Choreography

I have issues with choreography.  I get brain overload.  I have a really difficult time remembering sequences.  It’s to do with my mental makeup and not one of my strengths.  I hate going to aerobics classes.  I never know what I am supposed to do, and by the time I figure it out, we’ve already moved onto the next thing.  It’s one thing just moving your legs, but add arms and other things, well, I get lost.

Line dancing was the first time I experienced choreography in dance.  (Yes, I do like some Country and Western music)  There is a dance for nearly every Country and Western song.  How people remember them all is beyond me.  We would spend the whole class learning the moves to a particular dance and song.  The following week, we would go over the previous routine and that was usually when I would finally ‘get’ it.  As soon as that happened, we would move on to the next routine – and the whole process would start again!  Although I enjoyed the class and believe I did get something out of it, I could never remember what I was supposed to do until I watched someone else and then it would eventually kick in!  Sort of like being able to sing along to songs on the radio, it’s the only time you can remember the words to the songs.  Once I remembered the choreography, I was able to put my own little spin to the moves if I was comfortable with what I was doing.

When I took up Salsa, I was taught moves.  First we had to learn the Salsa step: left, right, left – right, left, right.  The women had to learn how to read the man and always know where his hands were. 🙂 We had to learn the signals for turns and other steps – always keep your eye on your partner.  The way I was taught Salsa all those years ago is the same way they teach it where I live now.  The class is structured by teaching a routine for the level you are in.  The moves are repetitive and relatively easy as I never do anything more complicated than the intermediate class.  I like Salsa music and I enjoy the dance and the best part is that it is improvised and led by a man.  I don’t have to think too much about it.  It took me a couple of years to be comfortable with this dance and to be able to add embellishments with my arms with ease.

Argentine Tango is also an improvised dance and my favourite.  Most of the classes I have been to would start with some basic moves or exercises and then eventually would lead to learning a sequence.  I do not believe I am the best partner to have in these classes as my mind tends to wander.  I am completely useless in assisting my leader when he doesn’t get it right.  I will follow what he leads, but it isn’t what is always taught in the class.  I am not capable of showing him the correct way to do things.  I know what I am supposed to do when someone leads and that is it.  I will never be a leader or teacher of Argentine Tango if it means I have to remember steps and sequences as I just cannot do it.  Don’t even tell me the name of a step as I will not remember it.  These are just some of the reasons I no longer take classes.  The leader in most classes will not be able to do what is asked of him in class, but even if I follow what he does ask me, surely that is no bad thing?  Why does he have to learn the move exactly the way the teacher wants him to?  If he is doing a move that is similar and having me move in the direction of his intention, that should be a good start.

As I am living in the land of no Argentine Tango (Eastbourne) I am compromising and dancing to what is available to me: Salsa and Ceroc.  I enjoy the social aspects of these dances and some of the music.  In any event, it keeps me moving.  Ceroc/LeRoc/Modern Jive or whatever you want to call it is pretty easy to learn.  I went to a few classes when I was living in London.  My salsa helped me pick it up quickly.  I went to a few classes when I moved here as it is a good way to meet people.  I no longer go to them.  I don’t get anything from it and I can’t remember what I am supposed to do in the routine if it isn’t led properly.  I follow my leader.  They teach it the same everywhere you go.  I don’t like to do anything fancy and most of the guys dance the same way to most songs, so it is easy for me.

However, I am back to having trouble with choreography since I took up belly dancing.  Belly dancing is also improvised, but my teacher works on a choreographed routine over a period of five weeks – to make it more fun she says.  Also, the class is structured like an aerobic workout.  We do a warm-up and stretching, then we do our moves (basically we follow our leader), then we work on the routine, then we have a cool-down and another stretch.  We are constantly moving to music.  The only time the music stops is when we are being shown what comes next in the dance.  Then we take it from the top  each time until we go throught the whole dance.  It is amazing how much hip action can be packed into an hour.  I had a private lesson in order to understand how to do the basic moves correctly as there is no time to really work on that in the classes.  When I first started, I found it very difficult to follow my teacher as I didn’t know what to expect next.  I also came into a routine half way through.  I could have become frustrated, but I just said to myself ‘the heck with it’ and just trundled or shimmied along as best as I could.  When she started introducing arm movements my brain froze and my body along with it, so I just tried to focus on one thing at a time.  It’s easy to sway your hips, but then add a walk, and then arms!  That was just too much.  However, I have persevered and feel that I am finally making some headway, not much, but some and that is a start.  I suppose that is the upside to repetition.  My body is remembering what my hips are supposed to do, so now I can start thinking about my arms more.  I am also starting to get into the music with the dance.  Before, I was just trying to focus on what I had to do and the music was kind of incidental.  Now I am more relaxed and allowing myself to feel the music with the movement.  Learning the movement of belly dance is a whole new realm for me.  Although it is improvised, we are learning choreography and adding new elements of the dance into our repertoire.  There is so much to learn, but a lot of it is repetition.  Even so, I don’t find it easy to remember what I am supposed to do, but then again, I haven’t been doing it for very long.

