Sunday, 17 February 2008

How long should I wait for the lady to finish her ornaments?

Somebody said this to me yesterday, and I've seen it said elsewhere:

"I'm never sure how long I should wait for the lady to finish her ornaments."

Ornaments are the little twiddles you do with the free leg in between steps. Some people do a lot more than others, mine are rather modest. I do little taps and perhaps two taps or a wave or even a squiggle if I'm having a good night and feel particularly inspired. I'd be a lot more cautious with anything like a beat in front, depending on the leader, because it requires more skill and is much closer to the edge of what I can deliver without too much sacrifice of concentration, although I'm getting there. I quite like the idea of the more exciting ones like the cha-cha, I think I could fit them in now, and I can imagine wanting to use them, but again I would be rather conservative about who with, when and where.

But what my friend was talking about is more this sort of thing (thanks Jennifer for all these vids), the little lines and circles on the floor which you do when the leader leaves a space for it, and can take up quite a bit of time.

I am not actually that keen on some of it, as it can very easily get clichéd, fussy, and totally amusical if you don't watch yourself, especially since it requires little skill. But I like heel-taps and upward turns of foot.

How long should you wait? Well, I think that it's my job, as the follower, to be ready to go on the next beat.

If you leave me a space I can fill it with whatever the music suggests to my mind, as long as I'm always ready to go, on the next beat, from the same logical position I started in. If I'm not sure I can pull out of whatever I'm doing in time, I don't think I should be doing it at all.

Just go when it's time to go, and I'll deal with it. That's my answer. But what do I know?

If I remember, I'll ask about it at my regular class tomorrow, and see what my teachers say.

What do you think?


Psyche said...

I agree. I've always been told the follower should never interrupt the leader. She must always be ready to move whenever he asks her to, and her ornaments should not affect him in any way.

That having been said, tango is a conversation, not a lecture, and sometimes a leader may be inspired by something a follower does and continue the idea. And it's considerate of a leader to allow room for the follower to embellish if she chooses.

Also, I think the way we talk about 'ornaments' isn't especially helpful - a follower is always *dancing*, always carrying out the suggested move in her own way, whether that's something in her quality of movement or the style of her boleo, or whether it's the occasional tap.

So, a strict answer to the question would be 'you should never have to wait for the follower to finish'. But really the strict answer doesn't cover it, and like everything else in tango it's (a) a negotiation, and (b) much to do with personal preference. If you like to dance with followers who add a lot of decoration, then dance with those followers, allow them plenty of space, and listen carefully. If you don't like lots of decoration, then dance with other followers.

Personally, the only thing I really don't like is the 'cha-cha'! I don't like change of weight decorations because I don't think it's the follower's job to change her weight, ever, unless invited. But I'm always prepared to have my mind changed.

Anonymous said...

Regarding psyche's post; like most things there are guidelines for those starting out, and as you master them feel free to break them - that is what makes tango, and all art, great.

MsHedgehog, you have it spot on: the follow must be ready to go at the next beat. Before that, do what you like. If the leader didn't move, then sure, do more and be ready for the beat after.

I do think there is a way of leading or indicating between the leader and follower "here, have some time to do something nice", and then back "right, i'm done now". Its not so much like a lead, more like a passing the "energy" or "baton" back and forth between the leader and follower.

I've been interested in something I think is called the "tic" .. if both leader and follower are into the music, then this tic will compel them to do something if there is a space or a gap in the normal movement. I think the best decorations come from this compelled musical "tic" and both leader and follower feel it together so there is no confusion.

Limerick Tango said...

Would this be about "Feminist" adornments. Those "I'm going to do this even though there is no room for it because I've been told it is the only chance a follower gets to stamp her identity on the dance". An example would be a shoe clean after a mordida. Now don't get me wrong, I think it is a lovely movement and I often give ample room for it. But on every mordida and where I haven't given the room for it? Violently resisting the lead won't help. Such carry on seriously reduces my estimation of a dancer.

On the subject of ornaments proper, my instructor, when she is in a playful mood, dances with a great many tips, taps and twirls of the leg (its almost baroque). But when you watch her closely you can see that she is not committed to executing those ornaments over an entire beat. The majority of the activity is confined to the first half of the beat leaving her plenty of time to be prepared for the next step if and when it comes.

msHedgehog said...

Limerick, I may dispute your definition of "Feminist" - since I would consider the pursuit of actual competence a more "feminist" act than the contrary - but the substance of what you say about ornaments is surely correct.

Anonymous said...

Feminist tango, "male-ist" tango, same thing.

To balance the arguments - men do the same "male-ist" tango when they insist on doing sequences, no matter what the space, mood or music, or when they take advantage and get all sleazy and stalky, or squeeze you to death with the embrace from hell ...

