Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Why I Secretly Love Dancing With Beginners

I'll always remember my first milonga (Cell Space), where I didn't know you were supposed to dance the whole tanda with your partner. So, with every woman I danced that evening I kept repeating the same faux pas of thanking them at the end of the first song and happily walking away, wondering why each woman stood there looking at me quizzically. I did this the whole evening until a friend pointed out my error.

Ah, the joys of being a beginner tango dancer.

But now that I have more experience & dance with a lot of beginners, I'm reminded of what a challenge it can be to be a beginner tango dancer. There even seems to be this mistaken belief that the more experienced partner is doing the beginner a favor by dancing with them because how could the more experienced dancer possibly enjoy tangoing with a beginner?

Not true!

So, I want to explain in this tango blog why there are so many reasons why it's great fun dancing with beginners:

1. You get to meet great new women

2. If your partner is fun then the tango is fun, regardless of your partner's level

3. It's fun to dance with people who are so excited to be learning tango

4. As a leader, it's our responsibility to help women learn Argentine tango, just like the countless women that helped us learn

5. But it's this last reason that might be a surprise. I know I never thought of it until I took a class with Oscar Mandagaran last year. He said the best way to judge your own tango level is by your ability to make a beginner look good.

I didn't fully get this at first probably because I was such a newbie myself at the time that I wasn't good enough to make a beginner look good. And even though I'm not that much further down the tango road now, I'm starting to see what Oscar meant.

So, fellow leaders, there are a lot of great reasons why we enjoy dancing with beginners. But if you need one more, take the "Beginners Challenge" & see if your lead has developed to the point that you can make a beginner look great.


Sappho Kuzan said...

When I was a beginner I danced with this one particular gentleman. This was at a festival. He commented on my shoes and my dress, making me smile. He then walked with me in the most gentle, caressing way. By the second song of the tanda he had me doing things I never did before. My leg was swinging out, I was walking around him, he was walking around me and then I gancho-ed him. My eyes were ablaze with light, the smile on my face was stupendous. I whispered in his ear, "what was that?! what did you do? Do it again!" And he did.

Looking back on it now - he was a pro. He eased my nervousness with gentle compliments, he had a great embrace and he walked with me until the connection was clear. And then my body became his instrument to play, my legs his tune.

That is why I don't like dancing with "Mr. Darcy", the stuck up snot who thinks he's too good for beginners. And many of my friends routinely dance with beginners, to help them learn as they help themselves learn.

Anonymous said...

Mark, I'm going to add you to the cannonization list along with Alex (of Alex, Tango, Fuego)!

Good for you. Although I do think it's very different for advanced follows to dance with beginner leads, who have the capacity of causing physical injury :-)

But you are absolutely right: I always learn something when I dance with a beginner, because it forces me to concentrate on my balance, revert to simple, clean footwork, and renengage ALL my sensors (especially the eye on the back of my head).

Anonymous said...

As a beginning follower myself, I find that I am able to do almost everything that an intermediate dancer can do... as long as I am with a leader who is having fun, and dances just to dance. However, there are men who 'prey' on beginners, and some of those may simply have egos which need a "lesser" dancer (Do they want to feel powerful?).

However, I find that with a great partner, I relax more and dance better -- with a bad partner, I feel anxious and dance worse. And what do I consider a bad partner? One who treats me as 'a dance' and not as a person.

Triman Beaumont said...

dancing with beginner forced me to improve my caminata and leading in cruzo :-) i find it damn usefull guys... but your point #1 is very important too :-)

Mark Andersen said...

Thank you, Sappho, for that awesome description of the dances you had with your lead. I aspire to reach that level and, at my current progress, calculated I'll be there in 42 years.

You said gave a great tip for leaders, too, when you said "he walked with me until the connection was clear." Brilliant!

Mark Andersen said...

Dear Johanna--you're too kind. Thank you for saying that.

And I completely agree with you about the advanced follow/beginner lead combo. When men are beginners is when we're dying to throw in as many moves as possible, but it's also when our technique is least developed. A potentially dangerous combo, for sure.

At my last tango I danced with a beginner and she wasn't doing what I was trying to lead at first. So, I naturally did what most men do--I assumed it was her fault! Certainly, it can't be me. Then I realized she wasn't going into the cross because I wasn't going into the cross! I was cheating my steps because with intermediate/advanced follows they know what I'm trying to lead, so they cross anyway. But it's bad form on my part, so I corrected with the beginner and we were off and flying. Thank you beginners for following my true lead--not the one that's in my head.

Mark Andersen said...

Thanks, Triman, for highlighting that. The beginner I danced with at my last milonga made me a better lead. But more importantly, she was a blast to talk to--what a great sense of humor. We're so lucky to have tango.

Mark Andersen said...

Amen, Anonymous. You're so right that treating our partners as, well, partners, and not a "dance" makes all the difference.

A woman can backlead, step on my feet, & not know an ounce of technique, but if she's having fun trying, I couldn't be happier.