Saturday, 6 November 2010

Interview with Melina Sedó: Part III

Here's the final part of Cassiel's interview with Melina Sedó. The original German of this part is here. Melina Sedó and Detlef Engel's website is here, and their tangokombinat website is here. Their YouTube channel is here. Cassiel's blog (in German, but with a Googletranslate link) is here.


Cassiel: Next is one thing, that I always notice, and I’m including myself in my observations: how can lessons build up a leader’s self confidence? This is pretty key issue for me.

Melina Sedó
: Another difficult topic. Lots of people, especially those from northern countries, lack self confidence in dealing with others. This shows up right away in Tango as postural problems and hesitation. It might appear at first glance to be a typical problem for men/leaders, but women/followers are often too submissive or passive. There is limited scope for a teacher to address these issues in a group class, but we have, on occasion, managed to uncover the proud and communicative Tanguero hiding in the shy mouse or bad-tempered loner. It takes lots of individual attention, which you can only get in private lessons. We have spent entire privates, just talking, rather than dancing. In our usual group lessons, we use pictures and stories to get our approach across: we suggest dancers visualise themselves as kings, queens, Hollywood stars or opera singers, on the red carpet. We encourage them to exaggerate so that there is some residual left over in their dance, to allow this internal feeling to influence their outer form.

We continually emphasise that Tango is a partner dance, and that it is based on an equality of the partners; that both partners are equally responsible for the process of communication and for being active in the dance. In the past, old concepts pushed men into an over-dominant 'leader' role, who pushed the follower around and was always at fault for anything that went wrong. Women were supposed to be passive dollies, whose role was to stay in front of the leader and to maintain the embrace. That doesn’t really work, it leads to rough dancing, and just forces many educated Europeans into artificial roles which have nothing to do with their usual ways of being. This puts them under stress and holds them back from fully experiencing the richness that Tango has to offer.

My thesis, on 'Gender roles in Tango Argentino' demonstrates that the ideal male partner is not the classic dominant macho figure, but a more androgynous dancer, who knows how to be clear about what he wants, but has enough empathy to also recognise what his partner wants, and to respect what she wants from the dance. Any women who can survive and thrive in the world of Tango, will step up to their partner, and express what they want in their dance. There is certainly no room for shrinking violets.

In our classes, we take into account this modern understanding of roles, and have produced a closed loop communication system; the leader indicates a movement, waits for a response from the follower, and then follows that response. This might sound a tad esoteric, but is firmly grounded in simple, technical, biomechanical laws, more specifically on circular motion, on which we base our whole dance. More details are beyond the scope of this interview, the point is that good technique clears up lots of issues with self confidence.

Cassiel: A more personal question: I tend to hold back a bit, perhaps be inhibited is a more accurate description, with double time steps. Perhaps it's for fear that I might run my partner over. So I tend to avoid using double time, what would you suggest to help with that?

Melina Sedó
: Ha! That‘s a great example of what I said: good technique builds self-esteem. I hope the readers don‘t get the impression that that question was just a set up.

Cassiel: Hmm, even if I'm not particularly macho, my basic strategy when things go wrong, is that it's all the leader’s fault.

Melina Sedó: That’s just b*******. There are loads of mistakes that followers can make. If that wasn’t the case, they would hardly need lessons, would they? But to get back to your question, we use the body’s natural movement, counter body rotation, to prepare for each step, forward or back, in parallel. This means that you have an additional channel of communication, which allows you to propose a movement, which your partner will have plenty of time to respond to. If all you do is push faster, all you get will be bigger strides and heated looks from the follower. Have a look at our teaching video:

[In French. MsH has a translation on her blog: it's here.]

This is just one part of our summary of a five day workshop in Tarbes, which illustrates some of our concepts. The counter body movement comes towards the end of the clip. And there is even more on that in our classes.

Cassiel: What are your views on short teaching videos, even YouTube videos?

Melina Sedó: Well, any talented, educated person can learn some things from well-made videos, even short clips on Youtube, so long as the person can process visual input well. Naturally, this method of learning will lack any sort of feedback and subsequent correction, which many people require in order to learn, especially if they don't have a good sense of their own procipriation or are beginners. Even a good video is no substitute for a good lesson, though it could well be better than a bad lesson. We looked after a practice group in New York, using a mixture of video and written instructions. They wanted further instruction in our approach and there was no one around who could help them. It is possible, if you really have no other options.

