Category Archives: Argentine Tango

What Makes “the Best” Dancers?

There's a noticeable qualitative difference between people can dance, and people who can DANCE.

There’s a noticeable qualitative difference between people can dance, and people who can DANCE.

 

My concept of what makes a good dancer — of what separates a “wow” dancer from an excellent dancer — has changed a lot from when I started dancing to now.

Back when I didn’t know how to dance at all, I thought the best dancers were the ones who could make me do moves I didn’t even know how to do, because they were so skilled at leading moves that *anyone* could follow them. My goal as I became better at following was to be able to dance/keep up with the “best” dancers (re. the internationally famous teachers/anyone known to be exceptionally good): it was my gauge to tell how much my dancing was improving (being able to follow everything being led smoothly and “perfectly”) — having dancers who were previously disgusted dancing with me give sincere expressions of enjoyment.

It was when I attended the Denver Fusion Exchange (DFX) this January that my concept of a “good dancer” started to change. Nervous as hell, I asked two of the most well-known blues dancers/teachers in the world to dance, and was absolutely delighted when they agreed to dance with me again and again multiple times that weekend. From what I saw, they did not turn anyone down, regardless of whether they had danced with them before, and regardless of their dance level. If they were already supposed to dance the next song with someone else (which one pretty much always did), they would promise their next dance to the person who asked them, and would always go and find them and dance their promised dance with that person. These two dancers were a whole different class/level of dancer. Getting a, “That was awesome!” from either of them was enough to give me the biggest dance highs of my life up until that point — my next ten dances after my dances with them would be ridiculously, insanely good because of the elevated emotion I got from knowing they had enjoyed our dances as much as I had.

But I put them at another level not because they were pretty much the biggest names at the event, but because of their ability to dance with anyone. I don’t know if I’m 100% accurate in making this assumption, since I never actually asked them what they were thinking, but I believe that it didn’t matter to them who they said yes to, because they were/are such good dancers that they can have a good time dancing with anyone.

 

Are you a human or a dancer? I'm a human dancer. :)

Are you a human or a dancer? I’m a human dancer. ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s this — this ability to dance and enjoy yourself regardless of your partner’s level or dance experience — that I think is the hallmark of “the best” dancer — what separates “wow” dancers from merely excellent dancers. So many of the dancers I know that are known for being “the best” in their scenes, or even in the international scene (although usually fewer in this case, in my experience) only dance with other awesome dancers. They ignore and turn down the beginners to intermediates for not being “good enough,” unless they are current or potential students. They like to stick out, show their stuff, and show off. Some won’t even dance with their own students.

To be frank, if the only way you can enjoy yourself while dancing is when dancing with high level dancers, then I honestly don’t consider you to be all that spectacular a dancer. To depend so much on the level of your partner to enjoy the dance itself is really rather ridiculous. You don’t have to be a good lead to lead a good follow — I know because I’ve led both highly skilled follows and ones who learned their salsa basic step through doing zumba. With advanced follows, you barely have to lead anything for them to know what they are doing and follow it perfectly (not in a backleading way, but in a hyper-observant and sensitive way). A tango friend even told me that one of the particularly cocky/bad-attitude leads isn’t even a great lead — but because he only chooses to dance with the better follows, he can delude himself into believing that he is actually one of the better leads.

I think it’s stupid to get to the point where you only dance with the best dancers and think no one else is worthy of dancing with you. When I was learning to lead salsa and practicing my leading on the social dance floor, I felt most accomplished when I led dances with absolute beginners and still made them follow the moves I was leading. While, of course, I would probably prefer to dance with more experienced leads for the most part, I can have incredible dances with beginners who only know a handful of moves, by adding my own grooves, styling, flavour, and personality to the dance. For example, two weeks ago, I ended up dancing with a lead who only appeared to know two Cuban salsa moves and was leading just them the entire dance. I started playing with the “out” parts of the basic (sorry, I don’t know how to spell the name and tried to Google it and couldn’t find it, so I’m not even going to attempt to), and by the end of the dance, I had the lead joining in on my made-up styling, sticking his tongue out at me in jest, pretending to kick me, and just having the best time ever. It was one of my most fun and playful dances. This week, I got another beginner, so I started playing more with my musicality and styling, and he gave me so much room to play that we both had an amazing dance.

make-room-i-gotta-dance

In contrast, my dance with a more advanced lead that followed was absolute crap. He grabbed my hand as soon as my dance with the beginner lead ended, and I was getting a strong vibe from him that he wanted me to show off and make him look good, since I had been doing a lot of fun stuff with my arms and the music during my previous dance. I felt incredibly annoyed by this, and so I didn’t style at all during that dance. He styled all of his own movements, throwing in so many rondes, sweeps, etc., and leading me in the sharp style of a performance lead, and I gave him absolutely nothing to work with. ๐Ÿ˜€ I had to pull my hands out of his at the end of the dance, because I think he expected me to want to dance with him again, but I hate dancing with people who dance to show off. I don’t mind complex moves and hyper-speed dances — in fact, I can really enjoy them — but only when it’s what the lead is feeling in the music, not because he wants to perform/show off for his imaginary audience. I also hate it when people ask me to teach them on the dance floor, because my dance time is my time to let my mind go, not to think for my dance partner’s benefit.

