Tango Argentino > Help! Newby lost in tango

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by jeng7400, Jan 9, 2008.

  1. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    I would agree with this. Also, I would add that the slowest way to learn tango is by having beginners paired up with other beginners. You can learn the steps this way, but it's painfully difficult to properly learn "leading and following" when paired up with another beginner. I think that taking a couple private lessons early on, really speeds up the process.
  2. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    hmm, if I find a good teacher I may consider that. And the beginner/beginner thing was certainly an issue in my learning. Most of my classes consisted of the teacher spending nearly all the time teaching the leaders (who were struggling) and the followers pretty much stood around and then acted as test dummies without learning very much. BTW I've found the same thing happens in many other types of dance classes but can be workable that way; not so with tango where the leading/following skills are more advanced.
  3. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    I have been trying to keep myself out of this conversation, because i find talking about lessons and teachers i don't personally know, and where i have no idea of how they structure the instruction is not helpful, but i feel the need to elaborate on this statement.

    I think following the chest is the exact opposite of a visual lead.
    The way i visualize a leader in tango is as two halves - the upper body, and the lower body/legs. These two parts of the body are (at least in theory) completely independent.
    The follower in contrast is one piece - the upper body and lower body are always connected. (because the frame is how the leader is connected to her, and if her upper body and lower body are not connected the frame won't tell the leader where the followers feet are - i have actually found this a problem with a few beginning followers with strong salsa backgrouds (they tend to do invisible weightshifts) and swing background (they don't allow the connect through the frame to happen, but instead they seem to activly fight it -if i lead e.g. an ocho their reaction to the frame shifting is to counter my bodies movement by pushing, instead of yielding and moving with me) - and ballroom followers are just odd - they try to connect at the hips, i try to connect at the chest, and create distance at the hips - hilarity ensues :). - its really interesting - with most beginning/intermediate followers i can tell what their "primary" dance is. I wonder how I feel when i lead salsa - i bet there are tell tale signs that I do much more tango than salsa.

    Anyway, The frame/lead connects the upper body of the leader with the whole body of the follower. Really, the only thing a follower can follow without looking/knowing steps/choreographing herself is the leaders upper body, there is nothing else.


    (yes, i know this is very simplified, and that what makes leading interesting is the shift between associcaiton/dissociation of upper and lower body, and that an active follower uses dissociation/association to play within the structure that the leader suggests).
  4. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    Thanks Gsssh -

    1. If following the lead requires that I use my eyes to determine what to do, then yes, it does seem to me that it's a visual lead. This approach would only work in open embrace, right? If I'm in close embrace, then I have to follow by feel and not visually. Yet beginner classes usually don't teach close embrace much; maybe it would help if they did?

    2. Wouldn't you know - my strongest dances are salsa and swing? :p Maybe that is part of my problem in learning to follow tango. In salsa, you keep up your own basic footwork, and the leader guides you through patterns rather than leading every weight change. And in swing (at least in West Coast), resistance and counter-movement are definitely part of the dance.
  5. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    One of the problems in beginning, is that the leaders have a lot more to think about early on, so the followers typically get well ahead of them.

    A beginning follower needs to learn the steps, and when to do them (ie. how to receive/detect what is being led).

    However, to be able to lead, the man needs to primarily think about what steps he is trying to lead (ie. what he whats the follower to do), and not so much on what step he is supposed to be doing. That means he needs to be good enough at his own steps, so he can focus on the lead. Now how many beginning leaders do you think can do their own steps well enough that they don't have to concentrate on them?

  6. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    I don't think there is a real difference between close and open embrace in that respect.
    In close embrace following is by feel - the leader moves his chest, and because the chests touch the follwers chest is moving, too.
    In open embrace the following is by feel - the leader moves his chest, and because his chest moves his shoulders move, and becasue his shoulders move his arms move, and because the arms move the hands move, and because his hands touch the followers hands the followers hands move, and then the follwers arms, and shoulder till we end up with the followers chest moving, too.

    Now there are a few things where open embrace gives you more options, mainly becasue there is more space for fancy footwork and because one of the limitations of close embrace is how far you can dissociate upper and lower body (trying it right now i can get about 30 degrees, or so), while in open embrace you can cheat by also moving the shoulders and arms to "fake" a dissociation between the upper body and the lower body that is much larger than that.

