Wednesday 7 May 2014

Manifesto For The Pause

A spectre is haunting the european Tango community - the spectre of speed. All the parties have entered into a secret alliance to promote this trend: Milongueros and Nuevoists, Salon dancers  and those imitating the brilliant young couples, who inspire dancers from all backgrounds.

Nah... really... I don‘t know, if it is everywhere, but it seems to be everywhere I go: the urge to run on the dancefloor. People are running to D‘Arienzo, they are running to Calo, they are running in the Milongas and they are running in the Encuentros. They run with small steps, when there is no space and they run with huge steps, when the dancefloor is empty. But they never pause. I dance with them or I watch them from the side of the dancefloor. And I want to shout out: Stop running!

Sure, you‘ll think: „This is Melina with her preference for Di Sarli. She is just lazy and overly sentimental.“

Yes, I love my slow lyrical Tangos and I do like moving with a certain calm fluidity. But, those who have met me in the last three years, might have noticed that I also like dancing very energetically. I also love rhythmic variation and discover more possibilities every day. Past weekend, there were a few Tandas, when I practically went berserk and could not move fast enough. Ask Andreas. ;-)

But there is always a moment to pause in every Tango: it might be at the end of a musical phrase or when the singer starts or when a violin takes over... Even the most rhythmical and speedy Tangos have their „slow and lyrical“ moments, when you might want to change to half speed or pause for a full measure... Or longer... This is when you breathe, when you reconnect to your partner, when you concentrate on the embrace rather than on the movement, or just listen. There are Tangos that inspire a constant calm pace and many pauses and there are Tangos in which these moments of peace a rare and precious. But no Tango requires us to run all the time!

And is not only me longing for a pause.

I talk to women, I watch them dancing ... and guess what: they are not always happy. Sure, there are many reasons to not feel good in the arms of the partner, but one of them is stress. „He does not let me breathe“, one lovely, very experienced Milonguera complained to me about her partner. And I have heard this so often... Sure, women also want to move (some more than others), they don‘t want to be bored by shuffling about. But they don‘t want to be stressed-out either. And high speed will even get even more stressful when it is combined with insufficient leading signals or too big movements. This is where the torture starts! 

For me, there is one particular case that I find most annoying: You dance with a man who‘s got a real nice embrace, who moves fluently and has the capacity to cuddle, but... he just won‘t stop. He will go on in a constant pace and miss-out every moment to slow down, to connect even better... You know that this would be a lovely, very special moment you wait for that moment... but it just won‘t come. This guy drives me crazy!

As well as the other „runners“. ;-)

But who are they and how can followers respond to them?

With a little bit of luck, they have heard about he basic beat and will connect to it by walking to all the strong notes. Usually these are the 1 and 3 in a measure. (Yes, you can also count 1212 instead of 1234, but let us not get into a that discussion please.) Sometimes, beginners might know how to dance a quick-quick slow (123- or 1-34), but most likely, they won‘t know ho to speed up constantly (1234) or dance half speed (1---). Although I think, that even Tango novices can be taught how to slow down or make pauses, I would want to cut them slack. I am happy with their basic knowledge of music and will do my best to not alienate them by complaining or back-leading. I will give them my best posture, my nicest embrace and encourage them in every possible non-patronising-way to develop their musicality and skills. 

Dancers with a insufficient technique:
A lot of dancers (leaders AND followers) just don‘t have the proper technique to move slowly. Because of a lack of dissociation, a constant misplacing of feet or other deficiencies, they do not find a proper balance. They cannot make a slow transition or even stand on one foot for more than a second without waggling. This is why they have to move constantly. Sometimes, these can be seemingly advanced dancers. They will do the most complex moves and you might not even notice their lack of balance. As long as they keep on moving, these moments of instability pass by very quickly. Slowness is an amplifier, a magnifying glass for every technical deficiency. 
As a teacher, I challenge every one to try it out in order to achieve a better technique and more musical variation.
As a follower in a social dance context, I cannot do so much. I can try deliver my best technique to better the balance of the couple, but I won‘t be able to compensate all their „flaws“. So, as long as it does not get really uncomfortable and the leading signals are clear enough, I will go along with their constant moves. But I will make an active musical choice: With these dancers, I will rather dance very rhythmical music, Tangos, Milongas and Valses in which the „calm“ moments are rare and I won‘t long for them so much. I will not dance a slow Di Sarli or romantic Fresedo with a dancer, who struggles with his balance in a slow move.

