Friday, September 2, 2016

Walking to the Cross •  Workshopping Argentine Tango • Jacksonville, Florida

I love Argentine Tango! Had I a car, or a dance partner, I would attend absolutely event Milonga I could manage. I would surely dance at the UF Tango Club every Wednesday, the Class & Milonga in Ormond Beach every Thursday and both Milongas in Gainesville. Alas…. no car, no partner. 

My solution? To rent a dance floor so that those who dance Argentine in town may come out to practice. As well, I am hoping more and more people in Jacksonville, Florida will want to learn Salon Style Tango. There are so many cultural obstacles (it seems to me.) One is the “Men Don’t Dance” obstacle, and I just can’t do anything about that. 

Another obstacle? It seems most people in town have never really been exposed to the dance and so Performance Tango, which is lovely to watch and impossible for most to accomplish, is probably the image most have of this elegant walking dance. No matter! 

I am pleased to say the dance floor is open most every Tuesday from 8 pm -  9pm in Jacksonville, Florida. (detail at blogs end.)  As I am often the dancer with the most experience on the floor (not the teacher by any means) I share what I have learned from the best teachers I have studied with and I am happy to say that some of the people who drop in for a dance come back again and again.

This past Tuesday we were working on “The Walk” which all serious students of the dance work to perfect always. I have to say that it is much easier to pick up the fine points of the dance (gentlemen in particular) if you have the proper footwear. After a few workshops, it will make all the difference in your styling, balance and posture if your shoes are comfortable, flexible, and fit well. 

This last statement was made clear last class when we workshopped “Walking to the Cross” in the pattern “The Basic Eight.” I realize that some frown upon teaching patterns, and I respect their reason for doing so. However, properly used, the positions of the Basic Eight can serve as a language, a common ground for both teacher and student to begin working on steps like the “Ocho Cortado” or the “Molinete”.

At our workshop - luckily - everyone is willing to learn both the leader and the follower roles, regardless of their gender. Learning to dance both roles gives each dancer a greater understanding of how the dances happen, as well a greater empathy for their partner. 

The Gentleman leaders each had a follower to practice with as we practiced the principles of the Basic Eight again, and again, and again until some muscle memory began to happen. Teaching step at a time worked best. Those difficulties I had when I first started leading were easy to spot for the new leaders.  Important points we covered:

  1. Invite your follower to take the step.
  2. Wait for your follower to complete that step before leading another.
  3. Allow your follower enough room to take her step (particularly at the cross.) 
  4. Be aware of which foot your follower is weighted on. 
  5. Maintain a comfortable embrace. 
  6. Breathe!! (It is so easy to get lost in thinking about doing everything just right that breathing seems unnecessary!)

Because we were talking and working things out as a group, I feel that many basic principles of the dance were experienced (rather than heard) by those dancing. An awakening moment happened as well.  

I blog about it because I was very happy to share the moment, and bemused that I had not been able to convey a particular principle of the dance (although I thought I had repeated them often enough) to make the process of “crossing” clear. 

If you are now wondering what I am talking about, I will post links to videos that show these concepts at page end (presented by actually dance teachers).  Impatient? Please scroll down to enjoy the videos and come back.* 

The AhA happened when a male lead wanted to learn the followers part. I obliged. I did each step as I had shown him, and yet when I lead the cross, he did not follow my lead and cross one foot over the other at the ankles as should happen.

We tried again. Again I lead the cross, but nothing happened.  We adopted the practice hold so that I could see why he was not crossing his feet when lead to do so. 

We discovered that the reason was that the principle of walking backwards while stepping behind oneself had not yet registered. 

If you try to dance Argentine Tango and walk as you normally do, I am not sure it is possible. We practice the walk each week as well the vital movement of shifting weight in place. When showing how I learned to walk backwards as a follower (also by watching master followers dance) I learned that not only was I to step backwards, but that I was to step backward placing my stepping foot behind the weighted foot. Rather like walking a balance beam.

My new follower had not yet practiced the followers backward walk often enough to have a body memory of this. When he changed his style of walking so that he was stepping behind himself it was very easy for him to walk to the cross.

I am sure he will be a better lead as he know nows what the follower is feeling as well as how the follower is stepping to accomplish a lovely cross. Of course to teach it in its parts we have rather a choppy experience, but at the end of the workshop we danced several songs until the process became more facile. 

I suppose the short of it is that no matter how well I try to share with words…… body memory is the best teacher. 

Thanks to all who come out to dance Argentine Tango in Jacksonville, Florida. 

We have a very, very large floor, mirrors, barres and joyful people. Look for us at SDS Event Center, 5049 Normandy Blvd, Jacksonville, 32205.  All levels are welcome $10 floor fee pays the rent. 

Now as promised - links to useful videos. 

A favorite:

Another look:

It is important to know that the follower follows! These videos show the basic as a series of steps to an eight count. In Argentine Tango we dance to the music!. 

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