Saturday 11 June 2011

We have to try harder!

I‘m not happy and I‘m going to tell you why.
In the last few weeks, we‘ve been travelling to several events, where I‘ve been shocked by the total lack of social skills on the dance-floors. 
Mostly, Detlef and I are invited to places and festivals, where people are connected to a social Tango. So we are used to meeting dancers of the most different levels and styles, but sharing a general philosophy of how Tango has to be applied in a social context, a Milonga. I usually do not attend the typical big Festivals or events, that are focused on a more showy kind of Tango. So maybe, in these past few years, I‘ve been living in a kind of Salon/Milonguero bubble, getting the impression, that Tango has really developed in Europe! It surely has, but...
... obviously, there are still too many communities, where dancers are limited to a dangerous Tango-Escenario & Tango-Nuevo combination. This leads to huge gestures on the floor, dancing without any connection to the music or the partner and mostly without any sense of direction. I‘ve recently seen people do Sentadas, linear high Voleos, Soltadas, women-used-to-sweep-the-floor-movements and other stuff in packed Milongas. Do not misunderstand me here: a good Tango-Nuevo dancer will be able to adapt his movements to a social dancefloor. But these people were just going crazy!
How can that be? 
Since the beginning of the new millennium, there are many teachers, who focus on social dance or at least pretend to do so. If you look at webpages or festival announcements, you‘ll find lots of Maestros, who seem to transmit skills usable in the Milonga. Are they not well booked or do they not hold what they promise? Do teachers still teach the grand steps? Don‘t teachers explain the difference between a move for the stage and a move for a Milonga? Somehow, I doubt it....
In my opinion, there are at least three factors, that are responsible for people going crazy at Milongas:
1. Classes with non-social contents: Is it really necessary to teach all those big movements to social dancers, dear colleagues? Could you not restrict your classes on high Voleos, end poses, jumps and kicks exclusively to people who aspire to use them as show-dancers? Or to those who sign a contract, that they will only apply them in their living-room, whilst practising alone? Could you please also explain to your clients, that some kind of movements require an exceptional control over the body, only found in skilled dancers with a classical or contemporary background. Please help them to not make fools of themselves on the dancefloor!
2. Maestros who teach social Tango, but don‘t show in demos: There‘s nothing wrong in being an artist and expressing the music with spectacular steps. But please, if you dance a choreography or an improvisation with „unsocial“ movements, point out to the audience, that this is not, how Tango is meant to be danced in a Milonga. You may know that, but do your students?
3. A non-social choice of music: Please organisers, invite DJs and (if you must) orchestras who play danceable music. If you don‘t understand, what I mean by that, please check this article. Do always keep in mind, that expressive and highly dynamic music encourages people to do the same kind of movements. And do you really want to hear complaints about a messy floor at your event?
I wish instead, that teachers and organisers showed their clients how to:
- navigate and behave in a social environment,
- adapt the amplitude of every movement to the space on the dancefloor,
- adapt the timing and dynamics of every movement to the requirements of the music and the dancefloor,
- Improvise freely without relying on memorised steps,
- find pleasure in the embrace and simple movements.
In short: how to dance an interesting an musical Tango without the need of big steps, without hurting each other and without disturbing the line of dance!
If you already do all that, please try harder. I will as well!


tartaruga said...

I think leaders who can't find calmness and peace in 'the embrace' can't understand that those showy things they (try to) lead wake up their partner from a deep trans (if it even exists from the beginning), a special state of mind which we ,among friends ;), call tango. Yes tango is a state of mind,a secret garden where you get out of brutal reality and touch a curing surface in space and time with your soul.:). Even a simplest step can be danced in very sensual, special and personal way or in terrible, too quick, hysteric and anxious way! Of course you can wake your partner up or simply make her smile (and I believe you should sometimes to make the dance more exciting !), but do it with a soft kiss not with a slap on the cheek !!! (This is what I try but often I am unsuccessful :).)

msHedgehog said...

I often wonder if the real explanation is that people who dance like that just have absolutely no sense of humour.

But I don't know.

Kieron said...

The worrying thing for me is how tenacious certain show moves are.

I'm seeing particular moves that I am fairly sure were taught by a visiting teacher 3 years ago in a single high level class for a festival.

In three years these people haven't got bored of carving a swathe of destruction around them so that they can badly execute an expressionless piece of physics. The most distressing part is that they can't even do the move well after all the hundreds of attempts.

It would seem that such fanciful acts almost become a signature of the self-affirming advanced (and tasteless) dancer.

I believe the responsibility for encouraging social dancing from these people must be with the event runners and the followers.

How can we show off if you won't dance with us? How stubborn must be to keep executing the whirling colgada of doom if the man at the door has asked us politely not to?

Cassiel said...

