Ballet fitness, musicality, and a truly shared dance

ballet fitness.jpg

Ballet fitness class

You’ve got the tango bug pretty bad when a friend talks you into doing a ballet fitness class.

Bridgitta’s argument was that ballet training offers a lot of benefits for dancing tango. It was hard to argue against this given that I’d already booked a ballet taster class next month for exactly that reason.

I’d expected the class to be all women. As it turned out, a third of the class was male. But that third was me …

The teacher assumed familiarity with ballet terms, with which I had none, but a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ approach got me through some version of most of it. With the feet at least; I think we’ll mostly gloss over the arms.

The teacher was clearly surprised that this bloke with no prior ballet experience, and a physique not entirely suggestive of a ballerino, was able to manage the single-footed balance 95% of the time. Not quite as surprised as I was, mind. Seems the combination of pilates, tango and balance ball exercises is effective – who knew?

The class was excellent exercise, and I did enjoy the balance aspects of it, and will incorporate those exercises into my practice. The mat-based stuff, not so much: my body doesn’t bend into anything resembling any of those shapes …

I didn’t feel I was going to get enough ongoing value out of it to justify dragging myself through the hell of Camden High Street on a Saturday afternoon more than once, but I’m glad to have done it.

Musicality

The class was followed by a guided practice session with Bridgitta. This had two related goals: expanding my approach to musicality, and creating space for the follower’s dance.

Quite a few followers have commented positively on my musicality, and I do feel this comes fairly naturally, but it’s currently at a rather basic level. I can walk to the beat, mark the phrases and manage some sense of the overall feel of the music (more circular movements for vals, for example).

Bridgitta wanted to take this to the next level. Being able to dance to any instrument – not just the beat – and rather than simply pausing at the end of phrases, to make the pauses part of the dance. Effectively to transform a static pause into a dynamic suspension, something I’ve worked on a little but not nearly enough.

Giving time and space to the follower

The related goal was to give time and space for the follower’s dance. A brief pause at the end of a phrase doesn’t give a follower much opportunity to express her own musical interpretation. But if I can, for example, follow the violin, and do a slow suspension in the gaps between the violin parts, then a good follower will realise the time she has time to play.

And if I can, let’s say, lead a slow ocho during that time, she will have a lot of opportunity to really express herself in her own dance. Which would then, in an ideal world, spark ideas in me.

Combining the two

The two goals, of course, combine perfectly. If a follower can hear the instrument I’m following, she will know when there will be time for her own dance. If I then offer just a very simple lead, from a barely-moving suspension to an ocho, she will also have the space she needs.

Interestingly, I interpreted it as me creating space for the follower to do her thing. But Bridgitta also intended that for me: that both leader and follower can ‘find the space, pauses and texture within the various musical lines, which the follower might enjoy dancing with you.’ A truly shared dance.

As in all things tango, the theory is one thing, the practice something else entirely! I’m very drawn to following the beat, so it’s challenging for me to leave that alone. It’s especially hard for me to dance to the singer when there is a strong beat present at the same time.

And much as my balance may have impressed in the ballet class, it was less impressive when I was trying to do suspensions! But Bridgitta told me not to worry about balance for the purposes of this practice, just to focus on the musical interpretation.

When I did my best to put all this into practice while dancing to Poema, Bridgitta told me it was the best I’d danced yet. Which surprised me, as it was very far from my best technical dancing, and didn’t even employ all the limited dance vocabulary I possess at this point.

It very effectively proved the point she’d made when we were chatting earlier. I was lamenting the fact that I still have a very limited vocabulary in actual dance. Walking, outside walking, side-steps, rebounds, a medio-giro. Plus what still feels like somewhat clunky ochos, and an even clunkier full giro. Other stuff, I can do in class but requires too much thought as yet to have time to use it in dance.

Bridgitta said that if I continue to develop my musicality, make my lead feel both clear and comfortable for my follower, and offer her the time and space for her own musical expression, then I will get no shortage of far better dancers than me wanting to dance with me. Way more so than a larger vocabulary.

That feels like a great set of goals. Indeed, next lesson with Maeve, I will ask her to work with me on those three things. In the meantime, I have plenty of homework from Bridgitta to keep me busy!

Photo: Shutterstock

5 thoughts on “Ballet fitness, musicality, and a truly shared dance”

  1. “It’s especially hard for me to dance to the singer when there is a strong beat present at the same time.”
    You don’t need to dance to the singer. Do what is natural to you hearing the strong beat in instrumental tangos. Dance teachers with no musical training came up with the strange idea to dance to the singer. It only complicates tango even more for those learning it. Stick with what you hear in the music. Your partners will appreciate it.

    “that both leader and follower can ‘find the space, pauses and texture within the various musical lines, which the follower might enjoy dancing with you.’ A truly shared dance.”
    I am a trained musician and trained dancer. I have no idea what she is saying here. Tango is a feeling that is danced. A secret shared by two. It’s not about fancy footwork or doing your own thing.

    “my best technical dancing, and didn’t even employ all the limited dance vocabulary I possess at this point.”
    If your embrace is not comfortable for your partner, all the fancy steps you do won’t make up for it. Technique is not important. Feeling is.

    “Other stuff, I can do in class but requires too much thought as yet to have time to use it in dance.”
    Forget the stuff. It makes you “think” tango, not “feel” tango. There is a big difference. I can tell when a partner is thinking tango; he forgets me.

    I found your blog while writing a comment on mine, Tango Chamuyo. I’ve been living in Buenos Aires for 20 years and had the pleasure of dancing and teaching with many milongueros. Let me know when you plan your first visit to Buenos Aires.

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    1. Hi Janis, many thanks for taking the time to reply in such detail. We’ve actually exchanged messages on dance-forums too. 🙂

      – Dancing to the singer
      That’s just about me having more options. Not saying I can’t just dance to the beat, but more possibilities open up when I can dance to more instruments.

      – The quote
      It’s ok, I know what she means by this, and it’s nothing to do with steps.

      – Technique/comfort/steps
      Don’t worry, there is zero danger of me and ‘fancy steps’! And yep, I absolutely get comfort as a priority, especially having now done a little following. But still, technique matters in terms of clarity of my lead.

      – Stuff
      Yep, I agree, but this is in the context of me having felt frustrated in milongas when the Ronda is not moving, I want to walk and can’t. Now I have a little more vocabulary, things are easier.

      – BA
      We’ll be there 3rd to 16th, staying at the NH Buenos Aires Latino. Would be lovely to meet up.

      Ben

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