Saturday, 11 September 2010

Follower influence

There are funny things that happen with some dancers and the music.

I can can occasionally find myself dancing with people who dance to the rhythm but nothing else, especially with vals and milonga. It's on the beat, in a general way, but it feels rushed, formless, and robotic. They don't seem to hear the melody or phrasing or tension or emphasis or any of the detail, and it feels more like jogging than dancing.

It's possible to respond by dancing, taking your time and interpreting all the leads in a way that does hear the melody and phrasing, always following, but varying your swooshyness and lightness and the way you move, sending music back up through your body from the floor. I'm not talking about ornaments here, or stopping dead, or breaking the connection, or doing anything that interferes with navigation. Just stubbornly insisting on dancing rather than jogging.

If I try this, what sometimes happens is that they start to respond to to the music themselves, enough so I can tell the difference. They may not be able to sustain it because they haven't practiced, but they notice that it is possible and they start to do it.

This does not always work. I don't think it will work if they have been like that for too long. Some people are irretrievable, at least by me.

You might worry that there is a risk here, that you won't be following, that you will be back-leading or responding to the lead in an unpredictable way.

Here are my arguments for not worrying about this:

  1. Someone who has this problem isn't going to be someone who wants to weight-change you a toe at a time. If he knew that was possible, he wouldn't be doing this. He's moving mechanically and with pretty low level of precision. So there is actually plenty of room for interpretation, if you have the confidence. Your toes are your own.
  2. You are taking full responsibility for the quality of your own dance, and you are making him look better than he is, both of which are the Right Thing To Do.
  3. And if, later in the evening, you do dance with someone who can weight change you a toe at a time, that person will almost certainly be dancing to the music, in which case it's entirely a good thing if you do too. You will not have sabotaged yourself by unplugging your ears from your brain.
  4. If he's not only off the music, but wants you to be as well, there's no reason why you would want to dance with him again, anyway, so it's a win-win situation.
  5. And supposing he tells all his friends you don't follow: either they already know he is a terrible dancer, in which case they won't care, or they think he is a good dancer, in which case you won't care, because they are probably worse.
  6. It will feel like a bit of a fight, but it will be much more bearable than trying to ignore the music, which is bad for your dancing, stressful, and really very difficult to do.


cindy said...

happy smile here~!

Anonymous said...

"it will be much more bearable than trying to ignore the music, which is bad for your dancing, stressful, and really very difficult to do."

Indeed - and it begs the question: why bother? Perhaps it is a way to survive a bad situation but I'd rather not get into it in the first place.

msHedgehog said...

@Anonymous: but when someone walks up and asks me to dance, I haven't seen him around for long, I really don't remember seeing him dance, he obviously doesn't know anything, he wants to dance with me, it costs me very, very little to say yes from time to time.

I'm not obliged to say yes: most of the time I'll probably say no: and I am fully aware that I'll attract some people's contempt and condemnation for saying yes.

I don't accept that contempt: I prefer to have a kinder and more interesting life. I'm not promising to dance with him again, but if he does sort himself out the chances are he'll thank me, and not any of the people who didn't bother.

Anonymous said...

hurray for that last comment.

As a leader I always say yes - even to the very painful ones - and I always try to dance with someone I've never danced with before. If someone is really bad for me I try to avoid them more gracefully - saying no is a bit rough. Ideally of course, we'd all be cabaceo-ing, so no-one get shown up in front of everyone.

ghost said...

I guess the heart of it is you're doing something that he's either unaware of, doesn't have the processing skill to do right now, or is aware of but doesn't know how to lead / interpret the music.

Which of those, combined with his personality, is probably going to determine his conclusion ranging from he's outclassed and simply can't do what you're asking, to hmm this is interesting, to she's doing it wrong.

I would ask some mercy be shown to the person who's feels he's totally outclassed and can't do it, but otherwise is leading safely, calmly and respectfully.

Joy in Motion said...

Nice post, Ms. Hedgehog. I do this as well and find it quite invigorating, especially when I feel a response from my partner. Sometimes I lose energy to keep doing it if I encounter too many of these leaders in one night, but it is so important, especially to avoid the unplugging of the ears effect!

Your descriptions were very well articulated, and “formless” really echoed in my ears. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the primacy of form in dance and especially in musicality, so my ears really perked up when you used that word to describe this type of dancing. Thanks again!

msHedgehog said...

