Friday, November 7, 2014

Active Followers: Theory and Practice Assignments

"I like quiet protoplasm ... but I also like lively protoplasm"
Robert Sheckley. "The Last Weapon"

Translation from Russian. Originally posted on Aug 20, 2014, by AlientoDelTango

In my personal gallery of tanguero types you may find
 - authoritative leaders (a man in this category leads so confidently that you just can't stray, it sort of hypnotizes you, suspending all thoughts)
 - pleasers (provides you with a foundation so you can relish yourself, while he beholds, enjoys, and compliments you)
 - team players ("Let's invent an airplane together! What configuration should we chose for the wings?")
 - dialog leaders ("so he told her this? - then she told him that?")
 - fill-in-the-blank leaders (he "tells his joke" with hints and omissions, you add the little missing words-notes he is waiting for, and both of you blissfully laugh at the completed story).
There may also be "lazy leaders" ("you guess what I want") but I don't keep them in my collection.

As for us followers, one very nice tanguero came up with a sweeping generalization: "an active follower is like a ball which started to play with a kitty on its own". 

Translator's note:
Personally, I am not sure if N.'s types behave just as stereotypically with  every partner. My own feeling is that I change gears depending on what I hear and sense. 
I dance with great but extremely shy and self-doubting chicas, whose every move may evoke a reflection, "was it right? the right direction? the right speed? the right length?" (occasionally, even, "was it the correct leg? how about I panic and change weight?" which sort of stops being great). My instinct would be to lead confidently, incessantly, not because I'm naturally a control freak authoritarian, but because I don't want to leave too many t's uncrossed when my follower is low on confidence.
I dance with tangueras whose moves suggest a dynamic and a texture of the dance very different from my intuitive take on it. Often, I'm impressed, and compelled to cooperate to build a team style.
If a music repeat allows a "now I interpret this - now you interpret this" kind of a dialog, then it's totally fun & I can't resist looking for more.
And if I feel that my partner is uninterested / distracted / unresponsive / tired / not in the flow and it can't be helped, then I may turn into a lazy leader. It's not like I can't convey what I want anymore - it's just what I want is for the tanda to end sooner.
In short, the ratio of control vs. cooperation, of command and its execution vs. mutual understanding and sensitivity really differs.
Not all guys are always happy about it. The authoritarians are distracted by any interference to their grand plan. The collaborative team players may be irked when instead of their wings, you offer some ideas about wheels. The fill-in-the-blankers won't have any fun when you complete the moves automatically, hurriedly guessing, like, "I know, I know what you were going to say, move on". And even someone who seemed to have eagerly played along with the follower would rather linger with another gal, with a tanguera who treats him like a cool guy and a boss.

Yet any "kitty" is aware that the "ball" here is another human being, with aspirations, emotions, physical properties (possibly even a "she-cat", only pretending to be a mouse). Here we shall try to control these physical properties as needed for our aspirations and emotions. And you guys may eavesdrop, it might be useful - N.

Practica assignments for the followers (from the Yuri Verderevsky's "eTango" multimedia blog-book) :

1. Learn to control embrace. Make the embrace comfortable for yourself. Too close? Then gently, but insistently transition to open. The partner is walking feet-first? Increase the distance. Etc. During the caminada / walk, try continuously changing the properties of the embrace: transition to open and close again, make the embrace stiffer or more feather-light. Mirror partners' actions, or try to make him mirror yours. It is a very interesting game for a practica, really.

2. Learn to control the energy of the dance. The simplest approach is to make yourself lighter or heavier in the embrace. It affects the partner quite substantially. For example, if he's maniacal, add some of your weight on him. He didn't get it? Add more. Now it's more like the energy level you like? Then become lighter. You want a more energetic dance, then move all your body with more energy. You want a more tranquil dance, then become more stretchy with plasticity. And so on.

3. Learn to control the tempo of the dance. For starters, here is a very simple rule: to slow down the tempo, start delaying foot collection in a step. For accelerating the tempo, collect your feet ahead of your partnet. It sounds kind of strange, but this technique works in most cases. A more advanced approach is to change the quality of your moves through the whole body. For a more rhythmic dance, become more abrupt, for a more lyrical experience, become stretchy. It is harder to describe, but the general idea is clear: adopt the tempo you want, and a good partner will adjust to your wishes, or at least take it into account. If he cares, of course :)

4. Learn to control pauses. A follower can initiate a pause herself, maybe for (those stupid) embellishments, or to prevent a collision withoutresorting to "emergency breaks", or just for the musicality sake. All she needs to do is to grow a bit taller at the moment of transition of weight. Kind of like to inhale chest full of air. To signal the end of the pause and your readiness to continue movement, exhale.

One thing you shouldn't forget is that if the follower suggests a variation, but the leader rejects it, then it's better to yield to the leader - he's the skipper and the navigator and ultimately responsible for everything. You might think that he's just being a jerk but he may simply be trying to get you out of danger of being hit.
(a video of Mariela Sametband & Guillermo "Elpeque" Barrionuevo
illustrating fill-in-the-blanks more at AlientoDelTango blog)

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