Tango Tips by Fran

 

As most of you know, Fran and his partner, Pat Altman, have been with Firehouse Tango since we started and are a major reason for our success. 

 

Fran is one of the most highly regarded Argentine Tango teachers in New York City. He teaches at Dance Manhattan and the Argentine Consulate and is dance director and emcee for Stardust Dance Productions.  He is a also very successful freelance writer, who even takes over this newsletter when I’m out.

 

 

 

December 17, 2015

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. "One-two-three-pause." Remember that exercise from last week? If not, that probably means you haven't been practicing. Go back, read last week's Tip, put in some serious practice time, and call me when you're ready to continue.

 

(Time goes by ... more time goes by ... )

 

Okay, let's move on to the next exercise. Today, we're going to revisit Exercise 2. That's where you moved from one side to the other, making weight changes in place to the beat of the music. (For a more comprehensive look at Exercise 2, go back and read our Firehouse Tango Tip of December 3, 2015.) This time, however, we're going to try this movement with a partner. Here's where you begin to combine rhythmical movement with lead/follow.

 

Leaders: If you recall your leader's technique, inviting your follower to make a weight change in place involves moving your torso laterally to one side. The follower feels the invitation through the embrace -- through the dance connection -- and responds by moving laterally herself.

 

Followers: If you're reading this as a follower, up to now you've been working the exercises independently; i.e., without regard to the lead/follow mechanism. This means you've been actively responding to musical cues just as the leaders have. Starting now, however, your role is going to change. You'll be responding not to the music, but to the rhythmical movement of the leader. This means that if he/she is "on" in his/her connection to the music, you will be, too. On the other hand, if he/she is "off," you'll be "off" as well.

 

Not fun, but this is life in the lead/follow lane.

 

Just one more thing before we begin our exercise. I said that it's actually a revisiting of Exercise 2. However, because we're now working with a partner in the embrace, this exercise is going to take on its own special character. So instead of calling it Exercise 2, we're going to give it a new name -- Exercise 4!

 

Exercise 4 -- moving in place with a partner to the beat of the music:

 

Here's the exercise.

 

1.     Begin by playing a piece of Tango music. (Be sure to choose one that's not too fast, please.)

 

2.     Form the embrace with your partner. Be certain that neither of you is in any way leaning on the other. (Independent balance is absolutely crucial to appropriate dance practice. I know that lots of people today don't agree with this, but we're in my class now, so my rules apply here. Live with it.)

 

3.     Stand together in the embrace with your feet together and your weight distributed evenly between both legs for several moments without moving. Try to release any tension you might feel (not easy to do!), and let the music "wash over you."

 

4.     Begin to concentrate on the music, trying to discern "the beat." (Right now, this will still be completely subjective -- as it has been throughout our discussion so far. Very soon, we'll be learning to identify and move to various types of musical beat -- half notes, whole notes, quarter notes, etc. But we're not quite up to that yet. For the moment, the leader will move to the beat of the music in whatever personal way he/she perceives it.)

 

5.     Remember: As a leader, your job is to invite your follower to move to the musical beat. If you're a follower, you need to resist the impulse to "take over" and help the leader move.)

 

6.     Once you as a leader feel ready to begin moving to the beat, gently shift your weight to one side so that one foot is carrying most of your weight, and the other foot is free (although this "free" foot can actually be touching the floor). Be sure that in changing your own weight your torso has moved laterally, so that your follower can respond appropriately by shifting her own weight in a complimentary way.

 

7.     Has your follower shifted her weight with you? If so, you're all set to start moving to the beat. If not, try shifting again, paying very close attention to your follower to make sure she has followed your lead, and is in sync with you.

 

8.     Now, move your weight from one side to the other continuously to the beat of the music, trying to keep the rhythm of your movement accurate and consistent, and at the same time trying to make sure your follower is moving in sync with you lead. Continue the exercise all the way to the end of the music. Then, gently release the embrace and relax.

 

9.     Next, put on another piece of music, and repeat the exercise. Does it seem to be working? Try the exercise with four or five different pieces of music at different tempos (slow, medium, and fast). Get to a point where you can execute Exercise 4 consistently without developing tension, and without losing the beat or the lead.

 

Because this is the first time you will have tried to move with a partner, it's a very good idea to do this exercise in the presence of your teacher. That way, you'll know absolutely whether or not your perception of the rhythm is accurate, and whether you're moving appropriately in time with the music. Once you and your partner are able to successfully execute Exercise 4, you will have cleared a major hurdle in moving together in a "musical" way. After the holidays, we'll take this new skill further by starting to travel through space as we continue to combine rhythmical movement with good lead/follow.

 

In the meantime, Pat and I want to wish you all a very happy and healthy holiday season. See you in the new year!

 

Tango Tip of the Week

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. "One-two-three-pause." Remember that exercise from last week? If not, that probably means you haven't been practicing. Go back, read last week's Tip, put in some serious practice time, and call me when you're ready to continue.

 

(Time goes by ... more time goes by ... )

 

Okay, let's move on to the next exercise. Today, we're going to revisit Exercise 2. That's where you moved from one side to the other, making weight changes in place to the beat of the music. (For a more comprehensive look at Exercise 2, go back and read our Firehouse Tango Tip of December 3, 2015.) This time, however, we're going to try this movement with a partner. Here's where you begin to combine rhythmical movement with lead/follow.

 

Leaders: If you recall your leader's technique, inviting your follower to make a weight change in place involves moving your torso laterally to one side. The follower feels the invitation through the embrace -- through the dance connection -- and responds by moving laterally herself.

 

Followers: If you're reading this as a follower, up to now you've been working the exercises independently; i.e., without regard to the lead/follow mechanism. This means you've been actively responding to musical cues just as the leaders have. Starting now, however, your role is going to change. You'll be responding not to the music, but to the rhythmical movement of the leader. This means that if he/she is "on" in his/her connection to the music, you will be, too. On the other hand, if he/she is "off," you'll be "off" as well.

 

Not fun, but this is life in the lead/follow lane.

 

Just one more thing before we begin our exercise. I said that it's actually a revisiting of Exercise 2. However, because we're now working with a partner in the embrace, this exercise is going to take on its own special character. So instead of calling it Exercise 2, we're going to give it a new name -- Exercise 4!

 

Exercise 4 -- moving in place with a partner to the beat of the music:

 

Here's the exercise.

 

1.     Begin by playing a piece of Tango music. (Be sure to choose one that's not too fast, please.)

 

2.     Form the embrace with your partner. Be certain that neither of you is in any way leaning on the other. (Independent balance is absolutely crucial to appropriate dance practice. I know that lots of people today don't agree with this, but we're in my class now, so my rules apply here. Live with it.)

 

3.     Stand together in the embrace with your feet together and your weight distributed evenly between both legs for several moments without moving. Try to release any tension you might feel (not easy to do!), and let the music "wash over you."

 

4.     Begin to concentrate on the music, trying to discern "the beat." (Right now, this will still be completely subjective -- as it has been throughout our discussion so far. Very soon, we'll be learning to identify and move to various types of musical beat -- half notes, whole notes, quarter notes, etc. But we're not quite up to that yet. For the moment, the leader will move to the beat of the music in whatever personal way he/she perceives it.)

 

5.     Remember: As a leader, your job is to invite your follower to move to the musical beat. If you're a follower, you need to resist the impulse to "take over" and help the leader move.)

 

6.     Once you as a leader feel ready to begin moving to the beat, gently shift your weight to one side so that one foot is carrying most of your weight, and the other foot is free (although this "free" foot can actually be touching the floor). Be sure that in changing your own weight your torso has moved laterally, so that your follower can respond appropriately by shifting her own weight in a complimentary way.

 

7.     Has your follower shifted her weight with you? If so, you're all set to start moving to the beat. If not, try shifting again, paying very close attention to your follower to make sure she has followed your lead, and is in sync with you.

 

8.     Now, move your weight from one side to the other continuously to the beat of the music, trying to keep the rhythm of your movement accurate and consistent, and at the same time trying to make sure your follower is moving in sync with you lead. Continue the exercise all the way to the end of the music. Then, gently release the embrace and relax.

 

9.     Next, put on another piece of music, and repeat the exercise. Does it seem to be working? Try the exercise with four or five different pieces of music at different tempos (slow, medium, and fast). Get to a point where you can execute Exercise 4 consistently without developing tension, and without losing the beat or the lead.

 

Because this is the first time you will have tried to move with a partner, it's a very good idea to do this exercise in the presence of your teacher. That way, you'll know absolutely whether or not your perception of the rhythm is accurate, and whether you're moving appropriately in time with the music. Once you and your partner are able to successfully execute Exercise 4, you will have cleared a major hurdle in moving together in a "musical" way. After the holidays, we'll take this new skill further by starting to travel through space as we continue to combine rhythmical movement with good lead/follow.

 

In the meantime, Pat and I want to wish you all a very happy and healthy holiday season. See you in the new year!

 

 

December 10, 2015

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. For the past several weeks, we've been exploring the subject of "musicality" in Tango. We've learned that, at least in a very basic sense, musicality simply means being able to respond in a rhythmical way to the beat of a piece of music. (There's actually much more to it than that, of course, but we had to start somewhere.) We compared Tango to contemporary progressive ballroom dance (Foxtrot, Waltz, Quickstep, American Tango, Peabody, et. al.) -- in which individual, highly structured figure movement generally consists of an adherence to prescribed rhythmical formulae (quick, quick, slow, etc.). In social Argentine Tango, by contrast, rhythmical movement is completely improvised; i.e., made up by the individual dancer in the moment.

I have suggested that (in my opinion) no one can teach what might be called the art of musicality; i.e., the ability to use the music in a completely improvisational, creative way during a dance -- much like an instrument in the orchestra. This is a skill, developed by the very best dancers over a period of many years of experimentation, focused practice, and inspiration on the dance floor.

What can be taught, however, are what we might call the mechanics of musicality; i.e., the fundamentals of physical, rhythmical interaction with a piece of music. Some people seem to have an innate ability to respond to music rhythmically without any training whatever. Others do well after a period of working with a teacher to get things started. A very small minority claim that they don't seem to be able to hear and respond to music appropriately no matter what they do. Over my years of teaching dance, however, I have often worked closely with such students -- and generally found that with the right training virtually anyone can eventually develop at minimum a functionally usable musical sensibility.

With respect to the mechanics of musicality, we began by attempting to discover whether you have an innate sense of rhythm. We used what I call "Exercise 1," which is a useful tool that enables you to find out more or less instantaneously whether you can accurately hear and respond rhythmically to a piece of Tango music. (You can read all about Exercise 1 by going to the Firehouse Tango newsletter archive, and referring to the Newsletter of November 19, 2015.)

For people who found through Exercise 1 that their basic musical sense was viable, we turned next to Exercise 2 (See last week's Newsletter) -- fundamental full-body in-place movement to a piece of music. If you did reasonably well with this exercise; i.e., if you were able to move in place in an accurate, consistent way to a piece of Tango music, you are now ready to try "Exercise 3" -- incorporating la pausa.

La pausa is, of course, "the pause." Using this crucial element of Tango musicality, the dancer simply comes to a stop for some duration between movements. This stop is improvisational; i.e., one can employ la pausa in any given dance at anytime. However, for the purpose of incorporating la pausa into a practical musicality exercise we're going to take the liberty of offering a formulaic series of start/stop sequences, which will lead eventually to an improvisation in which pauses have become an integral part.

Okay, with all that said, here is Exercise 3.

Exercise 3 -- Incorporating la pausa:

1.     Begin by cueing up a piece of Tango music. Choose one that's not too fast, when you listen and respond to it.

2.     Stand in one place with your legs slightly apart, and your weight evenly distributed between both feet.

3.     Listen to the music, and try to establish the beat within your body.

4.     Relax for a few moments, continuing to feel the beat of the music inside your body.

5.     Next, gently shift your weight to one side so that one foot is carrying most of your weight, and the other foot is free.

6.     Now, move your weight from one side to the other in sync with the music, trying to keep the rhythm of your movement accurate and consistent.

7.     (If this all seems familiar, it's because we did exactly the same thing in Exercise 2 last week.)

8.     All right, here comes the new part. You're going to pause on every fourth beat. For your first three beats, you'll change weight from one side to the other in place as usual. Then, on the fourth beat you're going to come to a stop for the duration of one beat, after which you'll continue.

9.     The exercise works in the following way: Start with your weight on your right foot with your left foot free. Using the beat of the music, change weight to your left foot on what you perceive as the first count. On the second count, change to your right foot. On the third count change back to your left foot. And on the fourth count, do nothing (meaning that you remain still on your left foot for one count. The sequence continues immediately with the next beat of music; but this time your first change of weight is from left to right. And at the end of the sequence your weight is back where it started; i.e., on your right foot. As you move, your internal count will be 1-2-3-4; your actions will be change-change-change-pause. (You'll find that this is all a lot easier to actually do than to explain.)

We'll call this exactly what it is: "One-two-three-pause!"

Practice Exercise 3 five thousand times between now and next week. Take short breaks to eat a little something, and maybe get a brief moment or two of sleep.

Next week, we'll pick up right here with a series of variations for Exercise 3, using la pausa. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact Pat and me at franchesleigh.com. Stay strong!

 

December 3, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Two weeks ago, we defined what we referred to as "Exercise 1" in the challenge of achieving musicality in your dancing. With that exercise (see our Tango Tip of November 19, 2015, for a complete description), you can very quickly figure out whether you have a "natural" ability to hear and respond in an accurate and consistent way to the rhythm of a piece of music. As I mentioned, it's very important for you to try this exercise in the presence of your teacher, since he/she will easily be able to tell you right away whether you seem to have this ability or not.

If you have trouble with Exercise 1, I don't believe there's much you can do by yourself to improve your sense of musicality. That said, there are lots of ways an experienced teacher can help get you past this first major hurdle. My recommendation, therefore, is that you try Exercise 1 (with your teacher on hand), decide whether you need help making the exercise work, and, if so, do what's necessary to get yourself to a point where you're ready for the next series of exercises -- meaning, work closely with your teacher.

Let's say, however, that your experience with Exercise 1 is positive; i.e., you find out that you do indeed have a "natural" rhythmic sense. You're physically able to maintain the beat of a piece of music in a rudimentary way. Congratulations! This means that you're ready to move on to Exercise 2.

Exercise 2: Moving in place -- responding rhythmically not only by nodding your head, moving your hand up and down, or tapping your foot -- but by engaging your entire body.

Here's the exercise.

1.     Begin by cueing up a piece of Tango music. Choose one that's not too fast.

2.     Stand in one place with your legs slightly apart, and your weight evenly distributed between both feet.

3.     Listen to the music, and try to establish the beat within your body by flexing and straightening you knees. This will allow your body to move slightly up and down as you keep the beat.

4.     Now, stop flexing and straightening your knees. Relax for a few moments, continuing to feel the beat of the music inside your body.

5.     Next, gently shift your weight to one side so that one foot is carrying most of your weight, and the other foot is free (although this "free" foot can actually be touching the floor).

6.     Now, move your weight from one side to the other in sync with the music, trying to keep the rhythm of your movement accurate and consistent. Continue the exercise all the way to the end of the music. Then, relax.

7.     Now, put on another piece of music, and repeat the exercise. Does it seem to be working? Try the exercise with four or five different pieces of music at different tempos (slow, medium, and fast). Prove to yourself that you can execute Exercise 2 without difficulty.

Just a couple of thoughts here. These exercises can and should be tried by both leaders and followers. Since we're not yet attempting to move in concert with another person (using some version of the embrace), it's important to establish whether you as an individual have a natural sense of rhythm (Exercise 1), and whether you're able to put this rhythmic ability into practice, using your entire body (Exercise 2). Do you need a teacher monitoring your activity at this point? Ideally, yes; but if you've already clearly established that you have a "natural" sense of rhythm through Exercise 1, you'll probably be successful with Exercise 2 on your own. (When in doubt, however, be sure to check with your teacher to verify that things are going well.)

Do you feel confident that you have no problem with these first two exercises? Great! That means it's time for you to tackle Exercise 3. And that's exactly what next week's Tango Tip is all about.

 

November 19, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the week. Over the past two weeks, we've been addressing the idea of "musicality" in Tango. If you haven't yet begun to follow the discussion, I recommend that you read the last two Tango Tips before continuing here. Just go to our Firehouse Tango Web site, click on "archive," and take a look at those Tips.

Ready to continue?

Today, we're going to take the plunge, and start to actually find a connection of our own to a piece of music. But first, I have a small disclaimer. When I teach a class in rhythmic response to music, I can more or less instantly notice who is able to keep a beat consistently and who is not. Over the years, I've noticed, for example, that the majority of women in any given class seem to have very little difficulty responding accurately to music. I would estimate that in a group of twenty women, maybe one or two might not be able to hear the beat of the music appropriately, whereas the others will pick it up right away. On the other hand, about one in four male dancers -- in some groups the ratio is as high as one in three -- seem to have either no accurate response to the beat of a piece of music, or at least are inconsistent in their responses. Sometimes, they're on; sometimes, they're off. We could speculate forever on why this may be the case, but for our purposes, let's just accept that my observations are probably accurate, and move on from there.

Where do you fit in?

The exercises I'm going to describe below will be next to impossible, if you're one of those people who just cannot hear the underlying rhythm structure of the music. You will need to work closely with a teacher in order to have any chance of moving past this fundamental difficulty. On the other hand, if you're one of those gifted people who find it quite easy to hear and respond to music, the exercises I will describe should be very simple for you to carry out.

Let's find out whether you as an individual have the ability to hear and respond rhythmically to music or not. Two weeks ago, I ended the Tango Tip by asking you to listen to as much Tango music as you could find, and to try to find some kind of rhythm structure to at least some of the pieces. Right now, we're going to talk about some of the specifics of that little assignment. In fact, we're going to define this as "Exercise 1."

Exercise 1: Finding your own way of responding to a piece of music: What do you hear?

This crucial first exercise is best done in the presence of a teacher -- in order for you to be absolutely certain that your "musical" perceptions are accurate. (Once you know you're doing it correctly, the need for a teacher at your side will no longer be necessary, at least for this exercise.)

Select a piece of Tango music. (Even better, have your teacher make the selection.) Listen to the music, eventually trying to find a connection between you and the ongoing beat/cadence of the piece. Demonstrate this connection physically by using one of the following ways to indicate what you're hearing--

Move either hand up and down to what you think/feel is the regular beat ("leading the band")

Tap either hand against your side

Clap both hands together

Tap either foot against the floor

Nod your head up and down

If you're working with a teacher, he/she will be able to notice almost immediately whether you're hearing the beat of the music correctly -- just by observing the way you're responding physically in the moment. If in your teacher's judgement you're showing that your rhythmic sense is accurate, he/she will verify that you're ready to move on to the next exercise -- which is to actually move your whole body to the music. On the other hand, if the outcome of this exercise suggests that you need more work right here, your teacher will be able to formulate a plan to help you eventually move through this phase of your individual learning process.

