Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Relationship With The Floor • Becoming a Better Leader

It is my experience that I am always learning something new with every dance, every partner, every song and every class or lesson in Argentine Tango. 

I had the good fortune to join a group lesson at the University of Florida in Gainesville a few Sundays ago. My instructor Irene danced lead and taught both lead and follow. 

I have been taking classes in leading for at least a year, perhaps more, and dancing as a follower for several years at most all of the milongas I attend. 

I have heard it said that it takes a year to learn to follow and three to learn to lead.  I agree! Perfecting style, adornos, technique, grace and posture are my tangible joys on the journey that is Argentine Tango. 

As is often the case when I am learning, words get in the way. I have listened to every teacher attentively, and when listening to lessons on leading I have heard again and again that the energy of leading is sent from the sternum. 

I have heard that the upper body of the leader, the shoulders of the leader and the chest of the leader are what a follower senses and follows in a tango.  

When leading I also followed that lesson, however I was blessed with a gentle critique after two hours of dancing lead in Gainesville. The instructor asked if she might offer me a suggestion. I gladly accepted. 

She was a very skillful and subtle leader…. I watched to see just how she invited her partner to certain moves, but could not quite see how she actually lead the step. 

I have had this same difficulty when watching Maestros of the dance. They seem to be able to lead (invite) their partner to take eloquent and sometimes complex steps without any real movement of their torsos at all.

I have puzzled over videos, playing them again and again, but I could not see what actually was not there. 

To my critique: The instructor suggested that I was leading with my torso. I agreed. She then pointed out that I would be a more effective leader if I were more grounded. She suggested that I use the floor, the energy from the floor to lead.   

I realized I was not grounded as a leader. I understood at once. My relationship with the floor had been first learned as a follower. 

After the first year of learning to dance in heels, finding the right heel height and perfecting my axis as a follower, I had accidentally become light. 

I had been focusing on responding to my leader, yet I was not “in the floor."  I am sure that in Salon embrace it was hard for many leaders to know just where I was in the dance.

As a leader, I find it very easy to dance with a partner who commits to each step. When I feel her land, I am more confident that I am able to lead the next step successfully because I know where she is! 

Now I will learn to lead from the ground up. 

Returning from Gainesville I opened the floor here in my town, Jacksonville, Florida and was able to practice my new awareness, my new lead with a true dancer. 

She is very well trained in other traditions and very comfortable dancing with me as we both discover what is really at the heart of Argentine Tango. 

I told her about my trip, my awakenings, and my new “style” of leading. I was glad to receive her feedback on my new use of the floor. 

So we danced.  The first part of the first dance I lead as I had in the past. Then I shifted to my first real effort in leading from the floor. 

I could sense a difference right away. I was more confident. I was able to lead using less upper body motion. I was able to clearly send her backward by pressing against the floor, somehow gaining strength or gentle power to clearly lead her back step. 

I felt far more connected to her than I had in previous dances. (There is not too much of me to follow. I am 5’ 2” and at my right weight tip the scales at 120 pounds.) 

She reported that she felt my lead clearly. We danced the hour away, and indeed after one Tango she said “That was fun.” As a leader, if I can create a dance with her (or him) that they really enjoy dancing, I feel successful. 

Sending my energy from the floor through the center of the chest before I even take a step sends my partner in the proper direction and empowers me to hear her. 

This style of leading, which my instructor told me was a reflection of the style of the people who dance Tango in Argentina, will take time to perfect of course. 

However in practicing leading at home…… I am a new woman. 

I was also very glad to watch another woman teach Argentine Tango. Each instructor has their own style or process. She had a full floor of eager young students! 

Here in Jacksonville a full floor is four! A good floor is two. I am coming to understand that not everyone wants a challenge. 

I understand that some people are reluctant to make a mistake in public. Some new dancers think so much about what they are doing that they think themselves right out of the moment and so miss the connection that makes for the magic. 

I have fallen in love with the experience...... bumbling moments and all (rest assured I bumble still) and will continue to hold space for all who want an hour of Tango here.