Sunday, 16 November 2008

Geraldine in London, and the single booking

If you were searching for "Geraldine Rojas in London December", like quite a few people are right now, the site you need is tango in action, and you'll see the link to the booking page on the right. Booking is cheaper, and the requirements are more flexible, than last time.

I'm interested in the women's technique class, and I'd expect it to sell out quickly. It also occurs to me that this might possibly be a last-chance-to-see, before the new immigration rules really kick in and make it much more difficult to book visiting teachers who don't have European passports, no matter how eminent. I imagine that Mr and Mrs Paludi don't. So anyway, if you want to take that one, it probably makes sense to get a move on.

I'm also interested in "Variations on Walking Patterns - Different patterns based on walk (inside, outside, parallel walk, crossed walk) (ALL LEVELS)", and in "Fundamental Concepts for Turns (Giros) - various combinations of giros on the left and on the right (INTERMEDIATE)". I want to know what Ezequiel and Geraldine think it's important to say about these subjects, and perhaps you, dear reader, would like to know too. And I'm interested in the Milonga class, for the same reason. The "Fantasia" and advanced classes, not so much.

But for any of those, I would need to arrange the right partner. I would book alone if I could assume that the class would rotate. If it rotates, a follower can at least find out if she has any problems with the material that she needs to fix, and look for advice on how to fix them. If it doesn't rotate, it's very difficult to distinguish her problems from the leader's. If it rotates, the leaders' problems will vary, which is fine; if it doesn't, she might get stuck with someone whose particular quirks or difficulties totally prevent her working on the content of the class at all, or put her on the wrong track. The same problems apply from the leader's point of view, if not so acutely.

But these kinds of classes don't always rotate, and they're even less likely to if most people book in pairs. People get risk-averse, and avoid rotation. To be on the safe side, then, it'd be wise to take someone I can dance a whole class with, without creating new problems for either of us. Ideally, not the same person each time, because then I'm just learning to dance with him, and he is just learning to dance with me, which is no better.

It's a puzzle. Even for the single lady who's lucky enough to have options, it's a puzzle to deal with it.

Or, I suppose, two or three couples taking the same classes might arrange to rotate between themselves even if it's not enforced. I wonder how that would work?

[Update 20th Dec 08: see here for my report on the women's technique class. I also took one of the couple classes, in which there was no rotation and no attempt to rotate.]


Game Cat said...

Ms H,

It may just be me being thick...but why would a couple want to rotate among 2-3 others if they had been comfortable enough to form a dancing partnership in the first place?

I think rotation for the purpose you describe (triangulating weaknesses) is good....but oftentimes I suspect it's used to "even out" the quality of experiences in a class. Strictly streaming classes by merit would be great...but as with schools in this country, it doesn't seem to appeal to many people.

Back to tango, what surprises (and frustrates) me is how difficult it can be to apply "best practice" at a proper milonga. Many people seem happy to go along with whatever watered-down version is majority acceptable at any given milonga.

As for all the ladies who refuse to dumb-down....keep it up!

msHedgehog said...

Hi Gamecat,

What do you mean by a "dancing partnership"?

There are many men I know who I would be comfortable taking a two-hour class with. A few of those men might be available to take a class with me. But I will always learn more if I rotate between two or more of those men, than if I dance with one alone.

Game Cat said...

Ms H,

By "dancing partnership" I mean a couple that have teamed up to practice regularly together (though not necessarily go to milonga together). I see this is different to what you had meant by "couple" (just to attend a 2-hr class).

Perhaps "practicing partnership" would have been more accurate. Regardless of the advantages of rotation, I think at some point having a regular practice partner you are comfortable with, has a similar attitude towards learning and "fits" what you think is optimal (not necessarily what you currently are). You can improve on difficult things and experiment in a relatively safe environment (esp for leaders), which is not always feasible in a rotating partner situation.

Game Cat said...

That said, another advantage of rotation (at least for me) is that it helps me identify the few really key things a leader should keep constant regardless of who the follower is.

