Thursday, 27 May 2010

Results with Italians, and so on

I, like Tangocommuter and the commenters, have had very good results with Italians (certainly equal to any of the Argentinians who dance with me) - and equally good results with other nationalities. Croatians. Germans. Spaniards. Frenchmen. Englishmen. Czechs. Whatever. I think the reason that a high proportion of the Italians dance well, is that people imitate what they know, and they have been exposed more, and more immediately, to a higher proportion of better dancing and DJing, for the absolutely straightforward practical and historical reasons which Tangocommuter mentions in the post. And to proportionately less timewasting crap. But I also think whoever takes responsibility for the quality of their own dancing, actually wants to do it, has some talent, has access to some good teaching or some really good examples, and takes determined practical steps to improve, will be able to deliver; and if they don't, I don't buy nationality as an excuse. It's more likely they just didn't want to.

Specifically, I don't buy the idea that close embrace is a problem for the English. They manage it fast enough when they win the cricket. If someone who wants to dance tango can't get through a problem that trivial, superficial, and silly in under twenty minutes, I don't know why the hell they are there or what they're doing. If they don't want to dance tango then they should go and dance something else; if you're personally scared of boobies, this is not the dance for you; peace be upon thee, go thou and dance swing, or something.

Even if it made any sense on its face, it would still be a pretty weak excuse for bad dancing in a place where only about 40% of  the crowd would self-describe as "English"; it's not uncommon for people who were born in England (which I was not) of two legally British parents (which I was not), and have lived here uninterruptedly all their lives (which I have) to describe themselves spontaneously as "Irish," "Indian," or "Chinese" (that last one being pretty damn vague on anybody's map).

There's a reason why nobody has actually argued that that some 'culture', least of all 'English,' a culture which in as far as it's non-imaginary has a lot to say about turning up on time, paying your way, and keeping your promises but absolutely naff-all to say about dancing, would prevent someone who wanted to have a good embrace, from having a good embrace. Nobody acutally says this, because it's obviously silly, as well as amply disproved by experience - but they do say a lot of things that give people, especially beginners, the very clear impression that they would say exactly that thing if they dared - and that does convince people. It convinces them that there's no point in bothering because no matter what they deliver, they will never be accepted.

People have histories, and environments, and influences, and personalities, and imaginations, and desires, but their expression is personal. Essentialisms are not my thing. So sue me.

If we require some kind of spiritual essence based on birthplace, residence, location, or history, then obviously I will never qualify as a good dancer under any circumstances. And for some people, that is presumably the case. However, it doesn't seem to be the opinion of anyone I actually know (least of all Tangocommuter or any of the commenters I've met).


Anonymous said...

So last night after the classes had finished and before the practica / milonga started, we were instructed not to dance close embrace with the beginners in case we frighten them because they like to see their feet !

There does seem to be a belief that teaching close embrace from the start is going to going to scare off beginners. Better then to teach them in open embrace and warn anyone from giving them one of those scary embraces !

Tangocommuter said...

Yes, I've had excellent dances with French, Spanish, Croatian, English, American partners and others, too, but I was suddenly struck that all the Italian partners I've ever danced with were excellent. You know the feeling, as if you've been dancing together all your lives. Maybe I've just been lucky with Italians, but at the back of my mind was the thought that there are excellent teachers and dancers in Italy, and it doesn't take over 16 hours to get there. Maybe I need to learn Italian.

The English are changing. I don't think Dennis Compton and Len Hutton would have thrown their arms around each other if one had scored a century. A polite handshake, no more.

In Buenos Aires, in traditional milongas, the teaching is unequivocal. I was at the class at Canning one night when a small party of Hong Kong Chinese came in for a tango lesson, as part of their visit. Five minutes walking forwards and backwards, and then close embrace walking! (Which caused them some consternation.) And at another class I was leading a very young partner who seemed quite embarrassed at close embrace, but the teacher (Susana Miller) just gently and firmly pushed us together. It might be politically, and even legally incorrect for teachers in London to do that. At best, London teachers teach open/closed - which is far too complicated for me!

londontango said...

Ms H,
That was a bit of a rant!
I am very partial to dancing with Italians. The quality of their dancing is very good and they are not afraid of the embrace.
You are right about wanting to do something and doing it well and I too wonder about why some people dance Tango and yet have this fear of being too close. It doesn't feel right to me somehow and I try to avoid dancing with those people. Funny, I can always tell if someone is German!

Anonymous said...

As a leader, I've had great experiences with visiting French followers. I say visitting, not the ones who learned here.

I don't put it down to race - but culture. The tango culture in Paris is different to that in London - very much so.

I would even go so far as to say there is a quality and culture difference between London tango and tango outside London but within the UK.

msHedgehog said...

