Monday 30 May 2011

Moods, surroundings and improvisation

Thinking about how people's personalities express themselves in their dance, it's very striking how different some people feel depending on their mood.

I remember dancing with someone I only get to dance with at rare intervals, on a day which had been a very good one for him; and his dance felt quite different from any previous occasion, in content and flow - more adventurous. It couldn't all be explained by my own technical improvement in the interval, so I said "You're very happy today!" and heard all about it.

And most people dance very differently when they're stressed. Chaotic floors and clownish dancing from other people have a drastic effect. There's a lot more brain available for leading when you can trust the couples in front, behind you, and beside you, to take their space and keep it and not flutter around like human-sized dragonflies. When nothing too comical is happening in your eyeline, you don't have to use so much energy shutting things out. This is why competent dancers prefer competent dancers around them. Because they can have a better dance and not be constantly struggling with other people's problems.

Then again, people whose improvisation is very free, who don't have to think about their dancing at all and can generate new stuff on the fly, can find themselves channelling something that happens in front and suddenly speeding up or doing something totally out of character, to the surprise of the follower.

The effect of flashy, athletic show-tango performances is notorious. A lot of people realise that the two to three tandas after a performance are the time to have a drink, go to the loo, brush your hair, fix your makeup, change your shirt, have a smoke if that's your thing, etc etc, because all the looney-tunes will be out and kicking, moved by the spirit to thrash around as violently as possible, even the ones who normally hide inside relatively reasonable dancers. If the performance was late, you might as well go home.

But there's still a strong effect even if it's just the person's mood. Sometimes if someone is dealing with strong emotions then the lead can get sort of 'off' as though they were having to lead themselves first, and then me. It's hard to follow, because there's less time and less information left over. In people who have a lot of options, what they actually do can even get sort of chaotic and worrying, independently of how they do it.

I don't know exactly how the same things express themselves in followers. I definitely return to any bad habits when stressed, especially at the start of a dance; if I think I'm going to get hit, or if I am anxious for any reason. So I know that I need more technique than I actually need, to compensate for this. By technique I mean the kind of physical habits that make it easier to dance well. And I also need more concentration, because worry interferes most with concentration, and following is all about that. I just try to make sure that I can be relied on to stand still and keep my balance (and occasionally my partner's as well) if we have to slam the brakes on, and concentrate on my partner and follow in any direction if evasive action's needed.

Conversely, I remember one person habituated to stress at work; he danced a particular way, which was well enough. But, just once, sheer exhaustion after a 24-hour shift produced a dance so much better, so much freer and more flowing and more grounded, that it was barely recognisable as coming from the same person. And I wondered if this was the dance and the level of musical and emotional connection he might achieve every week if only he lost his horrible job with that horrible company. Not gonna happen, though.

Turning down the stress level in any way they can is probably the biggest thing organisers can do to improve the dancing.


cassiel said...

There's a lot more brain available for leading when you can trust the couples in front, behind you, and beside you, to take their space and keep it and not flutter around like human-sized dragonflies.

I think this quote should be a part of every tango-quotes collection. ;-)


tangocherie said...

I completely agree with you.

Some folks dance better after a glass of wine.

Here in the traditional milongas of BsAs, a lot of folks go out for "a smoke" or to the bathrooms just before or during the exhibition. Milongueros don't want to watch--they want to dance!

Tangocommuter said...

Yes, sometimes the very worst circumstances can produce something exceptional; one wouldn't wish them on anyone, but sometimes they can be really valuable. Usually, if you're so tired or stressed that the music hardly gets through to you you're better off staying at home, but if you really have to get on the floor magic can happen.

Milongas that are rather more dance-oriented than party-oriented are very welcome, and we must be grateful to people who make them happen. Must say I've not noticed too many 'human-sized dragonflies' fluttering around (sounds rather sweet), but I've been aware too often of apparently larger than life-sized humans lurching at random in all directions, which I find anything but comical...

msHedgehog said...

@Cherie - totally. There are lots of people who should have one medicinal drink. I like one, two is okay, three is too many. And ten out of a dozen performances are a tedious imposition.

msHedgehog said...

@TC dragonflies are bad news, you know, if you're small enough for them to eat.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts. I've noticed that bad days are my best days to get buzzed on tango, because I shut out the rest of the world to focus on my partner, my form and the music. I must try a bit of wine with that...

leetsy said...

Not having been doing this for very long, I noticed that I'm not as balanced when my mind's distracted by other things and I feel more gauche and I noticed that when dancing with someone who was lovely to practice with two weeks ago, this time it was awkward and faltering and I could see he was slightly confused as to why

msHedgehog said...

@leetsy, yes, it is just harder. Everyone has that. Everything is harder to do if you're distracted or stressed. For a long time I always found I felt really 'off' about one week in four. As you practice more it matters less, but I think these things are always still there and we just have to find out how to overcome them by experiment.

My practice partner meditates before he goes dancing. For me the process of dressing up and putting on makeup has a similar function, perhaps because I don't wear makeup to work.