Most Revels tell me they are terribly bored on the dance floor because each Mark seems to repeat a small number of sequences. Although the set of sequences varies among the Marks, “he has a nice embrace and good technique, but after two songs I know exactly what he’s going to do.”
Our rapture with tango comes from the experience of mutual concentration which takes us to the optimum psychological state called “flow“. Regardless of how nice the embrace or musicality might be, when the Revel is no longer challenged to concentrate, she drops out of flow.
Some Revels “solve” this problem by doing whatever they want. If the Mark isn’t going to entertain them, they’ll just throw in voleos and ganchos at every opportunity. The Marks call them “wild horses”.
Most Marks tell me that there is no point in learning new elements and variations because “no one will follow them”. When they try something new, they get one of the common automatisms, This is discouraging because they don’t know if they marked it correctly and the Revel ignored them, or if in fact there was an error in their mark which they need to improve.
When a Mark communicates an idea and receives an irrelevant response, s/he drops out of flow. It’s a hard drop. To me as a Mark it feels like being hit in the head. And this is why I aspire and exhort Revels to add very little, if anything, to the dance. Despite Mark’s compulsion to tell us “it’s a dialogue” I can feel that they are disturbed by –and really do not enjoy– any interruption of their ideas. This is reasonable. No one likes to be interrupted while expressing a thought!
So both sides are complaining about the same problem, feeling limited to sequences “because that’s all the Revels will follow” and being bored “because the Marks never try anything new.”
To escape this vicious circle, we need:
- Revels who are responsible for knowing what is possible, so they don’t respond to a new experience with an automatism.
Learning the Lexicon of tango is not just for Marks’ improvisation, it’s for Revels’ openness to possibilities.
- Revels who create space and time in their movement so the Mark feels free to try something unfamiliar.
Improving muscle strength and control is how Revel’s open the way for Marks to dance better.
- Practice time so Marks feel comfortable exploring and making mistakes.
Patience, investment, and an attitude of building partners is how we encourage Marks to take more improvisational risks.
- Upgrading our understanding of the embrace from the simplifications taught to beginners to the techniques used by experts.
Improvisation won’t feel good if we don’t understand how to constantly adjust our joints and muscles.
When I can get my students to stop complaining about their partners and talk about their own dancing, they all say the same thing: They want more confidence and the want to feel they are expressing themselves.
Confidence is the self-perception that you are doing a good job. In order to attain confidence in any activity, you need a thorough understanding of the values of the activity, and the principles for achieving those values. In tango the values are embrace, connection, traffic management, musicality, and improvisation, as well as gracious navigation of the social milieu.
Tango offers Marks several areas for self-expression: improvisation, musicality, and costume. For Revels it’s mostly costume. Skilled revels can add adornos, but even these can become rote over time. Some Revels add intense sensuality within the embrace, stretching and rubbing their bodies against the Mark. The opportunities for individual expression in movement are very subtle. I tell Revels they are doing the wrong dance. They argue with me. I wonder what it is about tango that whispers promises of something they are calling “self-expression”. At this point I can only guess that what they are referring to is not “self-expression” but beauty. Tango does make women feel beautiful, and this is very precious in a world which persistently confronts us with images and bodies we cannot match and real-life men who tell us they don’t like makeup (another earnest lie).
So let it be beautiful. Beauty in tango comes from very fine physical control of every millimeter of every movement, achieving precisely defined customs from your toes to your nose.
For Marks, self-expression is a larger field, but still highly constrained by tango’s customs. It requires a thorough knowledge of the tango elements and variations and ability to wield them musically while still maintaining physical and emotional connection.