The Alexander principle of choices

At each and every moment, if we but sense the opportunity, we have three choices. We can do what we’ve always done in that situation, we can do nothing, or we can do something different. The key is recognizing the opportunities to make a choice, and that comes at the moment-before-the-moment.

The BODY LEARNING book cover that shows a man holding a toddler standing upright in the right hand of the man.
BODY LEARNING by Michael J. Gelb

Let’s say that you’ve come to recognize, or you’ve been told, that you do a certain move ALL – THE – TIME. (A cadencia turn, maybe?) You want to introduce variety into that situation. What sort of variety?

  • Do what you’ve always done. But! Can you change the character of the movement? Can you do it at a different cadence, rhythm, or speed? Legato versus Staccato? With styling?
  • Do nothing! Could this be a good time in the music, or in a constant flow of movement, to take a pause? Maybe some rhythmic weight changes in place, or adornos, or simply a quiet gathering of energy for what comes next.
  • Do something different. The cadencia turn makes such an easy change of direction and connector of other figures that we tend to overuse it. What would it take to introduce other creative ways to achieve a similar result with something new? (You might use the Tango Keypad as a tool to analyze existing moves and explore new moves.)

We all want to use our body in the right way, but due to inactivity, sitting, smartphones, desk work, injuries, and repetitive use, what feels right may be less than effective and even hurtful, and what works best may feel wrong.

Maybe we learn from partner or teacher feedback that at times, especially in certain types of movements, we tilt our shoulders, tilt our whole axis, create tension, push or pull, drop a hip, and on and on. The key to making a change comes from recognizing when the problem happens. But because this is what you have done habitually, it doesn’t feel wrong. So instead, we may more easily recognize the situations that lead up to the problem.

So I say to myself, “Ah! We are about to enter that move where I typically do X. Well now I am going to monitor that body part and do what I know to be right, even if it feels different.” Eventually, the better way comes to feel like the right way.

You could benefit nicely from studying all of the Alexander Technique, but you don’t need to know who F. M. Alexander was or what his discoveries and writings were about to benefit from this principle of choices:

  1. Learn and then recognize the situation that arises just before the thing you want to change; and
  2. Give yourself an instant at that moment-before-the-moment to consider and make a choice with intention.

Another principle in the Alexander Technique, and one highly important in learning and improving Argentine tango, is the avoidance of what he terms end-gaining. I plan to explore that topic in a future article.

Frederick Mathias Alexander was born in Tasmania (an island state of Australia) in 1869. He lived in the same era as the development and worldwide growth in the popularity of Argentine tango. In his twenties he became a professional reciter of dramatic pieces, a popular form of entertainment in those days. After almost completely losing his voice, and with no medical answers or help, he developed a method of use of his body in all positions and movements, and cured his vocal problems. [Adapted from THE USE OF THE SELF by F. M. Alexander.]
Library or Store

In addition to Alexander’s own book, I recommend BODY LEARNING by Michael J. Gelb.
Library or Store

You can also find Alexander Technique practitioners and teachers around the world. Search for alexander technique [and your location].

Trust in tango

Trust in Argentine tango. The garden-variety trust that everyone wants to expect has our partners respect our needs for safety, comfort, respect, and mutuality.
Tango as a moving Trust Fall
We trust that they, too, want to commit to making a meaningful dance together. Trust that they won’t take advantage of an intimate embrace for unexpected, unwanted physical contact. Trust that they will practice safety awareness in giving weight and energy to another body, plus safety moving around other dancers and objects.

Another and different type of trust excites me when dancing.

It’s a trust particularly hard to find in novices who aren’t yet aware of what is possible, what can become resolved safely and comfortably if they but commit themselves to the movement their body feels.

It’s a trust that in more advanced dancers means dancing on the edge. It subsumes the previous elements while adding the element of matching: energy, intention, style. Like the novice, maybe we commit to a movement we haven’t seen or danced before and don’t quite understand, or maybe we haven’t danced with this kind of energy or style.

But as a more advanced partner, we can take that moment of trust and add to it our ability to move in a highly effective manner. Feet well connected to the floor in pushing and in receiving it. Legs tracking with hip direction and swinging under and through our center of balance (axis) with each step. Body well structured, coordinated, and alive! with energy matching our partner and the needs of each moment. Body well-grounded, with each step placement intentional, looking out not only for our own but also for our partner’s stability. Giving our partner signals before movements, in suspensions or minute contra-preparations, for an instant to notice, prepare, and respond.

There exists so much personal value that we can give one another: Love, gratitude, understanding, time, empathy, respect, attention, and more.

