Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dancing Style and Geography

I'm in Portland this weekend. Although I did not make it out dancing, I have in the past, and it always fascinates me that the dancing is so different between Portland and Seattle.

I should probably not be surprised, as most instructors I have learned from seem to work very hard to establish a unique style. It seems to follow from this that the 'local' dancing in a city would depend a lot on the local instructors. However ... there is a fair variety of approach, even in a relatively small place like Portland, and there is also a fair amount of exchange and travel between here and Seattle. And yet, it took me quite a while (if I have yet figured it out) how to give dancer's in Portland as nice a dance as I might in Seattle.

What is the difference? I probably don't do it justice, but mainly: Portland prefers a lighter approach to leading, with a very light embrace, and the follow free to turn inside it. Seattle seems to like a little more grounded-ness, with a firmer embrace. Not everyone is the same, and each city has follows who like either style, but that is broadly what I have encountered. My dancing has probably gradually shifted somewhere in the middle of those.  I now try to feel out where my follow likes to be in that spectrum, and adjust my embrace and lead as appropriate.

I haven't danced much outside of these two cities, and I look forward to encountering new styles and habits!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Practicing at Practicas

Last night, I participated in a discussion about the Seattle tango community: where it is at; where it might be headed; where it should be headed.

Among many interesting topics and points of view, we talked about the problem of allowing for practice time. Of course, solo time is available, but generally, you may not have a floor that is good for it, or a partner to dance with, or a music system sufficient to bring across all the intricacy in the music.

Thus, a practica.

However, at least in seattle, practica's are treated as social dances instead of practice time. There is some shading of practice: people will stop and work on steps together, there may be no cortinas between tandas, and people are a little dressed down. Mostly, though, people will dance with a person, in the round, for 4 or 5 songs, thank each other, and then go look for the next social dance.

So how to run a practica that allows for and encourages a teaching atmosphere?

  1. Set it up with that expectation (the goal of this practica is for experienced dancers to work with newer dancers)
  2. Adjust incentives to encourage this: free for experienced dancers, not-free for new ones (or any other incentive scheme one could dream up. Perhaps sign-ups for the 'experienced dancers' list? With some sort of reward/ranking scheme to determine if/when they get to sign up again?)
  3. Make dancing the room impossible -- break it up into 2 or more small spaces, with plenty of room for dancing in place, working out a movement, thinking about the music, but not to be swept into a dance around the room when you hear your favorite Canaro song. (2 spaces will turn into one dance, and one practice, possibly)
  4. The music can't be too good. The songs chosen can all be good, of course, but the flow of music can not encourage runs of dancing
The focus on the music really stuck with me, and has me thinking about what songs I would pick to encourage practice, but not dancing. Depending on the particular practice goals, of course, some music will be more suitable than others. Or perhaps there could be some work on orchestra's, so all music for the first hour will be D'Arienzo, then we switch to Pugliese. Or what have you.