A Follower's FAQ

24th November 2008

(Part of the Fusion set of articles.)

One has to ask, "if we strip the pleasure of dance to the bare essentials, what are we left with?" Strictly speaking I don't think it is possible to learn what dance is supposed to feel like in any class. Many variables are in play, the key players being Connection, aided by Technique (Embrace and Frame) and Posture.

Connection: How can one achieve the connection?

For me, this is probably the most complex. Connection is having a brief relationship with your partner. Doesn't have to mean much, but there is a relationship, whether good, bad or just 'flat'. So connection can and does vary.

For example, in AT, depending on the Tanda - in a milonga, it is "less serious" and I find it to be a "fun" connection - similar I suppose to most MJ dances (excluding blues!). It does not necessarily mean that the connection will always leave the follower in a trance - no, beware, there are all sorts of connection.

For me, I'm largely driven by what I sense from my partner - spooky? No, people can generally 'read' whether it is working or not. Body language is powerful! Another factor of course is my mood. Overall, like my Tango teacher insists, learning the connection is when both you and your partner are of the same understanding and perception of the dance is mutually attained (without speech).

Maintaining the connection is difficult - even the slightest of distractions can make things go very wrong, very quickly.

I guess the biggest difference between the AT connection v MJ connection is that in MJ it does not require as much mental energy or focus as in AT. However, when dancing with a leader that mixes the two, maintaining the focus on the dance and how your partner is interpreting the dance is always a good discipline to build as you will be 'ready' to switch mode as and when requested by your leader - simply because the 'connection' is one and the same, regardless of what dance you do.

Technique: How can I achieve the Technique?

Whether one has been learning ballet, Latin, Argentine Tango, ballroom, etc, for me, the technique comes through in the dance and just appears. By this I mean, for example, a Tango dancer watching can always tell I dance AT, despite the music. There are several ways of achieving your technique, one of which is getting your posture.

What is the Modern Jive posture?

We have to touch base on what the dance is.

MJ - has been relatively easy for me to 'understand' or it's taken me less time to understand, but perhaps ambiguous in definition - the Ceroc website has "Our stylish dance, sometimes referred to as 'Modern Jive', is a fusion of Salsa, Ballroom, Hip Hop, Tango and Jive".

So is it fair to suggest that there is no specific posture in MJ? I can't remember being taught MJ posture as such. But the dance usually kicks off as follows:

  1. With the follower, standing straight - the body posture being more or less 'normal' to how one stands.
  2. Follower placing fingertips in the palm of leaders hand, offered at hip level
  3. Both step from side to side, to the "beat" to get the rhythm, creating a swaying like movement.
  4. Once the dance begins, it can all change. Partners can fuse different styles in such as Scorpion Lunge as its known in Ceroc, but the move is a Volcada and in AT, there are various Volcada's or leans. (see the Ghost Guide to Tango Volcada section for more details on this)
  5. We are advised to look at our partner, not necessarily eye contact if it makes either party uncomfortable, but so long as we look at our partner's top part, neck upwards or in that general direction. By doing so, adjusting your head to accommodate eye contact, your posture can change. For example, a follower shorter than his leader will be forced to raise her head, shoulders will probably drop back, achieving a straight(er), upright posture.
  6. We are reminded not to look down or look at their feet

What is the AT posture?

AT, for me has been the opposite. The idea of AT is probably the simplest, but it's meaning is deep and complex, so much so, that I have not yet fully understood it yet. (I've been learning it for more or less the same amount of time as I've been dancing MJ). AT has become a "relationship" - as if it's a tangible being, with life. I am forced to fully engage, mind, body and soul.

AT Technique 1: The Embrace

Most dances generally begin with the dancers in an embrace

A striking difference between Argentine tango to other dances is in the shape and feel of the embrace. In Argentine tango,

Embrace: Body tilt

Followers, either in close embrace or open embrace, stand-up straight, stand on the balls of their feet and then tilt their whole body marginally slightly forward. If you do it properly, your body (spine) is straight. This, can't be stressed enough by all teachers I've come across. We are told it helps maintain your axis.

A common phrase I keep hearing "imagine a piece of string that is attached to your back and coming through out of your neck pulling upwards" Ouch! Yeah, AT can be vicious, but this is a separate topic. Now, a mistake I generally make when I'm absent minded or tired, is my chest moves forward to meet with my partner, but this I do from the top part (waist up), which leaves me looking awkward! (with bottom sticking out). Wrrong!

However, the tilt doesn't have to be done, especially if you are new. Having said this, it does give it a different effect, both look and feel. So I would definitely encourage to achieve this posture.

Embrace: Other points

  1. The dancers' chests are closer to each other than their hips (from what I've seen, MJ Blues followers may struggle with this concept) and often there is contact at about the level of the chest (the contact point differing, depending on the height of the leader and the closeness of the embrace). The shape of the dancers from the side is that of a capital "A".
  2. In close embrace, the leader and the follower's chests are in complete contact and they are dancing with their heads touching or very near each other.
  3. In open embrace, there can be as much space as desired between the partners, but there should always be complete contact along the embracing arms to give optimum communication.
  4. There is no eye contact - well no eye contact should be made once the dance begins. Before the dance, yes, followers, establish eye contact! It is how to "ask" for a dance. I'm getting better and beginning to 'shut' my eyes when dancing. If my eyes are open, and I'm standing in front of him, they are looking at his chest.

AT Technique 2: Your Frame

Whether open or closed, a Tango embrace ought to be relaxed - and should feel like a hug. However, the followers arms must not be floppy, but remain firm to 'read' your partner. Your frame has to be relaxed - again. AT teacher's can't stress this enough. Probably because it is difficult to achieve. Why? As a follower, there's quite a few things to remember during a Tango - the body tilt, dissociation and torsion.

These, I'm sure are just some of the elements out of several and each requires a different body movement.

Dissociation

This is where followers hips turn out at 45 degrees (this is just a number often used, it is not an precise angle) and your shoulders remain where they are, parallel to your partner's shoulders. Staying relaxed can be challenging. For example in a milonga, dissociation is noted almost throughout the dance. I've found that dissociation requires a lot of effort from your abdominal muscles. But work at it girls, because dissociation improves balance e.g. when doing ochos, walking side by side, so it ought be rehearsed until it comes naturally.

Torsion

Similar to Dissociation as is also a technique to aid in rotation. The movement creates un-twisting of the torso and the rotation comes as a result of the movement of the legs and not the upper body or shoulders. It is of course difficult to achieve, especially if it hasn't been led very well. A word of caution - it is tempting to look at your feet - don't! Also, it has to be led. If it is not, then, don't try to create it - it just won't work.

 - Betty Smith, 24th November 2008