Monday, May 5, 2008

Tango Sin #1 For Men: Tossing In Moves Above Our Level

Brothers, before I jump into today's blog, let me say that I've made every mistake in the tango book. So, when I offer feedback for us that I've heard from women, please don't think I'm saying I don't make the same mistakes--I've made them all.

Having said that, I have heard from women that they lose some of their tango love for us as leads when we think we're better than we really are and, as a result, try to lead moves at milongas that are above our heads.

Men, how do you know if you fall into this same category I was in for too long? Well, do you feel comfortable leading all of your steps? More importantly, when you're leading your more advanced steps does your partner have a look on her face of happiness or anxiety?

If she has a look of anxiety or frustration then you might need to bring some of your Forever Tango-inspired moves that you're doing at milongas back into practice sessions until your partner tells you they're ready for prime time. When I was in this same phase I was trying to squeeze every single one of my moves into every single tango--regardless of whether I knew how to lead them and ignoring the fact that some didn't fit the music. I was trying to create a great Argentinian guisos soup from my tango, but I kept dumping in too many half-baked ingredients so I ended up with my own "specialty"--an inedible tango broth that tasted more like a combination of Miso/pumpkin/chicken/beet & squid stew.

So, what did I do initially? The logical thing...I inwardly blamed my partners! Surely it wasn't my fault.

But try as I did, I still had this nagging suspicion that the problem was me, not her. Admitting that, though, was hard.

So, what was the tipping point for me when I finally realized it was me? It happened at a milonga at ODC one night. I'd seen a very nice senior woman tango before & was looking forward to dancing a full tanda with her. We started what I assumed would be the first of three or four tangos, but immediately after our first one ended she politely thanked me and walked away. "Hey!" I thought to myself as I watched her sit down, "I still have another 18 moves to show you!" And that was it--I knew then I had to change my ways. But how? Fortunately, I've had great teachers and when I asked them for how to improve my tango almost all of them basically said "less is more--don't try the advanced stuff at a milonga until you're sure you've got it down."

And so overnight I started leading moves that were half as difficult, but felt twice as fun for both my partner and me. The frustrated expressions of my partners slowly left. I started enjoying the basics more and my technique started progressing faster, too.

So, men--give it a try. Unless you're positive you've got all of your more advanced moves down, remove your most difficult 2 or 3 moves from your mental step list and don't break them out again until they're milonga-ready.

And if that doesn't work, then you can blame your partner!

That was a lame joke, obviously. Of all the possible explanations for our partners unhappy expressions, blaming our partner is the only thing that's never an option.


Alex said...

When there is no more mental step list...then there will be tango... said...

Great point, Alex! I was in a class last week learning a new move that was challenging. I couldn't enjoy it at first because I wasn't getting the technique. I kept over-thinking the move. I finally got & only then did I relax & start to get into the tango.

tangobaby said...

Great post, Mark. It's very rare when someone sneaks in a move from your "soup" analogy where it doesn't feel like an interruption than caused by the interpretation of the music.

If these moves were organic expressions of the leader's feelings about what he is hearing, then it wouldn't be a problem, right?

Congratulations on your performing, Mark. Good for you.

La Tanguera said...

Hi Mark!

I'm so glad I discovered your blog! I totally agree with you, but let me add this question, which I think gets to the root of why we see so many funky and poorly executed moves at milongas: How many leaders really *practice* outside milongas? I bet you very few, even when the are avid enough to go dancing more than 2-3 times a week. To most, the milongas are their practice, their chance to try this or that... that's why moves come out before (way way before) they are "milonga ready"...

Mark Andersen said...

Thanks, TangoBaby. And you actually picked up on another point when you said if "these moves were the were organic expressions of the leader's feelings about what he is hearing."

I'm working on post about this exact point because too often leaders don't pay attention to the music. Part of this is because it's damn hard in the beginning for beginning leaders to lead/connect/navigate the floor...all the while tangoing in a way that expresses the song. This was a big challenge for me in the beginning.

And thanks for your comment about performing. I hope our LiberTango team gets to perform at a milonga sometime this summer. Our recent performances have been at private fundraisers (SF Symphony etc.), weddings...

Mark Andersen said...

La Tanguera--I'm so happy you've joined our conversation! I think you've hit the nail on the head, which is that most leaders (myself included) don't practice enough outside of milongas.

I was on a salsa performance team for 3 years & now that I perform tango I can say I've learned this one truth, if nothing else: whenever I can't lead a move, it's because of technique, technique, technique.

And if I can't do a move with a beginner it's usually because I'm cheating my moves.

Now I know a lot of us are swamped with work and family, so sometimes it's not possible to more tango outside of milongas. But when leaders are in that position (myself included), we should only be doing the moves in milongas that we are confident we can lead well and safely.