Sunday, 29 March 2015

Stepping back.

Women step back too, or at least they ought to...

London tango seems to me to be between eras. Generally, people learned and still learn to dance in 'open embrace' (which isn't an embrace at all!) That's inevitable at present. In open embrace you're in contact with your partner with your hands and arms so it simply doesn't matter how you walk. But when you embrace your partner, torso to torso, the whole dance changes. How you walk suddenly becomes important. Perhaps teaching here hasn't caught up with this change in the kind of dancing.

This becomes particularly obvious when I dance with a partner I've not met before; I step forwards and my knees bump her knees. Oh no... She assures me that in her beginners' classes there's a lot of walking, but I suspect it's an emphasis on walking to the beat, rather than on posture and the mechanics of walking suited to close embrace. My partner is walking backwards as you would in normal life: her knees come up a bit, and then as each foot goes down her torso jerks slightly backwards. Which is fine in normal life, but it's a dangerous combination to anyone dancing close with her. Maybe she's been told and it simply hasn't registered that it's important, or maybe walking just hasn't been taught in the classes she's been to.

(I remember the story Christine Denniston tells in a short film about tango: she was taught to walk at her first class, and went home and practiced it every evening for a month. It was years ago now, and she didn't mention who taught her, but she practiced it to perfection: when she went to Buenos Aires she says she fitted in easily as a dancer.)

It's simple enough to step back in tango. The woman reaches back with her foot, to some extent straightening her leg. Her other leg, the leg her weight is on, might flex a bit, which can give energy to the step. It's not stepping back in the everyday sense, it's reaching back. Well done, it looks great, energetic and purposeful. Reaching back has a second effect: as you reach back, your torso pushes forwards, which means the embrace is firmer: perhaps this is how the really close embrace of the Buenos Aires dance arises. The pivotal point is the lower back, and perhaps that's why this aspect of tango gets ignored here. If your lower back is weak, 'reaching back' might feel uncomfortable at first. & if you are hesitant about committing to close embrace you might not want to push your torso forwards.

In Buenos Aires it's taken for granted that tango is danced close, and even complete beginners are expected to dance close. I've been to all the group classes and pre-milonga classes I could, and in all of them walking can take up the first 30 or 40 minutes of a 90-minute class. It's walking to the beat, and also correction of posture and the practice of walking. Cacho Dante gets his assistants to take a separate class for newcomers, where they only walk. He's strict about it; until their walking is good, they don't join the main class. Some very beautiful dancers come out of his classes, dancers who look at ease, effortless and comfortable even in crowded milongas, as they've been well drilled, from the basics of walk upwards. Sadly, I've never spent long enough there to become that well drilled. & I think Cacho allowed me into his main class out of politeness: I suspect he really thought I needed a month or so with his assistants, practicing just walking.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Ricardo Vidort website

There were several comments about the proposed Ricardo Vidort website, which was laid out by Jantango, and remains currently unpublished. I got some news about it a couple of days ago. The email I received isn't altogether clear, but I understand that translation has taken time: there are a number of interviews which had to be subtitled in English, and texts which have had to be translated, as the site needs to be bi-lingual. The good news is that much of this has now been completed, and it's possible that it will be available later this year.

I'm afraid the problem isn't uncommon: if you work at something out of love, it's easier for other things to get in the way, family commitments, illness, other work. It's a bit sad, but money does focus the mind! Anyway, I understand that the project is well on its way, and I hope we can look forward to seeing it fairly soon. I've suggested it could be published chapter by chapter, as work is completed, rather than waiting for everything to be finished. Let's see what happens!

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The backstep

We started to talk about the back step. My partner claimed that good leads make deep backsteps, which she maintained gives energy to the dance. I wasn't so sure about the depth. In any case, deep backsteps can be a health hazard.

When I got home I started to look through some videos of the old guys. Ricardo Vidort steps back occasionally, but it's rarely a formal backstep, more like a quick rebound: most of the time he seems to be running forwards and around his partners. Tete took big backsteps in demos, but he took big steps anyway. Other dancers are like Ricardo Vidort: you don't really notice the back step although it is there. I don't think you can dance without stepping back sometimes.

I remembered that Ricardo Suarez has a very quick, energetic and precise backstep. How is it possible to get so much energy into a counter-intuitive and possibly awkward step? I watched some videos, and all the answers seem there in this short clip, first in real timethen in slow motion. He dances with his weight well forwards, as is usual for his generation. Then as he steps back, his right knee bends and his body sinks onto it, a smooth, swooping movement with a rebound back up onto a straight left leg. I think the big point is that he doesn't just step back; his whole body moves back and down, and he carries his partner with him. She's drawn downwards and forwards into a positive step. & since Ricardo's whole body moves back the foot stepping back stays almost flat to the ground.

My impression is that the energy comes from the whole body movement, and the precision of Ricardo's timing itself creates energy. This flexing of the leg you are stepping away from, and landing on a straight leg, is fairly consistent across the older dancers. It's the same pattern when taking a simple step to the left.

(Ah! The parquet floor of Maipu 444, and the red and black table cloths of Cachirulo! Ricardo's partner in March 2009 was Florencia Bellozo.)

So my partner was right in one way, there's energy in the backstep, but the energy isn't the consequence of a long step. Ricardo Suarez makes clear and relatively deep backsteps, but they don't need to be big to make sure they are full of energy.