Next week, we're going to look at Exercise 2 -- moving your whole body to the rhythm of the music.


November 12, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, we started a discussion of what is sometimes called "musicality" in Tango. By way of definition, I would offer that this term very generally refers to an individual person's ability to respond with what I'm going to call "rhythmic precision" -- along with some degree of creativity -- when dancing to a given piece of Tango music. By the way, if you haven't read last week's Tango Tip, it might be a good idea to find it in the Firehouse Tango archive on our Web site, and give it a quick perusal, in order to be better able to follow what we'll be talking about over the next several weeks.

Tick, tock, tick, tock ...

Okay, all set? Are you up to speed? Great. Let's move on!

As promised last week, over the next several Tango Tips, Pat and I will focus on defining and describing the musical skills we believe you need as a leader and/or follower in order to elevate your Tango beyond a mechanical exercise, and move it closer to becoming your own personally fashioned art form.

To start the ball rolling, let's first establish that by way of fundamental areas of concentration, we can -- if we apply ourselves diligently -- eventually learn to use many of the basic tools of the Tango -- the lead/follow mechanism, the highly idiosyncratic stylization of the body as it moves through space, the personal repertoire of figures and sequences (yes, yes, I know, there are no steps in Tango). These are more or less accessible elements, which, with concentrated work and dedication, can ultimately form the basis for a reasonably skilled iteration of social Tango.

But what about moving with a partner in a rhythmically appropriate -- perhaps even musically creative -- way as the music of Tango progresses? This presents us with a challenge unlike that anything we’ve encountered before in other social dance forms. If you've ever taken dance lessons, for example, you've learned that with every single dance form in this country, there's a very definite basic rhythmic timing attached to it as a matter of course. Think about Foxtrot, Waltz, Swing, or any of the Latin dances. Each of these disciplines comes neatly packaged with its own specific rhythm structure, usually called "the basic step." (Whether this narrow definition/codification is actually valid or not presents us with a very interesting subject of discussion for another time.)

Now, we come to Tango. It turns out that in Tango, there is no basic step, and there is no consistent rhythmical timing. Instead, everything is completely improvised. As a result, it becomes very difficult and frustrating for the student of Tango to figure out not only what to do from one step to the next, but how to respond in some rhythmical way to the music. The result is that when we go about approaching the skills necessary to become Tango dancers, this becomes a very big hurdle in our learning process.

With all that said, how do we learn to be musical, when we dance Tango? In my opinion, the very first thing you have to figure out either by yourself -- or better yet, with the help of your teacher -- is whether or not you possess a basic sense of rhythm. As mentioned last week, some people have what seems to be a natural ability to find a credible rhythmic connection to a piece of music. Others simply don't seem to make that connection.

Can this connection actually be taught? I'm not sure that it can be in all cases; however, there are tools we can use in order to make it possible. If you are one of those people who finds it virtually impossible to respond with any consistency to the rhythm of the music, you need a teacher to help you break through to your next phase -- accurate response to the music. A big dilemma here is that if you are indeed one of those people, you probably don't really know that this is a problem for you. Someone will have to tell you, and, if possible, help you solve it. This, of course, is your teacher.

Next week, we'll examine a practical way for you (and your teacher) to determine your fundamental rhythmic capability as you attempt to actually move to Tango music. Then, we'll talk about ways to make things work a bit better in terms of developing your own personal musicality.

 

November 5, 2015

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Let's talk about "musicality." When we dance social Tango, our goal is to respond in some appropriate way to Tango music. Some leaders seem able to keep reasonably good time, when they dance. (Others don't appear to connect to the rhythm of the music at all.) Of the leaders who are able to respond to the beats of the music, a very talented few seem able to almost magically generate their own personal rhythmic statements and improvisations. When leaders exhibit this highly sophisticated ability, we sometimes say that they possess "musicality."

In general, the conditions for developing this unique ability might be found in the following profile:  If you were born in Argentina, if you were musically gifted (this could mean lots of different things), if you grew up dancing Tango, if the people around you who influenced your dancing were accomplished, creative dancers, and if you learned your lessons well over an extended period of time (fifteen to thirty years might qualify as a nice, workable time span), you might eventually join the ranks of those elite dancers who were considered to have "musicality."

On the other hand, if some or all of these factors were not part of your personal evolution -- let's say you were born and raised in Brooklyn (ahem), and no one you grew up with ever danced at all other than the mandatory Bunny Hop at family weddings -- your road to "musicality" might be a bit long and bumpy.

I think it would be fair to say that social Tango is, at one end of the spectrum, a series of mechanical, relatively learnable skills -- and at the other end a singular art form, which (in my opinion. at least) is not possible to teach. To attain "musicality" in your dance is to move closer to achieving mastery of the art form.

When I say that "musicality" can't be taught, I mean this in the same way I might suggest that mastery of any art form really cannot be taught. However, just as we can as teachers supply a student of painting with the tools necessary to create -- the brushes, the paint, the skills involved in mixing, the elements of brush technique -- we can offer the student of Tango a series of essential skills and techniques with which he may eventually be able to develop his Tango into considerably more than simple mechanical proficiency.

Over the next several Tango Tips, Pat and I will try to define and describe the skills we believe both leaders and followers need in order to elevate their Tango beyond mere mechanics, and at least edge it a bit closer to becoming a personally fashioned art form. In the meantime, your homework is to listen carefully to every piece of Tango music you can lay your hands on, and try to find the underlying rhythmic basis beneath its melody.

Starting next week, we'll elaborate on how to do this, and much more.

 

October 29, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. One of the things I find myself saying to leaders over and over, week after week, month after month, is the following:

Tango is a slow dance. 

S-L-O-W.

For many reasons, this idea doesn't seem to compute with a sizable majority of leaders. One of the biggest complaints followers express to me again and again is that dancing Tango with many leaders feels like hanging on for dear life on an out-of-control merry-go-round.

"They just won't stop running," one of my female students told me just yesterday.

Today, I want to look at why this epidemic of perpetual motion and speed seems to be so entrenched in our Tango community, and offer a suggestion or two about how this might be changed to reflect more accurately what I think Tango is really all about.

In the "Western" ballroom dance tradition (by which I mean the European/American tradition) most of us generally think of dancing in terms of continuous movement around a dance floor. A beginner leader here in this country almost always maintains the a priori belief that when he learns how to dance, he'll be flying around the floor in the manner of a dance such as Viennese Waltz.

Furthermore, most Tango teachers aid and abet this belief by having their students walk continuously around the dance floor together without stopping as a primary exercise right from lesson one.

"Leaders, try to take nice, big steps; followers, don't slow down; keep it going. Aren't we making great progress?"

Unfortunately, for a beginning Tango student, continuous walking in this way usually results in little more than a feeling of being completely out of control. It can be fun; it can be exhilarating in the moment; it can serve as a counterpoint to the hesitant plodding and tiny, furtive steps which most partners take during their early attempts at movement. But the ultimate effect of this approach (I strongly believe) is that it teaches leaders to run, and it teaches followers to hang on for dear life. And nobody learns to balance at all.

Unlike European/American ballroom dancing, Tango does not involve continuous, non-stop motion. Tango is a dance, which combines movement and non-movement in almost equal measure. Sometimes, we go; sometimes, we stop. At least, this is the way the dance evolved during the late 1930s as a result of changes in the music (another discussion for another time). This being the case, the question becomes: How can we put the brakes (literally) on this misconception of what modern Tango is all about?

The answer, I believe, is to teach beginning students the value of learning how to stop.

In my own classes, I begin with the idea that the essence of Tango is found in a single step -- not only for followers, but for leaders as well. The step (whether it's forward, backward, or to the side) has a beginning (the lead/follow), a middle (the traveling through space) and -- perhaps most importantly -- an end (the balance). I underscore for the leader as well as for the follower the crucial importance of learning to stop and actually paying careful attention to the balance at the end of each and every step. This approach often confuses students who think of dancing as running; but once they've been able to incorporate the notion of stopping -- or at least pausing -- between steps, their dancing automatically becomes far more "Tango-like" than it might otherwise have been.

 

October 22, 2015


Hi everyone, Pat here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Today, we’re going to discuss what Fran calls the “sixth” fundamental element of Tango – the pivot. Two weeks ago Fran looked at this element from the leader’s point of view. Now, we’ll examine it as followers.

The pivot is one of the most difficult movements for a follower to execute properly. I emphasize that word because so many followers do not execute pivots properly, and what we see quite often is a lack of fundamental technique and balance. (Of course, if leaders do not know how to lead a pivot, the follower cannot be fully blamed. Conversely, if the follower has no pivoting technique, no matter how well she is led, the outcome will not be good.)

Let’s examine what the follower does when pivoting. Pivots can rotate to the right or left, depending on the lead. In what we’ll call its pure form, the follower is standing in front of the leader, her weight evenly on both feet. In order to pivot to one side or another, the follower must have her weight on the ball of one foot. Her heel does not bear any weight, and is off the ground but held close to the floor (there is no need to lift the heel or go up on the toes during a pivot)

With all her weight on the ball of one foot, the follower should receive a rotational lead, which asks her to twist her whole body to the leader’s left or right. As she does this, however, her upper body should still be facing her leader. This is a crucial part of pivoting technique, and it means that the follower must use a strong twist in her waist to allow her lower body to execute the movement while her and upper body remains facing her leader – somewhat like a pretzel.

To invite the pivot, the leader uses a rotational lead to turn the follower (in place) either forward or backward. There are plenty of issues for leaders at this point, as Fran described last week, but when the follower feels this rotation happening -- when she is already trying to balance on the ball of one foot -- she may start to grab and hang on to her leader, fearing that she will lose her balance.

Another common problem – also one of balance -- is seen in a follower who is using her free foot as a paddle to help herself around, or indeed a follower who is trying to pivot on both feel at once. This is understandable, but of course will never help in learning the appropriate pivoting technique.

These are common issues in learning to execute a pivot. With practice, and with a growing confidence in the follower’s own balance and that of her leaderAnchor to facilitate her balance during a pivot, things will eventually get better. But practice is very, very important for both leaders and followers in developing good skills in pivoting.

 

October 15, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. If you've been following our ongoing discussion of fundamental linear movement in Tango, you're waiting (with bated breath, no doubt) to read our final installment of this mini-series, which consists of Pat's thoughts about how a follower responds to the lead for a pivot. This week, however, I'm going to ask for your indulgence, while I attempt to address (not for the first time) what seems to be a chronically entrenched idea among leaders. It's the notion that dancing consists of a repertoire of memorized figures or "steps."

Here is the gist of a conversation I overheard at the Firehouse just last week between two leaders:

"It's really hard for me to get here by 7:00 p.m. for this milonga class. I wish it started later."

"I wouldn't worry about it too much. He doesn't teach the steps 'til later."

"What does he do in the beginning?"

"Oh, you know, just how to lead, how to move, stuff like that. I already know how to do that."

"Okay, I guess I shouldn't feel so bad about getting here later then."

Here is my response to that conversation:

Aaaaaaaaggggghhhhhhhh!!!!!

All right, I feel calmer now. Let's talk about this idea. From the time I started learning to dance Tango back in 1986, my (Argentine) teachers ALL said, "There are NO steps in Tango." What they meant is that Tango is a way of dancing, a technique, a unique movement skill -- not just a checklist of memorized steps. Unfortunately, dance students in this country simply cannot seem to get the idea out of their heads that learning how to dance consists of anything other than accumulating figures and sequences.

Why is this misconception so prevalent in our dance culture? If you've ever taken dance lessons here, you already know the answer. Go to any dance school, and what are you offered? Ten steps in bronze, ten steps in silver, and ten in gold. Get yourself through the program, and presto, you're a dancer. What about lead/follow? What about basic movement? Well, we'll get to that later (meaning never.)

The truth is that nobody can learn to dance by memorizing steps. To be a dancer, there's just no substitute for the work we do in the beginning: Learning and practicing balance, fundamental movement, lead/follow partnering -- things which are absolutely crucial to the process of learning how to dance. Why do dance schools put these things on the way way back burner?  Because those things are not sexy. Because those things are really difficult, and take time to get good at. Because dance schools are aggressively selling the idea that dancing is easy, that anybody can do it, that it can be learned in an hour, in a half hour, in five minutes, now! Just fork over the do re mi, and you can be an expert dancer in seconds!

Not true today, not true tomorrow, not true ever.

Leaders, please try to stop thinking this way. I beg you. Please try to recognize that to become a decent dancer, you have to put in the work in order to go from ground zero to where you want to be. There are no shortcuts. Yes, dance steps are fun, and once you've learned how to dance, the big secret is that they're actually easy. But if you think you can master any complex sequence of movements without gong through the preliminary process of developing the skills necessary to handle it, you're just kidding yourself.

Which means, please get here by 7:00 for the beginning stuff. It's really important.

Next week, Pat will pick up where we left off last week, and share her thoughts on the follower's role in pivoting, and in following a skilled leaders' invitation.

 

October 8, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, I started talking about what I referred to as the "sixth" fundamental element in the basic vocabulary of Tango. This single transitional action opens the door to an entire spectrum of more advanced Tango movement such as ocho, molinete, calicita and boleo

We call this element el pivoteo or the pivot. As I mentioned last week, in social Tango the pivot is most often invited by a leader, and executed by a by a follower, although there are, to be sure, many instances of the use of pivots by leaders in more complex movements and sequences.

The pivot consists of a rotation of one's entire body, using the ball of one foot as a fulcrum or point of support, while the other foot remains inactive, carrying no weight. As a leader, your goal is to invite your partner to rotate in one direction or the other, in balance, on one foot. Once she has accomplished this, you'll most likely continue immediately with an additional lead in order to produce an ocho, boleo, or other complex, multi-faceted movement sequence. But for now, we'll concentrate exclusively on the pivot as an isolated element in itself. I'm going to break the lead down into three distinct elements:

·      Initiating the pivot

·      Enabling and monitoring the movement from beginning to end

·      Facilitating the follower's balance

As we've done in the past, we'll talk about each of these elements separately.

Initiating the pivot:

During past Tango Tips in this series, we've talked extensively about the leader's use of his/her upper body/torso/chest in order to produce various leads. We've enumerated his upper body movement possibilities as:

1.     Lateral (to the side)

2.     Forward

3.     Backward

4.     Lowering

Today, we're going to introduce a new possibility -- rotation. In order to invite the follower's pivoting action, the leader rotates his upper body very slightly. His follower feels this, and recognizes it as an invitation for her to pivot. The direction of the leader's rotation is determined by his assessment of where he wants his follower to end up at the conclusion of her pivot.

Okay, take a deep breath here: If, for example, he has her weight on her right foot (the leader's left side), and he wants her to turn in order to set up a forward ocho to his left, he rotates his upper body clockwise. His follower responds by pivoting clockwise, therefore ending with her free left foot ready to step forward to the leader's left. Conversely, if he wants her to prepare for a backward ocho to his left, he rotates his upper body counterclockwise in order to invite his follower to pivot counterclockwise, therefore ending with her free left foot ready to step backward to his left.

I apologize, if this explanation makes you somewhat dizzy; but if you read it several times patiently -- better yet, if you try it with a partner who knows how to follow -- you'll get the picture. An important thing to be aware of is that the amount of the leader's upper body rotation will be slight, whereas the follower's response will be much greater. The lead is the indication or invitation for her to move; her follow is an execution of the lead, and has a very definite life of its own.

Enabling and monitoring the movement from beginning to end

From the moment the leader initiates his rotational lead, he starts monitoring his follower's response. Has she understood the lead? Is she responding in the way I'm asking her to do? Is she moving through her pivot from beginning to end, or is she expecting that I will be carrying her through the entire movement? It takes both a skilled leader -- and a skilled follower -- to dance Tango in the "right" way; therefore, a good leader will recognize immediately whether his follower knows how to respond appropriately to his lead or not. He will also be acutely aware of the crucial moment when she has finished her pivot, and is therefore ready for the next lead, which will produce an ocho, a molinete, or some other movement, which is generally begun with a pivot. This overall awareness of his follower's journey from the beginning of her pivot to the end -- this monitoring of her action -- is what makes it possible for the leader to produce a coherent continuation of the dance with his next lead.

Facilitating the follower's balance

When a follower attempts to pivot on one foot, she necessarily places herself in a potentially precarious situation. The least push in one direction or another will send her reeling. For this reason alone, it is imperative that her leader be extremely careful while leading this very delicate movement in order to avoid disturbing her balance in any way. An unskilled leader often inadvertently adds a lateral element to what is supposed to be a rotational lead. This forces the follower to grasp him in some way in order to protect herself from falling. Furthermore, even if his lead is perfect, the unskilled follower may hang on, because she's afraid that she might lose her balance during her pivot. With practice, and with a growing confidence in her leader's ability to facilitate her balance during a pivot, things will eventually get better. But practice is very, very important for both leaders and followers in developing good skills in pivoting.

Next week, Pat will share her thoughts on the follower's role in pivoting, and in following a skilled leaders' invitation.
 

October 1, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. During the past several weeks, we've been defining the fundamental vocabulary of "linear" Tango; i.e., Tango which moves around the line of dance or la ronda. The five individual elements, which comprise this vocabulary include the following:

·      Weight changes in place

·      Pauses

·      Side Steps

·      Forward steps

·      Backward steps

Once a couple learns to comfortably and confidently execute these movements by effectively using their lead/follow skills, they are able to enjoy what we might call a basic-level "parallel-system" dance that is both improvisational (no memorized sequences) and virtually effortless. This, of course, takes a great deal of time and effort to develop; but with patience, perseverance, humility, and a good sense of humor, it can eventually be accomplished. (To review the individual lead/follow skills we've discussed so far, you might want to reread our Tango Tips from the past 10 weeks in the Firehouse Tango Newsletter archive.)

If you've been dancing Tango for a while, you know by now, of course, that there is much more to this dance than simple, linear movement. El sistema cruzado, ochos, molinetes, cambios de frente, calicitas, boleos ... all these highly complex movements and sequences -- plus many others -- await the dancer who is prepared enough to step up to the next level. And a key transitional element, which opens the door to this entire spectrum of more advanced Tango movement is called el pivoteo or the pivot.

