Tango Argentino > Improvising the Dance

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by UKDancer, Jun 12, 2011.

  1. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    I like that Wiki description - some holes, but it is quite comprehensive and accurate (at least to my understanding of improvisation).

    I would rather start from the most basic - walking - and build from there, rather than decompose figures/patterns. YMMV, as you say. :)
  2. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Not completely, but it's close!

    I will always know what I am leading at the present (unless I'm completely pissed, perhaps?), but I won't always know what I am going to lead next. Improvisation, for me, suggests possibilities - but if I have already committed myself to dance, say, two back ochos, then there are no possibilities at all, until the ninth action. I accept that I might shape the ocho in some spontaneous response to the music (so no illustration can be completely black or white), but I'm still executing a set pattern, with really very little creative input on my part, just the exercise of skill (hopefully) in dancing it well.

    I need to be much more free to be doing anything that I could recognise as improvistion. Of course, in fact, I am free - the decision to lead two ochos was mine, and I could have changed my mind at any point. In the end it is a matter of what capability I have (and I have to consider my partner too). If I am dancing my first ever tango song, at the end of my first ever class, then probably I'll either be doing a very simple walking dance, perhaps with weight changes in place, and may be with simple rock steps or even side steps, but probably not much more, or I'll be dancing an 8CB, and which it is depends much more on the teaching style of the instructor than it does on my creativity. Until I have a reasonable vocabulary of actions suited to tango, I have suprisingly few options. The fact that a highly experienced dancer might be able to turn something very simple into something wonderful is completely beyond the comprehension, let alone the skill, of the novice.
  3. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Actually, I don't think that it has to be one or the other. Why can't an instructor value both equally, and devise teaching strategies that draw on both approaches. They do join up: you can walk into or out of anything.

    My instinct as a teacher is to offer material and/or presentation that will appeal to the widest possible range of learning styles among my students (and certainly not just to suit my own preference).
  4. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    Yes you do. ;)

    Don't stretch the point beyond credulity, please. :)
  5. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    Because you need to walk before you can run, oh, sorry, I mean do figures.
  6. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Not at all. All figures incorporate some form of walking action, anyway, and if being able to walk well was a prerequisite to dancing figures, no one would come back, in week two, to the figure-based class. They do, and what's more, they are eager to know what 'move' is being taught that week, and if it's too dull, they won't come. One of the teachers near me actually uses a mailing list to send out emails every week setting out the name of the 'move of the week'. As it happens, they are nearly always to be found in the DanceVision syllabus, but I think we're not supposed to have noticed that.

    The same teacher has everyone follow him on a stroll around the room for five minutes or so at the start of every class, and while I have observed his teaching, on and off for two years, he has yet to say anything at all about the purpose of the exercise, or said anything at all about the mechanics of the walking action, or anything at all about the relationship of walking to the music or to the 'moves'. The students also only ever walk forwards. I don't dance with his students much.
  7. chanchan

    chanchan Member

    You said "and my follower will be finding out very soon", so: is really there a moment when she can tell "ok, this is an ocho" before it is finished?
    If it is so, then there you are surely not improvising.
    Otherwise, you may be improvising.
    Of course, in theory, only you can know if you are actually improvising, or you are "doing an ocho" or you are doing a choreography. The point is you CAN improvise.
  8. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Yes, I know that I CAN, but it doesn't mean that I AM.

    She can't know, uintil the very last action (but if I've led two, she'll have a pretty good idea once we start the second), but I would say that it makes no difference to her (unless she is dancing on automatic pilot, and me departing from the pattern will mess things up for both of us).

    I am only improvising, according to my understanding of the word, if I am making choices that are more than choosing the sequence in which I dance standardised figures from start to finish. If others see less as improvisation in any meaningful sense of the word, then at the very least it explains why everyone* says tango is an improvisatory dance, and then gets up to dance patterns all night.

