a consistent distance between you and the couple ahead of you,

4. A crowded dance floor will have multiple lanes of dancers - an outer lane, one or two middle lanes, and maybe an inner lane. Stay in your lane. The more crowded the dance floor is, the less you should consider passing or changing lanes. And avoid passing on the right. That puts you in the leader’s blind spot

5. Keep your dancing small and simple. Enjoy the music and the connection, and save the fancy steps for a less crowded venue.

FOLLOWERS

1. Be aware of your surroundings. Do not dance with your eyes closed unless you know your leader can be totally trusted to follow the above rules, and the overall level of dancing is high. Do not step into another couple just because your leader leads it. This is your dance too.

2. Keep your feet on the floor, and your heels down. Those stilettos are a pair of weapons attached to your shoes. Polite people do not aim weapons at others.


EVERYONE: a crowded dance floor is not a good place to show off your fancy moves. So don't. Keep it small, keep it simple, be polite to the other people on the floor, and you will come to appreciate the trancendental experience of immersing yourself in the dance.



Friday, December 9, 2016

Take Care of Your Tango Feet

Dancers know that painful feet can take the fun out of Tango faster than just about anything. So it pays to take care of our feet. Here are some things you can do so that sore feet do not interfere with your Tango bliss.

  Oh, Those Gorgeous Shoes!

We women just LOVE the look of high, stiletto tango heels. But unless we also love dancing on damaged feet, we need to take special care when we buy Tango shoes.

Podiatrists recommend that women avoid wearing heels that are higher than 3 inches. Anything higher stresses your joints in a way that can cause permanent damage. So ideally, for healthy feet, we should wear a heel between one and three inches. The higher the heel the more padding you will need under the pads of the toes. High heels throw your weight on the front of the foot, which can cause metatarsalgia. This is especially true in middle aged or older women, because the natural padding in the front of the foot decreases with age. I know you have heard that padding under the ball makes it harder to feel the floor. But so does pain. So we need to decide what is more important. I choose a somewhat lower heel - 2.75 inches - which lets me get away with less padding.

 Overpronation

 You know how some teachers tell you to press the ball of the foot onto the floor when you walk? This may create a lovely line, but it also creates overpronation. Overpronation happens when your weight is distributed toward the inside edge of the foot, rather than being centered in the middle of the foot. Overpronation causes all kinds of foot injuries, including achilles tendonitis and plantarfasciitis. The solution is to concentrate on keeping your weight in the center of your foot. 

Dancing on your toes:

 There was a time when a lot of teachers encouraged women to dance on their toes - to never let the heels touch the ground As a result there are a lot of Tango dancers suffering from metatarsalgia. Fortunately this has gone out of fashion. But if you are still doing it, stop. Not only is it bad for your feet, but it shortens your extension and interferes with balance.

 Take care of your feet. Remember - you want your feet to be able to Tango in 10 years -or 20 - or more.


Friday, December 2, 2016

THE WALK: It May Not Mean What You Think

 Over and over, when you are first introduced to Tango, you are told: It's all about the walk. You have to have a good walk in order to dance Tango.

 But "walking" in Tango does not mean what it does in everyday life. Normally, when we go for a walk, it involves getting from one place to another, in a straight line, and in a fairly regular rhythm. But when we talk about the Tango Walk, we are not talking about destination, or direction, or tempo. We are talking about technique.

 In Tango, we can "walk" in any direction, forward, backward, side to side, in place, or in a circle. We can even "walk" while standing still.

 Learning the Tango walk involves learning HOW, not WHAT. How do we use our feet to gather energy from our connection to the floor? How do we find and maintain our axis? How do we keep our connection forward, toward our partner?

 If you watch any good dancer, in demos or at the best milongas, you will note that they seldom take more than 3 or 4 steps in a straight line before stopping, or turning, or changing direction. Tango is not a linear dance. It moves, then stops. It turns, one way then another.

 Teachers need to recognize this, and realize that learning the Tango Walk involves learning to stop, every bit as much as learning to step.