I sometimes refer to the pivot as the "sixth" fundamental element in the basic vocabulary of the dance. In stage/performance/fantasia Tango, pivots are utilized frequently by both leaders and followers. However, in social Tango, which is our present concern, the pivot is most often used more or less exclusively by the follower. It is employed for such actions as ocho, molinete, and (to stretch the definition of the social dance a bit) calicita and boleo.

Nota bene:

Many inexperienced (or inept) leaders don't know that they're supposed to begin an ocho or molinete by leading a pivot, and simply push their follower to one side or the other. My hope is that this discussion will result in a better understanding of appropriate leads for these highly complex and sensitive movements in Tango.

Generally speaking, a pivot consists of a rotation of one's entire body, using the ball of one foot as a fulcrum or point of support, while the other foot remains inactive, carrying no weight. Usually, this pivoting action also involves a significant twisting of the body, which adds considerably to its degree of difficulty -- but for purposes of our discussion, we'll focus on the rotational action itself.

Next week, we'll talk about exactly how the pivot is led and followed. Meanwhile, please feel free to ask any questions you might have about this complex subject. You can reach us at franchesleigh@mac.com.
 

September 24, 2015

Hi everyone, Pat here with the follower’s technique for taking a step forward, when her leader executes a backward step. I think it’s fair to say that all followers, at some point in their Tango life, will experience probably one of the most awkward, uncomfortable, and downright embarrassing of Tango movements – the dreaded “Tango Lurch.” There is but one reason for this: It occurs, when the leader decides to take a backward step, and simply forgets to prepare and execute this movement in a way that will allow his partner to follow him!

If a leader suddenly steps backward and yanks his follower forward during this movement, she is completely unprepared and has to lurch forward –very often slumping into him – to save herself from falling. This unfortunate circumstance typically results in a complete break in the dance, while the follower attempts to regain her composure, her balance and her dignity. When this happens, more often than not the leader will look at her in such surprise, as if he cannot understand what on earth she’s doing… surely it’s not difficult to take a simple forward step, he thinks.

The leader’s back step, as we have so often said, is one of the most dangerous steps to take in social Tango (due to the strong possibility of stepping on the follower behind) but many leaders will also neglect to use any technique they may have learned in executing this movement. The result for the follower is as I have described above.

However, if a leader knows how to execute a back step appropriately (see last week’s Tango Tip), the follower can comfortably move forward. When she feels her leader moving backward – but not pulling her toward him with his right hand – the fact that he is moving away from her is her signal to take a step forward so that she can maintain the embrace. All this should happen almost at once, with both partners in balance and ready for the next move.

Followers: just a word about your technique for actually taking the forward step. Move your free foot forward gently along the floor, initially using the toe but then bringing your full weight onto that foot as you bring your feel together. Posture is very important, when moving forward. As you make this movement be sure that your shoulders are down, and that you are standing up straight. This will help you to be in balance after the movement.

If you practice this, and get good enough, you might even be able to save yourself from the dreaded forward lurch…. but sorry, no promises.

September 17, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Over the past several Tango Tips, Pat and I have been defining the fundamental vocabulary leaders/followers use in dancing social Tango. Today, we come to our fifth and final "linear" element -- the leader's backward step. (By "linear" I mean those elements, which enable couples to travel around the line of dance, known in Argentina as la ronda.

As I've been doing with our other linear elements, I'm going to break down the lead/follow mechanism for the backward step and its resulting actions into four distinct parts:

·      Lowering

·      Initiating movement through space

·      Traveling

·      Balancing (creating the neutral position)

As we've done before, we'll talk about each of these four parts separately.

Lowering:

Our leader begins this movement by flexing his knees very slightly in order to lower his torso. As discussed before, we know that this lowering serves as an indication to the follower that the leader is about to ask her to travel. The flexion at the knees -- and the resulting very slight lowering of the leader's torso -- says to the follower, "I'm about to travel somewhere; get ready to move, please."

Initiating movement through space:

Immediately following this lowering of his torso, the leader will begin to move his entire body in the direction to which he has elected to travel -- in this case, backward. This includes both his upper and lower body. The confident, definite movement of the leader's torso as he travels tells his follower that he wants her to move forward. If she's a skilled follower, she'll now take her forward step with confidence, knowing that she needn't be afraid that she might step on her leader's feet.

Traveling:

Once the leader has provided his follower with the lead (lowering, followed immediately by a backward movement of his torso), both partners now move independently of one another as they travel through space. The leader needs to be especially careful here not to pull his follower forward with his right hand, which should remain in a neutral state as it rests gently on her upper back. The follower knows exactly what she has been invited to do, and she does it. (Next week, we'll have much more about exactly how she moves, when Pat discusses the follower's technique of moving forward in Tango.)

Balancing (Creating the neutral position):

At the end of the traveling phase of this movement, both leader and follower bring themselves into balance independently -- as they did with the step to the side and the leader's forward step. Let me repeat here once again that In Tango, both leader and follower must be acutely conscious of getting to the end of any given step with balance in mind -- not rushing headlong into an individual step (or series of sequential steps), and either vaguely hoping for the best or being entirely oblivious of the need to balance at the end. By finishing their steps in balance, each of the partners is completely ready for any further movement that the leader may wish to invite. If either or both of the partners is out of balance, the couple can't do much of anything in that moment except fight for balance.

Next week, Pat will discuss the follower's experience in being invited to take a forward step, including her response to the lead, her execution of the movement, and her attempt to balance at its completion. In the meantime, if you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to ask.
 

September 10, 2015 

Hello everyone, Pat here. This week, I want to discuss one of the single most important movements for a follower in dancing Tango. Can you guess? Yes, it’s her back step. Not only is it this step that she does most often during the dance, but almost every part of the movement itself is dependent on specific technique, styling and balance. All this takes time to develop, of course. However, a follower should decide early on in her Tango life that she is going to learn everything there is to know about taking the back step, and practice making it good every chance she gets.

In the beginning, likely as not, a follower will just kind of fall backwards onto her foot. She will bend her knee forward first, lean her body back, and then literally “save” herself from falling with a very small step. Note: many new Tango dancers complain that they are “banging” knees with the leader. This is because the follower is not moving her leg out of the way sufficiently.

In the ideal, when a follower has practiced her back step for at least a couple of years, she should be moving in the following way:

Her upper body stays in place in front of her leader, and only her leg moves backwards from the hip, using the muscles in her buttocks and lower back. Her whole leg is straight and engaged to move, and her foot is pointed and resting on the floor. Only now does she transfer her weight onto the foot behind her. She must not clutch her leader, or pull him with her. Her leg moves back, she transfers her body weight onto the foot behind, and ultimately she comes to rest in balance, with her free foot ready to take the next step. 

YES, this is very hard!! In the beginning, just taking a single back step – with all its attendant technique – could take several minutes. The ultimate goal, of course, is to be able to execute all this technique in one smooth movement. But please remember that practicing each piece of the movement is essential!

When you reach a point where you feel reasonably confident of your technique and your balance, then you can consider adding some styling – for instance, as your free foot moves backwards, you can try turning it out slightly and brushing the floor with the inside ball of the foot. Now, your back steps will really be looking like something!

I know…. who said this dance was easy?

October 1st Cat’s Away Milonga and Gourmet Feast is fast approaching!

Hello everyone, Pat here. As you will have seen on Thursday, our Cat's Away poster is back, and it’s time to play CHEF!! We will bring the poster each week and will look forward to people signing up. So start reviewing your best recipes and plan to join the banquet brigade!

We'll need 5 appetizers, 5 entrees, 5 desserts, We will also need two large salads. Not everything has to be home-cooked. We happily accept a store-bought item in addition to the culinary masterpieces.

If you have any questions or you'd prefer to sign up via email, please contact Fran at franchesleigh@mac.com, or me at paltman21@gmail.com.

 

Saturdays with Fran and Pat at Dardo Galletto Studios

Please join us for our Saturday Practica at Dardo Galletto Studios, 151 West 46th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues), 11th floor; 2-4pm, $10 per person. (Bringing a partner isn't necessary.) We think it’s just like being in Buenos Aires! Pat and I will both be on hand to answer any questions you may have about your dancing, and to help you with material you're working on. Plus you get a new “must-have” tango move each week! If you’d like a private lesson, call Fran directly at 212-662-7692, or email him atfranchesleigh@mac.com  

Don’t forget to visit our Web site at www.franchesleigh.com and join is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/franchesleighllc

September 3, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. I'm going to start this Tango Tip off by reiterating a few things I said two weeks ago. I'm doing this, because I think they need repetition and reinforcement. What we've been talking about is the development of a "lead/follow mechanism"; i.e., a precise, practical method for inviting and responding appropriately to leads. We've suggested that the lead comes directly from something the leader does with his Hi upper body, from his chest (el pecho) as Argentine teachers often describe it -- rather than from some kind of stimulus emanating from his arms, legs, or any other part of his body. (For more information about this, reread our last four Tango Tips -- particularly the one from August 20, 2015, which you'll find in the Firehouse Tango Tip archive on our Web site.)

More reinforcement: Success with leading/following requires inexperienced partners to undergo very patient, very focussed training in order to develop these crucial skills. This is difficult to achieve because –

1.     Lead/follow is inherently difficult to learn (particularly at a basic level, when the student is looking for excitement rather than hard work).

2.     Most teachers either don't know how to teach lead/follow, or prefer to concentrate on the fancy repertoire they know their students prefer, and which as all of us teachers know, puts more money in our pockets.

With all that said, let's get back to our subject, which is how to lead and how to follow. Today, we're going to focus on the second of our three basic traveling elements -- the leading forward step, or el paso adelante, accompanied by the follower's back step, el paso atras. As before, I'm going to break down the lead/follow mechanism for the step and its resulting actions into four distinct parts:

1.     Lowering

2.     Initiating movement through space

3.     Traveling

4.     Balancing (creating the neutral position)

Let's again talk about each of these four parts separately.

Lowering:

Our leader begins this movement by flexing his knees very slightly in order to lower his torso. In a previous Tango Tip, we discussed the fact that this lowering serves as an indication to the follower that the leader is about to ask her to travel -- rather than to make a weight change in place. The flexion at the knees -- and the resulting very slight lowering of the leader's torso -- says to the follower, "I'm about to travel somewhere; get ready to move, please." The word "slight" here means that her lowers somewhere around one eighth of an inch (rather than, let's say, two or three inches).

I repeat: Very slight; just enough for the follower to feel the almost imperceptible lowering of his torso.

Initiating movement through space:

Immediately following this lowering of his torso, the leader will begin to move his entire body in the direction to which he has elected to travel -- in this case, forward. This includes both his upper and lower body. A few common problems some leaders have at this point are that they –

1.     Probe first with their feet, because they're afraid that they're going to step on their follower

2.     Lunge forward, chest first, for the same reason

3.     Hesitate as they begin their movement (will she move, or won't she), which completely confuses the follower, and invariably produces disastrous results

The confident, definite movement of the leader's torso as he commences his traveling action tells his follower that he wants her to move backward. If she's a skilled follower, she'll get her legs out of the way. If not, she’ll need to continue practicing the appropriate technique for the backward walk.

Traveling:

Once the leader has provided his follower with the above-described, two-part lead (lowering, followed immediately by a forward movement of his torso), both partners now move independently of one another as they travel through space. There is no need for the leader to "carry" the follower through her backward movement. The follower knows exactly what she has been invited to do, and she does it. (Next week, we'll have much more about exactly how she moves backward, when Pat discusses the follower's technique of moving backward in Tango.)

Balancing (Creating the neutral position):

At the end of the traveling phase of this movement, both leader and follower bring themselves into balance independently -- as they did with the step to the side. Let me repeat here that In Tango, balance means creating a condition in which one is standing on one foot comfortably without having to use one's other foot to avoid falling. The good leader doesn't help his follower to balance -- or hinder her from balancing -- in any way. The good follower doesn't rely on her leader to stop her from falling or stumbling at the end of a step. Both leader and follower must be acutely conscious of getting to the end of any given step with balance in mind -- not rushing headlong into an individual step (or series of sequential steps), and either vaguely hoping for the best or being entirely oblivious of the need to balance at the end.

I think it is important to point out here that with forward/back movement the degree of difficulty in balancing at the end of a step increases dramatically. It is fairly easy to bring oneself into balance at the end of a step to the side. But when we travel forward -- or especially when we move backward -- achieving lateral balance on the traveling foot alone is quite challenging without a great deal of practice and concentration.

By finishing their steps in balance, each of the partners individually creates a condition I will once again refer to as "neutral." This means that both the leader and the follower are completely ready for any further movement that the leader may wish to invite. One more repetition here: If either or both of the partners is out of balance -- i.e., falling in one direction or another at the end of a step for any reason -- the couple can't do much of anything in that moment except fight for balance.

Next week, Pat will discuss the follower's experience in being invited to take a backward step, including her response to the lead, her execution of the movement, and her attempt to balance at its completion. In the meantime, please feel free to engage us with questions or comments about the forward/backward movement, or about lead/follow in general.

August 27, 2015

Hello everyone, Pat here.  This week, in our continuing series of basic Tango movement, I will discuss from the follower’s point of view, the first of three basic traveling movements – the step to the side.

As we know, the follower’s job is to wait, in the embrace and on her own balance, until she feels movement from the leader’s upper body. It is also her job, once she feels a credible lead, to move as directed, on her own balance without clutching or hanging on to her leader, or using him for balance as she moves.

So, here you are ready and waiting ... What do you feel? It’s possible that you are aware of some vague movement but nothing is happening with the leader’s upper body, so you don’t move. More than likely, our leader is just sticking his foot to the side, and expecting you to take the side step. As we have pointed out in the past, the follower does not read this movement as a lead, so you stay in place, on your own balance.

Is he pulling you off balance with his arms as he lurches to the side, without any prior indication of his intention? This technique almost always results in disaster, with the leader and follower trying their best not to fall down.

However, if you are waiting and you feel your leader’s body lower slightly and then move to the side, in a smooth but definite movement, you will easily be able to follow, taking your own side step – maybe a fraction of a second later – and coming onto your own balance at the end of your step. Once you initiate your own movement, followers, you are responsible for traveling through space and coming to a stop in balance.  It is not your leader’s job to carry you through the step!! You should maintain the embrace, but do not hang on to you leader in any way.

In addition, followers, you should make sure to take a big enough side step so that you come into balance in front of your leader (and being in front of her leader, is after all, a skilled follower’s primary objective.) If you take a tiny little side step, it will compromise the lead, and both partners’ balance…and therefore, back to square one.

In the ideal, the lead and the follow in a side step should be smooth movements, executed by the leader and follower, each of whom is independent of the other, coming to a balanced stop in front of each other at the end of the step.

August 20, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. During our recent series of Tango Tips, our goal has been to define a "lead/follow mechanism"; i.e., a precise, practical method for inviting and responding appropriately to leads. We suggested that the lead comes directly from something the leader does with his upper body, from his chest (el pecho) as Argentine teachers often describe it -- rather than from some kind of stimulus emanating from his arms, legs, or any other part of his body. (For more information about this, you might be interested in rereading our last four Tango Tips.)

It is essential, I think, to add at this point that success with leading/following calls for a skilled, experienced leader/follower rather than one who doesn't yet understand the lead/follow mechanism. Unskilled, inexperienced partners must undergo very patient, very focussed training in order to develop these crucial skills.

Over the past two weeks, we've discussed what is often called the "weight change in place" -- el cambio de peso en su lugar. First, we looked at this movement from the leader's standpoint; then, last week, Pat talked about it from the follower's point of view. Today, we're going to focus on the first of our three basic traveling elements -- the step to the side, or el paso al lado, sometimes referred to as el paso al costado.

As a basic element, the step to the side is exactly what the words say it is -- a lateral movement through space to the left or right, initiated by the leader, executed by the follower, and accompanied by the leader. I'm going to break the lead/follow mechanism and its resulting actions down into four distinct parts:

1.     Lowering

2.     Initiating movement through space

3.     Traveling

4.     Balancing (creating the neutral position)

Let's talk about each of these four parts separately.

Lowering:

Our leader is going to do something here that he hasn't done when inviting la pausa or el cambio de peso en su lugar. He is going to start his lead by flexing his knees very slightly in order to lower his torso. He will do this immediately preceding his invitation to the follower to travel through space. This lowering is going to serve as an indication to the follower that he is asking her to travel -- rather than to make a weight change in place. The flexion at the knees is based on an element of natural human movement in which someone who is about to take a step of any kind will tend instinctively to flex at the knees (thereby lowering slightly) in preparation for the movement -- rather than simply falling in the direction he/she wants to go, or possibly even rising in some way. The leader lowers his torso in this way in preparation for leading any traveling movement. As we will learn during future Tango Tips, this will include not only side steps, but forward and backward steps as well.

Initiating movement through space:

Immediately following this lowering of his torso, the leader will begin to move his entire body in the direction to which he has elected to travel -- in this case, to the side. The movement of his torso as he commences this traveling action tells the follower that he wants her to move to the side.

Traveling:

Once the leader has provided his follower with the above-described, two-part lead (lowering, followed immediately by sideward movement of his torso), both partners now move independently of one another as they travel through space. There is no need for the leader to "carry" the follower through this lateral movement. The follower knows exactly what she has been invited to do, and she does it.

Balancing (Creating the neutral position):

At the end of the traveling phase of the movement, both leader and follower bring themselves into balance independently. In Tango, balance means creating a condition in which one is standing on one foot comfortably without having to use one's other foot to avoid falling. The good leader doesn't help his follower to balance -- or hinder her from balancing -- in any way. The good follower doesn't rely on her leader to stop her from falling or stumbling at the end of a step. This means that both leader and follower must be acutely conscious of getting to the end of a step with balance in mind -- not rushing headlong into the step (as we so often see on the dance floor), and either hoping for the best or simply being oblivious of the need to balance at the end.

If all goes well, a skilled follower will be able to finish each step in balance, unassisted (and unimpeded) by her leader, thereby creating a condition I'm going to call "neutral." This means that she is able to bring herself to balanced rest, and is therefore completely ready for any further movement that her leader may wish to invite. On the other hand, if she is out of balance -- i.e., falling in one direction or another at the end of a step either because of her own actions or those of an incompetent leader -- she can't be invited to do much of anything in that moment except fight for her balance.

Next week, we'll hear from Pat about the follower's experience in being invited to take a step to the side, including her response to the lead, her execution of the movement, and her attempt to balance at its completion. In the meantime, we hope you'll feel free to ask us any questions you may have about this movement, or about lead/follow in general.
 

