Yesterday I went to the Crypt earlier than I usually would because it was Adrian and Amanda Costa, and I wanted to take the class. Unfortunately I still missed the first third, partly because of the rugby, but mainly because I'd forgotten my Tube route was partially down for some scheduled repairs. It would have been rude to join at that point, and it was also extremely full (good thing, too) so I just watched and listened with a cup of tea. But I was told this:
Adrian had started the class by explaining and demonstrating the rhythmic distinction between milonga, tango, and tango-vals, and how to tell the difference.
And I am pretty sure of this:
This simple, necessary information was new to a large proportion of the students, most of whose faces were not new to me, and most of whom had been dancing for more than one year. And important parts of it would have been new to me, too, if I hadn't happened to take that class with Joaquín Amenábar.
Which — is a scandal. And here I cut two paragraphs of rant: but I think it's a scandal and I don't really give a bugger what the excuses are.
So, back to the class. Adrian gives pretty good quotes and I really wished I had a dictaphone, but in running for my train I had neglected to bring even a pencil and paper. So paraphrases of what stuck are the best I can do.
"If the traspié it is there in the music I can choose, to do it or not to do it. If it is not there I cannot do it."(The class was working with a tango here, not a milonga, and by traspié he meant what is usually called "double-time" in English, in the sense of double the number of steps, each of them in half the time.)
The class was asked to dance doing whatever they liked, but mostly just walking, and always doing the double-time only when it was there in the music, not always then, and not otherwise.
And the women were expected to listen, too! Amanda assumed that we could figure out ourselves how to do whatever ornament we liked, and told us to do one for the traspié if and only if the traspié was there but the man didn't put a step in himself. The women were not treated as being there to serve, nor were we treated as lawn ornaments, studying to look as nearly as possible like a tasteful display of identical plastic flamingos. It was assumed without apology or discussion that we were there to learn to dance well, for our own pride and enjoyment; that this was a possible goal; that it was worth attaining, without other justification; that we were capable of attaining it, with some work; and that we wanted to do so. Yay!
Towards the end Adrian made the class stand still and listen again to the entire tango, pointing out that it repeated the same pattern, with the double-time in the same place each time, and a suspension (opposite of a double-time) also in the same place each time, and if you missed it the first time, the ability to count to seven and find the start of the musical phrase gave you numerous other chances. He pointed out that this is very common in tango. There are repetitions following some structure that you can understand and predict with fair reliability if you can count to eight and listen as you do. Yay!!
The class concluded with a rather long lecture, and hardly anybody dropped out. They all appeared to be listening carefully. All of it would, if applied, make anyone who heard it dance better. Yay again!!!
"There are two kinds of dancers, dancers and movers. If I don't know why I am doing what I am doing, I am just moving. If I hear it and I choose to do it, I am dancing, even if I am like this [contortions, posture of an old man]. If I choose not to do it, I am still dancing."That last one reminded me of the class they gave on Friday at Conway Hall, which was about floorcraft, and nothing else.
"If I am this close to him [too close to the man in front] I cannot go here, because he is there. I cannot go here, because the woman is there, and I cannot see. I cannot go this way, because it is a backward step and I cannot see. I have no possibility at all. But if I am this close [leaving a metre of space] I have many possibilities."Yes! It was made explicit that you do not step into the blind spot. You do not step backwards. You leave space, just like on the motorway. You look where you are going, not at the steering wheel. You do not weave from lane to lane. Whenever you learn a new figure, said Adrian, before you make use of it in the milonga, you have to practice it; and when you do that, you find out which way you'll be facing when it ends. If it's any way other than forwards in the line of dance, or if the figure means that you change lanes, step backwards, or step into the blind spot, it's your responsibility to work out how to start it or adapt it so that you don't have to do those things. You can make your salida diagonal so you don't have to cross lanes sideways into traffic. Women were given advice about posture and footwork that helped to keep everything straight and the couple to move with confidence and safety and control.
I know!! Shocking!!!
And the point was this: if everybody follows these rules, it does not matter at all what style you dance — you can do whatever the hell you want, whatever you think is right for the music, whatever appeals to you, because everybody is respecting each other and giving each other enough space and not taking more than their fair share. Everybody gets to share the love. Everybody gets to see what you create. Nobody has to feel restricted. Again, I wish I'd had a dictaphone, because that's what I heard rather than what he said, but you can ask anyone.
The whole class was made, through various exercises, to follow these rules for one dance, and it was a revelation. Everybody had space; the whole room was dancing together, each couple doing its thing, not a chaotic mess of predators competing for territory, but a large gathering of consenting adults there to have fun.
It only lasted five minutes and it instantly fell apart when we tried to do something else as well, but I can only hope those five minutes left an impression on the participants that the skills of basic respect for your fellow dancers were skills worth aspiring to, worth giving some attention, and worth encouraging in other people. And I at least had fewer bumps for the rest of the evening than I usually do there. I think the total was one and a bit.
And since those little rules of thumb sound more complicated than they are, here is a diagram of Adrian and Amanda, with the green arrows showing safe directions and the red dotted line showing the contrary. Suppose that the couple are in the outside lane, the wall or seating is to the right, and the boundary with the inside lane is about where the arrow marked 'line of dance' is. (For example, you can see that they could rotate a little bit to the right about their centre, and walk straight; or they could go the way they're already pointing and zigzag, pivoting at the boundary; or if they took one step in that direction they could then quite safely do a clockwise turn about the woman's axis).
I don't think A&A are coming here again till October, but I hope they do because this sort of teaching, and the sort of dancing they do, raises people's expectations of themselves, of their teachers, and of each other. More, please.
xx Very Stroppy Phase of Moon Hedgehog