Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Tango Menace

The Tango Menace is familiar to all who have spent much time dancing Tango. This is the person who constantly bumps into other dancers, or who uses more than his share of the floor - who causes confusion and sometimes injury. Usually he is the leader, since the leader has most control over the shape of the dance.

 Learning to handle The Tango Menace is a necessary skill for any tango community. But there are different types of menace, and they require different handling. Here are some of the most common.

 The Beginner Menace

It  is just a fact - new dancers on a crowded dance floor are a menace. They do not yet have the skills necessary to navigate a crowded dance floor, and are concentrating so hard on what they have recently learned that they really can't pay attention to where they are going.

 The solution: Give them plenty of space. The good news is that beginners tend to be fairly predictable, so you can usually avoid problems by not crowding them too closely. Encourage your beginners to dance at the beginning of a Milonga when the floor is less crowded, and avoid later hours when there are more people on the dance floor. And teachers, introduce the concept of good floor-craft EARLY.

The Ego-Driven Menace

The ego-driven menace is often an excellent dancer. He is frequently a superb performer, and many women love to dance with him. The problem is that on a crowded dance floor there is no room for individual ego.

The focus on a crowded dance floor should be on becoming one with the room - dancing with every other couple on the floor. This concept is foreign to the ego-driven menace.

The ego-driven menace seldom collides with other dancers. He is too competent for that. But he leaves multiple collisions in the turbulence of his wake, as he uses far more than his share of the floor, and dancers are driven to take unexpected steps in order to give him room.

The solution: An intervention. Have a respected member of the community, preferably the organizer, meet with the offender and explain that his dance style is causing problems for other leaders. This has to be very direct. A general announcement to the community will have no effect, since the ego-driven menace will never believe you could be talking about HIM.

Chances are, even if an intervention is handled reasonably tactfully, the ego-driven menace will get insulted and find another place to dance. Problem solved.

Very rarely, the ego-driven menace is the local dance teacher or organizer. You might still try an intervention, but it is unlikely to be successful. If you have the option, dance elsewhere. Otherwise, do your best to avoid this menace, and be hyper-alert when he is on the floor.

 The Clueless Menace

 This leader has studied Tango for years, danced in numerous places, and runs into people wherever he goes. He cannot help it. He has no spacial awareness, is lacking in coordination, and has little ability to improvise on the fly. And it is unlikely he will ever be able to change.

Solution: Stay out of his way. There is nothing else you can do but give him plenty of room. There is no point in trying to correct him; it won't work.

 The Weaponized Menace

 This is the follower with 3 inch stilettos, who loves off-the floor embellishments and high boleos. She is especially dangerous when combined with an ego-driven leader. 

Solution: As with the ego-driven menace, an intervention is the only solution. Explain that on a crowded dance floor, heels must remain on the ground, even if the leader is trying to fling them around in the air. A follower is responsible for her own weapons. She is well within her rights to refuse a gancho or to keep all boleos small and on the floor when dancing on on a tight floor.

 It is often up to the organizer and the experienced dancers to set the tone of the milonga. If the best dancers are dancing conservatively and thoughtfully when the floor gets crowded, the example they set will encourage others to do likewise.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tango - It's Not Hard

Argentine Tango is not a hard dance to learn. You can learn enough about Tango to start dancing after an hour - and you will still be learning 50 years later.

They say "If you can walk, you can Tango". And it is true. It may take a bit of time to get accustomed to walking while embracing a partner, but after that, you are good to go.

A beginner's Tango should be a simple Tango. Listen to the music. Let it soak into your heart and bones, then move to it. Walk to the music, slowing down or pausing when the music pauses, speeding up when the rhythmic tempo is faster.

That is it. It you can do that, you are dancing Tango.

As you learn more, you can add pivots, turns, elegant variations on the walk, dramatic figures. But it still all comes down to what you learn at the very beginning - Embrace your partner. Feel the music. Move to the music with your partner.

See? Simple.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Amateur Tango Teacher - Blessing or Curse?

There was a time, back in Tango's Golden Age, when there were no professional Tango teachers. You learned Tango from your father, your uncle, your brother, from watching your parents and their friends dance.

 With the renaissance of Tango in the late '80s and early 90's, there also grew a class of professional Tango teachers. Some were stage tango dancers who supplemented their income by teaching Tango. Some were traditional dancers who found they could make money teaching people (mostly tourists) to dance Tango. Some had a strong background teaching other forms of dance; some had never taught anything in their lives.

 The difference between professional and amateur Tango teachers is quite simple: Professional teachers get paid. Getting paid does not automatically make you a good teacher. I have known a number of amateur Tango teachers who are better teachers than some of the paid professionals. But generally, when we talk about amateurs teaching any skill, there is an implication that amateurs are less knowledgeable and less capable than people who teach for a living. And certainly there is some truth to this. If you charge for teaching a skill or an art, you had better be good enough to give value for the money. If you cannot give value, very soon you will find you do not have students.

