Tag Archives: advice

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

Act as if

Milonga de Apertura - Centro De Exposiciones - Tango Buenos Aires Festival y Mundial

On returning home from two and a half weeks in Buenos Aires – a sort of celebration of the second anniversary of my new “career” in Argentine tango, I’ve received sweet, kind compliments (even if sometimes sounding, justifiably, somewhat backhanded) from lovely dance partners. You feel like you’re dancing more like your true self. You’re dancing so much better; you must have learned a lot in Buenos Aires.

That last one got me thinking. Well, yes, I did take some wonderful classes at Escula DNI Tango, and the Tango Milonguero workshop with Susana Miller in Houston shortly before leaving was valuable preparation. But what did I really learn in Buenos Aires that seemed to create a dramatic difference, enough so that people would want to comment on it.

I feel that it was at the Buenos Aires milongas where I learned to start trusting myself and enjoying myself more. There, I was an unknown quantity, taken as is  for a fresh evaluation. Now, as an experienced dancer with lots of lessons and miles under my feet, I was no longer the awkward, hesitant, unsure beginner who tormented followers in Austin who had light-years more experience and skills. I’ll be forever grateful to the followers who can relax into making every tanda a pleasant one, even with a bumbling beginner. That kept me going.

The people at Buenos Aires milongas were looking for and expecting to enjoy a deliciously warm embrace while moving to the music in a delightful way. And for my part, I sought to act as if I was just the person to give them the best of what they were hoping for. Happily, oh so happily, we all achieved our desires not only rarely, or even just a few times, but many times, most of the time. I met women from around the world, and porteñas, where it felt like I’d been dancing with them my entire life.

Tragedy-Comedy masks

I have a dear friend – who, alas, slouches — bad posture. One time I suggested that they act as if they were a military officer, carrying themselves with a proud, erect bearing. They said, no, they couldn’t do that because it would seem fake; they wanted to present their true selves. Well what are we doing if not acting throughout our lives? The difference is that some choose better roles, juicier parts with more chance to shine.

As the NLP presuppositions tell us, you cannot not communicate. So do we choose a role that says I’m large and in charge, or do we default to a bit part that says I’m small, and I don’t care what you think about how I look.

Now sure, we may not have all the technical tools, understandings, and experience to truly and fully occupy our chosen role. But if we are working diligently on acquiring those things, and we observe outstanding models of what we want to be, then we use our sense of empathy to feel inside the way those examples make us feel. Today’s Internet world gives us so many good opportunities to explore, find, and observe role models.

How do we go about modeling a master tanguero? Setting aside technical issues of pattern, movement, placement, and timing — things we look to our teachers and classes for, then what do we have? Well clearly they are in charge, masters of the situation, with no hesitancy or doubt about what they want to achieve. Every step has clear intention behind it. Every moment has connection paramount in importance. They know who they are and they know their partner knows.

But wait! What about that last part, with those partners who knew you in the dismal days? You write a new Act is what you do. While you honor and respect the person, the dancer you were, with good and bad parts, who got you where you are now, you also recognize that this is your Second Act, where you are creating experiences of yourself with your partners, not of who you were, or even of who you are now sometimes, but rather acting as if you are already the great dancer you are becoming.

Pasos felices,
  –David

Advice I wish I was given when I started learning Argentine tango

Spotify radio stations - Argentine tango

Regularly listen to Argentine tango music

Listen to the music regularly and repeatedly. Plug “Argentine tango” into your Spotify, Pandora, or other radio, and let it play in the background.

The pulse of the music matters. Learn to recognize and step on the strong beats of the music. When you can do this reliably then you can begin experimenting with taking one, two, three or more beats to complete a movement.

Attend milongas regularly and watch. Identify people, both leaders and followers, whose movement and style you admire.

Know that what you admire in tango dancing now may change as you mature in your understanding of the music and the dance.

After you’ve gained some sense of the people in your tango community, and early on, seek a mentor, both a leader mentor and a follower mentor. These friends could be some of the most valuable help you receive for progressing rapidly in your understanding of Argentine tango.

Make everyone a friend. It’s a hard process to learn Argentine tango, and many times a friendly, supportive comment from others will be all that keeps you going.

Take every opportunity to make honest and earnest comments about specific improvements or accomplishments you observe in a person’s dancing, or the questions they ask, or the help they give, or . . .

Help out whenever you can. It takes active and involved participants to keep a tango community going and growing. Working with others will help you build friendly relationships.

