Sunday, May 23, 2010

Life is a Tango

It is sometimes said :
"It takes two to tango", "Life is a tango" and "You have not lived life unless you've danced the tango" (to paraphrase).

The saying "It takes two to tango" captures the essence of what latin dancing should be in a social dance setting. It refers to that perfect balance between dancers where there is just that right amount of support from the man to allow his partner to lean in to his frame to execute her moves.
One cannot tango with oneself because of the need for mutual support from the partner in the dance.
If one picture is worth a thousand words, then how much is a video worth I wonder?
I think the best way to demonstrate this perfect balance in the absence of the words that fail me, is to look at the tango in motion.
Click on this  link  to a wonderful tango performed to "La Cumparsita", which shows the intricacy of the footwork and the man's hold, which allows his partner to make those delicate but fully controlled steps which are characteristic of the Argentine tango.

And have a look at this link to see a video of the milonga, which predates the Argentine tango. Milonga is even more amazing to my mind, in the perfection of balance required for the woman to maintain her stance. As you can see she appears to be leaning quite heavily on her partner, while still maintaining her own body weight.

I have tried dancing the Argentine tango but was never able to attain the competence to dance it socially and effortlessly. It's the one dance that I would love to master before I die.
So now I dance salsa which is a lot of fun and does not depend absolutely on perfect balance as does the tango.
There are different stages in the evolution from student to accomplished dancer.
If you are not Latino and born with the rhythm, dancing with your family at events from the time you were a baby, chances are you start the learning process in a school setting.
At the very beginning you struggle just to count the beats in the step. Then rats...they play the music and you have to count beats and step to the music at the same do they expect you to do the two things at once?
And to add to your woes, if you're of the male persuasion you have to learn how to lead (what is that?) and think in advance of what move to do next to keep your partner from feeling bored, or worse yet, giving you that condescending look that says, "So , u'mmm you're on your second lesson, right?"
I am not a guy, but judging from the beads of sweat and pained, but thoughtful expressions I see on the dance floor, I would say that thinking 'what next' while remembering to keep your feet in time to the music is a difficult task for most, if not all beginners.

But fear not men, it's just a matter of time and practice, practice, practice, before you conquer the dance floor and have the ladies lining up to ask you to dance.
Here's how the process works as you persevere in your chosen art form.
In the beginning yes, it is challenging to multitask and coordinate limbs with counting beats and thinking of the next move all at the same time. But as you repeat the steps your neuroplastic brain kicks in to turn on the  autopilot and you'll find your feet begin to move of their own accord, allowing you to actually pay attention to the music.
I can't guarantee that this is how it happens to everyone, but my personal experience is that one day, something just clicks and you find yourself moving in time to the music without thinking of the mechanics of the steps and counting the beats in your head. This is the stage when your brain has learned the steps and your feet move to the rhythm by rote.
At that exquisite turning point my friend, you become a salsa dancer.
It's the moment when you respond to the sheer pleasure of the music and and it tells you what to do. It's as if guys, you don't really have to contemplate what next because your body is on autopilot and you channel the music in your moves.
Believe me, it really happens, so take heart.

Just one word of advice for dancing in social settings.
We dance salsa for many reasons- fun, self expression, unwinding, excitement, meeting new people, a little weight loss perhaps.
The dance is supposed to make you feel good. Then you can go back to your routine work, full of endorphins and ready to take on what your career throws at you.

Salsa dancing for a performance or competition is quite different than dancing for pleasure on the social scene, such as clubs or socials, parties and the like.
Salsa is not about command and control. It's about two people enjoying each other's energies and having fun with movement. When we are now learning it's necessary and important to do the "school moves" because it's a valuable teaching tool to help you execute the steps in time to the music. Also, when learning it does help both partners to know a pattern of steps that's predictable, for if we were not learning a move, we won't necessarily know how to put the steps together to make a pleasing choreographed movement.
However once you have reached that exquisite turning point when you move from learner to dancer, then dance to express the passion in the music.Having learned the school steps feel free to arrange them spontaneously in combinations that please you. And ladies, the best way to follow is to allow the guy to lead you without trying to guess which move he is trying to take you into.
Some guys stick to school steps and others dance spontaneously, so you have to let go of anticipating his moves and begin to just enjoy moving your body to the music and let him take control. I know that's hard, but you can't have two leaders in a dance as you will never move together.

Now here is what distinguishes the accomplished dancer:
Everyone is going to make mistakes in a social setting where you dance with several different partners throughout the event.
But it is how you come back from the mistake right into the rhythm in a smooth movement, that demonstrates how proficient you are. It's not about who is right and who did not follow. Remember this is supposed to be fun!
Men, it is very challenging that you have to know how to lead, as well as think in advance of your next move.
However women also face a different kind of challenge in that every time she changes partners she has to accommodate to the guy's rhythm. Different people have different rhythms while dancing in perfect time to the music. Some have slower, longer motions, others shorter arm reach, some do a lot of waist movement, others don't. Some are a bit more staccato, others more fluid, some sharp, some sensual. And all this is done in time to the same music.
I found that I have to adjust my own natural rhythm, in order to follow some partners. Sometimes you simply have to walk through the steps with the timing , in order to balance your partner's rhythm.

So as men and women, leaders and followers in the dance, we both face a different challenge in a social setting where we continuously change partners. The key to looking accomplished is to cut your
partner some slack. If she moves out of reach or does not go where you intended her to, then it is not ok (unless you are a tutor), to say "No, no, that's not it".
Your proficiency and knowledge becomes apparent when you modify your intended move in a fluid movement.
For example, she did not grab your hand this time around, then catch her on the next step.
Or she took the wrong hand, so allow her to spin and then find the correct hand.
And when the mistakes happen, well that's when you make use of your shine steps. Move apart, show off a bit, then come together again as a couple.

That people, is my two cents on latin dancing for social events!
Here's a nice little salsa video to inspire you. It's unrehearsed and spontaneous and a great example of the accommodation I speak about. Enjoy!:

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