Sunday, August 21, 2011

If there was any question

Here is a hint, ladies of tango: When you kick over the vase of flowers on a table at the edge of the floor, your boleo is too damn high.

(Or, possibly equally, the leader is a pretty poor navigator.)

And a tip for everyone: When it happens twice in one evening, you're not at a very good milonga. But we also knew that from the hopping (!) couples, the floating tango à trois going on at various times throughout the evening, and the music that shifted nonsensically between alternative and traditional within the same tanda. (Even the DJ started to get the message when couples cleared the floor, thinking that his next song was actually a cortina. Looking embarrassed, he faded the music out and went into the next tanda.)

How I wish I were making any of this up.


  1. I agree with you. Although, as a follower, I must say: guys, if you don't want us to follow high boleos, don't lead them. I'm not the one who decides how high my leg goes. My free leg is relaxed and available to you if you want to use a change of direction to make it fly upwards in a circular motion. Lead the boleo low if you prefer it that way...

  2. Terpsichoral
    Let me get this! So you are only a prop, and you have no input in the dance at all. You chose this bad leader to dance with, and now you are rejecting the responsibility of your choice. This is very interesting!

  3. No -- I would definitely try to avoid a leader with bad floorcraft. But even very good leaders have accidents occasionally. We are not all perfect little robots. And, of course, I am not just a prop. But stiffening my free leg and/or looking over my shoulder before I do a boleo is not part of my dance.

  4. I clearly have a higher threshold than most for keeping my boleos on the floor -- because some leaders complain about my many low boleos (when they want high ones). I learnt to dance at very crowded milongas in Buenos Aires and, if in doubt, I keep my feet on the floor.

    But if I'm in the arms of a very good leader and he does a sudden, high-energy change of direction, my leg will fly. And that usually isn't a problem, since I do try to avoid leaders with bad floorcraft. Also it really doesn't hurt as much if you are kicked by a boleo if the follower's leg is very relaxed. (Not that I have kicked or been kicked very often).

    But, having said that, I once knocked over a cup of coffee with my boleo. Luckily, there was no one at the table at the time, as hot coffee could have scalded someone. And that was with one of the best leaders I know. No one's perfect, that's my point.

  5. Well, what can one say? It's a bit of a trade. Followers can control how high their boleos go--but it does mean that we can't be perfectly relaxed about them. Personally, I try to keep mine low, because even if I'm dancing with a good leader, I never know what other couples might be doing, how close to us they might suddenly be. And, as you may have guessed, I'd prefer to see more responsibility from other local followers.

  6. I don't advocate hitting people with boleos. And I applaud your intention to make people more aware of the importance of good floorcraft. But I actually feel that if you *do* get hit it hurts a lot less if the follower's free leg is completely soft and relaxed. If she is controlling the leg, putting tone into her movement, using muscular force or kicking up or down in any active way, that's when it can really cause serious injury.

  7. You raise a fair point, Terpsichoral. But I also think that a lady might not be as likely to kick anyone at all if she were not executing movements so flamboyantly that her foot reaches nearly the height of her own head. (I'm not exaggerating; I've seen this, in several linear boleos executed on not-uncrowded floors.) Even dancers a reasonable distance away could be within reach when a leg flies out that far.

  8. I would still argue that the lady isn't executing those movements at all, if she's dancing properly. They are being led. She's not actively doing anything at that moment (at other moments in the dance, yes, but the boleo is precisely one moment where she is not).

    I understand that most elements of tango are shared. The follower should be active; should have personality in her dance; her musicality is extremely important, etc. But I feel that making a follower responsible for floorcraft is a step too far (excuse the pun). When I dance, I'm usually walking backwards with my eyes closed, so there really is a limit to how much I can help with navigational issues. And when I lead, I definitely find it unhelpful and counterproductive when followers try to help me steer. Normally, when I am led back boleos on a very crowded floor, they stay not only on the ground, but they actually just go around my own foot. I live in Buenos Aires. I've danced on a lot of very crowded floors. But if a very experienced leader chooses to lead high boleos or other flamboyant moves I am not going to fight against him and make the dance feel unpleasant for both of us. And in general those good leaders don't hit people. Whereas beginner men can collide with tons of people just plodding their way through simple walking and ocho cortado sequences.

    Even so, I must say that I don't think my foot has ever gone up even as high as my waist. But, if you're leading a linear boleo you need to make sure there is room, just as when you're leading a back step you need to make sure you don't lead it straight into someone else. I don't think it's helpful for followers to second guess what's going on.

    We might be talking at cross purposes, of course. If the followers concerned are amplifying the boleos on purpose or executing wild, huge backward decorations on a very crowded floor, that's different. Maybe I would agree with you if I'd seen the boleo in question. But in general I really do think floorcraft is primarily the leader's responsibility. However much I may believe in equal rights. :-) And I also think complaining about it is not always that helpful. Let he who is without fault...

