Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Night of the Swooshpout

A month or two ago I happenend to be at a practica which, for some reason possibly something to do with some other events on the previous few days, had attracted a slightly bigger than normal, and slightly unusual, crowd. Not in conflict with its usual crowd, but taking the usual theme and extending it well beyond its normal parameters.

It is a peculiar and fascinating experience for a middle-aged woman to lead on a floor where the men - many of them youngish and prettyish - are so wholly and competitively focussed on each other*.

They glare, they pout, they sweep about, in bubbles of anxious pretensions and a fog of masculinity.

Their partners - pencil-skirted, peeled, and vertiginously heeled, fluffed, big-eyed, and glittering (for a practica), are there only to applaud, more or less. They have to work hard for attention, because the boys are focused on each other and who can do the best imitation of a six-foot plastic Carlitos.

A few attempt the plastic Chicho, but he's rather out of fashion, if not quite far enough out of fashion to be retro. Yet.

It reminded me more than anything of the crying-with-laughter moment in the 2012 Olympics when Clare Balding started to relate how the male swimmers allegedly beat their chests before a race "... and the women [pause, during which Clare realises that this sentence has nowhere it can possibly go and Ian Thorpe collapses in giggles] ... do not."

It is most peculiar to feel this atmosphere overwhelming me and demanding that I either fight it, which is hard work and extremely distracting, or be sucked in and try to do the same myself, which is ludicrous. Somehow or other, I have to find a way to float and let it all wash past me. It's not easy and it requires a constant, determined effort at maintaining the connection with my own dance, my own pleasure, my own partner and my own priorities. And also at asserting my right to be there and to occupy my equal share of space, which is in itself a challenge. The answer may be to develop some sort of Somebody Else's Problem field; I will let you know if there is an outcome to my research on this.


* Or, to be fair, about 60% on each other and 30% on Carlitos, with the rest left over for female and other matters. I specifically want to say that I wouldn't want to give Carlitos any shit for this. I know from direct firsthand information that when he was teaching a regular beginners' class in the south of France he produced some of my absolute favourite dancers anywhere, with not only the purest warm-hearted modesty and competency of dance, but the kind of embraces that leave behind a little trail of floating hearts as we dance around the floor, exactly like on Periscope. I saw nothing at the practica that was on the same planet as any of those. That is the way tango should be, and very often is. But not in the fog.


stompyzilla said...

Wish I had seen this! Practical topic, the relationship between other couples' actions and leading well. Which you've mixed with a fog :-) of male self-absorption, masculinity, and competitiveness. Are you getting at the challenge of leading when other couples have their own distinctive attitudes? Or are you getting at the physical constraints imposed by other couples on the floor?

In my experience (more frequently a leader than a follower, more North America than other places) one key to dancing in crowds is a balancing skill: balance my lead to conditions, assert the space I deserve, yet remain as totally focused on the follower and the music as possible. Tango has the prerequisites of codigos and free will, I think, with atmosphere and attitude left to choice.

msHedgehog said...

Both, but to different degrees. The constraint of space, as such, is not a problem; I can dance easily and enjoyably in a smaller space than most or all of them, because I'm better trained to do so and, as long as I remain calm and don't get sucked in, have an attitude that allows it. But atmosphere and attitude have a marked effect. I remarked to a partner (also a woman, she was leading) on Friday that the guy behind us, although very big and aggressive in his style of movement, has fairly good eyesight and judgement of distance and isn't really a physical threat. He's not trying to hurt us on purpose, and he isn't very likely to hurt us by accident. However, having to dance in an atmosphere of intimidation created by the physically aggressive style - no matter how gentle or well-regulated the heart behind it - is not ideal, obviously.

stompyzilla said...

Courtesy definitely includes taking into account physical and style differences when choosing the distance with neighboring couples. However, there is a foggy zone between courtesy and exuberance and the pursuit of pleasure - a topic of endless tango debate!

Developing the "Somebody Else's Problem field" (love that term by the way) has been personal growth area for me in this dance. It is versatile, being useful with other tango hazards and conundrums, such as narcissism - a bit of that in tango! Complemented by something I don't have a good term for, a friendly and pleasant social reminder that we are connected by a love for the dance and the community it gives.

Mango said...

Oh I was waiting for this post and you didn't disappoint! :)