August 13, 2015

Hello everyone, Pat here. This week, in keeping with our ongoing series of Tango Tips on fundamental movement, I will address el cambio de peso en su lugar (the weight change in place) from the follower’s point of view.

 

First of all, we will assume that the leader and follower are already in the dance position and have formed the embrace. At this point, they should be standing at rest, straight up, frente a frente (in front of each other), shoulders down, elbows down (no elevated platforms here,) no vice-like gripping with the hands, and they should both feel a clear, but gentle connection that runs through their arms and upper bodies.

 

The weight change in place can take place at any point in the dance, but the first time it occurs is right in the beginning. In Tango, the leader can start on either foot, and therefore must begin the dance by putting the follower’s weight on one foot or the other, so that they are in a position to make their first traveling move in unison. When the leader makes the decision as to which foot he wants to begin with, he will move his torso, let’s say, to the follower’s right. She will feel his upper body movement and her weight will shift onto to her right foot. (The leader, of course, will have shifted his weight to his left foot.)

 

This initial weight change in place, or any that occur during the dance, can be fraught with issues. Some of these are the following:

 

1)    The follower may not feel any movement from the leader, who may actually have shifted his weight -- but done so without any discernible or conscious movement of his upper body.

2)    The leader may not be sure that the follower has received his weight shift lead. So instead of walking out into the dance, he may lead another weight change in place. This is what a good leader would do. On the other hand, a new leader, or one who is in a big hurry, might just move forward regardless of being satisfied that his follower has received the weight change, thus creating the possibility of creating a disaster by stepping on her foot.

3)    Another common issue occurs when a follower executes a weight change that was not led.

4)    A leader may take a side step, and then another sidestep without leading his follower to make the necessary weight change in place!! This is a very common mistake for beginner leaders, and many followers will quickly stutter into a side step in order to stay with him. One can understand this effort to help, but followers must try not to make their own weight change without being clearly led to do so.

 

As a follower, your most important job is to move based only on what you feel, not what you are thinking you should do! This should be your mantra: if you don’t feel it, don’t do it. If you’re not sure of a lead, don’t do it. This discipline can take time to develop, and some courage in the beginning – it’s so much easier to just help him out – but if you want to be a good follower and a good tango dancer, it’s well worth the time and effort to focus on waiting for the lead at all times.

 

 

August 6, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, Pat provided critical insight into la pausa -- the pause -- from the follower's point of view. As we've discussed previously, la pausa is a crucial component of social Tango. (See our Tango Tips of the Week in the Firehouse Tango archives from July 23, 2015 and July 30, 2015 for details). Today, we're going to move on to the next basic element of Tango movement -- el cambio de peso en su lugar -- the change of weight in place. I'll talk about this movement from the leader's point of view, and next week Pat will cover it from the follower's vantage point.

 

Let's first define exactly we're talking about here. A few of my Spanish-speaking friends have mentioned to me that they refer to this movement as el cambio del pei en su lugar, meaning the change of foot in place. I think that both expressions suggest the same thing -- a shift from one foot to the other -- without moving through space. If you were standing somewhere, waiting for a bus, a train, a friend to arrive, rather than planting yourself rigidly on both feet like a statue, you'd probably spend your time shifting back and forth from one foot to the other -- without even thinking about it. It's an easy, comfortable thing which most of us do quite naturally.

 

As Tango dancers, we learn to use this change of weight as a conscious way to add rhythmic elements to our general repertoire -- small in-place movements which are sometimes referred to as cadencias. When a leader changes weight from one foot to the other -- I'm going to call it changing from one balance to the other -- two things happen:

 

1.     He feels his weight moving from one side of his body to the other.

2.     His upper body moves laterally.

 

This sideways upper body movement occurs without the leader's having to think about it. (His torso may actually move up to several inches, depending on his height.) The leader's lateral movement is easily felt by the follower, and forms the basis for his lead. In fact, every lead, which we'll be defining throughout this series emanates from the leader's torso. (Argentine teachers often say that the leads come from el pecho -- the chest. I use the term "torso," but we're really talking about the same thing.)

 

Okay, here's what happens. While maintaining the embrace in a gentle way, the leader shifts his weight from, let's say, his left foot to his right. His upper body moves laterally during this process. At no time does the leader supplement this action through the active use of his arms. To end the movement the leader consciously brings himself into quiet, solid balance. The follower feels the leader's movement from her right side to her left, and makes a change of weight herself as a response to his invitation. As a skilled follower, she recognizes that this lateral movement of his torso is the appropriate indication for her to make her move rather than some kind of pushing or pulling from his arms. Once the follower completes her movement, she, too, brings herself consciously into balance, and waits for the next lead. This is the end of the movement.

Parenthetically, this moment of balance, this mutual consciousness of recognizing the end of the movement between leader and follower, is of equal importance to whatever movement the partners are engaged in making together. Through this balance, what I call a "state of stillness or neutrality" is thereby produced in which any subsequent movement becomes possible. However, if either leader or follower is not completely balanced at the end of any given step, the lack of conscious balance tends to force some kind of additional move, one, which might not have been intended. In our previous two Tango Tips, we talked about the importance of la pausa. Let me now suggest that this pause needs to be consciously built into the end of every single step we take in our dance.

 

It is worth noting at this point in our overall discussion of lead/follow that the leader also produces a step to the side through the lateral movement of his torso. However, as we will learn in two weeks, such lateral movement is preceded by an additional indication, which with practice clearly differentiates the sidestep lead from the lead for a weight change in place.

 

Next week, Pat will discuss exactly how the follower perceives this upper body lead for the change of weight in place. Until then, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

 

July 30, 2015

 

 
Hello everyone, Pat here. Last week, Fran talked about the lead for la pausa, or the pause, in which he described what the leader does -- which is in fact … nothing! There is no active lead for la pausa. This week, I will address this lack of lead and of movement from the follower’s point of view.
Many of you may actually wonder what we are talking about, since it is far more common these days to see a couple on the dance floor whirling about and racing around without stopping once, from the beginning to the end of the dance. When people dance this way, they ignore one of the most crucial elements that makes Tango such a unique and alluring dance. To use la pausa in your dance is to acknowledge, between the partners, the fundamental emotion of the dance and the music.
Practically speaking, it may sound as if the follower doesn’t have anything to do, when there’s no lead. In fact, she really does have a most important and difficult job: She doesn’t know what her leader will plan to do next, so she must pay careful attention, be able to recognize when she senses no lead, and execute la pausa(or stop) comfortably as well as in balance. All of this within a split second!
The leader may take his initial step and then pause. The follower must recognize la pausa and wait – in balance – for the next lead. During the dance, the leader may decide to pause following a multi-step sequence of dynamic movement. This will be somewhat more difficult for the follower, since “movement inertia” may have set in.
To be successful in executing la pausa throughout the dance, the follower must be alert and must pay attention to her leader at all times! You cannot assume or think you know what he’s going to do next! If you’re lucky, followers, your leader might slow down in preparation for a pause, or he might stop suddenly from a “full gallop” (in which case it’s not really your fault if you take an unintended step of your own).
Frankly, stopping in la pausa is not as easy as it may sound, and I wish I could say that there’s a special trick for a follower to know when her leader is going to pause – but there isn’t. Every dance is different. Every leader is different. What you must do, therefore, is develop the unique skill of being able to prepare yourself to either continue moving, or to pause at the end of every step.

 
Not easy.

 

 

July 23, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. As we discussed during our last Tip, when we dance social Tango, we play two distinct roles as a couple. The leader invites movement/action of some kind; the follower receives the information offered, and executes what has been asked for. (I talked about this in some detail last week, and you might find it rewarding to consult the Firehouse Tango Tip archive on the Firehouse Tango Web site to bring yourself up to speed before continuing with this week's Tip.)

To start us off, let's quickly identify exactly what a leader can ask a follower to do. We'll name six basic elements here:

1.     La pausa -- The pause

2.     El cambio de peso en su lugar -- The change of weight in place

3.     El paso al lado -- The step to the side

4.     El paso adelante -- The leader's forward step/follower's backward step

5.     El paso atras -- The leader's backward step/follower's forward step

6.     El pivoteo -- The pivot

Being able to lead/follow these six fundamental elements makes it possible for a couple to dance most Tango repertoire -- from simple movements all the way to the most complex combinations. To be sure, there are lots of other things we can do; but understanding how to lead/follow these six elements actually forms the basis for our dance.

In general, most leads emanate from the leader's torso -- rather than from his arms or from some other part of his body. This notion runs counter to the way in which most people tend to think about what is happening in the lead/follow process. When we watch a couple moving together -- if we don't understand what's going on -- most of us quite naturally assume that the leader is somehow directing his follower with his arms, and that the follower is more or less clinging to her leader, and being guided in that way. But as we learn more about what actually happens (or at least what should be happening), we come to realize that this is not at all what is taking place in the social dance interaction.

How does the leader use his torso in order to invite or indicate movement? This is what we're about to explore in depth. Today, I'm going to talk about the lead/follow for the first element on our list: La pausa.

In la pausa, neither partner does anything at all. Tango -- or at least what I'm going to call modern Tango -- is a dance of movement on the one hand, and of stillness on the other. Sometimes we move; sometimes we don't. When we not doing anything, both leader and follower are simply standing still -- usually balanced on one foot/side. (In some dances, we're constantly on the move; in Tango that's not the case.)

With this in mind, our first question is: What does the leader do with his torso in order to invite la pausa? The answer is nothing. If he hasn't started dancing yet, he simply remains still. If he is coming from some other movement, he stops, balances, and gives no indication that he wants his follower to do anything further. The follower receives this information (or lack of it), and responds to this lead by doing nothing. Notice that the leader does not bring his follower to a stop by using his arms in any way. He leaves it up to her to recognize that his lack of any lead is actually an invitation for her to bring herself to rest.

To state the obvious then: The lead/follow mechanism for producing la pausa is to give no lead at all, or, to put it plainly, to do nothing.

Well, that was easy. We start off our illustrious lead/follow career by doing absolutely nothing. Not bad for a day's work.

Seriously speaking, learning how to come to rest from other movements is a difficult skill to master for both leader and follower. It requires a great deal of concentration and trust on both sides. If you have questions about this important element in the lead/follow mechanism, please feel free to ask Pat or me about it at anytime. We'll be very happy to help.

Next week, we'll address the second of our basic elements: el cambio de peso en su lugar -- the change of weight in place.

 

 

July 16, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. In last week's Tip I described how I believe a couple should go about the process of forming el abrazo del tango -- the Tango embrace. Let me stress that this is based on my own perception of how I feel Tango should be danced in the most comfortable and efficient possible way. During the next several weeks, we're going to talk about how to take this static embrace, and actually use it dynamically in order to produce movement. Before continuing, it might be a good idea for you to take another look at what I had to say last week about forming the embrace. Just go to the Firehouse archives, read last week's Tango Tip, and come on back.

Okay, are you ready?

Two things I hope were clearly established last week:

1.     Lead/follow has little or nothing to do with intrusive or brutish physical contact between the partners -- such as leaning on one another.

2.     The arms do not clutch, grab, push, pull, or in any way control one's partner. They simply complete the embrace by creating a gentle connection. (As we will see in describing the lead/follow for each of our fundamental movements, the arms actually play little or no role in basic lead/follow.)

What is lead/follow, and why is it necessary in social dancing? If we were dancing choreographically i.e., if we memorized our parts, and then executed them together -- there would be no need for lead/follow. You'd require a good memory, of course; but once you got the hang of a given sequence, the interaction between partners would go pretty smoothly from the beginning until the end. And the more you repeated the sequence, the easier it would get. If you're thinking, "This is how I learn things in my dance school," you're absolutely right. A very common teaching method within dance schools is that the instructor demonstrates both parts, then puts you together, and within minutes, you're dancing!

Or are you?

Once you leave the class, and try your newly acquired sequence with someone who wasn't in the room with you at the time, you gradually find out that it just doesn't seem to work. You might blame yourself for not learning the material properly. Or maybe you blame your partner for not knowing what to do. But the real problem here is that there was a key ingredient missing in the lesson: Lead/follow.

Lead/follow is a collaborative relationship, which gives two partners the ability to move together as if they were one person. There are two very distinct roles in this relationship. One person, traditionally (but not necessarily) the man, acts as the partner who suggests or invites movement of some kind through what we will discover is very specific physical communication. The other person, traditionally (but not necessarily) the woman, is the partner who receives and processes this invitation, then executes the suggested movement from beginning to end -- and, finally, waits for a new invitation before doing anything else.

In stage, in performance, or in competitive dancing, lead/follow isn't necessary, because both partners have memorized and repeatedly practiced their individual parts in advance. But in the social dance situation -- where improvisation rather than choreography is called for -- lead/follow is not only necessary, it is absolutely crucial.

Teaching and learning lead/follow is a difficult, and often frustrating process. It demands lots of individual one-on-one attention -- rather than simple demonstration (as is possible with steps and sequences) -- and it can take months, even years, before it begins to work appropriately for the student. This may be why the subject is so routinely neglected in the group-learning context. If and when students are forced to confront the fact that learning to dance socially is much more complex than simply accumulating steps and sequences, they may quite naturally choose to question what they've let themselves in for in attempting to acquire the ability to dance socially with real skill. So this problem tends to be conveniently swept under the carpet -- maybe for the time being, maybe forever.

Sooner or later, however, if you want to be any good at social dancing, you have to bite the bullet, and take the plunge into the world of lead/follow. At first, developing this skill set will feel quite alien and difficult. But as you persevere, I guarantee that it will get easier, and you'll grow to love it over time.

Shall we begin? Come back next week, and learn how to lead/follow you first movement: El cambio de peso en su lugar --The weight change in place.

 

July 9, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, I introduced the subject of el abrazo del tango, the Tango embrace. If you read that Tip, you're now well aware that one of the things I strongly recommend against in the embrace is leaning on one another. I addressed this issue, because over the past several years leaning has become more and more prevalent among certain well intentioned, but (I believe) ill-informed Tango dancers. I used to think -- I used to hope -- that this was just another passing fad; but I now see that it has taken root, and is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

The point I tried to make last week was that leaning on one another severely limits the lead/follow possibilities within the traditional social dance -- to the extent that only the most rudimentary range of Tango vocabulary is possible. One might argue here that an entirely new tradition has gradually emerged (what some call tango nuevo or neo-Tango), for which leaning on one another is actually a primary component (I'm referring to elements such as volcada and its attendant variations). However, I think it is important to recognize that in this radical reconstruction of the dance, based to a large extent on the leaning embrace, an entire syllabus of invaluable repertoire -- at least in this country -- is gradually becoming almost completely lost.

Some people might think this is a good thing. I don't, and so far the overwhelming majority of indigenous social dancers in Argentina don't either.

All right, let's say you're willing to consider the possibility of not leaning on each other. How do you form the embrace, and what specifically do you do with it? To be sure, the idea of any publicly displayed physical connection between two people has obvious social and emotional implications. Traditionally, embracing while dancing provides the opportunity to enjoy the touch of another person in a public setting without fear of censure. For our purposes, however, we're going to concentrate on the purely functional role of the embrace, which is to serve as a means of communicating essential information between two partners during the dance.

The embrace itself in all of "Western" social dancing (including Tango) presents us with immediate difficulties as a means of communication between dance partners. To begin with, it is asymmetrical -- meaning that it is different on each side. The leader's right arm is behind the follower's back, while his left arm is raised, and is holding his partner's hand. In an ideal world, we would probably find it more comfortable -- and certainly more efficient -- if we were to use some kind of symmetrical embrace (both sides the same). However, our commonly accepted embrace is rooted in social traditions, which have gone unchallenged for the past four hundred years, and are unlikely to change anytime soon.

So we start right off the bat with something of a handicap, and move on from there.

Note about my description below: In Argentina, the leader is almost invariably a male, while the follower is generally a female. For this reason, I will use those specific role definitions.

1.     The two partners begin by facing one another front to front (not offset), their feet together and about three inches away from those of their partner.

2.     The leader extends his right arm under the follower's left arm and behind her back. He places his right hand gently at about the center of her back with his right elbow down -- rather than extended to the side. (Another way of saying this is that he does not create a "platform" with his right arm -- as he might do in contemporary ballroom dance practice.)

3.     At this point, the follower places her left arm on her leader's shoulder with her forearm gently touching (not resting heavily on) his right upper arm. Alternatively, she may elect to place her hand on the lower part of his right deltoid, around his back, or even up around his neck. Any one of these choices may be made for her personal comfort or as a matter of "style." Whichever the follower chooses, she should try to be certain that she does not compromise her upright balance. As I write this, there is a highly affected way of placing the left arm going around in which some women are reaching around the leader's neck, draping themselves on his chest, and extending their lower arm almost straight down his back. Aside from being quite uncomfortable for the leader -- and, at least in my opinion, completely unsightly -- such followers are compromising their balance to the extent that they need to be carried around the dance floor rather than led. I strongly recommend against this way of a follower using her left arm.

4.     The leader now extends his left arm forward by way of inviting the follower to take his hand. She places her hand in his palm at a right angle and closes her hand gently around his. The leader now raises his left hand approximately to the level of his nose with his left elbow out to the left side. As he does this, both partners keep their elbows pointing toward the floor -- rather than idiosyncratically cocked up as we sometimes see in competitive ballroom technique. Both partners maintain their own individual arm position here -- without in any way leaning on or holding up the other partner's arm. Because the lead will be given through the leader's upper torso -- as we will learn next week -- there is no pressure between the leader's left hand and the follower's right. I recommend maintaining a condition of "neutrality" between these arms -- in which there is a connection without pressure -- at least for the time being. (I am aware that in some iterations of ballroom dance technique there may actually be significant pressure between these hands -- as well as between the leader's right hand and the left side of the follower's back. However, these conditions do not apply in Tango.)

5.     Once the leader and follower have formed their basic connection as described above, the leader generally situates his head so that he can look forward and slightly past the follower's right shoulder in order to navigate the couple's way around the dance floor without risking collisions with other dancers. The follower may choose to look straight forward (usually at her leader's chest), or she may opt for gazing romantically into his eyes (almost always quite uncomfortable, by the way, since she'll have to tilt her head up in order to do so). She may also elect to look to her right in the direction of her right hand. These are personal choices, and entirely up to the follower's discretion -- as long as they don't interfere with her ability to consistently maintain her balance.

Because of the asymmetry of the embrace (leader's right arm around the follower's back, left arm holding hands), the right side of the dance connection (from the leader's perspective) tends to be slightly closer than the left side. In fact, teachers often call the right side the closed side, and the left side the open side. It is perfectly natural, therefore, for the couple to form a slight "v-shape" in creating the embrace.