For me, trust must rank among the highest values in what we can give to another. While typically a thing that a person earns (or loses) over time, it’s something that we dancers do in a few moments of taking up an embrace and moving a few steps with a stranger. It’s something we give, even knowing that we can be hurt if our trust is misplaced, misused.

We willingly suspend our fears, feeling that when we place our trust in the right person, in the right moment, then we shall share mutual rewards.

The hand side of the Argentine tango embrace

David describes the ideal hand embrace for Argentine tango
See also, An ideal embrace.

Transcript for “The hand side of the Argentine tango embrace”

Hi, let’s talk a little bit about the hand side of the Argentine tango embrace.

Will you do a little experiment with me? Clasp your hands together in front of your chest, with you right hand over the left hand. Now, if we move these out to the side, that should look familiar like the hand side of the embrace, where the leader offers their hand out to the side with the palm facing their partner, and their partner places their hand in the leader’s palm, forming a nice, comfortable grip.

Let’s look a little bit about some characteristics of the grip. If we turn to the side, the first you’ll see is that the thumb of the follower encircles the base of the leader’s thumb. And the fingers likewise wrap around it, with the second joint of the fingers draping comfortably over the webbing of the leader’s hand. The hands are not twisted or rotated, not twisted to the side. They are in comfortable alignment with the forearm, and not bent back as in the so-called Milonguero grip.

Let’s take a few quick moments to look at some embraces that I think don’t function as well, and in some cases actually feel unpleasant. The worst of these is where the follower gives only their fingers to the leader. This forces the leader to have to grip onto the fingers to have any form of connection or control on that side. In another form, the follower keeps their thumb tight to their fingers, and they will drape their fingers over, but they do not give any connection with the thumb. Or, they may place it on the middle joint of the leader’s thumb, which is not quite so bad. But I’d like to show you how it’s more functional wrapping the thumb around your partner’s thumb.

But before that, let’s talk just a moment about the Milonguero grip, where the follower’s hand is bent back unpleasantly and uncomfortably. Some dance partners, both leaders and followers, say that this is necessary in order to get locked in, to have a very firm connection with your partner. I’m going to suggest that with the comfortable embrace that we’re looking at here, where the thumb and fingers wrap around the base of the leader’s thumb, draped nicely over the partner’s hand, where neither partner is squeezing the other but they’re just comfortable embracing, that this will produce a nicely locked-in embrace that gives all the control that’s necessary. And we can do a couple of experiments to demonstrate this.

First, let’s look at the lead-follow connection, what it means for the leader to give an intention and for the follower to respond using their own energy to that intention. So for this first experiment, I would like for the follower to be completely passive to allow their hand to be moved by the leader. So we could even, the follower could relax their hand grip so they’re not actually even gripping their partner’s hand and just feel what it’s like for the leader to move your hand around. What is it like for the leader to be moving a passive partner?

Now let’s try the second way, the way that we would want to do it, where the follower uses their own energy to respond to the intentions of the leader. The leader, in this case, will not tightly grip the follower, will not be pulling on the follower. In fact, for the purposes of the experiment, the leader could actually have their hand completely relaxed, while the follower has their hand encircling the leader’s hand. Now when the leader moves, the follower is using their attachment to the leader to move themselves.

In my opinion, this is the natural way that we want the dance to function, where the leader gives an intention or a signal of how they want to move, they move coherently in their own body, and the follower’s connection to the leader allows them to sense where the leader is moving and then use their own energy to move with the leader.

For our second and last experiment, the leader will have a passive hand and the follower will be actively moving it. The leader will actually offer resistance to the hand being moved toward the follower. The follower will drape their fingers over the leader’s hand. The thumb can be either loose or maybe even resting lightly on top of the leader’s thumb. And now I want the follower to pull against the leader’s resistance and see how that feels in the body.

Now I would like for the follower to actively encircle the thumb of the leader. And once again, to pull back against the leader’s resistance and see how that feels in the body. It should be the case that this extra recruitment with a powerful thumb gives you a better sense of connection, of being locked in to your partner, whether or not they are giving you any connection.

After you’ve thought about this, two questions might come to mind. First, what if the hands are very different in size? Is that going to make a difference? Well, I did an experiment out in the wild to test this. In front of a grocery store, I asked a woman and her very young daughter if they would assist me. Happily, it turned out that the woman was a dancer who actually danced with her young daughter. And when I mentioned Argentine tango, they were happy to help.

