When women enter tango, one of the first things we are told is, “Do not think, blink or move a muscle until your leader invites you to. You don’t need to know what the next step is, just relax, yield, and turn off your decision maker.” (Well, maybe not exactly those words but that’s sort of what we hear.)
Whuh? We’re thinking, “How am I supposed to know what to do next if I don’t know what he’s going to do next? What if I step the in wrong direction or on the wrong foot or on his foot?”
Having every step be a Surprise! is stressful at first so, to keep from looking as clueless as we feel, we take a guess at what our leader might do next and start to move in that direction. Faster than we can say, “Ooops” the teacher sternly informs us that “anticipating” is a mortal sin and to never, ever do that or it’s Off to the Dungeon to think about not thinking! Geesh.
After a few (or zillion) attempts, we begin to obediently collect and wai……….t. Standing like a statue is a certifiable challenge because up to now we’ve been under the impression that dancing is about “moving” rather than “waiting.” Gradually we grasp the concept of lead/follow, bring our legs/knees/heels together between steps and stay on the same foot until “invited” to move. You’d think doing “nothing” is easy, but ’tis quite the contrary.
Connection involves another bunch of stuff we’ve never heard of like lifting our rib cage to create an axis (what’s an axis?), maintaining firm contact with our leader but, heaven forbid, not leaning on him, even though we might fall on our face from keeping our weight tilted forward. (“Tilting” is an art form.) Instead of “thinking” about what the next step might be, we’re supposed to “feel and respond” but until we get the hang of it, we just cheat and watch the leader’s chest for clues.
Her Riddle of the Sphinx…What walks forward in the morning, forward in the afternoon and blindly backward in designer stilts in the evening? Uh…us?
Personal style is created through graceful legwork and footwork. Whether our legs are long and lean, or not so much; or our feet are like Cinderella’s, or not so much, careful positioning makes the difference between dancing by default (no plan) and dancing by design (plan.) In a private lesson on boleos with Nora years ago, she described how she designs her dance by explaining, “I spend hours practicing every single position and how I want my leg and foot to look on every move.” Enough light bulbs came on to illuminate a stadium and I gained a deepened respect for followers’ technique at that moment. (One of many reasons I owe her so much for improving my dance.)
Adornments add interest and spice. Adornments-ad-nauseum, not. Fakey-wakey kick/boleos between every step become predictable and create a hazard for folks who might step into the path of a flying stiletto.
Musicality is the difference between embellishing at the speed that a woodpecker hammers and adding an embellishment where an accent would be appropriate with the music. Less is more, yet again.
Challenges…pesky, interminable speed bumps on the path to bliss that greatly improve the quality of “bliss.”