    But if the leaders frame does not actually communicate where his chest is/how it moves then the leader is not really leading. In tango the frame is like the feelers of an insect-it should communicate everything that is needed to know, and there is no qualitative difference between the close embrace frame and the open embrace frame.

    I don't know anything about swing, but i dance some (very bad) salsa. Here is how i explain the logic of tango to friends who dance mostly salsa: "Forget for a moment about the tango basic, and think about the salsa basic. The main purpose of the basic for me as leader is to be able to predict where a follower is going to be, and where i can "insert" my leads - like there is only one point in the basic where i can start the cross body lead. As a leader i have to trust that you are going to dance the basic - if you don't i am lost, and don't know what to do. The thing in tango that is comparable to the salsa basic is the collection. Everything i lead is based on the idea that i have to trust you to either arrive at the collection, and i know which foot your weight is on, or if we walk, that you move through the collection. I am not really leading weightshifts, or walking, but i ask you to move from one point where you are collected to another point where you are collected. Thats why it is confusing to me when you add weightshifts - its like me expecting you to dance on 1 and you suddenly switch to on 2. " (and yes, i have made this speech with small variations a dozen times or so :) )

    I agree that tango is in general just taught very weirdly. I mean, it is a dance where the main skills are leading and following. So now we have a beginners class where beginning leaders try to learn how to lead by leading beginning followers (who are not good at following, and because of that the leaders don't get feedback), and beginning followers try to learn by following beginning leaders (who are not good at leading, and because of that the followers don't get feedback). Sure, in the end we grow together, but i don't think this is the most effective way.
    I had much more fun and sense of accomplishment in my beginning salsa classes - i was able to practice the basic at home, i was able to practice the leads for the patterns i knew at home, and while it wasn't the same as practicing with a partner it helped to get the timing down, and i felt that this got me 2/3 of the way where i needed to be to dance it with a partner.

    In the end i think that in tango it comes down to simply how much you dance. I always tell beginners that they should start going to milongas/practicas as early as possible. The only way of disentangeling what is truly lead/followed from habits one picks up by dancing with classmates is to dance with strangers and see what happens.

  7. Heather2007

    Heather2007 New Member

    As a follower, I've been likened to a "pole-dancer". (Che?). So I thought the "snake" analogy, safer. :lol:
  8. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    Quite true, Gssh, but one still needs to learn the proper lead/follow skills to start with, and I'm not sure the social floor is the best or most efficient method for that. Sure, you can learn some, but in the process your dance partners may get pretty frustrated with you.

    If a class is only teaching patterns rather than lead/follow, then I would say it's time to find a better teacher, learn the correct technique, then try to practice good technique in your social dancing. That's my preference. I realize others may learn differently, and can just pick up technique on the floor, but I'm not one of those people. I need to have things carefully shown and explained so I understand how it works, can practice it until I have muscle memory, and feel confident that my body will respond correctly when led.
  9. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    To jeng7400

    Your post http://www.dance-forums.com/showpost.php?p=514076&postcount=37 is actually a much better place for you to begin. Unfortunately, it sounds as though the teacher there is either not knowledgable as to the proper techniques, or how to be the most effective teacher. But, keep on the path that you began in the last class; that's better.

    To Gssh

    Your post http://www.dance-forums.com/showpost.php?p=514185&postcount=46 though simplified (I understand why), is good.

    This is what's missing in many classes, and is what is causing much of the discussion here. We understand that dance is a 2 part process; 1 - step, 2 - movement. Unfortunately, the steps are always sought as the primary things to teach, and/or what should be taught first. This is a grave error. The movement must be taught first. Dance is movement. The lead/follow happens, in all dances, with few exceptions, on the movement...not on the steps. One must learn; 1- the movement, 2- the lead/follow within that movement, and 3 - where to place the step at the end of the movment. There simply is no other correct way.
  10. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    "one still needs to learn the proper lead/follow skills to start with, and I'm not sure the social floor is the best or most efficient method for that. Sure, you can learn some, but in the process your dance partners may get pretty frustrated with you"

    Thus is born the Argentine Tango practica, which is the better place to work on your skills, at whatever level you happen to be.
  11. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    Of course.
    I was referring to milongas. But even at a practica, you should hopefully be starting out with some basic knowledge. I mean, it's a practice session, not a teaching-from-the-ground-up session, right?
  12. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Well, the question is what the needed basic knowledge is.