Welcome to the real (tango-)life ;-)

In my opinion there is a lack of connectivity. Sometimes sitting and watching couples dancing I'm asking myself: Do the share the music and dance together or do they dance everyone for his own pleasure/needs and randomly they've met for a few pieces of music...

But maybe we'll ask Aníbal Troilo: "The [real] tango is waiting for you."

ghost said...

This was the thinking behind the 2nd Ed Ghost Guide. At the time there were very few Youtube videos of people just dancing socially. And to complicate matters those that did were done by teachers dancing at teacher level. Quite simply 99% of tango dancers in London are never going to get anywhere near that level (mainly beacuse they're not interested in doing so). What I wanted was an honest collection of videos showing what moves could be done socially by good intermediate dancers, how they needed to be modified (eg keep boloes on the floor), what moves were just a bad idea (and why) and how they would actually look (rather different than when two teachers dance them!).

The big advantage was that by choosing two anonymous social dancers, there were no reputation at stake. Had I got a teacher and a good intermediate dancer to do it, or even two teachers willing to dance only at a good intermediate level, sooner or later someone would take the vids out of context. No teacher in the right mind would want a vid on youtube like this (watch till the end) but it does make the point rather well and always makes me smile when I see it :o)

Mikamou said...

It's all about cheating the system whilst neglecting the moderation.

Elizabeth Brinton said...

If teachers could convey how it feels, not how it looks....and that is much more delicate and interesting challenge for everyone.

Mikamou said...

... and man’s health and vigour that is preferred by women

Melina Sedo said...

Thanks all for you comments and GHOST for the interesting links. Good idea!

Elisabeth: Yes, that's exactly, what teachers have to do!

Melina Sedo said...

Mikamou: hihi... that explains it!

Now what about the women throwing their legs high... Oh no... lots of interpretations open to the ex-psychologist in me! ;-)

Dirk Steinkamp said...

Hey Melina,

I don't think trying harder is the solution. But how about working on clearly announcing the profiles of certain milongas so everyone knows what to expect? Then the space-consuming dancers can go to the appropriate places and Milonguero Style dancers go to others. I just had a wonderful weekend at La Experiencia Milonguera in Italy with great floorcraft, great (classical) music, wonderful dancers, ... and that was announced before, so such a strategy really seems to work out.

BTW: Maybe organizers of Milonguero style Milongas need some special devices to make sure nuevo dancers know how to smoothly integrate into the crowd: ;-)


Melina Sedo said...

Hi Dirk,

I think, that already happens in the Salon/Milonguero world. Why else would I go to so many lovely events, where people know how to behave on the dancefloor.

Those Encuentros are good exemples:

What I'm talking about is the (obviously) large number of events, where people still go crazy on the dancefloors. Most of the dancers do not look happy there, especially the women... So why not think about the general means of making this a more "social" Tango world. (Excuse the melodramatic phrase.)

... Plus: we do not want the Argentine people laughing about us stupid gringos, no? ;-)

Derrick Del Pilar said...

Another excellent post Melina. :)
Before tango, I did various martial arts for nearly ten years: Filipino escrima, Wing Chun, and Tai Chi. Confession: the real reason I took up tai chi (I was 16 after all...) was because I loved the swordplay in Ang Lee's film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Now of course I knew I couldn't fly around like the stuntmen do...but the swordplay was what I wanted to do. When I first started I told my teacher, a sweet little old Chinese man who was also an acupuncturist and traditional medicine practitioner, that I had 6 years experience with other martial arts and weapons and blah blah blah, and I wanted to learn Tai Chi sword. He laughed (good-naturedly) in my face and told me that I would first have to learn the basics, how to move my body in a "Tai Chi" way, before he would even think about showing me how to wave a sword around. It took two years before I got to do what I wanted...and I have a feeling that it probably should have taken longer.
In tango, on the other hand, there are those who would have been willing to "teach" me a colgada/volcada combo I saw on YouTube before I could even hear the beat.
The burden, though, is on the students as well. In martial arts, the cinema tropes of carrying buckets of water up and down 1,001 Shaolin temple steps for years or punching a wall with one hand 1,001 times have entered potential students' minds, and so perhaps they are willing to accept a certain number of years perfecting basic technique. In tango on the other hand, very few of us want to pay $50 for a workshop or $100 for a private to hear someone tell us that we aren't even walking properly on the beat of a slow Di Sarli.
I think many tango teachers are by and large too interested in making money. And the sad truth is there's more money in showing big, useless figures that few can ever execute, because it plays to people's egos. So many people think that they already know how to do "simple" things like walking in the embrace, so if a workshop maestro watches them stumble through a molinete with sacadas and pats them on the back at the end of the workshop, they feel like a star, the "maestro" pockets the cash, and they all walk away happy...leaving more floorcraft conscious locals back in their home communities with bruised calves and knees.

LeadingLady said...

