Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Sylvia 4

Re-reading my earlier posts I realise I've made classes with Sylvia sound a bit grim. They are intense, but there's a lot of laughter too. But she takes tango seriously, as do many people who dance it in BsAs, and she takes teaching it seriously and gives a lot, as did Tete.

Some notes: she says I'm too bouncy on my feet, the feet should make straightforward contact with the floor. She talks about the importance of keeping the feet together ('collecting') so the point of balance is clear. Much more complicated: the weight should shift and the leg should move before the foot makes contact(?) This is such a fundamental change that it's not easy. & the close embrace is even closer than I ever imagined. 'Don't be nervous on crowded floors: a couple dancing close don't take up much more space than an individual. If you can walk through a space, a couple can get through too.' (So long as the people on each side of the space don't suddenly make big movements, I think to myself. Which of course they wouldn't - in BsAs.)

She insists on the same two things as Pedro: 'With the body!', and 'Listen to the music!' 'Every movement that you make you have to make with precision to the music'. But I always listen to the music! Not really: there's hearing the music, and there's really listening/responding to it. She pulls me up whenever I start leading in auto pilot. 'Listen to the music!' & she adds something like 'Tango is in the pauses'. And says that the lead should always finish with feet together; no dramatic, stagy, splayed-leg poses.

'That's better: now you are pausing. But you are thinking: I can hear your thoughts! It's your time. I know how much time you need; it's the time you need to put in order your body with the music, with your partner, going to the next movement. For every person it is different... But the most important thing is the way that you feel, you as a person. It's the way that you dance.'

'Walk... No! You are too much to the earth. The idea is; you are going over the earth, but your intention is to go to the sky!'

'Be calm. Enjoy the music. If you are thinking, you know, you lose the best part. The best is not for thinking; it's just to enjoy, you know. Feel your body free, be comfortable; especially be comfortable. If you are listening to the music, everything is fine.'

I get from her a full copy of Un vals para Tete, a short film made early in 2008. The makers put about half of it on YouTube a year or so ago. It's good to have the full version, with all the dance from La Calesita, the outdoor milonga in Nuñez that Tete and Sylvia used to run in the summers, 'bajo un cielo de estrellas'. & she also gives me a copy of a short film she's put together of Tete teaching tango to Pina Bausch and the Tanztheater Wuppertal company in 1996, which is rare and wonderful. It concludes with a few ecstatic moments of Tete improvising a dance with Pina herself. Play and laughter: how happy they look! She tells me she may release this film if the company agrees.


Paul said...

Your account of learning tango under the watchful eye of Sylvia is as enlightening as it is moving. Like you, though, I too was rather struck by the occasionally grim nature of what you described: in particular, the frustrating experience of having your own hard-earned, much-practised tango taken apart piece by piece for the sake of a purer, more authentic tango. However, it heartening to hear you draw attention to other characteristics of good teaching which may ultimately be just as if not more important than questions of weight-shifting, feet-collecting and bouncy steps. Here, I am thinking of the laughter, the good-humour and the sense that teacher really cares about transmitting the authentic tradition with all the importance that this tradition places on the music and achieving a sensitive dancing response to it.

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks for your appreciation, Paul, though I wouldn't use the words 'pure' or 'authentic': I prefer to think 'Does it work well?' rather than 'Is it authentic?' Tango seems practical: getting the walk or the posture right means being able to lead so that your partner can relax and feel comfortable with you. & the same for follows too: get these basic things right and a follower can dance comfortably with any lead. & when the basics are right, the dance looks good, too.

Sometimes you need someone to be merciless about bad habits! As you say, achieving a sensitive dancing response to the music is the goal, but a lot of preparation might be needed. Sadly, teachers too often prefer to teach complicated choreographies than be honest about basic flaws in how we stand and how we walk.

Chris said...

"I prefer to think 'Does it work well?' rather than 'Is it authentic?'

That makes good sense.

Though the two do not contradict. "Working well" is the essence of authentic.

Authentic to self, that is.

"Sometimes you need someone to be merciless about bad habits!"

Well, there's no shortage of such people. Tango dance instructors are often merciless about the bad habits acquired in classes. Someone else's classes, that is :)