Limerick Tango said...

MsHedgehog, in turn, I agree with your comment. I think some people have been given, how shall I say, cheap advice on adornments too often wrapped with a bow of sexual politics. I had hoped to convey this with the inverted commas.

msHedgehog said...

I like the metaphor, cheap advice wrapped with a bow of sexual politics. I know just what you have in mind.

koolricky said...

I think pretty much everybody got it right in this row of comments. Summarising. Tango is for two so both the leader has to leave some space for the follower as the follower as to be considerate to allow the leader to express himself without being bored to death with the followers ornaments.
There two kinds of embellishments. 1 - The ones made when you're waiting for the leader to go, those have to be made in a way that the follower is ready to go at any moment.
2 - The ones when the leader invites the follower to an adornment, the follower accepts and spends his/her time doing it. On that occasion the leader will have to wait.
Fantastic post, fantastic replies!

Anonymous said...

What an absolutely sensation question. How long, indeed? I mostly agree with y'all (American contribution here, after all), but would like to add my two cents:

Technically speaking, the lead knows she's ready when he perceives her weight shift. How long she takes to shift her weight onto the frilly foot is up to the follow. But she shouldn't be too piggy about it. There are times (as in a very slow passage, where she is going into "cruzada"), when lowering her free leg over the course of several beats is extremely sexy and beautiful.

But in a snappy D'Arienzo piece, she needs to fit her ornaments in between the beats and be ready to go on the next one, as you have indicated.

Unless as koolricky has indicated, the lead gives her all the time she wants :-)

msHedgehog said...

psyche, I too would be very wary of the cha-cha. The first time I was taught it, I couldn't imagine ever using it - it seemed like a really bad idea. It still does, but I can now imagine circumstances in which it wouldn't be. They're not going to happen for a few more months, though.

On the other hand, I'm sure I've done it accidentally at least once or twice, when the leader took me a bit off-axis without really planning to. Maybe he thought it was on purpose :)

Psyche said...

Oh, yes! I do that kind of 'cha-cha' all the time - either when he's moved his chest a little further forward than he meant to and so forced me to step, or when I've misread the lead and stepped too soon - a kind of back-and-forth 'I'm stepping... no I'm not... yes I am' rhythmic cover up!

I'm interested by what Johanna says about how the follower can take as long as she wants to change her weight. I've heard a few other people say similar things - there's a female teacher in the UK who says that when the man leads the cross it's up to the woman when she changes her weight, and he just has to wait for her to do that. Ditto for when she steps after a parada. I disagree - for me, a change of weight is always lead. The man chooses the timing in the cross, at a parada, and every other time, unless he voluntarily hands over the choice (and of course many do after a parada, having been told that they should). But that's just one more of those little differences of opinion that keeps the tango world turning! Churning the milky ocean - duality creates motion creates creation.

msHedgehog said...

Yes, I'm a little baffled by that, too - the things I was thinking of would be in a pause after a weight change, when one step is complete and the next hasn't started yet. That's what I mean by "free leg," and it wouldn't have occurred to me to consider it the other way round. Actually, that's a far more interesting one to go on my question list.

Anonymous said...

Psyche, I suppose absolutely everything can be led, and often, the lead DOES dictate the speed at which the weight change is effected, in all situations.


When a lead is being generous, the places a follow can take their time is in the completion - or resolution - of the step, as I indicated above.

Psyche said...

But in that case, surely he's just leading a slower step, not giving you the choice of *when* to step? This, I agree, is generous, because it allows room for a different quality of movement, or some taps or twiddles - Ney Melo is brilliant at allowing space for Jennifer Bratt in this way. But he's still choosing the timing of the step. He's not saying 'You cross, but I don't care whether it's this next beat, or the one after, or four beats from now.' He's saying, 'You cross, four beats from now, as clearly indicated by the speed of my own movement and the emphasis of the music.'

Or have I misunderstood what you're saying?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I'm following you :-)

If the music has a dramatic moment followed by a very long, slow violin measure, he can lead you into a very fast movement, but then must allow your response to be appropriate to the music.

If I am led into a cruzada at that dramatic moment, I can lower my left leg as slowly as I want (within reason - we don't want to take up the entire song...!) during the ensuing adagio measure, and my partner should wait for me to transfer my weight onto my left foot. To push me onto that foot or rush me to change weight is not right. If he had not wanted me to take my time he would immediately have let me into the next step with no pause at all after the cruzada. Once he surrenders "control" to the follow, in that moment he becomes the follow and must weight for me.

