Wednesday, December 2, 2009

When “Simple” is Complex

At the Fandango Tango Festival I learned how to answer a good question: “For whom are you dancing?” The great show of esteemed tango dancers was worth more than a few standing ovations. But I would have preferred to have that time to dance. The show was for others, but what I now understand of tango, the dance is for you and your partner. Chan (from ZenTango) calls it a walking meditation for two. Simple grace is not easy.

If I am dancing just for my partner, then I want to close the gap between the two of us. With the close embrace I discover a third element is more present – the music. This is very helpful if the woman has been rude about how we got on the floor or if she is very talented and I feel intimidated. I then dance ONLY for the music and the musicians. But 99% of the time, WE are dancing to the music. With the 1% woman, I end up dancing not only for the music but with her without performance issues.

I like close embrace because I find the way women look to be very distracting. I never get that close to a woman unless she is a lover. Paradoxically, when I get very close and embrace her like one would embrace a friend at the airport, I now can focus on the music, the beauty of human touch, the joy of movement.

The close embrace may look “simple” to even other dancers, but it is in fact a very complex thing – dancing for just one (plus the music). The experts who can dance both open are closed will tell you that closed is more difficult, but even many advanced dancers see open embrace as more difficult. Isn’t it interesting that even some advanced open-embrace dancers would be fooled by this perception of close embrace as being easier?

Let me use an analogue as a musician. When I played in show groups, I would flip my sticks in the air. Even the well-rounded jazz listener might assume that the drummer who can flip his sticks in the air is the better drummer. Chances are that the drummer who doesn’t flip his sticks is better. In most musical situations I would never flip my sticks. When I did, I got all these compliments from people who just didn’t know. They were fooled by the showy style.

Show-off moves may look cool, but the are a step farther away from your partner because whoever is watching has now entered into the equation. Any trained instructor knows that they can show you a step very quickly in open, but it is not so easy to now do it milonguero style. (Let's say, an ocho caminando or sandwicho is fairly simple -- but not easy in close embrace.)

Back to what I learned at the festival: Magdalena from Slovakia said, “I wished we had danced earlier in the festival!”

I said, “But I danced by you many times as you were sitting there with your turquoise shoes on.”

She replied, “Yeah, but you cannot tell if someone is truly a good dancer by just the way it looks.”

That was one of the best compliments I have ever had. When I was dancing just for her, it was wonderful. From a outside observer’s perspective, it appeared that what I was doing was simple. That’s perfect. And that is what I want. And Magdalena? Wonderful. She danced just for me.

I do believe in lessons/coaching/group lessons, BUT!!! “Thank you, oh great tango dance instructors from around the world, but I don’t have the time or money to learn acrobatics and dangerous moves for the social dance floor in my community. That’s a $3K volcada you got there, señor. Can’t afford that. Have a $50 embrace? Thank you, I’ll work on that for the rest of my life.”


tangocherie said...

Thank you for writing this very intelligent post! I couldn't agree more.

Saludos de Buenos Aires!

Mari said...

This: "because whoever is watching has now entered into the equation." - cannot be emphasized enough. So many wonderful things expressed in that past. Thank you for writing it.