For almost all my dances now, I can have enjoyable dances with even the most beginner leads because I have learned to dance within my own body, so that, even if the lead is leading nothing but a forward and backward basic step in salsa or step-touch in blues or absolute basic walk and ochos in tango, I can still enjoy myself, rather than being bored out of my mind and just waiting for the song to end so that I can run away. (Tango is the worst for this — just this week, a new lead who moved here from another country pretty much ran away (sped-walked) when I tried to talk to him and later approached him (so, two times), because I was dressed uber-casually and I bet he thought I was the most terrible dancer ever and just didn’t want to even give me a chance.) True, I don’t want to dance an entire afternoon/night of dances with beginners, but I also won’t make pained faces and noises and make my dance partner feel like a terrible person for eating my time. As long as I’m dancing and feeling the music in my own body, it doesn’t matter what my lead is doing. Every beginner I have danced with lately has gone away extremely happy. The cuban salsa lead who stuck his tongue at me even said I was “a delight to dance with.” ๐Ÿ™‚

There are two follows in our blues dance scene who are considered the best dancers, both with incredibly different dance styles, and I remember every lead describing one as incredible because she was always moving, always dancing, and making every move and lead look good regardless of what was being led. I never full understood what they meant, but now I am beginning to. When you love the music so much and feel the music so much that that you never stop dancing and making the dance your own, no matter who is leading it, is what I think is the mark of the very best follow (and lead). There’s really no such thing as a bad dance when you can dance like that. I have my moments of pure following and moments of letting my personality really shine. I wish the follow were still living in Vancouver (I’m pretty sure she moved away) so that I could observe more closely what the leads were talking about now that I am starting to understand it, but I’m thankful to have learned from her anyway, even through word of mouth.

I’ve been dancing with a lot of advanced salsa dancers lately, and have been finding that the best dancers are the ones grooving to, feeling, and loving the music, and are also the ones who put me in break-away (blues term) the most, to give me time to do shines (salsa term) and just do my own thing. They can do crazy moves, but also know when it is appropriate to just chill and feel the music together.

inspirational-dance-quotes-kobi-yamada

I have the same philosophy for solo dancing. I recently had to name my favourite dancers for a dance audition I attended last weekend, and I had never really thought about this before and so just wrote the names that came to my head. I wrote down three local street dancers and two west coast swing follows (one local and one international). The quality they all had in common was that they were all 100% about the feeling, the music, and the enjoyment of dancing. They’re the ones you know are losing themselves in the music, letting themselves go, letting themselves be outrageous, letting their personalities shine through. I dislike cyphers because they make most people put their game faces on and try too hard, looking to really shine and impress others when their turn comes. So they dance too big and it looks a bit off, because they care too much about doing tricks and showing people how good they are. The people I wrote down as my favourite dancers are already so good that they don’t need to try too hard and just dance like themselves. As a result, they are more interesting for me to watch than the people throwing down the massive moves.

I’m glad I am surrounded by such good role models guiding me in the right direction during my dance journey.

I know some people are going to interpret this post the wrong way or try to use it against me by saying I am a cocky dancer who thinks I am so great (heck, a salsa dancer did that [spread rumours about me to salsa girls he went out with, and maybe other dancers, saying I thought I was such a great dancer when I wasn’t] two years ago when I did nothing to him but simply acted uninterested in dating him, when his primary purpose in the dance scene was to score dates). In fact, I know I have a long way to go as a dancer, and I never plan to stop learning and growing, because I see dance as part of my life, now, rather than a mere hobby and something I do purely for fun.

I can’t wait for my attitude to evolve even more, with the goal of having a fantastic time dancing with anyone and everyone! ๐Ÿ™‚

dancing

 

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Filed under Argentine Tango, Blues Dancing, Dance attitudes, Dance Progess, Dance Tips, Hip Hop Dancing, musicality, Salsa Dancing

When Dancing = Playing: Dance as a Playground

Which dancing baby do you think is the happiest?

Which dancing baby do you think is the happiest?

The dance floor has become my playground! Dancing is playing! I think this is the goal I will strive to achieve now in every dance scene.