So I first asked them to do the experiment where they clasped their hands in front of their chest. And then without any prompting, I asked the mother if she would place her hand in mine. And she did, as we’ve been demonstrating. And then, again, without any prompting, I asked the young lady, the girl, if she would place her tiny hand in mine. And she also, with her small hand, encircled my thumb with her thumb and fingers. It felt quite natural to her, and it felt natural and comfortable to me with her hand resting on the mound of my palm and giving nice, full contact to both our hands.

A second question that might come up is how do we embrace a partner who may have a muscular or joint problem, or some other limitation that prevents them from placing a palm in the palm of their partner, where the palm is facing your partner, with the fingers draped over and the thumb around the partner’s thumb. Well, as always in tango, with the magic of making that connection in tango, we’re going to seek to make the best connection we can with whatever limitations we may find.

I’m going to show you a photo of my wife. When she was a very young girl, she decided it would be fun to ride a horse that was wild in a pasture, bareback. And when she was brushed off by a low hanging branch, the fall resulted in a multiple compound fracture of her forearm. In the picture, you’ll see two round scars in her forearm from that incident. The injury didn’t heal completely properly, so this makes it difficult for her to pronate her hand, that is to turn the thumb towards her midline. As a result, she has to approach the embrace with her hand turned vertically, somewhat vertically, or else it forces her elbow into an awkward position.

So when she embraces my hand, she will be more on my thumb than on the palm. However, since she embraces low down at the base of the thumb where it’s strongly connected to both hand and forearm, it feels quite comfortable and we both feel well connected.

If you have been dancing Argentine tango for any length of time, you will have heard teachers and experienced dancers say you can tell a lot about the dance you’re going to have from the embrace that your partner gives you. And the embrace is a gift that each partner gives to the other. We want our partner to know that we want to be with them, fully committed to what we’re going to create in this dance. The hand side is usually the first part of the embrace, and it sets the tone for everything that follows.

This is David at the Tango Tribe studio in Austin, Texas, and I thank you for your attention.

Feelings & Technique

Dear significant dance partner,

I may have come to an important realization.

You asked whether I thought I would go to another encuentro after my first experience where I felt that I had not experienced what I considered a sufficient number of sufficiently satisfying tandas.

As I was doing my garbage cart walk from the house to the street this morning I flashed on the realization that, while my desire is to have amazing, even when rarely “perfect” dance experiences; my two goals are to look nice (as a point of personal pride, accomplishment, and for recognition) and for my partners–whether leader or follower–to feel that they have amazing dance experiences with me.

Goals and projects for their attainment

While I have good intentions for my various improvement goals:
If I compete (a current project) it
o Helps provide structure, context, and motivation for my practice and learning;
o Gives me a yardstick for measuring progress; and
o Gives me arms-length, high level feedback;
I had (have) a selfish, even if worthwhile motive. The “valid, up to a point” thought is that the more I improve my dance the more others will see it, and that will get me more dances with equally accomplished dancers.

Without denying the importance of my technical performance goal, what if I raised the importance of my dance partner connection goal? What if I even used that as a key component of my technical work?

Connection: value and development

When I watch a dance performance of any kind (social, YouTube, stage), while the flash and technical quality first catch my eye, what makes a deeper, longer lasting impression is my sense of the connection of the partners to each other and to the music.

And for getting more partners, what’s likely to give the bigger payoff, onlookers maybe seeing how fancy you dance on a floor packed with other dancers, or having dance partners tell their friends how they feel when dancing (and socializing!) with you? I think we all know, word of mouth beats advertising.

Plus, that intention to give a partner an amazing dance experience works equally well in all cases, whether leader or follower, beginner to pro.

What goes into an amazing dance experience? Certainly the technical aspects play a big part in that: the ability to control one’s axis/balance in all situations, as well as to be aware of and protect our partner’s axis/balance; the ability to accurately, clearly, and comfortably give and respond to movement intentions; the ability to navigate a floor safely, protecting our partner and others (and even eyes-closed followers can help this with their sense of space, safe movements, and accurately responding to a partner’s intention).

Beyond the technical attainments, what goes into a great experience of connection to a partner (and to the music)? Experience, of course. We’ve got to have lots of experience with a variety of partners (and music) where we come to feel deeply and consider our response to each other.

I reject the macho advice I so often received from mostly my early teachers who told me that to make my best, fastest progress I should seek to dance only with already good partners; that beginner or weak partners would bring me down. While I recognize the element of truth in that–particularly at that stage of my development, I also see it as one of those “training wheels” that need to come off. (J, reviewing this for me, adds that dancing with beginners and improvers is our way to give back to the community that has meant and done so much for us.)

Resolution

So I shall seek to embrace and make better use of all kinds of dance opportunities, including the encuentro, where one can find a lovely variety of dancers all with the intentions to create deep and satisfying dance connections with others.