The goal is to be in touch with my inner goddess.  One day I will move based on how the music inspires me.  The dance will not be led by a man and there won’t be a special dance for each song.  I will improvise my own dance and the music will be my leader and inspiration.

Now, if I can just remember what comes after the camel walk…

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chris, UK
    Aug 04, 2010 @ 00:39:10

    > Why does he have to learn the move exactly
    > the way the teacher wants him to?

    Because he’s in a choreography class. If he wants to learn the improvised, social dance, he should be somewhere else.

    > I will never be a leader or teacher of
    > Argentine Tango if it means I have to
    > remember steps and sequences

    Leaders don’t need to remember steps and sequences. Many could improve by forgetting a load of them.

    Teachers do need to remember steps and sequences if they are going to make a living out of classes.

    > I am completely useless in assisting my
    > leader when he doesn’t get it right. I will
    > follow what he leads, but it isn’t what is
    > always taught in the class.

    You sound far from usless to me, Arlene. The girls that like you follow their partner rather than the teacher are the ones that help guys get what matters right, and stop wasting their time on what doesn’t.

  2. Evaldas
    Aug 04, 2010 @ 09:44:45

    funny, my thoughts after reading that was almost exactly the same of Chris, UK 🙂

    > Why does he have to learn the move exactly
    > the way the teacher wants him to?

    That’s minor problem. The bigger one is when FOLLOWER wants/expects/tells you to “move exactly the way the teacher wants”! No matter the dance is: tango, salsa or lindyhop. That’s why I sometimes wonder how people can like a torture called “dance lessons” :)) That’s also why I think current sequences-oriented pedagogy of social dances has to be fundamentally reviewed.

    You are a perfect follower, Arlene. At least to my taste 🙂

  3. Sophie Tango
    Aug 04, 2010 @ 10:40:49

    Quoting you:
    “I will follow what he leads, but it isn’t what is always taught in the class. I am not capable of showing him the correct way to do things. ”

    Deep breath.
    Following what he leads is what tango following is about. If you do that, in class or on the floor, that’s it, you’ve cracked 80% of tango. If in a class the leader does something that results in *not* being what is taught, HE has to work it out with the help of the *teacher*. Your part in that is just in doing exactly what he leads. Only then can he work out the “action/reaction” effect and figure out what of his actions makes you do certain thing. Many ladies do “what they’re supposed to do in the class” no matter what the lead is. No!!! This is the least helpful to everyone: it doesn’t help the leader understand what his lead results in, and it doesn’t help the lady refine her following and listening in skills. The teacher should not let this happen in their class, but should encourage students to experiment and understand what lead results in what lady movement.
    And it’s not up to the lady to correct the leader – best you probably can say is “when you do this lead, it makes me do this. if you want to do something else, I’m happy to follow it”. I find that even if I know the answer “look, you’re leading me a backward ocho, it needs to be a forward one” – I keep mum and let him figure it out otherwise I may get a nasty “it’s a leader thing what do you know about it” (yes, there are some truly horrible individuals in tango classes).
    Some men get horribly vexed because they think it’s all about “doing what’s being shown no matter what”. If I encounter such an individual, after a gradually painful series of fails, where the man looks increasingly pissed off that “it’s not working” despise my dutifully, beautifully following his lead, I end up overtaking the lead (and letting him know it) then doing “what I’m supposed to do” and let him understand that, yes, “I can do it, beautifully, musically and elegantly”. At that point that guy usually looks green but I’m past caring. He had plenty of opportunities to experiement his lead with me graciously following him whatever he does. His chance with me is over and so be it. My loss if he turns out to be the next El Cachafaz. which he won’t by the way, but only I know it now, do I

    So… stay in touch with your inner goddess, keep following… leave the choreographies for their purpose: staged shows, “safety nets” and other “watch me I’m hot stuff”.

    Happy tangos!

  4. TinaDiva
    Aug 04, 2010 @ 11:38:33

    Like you I cant remember much, especially the names of steps, in class. I agree with the previous comments, ladies just follow the leader if it doesnt quite work out as expected, so be it, you both learn from it.

