Sunday, 3 July 2011

Technique

Partly a response to Tangocommuter, but for me, it's just not complicated.

What does 'technique' mean to me?

You are easier and more fun to dance with if you have good balance, mobility, posture, control, clarity, confidence, freedom, flow, connection, and a nice reliable comfortable embrace that feels good. I am easier and more fun to dance with if I have good balance, mobility, posture, control, clarity, confidence, freedom, flow, connection, and a nice reliable comfortable embrace that feels good. The more we have those things, the more we can just get on with it and dance. That's what technique means to me. It means all the things that enable us to forget about how we do what we do and get on with the fun stuff.

My partners' technique

Other things being equal, partners with excellent technique are more fun to dance with than partners with good technique. Partners with good technique are more fun to dance with than partners with acceptable technique. Partners with acceptable technique are dramatically easier and more fun to dance with than partners who have poor technique - the step from poor to acceptable is the most important step. Poor means you hurt to dance with, and ruin my connection for everybody else, and I'd rather not do that, even if you're a lovely bloke and have been extremely kind to me. If the technique is poor, it does not matter whether those 'other things' are equal or not, they're not going to help us. If it's acceptable or upwards, they matter a lot.

My technique

I want to have good technique. I want to have have good balance, mobility, posture, control, clarity, confidence, freedom, flow, connection, and embrace. The more I have those things, the more freely we can dance. There is certainly some level of excellence I will not be able to reach, because of my personal limitations of talent, priorities, opportunity and time, but there's no reason not to do what I can.

If I can be exactly where we meant to be, exactly when we meant it, we have more possibilites than we have if I am just a bit off. We can do all those teeny tiny things that are the same as each other but completely different. We can be totally in the music. We can do more with it. We can have fun with it. We can inspire each other. We can both forget about everything else and really get into it. I can feel your heart. We can just get on with it and actually dance.

The better I dance, the more I can enjoy the extra possibilites of excellence in my partners.

I felt somebody's heart on Friday - I don't usually hear his heart. The DJ was playing some fantastic stuff (it was 'La Rubia') and we were really into it. To feel somebody's heart through a good suit jacket, you have to zone in and he has to be in the right place as well. And even then, it only means anything if other things are right. It's awesome. I feel like I shouldn't talk about it. But the better I dance, the more those moments happen and the more awesome they are. It's that simple.

How to get good technique

It would make sense to me if you did something that you thought would improve your balance, mobility, posture, control, clarity, confidence, freedom, flow, connection, or embrace. But who knows how you can best do that? Look, do whatever works for you. Private practice, lessons, yoga, group classes, exercise, feedback from someone you know and you think is well qualified to give it, whatever. You don't need advice from some random chick on the internet when you don't even know if she can dance or not.

A note about body conditioning

In the 1930s and 40s, working class women didn't own washing machines. My mother can describe her grandmother doing the washing in the fifties: it was many hours of hard physical labour. Just try filling a copper from a hand-pumped pipe that isn't anywhere near it, and heating a few gallons of water over a hand built fire, and washing a whole family's cotton and woollen clothes and bedding by hand, with a coal fire and the copper and a sink and a lot of soap and a scrubbing board and a mangle and a washing line. When I think about that, I ask myself about ordinary women's physical condition in the golden age of tango, and whether it might make some sense to do some work on that, since I sit in front of a keyboard all week long. Actually doing it is another matter, because I'm as lazy as anybody, but that's how I think about this stuff. Your mileage may vary.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. And now I'm wondering what's in your list of 'Other things being equal'

Terpsichoral said...

I agree with all of this. Clearly, everyone's mileage will differ. But I think, for most people, it's a lot easier to improve your tango technique by doing solo exercises which are specific to tango than by doing, say, yoga. Tango has its own particular style of movement.

And, by the way, who on earth suggested you should learn solo technique from the internet? Of course you should learn from a teacher. And then practice the exercises at home.

LimerickTango said...

I think you've nailed what technique is very well. It is about "balance, mobility, posture, control, clarity, confidence, freedom, flow, connection".

One fears that the technique classes that Tangocommuter were in fact adornment classes. Or worse adornment classes where the emphasis was on the adornment rather than how to maintain "balance, etc..." while performing said adornments.

