19 abr 2008

Recently, my tango partner mentioned in passing how, when she is dancing at a milonga, one of the things she focuses on is the dance space, and it made me wonder if this is part of the responsibility that a follower should share or if it she should leave it to the leader's discretion.

My take is that, ideally, this should be solely a concern for the leader, in the sense that the leader dictates the path that the couple will follow but also regulates the energy of expression. And of course, there is the all important rule that the leader takes responsibility for safety, both of his partner and himself but also for that of the couples around them.

So then, as the leader evaluates all the myriad factors that will, moment to moment, inform his interpretation, the follower should have two primary areas of focus: the nuances of her partner's lead and her own axis. The leader, for his part, will not put anyone in jeopardy through bad decisions, ie. marking a strong boleo, media luna, or large circumference / high energy turn in the direction of another couple or perhaps a chair leg or table, aggressively bulldozing his partner toward a space in order to claim it ahead of another couple who is moving in that trajectory or using her body to tailgate another couple, etc. If the leader is conscientious about the space then there should be a consistent and comfortable flow to the dance.

My concern when the follower takes the responsibility for this space is that, assuming the leader is already being careful, there will be a kind of excess of caution that feeds on itself and negatively affects the flow. That is to say, on a dance floor that is packed or otherwise safety compromised, the leader already will take this into account and modify the couple's energy and dance space accordingly. If on top of this the follower also takes the incentive to regulate the energy and the space it will result in an excess throttling of energy and a kind of overprotectiveness that causes rigidity and loss of what limited freedom the couple has in the given circumstance.

Again, I am only speaking ideally, as there are never absolutes. But I feel that to dance with too many eyes focused on protection (especially here in the states) is to compromise to the extent of irrelevance. Shoulders and shoes will rub, couples will get cut off, there will be the occasional bump. All this is unavoidable, and to overly prioritize the attempt to completely eradicate this from the experience is to completely neuter expression, which is just as much your couples' right as any others' on the floor who may be more aggressive in exercising that right.

This is my take at the moment, but I would definitely like to hear what others think.


Alex said...

I want her with her eyes closed...if I see women dancing close embrace with their eyes open, I tend not to invite them to dance...

tangobaby said...

I always always prefer to dance with my eyes closed, unless it's open embrace.

However, if I'm continually getting bumped or kicked in a tanda with the same partner, then my eyes are going to be open, because I'm worried no one's looking out for me and my trust in that person is shaken. It may not be their fault at all, but it still makes me feel like I need to protect myself and not get hurt.

Malevito said...

Hi guys, how are you?

Alex: I absolutely concur that it is more pleasant to dance with someone who is investing you with enough trust to surrender their own external perception, but I don't know if I'm quite as stringent as you. I just want my partner to do whatever it is that makes her most comfortable; if it doesn't throw me off, and as long as she still feels the connection and enjoys the exchange, and is focused on my lead and isn't trying to wrestle me for control or second guessing my intentions, it's fine.

TB: You know, I was about to add the thing about uncontrollable external factors as a stipulation to my post, but as I mentioned I was writing about an ideal situation. It is absolutely understandable that a follower would want to be more alert in a circumstance where she feels unsafe, and there are definitely leaders out there who will put their followers in these circumstances, and crowds that generate unruly energy. But I still feel that if the leader is really conscientious then ideally the follower will fully trust him regardless of circumstance. Personally, one of the ways I watch out for myself and any prospective partner is to refrain completely from dancing whenever I feel that the floor is overly compromised. I figure it's kind of pointless to try and go out and make something work when there are so many things that will hinder the expression.

Thanks for contributing, guys :)

Malevito said...

Just wanted to expand a little on my response to TB--

I think that a follower should *never* have to feel unsafe when she is dancing. EVER. Ideally, I think that if a follower feels the floor is unsafe she should postpone any dance invitation until things get better. If she is aware of the difficulties but agrees anyway, she should give herself fully to her partner and bear any abuse that may come her way without giving up the entrega since it was her call to get out there. But if she is on the floor and things get messy to the point where she becomes uncomfortable and can't keep all her focus on the lead she should end the dance, or at the very least voice her concerns to the leader. She can make it easy by saying something to the effect of, "I'm not feeling very secure with the energy on the floor right now, but I'd love to dance with you when things calm down a bit."

If the difficulty is coming from the lead, she should end with the abrupt Thank You. I agree with those who argue that one of the most effective ways to encourage a poor leader to get better is to discourage bad habits.

The problem when a follower feels unsafe--besides the all important issue of her enjoyment--is that it distracts from her ability to follow, and a follower who is distracted adds even more difficulty to the many things to which the leader must be attuned.

One of the assumed agreements when a leader invites a follower to the floor is that he will do his best to protect her. If he doesn't then he has broken a contract and has failed in his responsibility. In turn, when a follower accepts an invitation she is agreeing to allow the leader to channel his interpretation and kinetic will through her without resisting him. If she doesn't then she has broken her end of the bargain.

tangobaby said...

Hi Malevito,

You're so adept at explaining yourself and I really like your perspective on things.

I think part of my apprehension in doing as you suggest is that I don't go out to dance as much as I used to, so I'm always hoping that one incident is not indicative of the entire tanda and I'm hoping that things will turn out for the best. Secondly, I really hate to hurt someone's feelings. I will sit out a tanda, but the idea of leaving someone on the dance floor unless it was a very serious infraction scares me.

You have given me some food for though, though...thanks!

msHedgehog said...

If we didn't dance when we felt less than perfectly safe, we would never dance, especially as beginners. If we didn't dance with our eyes open (and many teachers advise women NOT to close their eyes - a friend of mine was told in BsAs "you're not good enough to close your eyes") we would never dance. And if we didn't take some responsibility for our own safety we would never dance with a new partner or on a full floor. I'm not saying you can't have that degree of trust, but you have to earn it, you don't get to expect it as a matter of course. If you're good it probably won't take you more than a minute; but you don't get it before we start.

Malevito said...

Hi mshedgehog, how are you?

I appreciate your feedback. I would respond by reemphasizing that what I was presenting was an *ideal* situation and of course in real life as we all know there are many factors that come into play. Your point about beginners, in particular, is well taken, and I have gone on record to allow a lot of leeway for persons new to the dance.

That being said, I still think a follower should trust a leader to provide safety for the couple, even if it's with a new partner or on a full floor. This, I believe, is one area where the cabeceo dynamic of acceptance/rejection is more effective than the overt invitation. Certainly, a follower should take responsibility for their own safety but I feel that much of that responsibility should manifest *before* they agree to step out on the floor with a particular dancer. Just as one would not get into a car with a driver who is in questionable condition to drive. I feel that, ideally, leaders should earn the trust that you mention by demonstration even before the actual pairing (actually, I feel that on the leader's behalf this trust is never fully "earned" but must always be actively in the process of "earning"), and that one of the primary considerations that a follower should make before consenting to dance is whether or not the leader seems responsible in this aspect. And while I understand the sense of uncertainty when dancing with an unfamiliar partner, nevertheless I still assert that this uncertainty should not interfere with the entrega, which I do believe is an implicit agreement that goes along with the agreement to dance.