Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Wheeee! (boleos)

You can lead high boleos all you like if we're at Portland Place at 9pm and there's nobody else in the room. Or just two couples on the other side.

When they go with the music, and they're well led, they're, Wheeeeee!!

I don't add any force of my own, at least not that I'm aware of, but my technique has improved dramatically just recently, so if you lead them successfully you can get quite big ones in most directions. It's actually quite difficult not to do them, ‘cause when the lead works they're not exactly a voluntary thing. It's nice to be able to relax and let them happen.

Anyway, I was thinking about this partly because of what people were saying about the painful and embarrassing consequences of un-led boleos and ganchos in comments to a previous post. And also because, while I was making an effort to improve my technique, I'd been worrying about whether I'd stiffened up and got scared to do boleos and consequently couldn't do them when it was safe. Anyway I checked with my teacher, and then I found on Sunday that I could adjust to the conditions and just let fly, so that was fine.

But, thinking about it, I do wonder if I can make a partial guess as to why people do un-led ones.

The fact is that boleos are rather difficult to lead well. That means that even if you go to a group intermediate class where they're taught, it's very unlikely that you will experience even one single example of a lead that would actually produce a high boleo on a follower with decent free leg technique. Especially if the teacher doesn't take care to lead it at least two or three times on every follower in the class (or he can't actually lead them well, either - perfectly plausible in some places and situations). And even if you do experience it, your body also has to be ready for it, and you have to have the free leg thing more or less sussed, to get a good result.

If you hadn't yet been to a class where they were taught, you might not even realise that they could be led at all. You might just see them and think they were put in by the follower independently, rather than being an organic part of the dance. Even more so if a lot of the ones you'd seen genuinely were un-led, because the people doing them, who you as a beginner naturally assumed to be good dancers, didn't actually know how to lead or follow them either.

(Remember I'm talking about London here, where there are lots and lots of people trying to learn tango, longing to learn tango, with absolutely no map and no access to any kind of thought-out overview of what it is. Just little bits and bobs of information, little dollops of technique and movement and disconnected partial explanations week by week.)

Either way I think you could be very fairly forgiven for concluding that although there may be some sort of weak indication from the leader, a boleo is mostly created by the follower, deliberately or habitually moving her leg in a learned way. It would be a conclusion very well supported by your personal experience. It would also be, in my view, Very Wrong and entirely at odds with any aesthetic or functional conception of Argentine tango that I could possibly see as coherent, and I think it would do a lot of damage to the technical possibilities of your dance; but it wouldn't be a stupid or unreasonable conclusion, and it wouldn't be contrary to the evidence available to you.

Now you may say that it flies in the face of common sense, because no-one has eyes in the back of her head. But common sense is a great betrayer; and it's mostly based on what you see coming from people you think should know better than you.

All of the above is even more true of ganchos. They're very hard to lead.

24 comments:

Game Cat said...

What a coincidence.

At a class today, I just received new information on boleos ("bits and bobs" in your description), that completed more of the puzzle. I'm beginning to see the picture....or at least a different picture. Ish.

I can lead it better in some ways than others, and started trying different ways (much to my dancing partner's bemusement). Need to test and practice more.

The most important thing I took away is that it is a useful means to learn how to lead subtly and with good timing, while not disturbing her axis. An excellent practica exercise that will have spillover benefits to all leading in general.

The prospect of using it in a milonga is slim - you need a loose-legged follower, relaxed, connected and recognises a subtle lead. If the last two leaders she was with were bad, she'll need a couple of songs to get back into "shape".

ghost said...

@MsH - I agree with what you've written. Glad you're having fun :o)

A few more thoughts

You "learn" a boleo as a follower this week. It can be weeks or quite likely months till you do that boleo again. To confuse things you may learn different boleos in the meantime.

If you learnt it as a leader your main chance to "practice" it is in milongas - opps.