Good initiative Melina! But I consider this as a shared responsibility for teachers, organizers and dancers as well.

For the smaller communities all kinds of dancers must find their space on same pista and for me a realistic goal would be a rule where line 1 and 2 are for dancers wanting quiet, steady pace forward. In the middle can other things happen!

This kind of rule is quite easy for organizers to communicate and if the wild-feets are stopping the line1and2 flow the dancers can politely clear out the situation. It is not enough that one couple is talking to the wild ones but if there is three asking them to keep the flow or move to the center it will give better result.

When I started to lead I concidered pista as a bump car race. When bumping it was just more fun! It has taken me 6 years to get the SKILL to adapt our stpeps imediately to the other couples and change the SOURCE of JOY in dance. Others need their time to learn too!

Tango Salon Adelaide said...

Couldn't agree with you more, Melina!
Unfortunately, some students of tango have been fed junk-food, because it provides instant gratification for the uneducated palate and easy money for some teachers. Sadder still is the fact that the palate of some tango dancers doesn't seem to mature.

Anonymous said...

Can U came in Romania too, for some lessons Melina ?

Melina Sedo said...

Dear Incognoscibil:

We WILL be in Romania this year:

August in Constanza
Tango del Mar Festival

See you there, I hope.

Paul said...

The main thrust of this post is commendable, even heart-warming. Here are a few observations.

Certainly, tango teachers need to think long and hard about course content: what to include and what to leave out. But too many tango teachers persist in teaching extravagances that are not only unsuitable for social dancing but are frankly dangerous in the context of a crowded floor. The possible reasons for this are legion and must include the tendency among learners to be too easily impressed by the flashy moves which typify stage tango: they turn up wanting to learn clever new tricks and expect to be shown how to execute them. It is at this point a teacher of social tango teacher will show his/her true colours.

Though useful, solely explaining the difference between social and stage tango to participants is unlikely to be effective. Are social dancers more likely to influenced by what the professionals say or by how they see them performing on the dance floor?

Demos & Social Dancing
The paucity of demonstrations of true social dancing is undeniable but entirely unsurprising for various reasons. First, the very notion of a demonstration (often filmed) on an empty dance floor in front of a largely sympathetic, workshop-attending, and fee-paying audience makes it highly unlikely that anything resembling social tango will occur. One doesn’t need to be a social psychologist or a social scientist to recognise the inherent methodological difficulties here. Moreover, even with the best will in the world, audience expectations, the performers’ desire to please and promote their own commercial activity- all of these surely help to distort both the event and the most principled professional attempt at “normal” social dancing.

Notwithstanding these inherent difficulties and constraints, it may still be possible to describe what a pedagogically useful demonstration of social tango demonstration might look like. In contrast to much of what is performed, filmed and then shown on YouTube, this would admittedly risk looking somewhat odd, even perhaps a little tame; however, this concern could be addressed by a suitable verbal introduction or written comment. So, what would one look for in such a demo? Here, in no particular order, is a non-exhaustive list of suggested features of a hypothetical social tango demo:

· Only steps, figures and dance elements are used which can be danced in crowded dance venue without endangering other dancers reachable within one step in front, to the side or behind.
· An even progression through and respect for the line of dance that avoids the problems caused by excesses of both the “sprinter”(collisions) and the “snail” (tailbacks/queues).
· An absence of stage-adopted mannerisms (the initial embrace and the end pose are a particularly rich field here) since they tend respectively to test people’s waiting patience and encroach upon their space.
· An “open-eyed” non-trance-like embrace in which the follower can be shown to share responsibility for good social floorcraft.

But let me go just a step further. I would challenge any teacher who is serious about their vocation to teach social tango to remove any clips from their YouTube account that risk giving a false impression of what social tango is all about. If such an initiative seems a little excessive, why not append the “social tango health warning” to their clips as suggested above. I am not expecting much movement on this one but then again life can occasionally surprise us all. At all events, such a gesture would help to distinguish “social tango” torchbearers from other touring performers whose experience of social tango is surprisingly and alarmingly limited.

Melina Sedo said...

@ Paul: but I do agree!

And I think, that there are teachers nowadays, that "perform" social Tango.

Although there is always room for discussion about what exactly is allowed on a social dancefloor and how you can adapt to having more or less space, depending on the occasion.

Let's take our own demos, e.g. We only dance movements, that we would dance on a Milonga, but surely we will make some of them a little bigger/faster/slower as there is no-one in front of or behind us. Also, we might leave the line of dance during a demo on occasions a little. There is - in my opinion - no need to pretend being on a crowded danceflooor whilst performing.
Our demos are of course not very "exiting" and some find them even boring. But that is not a problem for us. What's more important to me is, that no-one can try to imitate crazy stuff from us. You might notice some more "walking" after our demos though... ;-)

But I do not wanna promote myself. There are others, who perform socially as well and these are the teachers/dancers, thatwe invite to perform/teach on our Festivalito con amigos! Pure social Tango!

