Little Lies

31st October 2008

"Little lies" - the small talk in the 10 second break between tango tracks.

"I can lead anyone"

I've realised that there is a small but important lie we tell ourselves in Modern Jive "I can lead someone who's never done Modern Jive before". And we can prove it too - take someone on their first ever MJ night and at the first freestyle break both you or I can indeed lead her in passable Modern Jive.

But the thing is, at this point she already knows some Modern Jive. Not much maybe. But in the last half hour she's learned the "step forward then back" that drives the dance, how to pivot, how to do returns. And that's what we use to lead her. A lady who'd never done Modern Jive was accompanied by a friend to Slinkys once. It was interesting watching all these incredible dancers struggling to lead her.

Part of the problem or the solution?

This I think is part of our problem. As tangoistas we know that leading a sidestep is a piece of cake. But unfortunately most Modern Jiveers don't know the vocab so it just doesn't work. But we persevere in the knowledge if can just get the lead "right" it'll work. After all the follower doesn't need to know the move in Modern Jive does she?

Ditto for tango dancers - they've done half an hour walking and pivots before that first freestyle. I've led someone who knew no tango and she kept trying to work out what the pattern to the steps was. Although tango does seem to be more intuitive. Side lunges in particular, especially if you add a barrida.

Modern Jive classes in the UK and Australia notably teach some tango-y moves that work reasonably well. The trick I think here is that in doing so they expand the follower's vocab a bit more; so if you actually do a proper tango lead with the move you can add the connection back in - for example, you can lead a linear giro rather than having to whisper "Columbian". One of my favourite comments from a follower, half-way through a Columbian, was "How am I doing this? *pause* Oh right, you're leading it".

But quite a lot of tango simply won't work well on a follower who doesn't know it if you want to have the "tango connection". If you want to use aikido / jujutsu then yes, you can get her to follow pretty much all tango. I just doubt it'll be enjoyable for either of you.

The comfort of stranger followers

And this leads to the idea of the comfort of the follower. If they don't know the move, they don't know if they've followed the move correctly. Lead a lot of alien moves and they no longer know if they're following beautifully or making a right hash of it. Which isn't fun.

And even if you do manage to pull off the tango move on someone who doesn't know it, you have another problem. Because they don't know it, the depth of connection you'd get with someone who knew the move isn't there. There's a big difference between inviting a tangoista to boleo and micro-managing a Modern Jive-er to do the same.


There are two exceptions to this.

Firstly, if you persevere with the same followers week in, week out, they'll pick stuff up either by osmosis or just plain asking "What are you trying to lead?"

Secondly, every now and then, you'll realise the dynamics are just perfect to pull off one single tango move. Might be a sacada or a single ocho. I suspect the more deeply you understand the concepts of tango, the more these moments appear. The difference is you don't try to lead them. You recognise them. And then wander off after with a big smile...

 - Christopher O'Shea, 31st October 2008