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.