An unteachable lesson

A lot of people seem to approach a milonga as if it is imperative to get as much dancing as possible, or that they should brave a dance on a perilously crowded or dangerous floor because even a compromised dance is better than none at all.

My outlook, on the other hand, is that I would rather drive an hour to a milonga and wait through the end until the energy on the floor was right for me, and leave without ever having danced if that time never comes, than to force myself onto the floor just because I made the trip and paid the cover, or need to get my tango "fix". Will I feel it was a waste? In some ways, certainly. But there is always the foreknowledge that it could have been much worse if I had gone against my better judgment.

Certainly, the call to dance can be strong, and it can be difficult to resist. The dj plays an orchestra that I love, and a favorite dance partner is available. But if the dance conditions aren't within a certain workable parameter, ultimately it becomes a questionable endeavor. When I dance with someone, I always want to give them my best dance. Of course, that doesn't happen very often -- quite rarely in fact. Though that's the ideal, I would be satisfied at least with a good representation of my expression and feel. Where I come away with the sense that my partner has an accurate idea of how I heard and interpreted the music and the moment. So even if the music is great and the partner is willing, if the floor conditions aren't right then I can't really express myself anyway, so to what end would I be dancing? In fact, in that situation the frustration can be even more profound because the schism between what is felt and what can be actualized can be so much greater.

Anyway, my point being, there is one lesson that I think is of importance but cannot be taught, and that is how to know when not to dance. Of course, this is a very subjective thing; everybody has their own perception on what conditions are acceptable to them and what in the dance brings them satisfaction. Naturally, when dancing socially there is always some degree of compromise (at least there should be -- if this sounds alien to you I'd say it is more likely that you are a hazard to others on the floor). The prime dancing time, then, is a matter of gauging the zone of probable compromise on the floor at a given moment.

So how do I assess the conditions for myself? Well, barring partner compatibility considerations:

  • If I watch the floor and can't discern a clear flow, that's a bad sign. I'm sure we've all experienced the milonga that more resembles a pot of boiling water than something with a current. Perhaps acceptable for salsa or club dancing, but pointless for tango.
  • I will not dance when doing so places my partner beyond a certain degree of risk. If it seems that the majority of the dance will be spent on the defensive, trying to keep my partner out of harms way, that is too much of a compromise on my expression for me or my partner to enjoy. Similarly, if the floor is overly crowded and the traffic causes undue congestion I prefer to wait it out. Just as in driving a car, I can't stand the stop and go thing.
  • If I'm not feeling the music or don't care for the orchestra, I will wait for the next tanda. Or, if the djing is particularly not to my liking, I may not dance at all. (side note: I don't relate to those who invite dances during cortinas, before they even know what will be played next. I'm guessing the music doesn't matter so much to them and they love dancing for dancing's sake. In a way, I suppose that makes me more limited of a dancer than they as I can only dance honestly when I am compelled, and not everything compels me.)
  • If for unknown reasons I have been dancing in a way I feel is unsatisfactory, I will take some time away from the floor to relax and recalibrate, rather than dive right back in with the intention of fixing whatever isn't working. If the problem persists, I call it a night, knowing that it happens and therefore not getting down about it.
  • I generally dislike dancing milonga, and to a lesser degree vals, as my first dance, as it sets me up with an energy that can be hard to come down from.

I have become quite good at heeding my intuition and refraining from dances when I don't feel the conditions are suitable. Naturally, I have encountered people who were dubious about my reservations, wondering if I was making up some excuse not to dance with them. But what I have found is that as more people get to know me and my outlook, the more I develop a kind of reputation for being fastidious and they come to realize it's okay for them not to take it personally. And as a kind of bonus, some people have told me they consider it something of a treat to dance with me because they know I'm so damn picky. So, while I may not dance nearly as much as many in the community, I have found that being true to myself in being discerning has served me well. Quality for quantity -- I consider it a fair trade off.


Alex said...

Same for me...quality over quantity every time. I once drove 3 hours over snowy mountain passes to arrive at the Mercury Cafe in Denver at 11pm, dance a few tandas, and then drove back home, happy.

Claudita said...

I'm totally with you - but I don't really think people 'understand' - and as a follower I definitely feel that if I say to most people - 'sorry, I don't particularly like this music' - they see it as an excuse for not dancing with them - and might feel I'm rejecting them or something - although as you say, people are getting used to it - well, it's just her being 'fussy' about the music, the floor etc. it's not about ME...

Malevito said...

Hi guys, how are you?

Alex: You've trumped me by a wide margin, I have to admit. I don't think I would ever go to those lengths for tango, although to be honest I don't really have to since SF has one of the most thriving communities in the country.

Claudita: I would think it would be more difficult as a follower to be so selective. I definitely know of women who often accept dances they aren't really in the mood for just to keep themselves in the loop, so to speak. It's as if they think that if they turn down dances too much they'll never get asked anymore. But I do know women who pull it off, although all of them are excellent dancers and well established in the community so that helps them get away with it.

Frances R said...

I wish more leaders were like you, Malevito.

A lot of leaders seem to overestimate their navigation skills, or underestimate the situation on the floor (a few bad navigators can create a mess no skill can make up for. Off topic, I wish something would be done about the perpetrators. So far, oftentimes, the bad dancers are on the floor running amok, and the better ones sit and wait until the formers get their fix and go home).

Nowadays I learned to pay closer attention to the traffic conditions, and make my own decisions to dance or not based upon it. As a result, I have got much more good tango than before.

Malevito said...

Hi Frances R, how are you?

I have to admit, one of the reasons I am so cautious is because I feel that my floorcraft isn't particularly strong, or at least not as strong as I'd like it to be. Yes, I try to stay in one lane, I try to keep from staying in one spot for too long, I try to keep moving in the direction of la ronda, I try to maintain the space for the couple in front of me (which often backfires because someone else will see that as an open spot and cut into it). But even with all these good intentions I sometimes feel I falter, accidentally obstructing another couple or bringing my partner or myself too close to a possible impact.

Then there is the flip side, where being overly conscientious about floorcraft I end up stifling my expression.

So, for me, I guess it boils down to this: I wait until the energy gets to a point where I don't have to think about floorcraft so much.

Claudita said...

Mmmm, not sure I'm quite excellent yet - still working on it after all these years - I'm certainly well known - mainly for being 'fussy', I guess! ;-)

Anonymous said...

I have to include the style as a factor too. If you happen to like one kind of embrace or walk and the ones dancing the same style are green, you are really trapped. There is no quality/quantity to choose from.