Musical researchers: 
Nowadays, many dancers, who work hard on their musicality. This is great and I encourage this in every way, as a teacher and dancer. (See related post.) So, lots of Milongueros have - maybe just recently - discovered rhythmic variety. They have learned how to spice up their dance with double speed, with syncopations, triplets, upbeats... they listen closely to every beat and don‘t want to miss one possibility to depict the melodic rhythm. Fine. But guess what: there are different layers of information in every given moment and when the bandoneons play a syncopation, another instrument might play only one legato note. Why not focus on that instrument for an instant? Or chose consciously to listen to the syncopation, to just be with it in your head and heart, but not step to it. Connecting to the melodic rhythm does not mean that we have to dance every possible note. We want to interpret the music, we don‘t want to imitate it with out feet. 
I do love dancing with someone who knows how to communicate rhythmical variety and knows his Tangos. But there is pleasure and there is overindulgence. So what can I do as a follower to not be „forced“ into his fever of rhythmical variation? Provided that a leader has got an acceptable technique and won‘t fall when he has to pause: I can do a lot!
I can slow him down actively: I can resist a little stronger whilst walking backwards, I can pause in a front or side step or I can delay a pivot with a restrained spiral movement. I can use all my technical abilities to communicate my musicality. Mind, I don‘t want to force my partner, I want to „make suggestions“. But beware: communicating on such a high level not only requires good technical skills, but also a deep knowledge of Tango music. I will surely not slow down when the music tells us to speed up. I will find the right moment. So ladies: please become musical researchers as well! If you don‘t know the music, you can only follow (him running around) - if you are able to listen to the music, you can dance.
I can seduce my partner: I may signal him in a more (or less) subtle way how I feel about his constant urge to move: In between two Tangos, I can tell him, how much I like those moments of stillness in the music and the deep connection that may come from them, how much I like moving slowly, when the music inspires me to do so. At the start of a romantic Tango, I can give him my cuddliest embrace and show how nice it can be to take a few moments to cherish nearness. Who would want to resist?
I use both strategies, depending on my mood, the particular dancer and the result I want to  achieve. Very often, I am quite happy with the results. When I want to achieve more, I mention it in class or I write a blog article.
But if all strategies fail and I‘ve got the impression, that a particular guy only uses me as a means to show off his brilliant musicality without listening to what I need... well... I will just not dance with him again. Or maybe only if I happen to be in a „running and trying to catch every rhythmical variation“ mood as well.
Dear leaders: If you dance with a highly musical, but over-active follower, you might use the same techniques to slow her down, do not „force“ her to stand still. But if you dance with a women giving you „hints“ to slow down, do not be offended, accept her wish to interpret the music in a slightly different way. A dance in which both partners are happy sure is reward enough. 

Leaders with a momentum-technique:
Some leaders rather use momentum, strong impulses coming from fast and big movements, rather than circular chest movements to give their leading signals. This is an acceptable technical approach - as long as the space on the dancefloor and the music allow for it. It works nicely in demos - but not so good on a social dancefloor. These dancers often have a very self-confident appeal and everything seems to be perfect as long as they move energetically. But the moment they have to diminish the size or speed of their steps, they seem to loose „presence“ and the leading signals get very unclear. Sometimes, they even come to an absolute stop, if surrounded by other dancers, because they just don‘t know how to move in a limited space.
These are very tricky situations. In a way, these guys might be good dancers and they might even have an interesting musicality, but their technical concept does not enable them to move more calmly. The good thing is: most of them are not beginners and have at least basic knowledge of alternative communication techniques. I will therefore use all my skill and persuasion to slow them down as described above. They will usually find ways to „lead“ in a more subtle way „on the fly“. If not and if they are a danger for the social dancefloor, I will not dance with them anymore - or only when there is enough space. ;-)

Those who are afraid of closeness:
When there is no or little movement, it is only you, the music and the partner. These are the moments when feelings come up, when closeness is experienced. So many dancers long for this nearness to another human being and may even dance Tango because of it. But there are also those who are afraid of being too close to someone else. Most of them will dance a more open or step-oriented style of Tango. But some may be socialised in a close-embrace environment, but cannot wholly give in to this idea. They will dance physically close, but they will not commit. They will move all the time, they will decorate, they will develop energy... but they will not stand still.
What can you do, to not put them off, to not frighten them? You don‘t want to overwhelm them with a too intimate embrace. I try to radiate calmness, I will be very rooted in the floor, a little lazy... but have a non-invasive, not too tight embrace. I will try to show that they can slow down without getting „involved“ too deeply. They might even „open up“ over the time and learn to connect more profoundly in the dance. 

