I am currently enjoying my third visit to Buenos Aires. Each visit has been focused on improving my tango technique and vocabulary, and this trip is no different. This time I am here for a full month which gives me more time to observe the culture on and off the dance floor.
The streets of this city have a fast paced energy with lots of bobbing and weaving on the sidewalks and streets. The cab drivers and pedestrians alike will go out of their way to avoid any sort of bumping or collision. Every possible inch (or here, centimeter) is taken full advantage of – which can be quite a scary experience in the passenger seat of a taxi.
Yet, at the same time, these same pedestrians will shove themselves into an already grossly overcrowded subway (Subte, as it’s called here.) It’s culturally acceptable to enter the Subte backwards and use your rump to create enough space for yourself to get on the train.
It’s amazing to see the amount of tolerance people have here for filling in these crowded spaces, respecting the flow of people around them, and accommodating one another without blinking an eye.
This culture of flow and flexibility adapts itself to tango wonderfully. Take a 40 square foot dance floor and you can fit over a hundred milongueros (tango dancers) without any one dancer colliding with another.
There’s a beauty in the simplicity of this way of coexisting on and off the dance floor:
- respect one another’s space
- know that everyone is just trying to get by, literally and figuratively
- don’t take up more space than you need
Today’s article marks my 100th publication since October 2009. This blog has allowed me to take a step back and analyze my craft in a way I’ve never done before. Through this process, I have gained a stronger understanding and appreciation for good teaching and the importance of the student experience.
In an ideal partner dance class, an instructor is able to share their love for their craft through their teaching and in turn, students are inspired to pursue the dance even further and make it their own. This is a concept that I hold dear to my approach to teaching and it helps me appreciate being a student in a well taught class.
It has been wonderful receiving all the positive feedback, fantastic observations, and suggestions from my subscribers. I look forward to the next 100+ articles along with contributions from other instructors and students, video editions, and more. This blog will continue to be a useful resource for anyone interested in the world of partner dancing.
For my 100th article, I want to share with you some of my favorite, most inspiring quotes
- There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good. ~Edwin Denby
- Never trust spiritual leader who cannot dance. ~Mr. Miyagi, The Next Karate Kid, 1994
- We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance. ~Japanese Proverb
- Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. ~Dave Barry
- Dancers are the messengers of the gods. ~Martha Graham
- You can dance anywhere, even if only in your heart. ~Author Unknown
- Dancing: the vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music. ~George Bernard Shaw
- Dance is the only art of which we ourselves are the stuff of which it is made. ~Ted Shawn, Time, 25 July 1955
- There are short-cuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them. ~Vicki Baum
- To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. ~Agnes De Mille
- Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. ~Faith Whittlesey
- Dancing with the feet is one thing, but dancing with the heart is another. ~Author Unknown
- Dance till the stars come down from the rafters Dance, Dance, Dance till you drop. ~W.H. Auden
- I don’t want people who want to dance, I want people who have to dance. ~George Balanchine
- Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order. ~Samuel Beckett
- Stifling an urge to dance is bad for your health – it rusts your spirit and your hips. ~Terri Guillemets
- Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we should dance. ~Author Unknown
- Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery. ~Martha Graham
- Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it. ~Martha Graham
- The dance is a poem of which each movement is a word. ~Mata Hari
- Dancing is the world’s favorite metaphor. ~ Kristy Nilsson
- And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music. ~Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
- Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room. ~Kurt Vonnegut
- To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak. ~Hopi Indian Saying
- Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain. ~Author Unknown
Being based in NYC has its advantages. I go out on a regular basis to dance venues for swing and tango. Each night there is a different location – dance studios, restaurants and bars, lounges, nightclubs, even embassies – to go out and dance. Some venues have been around for years.
Being the small world that it is, I see a lot of the same people at multiple locations over a week. Many of these dancers have been dancing for years, and yet, at each venue, the nature of their dancing changes, with more or less regard for those around them.
Why is it that the same people dance differently at different events? After years watching dancers, I have made a few observations:
- People are more apt to dance bigger, or with more exuberance, at special events that happen infrequently. For some, it’s because of the special nature of the event, or because dancers want to show off their skills to a newer audience.
- Some locations develop a reputation for drawing the creme de la creme and other dancers will feel as if they have to prove themselves around these “elite” dancers.
- Different spaces have their own energy and vibe. Lighting, the location of tables, the bar, the amount of space set aside for dancing, all of these details affect the energy of a space. Fancier places make people dress up and dance as if they are in a movie scene or on stage.
