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19 NOVEMBER 2014
What am I saying? The dilemma of the inner dancer

(young piano student plays piece without dynamic variation)

Me: “I guess you forgot about the dynamics this time."
Student: "I did SO not forget. I thought about it the WHOLE time!"


In my piano teacher's studio at the music conservatory, there was this picture: a portrait of a man leaning forward with one hand cupped behind his ear, like he was trying to hear something. The picture was placed on the wall vis-à-vis the person seated on the piano stool, so the man would always be in front of whoever was playing. "He's there to remind us to listen", my piano teacher explained, "Not to hear, but to listen to how we really are playing."

I think this is the most important thing I've learnt about performing: that the idea of what you want to say could get in the way of your ability to see whether you're really saying it. When I'm playing a piece, I might become so absorbed in the music and in my feelings for it that I forget to listen objectively. I might feel the dynamics very strongly inside - so strongly that I don't notice that my playing isn't dynamic.

It's every artist and performer's dilemma. And it’s also a dilemma for tango dancers.

"But I'm not an artist," you might argue. "I don't do performances. I just want to go to a milonga and be in the arms of a lovely person and move my body to the music."

The thing is: this dilemma does not only apply to performing as such. It applies to all kinds of communication. It's my dilemma as I'm writing this post, even. Every time I want to convey a message, the question arises: Am I capable of looking at my communication from outside my body and brain and heart? Am I expressing what I want to say in a functional way, with precise tools, so that there are chances of being understood correctly?

Am I expressing anything at all, or do I just feel?

This is where things could get impossibly philosophical. But I believe that this is just as much a technique question as a philosophical one. Let’s say that dancing is communication WITH my partner ABOUT the music (or maybe about how the music makes us feel - to me, this is basically the same thing). To do this, I need to learn to know the music, and I need to learn techniques for how to change the quality of my movements so it describes the different qualities in the music.

And then I need this thought with me: am I communicating?

There’s nothing wrong with just feeling, of course. But the moment we want to express ourselves, or express the music, this thought becomes one of our most important tools.

Terpsi's thoughts
This is a problem I've come across very often. Students have often told me that they *are* pausing, for instance, that they feel they are -- while the actual pause is imperceptible to their partner, who feels frogmarched through the song on the pulse with not a single moment to take a breath. And also that they *are* dissociating -- when their bodies are completely rigid blocks and not even the slightest twistiness is occurring. Convincing them of the difference between what they believe is happening and what is actually occurring on a physical level is one of the greatest challenges of teaching. And, in my own case, I'm pretty sure there are the same kinds of discrepancies between what I think I am doing when I dance, what I think I am conveying to my partner and what's actually happening and the message that they are, in fact, receiving. But, by definition, these are in my own blind spots and I am unaware of them. I'm certain that my inner experience is enormously richer and more nuanced than what is transmitted to my partner. In fact, as a writer, I'm especially prone to imaginative heightening (uncharitable people call it exaggeration, but I prefer to think of it as giving reality the generous benefit of the doubt). Thanks for an excellent post,
Per Pelle Berséus This is an interesting topic indeed, and I think the issue may be even deeper. It is not only when we are into artistic creativity or when we try to communicate something that there is a gap between what we think we do and what we actually do with our bodies.

FM Alexander got a sore throat from reciting Shakespeare, and he noticed that it was due to some involuntary movements of head and neck that came into action each time he started reciting. The interesting part is that even when he was focusing only on doing the opposite movmement, and also feeling in his body that he actually did do the opposite movment, a check in the mirror proved that in fact he was still into his old, bad habits!

So even when when we are fully focused on a certain action, we do not always have the ability to notice if it does not work. We might feel that we are doing the correct action, but we still cannot be sure that we are in fact doing it.

Tasha Conti And sometimes it's the Dunning-Kruger effect at work . . .
Reynolds Irena Yes, another version of the old story... "The mind is willing but the body is feeble"  Although I absolutely agree with T that we all (no matter how good we seem to be) have our own blind spots, but I think and hope, that as we progress through our journey the discrepancy between mind and body diminishes. On the other hand this would explain why on the beginning of the journey some teachers advise to exaggerate (what it feels like to start with) the movement… Just a thought

Joanne Zhou Receiver is a factor, too. A perfectly transmitted message (if there is one) could be interpreted differently.

how about using video???