Friday, May 11, 2007

Back to the South

I waited a year before trying out a different Argentine tango instructor. Actually, all this time, I had not even known about this second instructor. I had thought this area had only the first, and I had had trouble relating to much of his instruction. “You don’t get what you want by making her do it,” he would say. “You ask a question, and she answers. ‘Would you like to go this way?’ ‘Yes I would.’ Or maybe she doesn’t. So, you adapt. Just like you do in life.”

I mean, I wasn’t (and rarely am) in a relationship; I was just there to start learning a new dance. And sure, Argentine tango is about mindset as much as anything else. But in those classes it seemed almost like I was supposed to think a certain way, and it would happen, like Clint Eastwood flying Firefox. The internationally renowned Lithuanian ballroom teachers in town are more down-to-Earth.

Argentine tango dancers say their dance is a more natural way to move than ballroom tango, but I had serious trouble with the Argentine body positioning. In ballroom, our arms are firm and held out to the sides, making a big steering wheel with plenty of leverage for leading. The woman plants her lower right front rib firmly against my belly, and she pretty much stays there, rolling around to my right side for promenade position, and back for closed. Our upper bodies and heads are apart from each other, giving us room to breathe and to see, respecting the “my dance space, your dance space” convention à la Dirty Dancing.

In Argentine tango, we keep our arms softer and lower by our sides. Our bodies are closer at the top and more separate lower down. So, while ballroom tango looks wider at the top like Vermont, Argentine tango looks wider at the bottom like New Hampshire.

I couldn’t give a clear lead. I was knocking knees with women, stepping on their toes, because they didn’t feel me coming at them. Hadn’t I taken care of this in ballroom? Apparently I had to learn it again here.

I let my butt stick out backwards, which folded my body at the waist and lessened whatever slight connection I had with my partners to begin with.

I couldn't visualize turning my partner and myself, especially with that tilted New Hampshire shape. I kept nearly falling over. Anyway, how do you turn your partner when your arms are so soft?

Then there was close embrace. After only a few lessons, partners were supposed to actually touch chests to each other. What if the woman is much shorter than I? Then she’s staring into my chest. And if she’s taller, I’m staring into hers I presume, but this did not happen in those classes. Regardless, I am a fairly standoffish person. In fact, a few people have told me that I am just about the most sensitive to personal space of anyone they know.

In ballroom, personal space is preserved in a sense. Though your stomach and pelvic regions are connected, that’s down there, out of sight, where God intended men and women to connect; and you’ve got room to breathe in front of your face. In Argentine tango, I can hardly see because her head is in the way, and the problem with stepping on her feet is compounded.

I gave up. I wasn’t getting it. Bad attitude, I know. This was a drag, because Argentine tango had seemed to be the most vibrant and accessible social group for someone my age in our area -- more so than swing (more peppy than though) or salsa (more sexy than though) or ballroom (too insular and more populated by folks over 55 and under 22). So when I heard about this other teacher, I decided to give it another try.

He started us on close embrace the first day. But he explained that you don’t really lean on each other at the upper body in the way I had thought. Instead, our legs are inclined forward some, but then our torsos are upright, and my partner and connect over much more surface area, from the stomach up through the chest. We look not like New Hampshire, but like an upside down “Y,” or a peace symbol. Already, this new understanding is helping me. Still, I struggle.

In the first classes I took a year ago, I had harbored the question of whether my troubles were entirely my doing, or maybe caused in part by my partners. I never said anything about this ‘cause it’s bad form to raise this question in a dance class. This second instructor sees when you’re struggling, takes the woman, tries her out, and then decides whom to lecture -- me or her. It’s not really so reassuring when he lectures her. I’d just as soon take the heat. Though he is blunt, he's clear, and I’m getting a lot more sense of technique here. That’s what I need. Tell me how to do it. I am a shape and movement imitator. Don’t expect me to improvise or make it up myself -- I just wander that way.

In the first class with the second instructor, there was this other woman who, dancing with me, wanted us to extend my left/her right arm out to the side like ballroomers do. “It’s prettier like this,” she said. I still had the scars from being corrected on this a year ago. “Nope,” I said in a rare instance of directly contradicting a partner. “This is Argentine tango. It’s all in here,” and I drew our arms in to be lower by our sides.

I had to get her used to reality. She had probably seen some ballroom movie and wanted to glide around the floor. Sorry, sister, you came to Argentine class. Keep your eyes downcast and concentrate on your abdomen. If you're good, maybe, in a year, we'll let you raise your leg and wrap it around mine.

After this second instructor had taken her for a turn and showered her with instructions, she came back to me an said, “Have you been to the other instructor? Is he different?” She was asking about the first one I had been to.

I said he was different, but I didn’t have a chance to elaborate. I have not seen her come back in subsequent lessons.

I’ve been two more times now. Days are turning into weeks, which may turn into months if I stay with it this time. It’s like being in some abstinence program. I tried it once, and relapsed. Maybe it will stick this time.

1 comment:

Stew said...

I can't decide whether I'd like dancing tango or not. Probably.