Dancing Small

24th February 2009

(More Next Steps articles.)


At the TLC ball recently, I had a lovely series of dances with an experienced - and talented - tango follower.

The first track we danced was a neo-tango song, so I naturally did nuevo style to it - open embrace, lots of moves, ochos, boleos, and so on. The flashy stuff, basically. And it was fine, good fun, and it went well.

But then... the music changed, it became more traditional. I changed my style - from almost all figures to almost all walking.

Nothing particularly unusual in that of course, we should all dance to the music, after all.

However, I kept on walking, simply walking, my only variations were in the depth and the timing of my steps. And it worked, it worked very well in fact.

Take a crowded room

Consider a really crowded situation - a busy milonga in Buenos Aires, or a quiet time at the average Northern Line tube station in Central London. Hundreds of people, all trying to move in an area the size of your average postage stamp. You literally have only a few inches to take and step, in any direction. The entire room will be shuffling around, very very slowly - at a rate measured in a few feet per minute, at best.

So, you can't do figures - and only a complete loon would even try. But neither can you simply stand there or shuffle along like a commuting drone - after all, you have a lovely woman in close embrace, and you kind of want to do something with her...

So, you dance small. Because you have to. But that doesn't mean you don't dance at all. You play with the timing, you use rocksteps, hesitations, dips, and so on - everything you should do normally, but don't because you're seduced by the leg wraps.

Small is beautiful

The intensity of dancing small is real - you have to have an intense and good connection, otherwise small motions get lost. Was that a lead or a twitch?

So small movements give good connection, they have to. Leaders have to be precise, they have to be focussed, and they have to be clear. Followers have to be tuned-in, they have to be sensitive, and they have to know their partner.

Dancing in a small space - and still making it dancing, not shuffling around to 10cc's "I'm not in love" like my generation's contribution to dance - requires depth and precision.

Any fool can make big dramatic steps, boleos and ganchos flying. It takes real skill to dance well, with your partner, in a smaller space.

Then again...

I don't want this to be an anti-Big-Step rant or something. Stepping large has it's place. If the leader provides a strong, confident, aggressive forward lead, the follower should absolutely take a decent-sized backstep, otherwise the Horror Of Knee Knocking occurs. Similarly, large steps help develop balance, they have their place to accentuate movements such as ochos, and they give the follower room for interpretation - literally.

But, I've found that dancing small - even or especially when not needed - can be an amazing, emotional experience. No-one's going to develop an intense emotional connection through endless giros, sacadas and planeos - but they will if they have to take teensy weensy steps, and still make it dancing.

Next time you're on the floor, even with lots of space, try it out. Dance small.

 - David Bailey, 24th February 2009

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