@Joy, hello! Lovely to see a new contributor. I am not dogmatic about these things, but I feel an ethical obligation to dance as best I can from time to time. It takes a while to develop a perception that something is wrong and (seperately) a personal response to it. But I feel that once we have these, we are doing wrong if we deliberately dance worse than we could. Of course you can argue about the definition of goodness here - is it the following, or is it the dance? And how is the person to know? That last question has to be approached with common humility, but if we do feel able to make a judgement, then we have to act on it.

As for formlessness, this is also a thing that irritates me in performances; and it's a thing that took me quite a long time to tease out as a specific reason for being bored by some performances.

Relja Dereta said...

A great post! It reminded me of a dance I had last night - we had most of the elements against us: the ronda was very crowded (which shouldn't be that much of a problem until you realize you're surrounded by a couple of boleoists), I was feeling tired and she hasn't been at the milonga for some time. To top it all off, though I knew her from before, it was our first dance ever. So we had to dance extremely small steps, which is not something I'm still used to.

However, she is an experienced dancer who is very present in her dance, and her personality was really finding expression in her movement. It inspired me and influenced my dance with her so much that you could say she was leading me more than I was leading her.

A follower can really influence the leader a lot more than he might expect (or accept), but he must get his ego (and ideas of how and why one dances tango) out of the way first.

So, again, great post. The way you put it, it's really a win-win situation. Not much to add to what you've said - I can only contribute with my share of experience from a leader perspective:

The situations and feelings involved are pretty much the same, though I guess it's easier for us to pull out the dancer from the stage performer in front of us, as we can lead (or even force, oxymoronic as it might sound)a sincere move which is an expression of ourselves and in tune with the music. From my experience I also think women don't have as much of an ego problem as men and are more ready to let themselves go if they feel they're actually dancing with a person and being treated as one.

Though I could be very wrong, so I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on this issue.

Great blog, by the way! When I have some more time I'll dig into the archives :)

msHedgehog said...

Hi Relja, yay! another new contributor. This is not something that people talk about much, perhaps because they fear being misunderstood. It can be very difficult to get any specific or convincing idea of what it even means for a woman to dance well, as opposed to adequately. We get the impression that it's simply unacceptable to think about the quality of our own dance at all, and that if we want to do something worth any thought, our only option is to learn to lead. (Not that I would discourage anyone from doing that if she wants to). But if you want to take following further and find the next thing to improve you tend to find yourself alone and without much input. At this stage I think many women just give up and coast, on the basis that there's no payoff and no point.

What you say is very interesting - people do of course lead differently depending on the partner and I think there is more to this than just what the partner is capable of. There is also what she inspires.

ghost said...

"I think there is more to this than just what the partner is capable of. There is also what she inspires."

I remember a discussion years ago about the difference the music, partner and surrounding dancers make to dancing. As a leader you can be inspired by all of them. And when they're all inspiration dancing is sooooooooo much easier. Conversely when they're all draining your inspiration or limiting what you can do - argh!

As a woman you probably can't do much about the music or other dancers except be choosy about where and when you dance. So your own ability to inspire is one of your strongest assets.

Anonymous said...

I gave up dancing tango because of people like Hedgehog - the thought that someone dishonorable enough to write a blog about how to 'deal' with the poor, deluded men who fail to observe their duty to entertain her, the thought that someone I might dance with is secretly such a person, just made it all too nauseating to bear.

It is indeed true that someone like this is highly uninspiring to lead, and of course will then need to go and write a blog that seeks to explain, justify or mask their anger at failing to achieve the type of ephiphany they desire. This is someone unwilling to expose themselves to pain, and so their diatribe becomes an attempt to pretend that they have pain to deal with: oh-so-inattentive or oh-so-incompetent leaders.

The sad truth, that extinguishes every last bit of your trashy measuring and rating, is that if you're horrid, he'll know. Even if he's a beginner or even has social diseases, bad breath, is evil, whatever, he'll still know you're self-absorbed if you are; he'll still know that you consider the men stupid enough to ask you to dance a service, a right, slaves even, and not people. On the up-side, if you're able to experience a dimension beyond that, he'll probably know that too. But you, I'm afraid, hedhehog, are not able to do that. Until you understand that tango like anything else is an excercise in humility and stop thinking like a dissatisfied Sultana, you'll continue not to connect. Having read this, I think every time you've tried to propose a technique for dealing with a leader's lack of focus or musicality, you're actually trying to medicate your inability to be in the present, or possibly the music. To get back into that 'present' you'll have to let go of something. That letting go will hurt - actually hurt. If it puts you on your knees it will perhaps teach you some respect. At the minute it sounds like you're not willing to do that.

