Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Visiting other places

I spent the weekend in Bellingham, and had occasion to dance with a roomful of entirely new people.

My dancing has always been in one of two places so far: Seattle or Portland. I have become quite comfortable with the group of people I regularly dance with in each of those places. Although I certainly dance with a wide mix of people, and occasionally new people (both new to me, and new to tango), the communities both have a solid sense of style to which I have become accustomed.

Both Seattle and Portland are heavily weighted toward a close, milonguero style embrace. I favor such a style myself, and therefore get along just fine. However, when I attended a dance in Bellingham, it was largely new dancers, and mostly open embrace. I was reminded how different a completely open embrace feels, and how the technique required changes. I was also reminded of various technique (axis, balance, intention) that I have let slip.

It was a fun evening, and I learned quite a bit.  Thank you, Bellingham dancers.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gradual Improvement

I have made a lot of time for dancing lately. With that time, I have been improving again. My balance is better, and some nuances of connection in the embrace have improved. Instead of trying to lead broadly through my whole chest, I try to put intention into the actual point of contact (sternum to sternum, sternum to ribs, belly to sternum, whatever it might be).

Visualization has a surprising effect on physical performance. In the case of playing a musical instrument, some study has been made of the neural effects of virtual practice (imagining the specific practice activity) vs physical practice. The neural growth and connection in the mind after the period of training was very similar between the two groups. (The paper is here, and a description here).

Now, this doesn't directly carry over (although looking at whether visualizing better technique would improve it fascinates me), but of late I have been focused on visualizing the connection between me and my partner. Imagining some warmth there, which passes information.

It seems to help, anyway.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Social Interaction

I spent last night in my living room, and yet it was a very satisfactory evening of tango. Two friends came by, one fresh off an airplane, and we made dinner, looked out over the city, and talked about life, tango, and the mix of the two.

I often find milongas and practicas lacking a strong social element. I'm not sure if this is particular to Seattle, but I suspect it is true to some degree everywhere. At least for me, a lot of the problem is created because I like dancing, and tango music drives me to the floor.  It's very tough to maintain a meaningful conversation in 1 minute chunks every 15 minutes.

A couple of the dances here in town maintain a stronger social atmosphere: China Harbor, and Om Culture; they have more space dedicated to non-dancing, and seating that encourages staying off the dance floor. Perhaps not coincidentally, they are also my favorite dances currently. Social atmosphere is not entirely dictated by layout, of course; other dances here have fluctuated in terms of atmosphere, attendance, music, etc.

How do you maintain social connections 5 or 15 minutes at a time?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tango and Intimacy

My girlfriend and I broke up about a month ago. In this case, a very amiable split. We still enjoy each other's company, and dance together when both present at the same dance. I am mostly reconciled -- I miss the time we spent being close, but no longer feel driven to push back toward it.

Melina Sedo wrote about sex in tango, and as I contemplate new romantic endeavors, I have been thinking about the trouble involved in dating within a community. Now, I don't think tango is unique in this instance: workplace and school are also environments where becoming involved with another community member can potentially be tricky. I imagine this is true of any reasonably small social group. Relationships of all types have trouble with dividing lives afterward, and determining new social boundaries. The smaller a group that is involved, the more interwoven relationships, expectations, and needs will be.

So, does tango present a unique problem? Informally, most people seem to think so. In talking with others, I generally hear 1 of 2 responses:
  1. (Minority) I only date tango dancers, because (not enough time, shared interests, social circle).
  2. (Majority) I never date tango dancers, because (too much time, outside interests, bad experience).
People are not as absolute as they sound when forced to make a statement, but certainly people feel very strongly that tango presents a unique problem. I think that any such uniqueness comes from two things. First, the time commitment involved with tango (and other dances). I currently spend between 10 and 20 hours a week pursuing dancing, and that is a significant portion of my free time. This means that I have a harder time meeting people outside of tango, and if I do, I will eventually struggle between giving up time with the person, or giving up time dancing.

Second, tango creates intimacy for an extended period with a group of people. This creates feelings in many cases within the community ("Tango Crushes"), and can cause problems of time/intimacy sharing across the group. Equally, it can cause trouble with a partner outside the group ("Why do you need intimacy from all these other people?")

How do you manage the barrier between communities, the level of intimacy in dance, and the various time commitments?

(Also: it strikes my analytical side that there might be an interesting paper here ... considering a group of people with some characteristics, how does the size of the group affect the forming/breaking of personal bonds? Perhaps some sort of simulation, where you have some chance of interaction ... how do you measure group function/disfunction resulting from dating/breaking up?)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Creativity and Expression

A friend of mine shared this lovely Milonga with me:

It is a very showy piece of dancing, not to everyone's taste, I am sure. I find it a wonderful milonga, and wish I had the creativity and control on display.

