Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The Free Leg - as in Speech, or Beer?

Here's another one that came out of an interesting conversation with a dance partner.

I would like you to have a look at something. At 02:35 in this video, there is curious move. The leader grabs the follower's free leg with his own and forcibly moves it to a new position. In this case it's a long way from where it started, because he's also moving himself and taking her with him. Because these two dancers are very skilled, and it's all about balance and timing, there's probably a lot less force in this than it looks like; but as far as I can tell he's really lifting her leg and putting it down somewhere new.

What I would like you to do is watch this as much as you need to, to decide on your personal aesthetic response to this move. It's probably fairer to watch the whole thing, to see it in context. Do you like the way it looks, and if so, in what way? Can you execute anything that works like this? Would you consider attempting any version in social dancing? How would you, as a follower (men, please imagine) feel, supposing it was used on you in a social context? 02:35.

After you've watched it and decided on your responses as much as it suits you to do so, scroll down and I'll tell you mine, and we can see whether they're the same.


I say it looks awkward, tyrannical, and ugly. It makes the woman look like a servant and a toy. The way I feel about it is, I hope she got well paid.

What's happening here is that he grabs her free leg and pulls it somewhere. She is standing on the other one, therefore, while it happens, she is trapped. I've had people try this on me quite a few times, with varying degrees of skill and success, and it is a deeply unpleasant experience. The kind that makes me ask myself why on earth I would want to dance well if the result is being expected to put up with this sort of thing. It is like saying out loud, so everyone present can hear, “I can violate your dignity and throw you around as much as I want, and it's entirely your fault for dancing with me. You've already said yes, so don't you dare turn round and start saying there are limits. What do you think you are, an equal? You're just here to help me look powerful and clever.” When people try any kind of leg-trap on me, it irritates me in rather the same way as the bus-stop advert outside my office with a police badge on it, informing the women of London that if they get in unlicensed minicabs they should expect to get raped. It's logically defensible, but it doesn't enhance my lunch.

I don't mind what consenting adults do if it floats their boats. But in social dancing, the leader gets to do what floats his boat, and he has to make assumptions about what floats hers. I think that any interference with the freedom of her free leg (I am not talking ganchos or boleos here, they use the freedom and don't interfere with it), is well beyond the reasonable scope of any such assumption. It is disrespectful, and should be kept for performances and people who disagree with me. Doubtless they exist, and probably in London, as do a surprising variety of things.

I think that the woman's free leg should always belong to her. It is free as in “free speech”, not free as in “free beer”. I avoid leaders who wrap their legs around me in social dancing. Instinctively, I'd quite like to knee them in the balls; but that would be violence, so I refrain. I can think of maybe one or two who dance so extremely well, and do some mild variation so very quickly and gently, with such perfect timing and balance, that I'll dance with them anyway. But I still far prefer it when they leave it out.

If you teach a move like this, and have any respect for your students whatsoever, I think it is your professional duty to at least give an explicit opinion on its suitability, or not, for social dancing. And you probably ought to follow more.

My apologies to the innocent, skilled, and professional dancers in this video (I think the leader is Pablo Veron, don't know who the woman is) and my thanks for their assistance in illustrating this rant. My thanks also to Ghost for the video tip, and to one who shall remain nameless for promising not to do it again.

Something more positive in the works, I promise.


cindy said...

oh! i had not seen this since i first saw the film, a couple of years ago, when i first started dancing... i didn't have to get anywhere *near* 2:35 to have a strong reaction to what i see, which is... ugh!! i don't care if it's pablo veron, he is throwing her around (or, moving so fast as to completely disregard her, same thing) in a way that looks nothing but extremely unhappy to me.
i've seen the 'foot hook' (rather than sweep) used lower down, on the follower's ankle, as well, and i hope no one ever tries it with me. :(
i suppose in the best of all worlds that move (like others) is really more of an illusion- that is, he's leading you to move that foot anyway, and his foot isn't actually forcing yours anywhere, but still....

[she is geraldine rojas, de paludi now i believe]

ModernTanguera said...