Now here I am burdening your schedule with a welter of words, taking up time with my self-analysis session. I hope you will grant me leeway and not plot some retribution for me. 🙂

Thank you for helping me become a better dancer through our practice and your feedback and ideas. And a better person.

Un gran abrazo con meneo,
–David

Embracing mindfulness

A couple dancing, viewed from the leader's back, featuring the follower's face in quiet repose.

How much attention can I give to my partner? A meditation on the Argentine tango embrace.

Why do I feel curious about this moment?
(A meta-question. Instead of directing oneself to hold curiosity about each moment, perhaps a question about feeling curious will more often or more deeply provoke such feelings?)

What might cause our hands to embrace even more comfortably or more intimately or more effectively, one within the other? Try them. What kind of dance do hands make together? Can hands feel curious about their partner?

Can I feel my partner’s body through this hand?

Do you remember when you last tried on shoes? How long did it take before you realized that they were perfect, or that less than perfect, they had some unexpected tightness, pinch point, inflexibility, sloppiness? What could your foot have told you about that shoe, had you been willing to listen mindfully?

Can I feel in my hand-wrist-arm-shoulder what my partner’s hand-wrist-arm-shoulder feels? How can my parts express their care for my partner’s parts?

It is not softness, as such. It is not firmness, as such. What does my hand’s quality of listening say to my partner?

Should we expect perfection in an instant? Hardly. How may my parts communicate quietly, respectfully what might make them even happier?

For what reason did we start this embrace on the hand-side? How much more invasive and impatient might an arm-side approach seem? Where a hand-side approach might seem more exploratory, where might an arm-side-first approach seem fitting, suitable?

How did our bodies come together? Who approached whom? Did my partner have a choice? Did I?

Do my body parts feel comfortably, reliably stacked one atop one another? Do I feel the slightest tension anywhere, holding parts in a certain way? How much more energy, mind and body, can I have available to our dance when none of it leaks away to tension, mind or body?

As our hands embrace each other in an intimate, comfortable, relaxed-even-while-alert way, in how many ways do our arms around their body enjoy the same qualities?

What qualities of touch tell our partner that I am comfortable being with you and I trust you, and I want to gently, quietly explore our arrangement to feel how we might make it feel and function even better?

How much time will I give my partner to feel that they, and I, and we both feel well connected, comfortable, and alert, ready for an amazing trip together?

Now as we move together, where are my partner’s parts? Can I feel each of their feet through our connection? Can I feel where they may carry any tension in their body? What can I do to dispel that?

Can I feel my partner’s dismay when I abandon some attention to the embrace, the foundation for our movements together? How can I comfortably, quietly, calmly restore that fine embrace?

Then, when we come to the end, as alas we must, how does my partner sense our reluctance, yet our willingness to part, to silently express our thanks as we say good-bye for this moment to the experience that we created together?

Holding space

Argentine Tango as giving, taking, . . . and holding space

This began as a teaching article, and you’ll find some of that, but then I got distracted.

In my Einsteinian, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” view of Argentine tango we find but two basic moves: changing weight from one foot to another, and pivots.

Yes, that’s simple, and how do we go from that to movement across and around the floor? By using, stepping into or taking away space. When I step toward and into my partner’s space they retreat into the open space behind them. Vice-versa, when I step backwards giving space in front of me, my partner steps into that space to continue confronting me.

Sometimes we both move together into a space, as in the salida.

When I want to create a curving movement I use space differentially, opening up space on one side while closing it on the other side.

I can also use that differential opening/closing technique to suggest a longer/shorter movement than mine when we step together into a space. For example, in the salida if I rotate my torso toward my partner I will close off space, suggesting that they step not quite as far as me.

In a molinete around me I continuously take one side away from my partner, opening space in that direction. In a molinete around my partner I continuously turn in toward them, without collapsing in on them, keeping them centered in my perambulation.

Floorcraft has each couple in la ronda managing their space between the couples fore and aft. We either move around the space underneath us as a couple, or we move into available space ahead, leaving space behind us.
Not terribly profound, maybe not even terribly useful. But for a beginner with limited vocabulary it can serve as a lifeline to simply know how to keep moving–simply. For an expert who transcends vocabulary, it expresses the way.

It became somewhat profound when, as my thoughts gathered, the expression holding space for another arose.

Holding space, the gift of being fully present for another person. “You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination.” (Lynn Hauka).

When holding space for another we meet them with unconditional regard, offering unconditional support, giving our heart and our willingness to be fully with them. We breathe together. We allow. We ground ourselves.
Holding space challenges us by its intimacy yet its need for a certain distance and respect to let the other person be themselves, not our expectations nor our desires.

