Thursday, November 3, 2011

For Men Only - Women Need Not Read

Ok gentlemen, now that we are alone it is time to talk about "guy" things in tango.  We all know that being the man in pursuit of the Argentine tango is very difficult, especially when first learning the dance, but I have noticed something that is holding back many men and hindering their progress, and that is what I want to address today.   I believe I have an approach that will help men become the type of dancer that women in class and milongas will always want to dance with.

As I have travelled the country teaching and dancing, there is one constant that I have seen in class, practicas and even milongas; men telling women what to do.  The irony is that most of the time I have noticed that they are telling them to do things incorrectly.  I have witnessed men in my class who are  beginners, telling women who are fairly accomplished dancers how to do something, and the advice they are giving them is completely wrong, and the women sigh and try to accomodate the man.  I then step in, show that the woman is doing the move correctly and point out that the problem is the man.  Why is the man assuming the woman is the problem such a constant?  Here are my thoughts.

Men believe that when it comes to a physical endeavours, they are superior to women predicated on testosterone.  Let's face it, men are usually bigger, faster, and stronger when it comes to doing athletic activities than women.  As boys, we are always striving to run faster, jump higher, throw farther and kick harder and because of this, we believe we are superior to women when embarking on a physical venture.  Well guys, I am here to disabuse you of this misconception.  Pound for pound, my experience has taught me that women are in fact, stronger and better coordinated than most men, and there is a reason why this applies particularly to dancing.  While men are much better at kicking, hitting, throwing and lifting, dance is an area where proprioception (detection of body movement and placement) or the subtle use of force, "touch" in athletic parlance, is more important than brute force, and this is an area where women excel.  Before I go further, let me give you a bit of my background as to why I believe I am qualified to talk about this.

Having danced with ballet companies over a period of 25 years, I gained a lot of experience with many ballerinas, and partnering was my specialty.  A friend once told me that in medical school you see people gravitating toward the specialty that matches their personality and skills as they get further into their studies.  Well, the same thing happens in dance.  You can see a dancer who has the body and disposition to be a classical dancer and excels in the classical roles.  Another dancer with a more athletic body and wild personality moves into the sexy jazz styles.  There are the guys who can spin like tops and have the ability to jump high in the air while executing unbelievable moves and they excel in the tour de force of athletic solos.  Early on, I gravitated toward the art of  pas-de-deux or partnering and I excelled at that area of dance, and companies would hire me specifically to partner their ballerinas.  Often a company would have a beautiful dancer who was a bit larger than average and she was not able to dance roles that would be perfect for her because their other men were not capable of lifting and supporting her.  That is where I came in, and it kept me employed for years.  I now want to pass along some of the things I learned, to help you achieve your goals in tango.

If I asked you to shoot a basketball from the foul line, you would try, make adjustments, try again, make more adjustments and on and on.  Well, by yourself, you only have to make the adjustments with your own body.  In learning a move in tango with another body the process is far more complicated, and frequently frustrating, which starts bringing out phrases like "you have to do this"  "you have to move this way" etc.  Well, I am going to give you a few magical phrases that are far more effective in achieving your desired end.  Words like "How does it feel for you?"  "What would help you feel more comfortable?".  And then there is the most powerful of all "we will get it, let's just try it again".  This is especially important to remember when dancing with different women because every woman is different and moves differently, so repetition is a necessary part of adjusting to any woman.  Frustration always brings on tension, and tension is the biggest enemy of good dancing.  Most of the time repetition is the only way to become comfortable dancing with a new partner, so patience and practice is necessary, and making it fun and relaxing will get you what you want much faster.  Even if it is something the woman is doing wrong, it is a wiser man who keeps it to himself.  I have never told a woman after a performance that she had done something wrong.  The strongest admonition I ever would say is, "we had a couple of rough spots, but we will get it fixed for the next time".  Guys, leave the corrections to the teacher.  More often than not, it is easier for the teacher to see the problem since he or she has a better view of what you are doing, and it is always a wiser course, than telling a woman she has done something wrong, not to mention, there is a better than average chance, that you did more things wrong than she did.

There is another phrase that is so powerful men, that we have to keep it to ourselves.  So I am going to pass it along, but don't let the women know that you have learned this secret phrase here.  It is............."I'm sorry", or "that was my bad lead".  Even when it is the womans' fault, or especially when it is the womans' fault, it is the kind of phrase that will have a woman enjoying her time dancing with you more than anything else and isn't that what is the most important thing?.  I have heard women complaining that a man has stomped her foot and then berated her for getting her foot under his!  Guys, dancing is a very complex endeavour and we all make mistakes, yes men, we make mistakes, so owning up to it is the true mark of a gentleman, and will make you the tanguero that the women will be longing to dance a tanda or two with, and thereby giving you the experience you need to become a better dancer, because, let's face it guys, it is much more enjoyable to learn tango with a woman in your arms than to watch videos and practice with a blow up doll.

I realize many guys will believe that this takes the "Argentine" out of Argentine tango, but this is just one dancers' approach that I believe is effective in helping a man become a better dancer.  So let's review the power phrases;  "how does it feel for you?", " what would feel more comfortable for you?", "we will get it, let's do it again"  and the most powerful of all "I'm sorry, that was a bad lead!".

So gentlemen, go forth and have a great time dancing.