I remember some years ago that there was a heated discussion on one of the popular Tango forums, condemning the evils of the v-shape, while espousing a completely squared-off shoulder-to-shoulder juxtaposition. "This is the way it's done among the knowledgeable milongueros from the 'Golden Age,'" it was assured. The resulting practice one saw on the dance floor for quite a while thereafter was leaders thrusting their left shoulders uncomfortably forward while pulling their right shoulders awkwardly back as they danced in order to adhere to these inaccurate and misguided proclamations. To be generous to people who vilified the infamous v-shape at the time, I would speculate that their purpose might have been to offer a remedy for a leader pulling his follower tightly into his right side while leaving the left side wide open in what was almost a right angle. In fact, this practice was at one time very commonplace in Argentina among certain rough-and-tumble dancers. Eventually, it gave way to a more front-to-front configuration between the partners, but it never became a rigidly prescribed parallel interrelationship between the couples' shoulders.

Have I managed to cover the ABCs of the embrace? As you can see, there's a lot to talk about. If you feel that something is missing or unclear, ask Pat or me about it, and we'll do our best to help. In the meantime, bear in mind that so far, I have described el abrazo del tango as a static positioning of the bodies, arms, and physical juxtaposition of leader and follower. What is most important in the long run is how the two partners actually use this unique embrace in order to create complex, interactive movement. We'll begin this discussion next week.

 

July 2, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Before we attempt to move as one with another person in the context of social partner dancing, the first thing we need to do is to form the embrace. It would be easy to say that there is only one way to do this. That would certainly make our lives easier. Unfortunately, this just isn't the case. Not only is there no single way to form the embrace, but the fact is that there might be almost as many versions of this crucial connection as there are dancers.

For example: If any readers out there are involved with dances other than Tango, you know that the embrace for any given type of dance is almost always quite specific to the needs of that individual discipline. The way one might engage one's partner in salsa or swing dancing, to mention two common social dance forms, is completely different from what one would choose for various kinds of ballroom dance.

If we now focus exclusively on Tango, we come immediately to a significant disparity in the way different people conceptualize the fundamental Tango connection. If you grew up in Buenos Aires during what is sometimes referred to as the "golden age of Tango," for example, and learned to dance by spending a lot of time in the milongas, your basic embrace would almost certainly reflect what people around you were doing at that time. On the other hand, if your primary exposure to Tango has come from attending classes in a dance school during the last five to ten years -- let's say, here in the U.S.A. or maybe in Europe -- the way you form your embrace in order to dance socially is without doubt the result of your teacher's preferred pedagogical approach.

One of the important differences between the way most people in Argentina used to dance (and do to this day, if they're still active on the dance scene), and the way relative newcomers tend to dance can be easily differentiated by the amount of interdependent physical contact they utilize in their embrace. To put it simply: If we ask the question, "Do you lean on your partner, when you dance?," the majority of older, experienced dancers in Argentina don't. The majority of younger, school-influenced dancers do.

Without getting into which of these two widely conflicting preconceptions about forming the Tango embrace might be considered more "authentic," my own rationale for choosing one over the other has to do with comfort and flexibility. In my opinion, two people leaning on one another limits the leader's available comfort level and potential repertoire so severely that I would never recommend this way of forming the embrace. However, I am well aware that leaning has become deeply established among certain people today -- essential to the way they conceptualize and dance Tango.

All that said, next week I will describe in as much detail as I can the formation of the Tango embrace from the non-leaner's point of view.

 

June 25, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Today, I want to begin talking about the single most important thing you absolutely must know in order to dance social Tango with any degree of proficiency. We'll just be able to scratch the surface with this Tango Tip today, but we're going to continue the discussion for the next several weeks.

I'll start by identifying what (I think) is the really crucial skill set you need in order to dance social Tango. I sometimes refer to it as the "lead/follow mechanism," or just "lead/follow." Do you know what this means? Are you an expert in lead/follow? If not, your Tango is probably uncomfortable at minimum. And more likely almost not danceable.

Without understanding and becoming very adept at lead/follow -- a highly complex matrix of complementary skills -- social Tango simply doesn't work. And yet it's hardly ever addressed in any kind of meaningful way in Tango classes. I'm not certain why this is the case, but for some reason, most teachers seem to just ignore lead/follow -- as if students will somehow "pick it up" along the way. They won't; they don't; their Tango never goes anywhere; and it's time to talk about it.

When two people dance together, what they're attempting to do is move "synchronously;" i.e., as if they were one person. There's an easy way to do this, and a hard way. The easy way is to move together choreographically. The hard way is to use lead/follow.

First, we'll talk about choreography. With this method, each person memorizes his/her part, and then they do it together. Using this way of teaching/learning, even relative beginners can look as if they've suddenly become seasoned dancers within a very short time. Does this sound familiar? Maybe that's because you've taken a few dance classes in a school. The teacher demonstrates the leader's part; then the follower's part; then puts you together, and you try it with each other. Because both partners have more or less memorized what they're supposed to do, the figure hangs together pretty well. You leave the class, feeling that you really accomplished something. Boy, that was fun! I can't wait for the next class.

What I'm describing here is the way virtually all dance schools today operate. "It's so easy," they say. "The man does his part; the woman does her part; mission accomplished." Then, you try the figure with someone who wasn't in the class. "Gee," you exclaim, perplexed. "It didn't work. I must have missed something the teacher said." Well, if you want to know the truth, it was probably the teacher who missed something. He/she neglected to mention how to lead and follow the sequence. Among other things, this would mean that the class would have taken four or five hours instead of one. Most of the students would have become frustrated or bored, maybe even walked out! And just possibly the teacher really had no idea how to communicate lead/follow anyway. Better to stick with choreography. Men on this side; women on that side; here we go.

The business of a dance school, you will not be shocked to learn, is to keep people coming back for more. Make them feel good, and they'll see you again next week. Overburden them with hard stuff --like actually teaching them to dance -- and they'll just go somewhere else. I wish this weren't the case, but it's true. The majority of students want it to be easy, and they want it now. Unfortunately, this means that the only effective way to keep a dance school business viable is by teaching choreographically. The cash register keeps ringing. Everybody's happy. (Except, of course, that not very many students really learn how to dance.)

Okay, let's talk now about the hard way for a couple to move together synchronously -- in other words, to engage in social dancing as it is practiced by accomplished dancers in places like Argentina. This way of interacting with one another demands that both partners learn lead/follow. This is a precise, relatively difficult-to-learn system of complementary skills, which eventually enable two people to function as if they were one person. If you're a good leader, but she can't follow, it won't work. If you're a good follower, but he doesn't know how to lead, it won't work either.

Lead/follow begins with the embrace, moves on to the individual skills each partner brings to bear in creating movement together, and continues with appropriate responses to music and to the contingencies of the dance floor environment. Next week, we'll discuss el abrazo del tango, the Tango embrace. And we'll go on step by step from there.

I hope you can't wait to come back for more.

June 18, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. If you read last week's Tip, you know that we talked about what I referred to as the "functional" aspects of a basic Tango step. (If you haven't read it, now's a good time to take a look at that Tip in our archives before reading this week's offering.)

Our discussion last week took us as far as the end of a single step. That's where we stressed the crucial importance of balance by both partners to complete the movement. But what happens next? When people dance, they usually don't always pause at the end of each step before moving on to the next. More often, they just keep going, step after step, figure after figure, until the dance is over.

This continuous motion -- maybe we should call it perpetual motion -- isn't the best social Tango practice, but it's what people generally do. What we see on the dance floor all too often is people (who, unfortunately, think they know how to dance), lurching through space, completely oblivious to the fact that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end to their steps, and finding zero balance from one movement to the next.

By way of offering a contrast to this situation, let's focus on the crucially important moment when a leader makes a transition from one step to another. This is, I think, where the big problem lies. In an ideal world, a skilled leader invites the follower to take a single step, then allows her to execute this movement, and finally to bring herself into balance as she completes the step. I call this moment "neutral." This is the precise point in time, when the follower has achieved upright balance -- and is therefore available to be invited by the leader to embark upon any additional movement in the dance. If the follower is not completely in balance for any reason -- the most obvious perhaps being that she is still in motion from the previous step -- she is not in neutral, and is therefore compromised in her ability to receive and act on the next invitation to move.

In many basic-level Tango classes, the teacher will at some point stress the fact that the followers job is to bring herself completely to rest between steps. The reason behind this is that she doesn't know what the leader is going to ask for next, and it's important for her to avoid "back leading" or what we sometimes call "anticipation." For the leader, on the other hand, things are somewhat less definite. If the leader has it in mind to continue by inviting further movement of some kind, he is perfectly at liberty to do so. The follower will now be called upon to stop focusing on bringing herself into balance, and to execute whatever it is the leader is now asking her to do.

And right here is where the dance often falls apart.

One of the crucial challenges for a leader in Tango is to find the exact moment when his follower has come to the end of a step (and is therefore in the "neutral" position) before inviting her next movement. If he invites her to continue too soon -- let's say, while she's still in motion or hasn't yet been able to bring herself into balance -- she will simply be out of control and unable to dance properly. When this happens once in a while during a dance, it's no problem. But when it virtually defines an entire dance, it becomes a major problem.

How can a leader make certain his follower is balanced and ready before inviting her next step? One way is to focus his concentration on her rather than on the components of a memorized figure he may want to try. Another way is to stop letting the music dictate the speed at which he invites movement. I know this will sound like heresy to some, but in my opinion the follower's comfort level during any given dance is far more important than rigidly adhering to the beat of the song. Finally, if the leader starts paying attention to his own balance between steps, he is far more likely to enable his follower to balance as well.

Next week, I'm going to discuss the basic elements of lead and follow as I perceive them. In the meantime, try finding the ends of steps before inviting subsequent movements. This is not an option. It's the way we dance social Tango.

June 4, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Anybody who has studied Tango for more than, let's say, an hour knows that it's a very difficult dance to learn. There are lots of reasons for this, but today I'd like to concentrate on just one element: The walk.

One of the first things I heard from my teachers, when I started to learn Tango was "Tango is a way to walk." I remember Eduardo Arquimbao saying it; I remember Nito Garcia saying it; I remember Mingo and Esther Pugliesi saying it; I remember Carlos Gavito saying it:

"Tango is a way to walk."

For a long time, I have to confess, I really didn't understand what everyone was talking about, when they kept saying this to me and to the other students around me. Gradually, however, it began to sink in. The fundamental basis for Tango is the ability to move through space in a very, very special way, first by yourself, and then -- eventually -- with a partner. I'm not talking about a bunch of flashy, memorized figures here. I literally mean fundamental point-A-to-point-B, single-step movement. The primary difficulty in learning Tango is right here -- right in the very beginning -- learning how to walk.

This week, in my Monday Tango technique class, I was working with a group of students on the walk. These students aren't beginners; all of them have been dancing Tango for several years; all are serious about learning; all have made a positive commitment to do what it takes to overcome the difficulties of dancing Tango at a high level of competence. In this class, we explored some (not all) of the elements, which comprise the Tango walk. We broke things down into two distinct areas:

1.     Movement by oneself

2.     Movement with a partner

Today, let's talk about moving by yourself as a leader. (In a future Tango Tip very soon, Pat will address the same subject from the follower's perspective.) My hope is that this brief discussion will provide you with some insight into why Tango is inherently so difficult, and maybe what you can do in your studies to deal progressively and effectively with this fact. (Next week, we'll talk about the lead/follow mechanism for leaders in order to complete the picture.)

Okay, here we go. Right now, we're going to talk about what I'm going to call the structure of your movement. Let's say, you're about to take a step forward. Wait one second, please. Is your posture appropriate? Chest up? Back of the neck stretched? Chin slightly down? Shoulders out and down? Feet together in that special way we create in modern Tango (heels together, toes slightly turned out, free foot slightly back of standing foot)? Don't know what I'm talking about? You need to get yourself a teacher!

If all those elements I just mentioned are checked off, you're ready to take that forward step. Now, bend the knee of your free leg and extend it slightly forward. Don't do anything else yet -- just project the knee in a forward direction. Why, you ask?

Just do it, please.

Next, flex the knee of your standing (weight-bearing) leg slightly, begin to extend the lower half of your free leg forward, and simultaneously project your torso forward. All this is part of initiating your movement. Think of the travel line of your leg as a continuous line straight ahead -- and directly between your two feet. As you move from one step to another, you're going to be traveling along this line like a tightrope walker. While you're at it, keep your heel on the inside of the "tightrope" as you move, and your toes on the outside. Oh yes, and don't pick your toes up off the floor. Think about sliding them gently along the floor as you go. Is all this too much information for you? Of course, it is. And we haven't even taken the first step yet.

Let's keep going. Gently, project yourself through space, toe pointed out and along the floor, walking the tightrope, straightening the traveling leg momentarily as you come to the part where your free leg finds its place, and allow the knee of your forward leg to flex slightly as your weight changes from your back leg to your front. Make sure to make this weight change very gently so that you don't "bruise" the floor (no kidding). If you've gotten through to this point, you've successfully negotiated part one of the traveling phase of your step.

With your weight now comfortably on your forward leg, you're now going to complete the travel phase of your step by bringing your feet together, back to front. As your trailing foot comes forward, begin to straighten this leg, keeping you toe pointed out, and bringing the heel down toward the floor. When you finally get your feet together, make certain you've recreated that very special feet-together look we discussed earlier, heel of the now free leg as close to the floor as possible, free leg absolutely straight.

By doing all of this you should now be completely balanced and ready for your next movement. You've managed to combine functionality and structural technique in order to create a step.

My Monday students and I actually discussed more than I've mentioned during this Tango Tip. But enough is enough, right? My point has been to show you just how complex a process it is to fulfill the first axiom of our dance:

Tango is a way to walk.

If all this seems overwhelming, it did to me, too -- and to everybody who tries to learn Tango. Learning to walk is a very slow, deliberate process, which takes most of us many years to become proficient at. If you find the right teacher, and start now -- and if you're willing to put in the time and effort -- you will eventually learn how to walk appropriately, thereby becoming a more skilled Tango dancer. If, however,  you choose instead to focus your energies on the accumulation of figures, I can pretty much guarantee that you'll just end up going nowhere fast.

Next week: Functional walking and lead/follow.

 

May 28, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. In the early 1980's, Cyndi Lauper had a major pop hit called "Girls just want to have fun." The overall sentiment behind this song was something like, let's cut through all the baloney that gets in the way of having a good time, and just go for the fun part right now.

Nice idea.

And then we decide we want to learn Tango. Wouldn't it be great (I'm sure Cyndi would agree), if we could just slip and slide our way past the boring stuff -- you know, spending all that endless time learning how to move our body like a Tango dancer, devoting hours and hours trying to figure out how to hold our body in just the right way, or about meticulously detailed foot placement, or dynamic walking, or being able to stop on a dime without losing our balance. And then there's all that nonsense about lead/follow -- it feels like it'll take years to just learn how to move comfortably with a partner ... come on! This junk takes much too much time to get.

Couldn't we just cut to the chase? I mean, we just want to have fun, right?

"Well, of course you can, " said the wolf. "Just keep feeding that cash into my pocket, and I'll be more than happy to show you everything your heart desires. You'll be a star in three weeks."

Students are constantly asking me, "Why does it take so long to learn how to dance Tango?" If I'm being (brutally) honest, I tell them: "Because what I think you really want is to know how to dance Tango, not to learn how to dance Tango. In other words, the majority of "students" simply refuse to put in the hard work it takes right in the beginning and throughout the first couple of difficult years in order to build a foundation of actually being able to move effectively with a partner.

And then you say (for the billionth time): "Just show me the steps. I'll figure out that other stuff later." Of course, later never comes, and as time sneaks by you keep sinking deeper into the hole.

Does this sound maybe a little bit like you? Whenever I ask the great Tango dancers how they started, the reply is always something like "I did nothing but walk for the first three years."

"Really? And then what?"

"I walked some more."

Oh boy.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and offer you a thought. (It's possible that what I'm about to say has already begun to occur to you after years of attempting to pick up Tango without building a solid foundation of fundamentals.) Here's what I think: It ain't gonna work, bubba (Are there any women named "Bubba?"). No way, no how, no babka 'til after you eat your spinach.

Sorry about that, Cyndi.

With all that said, there may come a time in your life -- maybe far in the distant future, maybe sooner than that -- when you decide you're finally ready to take that unpleasant plunge and do what it takes to actually learn how to dance Tango -- when you're reluctantly willing to bite the bullet and open yourself up to all that tedious drudgery you've been avoiding until now. If and when that time ever comes, I humbly suggest that you start the ball rolling by doing two things:

1.     Get a good teacher (one who will not under any circumstances be tempted by your constant begging and pleading to focus on steps).

2.     Start walking.

 

May 21, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. I'd like to devote this week's Tip to amplifying a theme I introduced last week. As some of you know, Pat and I just spent ten days in England, visiting relatives. No sight-seeing to speak of, lots of socializing, never-ending gluttonous intake of food .... After this week, I'm never going to eat again!

Yeah, right.

And yes, we had a wonderful time -- even without Tango.

Well, that's not quite true. During our visit, we met some people we didn't know (let's call them Freddy and Millicent), and eventually found ourselves involved in a conversion with them about Argentine Tango. It went something like this:

Millicent: "So, you two teach Tango?"

Pat: "Yes, we do."

Freddy: "Do you compete?"

Fran (testily): "No, no, no. We're social dancers."

Millicent: "Right. We're very keen on Tango on this side of the pond. We see it on the telly every week."

Fran: "Oh, really. They have programs about Argentine Tango?"

Freddy: "Yes, of course. We've got a programme here called 'Dancing (that's Dahhhhncing) with the Stars.'"

Pat: "Oh, I see. Actually, we have the same program in the USA."

Fran (starting to dig a hole): "Technically, I wouldn't call what they do on that show Argentine Tango. That's more a series of memorized performance routines rather than social dancing."

The heat begins to rise.

Freddy: "What? I don't know what you mean. We dance socially!"

Pat: "What I think Fran means is ... "

Millicent: "Right now, we're taking Salsa lessons, and our teacher gives us a new figure every week -- sometimes two! It's only been four weeks, and we already know ten steps."

Fran (accusingly): "You think learning steps means learning how to dance?

Millicent: "We're about to graduate from Bronze to Silver."

Fran (sarcastically): "After only four weeks?"

Freddy: "Yes mate, four bloody weeks! That's the way we learn social dancing (dahhhhncing) over here, yank. Are you saying our teacher is giving us wrong information?"