As an experienced dancer, given a little time, you can do quite a lot to have an influence on how your partner moves. But all of this has to be done carefully and he may have a whole set of reasons why he does not want to pause or cannot do so. As "followers", we don‘t want to „teach“ on the dancefloor, we don‘t want to impose our musicality and we are certainly no psychologists. It is not our job to offer a therapy to our partners but to enjoy the music together.

And this is why, in the end, we just have to make a choice. Do we want to run and move all the time or do we want to allow ourselves to slow down once in a while? And breathe. And feel. And listen.

I choose to stop.


P.S. Just to make sure, that EVERYONE got me. Here are my definitions:
Slow down: moving constantly, but with a very slow speed (half speed 1--- or slower)
Pause: not transferring gravity centre at all for the duration of at least one measure.
So, if you don't use double speed, but still walk all the time with "normal speed" (el compas, 1 and 3), I might still count you amongst the "runners". There are also those who run slowly... ;-)

P.P.S. I know that lots of men will approve of my post too, but will reject my words with a relieved: "Thank god, I am not amongst these runners." Please consider carefully, if this is really the case. ;-)

P.P.P.S. I have written this post mostly from the perspective of a follower, who feels "rushed" by leaders. But it is obvious, that followers can be "runners" as well, especially all those ladies with the habit to decorate every possible or impossible moment of the dance. I comment on over-active women briefly in the section about "musical researchers" above, but I have mentioned the misusage of Adornos already much earlier. See here.


Tango-Amateur said...

Hi dear Melina :-)

Thanks for your inspiring thoughts!

They explain in deep details one of the Tango wisdoms, I love mostly:
"Hay que bailar los silencios. Y los violines. Aunque no existan."

But reading this:
"I talk to women, I watch them dancing ... and guess what: they are not always happy."
.. I feared, you make the happiness of the women the only measure. And of course (as too often) the leaders are the ones, who are responsible. ;-)
Not very advanced gender correctness, hm?

I was very glad to read then your P.P.P.S. "But it is obvious, that followers can be "runners" as well."
I would've really liked to read this more earlier in your post, but better late than not at all ;-)
Anyway: I hope with you, that "EVERYONE got me."

Happy Tango for you all!

Melina Sedo said...

Dear Tango-Amateur.

Thanks for your comment.

As for the gender-correctness:
This post is based on what I feel as a follower and see when I watch the couples on the dancefloor. It is also based on the fact, that Tango might be a dance where partners are "equal" but they have got different roles. Therefore it is mostly men determining the speed and choreography of the dance as they are "leading". Despite all role-changes and modern approaches, it IS mostly them making the decision whether to "run" or "stand still". And women having to deal with it.
Sure, some "followers" will encourage them to do so or are "runners" themselves. They might prevent them from slowing down or not be able to do so because of bad technique…

... I do lead in class and sometimes in Milongas, but because of the choices I make there, I never have to feel "stressed" by an over-active and amok-decorating lady. Also, I almost never do decorations and I very rarely feel the urge to run. So I can say little about this phenomenon from my own experience. And I don't want to write about something only based on second hand information, like e.g. the complaints of my dancepartner about those women. ;-)

It might need an experienced leader to write down his thoughts on this phenomenon.

Why don't you?

Good day!

Tango-Amateur said...

Hi dear Melina :-)

Thanks for publishing my (partly critic) postings ! 3:-)

> It might need an experienced leader to write down his (or her!)
> thoughts on this phenomenon. Why don't you?

