17 mayo 2008

I just picked up a book called "The Meaning of Tango" by Christine Denniston and I'm about seventy pages in. I like it so far, she seems to be earnest about what she's trying to impart and doesn't come off as someone trying to exploit the dance as a vehicle for self-aggrandizement. Plus, she knows what she's writing about. Although, to be honest, I haven't really read anything I didn't already know. And I could do without the obligatory how-to bits.

Side note: generally speaking, I think it's pointless to try to teach (or learn) to dance using the written word.

One of the things she mentions is how the learning process has changed from the period before the dance went underground in the mid-1950s, to the way it is learned now. Back then, she writes, men always learned the woman's role first, and practiced only that for a substantial amount of time before they were allowed to try the man's role. Reading this reminded me of how illuminating it is as a leader to practice the follower part. Now, switching roles is a topic of discussion that frequently seems to make the rounds on tango blogs (as evidenced, for example, by Modern Tanguera's recent post), and while everyone agrees that practicing the follower part helps the leader improve his lead, I suddenly realized a reason *why* it helps which I hadn't considered before. The obvious benefit is that the leader gains insight in how it feels to be led and can use this awareness to hone and clarify his communication to his partner, as well as making it more comfortable for her. Another benefit is the strict technical exercise that a leader gets from following that he might not get as a leader (constant walking backwards, for example, or the fact that followers tend to pivot a lot more than leaders, not to mention the advanced dissociative dynamics of movements such as boleos or even most ochos).

Now, before I mention my little epiphany, I want to talk about an issue that I realize I sometimes have when dancing socially. On the odd occasion dancing with someone--particularly with an advanced dancer--there will be an infinitesimal little glitch in communication where she will miss an intended lead and will immediately realize what had been intended and reflexively apologize, even though the dance continues unabated and from the outside it probably will have been completely unnoticeable. Of course, it never bothers me that the intention wasn't realized. What does bother me is that, somehow, I have communicated a disruption. So how can I smooth things out so that even when the follower doesn't go where I expected her to, she will never register anything but an inevitable possibility?

And I realized that another benefit of working on the woman's role is that it will, presumably, help me get more accustomed to following my follower. This is a concept that is common among more advanced leaders, which is to say that "leaders" don't really "lead" per se, but in fact always move only after the "follower" moves. So I think that, at least in the moments where the aforementioned disruptions occur, what communicates the disruption is that I am jumping the gun a teeny bit. I jump the gun because I am making an assumption and have acted on that assumption prematurely. It is much the same as the fault leaders place on followers who can't *wait*. The ability to wait is a virtue on both ends.

Some time ago, I wrote a personal observation in my collection of tango notes which fits with this topic, and it still holds up for me so I figured I'd share it:

Tango is a dance that should be perceived with a mindset strictly set in the present, in a Zen-like state of being in the moment. The past and the future are distractions that will interfere with the connection and limit possibility. With the "present" mindset, every step feels new, and the simplest elements remain fresh and unfold organically. And since every step is approached as something new, when an opportunity arises to explore an unfamiliar possibility there is neither hesitation nor bewilderment from unmet expectations. The "past" and "future" mindset both lead to preconception. One thinks of what has happened before, and expects it to come again. This is a poor but easy—and therefore, common—substitute for true connection. (The Japanese have a Zen term, "Mushin," which means "Mind of no mind." In martial arts, achieving the state of Mushin allows one to be ready for anything. The same applies in tango.)


ModernTanguera said...

Thanks for the link to my blog! And thanks even more for these thoughts - I hadn't really thought about how good leaders as well as followers learn how to wait, but I think you're dead on. I don't really hold it against a leader if I notice a "missed" lead (because I never demand a "perfect" dance in the sense that perfection is following exactly what the leader leads all the time), but now that you mention it explicitly I know that I appreciate leaders who can adapt to each moment. I also really enjoyed your comment at the end about Zen. :)

cindy said...

really nice post- thank you.