Anonymous said...

And so it will go on, the prating and preening about male egos, the patronising generalities about the poor standard of leader out there. And still they come to you thinking you a princess, unaware that they have such a vicious, resentful and dangerous cocktail on their hands - don't get me wrong, I think most of the men are crap. But they're not judgemental, they're not wicked, and by-and-large they ask you to dance out of love. You dishonour them so badly.
There is NO WAY you can follow with an attitude like yours. Every dance-hold, every cadence, you're spending in a state of receptivity for critical material for your blog. Not for a dance or god forbid an encounter with a human being. Now the bombshell -

I can tell. I can tell when she's actually ready to dance, before the song begins. I can tell whether she's preoccupied and needs some time. But I can REALLY tell when she's pretending to be ready when really what she's doing is preparing to be RIGHT.

ghost said...

@Anon - Bad day?

"I gave up dancing tango" - and yet you're reading tango blogs and attacking strangers on them?

As someone who actually dances with MsHedgehog I can assure you she is a delight to lead and the only person I've ever encountered to use her eyelashes for musicality :o)

I hope you make your peace with tango.

Anonymous said...

None of you, or I, are strangers, that would be impossibe.

It's a funny thing, you can want to dance it but not be able to bear the environment you find it in. This makes some sense, because customs and practices are different here to how it ought to be. To be slightly mollified for a moment I'm pretty sure if cabeceo was a part of our scene there'd be no problems for the majority of women - and probably no blog. Having said that, it doesn't make it excusable for them to create a culture of complaint and nauseating self-help among themselves just because THEY don't use cabeceo etc. It's proof that for some people, having something to complain about is more important than having something to do.

While I take your point about leading (she's fine to dance with) I was referring much more to what she can experience or get out of it rather than whether she's nice for the men to dance with. You read the articles - she doesn't think about whether she's nice for the men, but whether being nice to dance with makes her powerful. God forbid she should want to be nice to dance with because it matters to give a monkey's about how you come across - that would be ridiculous - because that would actually mean something. No, no: men are there to be tolerated if not competent enough, used if they are competent enough, patronised if they're getting competent enough. And the oozing generosity, so benevolent and magnanimous it becomes reptilian: 'it costs me very, very little to say yes from time to time'...

Anonymous said...

It's a bad day since you ask only because what I really want is to like the idea of going back, or of teaching, or just occasionally a tea dance - but I don't. I don't because what I hate is seeing something I love, something which is actually a form of spiritual practise, something that expresses pride and dignity, made into an American-style self-manifesto, a moronic pseudo-sincere self-congratulatory diatribe that deconstructs the very terms it uses in an attempt to avoid doing by talking: 'I choose to have a kinder and more intereting life'. The feigned humility in the name of 'making your evening better' or 'helping him dance to the beat' hides something too hideous to look at.

ghost said...

"It's a funny thing, you can want to dance it but not be able to bear the environment you find it in"

I can understand that - I feel the same way about something else that sadly I no longer do.

I genuinely think you've misunderstood though. MsH's blog exists in large part to make tango something better, hopefully something you may one day want to return to. It offers perspectives and invites discussion.

Speaking personally, I don't feel either "tolerated" or "patronised" by her.

msHedgehog said...

@Anonymous: you're not making any sense, sorry. Do what you want to do. I know it's upsetting to be disobeyed, but you don't have to dance with anyone you don't want to. Please don't invite me, though, as your stated views make you sound like a thoroughly nasty piece of work, and I wouldn't want to dance with that.

I'm somewhat intrigued as to what it is about me you find hideous, as it's not really apparent from your argument so far. Go ahead and practice tango as a cult if you want, I'm not stopping you: personally I'm not in favour of any religious beliefs, but as long as you don't go around burning people I don't care. Feel free to print out the blog and burn it, if it makes you feel better.

Andreas said...

Anonymous said:
"I gave up dancing tango"


EllaB said...

Interesting to see that a complaint about "dishonourable" behaviour is posted anonymously. Do you not have the courage of your convictions?

msHedgehog said...

@EllaB - it's not worth your time.