Well, another tango wisdom tells, that it's easy to learn 10 sequences in 2 hours
but that it will last 10 years to learn how to 'caminar'. Cause I just dance tango for some but not for 10 years, I'm obviously not a really 'experienced leader' ... ;-)

But I'll give it a try and make some small annotations ;-)

I really appreciate (!) your precise analysis on the different types of conditions
which could make it difficult for us to dance slowly or to even pause.
And I like the clearness you provide to the different types by:
- encouraging the 'beginners'
- motivating the 'dancers with an insufficient technique' to improve this
- calming down the 'musical researchers' by discovering them the secret: "connecting to the melodic rhythm does not mean that we have to dance every possible note". I really smiled :-D
- respecting 'dancers with a momentum-technique', but showing them some of the alternatives

A very complete and helpful description. Thank You!
I'll put the link to your article in my reference list ;-)

Only one point, I missed a little bit, and it was just this detail:
you spoke too rarely (in my perception) of the acting and involved humans
in the more inclusive term of "dancers (leaders AND followers)".

I admit: when reading your article the second time (it will not be the last time) I then realised, that you indeed encourage the followers as well to take responsibilty for the dance and their own happiness. So maybe it was only _my_ first perception ..

Anyway: in my understanding, it's a good idea to speak _always_ not only of both partners (the leaders AND the followers), but to speak _always_ of both as the 'proposers' and the 'interpreters', making their genuine contribution to the dance.

So you're right: "It is not our job to offer a therapy to our partners", but it is the job of followers to interprete and to make the contribution, isn't it ? ;-)
Of course this is NOT adressed to you, dear Melina. I don't know you personally (yet), but all you write, shows me your very 'contributing' attidude.
And of course "As followers (nor as leaders/proposers), we don‘t want to „teach“ on the dancefloor, we don‘t want to impose our musicality". I agree!
But could you support my strong wish, that we should encourage al the interpreters out there to engage more in their 'contributions' to the dance?

Surely not by 'back leading' in the Milonga. But maybe sometimes a little little bit in the practica? hehe .. Or by talking about her Tango with the proposers here in your blog as well as in other (fitting) circumstances? (which means: not during the music, but maybe during a long cortina?)

A nice tango weekend with lots of tandas for all of you !!!


A last annotation on the final type "Those who are afraid of closeness":
as already often said, I totally agree with you in loving the slow or pausing times we can find in Tango, enjoying "los silencios" in the embrace. And I like your description " ... These are the moments when [..] closeness is experienced. ..." (Y)

But considering the not allways very easy gender-discussion-mainstream (*), I assume that some of us guys rather prefer to be guilty of "dancing a more open or step-oriented style of Tango" than to be guilty of "imposing a too invasive and too tight embrace." (*) Because we are guilty anyway ;-)

So, dear followers, read carefully the good advice, Melina gave us all here in her post. And help us shy tangueros to _commit_ "a lovely, very special moment…" ;-)

Unknown said...

There have been a lot of videos coming out of old dancers that, by the looks of them were recorded in the 80s. And often dance is considerably more lively than we are accustomed to today. The variacions are often danced incredibly fast, but I notice there is always an underlying calmness that resides underneath it.

There is also a dancer who makes a point of how sophisticated his dancing and taste in music is and his dances are characterized long pauses. Women absolutely dread dancing with him.

I don't thinking pausing is a particular technique. A stage dancer stopping in a dramatic pose and Carlos Perez adding a bit of silence as a phrase dies are both technically a 'pause' but their effect and intent are completely different.

I think the opposite of the pause isn't running per se, but Angst. It's the fear of freedom that comes in improvising when we realize we are free to do whatever we want. The pause is our willingness to wait for what is going to happen to come on its own without being forced. The dancers in my first example, might be pausing even though they are moving furiously, they are doing so like a leaf playing on the wind. And my second example, the mega-pauser, isn't really pausing... he's just holding still because he doesn't know how to trust himself in the dance and at some point someone told him that pausing is a mark of sophistication in tango.

Anonymous said...

Hello Melina
Tango has been in my life since the late nineties and much of what you wrote resonates with me and my experience. Since I am a bit of a music buff, the sound quality of music is always very important to me, especially when I dance Tango. The dance that corresponds with to the soul. The hobby I spent most of my time with, is cleaning Tango records. A small sample of my work I have published on my Blog "Tickled Tango Tunes" for free download.

I would appreciate, if you would visit my blog, and if you would include me in your blogroll.
ciao, Amadeus Wolfgang