Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Followers - what do you wish you'd been told?

From Monday just gone, I am being Demo Lady in the new absolute-beginners' course at the Crypt, Farringdon. Tom, who requires an extra assistant1, seems to think I'll do. [Edit: due to the awkward dates and the website being offline for nine days, I'm no longer required.]

This is quite an adventure for me. I've never done it before. My job is to dance neatly in the demonstrations, to watch the students and dance with them and encourage them and help to work out what their problems are, and I to pipe up if I have something useful to say.

I don't intend to do a lot of talking. I am not qualified to say very much, and I've been on enough conference calls and in enough rambling meetings to know the value of keeping my mouth shut. I said almost nothing on Monday, only pointing out that I was collecting my feet, but not changing weight until it was led, because you can't really see that by watching, and it seemed like the right time to say it.

I want to talk mainly to the followers. I think it's important to them that the Demo Lady talks sometimes. But I'd rather say too little than risk talking balls, because these are absolute beginners and my advice - the quality of which they have no way of evaluating - is more important to them than my experience deserves. If I'm not certain of it, I'm not going to say it at all.

Most have never ever danced before, but some have done one kind or another, such as lindyhop or jive.

So here's a question for you. What, as a follower, is the most important 'obvious' thing you really wish you'd had spelled out to you in week 1? Or what, as a leader, do you really wish had been spelled out to the followers, or repeated more? Or is there anything well-meaning and sort-of-true you were told, that set you off on the wrong track?

What I have in mind so far is:


  • Take whatever step you need to take to stay in front of him at a constant distance.

  • Stand on one foot at a time, with your feet together, but

  • Don't change weight until it's led.

  • Collect your feet when your body (centre of gravity) moves, don't rush.

  • Keep your feet close to the ground.

  • Keep calm.

Practical tips and 'homework':

  • Pick a shirt button at a convenient height and concentrate on it. (In the first few lessons the students start in practice hold, then in an open hold, while they get their balance and so on, then close embrace comes later in the course).

  • Practice standing on one leg with your feet together.

  • Practice walking with your feet close together.

  • Practice walking down the stairs without looking.
Later in the course we'll be giving lots of tips on social dancing, and I have some things in mind for that as well, but for now I just want your feedback about technique.

We started the class with a little demo dance to the lovely slow tango Tom always uses for teaching. It consisted only of elements that the students should be able to do at the end of the course. I must have felt like a little bird for the first few seconds, quivering with nerves, but I just breathed and concentrated on the music and I don't think it showed. Now I think about it, I suppose it was practically a performance. But I wasn't nearly as nervous as I had been six hours earlier, trying to eat my lunch.

1 Michiko is away for some weeks - so Diana is teaching the class with Paul. The website is offline right now - some sort of ISP issue I think - so I'll say here for anyone who needs to know that you can still come and join the beginners' class on Monday 7th April, pay for just that, and then decide whether you want to take the rest of the course. After that it's too late to join this one. The rest of the course is a further 10 weeks and £60. At the Crypt, Farringdon - map here and directions in this post.


Anonymous said...

Good list to start off with, Ms. H. But I would absolutely, positively exhort them to NOT LOOK AT YOUR/HIS FEET!!!!

The minute we start learning to dance, we seem to forget where are our feet are and what they are doing. In tango, more often than not, our feet are doing something very different than our partners'.

The second thing I would encourage them to do is to close their eyes and help them develop their other senses.

msHedgehog said...

I think that's good advice too - that's what I have in mind with the walking down stairs without looking. When you learn to dance you're suddenly thinking about feet so much that you forget they can look after themselves - and walking down an escalator in heels, while brazenly checking the talent going up on the other side, is a great way to persuade your brain that they really can.

Psyche said...

Johanna's point is a really important one, I think - it's cetainly one of the things I always say when I see someone doing it. I tend to go for 'don't look down, look here (pointing roughly where his heart is), that's where the information is'.

Another thing is to encourage them right from the start to suspend judgement - to do exactly what they feel the leader is asking them to do, whether or not they think it's 'right', indeed whether or not it's what *he thinks* he's asking them to do.

What do I wish I'd been told? That there are lots of different ways of dancing tango, and all are right.

msHedgehog said...

@psyche - suspend judgement is a good way of putting it - and I take your last point, although it's probably outside the scope of what I should be saying. Maybe I'd warn people that there's a lot to be heard out there, from a lot of people.

Anonymous said...

I haven't got a clue what you think is wrong with this post. Not being a dancer I realise I'm not your target audience, but still. It seems very sensible to me. N

msHedgehog said...

N, I don't think anything is wrong with this post. Luckily. I'm just not going to be able to use it because the class was too small and they don't need me. As to why it was too small and why I felt foolish, those are other matters.

AJ said...

My analysis is that one should differentiate between "what look good" and "what feels good". I think beginners should concentrate on the latter.

Another one is that some people start an activity like tango to get fit - but the reality is the other way round i.e. one should get fit in order to dance well. I find Pilates very helpful.