Does it seem clear that in order to hold space for others You must first hold space for yourself, accepting yourself as is?

Give your partner only as much as they can handle. (Test but don’t stress.) Empower, don’t limit your partner. Keep your ego out of it. Be in the moment. Make them feel safe enough to fail. Allow them to make different decisions and have different experiences than you would.

From the moments of taking up and settling into an Argentine tango embrace, can you feel from your partner, and do you give to your partner the feeling that, “I trust you. Whatever we do, wherever we go, I’m with you.”

Ways to explore and practice

Wooden traffic sign with the words NEW SKILLS pointing to the right
New Skills image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Always work with a notebook and camera. Every time you make a good or interesting discovery, video record it so you don’t lose what happened, then in your notebook record the date and time, who you worked with, whether you recorded it and where, and annotate the sequence for quick reference.

Keep it concise! Whatever you work on and whatever you produce for your video and written log, make it short and sweet. When we combine too much material at once we make it difficult (impossible?) to discern where we need to work and what changes make the greatest improvements.

For any tango element or sequence you work on, identify the key point(s) that make it work or make it interesting.

Take the latest pro performance video that has captured your attention. View it with your partner and make a time log of the sequences or movement dynamics you want to explore. (Use the space bar for an easy stop/start.) Work through them one at a time until you feel a level of mastery. Video record and log what you’ve done.

Taking any tango element or sequences, what are all the various ways you could enter, begin the element or sequence? Which ones seem to work better? Why? Could a slight change be made to make an awkward one work better?

Taking any tango element or sequences, what are all the various ways you could resolve, end the element or sequence? Which ones seem to work better? Why? Could a slight change be made to make an awkward one work better?

Reversals

  • Instead of forward direction, go backward.
  • Instead of leader to follower, do it follower to leader.
  • Instead of to the hand-side (HS) of embrace, do it to the arm-side (AS).

Cadenas

  • Can we made this into a repeating, chain figure?
  • Can we make this travel down the line of dance (LOD)?

Circular/Linear

  • Can we make this circular figure travel in a line?
  • Can we make this linear figure move in a circle?

The Tango Keypad
Using a random number generator or phone numbers from your Contacts list, do the moves dictated by a three-digit (or longer) sequence.

  • Try the sequence starting from each of the four possible starting points: Parallel System (PS) with weight on AS or HS, and Cross System (CS) on AS or HS.
  • Which starting points work best?
  • Does the sequence (or part of it) remind you of anything you already know?
  • Does the sequence work as a good starting or ending point of anything you already know?
  • Where movement seems awkward, how can you make that flow, and can you apply what you learn from that to other, similarly awkward movements?
  • Code a sequence you already know in keypad format. Does this give you ideas to generalize the movement or to make substitutions?
  • By the way, an understanding that every weight change (either in place or over a distance) is an Open, Front-crossing, or Back-crossing step facilitates our ability to create entry/exit steps from any other sequence.

Take any tango element or sequence you know, and at each step explore what would happen if one or the other partner changed weight (such as with a quick cross or step-together).

Take any tango element you know and explore how the result or dynamics change when leader:

  • Directs partner’s step toward themselves, away from themselves, or somewhere in between.
  • Directs their own step toward their partner’s new leg (the one arriving on a new axis) or old leg (the one leaving the old axis) or somewhere in between.
  • Make this analysis with each step.
The word "practice" filled with words about practice, repeated four times and stacked on top of one another
Practice image by John Hain from Pixabay

All of the above seems mostly oriented to learning or discovering new movement patterns, but we should not neglect movement dynamics, movement quality, and musicality!

  • Review videos of yourselves with an eye to clean, clear, crisp, final placement of each step, pivot, or other movement. We tend to focus on ourselves. View again and give your partner feedback on what you feel. Practice and redo the video until you feel satisfied that you have a publication worthy example. (Remember the advice up top to keep it concise.)
  • Similar to how above we explore foot placements, symmetries, and more, we also want to explore movement quality: larger/smaller, faster/slower, strong/weak, regular/irregular timing, higher/lower, I move them/they move me/we move ourselves, changing linearity/circularity.
  • Much as we did for our latest favorite pro video, pick a favorite song and write a time log of musical inventions and fragments that particularly catch your attention or entertain you. Explore (and video/log!) ways to interpret these in your dance.

As a student of not only Argentine tango, but also teaching, coaching, learning, and practicing, I am always looking out for good ideas. Do you have some? Please share.

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.

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.