 So what about amateur Tango teachers? Should they be discouraged?


 What, even if they are not good dancers or teachers?


 The most important thing a teacher can convey to a new Tango dancer is an appreciation of the dance, a love of the music,and a desire to know more. This can be shared by the newest beginner as well as by the most experienced teacher.

 So what, then, is the problem with amateur teachers? The main problem is that they have a tendency to confuse or overwhelm the new dancer - especially new leaders. This is the number one cause of new Tango dancers giving up too soon. Experienced teachers know how to avoid this problem by properly pacing classes or lessons.

Amateur teachers can also misconvey information that they have misunderstood from classes or videos, leading to the sharing of bad habits. I remember many times when a new dancer showed up at a milonga, saying "I have been learning Tango with so-and-so amateur teacher" and a part of me shudders. But the larger part of me recognizes that the amateur teacher taught his student enough that he felt comfortable enough to show up at the milonga and dance. Bad habits can be fixed. And an enthusiastic Tango dancer is usually happy to extend his or her knowledge.

 I think on balance, the enthusiasm advantage outweighs the disadvantages. Ideally, someone who wants to learn Tango should find an experienced teacher, whether professional or amateur; someone who is good at conveying the necessary knowledge, and whose students are a pleasure to dance with. But one can also learn from every partner, and at a practica one can learn from other dancers.

 So, professionals, do not discourage or denigrate your amateur teachers. They are a powerful force for growing a community.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Milonga is NOT a Fast Tango.

No, Milonga is NOT a Fast Tango.

 It is true that most milongas average faster than most Tangos. It is also true that we can use some similar step combinations in both dances. But Tango and Milonga are not variations of the same dance - they are different dances, with different music, and they are danced with different techniques. 

The first difference is in posture and connection - milonga is danced closer, and somewhat tighter. While we do not crush our partner to our chest, there is a less flexible connection in milonga,which is necessary to convey the lead of the faster steps and rhythm changes. Often the man places his hand lower on the woman's back to better transmit the rapid weight changes. Another way to say it is that in Tango the emphasis is on conversation - in Milonga the emphasis is on unification because there is no time for conversation.

 The second difference - in milonga we dance ON the beat. In Tango we dance THROUGH the beats. We use a different technique when stepping on rather than through the beat. In Milonga, we go to the foot. In Tango we travel across the foot. Milonga thus has a much more staccato look to it. In tango the foot glides across the floor in an extension. In milonga we dance much more from foot to foot. In Tango we smoothly pass the axis to the front of our foot - in milonga the axis goes more from split weight to split weight.

 The third difference - Milonga is a 2 beat dance, while Tango is a 4 beat dance. In Tango our basic rhythm steps on every other beat. In milonga we step on every beat. We will frequently put two steps on one beat in milonga - 1&2, step-step-step, but almost never one step on two beats - 1-3, step and step. Thus steps that require 2 beats to perform - ochos for example, which use one beat for the step and one for the pivot -.are not milonga steps, unless you do them without the pivot, and step on every beat.

 So in milonga we generally step on every beat. This creates a somewhat different model for the follower:
- In Tango, the follower assumes she will not step without some sign from the leader that she is to step.
 - In Milonga, the follower assumes she is going to step on the beat -every beat - unless the leader specifically indicates that she is not to step.

 Finally, in Milonga there is a more dramatic use of the upper body. The contra body, the strut of the shoulders, are not only part of the milonga style, but also part of the lead, giving the follower cues as to where the leader wishes her to step. If you want to dance to milonga music, take a good milonga class.and expect to take as much time learning to dance milonga as you would take to learn any other new dance.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Difference Between Ballroom Tango and Argentine Tango

You can tell from their first words whether someone dances Argentine Tango or Ballroom Tango. Argentine Tango dancers will tell you they dance "Tango", in the same way Salsa dancers will tell you they dance "Salsa". Ballroom dancers will tell you they do "THE Tango", in the same way they will tell you they do "THE Foxtrot" or "THE Waltz".

 This semantic difference is very significant, because unlike Ballroom Tango, which has a set list of basic steps that pretty much everyone learns, and very specific standards for how to do them, Argentine Tango has no "basic steps" and no set standards. There are many different styles, many different ways to express the music, and all of them are Tango.

 In Argentine Tango there is no one true way. Heel leads? Sure! Ball leads? Fine! Big, sweeping steps? Lovely! Small rhythmic steps? Of course! Hands held at eye level or shoulder level, or overhead? All good. Bent knees, straight knees, upright posture or stick your butt out, head upright or inclined forward, all have their aficionados.

 We each dance our own Tango. The only truly universal principles are - connect to your partner, and connect to the music.

 There is no One True Way in Argentine Tango.

 And so we do not say "The Tango". We simply say "Tango".