Back then - when we still organised more classical Festivals with live music and big names, I even got into a discussion once with Capussi/Flores. We had asked them to perform improvised and socially instead of doing their routine. They are excellent teachers and social dancers but dance very expressive/theatrical choreographies. It's nice to look at, but as we want to promote social Tango, we asked them to show this. In the end, there was a compromise and they showed both! ;-)

Good day for now!

Anonymous said...

interesting post and comments, thanks to all!
I join those who try harder:)
But I'm not very optimistic about it. That's because of how "tango market" is working nowadays. Correct if I'm wrong, but majority of newcomers to tango are coming because they saw some tango show (not demo of social tango) and they subconsciously want the same, they already have media-imposed distorted image about "limitless passion", effective moves and attractive looks, artistry, etc.
These are expectations of most of newcomers, i.e. market demand. The market supply (teachers) must satisfy the demand. Most of them do just that, they don't have much choice. In the end, most of them are stage performers. This is vicious cycle, ever supported by media and showbiz. That's is why too many of teachers teach something different from what is (or have to be) danced in milongas.
Some of teachers sincerely try to change expectations of newcomers thus creating market subsegment (authentic, social approach to tango, "milonguero style" etc.) for those, who are lucky to reach that point of tango-maturity. Luckily, this segment is growing. But the other segment still is larger, at least in Europe and it will not disappear any time soon.


Melina Sedo said...

Dear Evaldas,

thanks for your comment. I am not that pessimistic and I'll tell you why.

I've also been teaching locally and doing beginner's classes for over 5 year. Yes, you are right - lots of newbies do have a twisted, show-infected imagination about Tango when they first show up.

But that's never been a problem. An intelligent pegagogue can transmit to them, that this is not, how Tango is danced in the Milongas and that the pleasures of social Tango lie in the connection and improvisation. In the smaller, internal things. You will hve to show them - within the first hour - how nice it can be just to change weight in harmony with your partner and you'll get a lot of surprised but happy students.

In all these years, there were only very, very few (less than 10) who left our classes because they wanted to have a more flashy Tango. It's just about how to sell it! ;-)

good day to you,


Anonymous said...

There are some teachers who show how to dance gracefully in a small space:

ilf said...

It is 2 very important issues, you are adressing Melina. Both in this article and in that about music.
I have not much to add to the discusion, as many corners have been covered.
I would like to stress that the teachers are very resposnsible and have a keyrole, and so are the DJs and the organizers.
What we have seen during our few years of dancing (5 now)is a developement in two direction.
One is optimistic. This we ses in how the dance has developed in copenhagen during these year.
we visited copenhagen sometimes evry year, and we see a change towards a smother softer dance in more close abrazo. We think this is due to the fact that many tours to B. Aires are arranged and the dancers on their return are influenced.
The opposite we see in the smaller socyities in the other big cities in Denmark.
The music is different, more fusion and also music made for the scene are used.
The dance is much more open with big moves ala nuevo, and the cirle of dance is often missing.
We tend to explain that partly by the influence of the leading teachers, but also that in the smaller cities it seems that influence from other dances (salsa disco) have a bigger impact both on the dance and the choise of music.
It is like in order to compeet the tango has a need for a more showlike ( "see me" ) dancestyle.

Also we are sad to say that on the Copenhagen festival this year it was quite a challenge to take a dance during the afternoonmilonga. a developement in a sad direction for a usually nice festival

best greetings
Ilf and Karen Denmark

tangosur said...

I consider myself a good bad dancer. When I dance I prefer following music than trying to make special step to astonish my partner. I prefer making simple steps than trying clumsily thon I am non acquainted with. Unfortunately my behavior has little reward. Some ladies refuse my invitations because they consider my sobriety dull. There's a chap in my city ( a big one in Southern Italy ) who jumps, kicks, trying to imitate Chico Frumboli ( even in his hairstyle ). He moves as an elephnat in a china store, but he has great success among ladies ( he is anyway a nice guy, not at alla handsome and no Don Juan ). I consider Frumboli a great dancer, even if I'm not keen on him ), but I lay the blame on him for frumbolism that has affecteded many tangueros and tangueras of my city.

Anonymous said...

A teacher who keeps being invited to our community has said that he wouldn't have any students left if he just taught them to walk week after week. To me that says something about the caliber of the student and the teacher. I would have never been a ballerina if I had not been willing to perform plies ad nauseam-one of the ballet building blocks. My tango teacher focuses heavily on the walk, connection, floorcraft, and moves that are safe on the dancefloor. She teaches us to be tango dancers. Not self-absorbed, show-off, whirling dervishes. Someday I hope to have walked enough to call myself a tango dancer.