9th March 2009

(More Next Steps articles.)

"We are dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers. These are the tools we employ, and we know many things." ~ Elric


Re-reading "A Passion for Tango", there's a mention of "shaping" as a way of describing leading. I can't find any mention of it on Google and haven't ever heard a teacher mention it, so I guess it didn't take off. Which is a pity.

I've always liked Michelangelo's description of sculpting ~ "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it".

Try doing it wrong

That's how leading tango is beginning to feel to me. Because in tango both dancers are linked through the frame, what one does affects the other.

If I simply move from A to B it changes what the follower can do. It also changes how the positions i can be in. Indeed there are certain places I can stand where the follower will have to wreck their posture / axis / frame in order to physically remain in contact with me or indeed wreck my own posture.

Again it's much easier I think to understand this by doing it wrong. Lead any movement on a willing volunteer, pause then reposition yourself to stifle whatever the follower would do next. Nothing as pure and clean as leading a block. Make it feel clunky for her. It should feel clunky for you too.

Now try repositioning yourself in different places and see how that affects the flow of the movement. When you get to the right place it should feel much cleaner. Also look at the effects on her axis, posture etc. And indeed your own.

First things first

So first you learnt to lead the woman.

Then you learnt to invite the woman and follow her movement.

Now you invite the woman, begin to follow her movement and in doing so you move to where the synergy of positioning and dynamics between you works to lead you into the next point of invitation. Now there will be more than one option of where to move to and indeed different ways, speeds, tempos of doing so. But you have to commit to one.

To borrow from Mr Miyagi:
"Man walk on road. Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk down middle, sooner or later, get squished just like grape. Same here. You step do 'yes,' or step do 'no.' You step do 'guess so,' [makes squish gesture] just like grape. Understand?"

We're jamming

There are two complaints often leveled at social dancers. The first is that what they're doing bears no correlation to the music. The second is that they're dancing at each other rather than with each other.

This is I think due to the basic mindset of lead and follow. After all, if I'm leading than I should be um leading, right?

Shaping to me suggest something different. Rather than imposing your will on the dance and the follower, you seek to blend with them and express what is already there. The way you express it will reflect your own character.

As a leader I like the idea of dance being a pure way for two people to express themselves. The quiet follower with small precise steps, and the playful follower who adorns everything - they both have their place, and can both be equally valid interpretations of the same piece of music.

Rather than "dance as a conversation" it becomes more "dance as two musicians jamming together". Conversation to me means we don't both talk at the same time. Whereas two musicians playing together may well play at the same time. A follower isn't passive. She may chose to be doing "minimal" motions, but it's hopefully a deliberate expression on her part.

Big band

Moving on from this, think of the entire dance floor as filled with musicians playing to or improvising around a song (whatever the DJ / band's playing), but instead we're using dance instead of instruments. So how I dance is also affected by the people around me and what they're doing as well as the actual song. Likewise different people suit different types of music. Pianos are a lot more versatile than flutes.

But hopefully we all combine together to create living, breathing tango.

 - Christopher O'Shea, 9th March 2009

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