Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Floorcraft experiments, Learning Tango, links and thinks

Recently the guys at Learning Tango (mostly Ghost and David Bailey, who regularly comment here, especially Ghost) have started to think about more general questions of why the London tango scene is like it is, rather than like anything else, and what kinds of things have an influence on it.

In particular, they've been studying floorcraft.

They'd written a lot about floorcraft already, but after I wrote something about a class on it, Ghost and DB wanted to test the ideas. We tried some small-space dancing at a practica, using some chairs and bags to make boundaries and fit four couples in a space the size of a rug. That made sure everybody understood what works.

Then, with me and another lady, DB and Ghost tried an experiment downstairs at Negracha. We wanted to find out what happens if two leaders in a challenging environment (general chaos, including at least one couple who were "stationary and dancing salsa") intentionally cooperate to create a line of dance. That is, not just one couple following another but the leader in front also working to keep a constant distance to the one behind. (We had this idea from someone who'd seen it done in Buenos Aires on a visit a week before). Ghost describes what happened in Join the Conspiracy.

David Bailey then has a think about it and considers declaring War on Hoggers, but being a humanitarian type he also reflects on why people hog, and refers to Ghost's piece on Milonga Self-Defence, which refers to Sun Tzu. Then Ghost tries to work out how all that fits in with musicality in Flowing Floorcraft.

And Simba, on his own blog, has a post on floorcraft here, partly in response to the one of mine where I was asking whether the length of songs matters, and how you would know. He considers a lot more factors and continues to make good arguments in the comments thread.

"Learning Tango" (previously "Jivetango") is basically a sort of peer-to-peer approach to the difficulties of learning tango, specifically when you've started from another dance, like Modern Jive. The articles are interesting. I don't always agree with what they write, but both Ghost and David Bailey have the gift of making productive mistakes, and even when I don't agree with them I usually still learn something that makes me think more carefully about what I thought I thought, and think new things. There are lots of articles about the process of learning, and passing advice around that seems useful. Ghost has also been trying out the 'nod' in MJ, with interesting results, here and here.


Tangocommuter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I've been influenced greatly by the tango material I read on the net, especially London blogs like this one, Arlene's, Tango Commuter and Jivetango and so on.

But I doubt that our blogs reach the majority of the offenders in London, why else would you go on trying to do stage tango when theres blogs all over the internet telling you its a bad idea and you'll look silly etc.

Perhaps if there was printed material given out at the Milongas on basic things like floorcraft or etiquette people might read and learn? Obviously not a whole manual but the occasional leaflet?

Tangocommuter said...

It's the old problem. We're all familiar with it: what we've been taught is based more on stage tango than basic social dancing. To me, this is a very good reason for trying get teachers who are 'milonguero', who like to spend time in milongas rather than on stage, as their dance as well as their mental attitude is adapted to social conditions.

Everyone mentioned by MsH is aware of the need for consideration and for floorcraft. None of us feel that the milonga is a place to show off our inner Pablo Veron. But we are in a minority.

It would be great to have a smallish milonga in London, perhaps on a Saturday night, where people get together to dance and enjoy a comfortable social evening. If it's small the venue shouldn't be too costly, and it shouldn't attract Pablo Veronettes because it would be small

(Sorry to pick on you, Pablo. You're great on stage. It's your imitators in London milongas: how can we avoid them?)

ghost said...

The weird thing is that at MsH's birthday I had one dance that formed a natural convoy with the dancers in front and behind me. And they were both Veron neuvo dancers. Legs going like crazy. It was the safest I felt all evening.

I need to mull, but by constrast there was another dancer there doing the whirlwind thing causing utter chaos.

The difference I think was three things
1. Awareness - the first two were using the extra visibility of open embrace to see what was going on. Bozo, was fixated on his partner.
2. Small - the first two had very tight, controlled, small movements. Yes they were fast but they weren't all over the show and could dance in less space than the trad dancers taking normal / long steps.
3. Skill - the first two actually knew what they were doing and so weren't having to think about it. They could flow freely into other things when floorcraft required. Bozo couldn't.

So I'm not convinced we need to stop the Veron dancers. But maybe they need to wait until they have the skill needed before they take their moves from the practica to the milonga. (As indeed do we all)

Mr Walker said...

Belated Happy Birthday MsH
Sorry i was not able to make Portland Place Can you make Negracha friday?

All these excuses sound very nice,But the simple truth is this all the dancers who persist to dance in away that impedes on others are just selfish and dangerous dancers only interested in themselves i doubt that they will change and i do not believe followers enjoy badly lead stage tango...I'm just concerned that at the milonga i don't care what style the dancer infront or behind me dance only that they respect my space meaning if i choose i should be able to take a step in any direction as long as i finish in the line of dance and in my lane..

Dancing defence tango for the leader is horrible...If you are able your follower will never know the dangers that happen behind her or be aware that the sudden change of direction was so you could avoid that heel from injuring her..
My point is this we end up only being able to give half a connection to the experience and that is the pity of alot of london dancing....

ghost said...

Thing is if everyone genuinely cut loose the milonga would end in a bloody heap by the end of the first song.