Perhaps there is no objective optimal way to lead, and that one should always adapt. But I like to think so because it is something I can visualise and aim for, and hence progress. An implication is that there are just some followers I will never be able to dance comfortably with, no matter how good they are, because I don't want to adapt/ compromise something I think is right.

Does anybody think that is uncool?

ghost said...

@game cat
"An implication is that there are just some followers I will never be able to dance comfortably with, no matter how good they are, because I don't want to adapt/ compromise something I think is right."

I think this is just one of those things about tango. Even if you do compromise it won't feel comfortable to you because you're compromising so it's a no-win situation.

Course it's worth checking occassionally that you actually are right ;o)

koolricky said...

Hi gamecat:

I actually think you got it. 1) it makes you less likely to accommodate to your partner, therefore acquiring bad habits and 2) keeps the essence of social dance even in classes, therefore preparing you better for the milonga.
I would love to take the workshops but can't do that weekend. Wish it was the following weekend, I am going to be in London by then!

msHedgehog said...

It definitely is a bonus to have a regular practice partner. But it's much more important for leaders. Followers can get on fine just by dancing with as many people as possible, making the odd note and seeking feedback in classes. For leading I don't think I would feel that was enough, especially at first. I've only ever led in a few beginners' classes, but it was immediately obvious to me that I would really want some relaxed hours of free practice and experimentation with a patient friend, just to convert the instructions to a body memory I felt I could use.

The problems of leader and follower are not symmetrical, and that creates problems for teachers in organising and structuring classes.

I don't think it's uncool. It's just the way things are. More skill gives more choices, but not everyone suits everyone, just like Johanna was saying last week. As ghost said - only repeated experiment will tell.

I've often been told that followers should NOT compromise. Does the same logic apply to the leaders? What would that even mean? Again, the intention to may be symmetrical, but the situation is not.

ghost said...

Regarding compromise. The solution seems to be a combination of patience, cabeceo and familiarity. You need to know ahead of time that the person you're going to dance with is going to give you a pleasureable dance. So either you've watched them dancing or you've danced with them before.

Where things get tricky is when someone asks you because you happen to be the closest available person at the time.

I think leaders have more options about not compromising than followers, simply because we can chose what to lead. If a follow locks her arm in place on the leader's bicep during ochos he can simply chose not to lead further ochos on her. The great strength of tango is that you can lead simple walking for the whole tanda.

Followers I think are a bit more vulnerable. It's much easier for a leader to mess with the follower's axis, balance, timing; to give mixed messages, or even signals which indicate that the follow should do something either involving gymnastics or physically impossible. So I'm inclined to say that if a follow finds themselves in a dance that isn't comfortable, she's probably better of focussing on getting through it rather than worrying about technique and form, which weren't designed to take that kind of "leading" anyway. Compromise as much as necessary. Then say "thank-you" and leave.

Actually I'd say the same advice applies to leaders too. I've danced with women who were doing a lot of random ganchos and I was far more concerned with not being injured that my form.

Game Cat said...

All - Thanks for your comments.... it's good to know I'm not alone!

Ghost - I feel your pain dude... self-activating ganchos = russian roulette + songs that last forever. My current pet peeve is the "no-lead giro": you don't lead but the lady still goes on her own! Perhaps, to paraphrase a familiar quote badly, this lady really isn't for turning.

Ms H - It's an interesting question "what if leaders and followers don't compromise"? Well assuming:

1) No mate selection pressure as described in your review of a tango talk.

2) Followers and leaders have randomly distributed interpretations of what tango should be like, but the total set of materially distinct interpretations is finite.

3) Fs and Ls do not/ rarely compromise with their partner selection.

4) Over a given period of time, Fs and Ls will interact with all of each other in the same venues, and can observe each other.

Then the world could end up with networks (or cliques?) of Fs and Ls that constantly seek each other and dance only with each other. Moreover, the outcome is symetrical and stable.

