Thursday 29 October 2015

Leading and photos

I have noticed this year that the number of photos people take of me leading seems out of all proportion to the amount of time I spend leading, compared to following. I might lead only five or six tandas in a three-day festival where I hardly sat down, but four of them get photographed. At home I might lead half my tandas, but I'm still much more likely to get photographed leading. So if you looked at my facebook feed, you would have the impression that I lead much more of the time than I actually do. Why?

Obviously, almost every photograph of someone leading necessarily includes their partner as well, so I don't think it's possible that leaders as a group are more likely to be photographed than followers as a group. Nearly every picture clearly shows both. Yet, my personal chances of appearing in the pictures from a given event seem to go up suprisingly if I lead.

It's possible that I look better leading (my face is more visible and more animated), and I am therefore a more tempting subject. I certainly tend to like the pictures of me leading. If so, then, a photographer who is not trying to photograph everyone is more likely to choose me, rather than someone else, when I am leading as opposed to when I am following.

It's possible that everyone, considered as an individual, is a more tempting subject when they're leading, just because the follower's face is often hidden and the face is the most visually interesting and expressive part of any human. So that anyone who dances both roles is more likely to be photographed when leading. I think, if so, this means there should also be more multiple shots of the same leader with different partners than there are of the same follower with different partners, becaues the photographer is selecting leaders rather than followers.

It's possible that the whole thing is an illusion because I don't see all the photos of me following; some of those that don't show my face don't get identified as me, even though from the photographer's point of view they are photographs of the couple as a whole. Although nearly all the photos that show me will be seen and tagged by someone who knows me, Facebook, which is the primary tool used to communicate these things, intermittently makes it difficult to tag the back of someone's head, and people may not think it worthwhile to try.

It's possible that a woman leading seems worth photographing in itself because it's unusual. I wouldn't assume this, as it's not actually very unusual. But I would be interested to know if a man's chances of being photographed go up even more dramatically if he follows, that being so much less usual and therefore more interesting.

It could be a combination of all these, or something more complicated and subtle that affects the photographer's choices and their understanding and interpretation of what they see. Most of the people who take photographs at tango events are dancers themselves who understand very well what they are seeing, but some are not, and there may be a difference.

Any data in the comments, please. I have no problem with any of this. I just think it's intriguing.

Saturday 24 October 2015

I love afterparties (and heels and flats)

I love afterparties - especially when everybody's almost too tired to stand up, but they still want to dance. They just want to dance. They're high as kites on dancing. Somebody DJs. Somebody has a portable speaker. Somehow a room has been found. And it just sort of happens. There's that wonderful no-obligation feeling where everything that was supposed to happen has already either happened, or not, and everything else is a bonus. If only we could bottle that feeling.

It's quite a bit easier, as a follower, to dance close-embrace tango on a bit of a heel, especially at first. To dance well in flat shoes with your feet properly down, you need pretty good posture and technique. Of course, you can do that, and a few women never wear heels at all. Others just don't feel right without heels. Others just see heels in moderation as part of the dressing-up fun, which is where I am most of the time. There are some men I prefer to wear heels for, and it's usually more a matter of dance style than height: if someone throws boleos around my axis then it works more smoothly for me in heels. I'd rather be in flats to lead, but the better the follower, the less it matters. At an afterparty, I'm going to be in flats.

But the point is, I often think flat feet are wonderfully expressive, and these ones are particularly nice, which is why I started videoing them in the first place. Try watching it with the sound off, and notice how much you can hear the music. A minute later I was dancing again.

Friday 16 October 2015

Dancing with DJs

Dancing with DJs is fascinating. A few experiments over quite a few years:

Dance results ..... DJing results
Always on the beat, but nothing in between the beats, and no concept of the musical phrase...... Strong music, senselessly arranged.
Plain vanilla Salon, sense of emotional  engagement hard to find..... Careful, well-organised, reliable sets, if unexciting
Talented and fun, salted with a few things he can't actually do, but only occasionally..... Enjoyable set, with a couple of interesting failures.
Original, interesting, rather vague, and very difficult to follow..... 20% enchanted, 80% asleep
Good, give or take temporary obsessions with something-or-other, so that you dread it coming.
..... Good, give or take temporary obsessions with second-rank orchestras and omitting the Di Sarli tanda.
Smooth, sensual, salon with a heart, good allrounder, averts eyes from Wonderbra at the perfect moment

..... Strong, unpretentious, disciplined sets with a good connection to the floor
Totally secure in what he does. Total calm, simplicity, self-belief, and feeling.
..... Full range of top tracks, so immensely arranged that everyone present is still dancing in the 24th hour of 24 hours of dancing over three days, or so the icebreaking impetus of an opening set lasts the whole weekend, and I've seen him do this over and over again.