Pat tries to save the situation: "What I think Fran is trying to say is that we just take a slightly different approach, that's all."

Fran's big mouth is wide open, ready to get him in deeper. Pat pulls on his sleeve, kicks him under the table, and smiles affably.

Pat: "We love fish and chips. It's very hard to find in America."

Fran finally gets the idea, and decides to save his proselytizing (which, of course, has been falling on very deaf ears) for another day. Pat breathes a welcome sigh of relief. We discuss fish and chips.

Oh, well.

Now that we're back, however, and I have you Firehouse Tango connoisseurs for an audience again, I'm reignited, and ready to pick up right where we left off two weeks ago. I'll bet you can't wait. Anyway, here we go!

Since as far back as the 1950's -- probably even before that with the popularity of folks like Vernon and Irene Castle -- dance teachers have been enticing students into the world of social dancing by showing them steps. This is without doubt the most common and efficient way to get people up on the dance floor. Show them something they can do now, and they'll feel they're getting somewhere right away. Hopefully, that will be enough to keep them coming back for more. If instead you try to teach them how to actually dance right from the get-go (meaning the very complex skill of lead/follow), your chances of success are next to nil.

The down side of this almost universal teaching methodology is that leaders end up thinking of dancing as a process of regurgitating memorized figures, and followers don't know what to think. If leaders forget the material from one lesson to the next (and they almost always do), they simply become paralyzed to do anything at all. What is the teacher's response? "Let's review what we did last week." Somewhere along the line the idea of teaching lead/follow gets completely lost ("Weren't we supposed to learn that stuff as beginners?"). And the eternal cycle of not learning anything goes on.

As teachers, we have to stop thinking about dance as choreography, and start recognizing that everything is based on lead/follow development. If we do that, our students will have no choice but to stop chasing dance steps, and start really learning how to dance. As students, we have to stop trying to learn Tango from YouTube and company, and find teachers who will give us what we really need -- which is to learn how to move together comfortably, and, eventually, in time with the music.

Once we've got that down, steps are easy.

May 14, 2015

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. During last week's Tango Tip, I

remarked that (in my opinion, at least) social Tango depends on moment-to-moment lead/follow

skill, while stage Tango depends on a high degree of athleticism, intensive attention to specific

techniques, and an excellent memory.

Another way to put this might be that as dancers we can think about Tango on the one hand as a

general, improvised way in which two people respond and move to Tango music, or on the other

hand as a menu of figures, which a leader employs to create a dance between himself and his

follower. These two contrasting ideas may seem to be pretty much the same at first, but if we

examine them a bit more deeply, we will find, I think, that they really aren't.

In my experience, the very first question every student asks in approaching Tango is "What are

the steps?" Or maybe "What do I do?" Our immediate inclination -- whether we're leaders or

followers -- is to conceive of Tango as a series of individual memorized figures, which we learn

one at a time, and then put together in some kind of continuous sequence in order to create our

dance. With this very strong predisposition firmly in mind, a common lament students have as

they go from one lesson to another is "I forgot everything" -- which, of course, means "I don't

remember the steps."

One of the most difficult tasks I have as a teacher is to convince my students that, in fact, this is

not the appropriate way to think about social Tango. Quite to the contrary, social Tango is a way

of moving together to music, which, when mastered, enables us to improvise our own individual

steps and sequences as we go along -- rather than trying to reproduce figures, which we've

memorized and are now attempting to replicate on the spot.

The crucial skill, which we need to assimilate in order to improvise our Tango, therefore, is the

lead/follow mechanism. Memory has nothing to do with the process. Thus, when we "get up and

dance," the notion of not remembering a fixed repertoire of figures is irrelevant. As my

Argentine teachers kept saying to me from Day One is: "There are no steps in Tango."

It's certainly true, of course, that as we advance in proficiency we begin to accumulate lots of

figures and sequences from various sources; but the lead/follow mechanism is what holds

everything together.

Do you know what lead/follow is? If you've been in my 7:00 p.m. class at the Firehouse, you do.

If you've been in my12:00 p.m. class at the Argentine Consulate, you do. If you've ever taken a

private lesson with me, you do. The lead/follow mechanism is, in my estimation, the key to

social Tango. This skill set opens the door to everything you could possibly want to do in Tango.

With it, you're ready for anything.

Without it, your Tango is just a wrestling match.

 

 

May 7, 2015

 

 

Tango Tip of the Week

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Recently, I witnessed something, which I had never actually seen before (but had heard about, and had found difficult to believe) in the Tango world.

 

I was sharing a teaching space with a very well known performance couple (whose names I will tactfully omit). They had been engaged by a student whom I've seen around the Tango community for some years, and were demonstrating/teaching some extremely complex stage material. As I watched the lesson unfold, the student kept referring to his iPhone. The couple would work with him on a figure; then they would all hover over the iPhone; then they would work on something else. Occasionally, I noticed the male performer demonstrating something ridiculously difficult, and the student would shake his head as if to say, "Let's not bother with that." Then, they'd go on to something else.

 

What was going on here? Eventually, it became apparent to me that the student had a video of the couple, performing a stage Tango, and had booked them to teach him the individual elements of the choreography.

 

With each figure, the male performer would demonstrate with his female partner; then the student would work on it with her until it began to come together (in a decidedly amateurish way). When the student seemed satisfied that he had learned the figure (which, of course, he had NOT!), they would move on to the next piece of choreography. At the end of the hour, hugs and kisses all around, the student was blissfully elated by what he had "learned" (which was -- at least in my opinion -- zero), and the performance couple had pocketed their fee (which I later found out was $150).

 

I suppose one could shrug one's shoulders, and say, "to each his own," or something cynical like that. But come on, folks. Is this what learning how to dance Tango has come to? Forget the learning process; just grab the material; and call yourself a dancer? I picture this student, inflicting himself on every follower he meets, displaying his new found "expertise," and bragging that he has the imprimatur of the great master to his credit.

 

But, let's face it: his dancing was terrible before that lesson, and his dancing will continue to be terrible forever -- unless he sometime somewhere somehow bites the big bullet and finally does what he has to do to learn how to dance.

 

There is no shortcut to learning Tango. Ask any professional how long it took them to reach even a modest level of competence. Most will say that it's taken them many, many years to get where they are, and that, in fact, they need to practice for hours every day just to maintain their art in minimally acceptable shape.

 

If we make the supposition that a piece of stage choreography represents the pinnacle of artistic achievement, how can a student hope to simply pull the figures from YouTube, or pick up anything at all in a one-hour lesson with the maestro?

 

And -- deep breath -- what has any of this got to do with social Tango anyway?

Social Tango depends on moment-to-moment lead/follow skill. Stage Tango depends on a superlative degree of assimilated athleticism, years of work on specific techniques, and a great memory. The two iterations of Tango are worlds apart.

 

Some people allege that stage Tango is an expansion of the social dance, implying the stage Tango simply incorporates elements of the social dance in a more flamboyant way in order to entertain an audience. This is very often not true. Stage Tango has its own language of figures which cannot be led or followed, but must be memorized, and then executed as if they are improvised.

 

One example: Try to execute an extended planeo, which incorporates two or even three complete molinetes as a lead/follow mechanism. It simply can't be done, not by you, not by me, not by anyone. And yet we see it in choreographed Tango all the time.

 

All this leads me to two questions:

 

1.     Why do performers (who really should know better) continue to offer such material to social dance students?

 

2.     Why do social dance students insist on trying to learn them?

 

I would suggest that the answers are, respectively: money and narcissism.

 

What do you think?

 

 

April 30, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Do you know that I teach Tango at the Argentine Consulate in New York? I mentioned that fact in passing to a one of my classes the other day, and a lot of the people in the room said "I didn't know that!"

Hmm.

Maybe you don't know about it either. Here's the deal. Every Wednesday from12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m. I teach a 2-hour class at the Consulate. I've been doing it for fourteen years. No kidding.

And the thing is ... it's absolutely FREE!

Yes, that's right, Tango classes for free. Okay, I know, the 12:00 p.m. time may be a bit difficult for your schedule, if you happen to work for a living. You'll have to switch to the night shift, take the day off, or maybe quit your job entirely. (Isn't that a pleasant thought -- except for that pesky rent/grocery issue?) And, of course, you have to either live in -- or take the scary plunge of actually traveling to -- New York City. No, there's no parking unless you want to fork over fifty bucks or more -- so you'll have to go public, but you'll live.

And when you arrive, Tango shoes in hand, there we are, Pat and I, every Wednesday, ready to hand over those priceless Tango treasures you'd otherwise have to spend tons of hard-earned cash to accumulate ... two unforgettable hours of pure Tango bliss, and all for the low, low price of ... nothing!

Could anything be better than that?

If you'd like to join us, all you have to do is show up. The address of the Consulate is 12 West 56th Street right in the heart of the Big Apple, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues (closer to Fifth). Tell the nice lady at the front desk that you're there for Tango, and she'll direct you to the right place.

We usually get somewhere between 40 and 60 people. (You'll be shocked to learn that there are almost always more women than men.) Everybody is really friendly, we all work very hard, and people seem to have a great time.

So now you know. Please feel F-R-E-E to come to the Consulate anytime. The price is right; you'll meet lots of new people; maybe grab a little lunch afterward; check out a museum or an art gallery -- the possibilities are endless!

If you need more info, check out our Web site, franchesleigh.com, or send us an email at franchesleigh@mac.com. We look forward to seeing you soon at the Argentine Consulate.

 

April 23, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. What do you think about as you're walking out onto the floor to dance with someone? What's front and center in your thoughts?

If you're a beginner, you might be thinking something like "I hope I don't make a complete idiot of myself," or "Please don't let me make a mistake." On the other hand, if you're a highly skilled veteran, and you're about to dance with a partner who you know is also skilled, you probably don't think about anything at all. Instead, you simply take things as they come, allowing yourself to enjoy the dance and your partner's company from moment to moment as it unfolds.

Somewhere between the confusion (and sometimes absolute paralysis) of being a beginner and the fluid, apparently effortless mastery of finally knowing what you're doing (do we ever really get there?) is that mandatory joy ride of suffering we call "the learning process."

There is so much "stuff" you have to assimilate in order to dance Tango at even a rudimentary level that it's no wonder so many people quit before they give it a fighting chance to succeed.  And maybe the biggest problem is that most of the really hard things jump out at you right away -- I mean, from the very first moment you hit the floor. You have to stand up straight; maintain your balance; keep your feet together at rest; don't lurch, when you walk; lead/follow your partner who right now hasn't got a clue what he/she is doing; try to remember a bunch of brand new I-never-did-this-before movements from one second to the next.... Did I say, keep your balance? It goes on and on. And don't forget to breathe, right?

Just have fun with it, the teacher says.

So here you are, smack in the middle of your process. You're not going to give up no matter what; you'll get this thing, if it kills you (good attitude!); and you venture out onto the floor with a partner ... what are you thinking about?

If your answer is, "I don't know," I have a feeling that you're going to stay a beginner for a long time.

Instead of just remaining a blank canvas (Ommmmmm), let me itemize a few goodies you can consciously and deliberately bring with you as a leader/follower every time you walk out onto the dance floor. These elements are part of what I describe to my students as your "Tango Tool Box."

Item number one: Make an ongoing commitment to maintaining appropriate posture.

If you don't stand up straight, you look amateurish, and -- more important -- your balance is going to be severely compromised.

Item number two: Solemnly swear to always keep your balance.

With any kind of athletic movement -- and Tango can get very athletic -- balance at rest as well as during and at the end of motion is crucial to the ongoing integrity of the dance.

Item number three: Sign a binding contract to keep your feet together.

By feet, I'm really talking about your entire legs -- from thighs down through heels. This can be a significant challenge, especially if, like me, you're a little bowlegged. But there's plenty you can do to make it happen after any given step.

These three items above are things you can think about and practice by yourself. Get them firmly in your mind, and work on them consciously all the time. As for tools that will help you work effectively with a partner, these are perhaps the most essential:

Item number four: Make it a priority to learn how to lead/follow.

Leading is not physically dominating or brutalizing a follower. Following is not hanging on for dear life, and praying for the end of a dance. However, for most of us, lead/follow is not at all instinctive. You can learn the very specific mechanisms of lead/follow by finding someone who knows how to teach them -- and working on this crucial skill until it's in your system.

Item number five: Treat your partner with respect, patience, and a sense of humor.

Tango is hard to learn, and hard to dance. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has issues. There are people in our community who seem to use Tango as an occasion to beat each other up. (What in the hell is with that, anyway?) Do not ever be one of those people. Period.

There's lots more in my "Tango Tool Box" for later, but these are what I would consider essential in getting started. If you find that it's impossible to think about all these things at once, try them one at a time in successive dances.

Posture, balance, feet together, lead/follow, respect, patience, a sense of humor.

These are your key words. Burn them into your memory, learn what they mean, and don't walk out onto the dance floor without bringing them with you. Eventually, you'll be able to incorporate each of these "Tango Tool Box" essentials into your muscle memory, and you won't have to think about them anymore.

One last note: Beginners often ask, "How long will it be before I can dance Tango?" I usually reply, "Ask me that next year." (I don't want to scare them too much.). "In the meantime," I tell them, " just do the work."

Do the work.

 

April 16, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. I received a somewhat disturbing email from a student the other day. In her note, she was describing a class she took with a Tango teacher whose stage dancing I admire very much. Here is what she wrote:

"(Name of teacher) gave the 'if they don't lead it, you don't do it' lecture last night. There was an interesting response from some of the women. If you stand there and say to the leader 'You didn't lead it, so I won't do it on my own,' you will NOT be doing much dancing."

Oh boy.

Unfortunately, this is a dilemma that women face all too often on the Tango dance floor. In fact, from the follower's point of view, many women might easily see it as their lot in life to be constantly caught between the two unacceptable alternatives of either having to read a leader's mind in order to get through a dance -- or having to risk sitting alone for the rest of the night because they insulted his fragile ego by daring to imply that he doesn't know how to lead.

Does this happen? Oh yes, indeed, it does.

On the other hand, to be fair, it also happens that a leader may be working hard on learning the very complex art of leading, and be completely frustrated by a follower who has little or no idea how to read and respond to a lead. We often hear leaders complain that they invite one step, and their follower takes two or three. Or they ask for a forward ocho, and their follower goes into perpetual motion.

It may come as a surprise to some people out there, but Tango is not the bunny hop. If learning to dance meant mastering the bunny hop, we might not be too critical of someone who doesn't put their right foot in and twirl it all about at exactly the appropriate moment. But Tango is quite another kettle of fish, isn't it. In order to learn Tango at even the most rudimentary level one has to devote a great deal of time, effort, and money to the process. Shouldn't we hope, maybe even expect, our efforts to yield a satisfying result, when we dance with a partner?

Ultimately, the fantasy of dancing Tango as a euphoric exercise in pure exuberance doesn't really work very well. Choose Tango as your designated joy ride, and you're letting yourself in for a very arduous, often frustrating, pot-hole-riddled, uphill journey long before the giddy fun kicks in.

The truth is that without well-developed lead/follow skills, social Tango is virtually impossible to dance. The truth is that leading and following are both very difficult skills to learn. The truth is that most teachers -- even those who may be able to lead and follow themselves -- really don't know how to teach it, and, to be perfectly honest, find it much more lucrative to teach flashy sequences to students hungry for fantasy dancing. The truth is that even if teachers had the requisite skills to teach lead/follow (and didn't mind having very few students), the overwhelming majority of students would really not be interested. Because the truth is that all but a very few students have the time, the money, the patience, the courage and the humility to learn how to lead and follow.

Does anybody perceive a vicious cycle here? All I want to do is paint like Picasso. Why do I have to learn to draw a straight line first? All I want to do is sing an aria like Pavarotti. Why do I have to take (ugh!) singing lessons to do it?

Do you think you know how to lead and follow? I'll bet most of you don't.

Learn to lead and follow. Insist on dancing only with people who know how to lead and follow. If you have to sit, because there's no one around who can lead and follow, so sit. If we can somehow drag ourselves forward into eventually developing a culture of people who have put in the time to actually learn how to dance, won't our lives be better for it?

Don't take lead/follow for granted. It is the key to social Tango.

 

April 9, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. A woman in my Wednesday class at the Argentine Consulate recently asked me the following question: "When a leader pushes and pulls me with his arms during the dance -- despite what he has been told about not doing that -- what can I do?"

 In fact, the same sort of question on a slightly different subject might be asked by a leader: "If my follower insists on taking several steps, when I've only invited one, what can I do?"

Or: "How can I learn to follow, if the leader is constantly telling me what I'm supposed to be doing rather than actually leading me to do it?"

Or: "How can I find my balance at the end of every step, when my partner is using me as a leaning post?"

Or: (Enter your pet peeve in this space.)

Frankly, none of these questions is easy to answer. The simple response might be something dismissive such as "Try not to do those things, please." But such an admonition would probably solve the problem for about 10 seconds or less -- if it worked at all.

 

To be honest, most fundamental problems like these don't work themselves out quickly -- and many never get resolved at all -- in the context of a typical group class situation. In my experience, the Tango class serves as a cursory introduction to the dance at best, but it simply cannot be expected to accurately and progressively enable the student to build crucial fundamental skills.

 

Every dance teacher knows this. If one's entire field of practical experience is limited to learning/dancing with partners who have very little or no requisite skills, there is just no way a student can hope to become a more skillful dancer, even over a protracted period of time and effort. The idea of trying to learn to dance by attempting to partner with someone who has no skill whatever is the worst of all possible worlds. And yet this is exactly what we try to accomplish in the context of the typical beginner dance class.

As you yourself have no doubt found, this just doesn't work.

 

What would work better? If it were up to me (which of course, it's not), every aspiring student of Tango would be compelled to enter into a mandatory period of private instruction in order to prepare him/her for practicing and dancing with other students who have been engaged in the same course of study. Once fundamental skills have been assimilated through such study -- by which I mean consistently good posture, confidence and balance in motion and at rest, lead/follow expertise, and the accumulation of basic repertoire -- any other mode of study would almost certainly prove beneficial, since the absence of basic skills would not be a fatal hindrance. But when the student attempts to circumvent fundamentals -- as so many students today do -- and "cut to the chase" by focusing prematurely on complex, "stagy" sequences and adornment, the results are in virtually every instance predictably disastrous.

  

Never has the phrase "you have to crawl before you can walk" been more appropriate than in the study of Tango. If you really want to learn this dance, rushing through the basics -- or skipping them altogether -- simply will not work.

Find yourself a teacher, do the work, and you will get better. Take a few classes, watch a couple of YouTubes, and wish upon a star, you may have a little fun but you'll be largely wasting your time.