Proof? Perhaps that is why during the "golden age" of tango the art fragmented into its many forms of today (e.g. nuevo, t d salon). Maybe that's why Negracha vs Carablanca feel so different (or Corrientes vs Crypt).

msHedgehog said...

With Corrientes vs Crypt, for me, it's a matter of transport. I can get to the Crypt - I can't get to Corrientes, or rather, I can't get home without excessive sacrifice of sleep.

I'm interested to hear about the auto-giro; followers are widely, explicitly taught, as beginners, that when a turn 'starts', they should keep going forward-back-side-forward 'until stopped'. I personally think that ignoring that advice works much better than following it, but I daresay it's all about what you think 'start' and 'stop' mean.

ghost said...

My current understanding about auto-giros is that certain movements beget certain movements simply by virtue of their dynamics. So once a leader starts a giro it's quite natural to keep it going. So if the lead wants to do something else he needs to make it very clear to the follow and not just suddenly do something else at the last moment. So the leader should be still be leading each step of a giro and the follow should be following each step. If the leader isn't leading the next step he's effectively "stopped"; it's just that the convention is that if he wants to stop he should lead this (and presuambly then lead her to remain stationary if that what he wants) clearly rather than simply stop leading as the second is rather confusing to the follower.

What seems to go wrong with some followers is that they partially disconnect from the leader. Once they start the giro they're listening for the "clear change" to do something else and in doing so get selective deafness to the actual lead for the giro. The problem with this is that once the leader reaches a certain point, they can feel the loss of connection. No two giros are exactly the same. There's tiny differences each time. If the follow is auto-giroing she doesn't pick up on these nuances.

Foxy said...

Gamecat mentioned "the "no-lead giro": you don't lead but the lady still goes on her own!"
Isn't that the problem - the leader doesn't lead (most leaders in London lead only intermittently, or they lead part of a movement but not the finish) so the follower feels compelled to fill the vacuum with something. Or she is too impatient or too nervous to wait. So the leader is unable to lead anything at that point and lets her go by herself. Or he thinks he led the movement she's doing so doesn't learn how to lead it. So there are ever more gaps for his partners to fill. And so it gets worse...

ghost said...

@Game Cat
The more I think about your idea of tangoistas gravitating to their own creating new styles the more I like it.

@Foxy - Yup makes sense.

There is a balancing act with leading in that the leader to a degree is also following. What I mean is the leader invites the follow to do a step, but he then has to "follow" slightly what she actually does rather than just assume that because he's led xyz it will be followed. She may decide to decline or partially decline the invite for floorcraft reasons for example, such as keeping a boleo on the floor.

I also wonder if there is a "lie to children" aspect, eg teaching beginner follows to auto-giro to make it easier for the leaders to get to grips with it. Then when they get to intermediate you tell them both that now it has to be lead and followed. But at intermediate, leaders start learning all manner of things to do in a giro, and so the auto-giro lie is preserved by some for a bit longer.

Personally I reckon it's less hassle to learn how to do a giro properly before trying to tack things on it. Different teachers seem to favour different approaches.

And of course there's the auto-cross....

Game Cat said...

Ghost and Foxy - "leaders have to follow" and "leaders are not leading" - both observations I agree with!

So in summary I think we are saying that:

1) Followers should only follow when being led. Which is what Ms H is doing. Keep it up PLEASE. I'll die happy :)

2) Leaders must actively lead every step of the giros.


I think we are also agreeing that the root cause is simply that leaders did not learn to lead it and followers to only follow (hence the temptation to "fill the vaccuum" with what's "expected" of the follower). To some extent imperfect teaching is to blame, but then again, beginners may not yet be equipped at that stage to assimilate and act on that information even if they are fed it.

What can we do about it? 2 suggestions:

1) As a leader, something that works for me is mixing up the type of entry/exit, the number of turns, the tempo, or all the above. After the first two/three, the follower realises that she HAS to follow or risk being caught out. She may also think you're deliberately sadistic ;)

2) For followers, I suggest thinking of giros as just...walks. And more followers learn to follow walks than giros. The suggestion in this video is pretty good.