On the subject of technique I'd just like to repeat two quotes used over on My Tango Diaries:

"The only reason for mastering technique is to make sure the body does not prevent the soul from expressing itself." - La Meri

"Freedom to a dancer means discipline. That is what technique is for -- liberation." - Martha Graham

Terpsichoral said...

To see what I personally mean by technique practice, see my account of my daily hour of solo technique practice here:

http://tangoaddiction.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/solo/

msHedgehog said...

@Terpsichoral: It depends what you're trying to do. For me personally, to take the next step I need core stability. Tango exercises aren't going to do that for me, and press-ups and sit-ups just aren't going to happen - so I am doing some samba. I enjoy doing it at home and I don't need a smooth floor (my kitchen floor requires a LOT of talc to do ochos on it without crocking my knees). Yoga or pilates would also work, but they bore me and I want more fitness as well, so I prefer samba. A lot of people recommend Egyptian dance or Zumba, which I'm sure would be great too.

msHedgehog said...

Oh yes - @Terpsichoral - about the internet, well, quite. My thought was more that there's more than enough around of what could easily be taken as advice, and shouldn't.

In particular, there is quite a vocal school of thought that's hostile to the idea that women should work on the technical, physical side of their dancing, or take lessons at all. Of course most women will ask themselves why that is, and immediately think of one of the obvious answers, and most of the time they'll be absolutely right. So I doubt it does us any harm. I should probably be more worried about naive males ;)

msHedgehog said...

@Anonymous - haha. I only added that in the final edit. I did it because I remembered a man who has great technique on certain definitions (although strictly not my definition above), but makes the most elegant women look rushed and clumsy. I wouldn't seek a dance with him socially, for myself. I don't think he dances tango very well. But perhaps he could physically do so, if he agreed with me about what good tango actually is. The fact is, he doesn't agree with me at all. So that's one of the other things.

Terpsichoral said...

@Ms Hedgehog We'll have to respectfully disagree on the core stability thing. Lots of dancers believe core stability is important to tango -- and lots don't. I'm in the second camp. (There are tons of examples of these kinds of disagreements about technique -- whether you should keep your body weight over the ball of your foot or over the arch -- I personally prefer the latter, but some dancers I admire swear by the former -- is another example). It's not really important what you choose, as long as it works for you. Good luck!

msHedgehog said...

You can certainly go a long way without core strength, but if I want to improve from where I am standing right now, it will simplify matters a lot.

Terpsichoral said...

We'll have to disagree on this. Core strength is great. But, for me, it's of no benefit in tango. Alejandra Mantinan is one of those who agrees and I think she is one of the best dancers out there. But other dancers I LOVE disagree. But this is one of those endless tango technique debates...

msHedgehog said...

What I tend to ask myself in 'endless' debates is, who is saying that, why are they saying it, what are their assumptions, who do they think they are talking to, how exactly do they know whether it's true or not, and does it make sense in relation to general principles? At that point contradictory advice usually stops being a problem. At the moment I wish to be able to maintain a specific posture that I want under certain conditions for a certain time. I'm not bothered about the terminology.

msHedgehog said...

... but obviously, that's cool, I have no problem disagreeing with anybody.

Elizabeth said...

One of the things that I saw in Argentina, is a sort of stamina. It may be built in, as even some overweight and not so young or healthy people seem to have. It might be a part of what we look at when we look for, or feel for, that tango feeling. Not wobbly or compensating, but gounded. This is of course social tango I am talking about. I kind of doubt that the ladies in that category are doing footwork drills, Not that theres anything wrong with that. And for me, core strength really makes a difference. I should go get some!
But when someone tells you not to do something to improve your tango, or to take a class, or to only listen to them...I say, be very cautious. What is their agenda?
E
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Terpsichoral said...

I wasn't implying I don't have preferences when it comes to technique issues. Or that those preferences are based on careful reasoning and on experience. I have teach technique, after all. But I don't think it can be taught over the internet. And I know some very good dancers who disagree with me on technique issues and follow a different line of thought. That's all I wanted to say.

Terpsichoral said...

Sorry -- a typo "Those preferences are based on reasoning and experience."

Patrick said...

