Wednesday, 23 January 2008

What you need to know for your first milonga - leaders

[Following? Read what tangologue would like a beginner follower to do. It's very good.]

This was inspired by ricky's story about an acquaintance of his. This acquaintance went to classes for two years before he went out to dance socially. Of course, if you've danced socially even once or twice you will know exactly why this was a mistake; but if you haven't, it's not obvious at all.

So this post is intended to encourage beginner leaders to get out there by telling you what you need to be able to deliver (not necessarily very well) for your very first go at social dancing, and what you don't. It's mostly what I, as a follower, need you to be able to do so that dancing with you can be fun. So if you lead and you have something to add or subtract, chip in.

I'll be happy to dance with you, and you will manage OK, if you know:

  1. How to synchronise properly. Just put your feet together and change weight from one to the other, on the beat. Don't bounce up and down or lift your heels off the floor, it's totally confusing (get someone to lead you and do it, so you find out why). Now I know which foot you're on and which one you're going to go with next.
  2. How to walk positively, on the beat, with your feet close together. Now I know whether you're moving or stopping, and I can get my feet out of the way, as if by magic.
  3. How to make a steady embrace (open is fine, just don't lean forwards or look at your feet).
  4. How to get in and out of a cross. (Ochos are optional - too many make my feet hurt).
  5. How to do a rock-step. It's easy to follow, and you can use it to fill time in a traffic jam and to change direction; you can do a lot with it musically, too.
  6. How to do some little double-times if you feel like it and the music suggests it.
  7. That (a) you are supposed to go round the floor anticlockwise without overtaking, reversing, or bumping, and (b) the world is full of people who can't do this, and some days you are one. It's no big deal.

Some kind of a round turn will also be very useful. But I don't mind.

Nothing else I can think of will be any additional use at all, and if you know all the above it is time to make yourself presentable and go dancing.

If you try get 'good' before your first adventure in social dancing, you will be wasting your time, money, and spirit, because:

  1. It is just not possible. The skills you learn in class are not, and can't be, the same as the ones you learn by doing it - as I have observed before. The social dancing skills are not trivial to learn, and you really don't want to be doing anything complicated while you're trying to get the hang of them. You also don't want to be thinking of yourself as a good dancer and then finding you're not. That's just upsetting and distracting. It's much better to know where you are.
  2. No-one will care. Social dancing is not a big deal and it's not about you. No-one is going to be looking at you admiringly, scornfully, or, very much, at all. They are busy dancing, gossiping, eating cake, observing each other's dress sense, waffling about the music, bitching about rival clubs, or thinking about themselves. It's not that people don't watch, but they don't watch very attentively, and when they do happen to look at you, it is a very good thing to be seen as what you are - a beginner with some sense.
  3. The followers want you to keep it simple and give the social skills priority. We all know that it's more fun to dance with a beginner who walks nicely, listens to the music, mostly knows which foot you're on, and doesn't get your stockings torn, than someone who expects you to deliver all sorts of fancy stuff without regard to anyone else (or, very often, the music) on a crowded floor. Such people are fools and bores. Watch the fellow reversing at high speed and doing all the ganchos and know that if you could see the woman's thought bubble, it would often say "He thinks I'm a Playstation, I bet he'd be rubbish in bed". Do not be misdirected by his example. And we also know that the beginner with some sense may well turn into a good dancer, and we'll be glad we were nice to him, whereas the other bloke is probably beyond redemption. [There are people who can do all the fancy stuff, with the music, and the floorcraft, and make it fun. Watch them, enjoy them, don't worry about them.]
  4. It's nice to be able to dance with someone from the same beginners' class as you, while she is still a beginner too. It makes the jumping in easier for her, too. If you wait, she will have either given up or grown wings by the time you arrive.

I'm not telling you to stop taking classes. I think a regular class is essential if you want to improve. But I assure you that social dancing is even more rewarding and fun.

Jump in, it's going to be stressful, but people who do it think it's worth it.


Anonymous said...

