Dancing in tight spaces: tips for leaders

With the Valentango festival coming up here in Portland, a lot of my students have asked for pointers for dancing in small spaces. Having spent more time leading on the Buenos Aires dance floors than most women, I have experienced leading in VERY tight spaces. I learned to hold my own while men who objected to my leading, tried to push me and my partner off the dance floor. I also learned how to dance and have fun without using much room by following skilled leaders.

When I dance in small spaces, I concentrate on the follower's experience, not mine. I don't worry about what to do with my feet. I put my follower's feet in safe spots, and my body usually ends up in the right place. I keep my solar plexus relaxed, which helps my follower stay more relaxed. I make sure that I lead to the appropriate level: I try out different moves, and then stay within my follower's comfort zone in terms of levels and steps.

I focus on making each dance fit the music as perfectly as I can. If it's a rhythmic tango, or a vals, or a milonga, I play with the rhythm. If it's a romantic tango or a vals, I look for the pauses, for the changes in flavor of the music, and work from there. I tend to dance the feeling of the music and the melody more than I did as a beginner or intermediate dancer.

However, I try to NEVER dance the music instead of dancing my partner. If my plan for the music and steps isn't working, my first responsibility is to the follower. I slow down; I wait for the follower. I make sure my follower feels secure and protected. So what if Joe Schmoe watching from the tables thinks I danced "off" the music? If my follower is happy, I am happy.

One of the best tandas I have ever had, was at Salon Canning one Sunday afternoon, to Pugliese. Before that, I had really thought that, to do justice to Pugliese, you needed a bit of space, but we were shoved in about the third row in from the tables, with almost no space to move. That guy made every pause count, with small, wonderful movements as we had space. Although he was not a advanced, polished dancer, his dance changed the way I led more than almost any lesson I have ever had. It was an experience in connection with my partner, with the music, and with the entire crowd surrounding us. I try to dance like that every tanda.