On the lack of dynamic in United States tango

Some friends and I were having a conversation on tango the other day and the subject drifted toward the manner of dance here in the states, in particular, what seems to be a common tendency among highly skilled dancers and professionals. To specify, I'm fairly certain it was in reference to many who dance in the style generally referred to or understood as "neo" or "nuevo," which quite frankly seems to comprise many of the well known professionals. Anyway, my friend was saying how she finds that most people she has danced with in this style who are from this country have a curious lack of dynamic compared to people from Europe or Argentina. By "dynamic," we mean the manner in which energy is shared between partners; the give and take of force. For example, how the leader can mark a propulsion in the follower and then use the energy from her subsequent inertia to power his own movement. (This can also work the other way, where the follower uses the leader's energy.)

One thought that we had regarding this tendency has to do with what is perceived as "advanced" technique in this country. That is, when beginners dance there is a tendency to muscle the lead and follow in a manner that is rough and inelegant. So perhaps among more experienced dancers here, the reaction against that "amateurishness" is to move away from muscularity as much as possible, the result being on the other extreme, where the lead/follow become so much of a subtle suggestion that it is almost non-existent, and there is very little actually felt in the exchange. It is this lack of feeling that my friend finds unsatisfying. If I understood her correctly, she feels it's as if each dancer is expected to bear responsibility for their own energy without tapping into or feeding the others', and that makes her feel separated from her partner.

Perhaps it has something to do with an exaggerated sense of diplomacy. Inherent in the give and take of energy is a kind of aggressive / submissive implication that maybe some people aren't comfortable with. So instead they utilize a very p.c. approach where it is encouraged that neither partner encroach on the others' self-sufficiency, at least to the degree to which it is possible to be unobtrusive. I think this may stem from our cultural ideal of individuality and self-reliance. And also, perhaps a heightened sensitivity to the notion of equality of the sexes and a subsequent aversion to well-defined "masculine" and "feminine" roles. And that aversion also seems to imply an aversion to the emotional character of the dance, the desire between man and woman (or between same sexes for those with that inclination), which results in a dance that may certainly be expressive and beautiful, but emotionally inert. But perhaps this is a line of thought that is veering off on a tangent from the topic of this post.

Anyway, I'd be curious to hear from others on this.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post! it does resemble my own struggle on the way ahead: and I tink I am one of those "no force" leaders, even though I would not say "no energy".

What I find odd is your friend's comment that she feels less connected that way. Without knowing much more I don't understand, yet have an idea:

To me there is a triangle of connection, music and "energy" that makes up tango. Anything less is figures, steps and practise.

And I believe there may be a misconception that when every partner is responsible for their own energy: this is not the end, but the first step. Only when both partners are aware of their energy, their axis, their capabilities - they can create something more. Then the dynamic really starts, as everyone can give and take and re-shape the energies of the other. The "no force" approach makes this much more intense, as it takes out any "static noise" and you can focus on any impulse, any movement, any muscle tone change, any body signal, yet even more: the dance becomes one of the whole bodies, and anything is possible.

So yes, indeed, the real dance starts when you forget about those roles, rules and ideas. When you open up. But can you do that when you are not at center? on your own? ready to meet another being? not leaning, not depending on taking?

ModernTanguera said...

I think we need to keep exploring what is meant by "dynamic," or even "energy."

As a counter-example to what I think you mean, I recently had a lesson with Jay Abling that focused a lot on independence v. connection. We talked about me being in charge of my own axis and the little ways that happens, but we also talked about the incredible energy in the sole point of contact at our solar plexus, and the importance of sharing energy in the embrace--for example when the leader gives energy in his left hand and I use it to complete an ocho. That kind of subtle exchange of energy is very alive in the teaching and dancing of teachers I have worked with.

Is this what your friend meant by "dynamic" and "energy"? If not, can you clarify?

Malevito said...

Hi guys, how are you?

