Monthly Archives: January 2015

Change partners, change roles

Women dancing Argentine tango together

Change roles dancers have twice the fun [public domain image via Wikipedia]

You know these are favorite topics of mine, so it will be no surprise that I heartily approve, where in Daniela Borgialli’s Tango Workbook she says that her university students are expected to routinely change partners and change roles during classes.

CHANGE PARTNERS

In my mind the time to practice with your regular or preferred or ideal partners is in private practice time or a private lesson. Group class is a way to review and expose yourself to new concepts, new figures, and new partners. If at milongas you never change partners then no one is going to force you to change in class, but if you expect to dance with various people, learn to dance with various people. (Teachers: please do it in a routine, defined way, not haphazardly or at your whim.)

CHANGE ROLES

Despite its macho origins, it seems to me that Argentine tango, more so than other bailes de sala, is a wonderfully egalitarian art form. Aside from a few niceties of style and adornments, the whole gamut of tango technique is accessible to and useful to both partners.

You think followers don’t need “intention”? Consider this advice — Make a statement, not a question. FOLLOWER: “Ok, I’m here and I’m on my axis (or on you, if that’s what we’re doing); I’m ready.” NOT, “Um, was this what you had in mind; oops, I’m falling into another step, I hope it’s what you intended?” [Thank you, Arjay Centeno at the 2015 Austin Swing Championships for a funny presentation of this and other good ideas — an example of how dances do have things in common when you get down to basics.)

You think leaders don’t need ochos and molinetes and cruzadas? Even if it is only in an abbreviated form — swiveling your feet to align them properly, stepping molinete fashion around your partner to align with them, crossing to give your partner room for a step — you are doing the same actions.

To open up the full range of possibilities in the dance, both partners need comfortable access to all the tango technique, and more than from just a technique class or class warm up, they want a working knowledge in both roles.

P.S. While looking for an image to illustrate this article I find that Daniel Trenner was advocating for Change Role teaching back in 1998!

Dance partner rotation in class

In class we rotate practice partners as a way to learn to dance with different people, and to give everyone a good chance to learn.

  1. Find a partner and form a big circle around the edges of the room.
  2. Extra followers or leaders without an opposite role person, partner each other for now, and choose one of you as the first follower. If you are comfortable switching roles you can dance either role or switch off. If you’d rather not rotate, practice your part of the movement separately and help each other.
  3. Partners who don’t want to learn with and help others, step outside the circle when rotation time comes.
  4. Followers, this is your home base where you return at the end of every song.
  5. Leaders, look to see who is ahead of you and who is behind you. Try to keep your place, but you can dance around a stopped couple if you need to. At the end of each song go back to where you started with your current partner.
  6. At the end of every song I will announce, “Return to your home base and rotate partners!” ** After everyone returns to their home base, then the first leaders go to the next person in the line of dance (counter-clockwise) around the circle.
  7. For two followers or leaders together, the first leader moves on and the first follower becomes the new first leader for that home base.

** Other announcements you might hear:

  • Stay where you are with your current partner for now.
  • Change roles. (Stay with your current partner, where you are, but reverse roles for the purpose of the exercise.)

[Originally published as a comment to https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10152868362366289&id=406783441288 on October 26, 2014.]

Qualities on a continuous scale

Often we think of others or ourselves as either having something right or not having it. That guy’s musical or unmusical. Her embrace feels stiff or loose. My balance it good or terrible. My dancing tonight is “on” or “off”.

Old control panel with a single dial gauge and many knobs and switches

Vintage Electronic Control Panel

Rarely, it seems, do we recognize that we have a whole range of values available, and we can dial in our controls to get closer and closer to what we feel is the ideal value for the particular circumstance.

For example, stand on one leg and allow yourself to do anything that seems useful to get more and more rooted to the floor, so that nothing a partner does can upset your balance. Get creative – you have lots of parts, physical and mental, available to you. You could touch a toe of the other foot to the floor. Even put your whole foot down, or not. You could sink your hip into the standing leg so that most of your weight concentrates over that one spot. You could move your arms out like a tightrope walker’s pole.

Okay, now for fun, first maybe switch to your other foot if this one feels tired. This time, make your balance as weak as you can. Make it so you are barely balanced at all, so that the slightest thing could upset you entirely.

Ask yourself, do you ever find yourself at one extreme or the other? How often? How often do your find yourself somewhere in the middle? Have you explored what you can do in your body to move your balance in one direction – more stable – and away from another direction – less stable? Do you practice solo?

Do you practice in ways that challenge your balance? For example, in high heels, in shoes and not in shoes, in unusual positions such as with one leg lifted high in some direction, on different surfaces, while moving in different directions, on one foot for an entire song?

Here’s why that idea of a range of values is so important. If a person says to themselves, “My balance is terrible” (in effect, that they “have” no or poor balance), they are, in effect, giving themselves an excuse to not practice and to continue having poor balance. “Hey, it’s not my fault; it’s just an innate quality that I don’t have. Sorry.” Versus, “My balance isn’t yet where I’d like, but I see it improving little by little [and it’s probably more than even a little] with regular practice.”

With a continuous scale (instead of a yes/no switch), we also entertain the idea that there is always room to improve. Instead of “I am/am not what I want,” you have “I am getting ever closer to where I want to go, and it’s fun/hard work/interesting/time-consuming/amusing to do the things I need to improve, and it’s rewarding/challenging/enticing/uplifting/satisfying to see the changes over time.”

¡Felices caminando!
—David