    For me the minimum that is needed to make a dance work with a follower is:

    1) Her weight is on one foot
    2) She waits
    3) She tries to keep her torso parallel to mine, her hips under her shoulders and her feet under her shoulders
    4) If we get out of synch or she thinks she did something different from what i wanted to lead she doesn't try to fix it - it is much easier for the leader to shape the dance and pretend that we wanted to get into the cross-system, or outside partner or something.
    5) She has her own balance and neither pulls on me nor pushes me off balance

    If she at least tries to do these things i can have an enjoyable dance, and i will be able to work on my lead if it is a practica.

    There is one additional thing that makes dancing easier, but it is not as important, and thats her she understanding how to follow a cross (I know it is possible to lead crosses, but i can't do it with beginners. The lead to a cross gives a twisty, uncomfortable, ocho-like thing. I am starting to believe that the standard cross is to a large extent an adornment.)

  13. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    Hmmm...really interesting. Made me think a lot and take a self-inventory:

    1) Yes, I try to keep my weight on one foot - now that I know I am supposed to. This wasn't clearly taught in my beginner lessons. And of course if I mess up following, I end up on the wrong foot.

    2) Waits - yes, I've learned to do this.

    3) Torsos parallel - I try to maintain a consistent distance from my partner, but on the other hand certain teachers said the embrace is supposed to be a V-shape (one side more open than the other), so technically that wouldn't be parallel.

    4) Doesn't try to fix mistakes - well, nope, I admit I try to fix it. In most other dances you're responsible for getting back into the correct position on your own if you screw up, so I'm used to doing that and it's hard to get out of the habit. Sometimes I don't recognize my mistake but the leader does, and then he adjusts, as you said.

    5) Has my own balance - yes, I'm usually okay with this. Again, if either the leading or my own following is bad, I can get thrown off occasionally, but I don't normally push anybody.

    Understanding how to follow a cross - I know what you mean about the twisty thing, my teacher did that in the beginning class which did indeed make the ladies cross. Now if there isn't that "forced cross", then how does the lady know to cross? Sometimes I do it because I recognize that the leader is taking the steps that lead up to the cross. Sometimes I'm just following well enough that the cross seems like the most logical thing to do, given my relative body position. And honestly, sometimes I just guess.
  14. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    One instructor in Portland is teaching two courses which started this week: Tango from the Ground Up, and one devoted entirely to the cruzada. In fact, an email from Steven states that he plans to address the cruzada all of this year.

    (BTW Alex Krebs (Steven teaches at Alex's Tango Berretin) was at our practica last Sunday with an outstanding partner. I always enjoy watching Alex because he is so musical, but with this particular partner... When I looked at the link jenny posted of Alex doing a demo a while ago... Well, it was like night and day.)

    If someone shows up at a practica with no or very little experience with AT, and the stars are aligned correctly, I have no problem spending time with them working on basics.
    If someone shows up at a milonga with no or very little experience with AT...
    Well, we all know about the commitment that the tanda system creates.
    And, I hope that newer dancers make a effort to understand how that impacts whether or not they are asked to dance.

    Where do you cross the line from no or very little experience with AT, to being milonga ready? I think it depends to a large extent on what the level of dancing is at that milonga.

    I also hope that people take into account the fact that beginners show up for any "before the milonga" lessons; then stay around until things get more crowded, and more demanding, as the more experienced dancers show up.

    I loved learning about the cruzada. But all too frequently when you so much as walk on the woman's right side, you get an auto cross. When you know how good it can be...
    So is "the standard cross is to a large extent an adornment"? Only because of a lack of skill among the practitioners. But also maybe among many teachers.
  15. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    "And of course if I mess up following, I end up on the wrong foot."

    The saying that you can never be on the wrong foot in tango is not just a cliche. You take the step you take, and if you've taken it cleanly, and confidently, your partner will feel where you are, and where your weight is. If he doesn't know where you are, or where your weight is... that's a different problem.

