Notes from Every Trick in the Book

Notes from EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK by Charlie Dancey, Juggling chapter, Learning How to Learn Tricks, pp. 467-468

You can save yourself a lot of time if you pay attention to the learning process itself.

A trick means a move or sequence of moves that has been rehearsed for so long that it can be done automatically or subconsciously.

Human mind = conscious and subconscious. Conscious mind is not nearly as powerful as the subconscious. You cannot juggle [dance Argentine tango] by will alone, so you (You) have to teach the subconscious to do what you want it to.

It helps to think of your subconscious mind as another person entirely. A person that gets annoyed easily, and when it gets annoyed it will not do what you want.

☆ Ambitiously, we think the more hours we put in, the quicker we will acquire the skills we seek. Sort of, but you can also overdo and find that the more work you put in, the slower you learn.

☆ Make sure your subconscious is having a good time! Practice only as long as it feels like fun.

☆ Always end a practice session on a high note. If you just had a particularly good sequence, end right there, telling yourself out loud how good you are doing, turn off the music and resume work the next day.

☆ Your subconscious is very active while you sleep, and it will often turn over the events of the previous day, trying to make sense of them.

☆ Take a short pause for breath after making a mistake. Don’t reinforce the mistake by trying again right away. Instead, pause for a few moments while thinking about what went wrong. Then try again, changing your style in a small way. The new attempt must not feel like repeating the old one.

Bill Plake on Practice

My underlinings from You’ll Never “Waste” Time Practicing As Long As You Are Doing This, October 14, 2018 by Bill Plake.

[Substitute “Dance” for “Instrument” and apply Bill’s wisdom to your tango practice.]

One of the main reasons you would probably seek out a great teacher of your instrument is to learn how to optimize practice efforts. That’s what a highly skilled teacher can help you with.

Whatever you practice, do with genuine curiosity and inquiry.

So rather than looking at the “absolute best” way you can practice something, ask yourself this question instead:

“How can I optimize my experience with what I’m practicing right now, right in this practice session, right in this moment?”

This question can help you to form to other types of questions: “Why” questions, and “what if” questions.

“Why do I practice this at this tempo?” Why do I practice these arpeggio patterns in this particular sequence?” “Why do I raise/tense my shoulders when I play into the upper register?” etc.

  1. “What is it that I want?” (Your intentions about what you would like to happen, about what you’d like to be able to do on your instrument. Make this as specific and lucid as possible!)

  2. “What seems to stopping me from getting what I want?” (Identify the problem. Is it simply needing more time? Is it something that you’re doing with your body that is taking you away from your skill and coordination? Is it your attitude? Keep asking/experimenting until the answers emerge.)

  3. “What do I need to do differently?” (This is where you take action. Change course, strategize, reflect, assess, redirect efforts, etc.)

Tango Christmas tree

Spirals make up the structure of our natural world, from immense galaxies to our own minuscule DNA. Unlike primitive robots with joints attached at right angles and actuators attached in straight lines, our bones, with rounded joints and muscles that wrap around in spirals, move in spirals.

Musculoskeletal diagrams. Anterior view left, posterior view right.
The Spiral Line, from ANATOMY TRAINS

See that figure from the monumental work ANATOMY TRAINS by Thomas Myers? He calls that arrangement of muscles the Spiral Line, where they loop around the body in opposing helices (like our DNA) joining each side of the skull across the back to the opposite shoulder, then around the ribs to cross at the navel to the hip, and so on down to wrap around the foot.

St. Louis Arch

Notice the longer lines of muscles and limbs as you move down the body.
In our Argentine tango embrace the partners connect somewhat like a strong parabolic arch, apart at the ground level, reaching up in a long arc to connect up top.

In my preferred style, Salon Tango, the top connection is quiet and well structured. Part of the magic for me as both observer and dancer is the invisible transmission of information flowing back and forth across that top connection by pressures alone. Then, from our stable “base” up top, our energies spiral downward and outward — tiny movements (secret pressures) up top, large movements down below. Like the shape of a Christmas Tree!

When I am sending the signals of my intention from the pressures of my feet rooted to the floor, spiraling up through my body to my partner connection up top, it accomplishes a couple of things. A sensitive partner can feel my foot placement and pressure distribution, and the mass of the upper body and stable partner connection fine tunes the signal.

Graph of Time (X axis) against Amplitude (Y axis) showing Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release of sound.
ADSR Signal Envelope, from TeachMeAudio.com

The shape of the pressure “envelope” transmits your request for the shape of the response. A slow, light, sustained pressure would call for a cylindrical shape revolving slowly for a sustained time. A fast, sharp pressure would call for flaring out at the bottom. Variations in the Attack-Decay-Sustain-Release pressure, plus up and down pressure modifiers, call for some kind of matching response.

When we receive our partner’s intention pressures we respond by magnifying  the invisible signal we receive up top, with movement growing more powerful and bigger as it moves down the body. We, too, firmly root our standing leg to the floor so that our partner can in turn receive pressure information through our body, telling where our foot is and how we are standing on it.

So! Think of your head as a wonderful shining (huge) ornament atop a Christmas tree strung with spirals of beautiful garlands.

One step only

If as a follower you feel some intention from your partner for a step or pivot, but it is not quite clear where or how you should move, or you receive mixed signals, then I would invite you to take one step or pivot with full intention and Authority using good energy. But only a single step or pivot!

This invitation has two points to make. First, both partners need good energy for creative, musical movement. The music has energy and we want to reflect that. Second, when you take more than a single step or pivot without clear a intention guiding each one, you risk losing your partner.

A dancer can make up for a single step that doesn’t fit their intention or expectations.  We can catch up and make something useful of that step or pivot. If, however, our partner goes off on some expectation that we have launched a pattern they know, then we can find it quite difficult to keep up with them.

Now some will usefully point to the molinete as a possible exception to this rule. In the molinete we understand that Forward and Backward cross steps are interspersed with Open steps. We do not expect our partner to keep urging us on for every step. We must, however, keep ourselves available at every single step for the pattern to change, or for the movement to take us out of the molinete.

So, whether you are leading or following, our dance is a movement at a time, where we must check in with our partner after each movement. As we gain skill, that checking in, each partner with the other, will turn into a seamless flow of beautifully fast, or slow, responses.