The duende of tango

I think of "duende" as the "passion" or "soul" of something.  Merriam-Webster defines it as "the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm."

What is it that attracts people to tango, and then holds them in tango's embrace?

I don't think it's the steps of tango, or the music, although I am hooked on both myself. I think it is tango's demand that both the leader and the follower must interact with another person's energy and spirit, in order to dance well. To dance tango, you need to take an emotional risk and open yourself to another soul.

Beginner's mind

What made me think of this was a joyous, laughing beginner who tore up the floor last night at my lesson.   When I fired up my Naughty Toddler exercise, he flew around the dance floor with a more experienced follower, and led her in moves that I KNOW he does not know. He put his entire heart and soul into that dance, and it was breathtaking. 

Now, tango is not a solo dance, so you need a partner willing to risk all as well. Last night, a quiet, sweet follower turned up the volume, met this beginner's energy, and did the best dance I've ever seen her do in a year of dancing. She looked phenomenal; she took risks I've never seen her take, and it paid off.

It looked FUN! It had passion, it had groove, it had soul; for a moment, the duende of tango peeped out.

Maintaining beginner's mind

All of the tango beginners who showed up quickly got the idea that the shared energy counted more than perfection of steps. As we explored, the more shy dancers started to play, smile, risk more, and began to dance with energy, with spirit, with soul.

More experienced tango dancers were less sure. I saw the skeptical looks exchanged by the "experienced" dancers (something along the lines of "I think she must be nuts" as far as I can read facial expressions). A teacher is telling us that it doesn't matter how well we do the steps?!?!

Some of those dancers did not walk on the dance floor with an open mind. When I left, they were practicing dance moves--without any spark of connection. Well, you can't change anyone's mind except your own :-)

One more experienced dancer took the challenge. Over the course of a few dances, I watched tentatively try out "misbehaving" as a follower. She started to smile. Her dance improved, but it was not easy for her. I honor her for daring to step out of her comfort zone.

My job as a teacher

I used to think that teaching perfection in each step was my primary job as a teacher. After twenty-four years of teaching dance, I no longer believe that. In the past two or three years, I have come to realize that I needed to relearn how to teach, in order to serve my students better.

My job is to release joy, confidence and pleasure into the world; to facilitate personal fulfillment.  For some people, that does mean reaching perfection in a dance style, and I am happy to share my expertise (and my anal retentive nature!).

However, for most of my students, I find that their goal is NOT perfection. They have different goals: find a boy/girlfriend; spend time in our unconnected lives to touch other humans; to express themselves to music; to build balance and flexibility in order to dance into old age; etc. For all of them, they seek those magical moments during a song where two energies meet and two souls touch. Perfect dancing should be perfect connection. Tango entices because it offers an opportunity to reach that perfect connection every dance.

That is what I try to teach. Ask me about the Tiger Growling exercise sometime! Or, come to the Eclectic Dance at Norse Hall on Saturday night (lesson 7:30) and experience it for yourself!

Creating your tango on the fly: paradas, drags and stepovers

One of the complaints I hear from intermediate dancers is that they don't know how to combine the moves they learn with their established habits on the dance floor. My preferred approach to new material is to integrate new moves immediately into the structure that dancers already use; and to understand material as a matrix of opportunities that suggest themselves while dancing.

One example of this: While turning, the follower takes a back cross step every four steps. What can you do with this step? Let's look at a few possibilities that are almost identical in setup, but differ in terms of which side of the follower's foot connects with the leader's foot; which foot the leader uses; and what the music says to do.

Back parada (stop) and pasada (stepover)

A parada (see most recent post) led on the follower's back cross step, or back parada, places the leader's foot in the way, blocking the next side step in the same direction of the turn. For example, if right turn is happening, the follower's left foot is blocked on the outside edge with the inside edge of the leader's right foot (to keep us all sane, I will only suggest one possibility here for the moment).

Two possibilities:

  1. Reverse the follower so that s/he steps FORWARD over your foot (so, a back parada and then a front pasada, or stepover).
  2. Do a sandwichito (little sandwich), bringing the leader's other foot up so that the leader's heels touch around the front of the follower's foot; then step back with the foot that originally stopped the follower; let the follower collect the heels around the front of your foot, and then step over (the version I described in the last post).

A drag (barrida or "sweep" or arrastre or "drag") and pasada

If you set up EXACTLY the same way as mentioned above, BUT place your foot on the other side (instep) of the follower, you can then perform a drag and stepover.

Let's say that we are turning to the right, and stopping the follower when the follower's left foot is near the leader and the right foot has done a back cross and is touching the floor.

Just like a parada, the drag is an illusion: it is led with the torso, and the leg drag simply adds another flavor to what is simply a side/open step of a turn for the follower. So, as soon as the leader's foot is in place, the leader's torso turns (here, clockwise, or to the right), and the leg accompanies that movement, so that the follower, the leader, and both legs arrive at the next point, at the same time.

This is a nice moment to incorporate the pasada, or stepover, perhaps with a pause for adornment before it.

Again, two possibilities:

  1. Drag with the foot towards which you are turning. In this example, use the right foot to drag. Your hips face the follower to make the leg drag easier. Then, the leader's torso twists to the right/clockwise, as do the hips and legs.  The leader ends up with hips and torso facing the follower (don't forget, keep your feet in a V, or you will fall over!)  The leader's right leg guides the follower to step immediately in front of the leader's new facing, and step over. 
  2. Drag with the opposite foot (i.e., to the right with the left foot). For this move, the leader must align the hips and feet facing the follower's NEXT step, while leaving the torso facing the follower's present position. Then, twist the torso to align with the hips and feet; and lead a stepover. This move is easier to keep one's balance, but harder to execute a pretty drag, as there is a tendency to push the follower's foot, instead of accompanying it with the leader's foot.

# 1 is easier to lead in close embrace (IMHO), while #2 is easier in open embrace; but don't limit yourself! Try both, to both sides, to see which one(s) you like, and use those.

This week in class, we'll cover some more ideas that are built off of back cross steps in the turn, and we'll also look at moves from the follower's side step. More drags, more pasadas, maybe even some ganchos! We'll see how far we get.