Cassiel: And the inevitable question: are you a tango addict? What is your score?

Melina Sedó: 248: 31 Milongas, 8 of 19 possible 'yes' answers. ***

My high risk of addiction to tango comes from the number of milongas I attend, though they are almost exclusively for business purposes. In the past twelve weeks I've probably visited a milonga just for fun four times. I tend to dance very little at milongas, apart from demos, because I so seldom get asked to dance or because I‘m just too tired after teaching all day. Sadly, that’s what comes of making my hobby into my job; nowadays I seldom get a chance to really dance. It‘s a pity, but it‘s bound to change again in future.

Cassiel: Dear Melina, thank you so very much for taking the time for us. What do you want to add, the last words should be your own. What do you wish for, for Tango?

Melina Sedó: For myself, I wish that Tango stays with me till I'm really very old indeed and that I never lose my pleasure in it. And for the Tango itself, I hope it grows and prospers, rather than stagnating and that it provides pleasure for ever more people. We mostly covered issues in development and education in this interview. We shouldn’t forget, how many people find something positive for themselves at classes, or at a milonga.

Tango can make us feel happy and satisfied.

[*** Cassiel refers to his 'test for addiction', which is to be found here.]


Preen&Ogle said...

Thanks for these 3 posts, Tango Commuter. Most informative.


Anonymous said...

The translation from Miss Hedgehog is here.

@Melina - Have you any plans to do more videos like this, I found this very informative.

Anonymous said...

And here is the link to the translation which I meant to post the first time.

Miss Hedgehog

Tangocommuter said...

Very interesting and thoughtful throughout. Many thanks for this.

Can I pick up on one point? 'In the past, old concepts pushed men into an over-dominant 'leader' role.' I believe this may refer only to Europe. I think it's correct to say that when tango developed in BsAs, women were in a minority, and the separation of men and women, and the cabeceo, developed to protect them. This meant women could easily ignore guys whose dance they didn't like, and this must have conditioned the whole development of the dance.

We can't go back to those conditions, and attempts to reintroduce the cabeceo, when men and women actually want to sit together, aren't really going to succeed. So I think that Melina and Detlef's work to build a part of tango history, that kind of attitude between partners, into the teaching of the dance, is really helpful. We're unlikely to get that attitude from social conditions, so it's really important we learn it as part of the dance.

Andreas said...

You said "...and attempts to reintroduce the cabeceo, when men and women actually want to sit together, aren't really going to succeed."

I don't quite understand what makes people say that when there are many places in Europe where the cabeceo is the usual method of arranging dances.
Just yesterday a milonga organizer told me that my Music Room milonga inspired him to try and encourage the use of the cabeceo in his own milonga - because it obviously worked so beautifully.

Tangocommuter said...

Very glad to hear, Andreas, that there are many places in Europe where the cabeceo is the usual method of arranging dances. Shows how insular I am! It certainly shifts the focus from socialising to the dance itself, which is sometimes welcome.

I've often thought that the only way the cabeceo could work here would be if the bar was in one room, where we could meet and talk to each other, since in Europe men and women find it natural to socialise, and the pista in a separate room, where we would sit opposite each other. & I wonder if the European cabeceo is based on the strict segregation you often (but not always) find in Buenos Aires.

In any case, I think it's still the case that tango grew up with the complete separation of women from men, and in a situation where there were more men than women, and that this effectively put women in a position to control the kind of dancing. I don't think we'll ever get back to that situation, so it is an excellent idea to build the kind of awareness that Melina talks about into the teaching of the dance.

Andreas said...

Yes, John, you should get out more! ;-)
About segregation of men and women and cabeceo: the cabeceo can exist without that framework. Placing men and women apart in the way some BsAs milongas do it may be a bit much, and is not really necessary anyway. Being traditional means trying to preserve things that are integral to tango, and integral to preserving quality (and for several reasons that includes the cabeceo I believe), not speaking with a fake Spanish accent on the dance floor, or apeing Argentinian customs to the point of unintentional parody.
As for integrating customs and attitudes into the teaching of tango (if I understand you correctly and that is what you are saying), I am not only for it, I believe there is no way around it - otherwise we end up with a shallow imitation of the real thing. Tango is not the steps.
And by the way, thumbs up for posting the interview!