- Many studio events are populated by the students of that specific studio. Having an audience of fellow classmates will make some dancers feel more comfortable and confident.
- People dance bigger when there is a non-dancing audience watching. Impressing people with a less trained eye can be an exciting ego boost for many dancers.
We have all been guilty of these offenses at one point or another. The challenge is remembering that we are not alone on the dance floor. The well known quote, “Dance like no one is watching” can be a dangerous concept for those dancing around us.
We all need to remember that there is an etiquette on the dance floor. It’s one of the few remaining places where etiquette is practiced on a regular basis. Showing respect for our partners as well as our cohort will leave a much stronger impression on those audiences who get such a kick out of watching us dance. It’s fun to show off a little and soak in the atmosphere of a grand event, but not at the expense of someone else’s enjoyment or safety.
Most instructors walk into their dance studios with a plan for what they are going to teach. The plan can be about technique, patterns, styling, or some combination of the three. With a plan in hand, the instructors are determined to meet their objective.
Over the course of the class, it is important for the instructor to monitor how the students are keeping pace with the objective.
- Are the students having an easy time with the objective?
- Is the information being absorbed readily?
- Are they having fun?
If the answer is no to any of these questions, then the instructor needs to adjust the game plan, so as to keep the students feeling challenged, but not frustrated. Some of the ways to do this are by:
- changing the objective. The goal is to help your students succeed and feel successful.
- reducing the amount of material you are offering. If the students are feeling too challenged with the first two steps of your four part plan, then stop at the first two and help them own those parts.
- remembering to praise, correct and praise again. Let your students know that they are doing a great job even while you are making tweaks and adjustments to how they are executing the objectives.
Students appreciate feeling challenged, so long as the challenge helps them feel better about themselves and the quality of their dancing.
There comes a point in a dancers’ progress when s/he thinks to him/herself, “I’m never going to dance like So and So” or “I don’t understand why my dancing doesn’t look like What’s-his-name.”
Here are a few simple things to remember when those thoughts plague your mind:
- Every dancer goes through the same process of ups and downs, growth and plateaus, progress and regress.
- A big difference between experienced dancers and those less so is that they have more practice hiding their mistakes.
- Refining your basics is always a great way to improve.
Those discouraging thoughts may creep up frequently. I often find that plugging through those rough times allows for great growth and progress, not only in my dancing, but in my confidence.
This past weekend I participated in the Tango Element Baltimore Festival. This festival has become quite popular for its guest artists and milongas (tango social dances.) While I have seen dozens of video clips of the guest artists, I have not until this past weekend experienced a workshop with any of them. I was quite excited.
Being an advanced dancer as well as an instructor, I paid close attention to the material the artists shared as well as how they shared their material. I’m very happy to say that in every case, I came away with great ideas, reminders, reinforcements, and elements for me to explore and make my own:
- You never stop learning, nor should you. Everyone has something to teach us. These guest artists remind us that whether it’s a new idea, or a better way to understand an old idea, we are still growing.
- Exploration is the key to growth. You are not going to get the skills and styles of these artists by osmosis or by copying to the letter. You’re going to achieve a better quality of dance by just plain dancing and allowing for mistakes.
- Just dance. We can exercise and practice all we want to. We will not take true ownership of the elements we are practicing until we decided to dive in and just dance – without fear of consequence or mistakes.
- Deliver quality. People take the workshops because they are aware of the artists’ reputation as performers in their genre. The artists should always be ready to deliver an experience worth the time and money attendees invested in these festivals.
- A Great performer does not always equal a great instructor and vice versa. Some artists are not able to express how they do what they do. On the other hand, there are also artists who are great instructors, but are not great performers.
I came away from this festival feeling energized about dancing, learning, and with new ideas to explore as a dancer, a performer, and as an instructor.
Thank you Tango Element 🙂
“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward”- Thomas A. Edison.
Going up and down the aisle in the supermarket
on the train platform
on the train
walking to work
hanging at the bar with your friends
at the beach
waiting for a printout
on line at McDonald’s, Burger King, Maoz, the hot dog cart, Dunkin Donuts, or Shake Shack
waiting to get into your movie theater
waiting for popcorn
While shooting pool
in a pool
walking from work
walking to the restroom
taking your shower
doing your laundry
picking up your dry cleaning
oh, and on the dance floor too
Where else do you dance?