Wednesday, 8 February 2012
February again, and as ever I think back to a small basement below the Welsh Centre near Kings Cross, London, some years back, where someone later to be known as Tangocommuter took a few first tango steps, which have led to some wonderful evenings, some great friendships and much more besides. The music was almost certainly D'Arienzo, although it would be year or so before I'd recognise the name or the music. & of course the lesson was walking, and the '8-step basic'. The same way most of us have started out, I expect.
There's a tendency these days to knock this 'basic', but I don't think it's that bad, particularly if it's in six steps. (Eight steps starts with a backstep: not a sensible thing to teach beginners!) After all, after that class I was on the floor in the milonga upstairs, trying to dance that 'basic' with a partner I'd met in the class – and she's a good friend to this day, and we enjoy a dance or two whenever we meet. It didn't turn out badly! No one will ever get to dance tango without actually being on the floor with a partner, and this 'basic' starts people off pretty effectively.
Of course, it's not what you do it's the way that you do it. Lazy teachers suggest that this 'basic' is a pattern of steps that you follow, a choreography, instead of one possible collection of individual steps that can be varied. Maybe teachers who use it should make it clear that, just as the leader takes one step to the left, he/she could then take another step to the left. Or a step back to the right again. So how does the leader communicate the intention to do this? & that, I think, is where tango starts, the leader composing and communicating with the follower. & it's where lazy teachers screw up their students, and screw them, too, by suggesting they need ever more classes where they pay to learn more and more choreographies, when what they really need is an explanation and demonstration of how individual steps can be linked, and how the intention to move can be communicated through the embrace. There's never going to be tango until leaders learn to communicate their intention. When you follow a choreography you don't need to communicate anything at all because your partner knows what's going to happen – which is boring.
It was a year or two before I started to figure out that the choreographies taught in classes weren't discrete entities, they were just more or less ingenious ways of connecting together units/steps that were already familiar. Suddenly I had the feeling that this endless material I was struggling to master belonged to me already. It was mine! That was at least a beginning...
Last summer the BBC gave a rare (these days) treat of a series of dance programmes, which included a programme featuring the conductor Charles Hazlewood bravely exploring the world of dance. (It takes courage to explore the world of physical movement on TV!) One of his visits was to Trinity Laban in Deptford, where he took part in a class. His teacher explained the teaching of Rudolph Laban: 'Dance is made from movement. Movement is, if you like, the raw material of the art form. But quite often, in practice, people come to dance through learning steps, or learning styles or learning techniques, and not necessarily understanding the structure of movement itself.' Thinking back to grim afternoons and evenings spent in futile attempts to perfect back saccadas in intermediate classes, 'understanding the structure of movement' seems a refreshing approach, perhaps not for complete beginners, who need structures like the 'basic', but at least for those who are becoming a bit more confident.