  1. As a show piece, I really like the lighting: in the background, you see their whole bodies; in the foreground, you see only knees down, making for an interesting contrast in focus. I don't know how much of that was intentional vs. a happy mistake of the available lighting, but I loved it.
  2. I am amazed at their creativity. Practically every 8 measures they change up what they are doing, displaying something new.
  3. The showy-ness does not hide underlying musicality and control. Clearly, these dancers know what they are doing (I have never met them personally, so I can't say directly). They are well connected with each other and the music.
  4. When the light shows their face -- they are smiling.  They enjoy dancing with each other, they enjoy the response of the crowd, and they enjoy the music. And that makes for a good show.
Hopefully I will someday dance a Milonga with even a small portion of that awesomeness!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Focus, Clarity, and Landing a Partner

My friend Ampster has talked about waiting for the follow to land, and how he uses that to dance. It sparked a chain of thoughts about my own process. My process is not very different really, but:

I always want to know where the follower has their weight. Why? Because a step taken when they are off-balance (or worse, have the wrong leg free) will break connection with the follower, and likely with the music. Maintaining those two things are my main focus (and the source of most of my enjoyment and satisfaction) when I dance. At least so far, the people I dance with seem to appreciate that focus!

This isn't to say that I test each and every step before I take it ... I don't. When I am doing a turn, I might do the whole thing in one smooth motion. I will make sure that my follow *is* ready for that first step, but for the next couple steps, I leave it to some mutual sense of when, how far, and how fast to take additional steps.  I still influence this, of course, by using my chest to direct the movement, the strength of the initial pulse, and keeping my own weight moving through the step. However, the fine control of each step has become, to some extent, muscle memory.

The creation of this muscle memory has lead to nicer dancing. I no longer have to plot out the exact physical instructions for my body to create certain motions, I can think at a high level: 'A step in cross system out of this turn will feel good here', and can enjoy the sensation more easily than when I needed to focus on thinking 'okay, step 18 inches to the left. Twist upper body to signal to follow. Shift my own weight while follow is engaged pivoting ...'. I am exaggerating the thought process some, but I think the sense of it is clear?

This clarity in my own motion also frees me to focus on the follower. By improving my own technique, balance, and 'mind of no mind', I can pay better attention to my partner's weight and balance, and the music.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Confidence and Interpretation

I had a funny exchange Monday night.

Monday night, at the China Harbor milonga, I never felt on. It was a mix of losing my balance, not quite connecting with music, and losing connection with my partner. This part was not funny, but it happens from time to time.

Later in the evening, I was standing at the bar, chatting with some friends (followers, in this case) who made the exact same observation. One of them I had danced with earlier, but added that she really enjoyed my dancing for our dance, it was just her dancing that felt off. And I thought the same: that her dancing was quite nice, even if mine was off.

I guess if we could stop criticizing ourselves, we could just take pleasure from the fact that our partner enjoyed the dance. Not a new realization, but it keeps happening.  I should try actually learning the lesson.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Walking (or Falling)

One area I have trouble with is my walk.

I often lose balance after stepping onto my left foot, requiring a quick step onto the right to keep up. This is made much worse when I have a partner who has any tendency to lean/step that direction. Interestingly, I do not have any problem when stepping backward.

Last Friday morning, I was attending a meditation practice, and as it happened, the practice for the day was walking meditation. With 30 minutes of slowly walking back and forth, focusing on the physical sensations of walking, I discovered two things.

First, that pushing through the step is comfortable, and if I push my center of gravity all the way up over the ball of my foot, I have no balance problems with that step.  I have tried to apply this while dancing, and am making some progress. Focusing on getting my balance all the way there is hard when I'm trying to listen to the music, navigate, and connect!

Second, I during that walking meditation, I also tried letting my hips go to lesser and greater degree, and I learned that that is another way of getting your center of gravity aligned: by letting the left hip out, you shift your center enough to be balanced!

How do the rest of you reach your balance?

(Third: focus on meditation is tough when it's an act I have spent a lot of time attaching other efforts to.  Whew!)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Frustration and Focus

Lately I have been a little unhappy with my dancing. It is rooted in a few things:
  •  A normal learning cycle -- learning comes with plateaus. They are valuable, because the plateau allows incorporation of previous. Although it may not feel like you are improving, you are actually moving from conscious to unconscious competence. Being in the plateau is always painful, though ... And the incorporation that happens often (for me) feels like regression, because you are slightly knocked out of comfortable old habits. I have been gradually improving my posture, for instance ... but my back actually complains more, since previously unused muscles are being asked to work.
  • Knowing too much -- 'best dancing' is a moving target. As I improve my knowledge of technique, the music, my ability to connect with a follow, I am rewarded with ever more intricate details. Pursuing these more intricate targets requires much harder work for a finer-grained reward. Not only do I have to dance well, but I want my own style. I may be able to lead a step clearly, but is my balance absolutely perfect through every piece of it?
  • Lack of time/dedication to practice -- Life is ever changing, of course, and I no longer have as many hours to spend at Milongas and Practicas. Without the near daily dancing I once did, I no longer have sufficient incidental practice time. I am also not making dedicated practice time or space. As a result, I am not improving as quickly as before. Lack of progress, and the knowledge that I lack enough dedication to practice, both frustrate me.
This unhappiness leads me to focus more (too much, probably) on my own dancing while leading. This is a dangerous thing to do, as putting too much focus on myself limits my ability to connect, and at an extreme, would make my follows feel like they were dancing by themselves.

I don't think things have gotten quite that bad, luckily.