Whew! I feel a lot better now.

 

 

Saturdays with Fran and Pat at Dardo Galletto Studios

 

Please join Fran and Pat for our Saturday Practica at Dardo Galletto Studios, 151 West 46th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues; 2-4pm, $10 per person. (Bringing a partner isn't necessary.) We think it’s just like being in Buenos Aires! We’ll both be on hand to answer any questions you may have about your dancing, and to help you with material you're working on. If you’d like a private lesson, call Fran directly at 212-662-7692, or email him at franchesleigh@mac.com. For the practice, all you have to do is arrive with $10 and your dance shoes in hand.

 

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to visit our brand new Web site: www.franchesleigh.com

 

 

April 2, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Did you know that there's a very common disease going around in the Tango community today? Actually, it's been with us for just about as many years as Tango has been popular here in the U.S.A. The main focus of this chronic affliction is that dance students are driven to make the almost unbelievable choice not to learn how to dance Tango.

That's right.

It's not that they don't want to dance Tango; they just don't necessarily want to have to go through the often difficult process of actually learning how to do it. Have you noticed this? Maybe about yourself? Here are a few of the symptoms:

·      I'll go to YouTube and pick up everything I need from there.

·      I'll take a class or two (preferably one rather than two), and hope for the best.

·      I'll have my girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/brother/sister/third-cousin-once-removed teach me.

·      I'll think about it a lot, putting myself in the mood.

·      I'll get to the basics later -- just show me the good stuff.

·      I'll focus on taking workshops with the "hot shots" -- rather than slog my way through a graduated, step-by-step process.

·      I'll buy a really impressive pair of shoes with five-and-a-half-inch heels, or possibly six!

·      I'll read a lot of books about Tango.

·      I'll memorize a bunch of Tango songs with names, dates, who's who in the orchestra, stuff like that -- maybe even become a DJ.

·      I'll go to the source -- Buenos Aires -- and maybe spend at least a week, immersing myself.

·      I'll go back to YouTube again.

Does any of this sound familiar? At one time or another, most of us have had at least a brush with this malady. It can infect us at any time. And when it takes root, it can be very difficult to get rid of.

But take heart; there is a cure. It comes in the form of a multi-faceted prescription:

First, you have to find a good doctor, otherwise known as a Tango Teacher, MD. (The "MD" stands for "Make me dance.") This is the most crucial element in the cure. As you may know by now, there are a lot of people out there who purport to teach Tango, but who really don't have the requisite skills to do so. This means you have to be very discerning.

The second element in the cure is that you have to make a strong commitment to learn Tango no matter what. That's right. Half of the job is on your teacher; half is on you.

Finally, you have to dance a lot. You just can't learn to dance by watching TV, playing video games, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden -- or just about anything else except dancing. You have to get out there and do it.

Just remember: Your "I'm not going to learn how to dance Tango" malady can be reversed. Yes, it can be cured. But you have to make the first move. Call Doctor Tango today, and put those feet on the dance floor where they belong.

Are you psyched?

 

March 26, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Let's talk about ballroom dancing -- about American ballroom dancing to be a little more precise.

What? What, you say? The weekly Tango Tip is supposed to be about TANGO!!! (Sputter, sputter.)

I know, I know; Tango is wonderful; ballroom is the archenemy, right? Okay, okay. Now, let's take a deep breath, and relax. All I ask is that you hear me out for a minute. This is a perspective piece.

In Argentina, there's a long-standing tradition within the social dance community, which comprises Tango, Milonga, and Vals. As most of you readers know, this closely related trio of social dance forms is what you encounter, when you visit one of Argentina's dance halls. These dances are largely improvisational in nature, highly creative, difficult for outsiders to learn, and considered by practitioners (me, included) to be perhaps the most evolved form of social dancing on the planet.

In America, by contrast, we have ballroom dance. Lots of us in the Tango community tend to look down on what we sneeringly call "ballroom" as a rigid, artificially contrived, cookie-cutter excuse for "authentic" dancing that has been insidiously foisted on indiscriminate yokels by the evil empire (meaning professional dance teachers). In fact, when I first began to teach Tango in New York City, I was treated quite disdainfully by a good many people in our beloved community, because I was professionally trained, and therefore looked upon as tainted. "How could you possibly know anything about Tango -- you're a (gasp, yuk) ballroom person!"

Heaven forbid.

Anyway, before we completely annihilate the American social dance tradition out of hand, I have one or two things I'd like to say about it. Many years ago, from practically the beginning of the 20th Century all the way up until about 1957, we actually enjoyed a very robust dance culture in this country. Americans thought of social dancing as an appealing way to entertain themselves, and many people became very, very good at it. Because the U.S.A. is the "melting pot" of many diverse cultures, our social dance tradition encompassed not just a few native dance forms -- Foxtrot, Swing, Hustle and Peabody -- but a wide variety of styles from around the Western World, including Slow Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Polka, "American" Tango, Mambo, Rumba, Cha Cha Cha, Merengue, Samba and Paso Doble.

Although I myself became a social ballroom dancer during the last stages of ballroom dancing's heyday, I vividly remember that this glorious pastime seemed to be alive everywhere. In New York City we had Roseland, the Savoy, the Palladium, the Audobon Ballroom, the Park Palace -- not to mention lots of smaller venues all over Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. We learned to dance by going out dancing. Everyone developed his/her own particular style. Dancing was a creative act. And nobody --- but nobody -- would be caught dead taking dance lessons. In fact, a badge of honor among "real" dancers was the phrase: "I never took a lesson in my life!"

In such a rich, vibrant cultural context as this, Tango would undoubtedly have found its own special place. Americans of our own dance era would have embraced Tango and its unique character with open arms. But of course, we never got to see Tango here at all -- at least in its pure form. For a wide range of reasons, this extraordinary dance didn't begin to touch our lives until 1985 with the momentous arrival of Tango Argentino on Broadway.

And by that time, our own glorious dance era was virtually dead and gone.

Tango arrived in America (and around the world) at a time in which ballroom dancing had largely devolved from a highly personalized skill whose practitioners literally developed their own individual iterations of any given dance style to what had now become a series of inflexible prescriptions by studio-trained dance instructors. Those of us who recalled the days when dancing was more creative quickly seized on Tango as our long-awaited salvation from rigidity and conformance.

Real dancing was back.

Now, don't get me wrong. Learning to dance Foxtrot, Waltz, and Viennese Waltz the way these dances are taught today requires a significant level of skill development and perseverance. And, to be frank, I'm well aware that if you want to learn how to dance in America these days, you would be very hard pressed to find anything out there except this kind of bronze/silver/gold pedagogical approach. I'm even seeing indications that some dance studios are applying this kind of regimentation to Argentine Tango -- maybe not in Argentina, but certainly here in America.

Okay, I've gone on long enough today. I just want to leave you with a little wish I have. I wish we could bring back some of our native dances, and incorporate them into our Tango mix. I'd love to dance a Foxtrot once in a while to Frank Sinatra. I'd love to kick up a nice medium-tempo Swing to Count Basie. I'd love to get down with a Mambo from time to time to the sounds of Tito Puente or Machito.

I love Tango, I really do. But if we could dance our American dances the way we used to do ... if we could bring these experiences back into our lives just once in a while ... that would be something I'd really enjoy.

See that? I really am a ballroom person after all.

 

March 19, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. There's an old saying that's been rolling around in my mind for the last few weeks. Maybe you've heard it: All good things come to him who waits.

All good things come to him who waits.

I think the reason I've been musing about these words lately is that I'm convinced they're talking about -- you guessed it -- Tango.

If you know the saying, you may have thought it was about money, or a happy life, or maybe good health ... things like that. But I'm dead certain that whoever invented this very wise maxim was definitely giving us the serious lowdown on Tango.

Let's delve into the hidden meaning of this deceptively simple sentence for a minute. What does the phrase "all good things" really mean? Well, of course, it means becoming a good Tango dancer, right! What could possibly be gooder -- I mean, better -- than that?

We'll skip over the word "come" for a second, and cut to the pronoun. The word "those" refers to none other than you, my friend. Not just you, personally, but everybody who wants to get good at Tango.

Okay, let's tackle the "who waits" thing. If you're a follower who's taken Tango lessons even once in a blue moon, you've heard over and over that your job after every step is to bring yourself into balance and wait. So there's a literal reference for you right there. But I'm going to go out on a limb, and suggest a slightly more global meaning. I think "who waits" really means "who is willing to work their butt off." Don't get me wrong. If you're a follower, waiting is definitely the right thing to do. But there's much more to getting good at Tango than that.

Okay, now we'll take a look at the verb "come." The implication of this word choice is that all you have to do is sit around contemplating your navel, and Tango will just fall into your lap ... or feet. By this time, of course, you're well aware that nothing could be further from the truth. In this particular iteration, the word "come" means -- get ready for this -- "slowly assimilate itself into your muscle memory over a lengthy period of time as long as you (here it comes again) work your butt off."

So, there it is. All good things come to him who waits. Or to put it in a way that makes sense to us, becoming a good Tango dancer means s-l-o-w-l-y integrating the fundamentals (particularly, the fundamentals) of this unique art form into your muscle memory, not by hanging around waiting, but by making an unwavering commitment to the learning process, and doing whatever it takes to make it happen.

Ready? Tango is ready. Let's get to it.

March 12, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. I recently got a very excited call from a Tango student whom I've been acquainted with for many years, but who had never taken lessons from me. Here's the gist of our conversation:

"I think I've just figured out that when you dance Tango, you have to know about leading and following to make the dance work!"

"Uh huh," I responded.

"Didn't you used to talk about stuff like that?"

"Yes, I did, and I do -- all the time."

"But it's really important."

"I agree."

"So, why didn't anyone tell me about this stuff before?"

Aaaaaaarrrrrrgggghhhhhh!!!!

(I didn't say that to the student. I just thought it.)

Deep breaths, Fran, calm ... calm ....

What I then tried to convey to that student -- as I will now try to once again convey to you -- is that, yes, the skill of lead/follow is not only important, but absolutely crucial, to your ability to dance Tango -- I don't mean to dance Tango well, I mean to dance Tango at all!

The problem is that beginning students generally have little or no interest in learning this skill. What they want -- you already know this, of course – is -- Tango steps! Lots of them, one after another, keep them coming, the more elaborate, the better. And for financial considerations, most teachers are more than happy to assist students in this folly.

I felt the same way, when I started trying to learn how to dance Tango. I saw dancers executing those incredible, otherworldly movements, and I said to myself: "I want to do that, and I want it now."

The teacher says, "Okay, let's start with learning how to lead and follow."

I say, you say, we all say, "Later with that, Jack. Just show me the steps."

We do.

And then, maybe years later, after accumulating step and after complicated step, adornment after adornment, heartache after heartache over the constant feeling that Tango is such a difficult dance to learn, one or two of us may enjoy the miraculously good fortune to notice a tiny voice in our ear that whispers, "Learn to lead, learn to follow, and things will go better."

That's what happened to the student who called me recently. After beating his head against the wall for years and years, he feels that now he's finally ready to put his (by now) encyclopedic vocabulary of steps aside for the time being, and actually learn how to dance.

Between you and me, I was nothing short of thrilled by his decision. Watching this student over the years, I've always thought that he had the potential to be a very good social Tango dancer. What had been holding him back, I felt, was his relentless insistence on steps over lead/follow. I mentioned all this to him, and explained, furthermore, that I believed lead/follow skills fall into the category of very advanced Tango technique -- rather than something, which basic-level students can grasp properly.

His reply to this was: "Yeah, but I really should have learned this stuff, when I first started to dance Tango."

True, except that nobody does.

And then he said: "So how can I get this lead/follow thing over with fast? I don't have a lot of time to waste, you know. I want to get back to dancing."

My response, not expressed, was a very deep sigh.

 

February 26, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Yesterday, I was about to start teaching my Wednesday class at the Argentine Consulate as usual, when a visiting, middle-aged couple from Argentina came into the room, and asked whether it might be all right, if they took the lesson. Of course, I said we'd be delighted to have them join us. I asked whether they danced Tango, and they both shrugged as if to say "a little bit."

The first hour of my Wednesday class invariably focuses on the fundamentals of leading and following, and that day was no exception. The Argentine couple respectfully joined everyone else in the class, following my directions in replicating my regular repertoire of basic movements, and, when asked, trying to piece together limited improvisations with more or less the same degree of difficulty as the rest of the students.

Then, as I always do, I invited everyone to try these elements in the context of music. I put on Carlos diSarli's Bahia Blanca, and suddenly, the Argentine couple came alive, dancing up a storm, looking great, responding beautifully to the music -- nothing fancy, mind you, but exactly the kind of dancing I'd like to see my students learn.

After the dance, I commented on how well I thought the couple had danced. Carina, the follower, said that Bahia Blanca was one of her favorite songs, and Ruben, the leader, said in a very humble way that they really didn't know what they were doing; they were just doing what they always do, which is to move to the music. He told me that all the things I had been saying in the class so far were new to them -- since they had never taken any lessons in Tango before.

When I asked Ruben how long he'd been dancing Tango; Ruben said, "Since I was twelve."

Bam!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, folks: The best way to learn Argentine Tango is to get yourself born in Buenos Aires, and start dancing, when you're fifteen -- okay, I'll amend that -- twelve!

After the class, Ruben, who continued to be completely self-effacing, told me that he and his wife had never had any formal lessons, and that -- although they really wanted to learn more about the dance they'd been doing in Buenos Aires for so many years -- he was finding the process quite difficult.

I told Ruben that the very same thing had happened to me many years ago, when I was trying to increase my own knowledge of American and Latin dancing. Initially, I had learned by dancing in the clubs -- what we used to call "street-dancing" -- for many years. When I tried to build my vocabulary and technique by studying with a teacher, I had found it almost impossible for months -- until I was finally able to make a kind of mental transition to the formalized learning process.

The experience my class had yesterday with Ruben and Carina can serve as a very important lesson to all of us, who are trying so hard to learn Tango. If only there were a robust dance culture surrounding us everyday, if only we had started dancing, when we were very young, we can get an inkling of how well we'd be able to dance -- without ever taking a lesson -- just by watching our friends, Ruben and Carina.

Unfortunately, we live in a world in which we really have to fight for our dancing. There are very few other dancers around us whom we can emulate; we usually start, when our relatively advanced age (i.e. older than 12) makes it so much harder to assimilate complex physical movement and technique; and we're forced into an analytic process (formalized lessons) that can easily reduce the art of dancing to cookie-cutter, memorized nonsense.

What can we do about this?

We can take what we've got (because there ain't nothin else these days, folks), and make the most of it by getting out on the dance floor as often as we can, by practicing like crazy, and by making a commitment to ourselves that we are going to learn how to dance Tango, if it's the last thing we do!!!

Are you ready for that challenge? Good. Let's get going.

 

 

February 19, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, I talked about one of the concepts, which I consider to be at the heart of a leader's ability to dance social Tango appropriately. I characterized this concept with the phrase Your dance is her dance. For a closer look at what this means, I hope you'll reread last week's Tip. In my opinion, the application of this principle has the potential to improve your Tango almost immediately. 

There is another principle, which I find quite compelling, and which I'd like to discuss with you today. It is the idea that Tango is in the stops, not the movements.

One of the things I hear from students all the time is that Tango is the hardest dance they've ever tried to learn. I know that I felt the same way myself for many years; i.e., until I came upon the two major principles which inform my dance today:

1.     My dance is her dance.

2.     Tango is in the stops, not the movements.

When we think about the idea of dancing in this country, we tend to believe that any given social dance consists of continuous motion. This is our ingrained tradition. Once we start moving, we don't stop until the dance is over. If anyone reading this has ever tried any of our own social dances, this is exactly what happens. The music begins, we go; the music stops, we stop. Sometimes, we hear from our (ballroom) teachers a vague notion that we should be brushing the feet as we move from step to step, but the idea of actually stopping between movements is nothing short of alien to our concept of social dancing.

Tango -- completely unlike our own tradition of social dance -- is built on the principle that any movement we make can end in a stop. Both leaders and followers in Argentina learn this right from the beginning -- not as a stated principle, but as a practical skill, which everybody practices automatically. Asi se baila el tango. This is how we dance Tango.

The problem for us here in this country is that people in Argentina take this way of dancing for granted, and don't think to tell us that this is the way it's done. I don't think the notion ever occurs to them. I certainly never heard this idea from any of my Argentine-born teachers, when I was first learning. And the result of not knowing this is that we as leaders tend follow our own tradition of wanting to just keep going all the time.

To be fair, what we do hear is that it's the follower's job at the end of any given step to wait -- because she doesn't know what the leader is going to ask for next. Okay, great. This is half the equation. But the other half -- the idea that leaders are also supposed to at least consider stopping at the end of some of their steps -- seems to somehow get lost in translation.

When I teach Tango, I try my best to let both leaders and followers in on the secret that coming to rest at the end of their movements is an important part of the dance. This certainly doesn't mean that they have to stop after every step. But because the follower definitely does not know what's going to happen next, she must absolutely bring herself to a stop, and allow the leader to invite a next movement, or not. Beginning dancers have trouble with this idea, because it feels as if the flow is being interrupted. They just want go, go, go.

I try to get them to stop, stop, stop.

I have an exercise, which I try to get couples to incorporate into their dancing right from the beginning. I call it "single-step movement." Once a couple has an idea of how to lead and follow -- and once they recognize what I consider to be the five fundamental movements in the social dance; i.e., forward, backward, side, in-place, and pause -- I ask them to lead/follow each of these movements in an improvisational way, stopping between each of the steps, making sure they find their balance individually without leaning on or otherwise interfering with one another, and only then continuing on to the next movement of the leader's choice.

I tell my students that in my opinion, this is the most important exercise they will ever do in learning how to dance Tango. Cynically, I would say that most of these students yawn and put up with me until they can move on to what they really want -- elaborate stage-oriented sequences and flashy adornments -- but a few bite the bullet and at least give this principle a try.

I'm convinced that these are the people who ultimately learn how to dance Tango in the Argentine tradition.

Getting back to the principle: Tango is in the stops, not the movements. Here is what I think you will derive as a direct benefit, if you give this idea a try. When the follower does her job, stopping and bringing herself into balance at the end of every step she takes -- without having to be forced to stop by her leader -- it becomes possible for the leader to invite any possible movement from what I sometimes call her "neutral position." In fact, because she's at rest and in balance, she's ready for anything. On the other hand, if she's off balance, if she's leaning one way or another -- if she's actually taking an additional step all by herself, for example -- her leader can't invite her to do much of anything. All he can do is decide to chase her (allowing her to "back-lead"), or attempt to force her uncomfortably into whatever step or action he wants her to take.

