5 nov. 2007: Monday night práctica at The Beat.

I got there around 10:30. There was a decent crowd there but relatively light for this venue. It must be something about the climate that’s keeping people at home, or perhaps it’s just a busy time of year at work since we’re fast approaching the holiday season. The class earlier in the evening was taught by Dan & Pier and the subject was colgadas. This is an element of which I only have a rudimentary working knowledge. Not that I wouldn’t want to study shared axis movements in more depth, but it’s not really where my focus is right now. Especially since one of my primary objectives in the dance is to always make my partner feel safe and comfortable, and these kinds of lead / follow dynamics which rely on counterbalance seem inherently jarring in a way. Of course, that’s part of the appeal, the risk-taking factor. I equate it with the trust game where you fall backwards into another person’s arms. There are some dancers who can do them particularly well, in a way that seems like a natural expression of the moment. Being more traditionally oriented, I generally don’t utilize them socially, although I am interested in the mechanics and the possibilities that open up when you understand them well.

I danced with three partners tonight, which may not sound like much but for me is actually more than usual. I tend to be a very hesitant dancer (and I seem to have developed something of a reputation concerning this). You could call me shy and while there is truth to that it’s not really the whole picture. Feeling comfortable at a given time – whether that be with the partner, with the music, with the energy of the room, etc. – is a big concern. If there’s anything that I’m not feeling the vibe from it works against my desire to get on the floor. And I hate dancing uninspired. I don’t think it’s fair to myself or my partner to just go through the motions, even if it’s technically competent and musically attuned. It’s like something very simple Carlos Rivarola once said to me years ago which I have always tried to keep in mind: “It’s not just steps. You have to feel the dance.”

Partner #1 was someone who I had seen at tango events for years and who I always regarded as a very good dancer, but it wasn’t until recently that we were formally introduced. I remember having one dance with her a long time ago and it was terribly awkward, mostly my fault. But in my defense it was with a Beck song (yeah, Cellspace, back when it was still new). She excused herself citing knee issues, which may have been real or not but I never blamed her for ending it. Dancing with her now feels very solid. Her connection is unusually strong and present. There is a lot of upper body contact, even down to the abdominal area which is a little unusual for me although I’ve noticed several advanced followers / teachers connect that way in close embrace. The lessons I took with Mariana Dragone got me accustomed to having more of an open space below the sternum for a little more freedom of movement. That’s not to say any one style is superior. But with the increased body connection it makes me have to be that much more certain about my accuracy in terms of the energy I project and the way I follow her through her movements in order to accommodate a mark that I have led. In this sense I feel it was good practice and a very appropriate way to start off. Not to mention a pleasure. I often see her sitting at these prácticas and I don’t really know why that is, except that maybe she’s a little intimidating. On her own she can appear highly autonomous and perhaps even somewhat aloof although in my experience her nature has been very generous.

Partner #2 has been a tango buddy for a while now. I used to practice with her when she was pretty new to tango, having come from salsa. Now she’s a prominent organizer of milongas and events in the Bay Area. It’s always fun to dance with her, she projects a strong energy and likes to embellish a lot. I tried to accommodate her with some of the things she said she wanted to work on, but unfortunately they weren’t great strengths of mine. Ganchos and volcadas. Again, elements of which I have only a rudimentary working knowledge. You could call them rusty tools since I’ve studied them in various forms but just never use them and so they get sloppy with neglect or forgotten altogether. It’s good for me to attempt them again, though, because currently my vocabulary is very limited. Just enough for me to get by, really.

Partner #3 is Ms. Ambitious. Only dancing for a bit over a year or so but making crazy progress, and incredibly demanding both of herself and others. I have mentioned to her that I’m never really comfortable dancing with her because I know she’s striving for absolute perfection. It reminds me of the days when I would dance with one of my instructors but always tense up because I felt like I was constantly being evaluated. Part of it is in me as well, though. I, too, tend to be obsessive about detail and so when I get together with her that aspect of my personality gets amplified. The good thing about that is that my focus gets heightened and I pay more attention to things like posture, embrace, weight distribution and the like. The negative is the aforementioned tension, as well as a kind of self inflicted censorship since I’m focusing so much on ironing out very base elements, and also out of concern of not offending her with crude, undeveloped movements. One thing she said to me tonight which was very astute was that she sometimes felt like we weren’t really dancing with each other but almost as if we were dancing with someone over the other’s shoulder. Personally, I know I have developed a bad habit of dancing in the mirror sometimes, especially in a practice setting, and that is clearly a connection killer. Part of that habit comes from the days when I would assist in beginner classes and needed to see what the follower was doing so I could correct her. But I think most of it is narcissistic in a way, where I’m checking my own form and neglecting my partner in the process. Bad. I think I need to get better acquainted with the dance from the inside instead of the outside, at least as far as my partner is concerned. I can usually diagnose when I’m doing something that throws me off but with my partner I’m not as sensitive, either with something they aren’t doing optimally or with something I am doing improperly to them. Still, it was a good practice session and I always enjoy working with her. Although we did dance to music that I’m not a strong interpreter of. First with 60’s Pugliese (I have difficulty with the musical tension, the drama and rubato) and then with alternative stuff. Always good to work on problem areas, though.

To touch briefly on a topic that probably warrants further examination, the way prácticas tend to serve as informal milongas for a lot of people instead of a space for serious study kind of befuddles me. I happen to be one of those who actually likes the work part of developing my dance. So I’m not averse to doing drills or going over a movement over and over. This is something I picked up very early, when my first regular teacher would start each class with walks back and forth and then ochos back and forth. Then when I went to BsAs for the first time this discipline was further enhanced when I took some classes specifically on technique – 3 hours strictly on exercises. Later, when I visited a friend in Paris I saw how her ballet class was structured. It was pretty intense, the dancers going over a prescribed sequence over and over, stopping only to iron out very technical details. In fact, the classes for all the dances that I saw there were similarly technique oriented, and it struck me that to approach tango in a more casual way was to disrespect the dance, which is every bit as valid as an art form as any of these other classic dances. Then again, part of the greatness of tango is that it’s flexible enough to exist as both an informal recreational dance for casual aficionados and as a complex art that can stretch the limits of human possibility for those who choose to pursue the higher echelons of its expression.

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