Friday, 2 August 2019

Following conversion course - Playlist

As a followup on the playlist post for those converting from following to leading, here's one for going the other way. The choices are a bit more speculative as it's not my own experience; someone else may do better elsewhere, and if they have already done so, do put it in the comments.

Another limitation is that videos in general are not always helpful in learning to follow. A lot of what's important is not easy to see, and the majority of things that can be seen easily are no help. A lot of high-level followers do a lot of peacocking; doing things that are easy, or at least harmless, if you're already that good, but are very bad news indeed if you haven't previously solved all of the problems that most people encounter. Imitating the visually obvious features of other people's dance, as a follower, is usually a mistake. The way you follow really has to come from within you. So this post probably won't be as helpful to those converting from leading to following as the previous one for going the other way, but I'm going to do the best I can by pointing out some less-visually-obvious things.

Men who are learning to follow face the additional problem that most of the good followers you can easily find to watch are women wearing fairly extreme hyper-feminising costume, which can make it difficult to apply what you see to yourself in your own mind. Many male-male performances on YouTube have artistic aspects as the main goal. These are also not much help if what you want to do is follow better in a social context. Others are brief demonstrations that stop half way through a track, as though the male pros involved want to show they can follow a bit, but would be childishly embarrassed to appear to be actually dancing together; this is just annoying.

So, I would welcome more nominations of things I have missed, in the comments, but what I have done here is collect just a handful of videos which I think might be helpful.

Claudio Ruberti and Marco Gallizioli

Claudio is an extremely watchable follower, but unfussy. Everything you see Claudio and Marco do is well within what you should aim to follow well, routinely and without effort, in social dancing.

This one is unusually well-lit, and you get a fairly good view of how the posture works and the process of creating the embrace. You can see for example how Claudio can give a lot of forward intention without either coming 'down' to Marco or leaning on him (shoulders straight and relaxed, and the top of his head stays generally level). Despite being very slightly the taller of the two.

He's also straight and strong when they do the little volcada at 02:20, which makes for lightness.

There is quite a bit of ornament here, but it's fully integrated and follows naturally from good free leg technique and the musical dynamics. He's not stopping the dance to do stuff. And he doesn't need to mess about. Nobody is going to take their eyes off him anyway.

There are several more of this couple in the playlist. Occasionally they exchange roles. Things to watch for:
  • how the execution of pivots varies according to the music.
  • how Claudio pushes off the standing leg, his general economy of movement, fluidity, and full, continuous commitment to both the music and the embrace.
  • the heels. Claudio lifts his heels off the floor only as much as he requires for the movements at hand.
In this one, Marco is following for the first minute. He's neat, unhurried follower with quite expressive feet, less exuberant and confident-looking than Claudio, but still good. The moment where they change over is very beautiful (❤️), and the long turn where they alter the embrace at 01:45 is interesting.

They've both been creating room for their feet with good well-balanced posture, so the adjustments required to get in and out of the turn with all the momentum under control are negligible. Notice how the closed-side arms maintain contact along their length; this is a good way to make sure you keep the information flow going through any changes like this, and don't lose connection. As a follower you have to constantly make decisions about what exactly to do with that arm. Imitating this should give you a pretty reliable continuous connection.

It's calm. There's no overshooting or rushing around from anyone.

Ricardo Viquiera, Marco Gallizioli and and Claudio Ruberti

Because you see all three of them following, you can see that they are different from each other, and you can also see how the leaders react to a change of follower.

They inspire different things in each other; my impression is that Claudio's following has the most potential space; Viquiera immediately expands his dance. I think this is useful to see in three similarly-dressed men; it's visually more comprehensible than usual.

Juampy Ramirez and Daniel Arroyo

These three videos are very well lit, and everything led is still well within what some people lead 'socially' (for a given value of 'social') in London. There is lots more of this couple on YouTube, including their appearance in the final of the Mundial de Tango, but most of it is artistic choreographies.

First the vals. I notice here that you can sort of see how, as a follower, it's important to simplify and create economy of effort in your basic habits of movement so that you have space to both express yourself and to handle the leader's demands. Watching two relatively similar-shaped bodies, we can see better than usual just how physically and cognitively demanding following is.