I have enjoyed this dialogue a lot so THANKS to everyone. Personally I love giros as I think they are a perfect microcosm of tango. It's like holding a miniature globe in your hand and knowing that it's real. And I haven't yet fully explored all its oceans, peaks and valleys.

ghost said...

Pretty much agree with one caveat.

"To each their own."

What you've described is what we want. However I respect the right of a leader or follow who doesn't want to spend years learning how to walk and wants to use shortcuts so they can dance socially such as relying on auto-giros.

But I reserve the right not to dance with them if I don't want to.

Trying to catch out follows however is a dangerous game and not one I'd recommend. They have sharp pointy things that can "accidentally" end up in all manner of painful places. And I don't really feel it's in the spirit of tango. I know MsH has all manner of strategies for leads who try to verbally correct her while dancing and so I suspect that physically trying to correct a follow would not be appreciated.

I also feel teachers should be a bit more up front about what it is that they're teaching, be it "Learn to dance tango in 5 easy lessons" or "Learn to dance tango in 7 difficult years" so that follows who do want to learn how to do it properly don't get stuck auto-giroing because that's what they were taught and so understandably think is correct.

But yeah, leaders who lead + followers who follow = wonderful tango!

Foxy said...

You asked if we agree:
1) Followers should only follow when being led.
Yes. If nothing is being led, the follower should not move her weight. She should be in an active state of readiness, trying to tune in to the leader's energy & intentions, while expressing her feeling for the music. So that doesn't mean she should be standing there like a statue or someone waiting for the bus to come.

2) Leaders must actively lead every step of the giros.
No, not exactly. Leaders must actively lead the movement of the turn all the way until it's complete. Followers should follow the dynamic of the leader's body turning, so it should be clear when the turn is complete because the rotation slows down and the direction changes. The follower should understand the principles of turning, ie how to walk around the leader when he is turning, so she doesn't need every step to be led.
Usually the turn works better when the follower isn't thinking about her steps, but rather feeling the movement of the leader's body.

That isn't autogiro - far from it - but maybe it's sometimes taught like that as a shortcut by a teacher whose grasp of technique is not profound, or perhaps as an exercise at a very early stage when leaders need to get the feel of having a follower turn around them and followers need to practice the steps. If understood as an exercise it could be useful - but not as the key to good following.

Hope that makes sense. Do we still agree?

ghost said...

Obvious question - what if the leader wants to lead a giro as forward - side - forward rather than forward - side - back?

A follow who's auto-giroing won't do it (I'm assuming the leader doesn't use brute force), whereas a follower who's following will.

Game Cat said...

Ghost, Foxy - all valid and subtle points which I accept.

I think I may have miscommunicated what I meant by "actively lead", more in tone than content.

Ghost - I certainly did not want to convey that it's about "catching out" people who don't follow. And absolutely no verbal/ physical "corrections", even when things aren't going well. Rather the intent is for the leader to indicate that he is not sticking to a pattern, so that the follower will be more inclined to listen to the lead. The giros should be a fluid, spontaneous, living thing.

Foxy - I agree with both your points. Instead of "every step" I should have said "every part of the journey that makes up the giros". Your point about using the dynamic of the turning to lead is interesting, and I do notice too that followers who take and use that dynamic rather than focus on the actual steps tend to follow beautifully.

Leading is a tough job - I think we need every asset we have to lead well - chest, arms, dynamic. Mixing a balance of all three into a coherent and timely signal to the follower, while making it feel effortless is the challenge. I think if one gets that right, and the follower is listening, then Ghost's forward-side-forward will work ( and that's not catching out, Ghost? :) ).

ghost said...

@ Game Cat
Sounds like my cup of tea :o) It's putting all the elements together into a "fluid, spontaneous, living thing" that for me makes tango come alive.

Catching out follows with tricky giros, moi? Nah, it's something I'd only lead if I was sure the follow would follow it smoothly and it made sense within the dance.