Maybe this is just a translation problem, but could you please give an example for "core strenght"? Which muscles are you talking about?

Anonymous said...

Being mostly I follower, but now attempting some leading, I would tend to agree with Ms Hedgehog on the core stability issue. I find it much easier to lead followers who have this element sussed. Those who don't, I find feel rather unwieldy.
But I shall say no more on the matter, as I tend to avoid conversations on what is right or wrong - Tango seems rather like philosophy in some ways ie. there is only opinion!

John Fisher said...

Let's remember what the great Ricardo Vidort said on this subject.

"Technique and choreography are only for performance."

Mari Johnson said...

Ms. H - I thought of you last night dancing at our Friday night milonga. This:

"To feel somebody's heart through a good suit jacket, you have to zone in and he has to be in the right place as well. And even then, it only means anything if other things are right. It's awesome. I feel like I shouldn't talk about it. But the better I dance, the more those moments happen and the more awesome they are. It's that simple."

. . is dead on. What was funny at the time is I was all set to tell my partner between songs - oh my goodness, I could feel your heart beat! And then, as soon as the moment came, I couldn't say anything. I just grinned at him (in a way that I hope wasn't unnerving) and we went back to dancing.

random tango bloke said...

i think technique is important to practice if you want to improve as a dancer. Personally i think it should be practiced either in a lesson/practica or at home - not at the milonga. i feel you should practice the exercises so that it works into your body slowly in preparation for a natural social dance.

i cant stand it when a follower is only concentrating on her technique rather than giving herself to "our dance with the music" . ive got loads i want to work on but i dont do it in the milonga the priority trying to give my partner a good and safe dance.

the only problem with practicing technique is to realise that the path you progress down might not suit all your partners but such is life. for example followers with enormous disassociation i find very awkward if they dont temper it with my more modest effort. ive had teachers who advocated both extremes so im finding my own way.im not going to be compatible with everyone and those that are really focussing on maximum disassociation will drift more and more away from the dance i want to do.

for the record my favourite followers have good core strength but with an expanding softness.

msHedgehog said...

@Patrick - sorry - it's a vague term which to me means all the muscles that go around your middle - tummy, sides, and lower back - the ones that you use if you are moving a lot of wet washing about, for instance, but not usually if you are sitting in a chair (unless you sit up straight). The ones that keep your posture the way you want it without feeling it or having to make an effort.

Terpsichoral said...

I still disagree very much on the core strength issue. I think tango should be about smooth and soft movement, about melting into each other, not about rigidity or tension of any kind or trying to sustain poses or positions. And I don't see that you can achieve anything with core strength that you can't achieve more gracefully and easily in other ways that feel better for your partner. But I still think I would have to demonstrate what I mean. When people talk about technique specifics on the web, they tend to talk at cross purposes and we may be doing so here. And core strength is a great thing to have in general (nothing to do with tango), so it will not do you any harm.

@Random Tango Bloke I couldn't agre more that you should practise technique at home, not at the milonga. For me, the point of technique practice is to incorporate a style of moving into your body so that when you are at the milonga you can focus on your partner and the music and don't have to think about technique at all. Technique frees you up to do that. Just as, if you play the piano, you can play a piece with much more expression and musicality if you have practised it and don't have to worry about getting the notes right. You just can't be as expressive if you are thinking "wait a minute, should that be a semiquaver there? Oh shit, I missed a key change!"

There are some things that can't be learnt just through solo practice. You can learn to dissociate in solo technique practice but, as you rightly point out, not HOW MUCH to do so. When you're dancing with a leader, you need to dissociate as much as is necessary to follow what he is leading and stay with him. And that depends on him.

www.tangoaddiction.wordpress.com

msHedgehog said...

@Terpsichoral: yes, I think we are grossly at cross purposes, which indeed often happens when you try to draw some general principle from one person's affairs. So much so that I find the association with stiffness quite bizarre.

msHedgehog said...

Having taken action to improve it over about 12 weeks, I can now report that changing just that one thing (the core strength and mobility) without changing anything else (same person, same partners, no other alteration of technique or style), gives markedly better results. From the leader's point of view I think it's in the level of precision and the quality of physical feedback; from my own point of view more comfort, stamina, and stability or 'groundedness'.