Sunday, 21 February 2010

Debrief: walking

Returning from a visit to the city of soft breezes can be strange. Everyone who knows you will be queuing up for a dance, which is nice, but the assumption is that there's going to be some special magic, even an extraordinary array of new 'steps'.

Actually I'm trying to remember and put into practice what I was taught about walking. My attention is largely on the shift of weight, on the foot pushing forwards with an emphasis (as if you were kicking a football, said Pedro Sanchez) and with keeping the stepping leg straight (as Cacho Dante insisted). & then I have Mimí Santapá looking over my shoulder and checking that the transfer of weight leads me into the right position, at the right moment, alongside my partner. Those long explanations in voluble castellano! It was for this that I went to the city, this is what I came back with, my trip was a success. Or will have been, once it all becomes second nature.

Not only that, but also the nature of London dancing has to be contended with. For a month I've watched almost every day, and danced most days, even briefly, amongst people who can dance precisely, musically and often beautifully in small spaces. A few people do this well in London, but most people charge around, trying to practice what they learned, often from stage dancers, because of course tango means charging around doing extravagant steps. They are so intent on these 'steps' that they can hardly look where they're going, and don't care too much if they bump into someone else or dash into the space immediately in front of them. Getting the step right is what matters! & to get the step right they have to watch their feet! But there's nothing malevolent about it, it's all tremendously good-natured and happy: the music alone would see to that. It's wonderful that people enjoy dancing to it, and that's the best starting point.

So I worry about how I put my feet on the floor but after five or six evenings it's all started to settle down again. You get used to the unpredictable use of space around you again. Without thinking, the leading leg starts to go straight forwards with that little push you see in the videos of the best dancers. The body straightens, and everything starts to feel a lot better.

When I started tango I was always impressed by mysterious tales of old milongueros who would spend hours making sure you walked right, and I was told that even experienced dancers would spend time getting their peers to check their walking. Whatever could that mean? Unfortunately, in London, apart from telling stories and emphasising the importance of walking, little time was spent on the activity itself. There is a way of walking in tango, but it probably seems too basic, and teachers worry that if they spend time on it their students will drift off to someone teaching back voleos and side saccadas. But if you get the walk right it emphasises the beat, and I think that makes your lead a lot clearer to your partner, which makes you an easier person to dance with. Mimí Santapá in particular emphasises how attention to walking facilitates everything else. Walk right and the saccadas will come of their own accord: try to learn a saccada and you might struggle to lead it, and your partner might struggle to follow gracefully. Mimí Santapá, Pedro Sanchez and Cacho Dante have an awful lot of experience between them.


Tango en el Cielo said...

Well don't worry what people think. Sometimes, to improve you have to deconstruct your tango and then try to put it back together in a different way. During that process, you might feel like your dancing has got worse. Or some partners might feel that it has, just because it's not what they're used to, or perhaps because it feels hesitant. If they comment you could just tell them it's a work in progress. Much better than never developing and just dancing the same old way year after year. (As many do).
I just love walking to tango music, maybe even more than anything else. And I happily spend whole (private) lessons working on the walk, with those students who really want that. But as you say, most don't. You can't run a (London) group class just for walking- people wouldn't come or would be bored. In fact some people, if they arrive at an open group class and see exercises being taught, will go to the bar and come back later for the figures! (Used to see this a lot at LWC where the bar was in another room).

Anonymous said...

Where can i learn to walk properly, as a leader, in London? I'd prefer a regular class to private tuition because I learn better going slowly, in pieces, over a long time.