Monday 12 October 2015

Ohhh what a tanda

Each of these three milongas is rather one-of-a-kind and people arrange them in various tandas with various other things and various results. Only for the first one are there any obvious choices at all. I have an idea of what I normally expect to hear after the first one. This wasn't that - it was so much better.

I think this is my favourite milonga tanda ever. I danced it this weekend. Lampis played it. I'm so glad I was dancing. I'm not saying it would work in every situation. But that day, that time - it was not wasted.

 I'll just make a playlist so you can click the Play button right in the middle, and go away. No spoilers below.

My thought process while this was played:

1. This is a good milonga, a lot of fun. I wanna dance. Ooh, you'll do. And how. Come here. Let's go.
2. What's next? Sure to be another good milonga. Oh, wow! I hadn't thought of that! Even better!
3. Now what? .... oh - my - word. You legend. My car is on fire.

In putting this playlist together, I also realised the tanda's even better if you look up the words.

Thinking about it restores me to an (approximately) vertical posture after a weekend total of 24 hours of dancing and 12 hours of sleep. I might even be able to cook a ten-minute dinner without falling down.

Thursday 1 October 2015

Death to toxic inane sexist talk

Here's a quote which my friend Trud related on Facebook (it's not on her blog) from a follower technique class. She said the class was a very good one and during it the teacher said this:

“Don’t make it easy for the leaders! If you do whatever they want, even if they’re being lazy with their lead, you’re spoiling them.”
The reason Trud quoted this is that she approves of women being encouraged to focus on the quality of their own dance in class. I agree that that's a good thing to do. I don't agree that this does it.

No. What the teacher said is sexist and inane. Saying it at all conveys an unambiguous message to the women that quality in their dance exists to serve the man's, and is not worth attention for its own sake. Which is false, and toxic.

Nobody ever says to the men "Don't heave the followers around with your arms, it will stop them learning to follow". People say "Don't heave them around, it doesn't feel nice (which is bad dancing)". They say "Don't heave them around, you might hurt them (which is bad dancing)". But "Don't heave them around, you're spoiling them so they don't have to follow"? No. Nobody thinks they need to encourage a man's efforts in working on his dance by reminding him how they will improve the quality of someone else's. That would be pointless, because quality in his dance justifies the effort by itself, and he's there to work on his own dance. Whereas the women, apparently, are unpaid class assistants, automatically qualified as such because their own dance is so trivial there is no difference between qualified and not.

And then teachers who constantly remind the women how they can help the men "too", telling themselve they're just mentioning it as a kind of icing on the cake, wonder why the women dance like mice. Because you told them to, and you're contradicting yourself when you tell them to dance like tigers. The message you're not conscious of, that tells us what your beliefs are about our place in the world, will always come through more strongly, because unconcious messages are the ones people really believe. Otherwise they wouldn't give them. Because, by definition, they're not giving them on purpose.

By all means, actively and consciously recognise that women are often brought up to believe that they are there to serve and that every goal and effort must be justified and excused in terms of how it serves someone else. By all means bear this in mind, and how it drains effort and quashes ambition. But challenge it, don't affirm and reinforce it.

Tell the women to dance well. Tell them how to dance well. Tell them to make it a personal ambition, and not to betray it. Treat following as dancing. Take it seriously as something difficult and rewarding that can be done well or badly. Take it for granted that dancing well, by definition, serves everyone it is supposed to serve, and principally the dancer. Talk as though you believe that dancing the best you can is a valid, satisfying and worthy goal for anyone, an adequate justification for persistent effort, that can be allowed to stand alone. Do that by allowing it to stand alone. Refrain from talking as though you don't believe it.

People say this sort of thing all the time, it's persistent and pervasive, it has always annoyed me, from day one, and I ... would like to ask that teachers stop it.

When you hear yourself saying "Don't anticipate or guess, because it's bad dancing and it doesn't do the leaders any good either", just stop after the "dancing". Or, if the sentence still feels somehow painfully incomplete, forgive yourself for feeling like that, and then replace the missing part with something useful, and say "Don't anticipate or guess, because it's bad dancing and you are here to improve your dance, so concentrate hard on whatever happens and do exactly what you feel every time. Pay attention to small differences, which will make you get better. If you don't know what to do, ask for help."

Forgive yourself for having the stupid, toxic assumptions culture and society have put on you. Then kill them.