A few tango leads this week reintroduced the concept of “dance as conversation” to me, but that description does not resonate with me anymore. I think of dancing as playing! This week at tango was the first time I was able to add myself to the dance, where my feet and body suddenly found a voice of their own to use to express myself and interpret the music. It happened out of the blue during the middle of a night of dancing at a milonga — one minute I was a passive follow, the next, I was an active participant. I remember one particular dance with a tango lead — the dance directly after the one in which I’d spontaneously started adding my own adornments/embellishments/styling. He’d said near the start of our tanda, “I gotta say, I’m liking the embellishments” and gave me extra room to play when I told him I was bullshiting and didn’t even know what I was doing. With that okay from him to keep going, I threw myself into that dance, playing within the confines of the dance he led for me to play in. At the end of our set of dances, I pretty much yelped with delight: “Thank you for letting me play! I had so much fun!”

As I later described on Facebook:

“It was the best feeling ever! I got to play and really express myself in the dance! I changed the quality of my steps and movements to capture the powerful and tender moments in the music. I used my free leg to capture the little things, with kicks, flicks, sweeps, longer steps, trailing sweeps and steps, taps… it was like a switch had flicked that had turned on my ability to dance and express myself in the music. It was like I had been doing it all the time, even though I hadn’t even being doing it several dances into the night. At one point, I got so into it, I think I took an extra step that wasn’t led and apologized for going overboard (this was during my first dancing using styling) and my lead said it was okay, because tango is a conversation. It was the first time I ever experienced dancing tango like a conversation, and I LOVED it. Because “I” finally had a say in how to feel and express the music. I got to dance the last four tandas this way!”

As I said, I don’t think of dancing as a conversation anymore. “Conversation” isn’t the right word to express what I feel like I am doing when I am have my most awesome dances. Thinking of dancing as a conversation makes me think too much. And I don’t dance well at all when I think too much. It puts me too much in my own head and is intimidating. I dance best when I am not thinking at all.

Dancing as playing = my happiest, most enjoyable dancing.

Dancing as playing = my happiest, most enjoyable dancing.

In blues, I remember that call and response can involve taking turns by bars of music, and who wants to be counting out bars to make sure they aren’t hogging the spotlight or not taking or giving enough time to the person who they are dancing with? As a follow, we are just supposed to speak up at specific moments to influence the course of the dance, because if we are “too loud” then it is no longer a “conversation.” Dancing starts to involve worrying about how your partner is perceiving you, and about showing off for/impressing your partner or the people around you. “Am I too boring?” “Am I contributing enough to the conversation?” “Did I miss something?” “Did I misinterpret a cue?”

I don’t dance this way at all. (Alright, I guess I do actually get intimidated by dancers who I know are really good, sometimes.) Me, I just want to have fun. To me, the music and whatever my lead chooses to lead provide the playground for me to play/dance in. The playground is different every time. How much energy I decide to put into my movements, how I decide to go along for the ride — this depends on how well I think the dance playground created by the lead matches the music. As such, during dances with leads who find ways to capture all the beautiful nuances in the music, I can spend an entire dance pure following and be happy, while during other dances, I am inspired to pepper everything with my own movements, to highlight the moments my lead chooses not to acknowledge but that speak enough to me to make me want to show what I hear. This is not the same as back leading and not following what is being led, but rather working with what I am given and finding a way to have the most fun possible and stay truest to the music.

Dancing as conversation is too much about, “I talk, you listen; you talk, I listen,” because talking at the same time is rude.

Playing is just pure joy and carefree dancing!

This might not make sense to you, but it’s how I’ve come to look at dancing. And now, when I dance, I am the happiest and most carefree I have ever been!

๐Ÿ˜€

Let's all dance like we're carefree kids again! :)

Let’s all dance like we’re carefree kids again! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Filed under Argentine Tango, Dance attitudes, Dance Progess, Dance Tips, musicality

Finding the “click”

I understand

I finally get it.

It finally happened.

The “click.”

That moment when dancing stops being about steps, where you stop having to force technique โ€“ stop wondering if you are doing something right, because it just feels right โ€“ย and suddenly, you are simply following, and understand perfectly what your lead is communicating.

That magical moment when you body absorbs a dance, and you feel it in your bones.

French Simpsons

Remember that Simpsons episode where Bart goes to France on a school exchange and can’t speak any French, but finally experiences a “click”, where he is suddenly able to speak and understand French? That’s what finally “getting” a dance feels like. ๐Ÿ™‚

If youโ€™ve ever moved to foreign country where you don’t speak the native/dominant language, itโ€™s like that moment when your ears seem to readjust, and you suddenly understand and keep pace with the conversation, because you finally understand the language itself.

Today, I sensed a change in my tango dancing from the very start of my beginner Argentine tango class, to the end of my intermediate lesson.