If boleos were taught in the lesson before the freestyle, followers who did the class are much more likely to do them to anything that remotely resembles the lead :S

When learning it a follower's attention is usually in the wrong place - her foot - rather than maintaining her axis. A leader's attention is in any of a dozen places and so is fairly doomed also.

Not only should the teacher lead them on the followers three times, they should lead them on the leaders five times! And the leaders should get a go at leading them on the teacher.

Trying to learn / lead boleos on someone who doesn't have a decent axis is an exercise in mascohism.

Lastly boleos shouldn't be taught as a sequence. Just embrace the follower. Make sure you know which foot her weigh is on. The follower's job is purely to maintain her axis. Lead tiny pivots back and forth. Concentrate on not disrupting her axis. Once that's down suggest the follower collects her ankles in the middle.

Learning by doing them at the end of a giro - Meh!

msHedgehog said...

Yeah. You can use them at 33pp though, if you're early, there was really nice music and I had the downstairs floor practically to myself with two different partners for at least half an hour. I think a lot of it is timing, yes. Mine are working better than before because I've got a lot more 'grounded', that being the thing I'd specifically asked my teacher to help me with. Probably that means my axis got thinner and easier to find.

I don't know if it's subtle, exactly, but it doesn't exactly require force either. I feel that the leaders it really works with tend to be well 'grounded' themselves, by which I mean that I feel I know exactly where they are and that they're securely balanced, and it seems very easy - it's very difficult not to do it - but has a lot of zip.

msHedgehog said...

I was also thinking of the thing where my left leg whips around his right leg in such a way that if he's not careful my heel will make contact with the back of his other knee. I don't know what to call that, but from my point of view it's exactly the same thing, just in a different direction and with an obstruction (his right leg) in the way.

ghost said...

Subtlety is knowing the mechanics. Where do both dancers feet and axis need to be? At what point do you "interupt" the movement? How sharply, what energy? How do you control the height? How do you interupt a boleo into a second boleo of different speed / size etc. How good are the dancers posture and embrace? Do you need to change the embrace - how, when?

And so on.

"And the more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought Id figured out
I have to learn again
Ive been trying to get down
To the heart of the matter
But everything changes"
~ Don Henly

Enganche? Standard lead is during the sidestpe of a giro. Your leg envelops his but then flows off to complete the step rather than staying hooked on.

Johanna said...

A boleo is the result of an interrupted ocho - whether led forward or backward. The counter-lead in mid step creates the opportunity for the follow to adorn the interruption by "fanning" the free leg - either very high or low to the ground. It is a question of choice and is absolutely controllable - or should be - and we need to make sure we keep them low to the ground when there are other folks on the floor.

In addition, they are not only a fun element to decorate our footwork, they are a very useful tool for the lead, who can use the interrupted movement to abruptly change directions in a crowded situation. The interruption does not require the free leg to flair.

msHedgehog said...

That's one example. I'm using it in a broader sense, perhaps not technically correct. I have in mind quite a range of movements that use the free leg. Yeah, you can squash them, but it does violence to the connection so it's nice not to have to now and then.

ghost said...

@Johanna - there's also a lovely version where the interuption comes at the end of the step. Possibly the one safe way to do a high boleo as it's much slower. Course there's still the possibility of someone running into your heel...

@MsH - there's an argument (that so far all the teachers I've asked have agreed with) that a gancho is a boleo. The difference is the relative placement of the leader. Which probably partly explains why ganchos aren't on the whole led well either. It took me ages to realise how important the relative position of the follower's hips and torso are in these moves. Generally, I point her bum where I want her foot to go ;o)

msHedgehog said...

@ghost, I agree with that argument too. From my point of view it's exactly the same thing. The reason why it's an unusually hard-to-lead one is, I suppose, the relative position the leader has to be in. You have to be exactly right to get any significant momentum. That's why most people's results are disappointing.

David Bailey said...