Just as a disclaimer, the friend I was having this conversation with is a professional dancer/teacher and would be considered an advanced practitioner by anyone's standards. But also, she is not the only one with whom this topic has arisen, as I have heard similar things regarding tango in this country from other dancers, primarily followers, who are world renowned but for matters of tact I will not name. So to onesteptango, I can assure you that my friend's position is not coming from a place of weak technique, where she is looking to lean or depending on taking, and certainly not from a place where movements are shaped with force. That being said, I think it's understandable that the concept of "energy" and "dynamic" is kind of hard to quantify, and actually I had to get some clarification from my friend after we had the conversation as I wasn't sure if I understood her completely. I think onesteptango describes it very nicely as the giving and taking and re-shaping of the energies of the other (although the energy certainly doesn't have to be re-shaped per se but can simply be ridden like a wave). And ModernTanguera provides a perfect example with the exchange of energy through the embrace for the ocho.

Of course, the issue isn't one of black and white--it isn't that either dynamic is present or absent, but as with everything is a matter of degree. All tango requires dynamic, I think that's a given. What I'm referring to, I suppose, is the size of the waves, so to speak, and the variety of sensation that comes from making big waves and small waves.

I find it's easier to communicate this when providing examples, so here's a fr'instance--when I lead my partner to do a pivot into a back sacada, I like to provide her with a strong impulse for the pivot in order to rotate her around with a good energy for her to be in position and in time for the sacada. For her, this makes the sacada intention clear and strong. Another very good dancer, better and more established than me, led her to do the same sacada, but with a much flatter energy for the pivot. Rather than initializing it with the kind of impulse that I give he instead led her with an energy similar to any of his pivot leads but simply waited for her to rotate to the necessary degree, then brought her in for the sacada. She felt that that approach was more nebulous, murkier. The end result is the same, but the feeling of getting there is much different.

Does this example clarify the idea? Anyway, thanks for commenting :)

Anonymous said...

I think it's the way people embrace here that gives away good dynamics. Many dancers prefer to connect full chest or to have their hip sticking out, or simply dancing far without any frames. The lead and follow rarely initiated from the core. As a result, the movements seem too soft and passive. I have to say, it may "feel good" for an average dancer, yet not for the trained ones.

Malevito said...

Hi Anonymous, how are you?

I can't presume to know what feels good to anybody except myself and I would never say that any feeling is more "right" or more "advanced" than another. I certainly know dancers that I consider high level who seem to prefer a kind of communication that I find far too subtle for my taste, perhaps something like what you are referring to as "soft and passive."

I'd agree that the manner of embrace probably has a lot to do with the resulting dynamic, although I'm not sure I understand what you mean when you insinuate that a lead that doesn't come from the core is soft and passive. From my experience, oftentimes a lead that doesn't come from the core can come across exactly the opposite, that is, as hard and aggressive. Like the way that many inexperienced leads roughly muscle their partners toward the desired angles with a lot of arm engagement and such, without any hint of direction from their core.

Anyway, thanks for the comment :)

Anonymous said...

MaleVito, thank you for your response. I assumed that we were discussing the relatively advanced dancers here in the States? You are right about the high level ones prefer "soft" (you mean smooth?), yet they prefer tight axis and sharp movements as well. When I wrote word soft, I meant lack of timing and the energy injected into each movement. I like to watch tango danced with more gravity than a floating feather driven to unknown dimention. A good dancer in my eye can lead or follow with clarity, precision and good timing, in addition to sound posture and dancing frame. The energy to each movement should be well controlled with least tension which requires good dissociation and embrace. That gives you the freedom to play with the speed, direction and intensity.

Malevito said...

Hi Anonymous--

I like your analogy of the feather; I think it nicely captures the idea. Although I have to say, there are some people who dance with that kind of lack of "gravity" that I like, especially if I've been watching a lot of very dynamic dancers. It can be a nice change of pace.

All in all, one of the things I really appreciate about tango is that there is room for all manner of approaches and different kinds of excellence. As such, the intention of this post was not meant as a critique but just as a presentation of a phenomenon that I felt warranted exploration and discussion.