Everything about my tango dancing felt different today. I felt grounded for the first time, and that is what made the difference. Whereas in the past, my steps would always feel somewhat off-balance, and, at times, a bit uncertain, today, my steps felt sure. My upper and lower bodies detached themselves so that my torso stayed with my lead of its own accord, and let my lower body twist and turn on its own. My feet landed firmly on the ground — tango feet, rather than the salsa feet, that have up until now stubbornly forced their way into my tango social dancing. My center of balance felt steady and sure, and I remained poised to follow whatever my lead threw at me, regardless of how fast or slow.

For two hours, I felt what tango must feel like for tango dancers. I felt attuned to every twist, turn, lean, push, pull, lift, and weight transfer made by my lead. With both of my classes short on leads, I got to practice many of my tango moves with my tango teacher, and he didn’t correct me on any of my following except for a new adornment (styling) we had learned that day (I was doing it too quickly), and he even said that I followed a new move that he had just taught perfectly. He didn’t need to tweak anything.

Also, when I had to practice a move at different speeds with a lead, he prefaced our turn by shaking his head, saying we wouldn’t get it, but we did it again and again, over and over, at fast, slow, and varying speeds, without screwing up once, and he told me “Very good!” at the end. I was only able to keep pace with it because I was, in fact, following his lead, rather than trying to perform memorized steps.

As long as a lead led a move with proper technique, I was able to follow it precisely. It was like my skin had sprouted sensors that allowed me to tell exactly what my lead’s body was telling me.

Ironically, I discovered that,ย if you dance tango with the right technique, it is virtually impossible not to follow exactly what your lead leads — and also impossible to back lead. I literally could not do my tango moves today unless the leads in my classes led them with proper technique: You can’t step forward on your own if a lead has your weight completely centered over your feet, you can’t cross if your lead does not twist his torso and push your forward, because your body will be stuck beside his.

I ended up pissing off a lead in my class who expected me to back lead my moves. He literally told me, “It’s your job to twist your own body.” and wanted me to take my own steps forward and determine the direction my body went by myself.

I couldn’t have done ย any of it myself, even if I had tried.

For two hours, I got to feel what tango can really feel like, and I loved it! Tango feels amazing to follow properly!

Reaching this state today came at a high cost: I had gone tango dancing at a milonga the night before, and I had one of the worst dance nights of my life, where couldn’t follow any of my leads, no matter how superb their leading was (I even danced with the teacher at the milonga, who all the best follows thought of as an excellent lead). I think it was probably because I had spent the four hours right before it taking classes in cuban salsa, salsa ladies’ styling, merengue, and intermediate salsa, and was too salsa-headed to switch over to tango mode. It was like I knew what the proper technique entailed, but couldn’t make my body do it. My feet kept taking salsa steps (stepping with just the balls of my feet), leaving me light and unbalanced.ย It didn’t help that I hadn’t danced tango since New Year’s Eve, and that this was only my third milonga.

It wasn’t until the end of the dance — when I asked a follow what I should be watching if I wanted to learn something from observing the dance floor, and she pointed out a particularly good follow to me — that I learned about the concept of grounding.

“Watch her. She’s very grounded,” the follow told me.

Until then, I hadn’t even realized that tango was a grounded dance.

For some reason, the concept clicked and found its way into my dancing today.

It changed my tango following completely, and tango just felt “right”.

So I’ve found the tango feeling once, but don’t know if it will stay.

I think the handful of dances I experienced and that talk with the follow really helped bring me into the tango mindset, but I am not sure how to keep it.

My dance schedule doesn’t have much space in it to fit tango social dancing in, and my reputation in the tango scene has been destroyed by Saturday’s dance experience (tango leads watch you and never ask you to dance again if they see you dancing badly), so it will be tough to enter the scene again, especially so soon after showing just how bad I can be.

We’ll see what happens.

But the point of this post is to celebrate the fact that all my struggles with tango finally came together and allowed me to wrap my head around the dance, if only for two hours.

I finally experienced the “click”, and it has made all of this worth it.

So if you find yourself discouraged by a dance, I urge you to keep at it! When you get it, you will know. And that is when you will finally begin to understand the magic and addictiveness of dancing. ๐Ÿ™‚

delirious happiness

When you experience that “click”, you will get a taste of delirious happiness. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Filed under Argentine Tango, Dance Progess, Dance Tips

Two to Tango

Argentine Tango Performance from the World Dance Festival in Burnaby, BC

Two Argentine Tangoers: my dance teachers, Daniela and Diego.

Even before I got into dancing, I had wondered about the expression “It takes two to tango.”

Why not “It takes two to salsa” (or bachata, Viennese waltz, cha cha, etc.)?

Was “tango” meant to stand for partner dances in general?

Wikipedia says that the idiom comes from the fact that “[t]he tango is a dance which requires two partners moving in relation to each other, sometimes in tandem, sometimes in opposition,” and it is a “situation in which the two partners are … understood to be essential.”

I don’t buy that explanation, because I feel like the same can be said of many partner dances. So, I’m coming up with an explanation of my own:
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