    (*OK, not everyone)
  9. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    what I find interesting is how a follower responds ( or fails to) with an unfamiliar sequence. I dance a few turns which begin with a giro ( half -giro or media luna ) then continue turning around her in the line of dance. Although they are familiar with all the elements that I am using; they hesitate or mis-cue the lead perhaps because they are unfamiliar with this recombination of giro & walking turn
  10. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    I do more than choosing sequences. First, I only choose the next movement to do, and I never choose the one that will follow the first. I choose the second movement when it becomes the first. That is, I never choose to do two back ochos, only one. The first might be followed by another, but I didn't choose that sequence. Just one movement at a time. The music may suggest to me that we strut for a while, but I don't know how many steps that will be, and I don't what I'll do after that.

    Also, I'm always choosing how to do each movement, and there are more ways than can be named. If my partner resorts to just tossing steps out like she was naming cards, and she's not paying attention to the nuance that I put into every step, then she's missing my improvising.
  11. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    I have no difficulty in recognising the improvisatory character of the process you describe. I would also predict that if I was watching you dance, I might see that your dance made free use of patterns, but did use them freely, and not slavishly.

    I think that I expect tango to be a fusion of the simple, walking-based dance, and the use of patterns (to a greater or lesser extent). Improvisation and pattern dancing are not the opposites of one continuous scale, unless you are dancing the patterns like a robot, in which case, it would be my view that you are not dancing, at all. Rather they are the building blocks of the dance, and if we all built the same dance from the same common elements, it would all be very dull.
  12. sixela

    sixela Well-Known Member

    I dance many sequences which I have not been taught, and if I have a really good dance, I dance some I could not even reproduce afterwards.

    It's not an improvisational dance because you woul be forced improvise even if you just started dancing it; you aren't (when you learn a new language, you often will start by repeating other conversations rather than conversing yourself).

    It is improvisational because

    A) you can improvise,
    B) the ideal lead must be one in which the follower must be led constantly so that all possibilities remain open with the follower assuming nothing about the sequence except the action currently being led (and actually encouraged to exert some influence with respect to timing and interpretation),
    C) the ideal lead will allow you to lead all followers familiar with a certain vocabulary into the same sequence (which is only a pattern if repeated without alteration).

    In other dances, a lead can sometimes be a brief cue and then the leader might expect the follower to know 'the rest', i.e. roughly how far the step goes, in what exact direction it is taken (how many times did I get a beating from a teacher for not finishing X on one of the diagonals of the floor tiling!), when it lands, and what N steps (with N much larger than one) follow.

    In contrast, all of that is led in tango, and that is what allows it to become an improvisational dance -- if one so chooses.

    I see UKdancer's point, of course. If N==1, there is no difference between a 'syllabus pattern' dance and a purely improvisational one. So it's a quantitative difference, not a qualitative one.
  13. chanchan

    chanchan Member

    That's my understanding of the word, too.
    Improvisation is what I usually do when dancing, and what you CAN do if you can dance tango.
    That's enaugh to say that tango is an improvisatory dance.

    Suppose you are inside a prison, but the door is open.
    You CAN go out, but you choice to remain inside.
    So, I say that you are free: being free clearly include the possibility to voluntary stay inside the prison.
    If you are not free it means that you don't have a choice. If you can choice, you are free.

    Now, if many dancers freely choice to close themselves inside a prison of patterns it's their problem. And maybe it's not a problem at all for them.

    In other dances you don't have this freedom, so I say they are not improvisatory dances, at less not at this level.
  14. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    I don't agree with this at all. We all do use the same common elements, and we all come up with a different dance, because we use them differently. Just ask any follower.

    Maybe the differences can't be seen, but they don't have to be, (unless you are performing). Every guy dances differently and feels differently. I like to think that even my own common elements feel differently, depending on each particular moment.
  15. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    That's exactly what I meant.
  16. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    Now that would be funny, if bad teaching wasn't so common. I have my own story about bad teaching.