The style of dance is different, but his movements are just as compact, relaxed and economical as Claudio's in relation to the lead. There's no reaching for anything, there's no rushing or flapping about. The more economical your following the more space you create for your body as a whole to express your own musicality - this is the glow.

Again, when they open the embrace you can see they keep as much contact as possible along the whole arm on the closed side. It's important for the flow of information and one of the most useful practical tips an inexperienced follower can pick up.

Next, Pura Clase. Juampy is driving a lot of power down through his core to accomplish the fast pivots, and in the rapid accelerations and decelerations. It's not remotely possible to be under the illusion that the leader is "moving" the follower here. No overleading required. And there's no oversteer, either.

I notice here how well he handles the dynamics in general, with a full and continuous connection so that there is no overshooting. It can slow down anywhere. You can't force this, it requires time and practice. There isn't a lot of time or need for ornamentation, but Juampy manages some anyway because he's just that fast.

Notice also how he actively and expressively uses the whole of his feet to give texture to his steps, which is an option for everyone dancing in flat shoes (it's also possible in heels, but less effective). It's most visible in the milonga, especially at 00:50 to 00:55 and at other places where the dynamics change.

Céline Giordano and Alexis Quezada in the Same Shoes
Although Alexis's style is on the rhythmic side, both he and Céline have an extraordinary ability to create stillness in the dance (watch). Céline is another follower who is, without appearing to do anything in particular, very difficult to take your eyes off when following socially. For many years I've also seen her commonly follow in both heels and flat shoes; this is the first time the flats have appeared on video.

Not only do you see clearly the articulation and expression of her feet, the fact that she and Alexis are wearing identical shoes really brings out the real relationships between the two pairs of feet, the centres of gravity, and the floor. Notice how her transfer of weight works at 00:23-00:25. Watch the Troilo too, which has slightly poorer picture quality but is a good one to check through and ask yourself which bits you would follow successfully.

Don't be discouraged from putting in the work; the thing to aim for first is to get to the easy-to-lead stage. It may be challenging to get the right sort of feedback; I'd suggest working with a variety of partners, with a variety of body shapes and a variety of styles. Seeking precise and factual information about what the other person feels or doesn't feel, is a good approach - asking them to tell you what you are doing wrong is much less reliable.


Mike said...

Thank you for this carefully curated collection, and your thoughtful commentary. I appreciate that you haven't included followers with boleos that reach their armpits. What I think is evident in all of the clips you have chosen is that the follower seems visibly to concentrating on just doing what the leader is asking. Any ornament or addition is a rare little flash of brilliance which highlights the quality of the connection.

Steve C said...

Yours is the only writing on this subject I've seen, and I'm grateful for this inspiration! People suppose I'm a male learning following as a pedagogic way to improve my leading, but then when I explain that following is great fun, and another world of the dance, which is why so many people do it, there's a pause, and "oh, ok, that makes sense." Even though as a leader I'm thoroughly used to adapting to different followers, the hardest thing about following has been getting used to how to move my body in close proximity and hold my leader. Second hardest is shutting off the leader brain kibitzing about here comes this awesome passage in this song, let's do something physical with it. Also for certain movements such as pivots the standard for followers is much much higher than for leaders. Finally, trying to seriously learn following in addition to continuing to lead, it's hard to find enough practice time.

msHedgehog said...

@Mike - true, but I would spell out that that's because real follower musicality and full participation is pretty much invisible to everyone except the partner you are actually dancing with at the time. The stuff you can easily see is just for the audience and it takes a very knowledgeable eye to spot it.

msHedgehog said...

@Steve C: you don't necessarily need to divide your practice time unless you want to. If you focus your practice on following for a while, and you've already got a basic level of leading, your leading is likely to improve without additional effort. It also works the other way round, the first thing I usually notice with women who start leading regularly is that their following improves fast. It's pretty safe to switch completely in practice or classes and just do the other socially for extended periods.

I agree with your observation about pivots. When leading, doing them well is useful, when following it's pretty much necessary.