  9. Of course floorcraft is primarily the leader's responsibility--but even that statement allows that followers can do their share to improve conditions on the floor. I would say, simply by being aware of what's going on around us.

    I'm not fortunate enough, in this regard, to live in Buenos Aires. The level of the dancing where I live is not high enough to permit me the luxury of dancing with my eyes closed, most of the time; I usually have to be awake and aware, to at least some degree, because even if I'm dancing with a very good leader, the floors where I live are too treacherous with poor navigators and people (male and female) who don't respect the space and safety of dancers around them, in many ways beyond boleos. Many people who either don't know about good floorcraft or are unable to put it into practice yet (and here I think we would get into issues of local teaching and learning, and I feel conflicted because, sure, I think that just having fun on a Saturday night is not a bad goal in itself...)--or who have plenty of tango experience and should know better but just don't seem to care. People who regularly attend workshops and classes--some, even, who organize workshops with visiting teachers in our town--and who, year after year, remain hazards on the dance floor. These are the people who really frustrate me.

    A gentle pressure on the leader's back if he is leading me in a direction where he has no visibility--behind himself, or toward his right, where my head may be obscuring his view)--but I can see a danger moving in, can serve to subtly put on the brakes. I've helped avoid many collisions this way, and the leaders I dance with recognize this, adjust easily, and have been grateful for my active participation.

    Similarly, when we know the floor is crowded and people are dancing crazily, I do think followers have a responsibility to keep our movements smaller and lower. That may mean trying not to let my leg fly on a boleo or a sacada--finding another way to execute the led movement. Even rolling the foot into a step, from the toe backward, can help avoid stepping hard on another dancer's foot, even if there is contact.

    I expect I'm not saying anything here that you don't already know. I also know that I really can never say for sure whether another follower is amplifying her movement beyond what was led. I'm saying that either way, by doing it so large, without regard to her surroundings, I think she's failing in her responsibility to other dancers, under the conditions that prevail at a lot of the local milongas.

    However, an anonymous blog is, of course, not the way I would choose to try to discuss the issue with local followers whose dance-floor behavior might be problematic. ...Because, well, this is not a discussion with them. That is sort of the point of the blog and its anonymity. Its primary function, for me, is as a place to express my candid opinions--as is your blog for you, Terpsichoral, no?

  10. Absolutely yes, to your last point!

    But, continuing to play devil's advocate and put the other side of the argument here, I find it very stressful when I am leading when followers try to 'help' or 'steer' and it makes me more, not less, likely to have a collision. I don't go in a direction where I have no visibility, unless I have checked first that it is free. The same goes for sacadas and boleos. If I lead them, it's because I know there is space for them. And I would find a follower who monitored my leading the way you describe so unpleasant to dance with I probably wouldn't take her out on the floor ever again. Which is one reason why I don't do this to leaders. Also, I very rarely see experienced followers with open eyes in a close embrace. Very rarely indeed. The only time I do so myself is if I am unfortunate enough to have landed up in the embrace of a leader who is a liability on the floor. In which case, I will probably not finish the tanda with him (one of the rare cases where I won't do so).

    However, that is not necessarily saying that what you are suggesting is wrong. That's a matter of personal taste and local conditions. I hope you don't mind my providing a counterargument here. It's meant with respect, believe me.

    And I guess I'm lucky in that floorcraft is not as much of a problem in BA as it is in many other places (although Buenos Aires leaders also complain about bad floorcraft a lot -- though, on the whole, they always and exclusively blame the leaders and, on the whole, I think they are right to do so). But there are far fewer collision in BA than I've seen in Europe so far and, on the whole, at peak hours, the milongas are much, much more crowded. But if I'm led a high boleo I still let my leg fly. And I think I've made contact with something or someone perhaps three times in six years and have never caused injury or harm.

  11. Maybe I've been lucky, in that I've mostly danced with guys with at least reasonable floorcraft.

    I think, in general, good following technique does help. I certainly injured some people when I was a beginner follower because a) I fell onto my back steps rather heavily, rather than transferring weight gradually and smoothly (which makes it hard to spike someone with your heel); b) I kicked and put tension into my leg (not on purpose, but still I did it) in boleos; c) I wasn't grounded enough so my free leg tended to fly into the air too much and it had tension in it. All of those things definitely make collisions more painful when they happen. Also, I wasn't good at reading the exact length of leaders' steps, so I couldn't take teeny tiny steps easily when they were led (when the milonga was crowded). Good following technique therefore helps a lot.

    But I still don't like back-leading, steering or helping out. And I don't remember when I last saw a professional follower doing any of those things at a milonga.

  12. PS I didn't mean to imply that I am by any means perfect in any of those things, now. Just that I used to be worse, far worse...