Every now and again an interesting conversation starts in the comments and seems worth expanding into a post. I recently posted on 'lead and follow' and made some brief comments on technique in the last para. It was clear to me that I was talking about the kind of technique taught in 'women's technique' workshops: the eight different kinds of ornaments to clutter up your dance with, the five subtle ways to trip up your partner when he leads ochos... I exaggerate: 'I'm sorry, the jokes could have been better', to quote Bogart. The problem with writing is that it's usually clear to the writer what is meant, but misunderstandings are always possible.
Technique. A ballet dancer can't function without a lot of technique. Interestingly, I've heard it said that Nureyev's technique was relatively poor since he began dancing rather late, but he made up for it by his passion, expressiveness and musicality. 'He seemed to inhabit the music with his body' it was said. If he had been an amazing technician and no more, we probably wouldn't remember him.
How much technique do we need to dance tango? I quoted Ney Melo recently: 'You do not learn tango; you develop your tango'. So does 'learning technique', as against developing it in practice, have any value? After all, what we discover for ourselves is part of us. Of course, the requirements for lead and follow are generally different. As to musicality there's an excellent account by Terpischoral here.
Leonard Krause, an American who claims a background of ballet and contemporary dance, and thus a trained dancer's awareness of the body in movement, wrote a fascinating description of the late 'Tete' Rusconi teaching:
'During one advanced class, there were not enough women to partner with the men. So Tete ordered an assistant to round up some women in the hall. One of the women dragged in was about five foot seven in height, and appeared to weigh nearly four-hundred pounds. I danced with her, and her lack of self-confidence was evident...
'Tete said that leads should adjust, and that what he was demonstrating (and all of his dance, for that matter) is independent of whom he dances with. He started pulling women randomly from the class into the center, and started dancing with them. He looked over in the direction of the large women and signalled her to join him. She gave him a sheepish look and came slowly toward him... As she was walking toward him, I could see that he was paying attention to how she was walking. When they joined together in the abrazo, the first thing that Tete did was to slowly lead her in a slide-step to the side, permitting him to get a feeling of her center. From there, Tete could lead her in all of the steps that he had been demonstrating in the class...'
So, that inexperienced beginner could dance an advanced class adequately with no real technique lesson. OK, yes, she needed Tete to lead her...
Krause has three conclusions: '...a good lead can dance with someone with little-to-no Tango experience... and make the woman feel connected, successful at dancing Tango, and loved in a deeply spiritual way.
'The second conclusion is that Tango classes have jaded many leads and follows into thinking that Tango is about being marched through the paces: from ocho to boleo, to sacada and so on... Tete explains that such thinking detracts from the true experience of Tango...
'The third conclusion is that most group Tango classes for follows tend to be a waste of time. If a sequence is properly led by the leader, a follow will 'get it' and follow. The ones who really need to learn the sequences are the leads, first by learning how it feels to be led in it.'
(It's the most insightful account of Tete's teaching I've read, and it was good to remember just how fine a teacher he was.)
Melina Sedo said in a comment that there's often plenty that women can do to make it easier for them and their partners to enjoy their dance. They can work on posture, balance, maintaining axis. Essential stuff. This kind of technique class teaches what you need: that, and a good lead.
By contrast, I recently danced again with a partner who has taken too many 'group Tango classes for follows' to heart. It was a dispiriting and potentially dangerous experience. She twists away from me when I'm trying to lead a turn, because there is some esoteric ornament she's trying to insert. She paid for those classes, she believes in them, but it's made her stiff and unresponsive. Looks are prioritised over feeling, a flashy display is preferred to an intimate conversation although I, as her partner, actually cannot watch what she's doing. One thing this partner, and perhaps many others, didn't take away from those classes is that the home of these ornaments is choreographed stage tango, and that social tango is a different world.
I was glad I had danced earlier with a partner who enjoyed a few moments of intimacy, and who found time to add a bit to the dance, without disrupting the flow of the music.
An Argentine (I don't know who) said that if you can feel your partner's heart beat, that's tango.