The selfish ones don't just careen randomly, they swerve and weave. They work out whether their behaviour will cause the other dancers to get out of their way. In essence the milonga becomes a strange game of "chicken".

But that means there's potential to change the dynamics. The considerate dancers need a better option that "get out of the way" and defensive dancing.

We're still working it out, but we have an edge the Hoggers don't...

We've got friends helping :o)

msHedgehog said...

Yes, it's only a minority who think, read, and study; that's why it's worthwhile to investigate what really influences these things in the dancehall. Evidently there are lots of factors. I personally think the example of other people is a fairly major one, especially if you're trying to learn these skills. Maybe the size and shape of the hall, the number of dancers, a skilled and determined DJ, layout, or other things can also have some influence on people's behaviour under the right conditions.

I don't actually think that style by itself explains much. And I want to dance what makes sense with the music. I too have often felt very safe with 'nuevo' dancers, including late on Sunday. But I think it takes a high level of skill to dance what anyone would normally call a 'nuevo' style well, in any kind of embrace.

I think it's unlikely people behave badly just because they're selfish: it's more likely that they think the bobbing and weaving is what is meant by 'floorcraft'. Some people are delusional but most people are just in error.

Mr Walker, I don't know who you are, but as it happens I'm not going to Negracha this week.

Game Cat said...

Apologies if I'm stating the obvious - I think the biggest determinant of good floorcraft in a milonga are the dancers themselves. If they are not willing and won't happen. And if the surroundings are not conducive, they will still try to make it happen. Also, no amount of "good" environment will make unwilling/incapable dancers exercise good floorcraft.

Re environmental factors - for me it's the music, rather than floor space. Rhythmic and slow probably works better than dramatic and fast. The latter makes it harder to predict where the leaders around you are going next.

The best advice I've heard to encourage good floor craft in a milonga (assuming you practice good floor craft yourself), is to stay behind a good couple...even better is to start between two good couples. If enough people do this, you'll start the 'convoy' effect mentioned above.

TC - I agree about your milonga idea. I think it's bound to happen one day....the trick is to get enough critical mass so that all the good people who care will go there. That implies some ability to enforce floor craft/ etiquette. And that could be by peer pressure or a zero-tolerant milonga manager.

ghost said...

I agree with MsH, leaders see what more experienced leaders are doing and tend to copy that.

By demonstrating there is a better more enjoyable way I suspect it's possible to convert a lot of people fairly quickly.

The main catches are:
a) How to do this?
b) The problem of leaders being so focussed on what they're doing (because they can't lead whatever it is they're doing properly yet) that they don't have the necessary awareness

Proper practicas could help with the latter. As to the former, I think it's up to those who can to try the convoy method, either as Gamecat suggests, or through actual agreement with fellow dancers. To echo John Connor,

"If you're reading this, you are the Resistance"

Simba said...

I like the constructive tone of this discussion, not only complaints, but trying to find solutions!

@MsH: I think you have a good point in the observation that many falsely believe to have good floorcraft. I remember a gringo in Bs As was complaining all the time of the supposedly lack of floorcraft, while spinning around like a runaway molecule himself..

Which might indicate that information is important?

@GameCat: Being a good example cannot hurt, but it might take quite some effort before people notice. I sometimes would stay behind a couple not following the flow on the floor, dancing on the spot until they noticed. That can be quite effective. But in some cases they will just continue, oblivious of what is happening around them. Pricked someone gently on the shoulder once, after an entire song without progression, and I think they finally got the point. Might have pissed them off just a tiny bit though.

Some friends in Buenos Aires told me half jokingly that they would use use more drastic sanctions when people were misbehaving, but I can't say I recommend that approach. :-)

@ghost: My experience is also that lack of skill and/or experience makes many relative beginners unable to relate to their surroundings, but it is also my experience that it happens because they are so consumed by 'doing stuff' when dancing simpler would do perfectly.

Game Cat said...

Simba - I agree being a good example yourself is important, if not the first thing to do.

I've heard similar tales from BsAs of "drastic sanctions". People I'm sure will disagree over how right or wrong it they are. However, the point is that once a milonga develops a reputation for strict respect for floor craft, dancers will self-select and only those who care about it will attend.

Perhaps the milonga manager should stick a big sign at the door stating 'house rules' - e.g. "respect line of dance", "no hogging", etc.

...I would be annoyed if it included "no pets allowed". Like dogs, cats or hedgehogs. :-)

Anonymous said...

Students look at more experienced dancers and copy them, to an extent. How many teachers/stars do you see in London actually doing good floorcraft. Not many, if any.

So if they don't lead by example, if you'll excuse the pun, you can't expect them to do it. Same with flying heels and so on.

I agree with MrW - shame that half the connection is spend watching out for dangers.

msHedgehog said...

I am a wild creature, and nobody's pet. In fact I am a protected species. I am not one of those little American hedgehogs you can keep like a hamster! :P

Simba said...

LOL, now who'd want to dance with a tame animal, huh?

It takes a wild creature, or beast, if I may say so, to tango. RRRROARR!!

How about I bite off the misbehaving creatures' arms or something, just for the sake of balance? Or maybe we should discuss this at a time when I'm not waiting for my dinner...