Saturday, 20 September 2008

Progress, practice, motivation

Back in May, I was looking for the next step in my dancing. I wasn't unhappy with it. Things were improving steadily with practice, but the usual kind of intermediate class had stopped making any real difference to them.

I was also very upset, and I'd be lying if I hid that. Telling the tale would bore you and anger me, but the upshot was that I found it very hard to continue with any dancing at all. I certainly had to change my habits. But I didn't want to lose this good thing from my life, so it motivated me to fight back, get around the problem, and keep going through the difficult time by pushing myself a bit more.

My first step was to stop taking group intermediate classes and dance more, socially, with people who dance better than me.

You can go a long way in group intermediate classes. As a follower you always have to be self-motivated, and to a great extent self-taught. Once you stop doing anything visibly bad, most teachers just ignore you because the leaders' problems seem more pressing. My method in group classes was to have a mental queue of improvements I should work on, and do that conscientiously with as many different leaders as possible in whatever context the class content provided. If something new came up or I found a problem, I'd work on it, make a note of it, and put it in the queue.

But there are things the follower just can't work on if the same move is being constantly repeated to the same music, or the leader has not mastered what he's trying to do. What can happen then is that you stop improving, and spend your time learning ornaments, which you repeat pointlessly, by rote. I think this is a dead end, and a distraction, and eats away at musicality. If I see an ornament I like, I'd rather puzzle out how to do it naturally. I don't want to ever do one unless I feel inspired. I think teachers put them in to make the women feel they're getting equal time, but I think it makes me dance worse.

I'm sure lots of you have encountered the same problems, and found your own solutions; share them in the comments, if you feel inclined.

So I stopped going, and I danced more. The result was a rapid improvement, especially to my embrace. And I mostly danced with people who value me as a person, who encourage, support, or praise me, who are kind to me, and who do things to make me feel better if I get hurt. Generally, I didn't find a shortage of those.

So, that's the background. I was less at a dead end than I had been, but I needed a bit more. Next: my first class as a leader, and how it went.


Anonymous said...

How interesting that you wrote about this. I was working on this post this morning.

Anonymous said...

I just went to a milonga on London where I asked a follower for a dance:
- Would you like a dance?
* Err.. No, ..err I'm not very good.
- That's ok we can just walk to the music.
* I havent' seen you dance. I can only dance with advanced dancers. Are you advanced?
* ... that's a silly question?
- No, But..
* Thanks. Bye.

Don't teachers in London teach manners and etiquette? If anyone is guilty of the above I can recommend some great brain exercises that really will put you on the path to "advanced".

Anonymous said...

Your post gives me hope, thank you for brightening my day!

msHedgehog said...

@Johanna, I'll come over :)
@Anon1, some do and some don't, with varying degrees of success. There's certainly good advice to be given about how to say no.
@Anon2, I don't know who you are or what sort of hope you got - it's the hope that kills you, as they say in mid-table obscurity - but I'm glad it made you happy :)

Anonymous said...

Love Anon1's story - the guts of some people is unbelievable.

MsHedgehog: thanks for confirming my belief that the secret to dancing is dancing... not trying... looking forward to the development of this!

tg said...

It's a bit different for leaders and followers, isn't it? If a follower learns the basics of following all she (or he) needs do is practice by dancing socially. Leaders have to gain some confidence with steps/body movements.

The late (sadly) Ricardo Vidort said eight classes were enough to master the basics: after that 'you must go and find your own tango'. It's an improvised dance, and you learn only by improvising it. As to only eight classes, with a lifetime's experience he felt it could be that simple, even if the possibilities are endless. An approach that wouldn't appeal to most teachers!

I found an interesting story of an experiment in teaching following on this page: The essay itself is an inspiring account of a lesson with Tete and Sylvia: the bit about following comes about half-way through.

msHedgehog said...

To be honest, there's a lot to go wrong with refusals, and I'd always recommend a straight and pleasant "no" over making excuses. You're NOT obliged to explain yourself, as though you were some sort of public utility, and doing so is generally a mistake, because it can easily lead to this sort of hurtful, embarrassing, long-remembered conversation.

I also think it's wise, courteous and considerate to accept the first 'no', regardless of any reason given. If it doesn't make sense to you or anyone else, presumably it does make sense to her. Who knows, why? If it's a foolish reason, well, maybe she's a fool. Why point that out to her? Is learning that information, going to make her enjoy a dance? I don't think so; after all, she has to contribute her state of mind. We're not here to establish who's right and who's wrong, we're here to dance, and it's her body we're talking about.

It isn't about not trying, exactly, but what I mean is, it also isn't about throwing money at teachers and expecting them to make you a good dancer. I need teachers to tell me what to look for and where, but I only master what I find there myself, and that process takes time. And in a situation like mine, relaxed, fun time, dancing socially, is probaly the best way of putting the time in. Classes are very useful, especially with the right teacher, but they have important practical limitations.

msHedgehog said...

@John, yes, the optimal learning strategy is different for the different tasks. Although you can adapt to the situation either way, and my observation of MrBalancingRock (you know who I mean) suggests to me that it's not quite as different as I've always thought it was.

ModernTanguera said...

I can't remember if I included my thoughts about classes in any of my recent posts - about how leaders and followers need very different sorts of classes. I am excited about upcoming workshops here where the teacher has spelled out the goals for both leaders and followers in each class he is teaching.

But overall I find that practicas are the most useful for improving as a follower. Classes are good for people who need the learn the basic technique and for leaders to learn the mechanics of different steps; privates seem to be best for refining technique with a teacher's supervision; and practicas are the best place to dance with a lot of different people but in a setting where you can ask questions and get feedback. That has been my experience, anyway. It's why I haven't been taking any classes lately.

msHedgehog said...

@ModernTanguera, I hope you'll tell us about the workshops. Teaching following is a fascinating, quite difficult problem, and it's very interesting to hear how teachers deal with it.

Anonymous said...

Like anything, dancing is a skill that comes with practice. However, you can only do so if asked to participate.

In some places, if you are not asked how can that be so.As they say it takes two to tango. Recent experience in a milonga that was visited, very few dances were procured. In essence the people there were only dancing in their little clique...

Is there a point in getting all dolled up and excited only to have it shattereed or disillusioned?

Agree with comment on adornos.

msHedgehog said...

I can't say I've ever yet encountered the problem of not getting a dance at all, except where the venue layout makes it impossible to circulate. I am thinking more of the situation where someone has a reasonable amount of experience at social dancing, but wants to improve the quality of her dancing itself. So I am assuming the (different) problem of getting dances at all is already solved.

But there are lots of reasons why no-dance-at-all can happen. Things like the layout of a venue can have a huge influence, as well as who is there and why they are there; and in London, for example, it would be very easy to make an unlucky choice of where to go.

Anonymous said...

Anon - the "not getting asked to dance" is a phenomenon that exists in every venue, at every level, with every dancer, throughout our Tango lives. There is no one answer, nor any one solution. But focusing on the pain of it just keeps us unhappy, which practically guarantees not getting asked to dance.

In my experience, finding joy at the milonga beyond the dance floor is a sure way to a) make friends, b) have more fun, and c) be someone who looks like they'd be fun to dance with.