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…

Ask Arlene…More Teachers or Practicas?

With the latest running debate going on between Chris, Danny, Tango Totty and VOR, it got me thinking about Technique.  Totty seems to think it is necessary in order dance a Tango justice and Chris seems to think that it will develop by dancing in the Milongas.

Here is a definition of technique of which I always thought to have meant a way of doing something.  As far as I am concerned, a way of doing something can be taught to another person, or it can develop from within.


tɛkˈnik/  Spelled[tek-neek]   –noun 1. the manner and ability with which an artist, writer, dancer, athlete, or the like employs the technical skills of a particular art or field of endeavor. 2. the body of specialized procedures and methods used in any specific field, esp. in an area of applied science. 3. method of performance; way of accomplishing. 4. technical skill; ability to apply procedures or methods so as to effect a desired result. 5. Informal . method of projecting personal charm, appeal, etc.: He has the greatest technique with customers.

1810–20;  < F: technical (adj.), technic (n.) < Gk technikós, techniká

I think that they are both right up to a point and I will say it here only once as I don’t really want to get dragged into a debate about how I feel about things.  So, I will say it how it was for me.  When I started to learn, I went to the nearest person that taught it where I lived.  I didn’t have access to people who danced it.  Interestingly, although my first teacher didn’t teach it the way I really like to dance, he did teach technique, of sorts.  He taught the walk.  He was very precise about this and also how the follower should follow.  The rest of it was too much fancy footwork, but he did teach the walk and explained how the follower should pay attention to her leader in order to move with him.  I have to give him credit for that!  The rest of it was just show moves I learned later.

My second teacher taught the walk.  He is Argentine, taught by his father, and he gave me a bit more.  He told me and showed me how to place my feet.  It was not only the walk, but also how to walk and how to embrace.  He liked the ladies to place our arms up high around the man’s neck.  That is how I first saw Tango danced.  The walk and the embrace.  That was the focus.  We would have a whole lesson just walking to the music.  We would be corrected if our feet were not right.  We would be corrected if we were not in the right hold.  If we got that right, we would be taught how to turn in a corner!  All the woman had to do was follow.  The trickiest thing we did was giros and ochos.  I can’t remember him teaching us anything else.  Perhaps that is because I never went to any other class except the beginner’s class.

I went to the milongas early in my learning development.  I wanted to put into practice what I had been taught.  I wanted to know if I could listen to the man and do what he asked of me.  I worked out after the first dance how my partner would lead.  I learned by feeling and listening.  I was familiar with all the songs as I had acquired many and listened to them all of the time.  I listened to Tango radio at work.  I was able to move to the music with my partner.  Sometimes, I was able to move to the music better than my partner!  The only time I really got into trouble on the dance floor was when someone tried tricky moves with me!

And that is how I really learned to dance, in the Milongas.  In London.  How’s my technique?  There are a few things that I have learned to do better because of a private lesson or from a comment on the dancefloor (from a teacher I respect) or from doing a basics class.  I won’t go to classes anymore unless it is a basics class, for any kind of dancing.  I don’t try to copy anyone else’s fancy foot moves.  I find I actually move my feet less, but feel more grounded.  But I haven’t been to a class for ages.  The only  regular classes I am going to right now is Belly Dancing, but that is more like an aerobic workout.  I needed a private lesson in order to understand how to do the moves properly as I started late.  It was just the basics.  Interestingly, my bellydancing class has helped me with my Salsa and my Tango and Ceroc!  Although I need some instruction, the rest is down to me to get into it and really feel the music and dance to it.  It is the same for Tango and the other dances that I do.  If I really don’t like the music, I can’t dance to it!  Last week when I went to Ceroc, one of the guys asked me why I don’t do the classes.  I asked him if he uses the moves taught in the class and he said no.  That is why I don’t do the classes, I said.  He still didn’t get it!

So, I am wondering if Totty is being a bit semantic with her wording.  Is she really talking about technique or instruction.  Is she even talking about style?  How much technique do we really need?  Do we need to be taught anything more than the basics?  Do we need to learn how to do an ocho cortado?  I don’t even know what that is to talk about, but I believe I have done it.  Do I need to know the names of moves?  Do I really need to know what a secada is?  If the man can lead it, I can follow it.  What else to I really need to know?  If the move can’t be done in a closed embrace, I really don’t want to know about it.

Maybe instead of all these teachers teaching really tricky moves, perhaps we need more practicas?  To improve, we need to practice.  If we are not going to learn in the milongas, maybe we could learn in a practica.  Instead of people teaching us all of these tricky moves, perhaps they could teach the basics and let us work out a few things for ourselves and stay on the sidelines to give advice?  If they see that our feet are not in the right place when we walk, perhaps they can show us how it should be?  Unless we are all going to turn into show dancers, do we really need to know more than the basics? I wonder what would really happen if the teachers just stuck to the basics.  Would they really lose customers?  What would happen if more practicas appeared?

Just a thought!

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