Good stuff, nice comments:

@Johanna:
"A boleo is the result of an interrupted ocho - whether led forward or backward."
- I like those ones, but I think that's just one class of boleo.

In theory, I imagine you can lead / invite a boleo any time you do a pivot, simply by providing extra energy or space (or both) to the pivot.

@Ghost - might be worth re-reading this:
http://www.jivetango.co.uk/GhostGuide/Boleos.html
- does that still all make sense to you?

David Bailey said...

On the "boleos are led" thing - I reckon that's true, but that there's also an opportunity for the follower to interpret that lead, by amplifying, accepting, or dampening the extra energy provided in the pivot.

I also think that the reason boleos are seen as hard is that they require the follower to have a "free" free leg - typically, a follower who doesn't will dampen down that energy unconsciously.

ghost said...

@MsH Yup. There's two problems to leading them. First you have to know what the positions are. Second you have to know how to get into them - that's what mucks up most ganchos, the preceeding move simply hasn't aligned the woman properly (usually she hasn't been pivotted around enough) or the guy is effectively blocking her from where she needs to step to start the gancho.

@DB Yep still makes sense especialy this bit

Interrupting a linear line and pulling it into an arc to reverse the direction. (In actuality you can't move the body in linear lines so it's more redirection of an arc by adding a loop to it).

Though I think I'll go on about axis a lot more in the next version ;o)

Just to complicate / simplify things even more :devil: you can also lead a front boleo off a normal backstep. There's an adornment where the lady crosses her front foot at the ankle as she steps back but instead of weight-changing as in the cross, she simply uncrosses and resolves the back-step. To my amazement this is leadable.

So basically a follower can do a boleo pretty much whenever she's led to step or pivot - and as tango is pretty much leading either steps or pivots....

Likewise followers can put in castigadas all over the show.

Johanna said...

I forgot to mention my bit and bob about ganchos. 90% of the time, the lead does not have his to-be-ganchoed leg anywhere near the correct position. To guarantee a gancho from the follow, his leg must touch hers (upper thigh to upper thigh for really big ganchos, just above the back of the knee for lower ganchos). This guarantees that there is enough room for my leg and it's stiletto to whip through safely. Any lead whose leg position crosses below the follow's knee will never get a gancho, but places him/herself in danger of getting hurt.

msHedgehog said...

@ghost - what do you mean to your amazement? Of course it's led. ;) I could make a movement similar to that, as a musical accent, as part of something else, but I wouldn't normally do so there, because it's too likely to result in a trip. If you think I do, it's because you lead them accidentally. 'Castigada' - I had no idea what that meant so had to google it, but yes that's led too, and I think it looks very, very ugly and mechanical if it isn't.

@Johanna - I agree. I usually think the problem is not so much that their leg is too low but that it is too far away, and they've totally failed to lead the back step into it.

londontango said...

IMO, most men do not know how to lead a voleo properly. Most of the time I realise that someone tried to lead it but didn't wait for me. In any event, it wasn't led properly. I will sometimes do them on my own if I know there is enough space to do so and I do it in a pause or an accent to the song. It is hard to explain as it feels a natural thing to do in the moment. I am at that stage in my Tango that I don't think about it or analyse it. I just feel it and do it, but not very often as I don't want to hurt anyone.

ghost said...

@Johanna - ekk, yup. Best case scenario the follower does an enganche or boleo instead, though it does depend on how she's aligned. In theory there should be a graceful rockstep way out, but I've yet to see it. Medium(?) case scenario the women twists around a bit to reposition, can look ok, though often wrecks her posture and looks messy. Worst case scenario, random kick into the leader ouch. Sensible outcome if the boleo / enganche won't work cleanly - do nothing and smile sweetly at him.