Meet the milonga DJs. Thank them for their valuable, thoughtful service and get to know them. They are a wonderful source of information on Argentine tango music, orchestras, and songs. They have been a central part of the scene for years.

Take notes in class. Videos of didactic (or mostly, actually, non-didactic) demos are fine, but that is a passive activity. How often do you actually go back to videos to study them, understand them, and practice them? Notes should be an active process. You can’t take down every word. You can only afford the time to write key concept words and phrases in terms that make sense to you, and to sketch.

Practice sketching. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, only that you understand what it means.

Review and recast your notes. It’s when you attempt to explain something to someone else (even if that someone else is your permanent notes) that you begin to gain a real understanding.

Argentine tango reduced to geometry is all about circles and triangles on the floor (and even in the air). Your partner (or you) move in a circle either about your own axis (or sometimes in a tangent to the circle) or in a smaller circle about their axis. The two of your feet and one of your partner (or vice-versa) form a triangle that creates a stable base on the floor. Learn how movements go into or out of what specific configurations, and then you will have a deeper understanding for how to do this movement and variants of it.

In Argentine tango, sequences of moves have no intrinsic value (setting aside historical significance and utility as a learning vehicle) in and of themselves. You may on occasion be able to use an entire sequence intact, but you’re much more likely to find it useful to break apart and understand the elements of a sequence. The teacher will most typically show you one way to start and one way to exit a sequence, but you want to learn, and explore for yourself: what are all the different ways I can get into or get out of this sequence; which of those ways feels easier, relates to other things I know, or is more “organic”; what are the atomic movements that make up the sequence; how can they be recombined differently; can it be done to both the open or closed side of the embrace; how can I relate these movements to the music?

Leading or following: The reason you practice a movement to an actual tango song is not so that you can mindlessly repeat the sequence over and over and over again. It is so you can fit the movement naturally into your dance. (Understanding that there are exceptions while you both work out the kinks.) Do not push and pull to put yourselves into the same starting sequence each time. Instead, dance into the sequence from all the different ways that make sense. Dance out of it in all the different ways that make sense. Explore the pieces of it. Explore doing pieces to opposite sides or directions.

Don’t bother saying, “Sorry” for anything except for running your partner into something or someone (where you may owe multiple expressions of “Sorry”). It’s an imperfect world, and this tango can make it seem more so at times. Mistakes will be made. Your partner will know, or may not know but won’t care in either case, why you are temporizing in the face of traffic, or the sudden grab to prevent a collision. If your partner says “Sorry” to you, a comforting squeeze or a murmured “Not at all” can be nice.

Learn to both lead and follow. A lovely aspect to Argentine tango is that all the movements are available and useful to both leader and follower. It helps tremendously to understand all the issues involved by experiencing the dance from both sides of the embrace.

Know that your fellow dancers, whether leader or follower, and whether novice or experienced, may have the much the same anxieties, doubts, and fears that you do. We’re all in it to support each other, learn, and enjoy ourselves with each other.

The best you can be, whether following, leading, or learning, is calm and confident, even and especially if you don’t know what you are doing. Calm and confident that your leader will give you a good dance (even when they don’t). Calm and confident that you will satisfactorily show yourself as a leader (even when you don’t). Calm and confident that you will understand what is going on, even when you don’t right now.

Have the confidence to step out of a lesson and only observe when you feel that it is beyond your current understandings.

Have the confidence to feel that you can learn a difficult movement, with patience from yourself and your partner, an attitude of exploration and helpfulness, and with help from the teacher.

Have the confidence, when the teacher isn’t available, to ask for help from someone else that seems to be getting it.

It is difficult to give constructive, useful feedback. Try this formula, When I do this, what I’m feeling is this, and what I think I’m wanting is this. What do I need to understand differently?

Never make excuses for or object to feedback, questions, suggestions. Do insist, if need be, on your right to be treated with dignity and respect. Otherwise, comebacks serve to cut off or minimize future, possibly very useful input. They also serve to minimize in your mind the value of input before you’ve even had a chance to understand it. Do question the other person as necessary to feel that you understand the point they are making. Then let it rest inside you, quietly observed. With a little calm patience you may well come to feel that you can tease out a little or even a lot of useful understanding from it.

Remember the people who help you. You will want to repay their kindnesses. Be kind in turn to other new dancers. Help bring them into the community.

Above all, know that if you are doing for yourself, you are doing it for good.

(I wrote this after reading the article that Mari Johnson referred me to: Offbeat Advice I Wish I Was Given In School.)