I agree with all of you, actually, and specifically, in retrospect, that it's a bad idea to put beginners in open embrace: which (a) is MUCH more difficult technically both for leader and follower, (b) is extremely difficult to use well in social dancing, (c) creates the completely crazy impression that close embrace is some sort of advanced topic, when it's actually a much easier way to produce a simple and highly satisfying dance that is musical, and quite straightfoward to learn and progress in.

And all this because of a 'problem' which people assume - on no basis whatsoever - can be overcome only slowly or not at all. When common experience shows (as TC describes from Argentina, or as the european teachers like Andreas do it) it is far easier to address it directly and solve it immediately. Then, instead of going straight to doing the difficult stuff badly, people can actually start dancing.

If people have to be told to feel the fear and do it anyway - what exactly is the problem with that? How will it harm them? It harms us to be doing advanced stuff (open embrace) badly, and to be denied the opportunity to do simple stuff well, when, left to ourselves, we might well never have a good reason to bother doing the difficult stuff at all.

As for seeing your feet and understanding things, there's a practice hold for that which is actually easy as opposed to fake easy.

It's been very useful to me to know open embrace, and on rare occasions it still is, but I wouldn't have needed it at all if I hadn't been in London.

As a beginner I was told that I should default to open embrace in social dancing. And this by an Argentinian. It took me some months to work out what bad advice that was.

Yup, it's a rant. I'm editing less these days.

Captain Jep said...

I cant really comment on Italian partners (not having much experience of them). But I like the point you make about open embrace. Yes, much harder to do WELL. On the other hand, any fool can do it BADLY.

I do think political correctness gets in our way in the UK. That somehow we should only do CE once both sides of the partnership know "what the deal is" with tango. Or more specifically, when the lady can give "informed consent" for the gentleman to press his chest against hers. And when the gentleman can be trusted not to get too flustered by the whole experience.

It's all very silly. It assumes we're all hapless teenagers at heart. Rather than people who actually can exert some self control in intimate situations.

Perhaps because Southern Europeans have smaller circles of "personal space" they find it easier to adapt quicker.

There is of course a lot of good CE dancing in the UK outside London. If I were you, I'd also rant about what makes dancing in London so depressing... lol ...

Sophie said...

I'm Dutch but living and dancing in Italy.

If you've only had good dances with Italians then you've been lucky - there are plenty of not-so-terrific ones here too. Perhaps people who tend to seek out milongas while abroad tend to be the more obsessed ones who've done more of the work.

Having said that, I think the quality of dancing is quite high here, for the reasons you and the linked article mention. I would also add that in Italian culture men tend to be men (albeit in salmon coloured cashmere jumpers) and women are expected to be very feminine. Moreover, Italian men seems to flirt almost all the time. I have mixed feelings about some of this, but I think in certain ways this attitude of (cue fake Italian accent) : "You are a beautiful womaaan" and being comfortable and used to flirtation does help in Tango.

I'm not sure I agree with your close embrace theory. Sure,most northern Europeans/Americans will actually do it when they're told or coaxed by a good teacher. However,there's a difference in doing it because the teacher told you to and doing it because you truly enjoy dancing physically close to someone and you feel that as a follower. Actually, I think many anacondas/Vulcan death grippers are people who are not comfortable with close embrace but know that they should use it and are overcompensating. Needless to say this does by no means cover ALL northerners, but I do feel it probably helps when physicality is part of your culture.

LimerickTango said...

a) Introduce beginners to close embrace as soon as possible because there is no room to put your foot in anywhere but the right place.

b) I've lost count of the times I've started explaining errors due to anglo cultural mores only to spot half way through that barely half the room shares that heritage.

c) The Italians invented opera. They understand the idea of big sweeping emotional vistas even if only for three minutes instead of three hours.

d) Waves at Sophie.

msHedgehog said...

@Sophie - Very strong point there about self-selection, yes. People who travel long distances to weekenders, or go to a milonga in a foreign town, are likely to be decent dancers. And I have had poor dances with Italians too.

Your other point is interesting - I think I agree that it's basically a personality thing not a national thing. You do have to want to do it, you have to have that subtle sense of adventure, and someone who doesn't, is going to have problems even after quite a lot of practice. I think that's another good argument in favour of addressing the problem directly and promptly.

Detlef said...

@ Arlene:
"Funny, I can always tell if someone is German!"

>>> Please explain !! :-)

@ all: I don't agree on "OE" being technically more challenging than "CE". Not at all. From my experience, the opposite is true. "CE" requires a much higher precision in foot positions, requires a much better posture (part of the technique), requires a lot more dissociation, etc. pp ...
I don't want to go much further into this now, don't want to start lecturing! :-)