    For me, and many others, it's about non verbal, and non visual, communication. But AT is not always taught that way, I know.
  16. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Thats not really what i meant - i meant that the mechanics of the cross not as explicit as the the mechanics of almost anything else in tango. Yes, many people don't lead a cross at all, but i think even the people who lead/follow the cross do it in part by knowing what it should look like. As i said, if i dance with a beginner (no tango experience, went to a milonga because a friend wants to show what her obsession is all about), and she has some kind of training in body mechanics (other dances, gymnasitics, whatever) i usually do this:
    1) embrace
    2) left sidestep, right sitestep (and some small talk about how this exactly how all the kids dance at proms, so it can't be so hard, and that most of tango is about pretending to be very serious and dramatic - usually she starts to laugh about then :) )
    3) when i got a rhythm set up i start walking froward
    4) i do some stopping, and walking, and stopping, and rocksteps, and some left and right sidesteps in place.
    5) when we are comfortable i do a few ochos. I found that when i do ochos too, mirroring them, they have a easy reference as of what we are trying to do.
    6) if this went well i try a rock-rock turn - and these tend to work, too, though i have to admit that i do more "pulling with the arms" than "trusting that she will try to reestablish her alignment with me when my chest fades away". (though if they have done salsa it works great- it is almost the same thing as a CBL)

    This sequence works with practically anyone, and gets us a tanda of relatively enjoyable dancing. I tried really, really hard to find a way to put the cross in there (just because it would be awesome to show the whole basic syllabus of tango), but i have found no way of leading it reliably. Counter body movement gets you the crossing of the legs, and the weightshift is leadable, but when i try this the follower always ends up uncomforably twisted and off balance.

    The way i see the technique is like this:
    From the followers side a cross is in essence a mini-volcada: the leader uses counterbody movement and impulse to move her left foot beyond the point where she has a chance to collect. This is clearly leadable. But then a "real lead" would require a some kind of second lead to get her to collect tightly crossed. The way i lead - and this might very well be a lack of skill - requires the follower to activly put her left foot close to her right foot - there is nothing in the lead that makes that neccessary. She could as well let her feet naturally cross, which would result in her feet being about 4 or 5 inches apart, and the left foot in front of the right foot, the lead weighshift results then in a relatively big, jerky, move of her center, and a ocho like effect. If there is less counterbody motion - we just need to chenge the trajectory of ther foot by 2" or so - it is too subtle to be picked up by a beginner.
    The "collection" at the end of the cross seems to be a adorment - i.e. the follower does it because she wants to, not because it is inherent in the lead.
    For me the basic element of tango is the walk, and the collection as the endpoints of each step, and becasue of this the cross vexes me - it needs to be explained, and it requires a pretty elaborate setup.

    Even many intermediate followers don't naturally get into a cross footed position.

    A good example is if as a leader you get them into the cross from a different angle e.g. the follower does a front step around the leader, and the leader follows her left foot with one of his feet and guides it outwards, so that instead of collecting she ends up in the cross. Then stop her momentum and shift her weight to her outside, crossed foot. Now she is in exactly the same configuration as in a cross, but in most cases she will have no idea what to do with herself. (this is actually a nice little move - and just like a normal cross you can resolve it in any direction). Now of course it is just a cross, and by the 2nd or 3rd time she will be completely comfortable with this entry into it, but the moment of confusion when you do it the first time shows that the cross is not as natural as other basic element of the dance.
    Another example is trying to lead double crosses: 1) lead a standard cross 2) take the standard exit out of the cross: weightshift and step forward 3) note that this is exactly the setup of the cross: leader steps left foot forward, follower steps right foot backward so adding the counterbody we should get 4) leader collects, follower crosses
    Or leading a cross from a sidestep to the right: sidestep to the right, step left foot forward+ counterbody, follwer crosses

    For me all these things are fiendishly difficult, and i am only very rarely able to make them work.

