Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Fair Play on the dancefloor

A gentleman wrote to me about this photograph (taken by me standing on a chair) of dancing couples at about midnight on a Friday night in Devon:

Abrazos Devon
“What we loved about the line of dance photo was the beauty of men collectively dancing together,and fair play triumphing. So suitable for most Englishmen, when they're given the option.”

I think 'fair play' is exactly the right notion for tango. It is play - it is not art. It can, optionally, be sort of  competitive, when people feel like it, and that's totally fine and all part of the fun and satisfaction. But when it comes down to it, it's play, and not playing fair doesn't make you a creative genius, it makes you a sociopath, or at least a pillock. It makes you, in short, a cheat, and not fun to play with. You play as well as you can, and if it's better than someone else, everyone respects that. But you play fair.

The above rather lovely line of dance  is exactly what you would expect British dancers to do, given the choice, if they just behaved normally and made tango their own, something they do for fun in their own warm and fuzzy way for their own reasons, and might do rather well if they put some work in -  instead of treating it as some exotic bullshit that isn't supposed to make sense.

My correspondent - who is visible somewhere in the photo, but I don't know where as I don't know him by sight - described this large-scale cooperative dancefloor as 'particularly moving', and added:
“I think you might be surprised how strongly some of our men feel about this. They don't like the men who try subtly to cheat the system.”
As the under-13 street cricket club in my car park say, "You got to do it properly! If you don't do it properly, it's Not Out!"


Matthew said...


If enough people aren't 'playing fair' it can spoil my night in a way that almost nothing else can.

It's at the base of my personal 'pyramid of needs' hierarchy for tango.

It seems to be getting better and better here in the UK -- or possibly I'm just getting better at finding the places where it does work well...

LimerickTango said...

Love it.

Echoes thoughts I've been having about natural competition. The act of being the best you can be instead of focusing on beating your opponent.

Ghost said...

The notion of "Fair play" also extends to classes. When there's an inbalance of men to women (so pretty much always!)some people will sit out a turn or practice on their own, or practice with someone of the same sex. Others will grab a partner each turn regardless. This can often lead to the people playing fair missing out far more than their fair share :( This mentality then trickles down into milongas.

It's also worth noting that in tango, social mores are differnt from everyday life. The short, old, fat, balding, bespectacled guy can be the one draped in young hotties at a milonga. Which can lead them to wonder what else they can get that they normally wouldn't in everyday life eg claiming huge amounts of dancefloor, making everyone else get out of their way, behaving in an openly hostile way to other leaders on the floor etc. It's someone whose idea of what being an alpha male actually means is totally messed up and they end up behaving like a sociopath instead.

msHedgehog said...

@Matthew, I agree. I think it is improving. Even in London I think it has improved noticeably in the last two to three years; but this could be my illusion, because these days I dance (almost) only with people who are very good at avoiding bumps, so I personally have hardly any. But you only have to go as far as Letchmore Heath, or even TSL, for the bump count to go down far enough that you don't need the ninja cloaking skills.

@Ghost there's lots more to say about fair play in group classes; there are so many things to go wrong and leave people feeling exploited in multiple conflicting ways.

Anonymous said...

There is much more to playing fair than is described here. Everyone dancing to the music is fair, blocking the floor with unwarranted unmusical pauses, just because some subscribe to Gavito's idea that tango is the dance between the steps, is not. Dance is movement to music and dancers should ensure the floor constantly progresses, if only slowly. Forming an orderly queue to step in turn may be English but it isn't tango.

Looking more carefully at your photo, in many places, it doesn't tell the story you describe, deduction from a still almost certainly never can be reliable. But as a contradictory example, compare the compactness of the couple on the left, with the couple in the centre foreground. That sticking out elbow - ouch!

Nor would I be particularly happy to appear on the web in an unsolicited photo. How fair is it of you to take it and then publish? Tango is a private dance in the moment for just the two people.

Lastly, the space you photographed on Friday was more conducive to good and co-operative dancing than the narrow floor used on Saturday and Sunday evenings - that has an effect too.

msHedgehog said...

@Anonymous: nothing I have said is based on deduction from a still. The description of this as an orderly, smoothly mooving, and emotionally 'moving' dance floor is the description given by people who were there and are shown in the picture. The average standard of dance was not especially high, although of course much higher than the big-city standard; nevertheless it was orderly, cooperative, and smoothly moving, which is what this post says, and which is one of the things that are important to people, and important enough to be illustrated with a photograph. I agree that the shape and layout of this particular room was extremely helpful, and that's also important information for organisers.