26 Jun 2008

To dance well, you have to know

How To Wait (Part I)

In the present moment, June 2008

"The most difficult thing in the dance is to wait"

Pablo Retamar

Occasionally during class, remarks casually uttered by teachers leave a lasting impression. These sayings, short, pithy, have the unwavering accuracy of a cobra's strike. They contain one part dance technique, one part philosophy and one part observation of the human pysche. The astuteness, simplicity and elegance of the observations have the blinding force of an epiphany.

These are moments of "wu" (悟 enlightenment) in my dance. In a flash, my mind crystalised into thought what my body has already unsubconsciously understood as a natural result of dancing and learning in Buenos Aires.

Why we Don't Wait when we Dance

There is no Time!
To function in the modern city life, we are almost conditioned not to wait. Existing in a world of high speed super-whiz bang technology, with its intrinsic work pressures, stressed time management, family commitments, there is never enough time. Work assignments with yesterday deadlines, impatient clients, traffic, crowded streets, long queues everywhere for food, to pay the bills, grocery shopping etc etc.

Time is a monster. To parody the saying, we have become Time's Bitch.

Faster! Higher! Stronger!
(apologies to the Olympic Games)
In our minds, waiting often implies = being slower, which in turn leads to = losing out. We are conditioned since young to excel. The competitive world tells us that the early bird gets the worm. We have to be faster (and hence better) than the next person. First product to market. First to reach the finish line.

The flipside of this mindset is a fear of failure. Being faster vindicates that we are not slow, we are not stupid.

The Dreaded Silence
Don't laugh when I say this. Majority of us will agree that most people do not handle silence well. It makes people uncomfortable. People feel obliged to make small talk, about the weather, traffic, news of the day, anything! to break the dreaded silence ie. the fear of not knowing what to say to fill up the space. It is the same with people making presentations or giving talks when not behind the safety of a podium, they have the awkwardness of not knowing what to do with their hands.

So from moment to moment in our normal daily routine, we feel we must do something to fill up space once it becomes available.

The problem is that unwittingly, we bring these attitudes and our insecurities even to our leisurely pursuits. This comes across in our dance.

What does it mean to "wait" in tango?
Dancing with someone who has not waited sufficiently feels like this. To use an analogy, it is like speaking to someone who is constantly giving an answer before we have finish speaking the entire sentence up to the full stop.

Let's flip the situation around. To continue in the above analogy, since we did not actually hear the complete sentence from our partner to the very last word, how would we know that we are giving the full response in return?

Of not waiting adequately : "Better" case scenario...
The "conversation flow" between the two dancer is on-going....but with maniacal overtones. Because one or both parties did not wait completely for the step to be fully conveyed before launching off on their own stride, there is no natural ebb and flow from one movement to the next. The movements lack a certain release, so overall there is a physical feeling that the shared dance has a faint echo of tautness.

So it is like this: Picture 2 persons on caffeine-high chatting about their favourite pastime :)

When we dance with excellent dancers, failure to wait completely is our loss since we miss out on the subtle nuances and cadence that makes their dancing so wonderful.

Of not waiting adequately : Worst case scenario...
We respond to our partner well ahead of time. In our rush to response, we did not anticipate that our partner's intended step is not as we had imagined. By rushing ahead (and guessing wrong), we have effectively robbed our partner of the choice of his/her intended next step after this step. Being able to give our partner the freedom of choice when dancing is a very nice thing to share.

Even if we made the right "guess", by not waiting enough, it is very likely the timing between one movement to the next will be out of sync.

Up to this point, perhaps some readers may have made the assumptions that the situations above apply solely to the follower's lapse in not waiting fully for the leader. Or it relates to dancing specifically in either open-embrace, or close-embrace.

In actuality, this quality of knowing how to wait in the dance is equally important, whatever the embrace, for both men and ladies alike.

Why do I say knowing how to wait fully applies equally to the men?

In the event there may be a small handful of unaware leaders out there who routinely fault only the ladies on being too quick on the trigger - leaders, let me tell you a well-known secret
~ You have to follow the ladies too ~
As much as we ladies must follow, leaders in return you have to follow the ladies. You must understand how to wait too, for that just right moment when our movements are complete, before you embark on the subsequent move.

Leaders who rush into the next step, you will produce a slight out-of-sync feeling which will decrease the quality of your dance.

More on knowing how to wait next.
-To be continued-

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