Not fun.

On the other side of the coin, it is the leader's job to clearly recognize that his follower is, in fact, doing her job by attempting to come to a stop between steps, and to continually enable her to do this -- instead of relentlessly pushing her brutishly from one movement to another in the service of completing a pre-ordained sequence, which he may have in his head.

Practicing this skill together as a partnership takes quite a bit of doing. It calls for a highly sophisticated collaboration, which can require months -- or years -- to perfect. But the end result -- at least in my opinion -- is an ascent into Tango nirvana. Once you get there, you'll never want to go back.

 

February 12, 2015

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. "Okay, let's see, I'm supposed to start with a side step, no, maybe it was forward ... okay, I go outside partner here with my right foot, then maybe I start turning, no, not yet, I take another step ... or I ... uh ... what's she doing. That's not right; you're supposed to -- don't you know this step? It's that thing we did in class two weeks ago! You're not moving fast enough. Oh yeah, you weren't in that class. Okay, just follow ... come on, faster!"

Does this little scene sound familiar? Is there anything not wrong with what's going on here? Obviously, our leader is attempting to remember his part of a memorized figure he sort of learned during a class. He doesn't seem to have clue one about how to lead it (Lead? What's lead?). But he does know that he wants his partner to hurry up and do her part -- whatever that is -- so he can get this show on the road.

Oh yeah.

By this time in our relationship, you know that I think all -- I mean all -- social dancing demands a very sophisticated, very intense, very practiced level of lead/follow skill. In Tango, it's absolutely indispensable. The idea of memorizing a sequence, and then expecting your follower to kind of just do her part by herself is, well, it's ... performing. Yes, this is what performers do, right? Choreography. Each person in the partnership memorizes their part; then they count to four and do it at the same time. (Yes, yes, I know there's more to it than that -- leave me alone, I'm making a point here.) The sequence may look great on stage -- but it's not, not, most definitely not social dancing at all.

You get that, don't you? I mean, come on.

So there you are on the dance floor, trying to get things going with your partner (I mean dancing things, of course). What's the first thing you do? Do you grab a complicated, showstopper figure from your vast memorized repertoire, and whiz her through it, hoping for the best ("Let's go, move faster!")?

No, that's not the first thing you do!! Instead, you very gently, very carefully, very communicatively, lead, invite, suggest, encourage her to take a single step -- how about something easy for starters -- let's say, a step to the side.

·      And as she responds by taking that side step -- and you notice that she's doing what you've asked her to do, because you're actually paying attention to her -- you accompany her with a side step of your own.

·      And at the end of that single step, you bring yourself into perfect balance.

·      And while you're bringing yourself into perfect balance, you leave your partner alone so that she can also bring herself into perfect balance.

·      And you notice -- because once again, you're paying very careful attention to her -- that she's been successful in finding her balance.

·      And only then -- only when both of you are balanced and ready for whatever the next element might be do you even start to think about the possibility of leading her to take another step.

See that? This is what we do in lead/follow dancing. Everything happens in increments of one. This is the crucial process that makes Tango possible. If right now you suddenly launch yourself into the next movement -- before she's balanced and ready -- (come on, go faster!) -- the whole dance just goes all to hell, and it becomes a wrestling match with you dragging her around like a rag doll. (She can't wait for the dance to be over, so she can get as far away from you as possible, and decide whether to ever dance with you again. No kidding.)

Here's something I tell my students all the time: Your dance is her dance. Basically, this means that you've got a living, breathing, finite human being in front of you, when you dance -- not a robot. You ask for a single movement through your (we hope well developed) skill as a leader. She responds by taking the step you asked for through her (we hope also well developed) skill as a follower. Once you've both gotten successfully to end of that single movement, and your good judgment tells you she's ready, you repeat the process with another invitation.

This is lead/follow dancing. 

"Yeah, but what if the music is really fast (sputter, sputter), and she just can't keep up?" Okay, now, take a nice deep breath. Here's where you have to make a big decision. What's more important, a pleasurable, satisfying social interaction between you and your partner, or an unnecessarily rigid adherence to a musical tempo that obviously doesn't work for her? (That's right, I'm loading the dice here.) Always, always, always choose the comfort of your partner over a blind adherence to the speed of the music -- and your great munificence will reap many rewards.

Choose the music, and you'll find that you're spending a lot of time alone.

 

February 5, 2015

Hello everyone, Pat here. Last week, Fran addressed the issue of our pre-conceived ideas about what it’s like to dance. To quote Fran, “that thing we think deep down in our souls is what people do when they dance, what we think we're supposed to do in order to be able to tell ourselves that we are now dancing.” Inasmuch as this idea can be applied to the whole universe of dance, I wanted to take a few moments to address the issue as it pertains to followers who are learning to dance Tango.

Social Tango is still a lead/follow paradigm and as such, confronts followers and leaders alike with a set of unique challenges that are not found in learning any other ballroom dance. Indeed, both Fran and I have known many ballroom dancers and former ballet dancers, who think that Tango will be pretty easy for them to learn, and that they will pick it up in 5 minutes. Due to their muscle memory, they immediately impose the style of their prior dance training onto their Tango movements, and soon enough, their idea of how easy it would be to dance Tango gradually becomes a realization that this dance is like no other, and therefore any pre-conceived idea of what ‘we’re supposed to do’ is nowhere in sight.

Learning something completely ‘new’ is somewhat scary to many of us. If we have extensive experience in other dance disciplines, we are reluctant to look like a beginner; we are embarrassed to make mistakes; we realize that this could be a much longer commitment of time than we had imagined or planned for, and this smoldering, serious dance does not quite fit with our fantasy of floating around the ballroom in a dreamy froth of lace and silk. What we find in Tango is that as followers, we must learn to wait. We must learn to listen with our bodies so that we only move, when our leader invites it. We must learn to stop; we are not always moving, and we cannot think and make decisions on what to do next. Many followers find this ‘helpless’ state hard to adjust to.

Do we really want to put in the time? Everyone knew and loved us as dancers in our ‘other’ world. Why put that aside to learn Tango? Well, of course, there’s nothing saying you have to learn Tango…but it beckons, through the music, through the folklore, when we watch people who can dance it. Before we know it, our idea of what we think we’re supposed to do when we dance has become an intrigue into the seductive world of Tango. The music gets into our blood, and the dance becomes intoxicating. At that point we have decided to learn Tango, and to let go of our predispositions, allowing the dance take us on a most incredible journey.

 

 

January 29, 2015

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Most of us have a deep-seated, unconscious, preconceived idea of what it's like to dance. It's a little secret that we keep hidden from everyone -- in all likelihood, even from ourselves.

But it's there.

This is not something we're particularly aware of from day to day. It only manifests itself, when we actually attempt the physical act of dancing. Or perhaps when we begin taking dance lessons. Suddenly, we feel that we have to do something special, something quite different from our everyday manner of moving around in the world. Our little secret makes itself known. We do that thing we think deep down in our souls is what people do when they dance, what we think we're supposed to do in order to be able to tell ourselves that we are now dancing.

We reveal the secret to the world. And we're almost always -- really, almost always -- dead wrong.

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about up until now, let me give you a few examples from my experience as a dance teacher. As a rule, both men and women (leaders and followers) feel that the dance embrace involves a vice-like death grip in order to be successful. Both men and women feel that they must personally enter a state of virtually paralytic tension in order to avoid making mistakes. Both men and women believe that a dance -- let's say, Argentine Tango for example -- consists of memorized figures, which must be learned and forever after maintained in order to dance well. Both men and women believe that when things go wrong, it is always their fault. Both men and women believe that they should be able to learn how to dance in an hour or less -- beyond which they question the point of going on.

Does any of this seem familiar? I find that when I teach an individual or a couple how to dance, I almost always have to start by spending a great deal of time just peeling away the layers of preconception and misinformation people aren't even aware are holding them down. If you're a man (leader), it may take you months to become aware, for example. that you can induce movement in your partner without pushing or pulling her. If you're a woman, it may take you a year or more to be able to attain stillness at the end of any given traveling movement without having someone drag you to a stop.

I am saying these things, because I think you need to know why learning how to dance under the guidance of a competent teacher is so crucial, if you want to be any good at it. The process doesn't have to take years. You don't have to spend your life savings in getting there. But to think that you can achieve the goal of becoming a credible social dancer by grabbing a few fancy steps from YouTube is precisely the wrong road to take.

This year, treat yourself to the experience of actually learning the art of Tango. Find a teacher you like, make a commitment to take a series of lessons, and get the process going. I guarantee that you'll absolutely love the results, as you finally join the ranks of people who really do know how to dance.

 

January 22, 2015

Let's talk about goals for 2015. As your Tango teacher (one of them, at least), my goal for this year is to do my very best to help you become as proficient a Tango dancer as I can, given the limited time we're able to spend together. My hope is that you've decided that this year you're going to make a strong commitment to joining me in this process, and that we'll both start seeing positive results of our mutual efforts very soon. 

As a teacher, I can only interact with you on a basis which you decide upon. You might choose a once-per-week pre-milonga class such as that offered at Firehouse Tango. You might opt for greater depth by joining one of my classes, which I teach in New York City. Or you might intensify the process significantly with regular private lessons.

In any of these teaching/learning modalities I (or any competent teacher of your choice) have the ability to offer you my half of the process. What I mean is that my promise is to teach you to the very best of my ability, and to carefully monitor how things are progressing with you during your sessions.

The other half of the equation belongs entirely to you. If you truly want to learn Tango, it's up to you to aggressively commit to the process. This means deciding that Tango is a serious skill that you really want to learn, rather than a once-a-week, show-me-a-step entertainment. It means letting me (or whoever your teacher may be) set the agenda for learning rather than trying to dictate a "dancing-with-the-stars" approach, inappropriately focussed on superficial dance steps.  It means finding quality time to work on the things that you're being taught. And it means deciding that this year you're not going to be satisfied until you've firmly and permanently established the learning of Tango as a crucial, ongoing part of your life.

I know that this is asking a lot. We all have busy schedules. For most of us, Tango starts out as a pleasant fantasy. It's something we wish we could do, but when push comes to shove, we ultimately decide that we really don't want to invest the time, the energy, or the patience to actually learn.

I vividly remember feeling that way myself, when I began to realize the enormity of taking on this hugely challenging, infinitely complex skill. Tango was so alien to my long embedded American ballroom/Latin/swing orientation that it seemed to exist on another planet!

However, somehow, over a period of time, I started to make little break-throughs, often painful, in which learning Tango began to be more and more important to my life as a dancer. I managed to find myself more and more committed to the process of allowing it to happen.

And eventually it did.

I now find that knowing how to dance Tango actually informs and enhances all my other dance disciplines. Because of Tango, I'm now a better Foxtrot, Salsa, and Swing dancer than I was before. I think this has to do with finally learning the art of lead/follow -- something we really never learn properly in the contemporary ballroom community -- which (for what I believe are primarily financial considerations) has now been almost entirely taken over by memorized patterns.

Getting back to the point, will this be your year to really learn Tango? I hope so; Pat hopes so. And we're ready to do all we can to help you.  All you have to do is just say the word.

 

January 15, 2015

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. I had a heart-to-heart talk yesterday with my students at the Argentine Consulate. Some of them have been feeling frustrated that they're not learning Tango quickly enough, and they asked me whether there's a "fast track" that will enable them to make serious progress during the new year.

Here's what I told them.

Learning Tango is a process. You start by being attracted to it from the outside; you open the door and step in; and then you spend as much time, effort, and commitment as you can in making it a more significant part of who you are.

What do I mean by that? Let me tell you how it worked (is still working) for me. I was lucky enough to begin social dancing in 1951 at age 11. My first shot out of the box was what we called "Lindy." Step, step, rock-step. My friend, Billy Hadney, taught it to me in his basement after learning it the week before from his older sister. Man, was that fun! At the time, we had no idea that this thing we were doing was just the basic step, and that there would be tons more to learn down the line. We were perfectly content to work on getting step-step-rock-step right -- by repeating it over and over, at first together, and then with (heaven help us!) girls.

Thinking back, I realize that this is the very same process, which men in Argentina used to go through in learning how to dance Tango. First, they danced with each other to get their basics feeling good; then, they perfected these fundamental skills by trying them out on women.

When I was growing up, this was how almost all of us learned how to dance. We had heard that there were dance schools you could go to, but we preferred to learn from each other. Besides, there was a huge dance culture available to us. Everybody danced; all you had to do was go to any social gathering, and people were dancing. We watched, and we learned. Nothing could be easier.

Cut to 2015. Where is the robust dance culture? Gone. Sure, if you're Latino, you can maybe still pick up a few things from your relatives. But even that dance culture is disappearing these days. Dancing is just not in the picture.

So, what options do you have, if you've got dancing on the brain? I hate to tell you this, but I'm afraid you have to bite the bullet and find yourself a teacher.

Actually, most of us in this country in 2015 realize that a teacher is the only conduit available to us, if we want to learn how to dance. In Argentina, there's still a very strong dance community that people who want to dance can tap into. You don't absolutely have to get yourself a teacher. But here? Forget about it. You just can't learn how to dance Tango by watching your friends (in my opinion, anyway). You have to have expert guidance, especially in the beginning. Or you'll find yourself completely stuck at square one until you eventually give up in frustration, or convince yourself that you know what you're doing -- because of all the time you've put in -- when, in fact, you don't.

Okay, let's say you recognize that a teacher -- the right teacher, naturally -- is crucial to your process. What's the fast track to becoming a Tango dancer as quickly as you can? Let's compare Tango to eating a delicious meal. Do you just shove it into your system all at once? Of course not. You enjoy the process of slowly ingesting every morsel of food as you take it in. You savor every bite. If you happen on a piece of grizzle, you put it aside on your plate, and quickly get back to the enjoyable part.

The process of learning Tango is -- or can be -- exactly the same. As you've found out by this time, the basics of this incredible dance are difficult to master. I work on the basics all the time, because I now know (I didn't always) that this is what makes me a good dancer, and opens the door to consistently getting better. Have you heard any of this before? Is this a great epiphany? I'm sure it's not. But what I'd like you to do this year -- right now, in fact -- is to start actually believing it.

Got the idea? Here, then, is your fast track to learning Tango:

1.     Find the right teacher.

2.     Do not under any circumstances get sucked into learning memorized figures.

3.     Work constantly on your basics.

4.     Repeat as necessary (which probably means forever).

Will you learn? I guarantee it. How soon? Give me a break.

 

January 8, 2015 - Joe Dallon

 

From Fran

With Joes Dallons recent passing, we have lost one of the pillars of our Firehouse Tango community. Joe -- along with his wife Sue -- created the most vibrant Tango venue I know of anywhere from nothing more than an earnest desire to bring the music and dance they had come to love to a wider audience in New Jersey. What a great success it has been, and will continue to be, even though we've had to say farewell to one of our brightest guiding lights.

Joe was a very modest, very private man. No doubt, he would raise an eyebrow at the attention I'm about to pay to his memory. But there are just a few things I think you might want to know.

I first met Joe (and Sue), when I was teaching at a Stardust dance weekend at Kutscher's Hotel in the Catskills about eighteen years ago. They were attending my basic Tango class, and I pulled Joe out of the crowd in order to demonstrate a leader's movement technique. Although I'm certain he was quite embarrassed at being put on the spot, Joe acquitted himself with natural skill and grace in following my instructions to a tee. I remember thinking at the time: "This guy is going to be good."

As it turned out (and as we've all seen for ourselves over the years), he was very good, indeed.

Aside from his prowess as a Tango dancer, Joe enjoyed a very successful career as a University professor of biology at Rutgers.

If you've ever been to Joe and Sue's home, you know he was a seriously proficient gardener -- the lush surroundings of their house in Ramsey are nothing short of a photographer's dream.

Joe was an expert beekeeper, which, of course, meant that Pat and I occasionally had the opportunity to taste some of the most delicious honey we've ever had.

Joe was a dedicated wine maker. Since I don't drink, I never had the opportunity to enjoy his product, but those who have tell me it was quite wonderful.

One night when Pat and I were visiting Sue and Joe at their home, we decided on the spur of the moment to sing some of songs we had all grown up with. (That's 1950's rhythm & blues and roll 'n' roll, y'all.) Joe pulled out an electric bass, handed me a Fender guitar, and said "Let's do it!" We kept our group entertained for several hours well into the wee hours of the morning. And Joe played like an absolute pro! At the time, I thought, "Where did that come from?"

It came from being a true renaissance man.

One of the indelible memories, which I'll treasure forever, is Joe in his yellow suit. That's right, folks, yellow. I think it was one of our Firehouse Halloween celebrations. Everyone dressed up for the occasion. The ambiance was electric. The costumes were magnificent. And then, suddenly, this ultra-hip, street-wise dude appears in a bright yellow pimp outfit with zoot suit trousers and an oversized, wide-brimmed hat -- not to mention a huge, beaming cat-that-swallowed-the-canary smile on his face. This mild mannered, elegant, conservative gentleman -- yes, ladies and gentlemen, Joe Dallon, as we had come to know and love him -- had been transformed before our scarcely believing eyes into SUPER PIMP!

These are a few of my thoughts about Joe Dallon, a fine man by any criterion, whom I am proud to call my friend. I will treasure his memory. I will miss him deeply. I will try my very best to emulate his uniquely admirable presence in the world.

From Pat

I am so very sad to be writing this, because it means that one of the most debonair, considerate and gentle of men has left us. Joe Dallon treated people with genuine interest and friendship. He had no agendas. When he spoke, he meant every word. He had a mischievous sense of humor, and he and I laughed at many small incidents in class over the years, sometimes with just a look or the raise of an eyebrow.

Joe had so many talents and interests. For Fran and me, a visit to Joe and Sue’s house would always hold news about a new hobby, or a spectacular new dish he was cooking for dinner. He specialized in dishes from New Orleans, where he was brought up, which for me (having been brought up in London) was always an adventure for the palate. Admittedly, I sometimes had to explain politely that a crawfish stew was not quite my cup of tea. But Joe always understood, and was never judgmental.

On the dance floor, Joe was electric. The music empowered and inspired him, whether it was Tango, Milonga, Swing or Salsa. Dancing with Joe, you just had to follow – there was no anticipating what he might do next. But what you did know was that he was always right on the beat and in the music.

I will miss our special friendly Firehouse DJ a lot. It will never be the same, but I am certain that he will be with us all every Thursday night anyway, and we can be comforted by the memories of DJ Joe that are special to each and every one of us.