8 jun 2008

Random topic: concern with doing the dance "right"--

I've always had difficulty being genuinely creative, and a big part of that is because I have always approached the study of art with a preoccupation on mimicry. Of course, this is natural, as many if not most artists early in their careers produce work that has been inspired by the work of another. This tendency manifests itself across the board, whether in painting, writing, music, or of course, dance. Eventually, should the artist persevere, he has a tendency to evolve, and one of the earmarks of evolution is the finding of one's own voice. Perhaps I haven't endured long enough in my pursuits of different artistic avenues to get to that point.

Tango is no different. I find myself watching the dancers I most admire and want to emulate them. This is one of the reasons I have historically had difficulty watching myself on video as I judge myself harshly when I don't look like so-and-so when I dance. I would also find myself evaluating others on their form relative to so-and-so. Then there is the "feel" factor, where I get feedback regarding how my lead feels compared to so-and-so and I try to adjust accordingly to closer emulate that feeling.

Outside of form, there is also the desire to learn specific types of movement that others have mastered, and in pursuit of this we take specifically focused lessons and watch videos of others doing these movements--trying to enganche like Pulpo, lapiz like Farfaro, adorn like Javier, etc.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. It is the basis of tango teaching as a profession and of developing a specific tango vocabulary of defined and categorized elements for the student.

But the thing is, there is such a rich history and so many possibilities that have been developed that one can spend all their time trying to get a handle on all that has already been done, and doing them exactly how so-and-so does them. While that may in some ways be a noble goal for an individual, they will never reach the point of true evolution as an artist should they go this route. They will be so immersed in trying to reproduce the dance voices of others that they will never really develop their own. You could say that rather than being a creative artist, they will be a re-creating artist. If everybody focused their attentions thus, the dance itself would never evolve.

I'm finding that as I grow as a dancer there is a funny, seemingly paradoxical phenomenon regarding my judgment. On the one hand, my attention to detail magnifies and I get more sensitive to flaws and the level of quality in movements and expression. But on the other hand, in a way the flaws and the level of quality matter less to me than they used to.

I think it's really easy to get caught up in the mindset of rigid categorization. The mind works this way in order to make efficient definitions, thereby making the world easier to understand. There is comfort in this, but there is a consequent risk of creating a narrow perspective. We all know those people who have been in tango for a while and staunchly promote what they think is "real" and what is "right" and what is "good"--and what is not. Maybe we are one of those people. I'm sure it's the subject of a large proportion of the sideline murmurings at milongas. I myself am guilty of this at times. It makes for stimulating conversation, even if only to hear yourself toot your own horn. But I'm finding at this stage of the game for me I am getting more and more open to different means of expression, which has always been a philosophy I have valued but have not always been able to truly adhere to. I think part of it's because when you have a specific conception of a goal, it seems easier to get to that goal if you devalue all the other possible goals. And also, it's comforting to be convinced that the goal you have chosen is the one with the greatest value.

But of course, there is beauty and depth in diversity, and while everybody knows it's important to keep this in mind I think it's surprisingly easy to drift to the clique mentality of categorization. And we all know the risk of clique thinking is a pressure to conform. Then again, there is something to be said about respect for tradition and the knowledge of those who came before. It's a fine balance of carrying on a legacy and of putting a spin on it that remains true to the legacy.

Or else, you can take what you learn from the legacy and create something vastly different. Aside from being difficult it can also be particularly intimidating to go this route considering the unknown reaction from peers and the vulnerability of presenting something you have created, which makes acceptance or rejection more personal. But if it catches, what a contribution to the world of humanities you would make!

I particularly get inspired by the story of a guy named Don Campbell, who didn't seem to give a damn that he wasn't doing something "right." This is a part of his bio that I pulled from Wikipedia:

The beginning of Locking can be traced to one man, Don Campbell. In the late 1960s he put together several fad dances adding moves of his own (notably the "Lock") when performing. The original lock was created by accident: Don Campbell couldn't do a move called the Funky Chicken and stopped at a particular point. He wasn't able to perform it fluently, for he couldn't remember which step to take next. (Even the acting towards the audience was of spontaneous nature: people started laughing at Don because of his unfamiliar moves, whereas he started pointing at them.) These halts soon became popular as Don added them into his performances. The resulting dance was called Campbellocking, which was later shortened to Locking.

What I take from this is, at least sometimes, if we embrace our mistakes they might lead us to something that is a unique reflection of ourselves, and if we share that with the world maybe they might embrace that reflection as well. And that, to me, is what it means to be genuinely creative.


Alex said...

Hear hear! Great post! I have these same thoughts re: mimicry vs. creative evolution.

Malevito said...

Hi Alex, how are you?

It's tough to move beyond outside influence, isn't it? How can you not want to emulate a presentation that moves you? How do you resist the urge, when you see someone dance beautifully, to think, "I want to dance just like that"? And again, not that there's anything wrong with that.

I think that one of my hangups is that I tend to be self-conscious as to whether I have the "authority" to make a change, to do something differently or altogether new. Especially when there are so many facets that I still have to master. And, of course, since the dance and the tradition is wonderful just the way it is. (Even the great Miguel Zotto once said in an interview, "I don't dare to step out of the mold.")

That's probably the wrong way to think about it, though. This is where Don Campbell provides a great example, seeing how locking basically came out of a messed up funky chicken. Of course, one big difference with tango is that it is a partner dance, necessitating a mutual comfort and clarity of communication that is absent from solo dances.

Maybe the trick is not to take it so seriously, as I tend to do...

Thanks for the comment :)