Melina Sedo said...

Hi all!

Thanks for the comments and discussion.

@ Anonymous: the video was a result of a class summary. In case an english video is produced, I will upload it. And one day, we're even going to do an instrucional video...

@ Andreas and TC: I agree with Andreas that understanding the customs of Tango is an important part of the learning process. Not to imitate everything, but to understand Tango and to take those codes and rules, that still make sense in our modern, non-argentine context. The cabeceo is definetely a most valuable asset of every Milonga, without having to impose strict seating rules onto the people. You can sit right beside your partner and still cabeceo someone on the other end of the dancefloor. I do it all the time! ;-)

As for the "role-definition" in Tango. I actually think, that young argentine men and women are not so different from us. Lots of them experience the same role-conflict and have to find ways to integrate a traditional dance to a modern way of living and thinking. This is why Nuevo developed and this is why even the most young Milongueros nowadays are not so traditional at all, if you watch their dance closely! ;-)

Have a good day!

Tangocommuter said...

Just for the record, I can't remember the last time I actually asked a partner to dance: many of us use eye contact, even in the confusion of a London milonga. & a year or two ago, Tangocommuter wrote about the problems in taking customs from one country at one time, and transposing them to another country, another social milieu. Merely copying just isn't good enough.

There's only one point: a long time ago a kind of dance evolved conditioned by segregation with cabeceo: since we can't follow that segregation with cabeceo I hope all teachers will follow Melina's lead in building into their teaching the empathy that resulted, instead of merely teaching steps.

Andreas, I don't think you should mock ('speaking with a fake Spanish accent on the dance floor') efforts to speak Spanish. I find it simply courteous to try to speak the language of a country I visit, and it makes a visit much more fun. & don't you find the BsAs accent attractive?

Andreas said...

I am not mocking people making an effort to learn Spanish or any other foreign language.
I don't see where I said that when I said "fake Spanish accent". But I do find it somewhat bewildering when a German speaks Spanish to another German just because they are in a (German) milonga, and trying to sound mucho macho latino...
I guess that was what I had in mind. Melina will know what I mean. ;-)
I'll tell you the story when we next meet in London (or elsewhere).

Tangocommuter said...

Ah! Well, that really is absurd! Both the accents and the ganchos!

jantango said...

You wrote: You can sit right beside your partner and still cabeceo someone on the other end of the dancefloor. I do it all the time! ;-)

This must be from a new code book, because when a couple sits together, they don't dance with others, according to the old code book of the milongueros.

Melina Sedo said...

@ Jantango:
that's from no code book! ;-)
actually I do not think, that we have to imitate everything that comes from the BA Milongas. The Cabeceo makes sense, because it gives everyone the opportunity to invite without being too invasive or feeling rejected publictly. It's just about polite behaviour.
But: NOT dancing with anyone else, when at a Milonga with your boyfriend or husband does really belong to another aera and culture. People nowadays can watch their partner dance with another woman, without being jelous - at least most of the time. ;-)

@Andreas & John: Yup. Know, hat Andreas is talking about. There's lots of people out there who try to imitate argentine natives by giving themselves spanish sounding names, identities and by speaking spanish all the time.
Even Tango teachers - especially german ones - do that. It's actually very funny. :-))

SO. My conclusion: Tango comes with a history and with customs. It's important to know, teach and use them as far as they make sense in our modern european community. Tango is real live and no historical reenactment.
(For this, we've got our roleplaying group. ;-))

Chris, UK said...

"There are loads of mistakes that followers can make. If that wasn’t the case, they would hardly need lessons, would they?"

Melina, girls generally don't need lessons. Take a look at the great social dancers of the BA milongas, almost none of whom took a lesson in their life. Is their dancing full of "mistakes" that need your lessons to correct? Of course not. A typical girl having an affinity for the dance needs only a guy who can dance well. She can learn all she needs to know by dancing.