    Had two workshops with Pablo Vernon this weekend, can’t remember what the first one was about, but the second at Wild Court was giros and contra giros. A great work out for me I have to say! My partner was getting a bit upset as he could not emulate PV’s demonstration, however when PV watched us he said what was being lead was fine, even if my leader was entering and exiting the steps in his own way, its all about improvisation and working with what you know and are comfortable with.

    Need I say more …

  5. David Bailey
    Aug 04, 2010 @ 13:48:30

    @TinaDiva:
    “Had two workshops with Pablo Vernon this weekend, can’t remember what the first one was about” – err, money well-spent then… 🙂

  6. anon
    Aug 04, 2010 @ 14:43:17

    “The goal is to be in touch with my inner goddess. One day I will move based on how the music inspires me. The dance will not be led by a man and there won’t be a special dance for each song. I will improvise my own dance and the music will be my leader and inspiration.”

    In that case you should have at look at Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms. It does everything you want. You can even do it in the comfort of your own home if you wish. And absolutely no choreography whatsoever.

  7. Arlene
    Aug 04, 2010 @ 15:19:10

    @ Anon,
    With the belly dancing, we do choreography as learning shimmies and walks, etc. is a bit dull on their own and work better in a private lesson for developing technique. It also teaches us how to connect walks and turns and is a fun way of getting a serious workout. I don’t mind the choreography for BD, it’s just that I forget what I’m supposed to do after the first 5 or 6 things without a trigger from the teacher, who is essentially the leader in this case. Instead of following the leader, we mimic the leader. Last night we had to do some of the movement on our own and I got lost as I had no reference in front of me and had to look to the lady next to me in order to know what to do next! Tomorrow is boot camp – no choreography! I also practice at home to some music I’ve purchased but it feels more like exercise than dancing at this point, but that is because I only just started learning and am not familiar with the music. It would be nice to go into a club one day where they play music that I could BD to, like the Buddha Bar, and just do my own thing because I know how and I know the music.

    @Chris, Evaldas, Sophie
    Almost all the teachers in London teach a form of choreography, even if teaching the basic eight! They prefer to call it a sequence instead, or they teach you some type of step. I don’t think I have seen any post about teachers only teaching to walk except for absolute beginners. When I did a couple of classes w/Miguel Zotto, I did the basic ones which focused on the walk and embrace. Even that got complicated with the leaders! Ha! I sometimes think that the leaders themselves complicate things too much.

    @ Tina,
    At least giros are a good thing to learn as it is one of the moves that one must remember how to do it, but as in everything for a follower, it depends on how good the leader is in leading it. Some guys think they can just get away with it by pulling you around in a circle! The first class must not have been too great then if you can’t remember it!!! Or was it something you think you will never do?!

  8. Evaldas
    Aug 05, 2010 @ 06:41:36

    > …I did the basic ones which focused on the the walk and embrace.
    > Even that got complicated with the leaders! Ha!
    > I sometimes think that the leaders themselves complicate things too much.

    it’s all true… But it takes time and effort to understand truly simple nature of things, though (I’m talking for man :))
    I guess at least 80% of the whole effort and stress in a (intermediate/advanced) lesson and (maybe/sometimes) similar share of benefit can be attributed to a leader. Really good tango lessons are mostly for the leader. Leaders must be grateful that followers attend lessons at all paying whole 50% !

  9. Arlene
    Aug 05, 2010 @ 07:09:53

    @Evaldas
    Yes! Women should really get a discount for attending anything other than a basic lesson!

  10. Johanna
    Aug 10, 2010 @ 20:28:20

    A reason I did not go pro, Arlene. I’d rather just follow what is led than have to remember steps.

  11. Captain Jep
    Aug 23, 2010 @ 22:37:32

    Part of the frustration from a leaders viewpoint can be the way their lead is followed. Yes the lady may follow what is led, but does she

    a) respond to the energy of the lead so that the timing works
    or
    b) use “active following” so that when she gets the chance to supplement the lead she will?

    These are things you might not expect below intermediate level. However I think at that level or above tango classes should be much more about a partnership. Two people working together, playing with the timing and nature of lead/follow.

    Regrettably most followers give up on classes before they reach this stage.

  12. Tangobitch
    Aug 24, 2010 @ 00:20:10

    Yeah choreography is so hard and not necessaily useful for followers. I often feel like a guinea pig in classes hence why I don’t bother anymore. The only things I ever found useful are pilates and practicas with a great partner with the odd womens technique class thrown in 🙂

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