    My intense disdain for learning by figure/pattern/sequence comes from experience with my first "teacher". We (my wife and I) knew nothing about AT - except the usual pre-conceptions people have. The teachers seemed credible, many ballroom and latin dances were taught, and we had heard good things about the "school". So we enrolled in their beginner's AT class, 6 1-1/2 hour lessons. We did start with walking and there was some instruction on how to do that. After 30 minutes we were taught the 8CB. Every subsequent lesson started with 5-10 minutes of walking - of course only forwards. Then a review of the last lesson, then we learned a new sequence, which was always tagged onto the 8CB. After four classes I was doing some searching on YouTube and came across Dario's Tango Guide. EVERYTHING we had learned so far, and what came in lessons 5 and 6, was taken without alteration from DTG. The sad thing is the "school" offered a "Intermediate" and "Advanced" AT course too. I know some people who took the "Intermediate" class and there were six more DTG sequences. I assume the "Advanced" class finished off the rest of the DTG offerings. Now I am sure this is a very extreme case. But I am not convinced using another list of figures/patterns/sequence in some syllabus is any better. The teacher makes a tremendous difference, of course, but knowing what I know now, I would rather have learned basic, essential skills right from the start and not the sequences. But as far as remember, everyone enjoyed the class, including my wife and I. I was very good at executing the patterns, how could I fail to be - the followers knew exactly what to do, there was no leading. None of us could actualy dance.

    Our current teacher is very technique focused. And although she uses patterns sometimes, they are built to explore the specific technical things she is teaching. They are not random or from a syllabus or copied from the internet. One thing I like very much is just dancing in class as though we are at a milonga. We are told to dance whatever we feel like dancing. She will often lead the followers or have the leaders lead her. She knows what everyone in the class can do - our strengths and weaknesses, and she isn't shy about pointing those out...
  17. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    You could have been learning them, just as you could have been learning about musicality (which of course you need little of at this point!). You could also have been learning to walk as a couple, and the women could be learning to "walk" backwards, etc. The best AT instructor I had used a warm up period to explore and practice things that would be in the lesson (as does my current African dance teacher).
    Again, teaching people to teach AT could be a good thing, as could a "syllabus", but who has the chops to do it adn have it be accepted?
  18. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    We could have but didn't, because those things weren't really taught in any detail. We were taught to keep our feet low to the floor and collect and what an open embrace is - how and where to place our hands. There wasn't much instruction for the followers to learn how to walk backwards. That's about it. The sequences might as well have been taught using foot patterns on the floor.
  19. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    Sometime I'll write about how our current teacher teaches beginners. She does it right. No syllabus that I know of but there is a nice, logical structure to her teaching, balancing technique and dancing.

    About four months ago our teachers (husband and wife team) stopped teaching series-based classes and offered only one drop-in class. I like structured, progressive classes and drop ins are too hit and miss for me. So we started looking elsewhere. We found a teacher we thought would be a good match and we signed up for her absolute beginner's class, because I wanted to see how she taught beginners and if her teaching approach matched my philosophy (it does). And because I thought it was time to review the basics in a structured way. The results she got from the beginners in the eight classes was very impressive. Everyone else was an absolute beginner.
  20. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    I would have said that it is very probable that her structured teaching was based on a carefully thought-out syllabus, which only needs to be a few personal notes, based on years of experience of what works well, and may be shared with no one else. If such knowledge could be shared, and refined, it could be of considerable usefulness to other teachers, and through them, to the dance community.

    There is the obvious danger that with all the style differences, any concensus approach would represent no more than a lowest common denominator of what different perople could share, but even then, it probably contains the irreducable core of the fundamentals of the dance.

    Inevitably, some of those fundamentals might be best illustrated in the form of a pattern, and the accompanying description of it - and hey, we're back to figures. But it has always been my view that as long as the pattern exists to apply a principle or use a fundamental element, it can have considerable value in learning. It's all in the presentation of the material. I can only speak for myself, but I would never want to teach figures at the expense of the necessary technique that underpins their execution. I just don't see why it has to be one or the other. Both, please.

    And I can't bear Dario's Tango Guide. Every time he says "All the way to the cross ... " I want to put my fist through the monitor. All the way? It's not far.

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