I do not, at all, like that particular move for social dancing. Now, I am not entirely against the leader doing things with the follower's free leg, but what I do not like is the fact that he throws her leg, which she is then wrapping as he leans. I do not like being forced into a leg wrap or a lean with a leader on a social dance floor (unless I have specifically practiced and approved said moves with a leader in a practice setting). I want the choice to resist wrapping or to step out of a lean.

I dance fairly regularly with one advanced leader who takes some leg-trapping, leg-manipulating moves from El Pulpo's repertoire. When executed smoothly, these are fine with me. But I know this leader quite well ... the same moves done by a less-experienced or less-familiar leader are largely unwelcome. I don't like the idea that my balance is entirely at his mercy, that I do not have control over my own body. I very, very much like the concept of leaders inviting the follower and the follower deciding to accept that invitation, not the leader forcing the follower into anything.

I am ok with some amount of manipulation of my free leg as long as it is with a familiar leader, though. I am ok with non-trapping moves - like a leader using his free foot to move my free foot along the floor. Basically, as long as it doesn't use much force, it leaves me free to move away, it doesn't jolt me or get our legs/feet caught up ... and I do have a lot more openness to leaders trying other things if we talk about and/or practice them (i.e. if they get my explicit permission to try them out).

msHedgehog said...

@Cindy - aha, perhaps it is Mrs. Paludi - I've never had a good view of her face before. If it is, then that's a pretty strong argument against this choreography; it could just as well be just some poor hardworking chick from the ballet, and I wouldn't be able to tell.

@ModernTanguera - explicit consent is everything here. But some people will always infer, because you do some scary move with a friend and regular dance partner, you are happy to do it with an unknown, too. Of course that doesn't follow - but unless you do regularly follow, maybe there's no 'of course' about it.

And you are right, I was too sweeping and should have made it explicit that a barrida is OK - there he just invites me to step, and the push with his foot is largely an illusion (a pull with his foot being obviously 100% illusion). It is all about autonomy. We can step out of leans. I, also, dislike it when people insist upon leg wraps - just not as much as I dislike this.

If we convince one person to be a bit more cautious, we have done a Good Thing.

Limerick Tango said...

The move at 2:35 is consistent with the entire dance, and there is the rub. The entire piece is danced with a power and an energy that is distinctive of Veron. You can see the fantastically powerful chest lead. But that is Veron. I know someone who has danced with Veron and that what she says, he has an energy. He is a Cyd Charisse. When you’ve danced with him, you stay danced with, to paraphrase Fred Astaire. The violation does not occur at 2:35 but at 0:05. But then one woman's tossed about rag doll is another's swept along in a wave of power. Unfortunately the camera work focuses in on the feet for this move. Had it taken in the couple you would see that it is not a hoik with the feet but that the energy comes from the chest. Her foot was going where it ended up regardless of what he did with his foot.

The problem with people trying to replicate a step like this, especially in a social setting, is lack of consistency. Just inserting Veron move no.5 randomly in a dance without establishing the energy or context required beforehand is... well it's just wrong and it's just not tango. But that is always going to be the problem where people continue to dance other peoples steps and not their own.

Johanna said...

The young lady in question is Geraldine Rojas. Both she and Pablo are incredibly skilled dancers, but I feel that they are not connecting to each other in this performance. Geraldine does, in fact, look rushed.

I actually like hook we are discussing - it is creative and dynamic, and to me looks more like a dramatic extension of a very high sacada than any sort of entrapment :-). He sets her leg in motion and then changes where it lands - on his hip rather than lower down. But it is most definitely a show step and does not belong on a crowded milonga floor.

Regardless, I would not object to having it (and other free leg movements) done to me under the following conditions:

1. There is no one else on the dance floor.

2. The leader is very skilled and has already taken the time to assess my abilities.

One of my favorite things in Tango is the process of discovery between two complete strangers; when I feel I am riding with Mario Andreti*, he can race around the track to his heart's content. The more complex we are able to get with each other, the deeper the level of trust, and thus connection, develops. (It is not necessary for me to have this complexity in order to experience Nirvana, but I do so enjoy it when it happens, which is VERY rarely.)

*in Tango terms, that means awareness of others on the dance floor, musicality, making dance decisions with me in mind and not just the music, etc.