Conversely, if we are dancing to a peppier rhythm and he has led me into that same step, or say, a parada, it would be very improper for me to take extra time to adorn something. It would be breaking the general rhythm of the music.

I suppose the most important consideration is to obey the music. To be rushed into another step when the music is clearly giving me the time to do something (and he has already allowed the possibility), or for the follow to force an adornment when there is clearly no room for it in the music, are both wrong.

Psyche said...

Ah, it seems we do indeed have a fundamental difference of opinion! From your description of the cross example, it sounds as though you consider that the leader makes one single lead for the cross - that 'the cross' is a unit - so he gives the lead for that unit and the lady responds. Or perhaps that he leads the placement of the right foot, and then the lady chooses when to complete the 'move' according to her mood/the music - same thing, really.

For me, the cross is not a unit, and it is led throughout. (For me there *are* no units in tango - everything is led in every single microsecond.) The leader asks the follower to place her right foot, then leads a circular motion so that in order to place her chest where he is asking her to she must place her left foot across and in front of her right. But he could change his mind at any moment - for example, he might lead her to almost place her left foot, but then bring it back and around to the left again (similar to the kind of alternating/rebounding thing that you often see in volcadas).

So, for me, in your example, the leader has asked me to place my right foot on the dramatic accent. He then asks me to move my left leg slowly into the cross position. But he is asking me to move it *a specific amount* of slowly - to place it at a *specific* point in time. I get that very specific information both from his own non-verbal communciation (the physical lead) and from the music. I'm following two things - him and the music. But he's also following the music. So because whatever he leads will make 'sense' in the context of the music (and the surrounding moves, but that's another story), then the music gives me the same information as his lead, and his lead can be subtler because he knows part of the information is already available to me in the music.

For me, it's impossible for a leader *not* to lead. It's impossible to give the choice to the follower. Because either he's moving, in which case I'm moving in accord with that, or he's not moving, in which case I'm stopped in place (and may be decorating if I choose, of course, but the same is true when we're moving). So he *can't* just lead the first step of a cross and then hand over the choice to me of when to finish it. If he's not leading me to finish it, then I don't finish it.

Do you see what I mean? It's hard to describe on paper!

Anonymous said...

Ah! So we both agree it's hard to describe on paper :-)

I do believe we are talking about the same thing, but different semantics. Or different approaches to the same philosophy.

Tango said...

I believe in passive leading. This happens in those occasions when the follower suggests a move to the leader at the same time that the leader gives the follower that opportunity. In the end, the leader is still the ultimate decision maker but the follower may have her "wish" granted.
More than a step is a form of communication that has to be well executed and practised exhaustively. It's fantastic when this happens. But I believe many leaders shake their heads when they hear this, they like their power!

Limerick Tango said...

On passive leading: With a good connection he should be able to take her where she wants to go.

msHedgehog said...

That's getting a bit esoteric for me. I need a really spelled-out, specific example of how that works in order to do anything with the idea. Of course, it's clearly pretty meaningless without the music.

John said...

I might have asked that myself at some stage.

As a leader I've got to walk with the music, and it can be disastrous if my partner doesn't. I danced once with a partner who'd learnt lots of twiddles (but not how to dance) at a N. London tango school. While I was standing wondering what was happening at floor level she suddenly tripped over her own feet and collapsed on the floor. Very inelegant, very embarrassing.

If you're quick enough you can fit ornaments into the beat. Look at 'Carmencita Calderón, 100 years birthday' on YouTube. A famous dancer from the 30s and 40s dancing tango on her 100th birthday, and still flicking her ankles and keeping the beat. Any ornament can get tiresome if it's repeated all the time, but so long as it fits the 'compass' it is part of the dialogue.

When I lead my partner across in front of me, there's often a pause, she can run a shoe up and down my leg, etc. etc., and it would be a mean leader indeed who denied this opportunity unless the music is hurrying on. Of course I can see what's going on, I'm meant to see what's going on, so there isn't a problem. Some partners like to pause here, but that's a bit of a tease, and why not?

Apart from Carmencita, most followers I've watched seem to agree that less is much more. Look at Marianne, Oscar Casas' partner, very elegant and minimal. Ladies, you don't have to do a lot to look good!

Chapter five of has videos of 'ordinary' tango in BsAs, not tango by teachers who grew up as gymnasts (as many did), just dancing by people who've danced all their lives and can take to the floor and do something breathtakingly fluent and energetic. I particularly like the vals from Carlos and Nelida. Ricardo Vidort is there too, effortlessly rhythmic: his partner looks wonderful and uses few ornaments. And Tete, towering over all: Sylvia survives, and fits in neat embellishments too. It's a real feast if (like me) you're not that keen on what Ricardo Maceiras calls 'tango acrobatico'.