Anyway I sometimes follow so I'm wary of "what goes around comes around".

The "sharp pointy things" is a quote from a lady who was getting a bit fed up with some of the other leaders at the venue....and she's not the only person I've heard expressing such thoughts!

Sophie said...

Hi Ms Hedghhog and feloow pricklers

Tango in Action are keen to make this series of workshops a success for everyone, and this is why this time around booking is not restricted to couples.

Henceforth couples rotation will be enforced in the workshops, although those who have come to work specifically with their partner will be invited to mention it at the beginning so they can be lef alonet.

An even number of partners will be booked so provided everyone show up, the rotation should take place in a manner that enables everyone to dance with different partners and identify what works or doesn't.

Don't hesitate to contact Stefano or Alexandra with questions such as these at

Best wishes,
on behlaf of Tango in Action (currently in Action in Greece...)

msHedgehog said...

Hi Sophie,

"Pricklers", I love that! :-D

It's really good to hear about that plan. I assumed because rotation hadn't been used before it wouldn't be used this time, so it hadn't occurred to me to ask. I might book additional workshops now with that knowledge.

I hope they are having a great time in Greece and it's nice and warm - you can tell them from me that they have produced some really nice leaders on the London scene. So much the better for Greece.

Foxy said...

I like your question - what if the leader wants to lead a giro as forward - side - forward rather than forward - side - back?
The leader can do this by adjusting the relative space between himself and the follower on each side.
So if he is turning left, when F steps cross forward L, the couple need to reduce the space between them on her L side and his R side, while increasing the space between them on the other side. When F steps side R, they return to the normal embrace with hips facing facing each other. If, as F moves her weight onto her R foot, L again closes the space between them on his R side and her L side and opens the other side, she cannot cross backwards as her L side is unable to swing away from him. It is blocked. So the only option she has - if she is to keep moving with him in the turn- is to cross forward into the space he has offered.
If it is well led, even an "auto-giroing" follower would be hard put not to follow- she would really have to struggle against the embrace to rotate her L hip backwards.
In fact in a normal turn where F is dancing forward, side, back, a good leader will be adjusting the space between the couple on each side with every step, so in a very subtle way he is leading each step by changing the shape of the embrace. It is subtle, and I think it's not so much a lead that shows F where to place her feet (she should not need that), its rather that L is indicating the speed of the rotation. In this way he can vary the timing from the usual to eg all double-time steps or all slow.

ghost said...

Hi Foxy,
Yup that's a perfectly reasonable way of approaching it. That's the problem with defining tango, "how" you do something very much depends on what it is you want to acheive.

So for me personally
a)I have to be doing something with my body while I'm doing a giro, so figure I may as well put it in the right places for leading the steps so that everything is congruent.

b) I like the connection of leading everything bar adornments (forget leading a "step" - I love it when you can feel every motion in her body that goes into making a step)

c) I like leading each step because it gives me more floorcraft options for "sudden" occurances.

But that's me. It's like leading three steps backwards in a row. I played around for a long time of whether it felt more comfortable to lead them as three consecutive steps or to lead it as one complete movement.

At the moment I'm working with an idea from Alexander technique
"one at a time and all together" - which I think is what Gamecat's describing.

I may change my mind again as I gain more understanding both of tango and how I personally want to express my tango though.

Johanna said...

I've been reading along and just wanted to add a couple of 'pence-worth :-)

Regarding the rotation aspect of workshops, it is always a good idea to especially for leads do so occasionally, even if you have a steady partner. There is a tendency to get "lazy" about clear leading because of familiarity with the "regular". It is always a surprise when one's regular partner is able to execute certain steps, and strangers have no idea what is being asked of them.

That being said, the benefits of taking a class together is to be able to practice it later. But perhaps a partnership can agree to rotate for a portion of the class, just to see how the step feels with someone else, then compare notes.

As for auto-giros, they can result from both an obtuse follower, or a lead who is unclear.