I've always thought that the skills one leans in most classes (technique, movement, sequences, embrace, ...) are almost orthogonally distinct from the skills one needs in a social milonga (navigation, awareness of other dancers, avoidance, preventative leads, ... all the while maintaining some semblance of musicality and elegance).

Doug Fox said...

I just started taking tango lessons. And you are right about importance of getting out there and dancing - even if it is scary, which it is.

Fortunately, here in New York City there are practicas for beginner/pre-intermediate students so stress isn't that bad.

In any case, I wrote about tango bloggers this morning in my blog.

Supantheress said...

Everything you've written I agree with. I just CANNOT stand beginner-leaders who concentrate on doing fancy moves. There has been a couple of guys who tried so often that their movements ended up being either robotic or sleazy, AND because they were concentrating so hard on those moves that there was basically no point in having music on...

msHedgehog said...

Doug Fox, that was interesting. I'm really intrigued to read that there are also lots and lots of bellydancing blogs. I've recently read something elsewhere (in email) by a woman who dances tango - she teaches, I think - who said her 'connection' in tango had improved dramatically when she took up bellydancing. Because of core strength and flexibility. So apparently they attract at least some of the same people: and there was a bellydancing performance at the tango club where I was on New Year's Eve!

Doug Fox said...

Just to follow-up on point from above:

"How to walk positively, on the beat, with your feet close together. Now I know whether you're moving or stopping, and I can get my feet out of the way, as if by magic."

I've just started listening to tango music and I'm not always sure how to listen to the music in terms of finding the beat.

Do you or others have suggestions of maybe easy music to listen to so I can develop ear training or overall strategies to follow?

Much thanks!


msHedgehog said...

Mmm, that's an interesting question. It's really slow - slower than you probably expect. There's modern stuff where they add a really loud beat, as though it were some sort of house music - but really I'm not sure that helps, I think it just gets tedious and leaves you where you started, because you need to be able to continue the beat when the orchestra abandons you. The really old-fashioned stuff that's very focused on dancing is probably easier. Some composers and performers are more focused on dancing than others. Di Sarli's music tends to have a very regular, friendly beat - my beginners class used Don Juan, and I think Cara Sucia, and a la gran muneca, a lot. Some characteristic classics like La Yumba and La Cumparsita give you a huge clue as to what to listen for in everything else, and what the tricky bits are going to be.

Anonymous said...

I can't play an instrument or read music and until last year I couldn't even hear the beat in any music. What helped me is constant listening to tango music - at a bus stop, on a train, walking home, in bed .. a portable music player really helps. What I tried to do is walk to the beat or rythm, or just tap my feet to it, or nod my head to it .. over time you get used to it .. and after even more time you start getting used to the phrases in the music, and before you know it (after 3 years for me! i am slow..) you'll find yourself chosing to step on te beat or move to the melody ...

I've found that a lot of the traditional tango music, as opposed to the modern nuevo stuff, has a rich variety to it which initially seems forbidding but very soon is actually making you move to it ... and also there seems to be a hidden structure to the music which seems to give you clues as to what the piece will pan out like .. I can't put my finger on it exactly, I'm not a music theorist, but a few people who do know say the same. Its like looking at a small part of a fractal and then not being surprised by the larger pieces of it, whilst it still has a rich intricate structure.

Anonymous said...

.. ps that was also how I finally managed to crack the "Oh this is a valz / tango / milonga / candombe."

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post, Ms. Hedgehog. There are so many do's and don'ts when we start learning something. You've inspired me to write about this too :-)

msHedgehog said...

I've heard this from more than one person who started off dancing enthusiastically to something that sounds almost like what they play in clubs, and then started to get their ear in to what I think of as the real thing (not necessarily tango - just real music composed and played people who know what they're doing). And when you do, so much of the music you hear all around seems so empty and tiresome in comparison.

You don't have to be a musician to appreciate it, any more than you have to be an architect or a historian of engineering to appreciate the awesome roof of St. Pancras International - although of course you would probably get even more joy out of it if you were.

I can't play an instrument, or read music very fluently, although I'm a useful light soprano for Byrd or Tallis or anything like that.