@MsH - lol. Well let's just say I reckon 99% on a social dance floor of the time it's an unled adornment. But no, you don't do them :o) Sure castigadas can be led, but again I reckon they're usually in the self-led category. I've deliberately tried not leading them with no success with some women. Yup, it's hard to say where "too far away" is because the sweet spot varies depending on exactly what you're doing, but it's a precision measured in inches rather than to the nearest foot.

@Londontango - agreed; unfortunately most men haven't had it led on them both well and badly and so don't experience what you're talking about. Good to meet you last week too :o)

OwenMc said...

Johanna: is that 90% of the times that a gancho is led? :-)

I ask, 'cos 90% of the times that a follower ganchos me it's not been led at all - which does make it hard to get me leg in the right place!
Some folk seem to use it as an optional decoration...

Back to Boleos though - usually I can lead 'em, but Sunday I got caught out by not expecting to lead it, but must have 'cos an excellent follower 'returned' from the backward ocho step as if it was a boleo, to meet me, stock still - one of those 'knee meets soft fleshy parts' moment.....

Guess I'd better go work on my lead some more.....

msHedgehog said...

@Owen - no - find out why they're doing it first. Did they think it was led? Or did they think it wasn't supposed to be? Enquiring minds want to know.

Johanna said...

@ghost - since ochos are, in essence, a pivot, we are both right. I'm not sure what you mean by a boleo at the end of a pivot, but I'm sure I've done it without knowing :-)

@owenMc - I meant poorly led 90% of the time. Either the lead's leg is nowhere near enough to mine for me to feel it, or it's below my knee so it's impossible to flick my foot backwards without also taking him down. I have received what might possibly have been interpreted (with great imagination and generosity), as a lead for a boleo. I choose to err on the side of caution and will refuse to "boleo" until the lead is clear.

Boleos (whether to the back, or to the front in which case they're called "amagues"), are different from leg wraps. Boleos are movements of the self upon the self, while wraps engage the partner and usually involve some twisting motion of the lead's body, usually into the wrapping leg.

Game Cat said...

Boleos seem to inspire lots of dialogue! I have an uncomfortable suspicion that there will be a higher than average boleo-count this weekend in the milongas.

I like best Johanna's interpretation of a boleo = "interrupted ocho". It should not imo need more effort to lead/ follow than an ocho or be any more dramatic. It should be deft and delicate, not snap like a whip.

But that's just me.

I also agree with J that it's a nifty floor craft manoeuvre. I realise now that most of the time I lead it in a milonga is to check a back ocho that has run out of space to complete.

OwenMc said...

@MsH: this enquiring mind has enquired just that - and usually been told I'd led a gancho.... guess I'd better work on those sacadas, 'cos that's what I've been trying every time...

Followers in these cases tend to be recent beginners/improvers (<18months), trying out stuff, so I usually put it down to experimentation....
but if it's in a practica/post-class environment I will sometimes be mean and nasty and actually lead a months supply of ganchos (for me that'd be about 3) in the rest of the track, just to see how they go ;-)

@Johanna:
I like that 'self upon the self' description...
but does the boleo not also involve twisting of the leaders body ?

Johanna said...

@owenMac - now we're getting into semantics territory :-)

Strictly speaking, the interruption of an ocho to create the boleo is not a "twist" of the body, just a reversal of direction from the original lead. When I use the word "twisting" I usually mean involving the entire torso, not just a slight shoulder motion.

msHedgehog said...

@gamecat, you're very flattering but I don't have THAT many readers ;)
@owenMc, I think that makes sense: they won't have any clear idea of what either is supposed to feel like, and in most cases they won't know that a lead is supposed to result in some movement naturally and and not be some sort of vague signal to be memorised and recognised. It doesn't make it any easier for the men to improve; although I don't think I need to give that as a reason why it's bad to undervalue and ignore the woman's role in class. I am also wondering how those two specific things get mixed up, however. I think you'd have to show me, it's probably not possible to explain.

LimerickTango said...

Not to repeat myself, Boleos & More on Boleos (from back when I was writing)