  17. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    "the mechanics of the cross not as explicit as the the mechanics of almost anything else in tango"
    The reason that they aren't explicit is that most people don't seriously get into it. Again, partly or mostly because their instructors don't.
    They other reason I think they don't seem to be explicit is what I consider to be a lack of the appropriate physical connection. With the kind of connecition I mean, you can actually feel where your partner's feet are, just as you can "feel" where your own feet are.
    You are definately right that it is too subtle for a beginner. And unless you and your partner have both learned to form the right kind of connection, they can be well into the intermediate zone and still not feel it.
    There has to be a certain resistance to the motion to allow the subtle stuff to come out.
    Again, with a good enough connection, you should begin to feel the off balance and twisted nature of the movement, and compensate before it gets too pronounced.

    And, yeah, stepping across yourself, then back onto the same foot, isn't natural at all.
    You are right in thinking that leading the cross is a series of leads rather than one lead (I can think of 3 distinct components). But, again, the women think, "Oh, this is a cross", and they just do it without any further input.

    "the follower does it (the final weight change) because she wants to, not because it is inherent in the lead". The lead should make her want to go there by moving her center away from the weighted (right) foot. One day you might lead someone who is in a crossed position to change weight back onto her right foot (probably not a beginner). Then lead her back onto the crossed (left) foot.
    Again, this doesn't work so well if there is a weak connection, if your partner isn't a really good one.
  18. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    i was thinking "it (collecting her left foot crossed tightly against her right foot) because she wants to, not because it is inherent in the lead" :)

    Exactly - or what is also nice is to not lead the weight shift to the left foot, but instead let rebound to the front, unravel the cross with a bit of counter-counter body and continue walking. These tiny things are just so much fun :)

    Which kinda supports my original point - that it is basically impossible for a beginner to lead or to follow a cross cleanly. I as a leader can wrestle a beginning follower into something similar to a cross, but it is not nice. A follower can use the classic 2-step-outside rule to divine a beginners intent (or simply not cross), but in both cases these are sub-optimal solutions that in some people lead to bad,bad habits. There are some leaders that expect followers to do ochos on their own, but they grow out of that quickly. But there are some intermediate leaders who still don't lead the cross. Now I realize that the cross is crucial for modern tango, and i don't think there is any teacher who could afford to not teach the cross in the beginners class, but i think beginners should be warned that the cross is a technically fairly complex, at least intermediate move.

  19. jennyisdancing

    jennyisdancing Active Member

    Gssh, I generally have no trouble following the above moves (and I do have a lot of other dance experience like the people you describe). I can even do them somewhat intricately and fast-paced such as with a milonga song. But to me, while walking and rocksteps are certainly tango moves, they are not the ones that are unique to tango so that's why they are more easily followed. Those movements will be familiar to someone who's done other dances before. Even forward ochos are done in some other dances.

    The tango-specific moves such as the cross, back ochos, molinete, etc. are the ones that are more challenging, since they are unique (so far as I know) and require specific technique to lead or follow them. This is where I think it's hard to find good teachers. My area is tough, that's for sure. Very hard to find a really outstanding teacher for beginning level tango, whereas I can easily find classes with some of the country's top instructors for other dances such as hustle or salsa. I think NYC/North Jersey mostly siphons away the really good tango people; they can be more successful there than in the Philly area.

    And BTW Gssh, I realized I need to clarify a previous part of the discussion:

    When my teachers said to follow the chest, they used the words "look at" or "watch" and specifically directed followers to use their eyes. Hope that makes clearer that we were taught to follow visually.
  20. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    I know I'm going to catch flack for this. I've been reading with much interest, and feel the time to chime in...hesitantly...because....

    We hear lots for the follower to always be on one foot or the other. This is just not true. The focus is in the middle. I am not saying to stop on both feet; rather to focus on the point when you are on both feet. Hopefully, the following paragraph will help to explain this. The Argentines teach this (one foot...) also, then, in the same breath, say, "Move and take the body with you". This is impossible w/o being in the middle.

    If a follow assumes a step, and commits her weight to it, she takes away the options of the lead to alter that movement. For example, if, in the step to the right of the salida, she weights the right foot before waiting for an indication from the lead to continue, she might make impossible a cortado, or even an attempt of a sanguichito (if she further closes). "Wait before weight" was the clever attempt a cliche by one Argentine maestro not long ago.

    The following might also help, as well as respond to Gssh's other post.


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