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Dancing well or"showing off"?

posted Mar 10, 2014, 3:45 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Nov 18, 2014, 4:04 PM ]

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Here's some comments on a discussion thread in  a Tango Blog about how to choose who to dance with at a milonga. This evolved into a discussion about the difference between dancing well vs "showing off". I have replicated these here because they highlight some opinions about follower's ornamentation that really bother me!

Andy (Barcelona) said...
"If she is trying to impress the audience she's automatically ruled out. Look at the man's face sometimes can help, especially if you know his skill to dance."
"...Andy. Although we come from opposite perspectives, we certainly share at least one consideration, ie. avoiding dancers who are trying to impress onlookers. Unfortunately, they seem unaware that they're diminishing the richness of the experience, by focussing largely on themselves."
"How do you know whether or not a dancer is dancing "to impress onlookers"? The fact that someone has a very smooth and beautiful walk, a large vocabulary, intense musicality (which might be expressed partially in decorations if the person is a follower) doesn't mean that they are dancing to impress. It just means that they are dancing well. Unless you are a psychologist, it is frankly impossible to judge from outside whether someone is dancing to impress. If I am doing adornos, for instance, it's to express the music and please my partner (who will often be smiling, laughing, saying "esa!" appreciatively etc. when I really catch the music). You might think those adornos are for your benefit, i.e. to 'impress' you. But frankly those sitting out are the last things on my mind when I'm dancing. I'm sure I speak for many dancers here. Dancing well does NOT equal showing off."

Andy (Barcelona) said...
"A couple of words about the adornos.
Absolutely, these are not made "to please a partner" rather than to show off (sic). The male partner should not, doesn't, even know, that the ladie (sic) is "adornando" (sic) if it's perfectly done, which not the standart ladie  (sic) dancer know how to do. The male partner is very bussie (sic) enjoying the dance, following the music holding a treassure (sic) in his arms, avoiding a possible colision (sic) with other couples to enjoy a possible adorno -most of the times made out of the music's beat. If he isn't showing off he is not getting any pleasure from the adorno so he doesn't care about it."

jantango said...
"...I agree with Andy that embellishments are not for one's partner. He can't see them anyway, so why do them on a social floor. He can, however, feel them in his chest. A milonguero viejo told me years ago to keep my feet quiet when dancing. I have followed his advice."
          
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   "Che! leave that move  for the stage! "

I agree  with Terpsichoral that if someone dances with plenty of ornamentation, it doesn't necessarily mean they are trying to impress onlookers. When a dancer is inspired by the music and connection with partner all sorts of beautiful ornamentation can come out of this.  

Similarly I disagree with Jantango and Andy of Barcelona that a leader does not get the benefit of the follower's ornaments. There are opportunities in the dance to ornament as a way of communicating with your partner. It can be done precisely for your partner's enjoyment. It's also enjoyable for the follower, and adds to building the connection between you and your partner.  Of course this is providing the ornamentation fits the music, and doesn't compromise the embrace or partner's balance in any way.

And what's wrong with doing an ornament's for one's own enjoyment! Don't we also dance for our own pleasure, as well as that of the 'other'? Here is an example of the similarities between tango and sex. Do we make love just for the pleasure of the 'other'? Surely it should be a mutually enjoyable experience!

To necessarily put highly ornamented but musically appropriate and connected dancing in the category of "show off" dancing is I believe unfair and unjustified, and may say more about the observer that the observed. For me this viewpoint is verging on misogyny!

In Sydney, Buenos Aires, and wherever people join together in the communion of dance - "showing off", or what is perceived as such, is bound to occur. And it's not just followers that "show off", as might be assumed from the above mentioned blog.  Leaders have been known to show off too.  I've seen plenty of what some tango purists may describe as "showing off" in the top milongas of Buenos Aires, often by well known and esteemed local tango dancers there. Nobody criticises them for their ornaments!

Admittedly, there is often a very fine line between "dancing to impress" and dancing well. What one person may describe as "showing off" another may perceive as being playful or dancing creatively. 

This then brings up the dangers of  tango fundamentalism - the practice of declaring what is the right or wrong way to dance tango.

What I would personally define as showing off or dancing to impress, with all the negative connotations that infers, is when a dancer dances with complex, flashy moves and ornaments without consideration to the music, the partner and others around them.  

Elizabeth Wartluft, cultural anthropologist and experienced dance teacher, casts a more honest and compassionate light on the act of showing off on the dance floor in the following post on her tango blog:  To show off is human?  

"When I am more relaxed, I show off less. When I show off less, I invest more in my tandas. When I invest more in my tandas, I get more memorable tandas. Focusing on my partner, instead of showing off, makes for better tangos. If I dance for my partner, instead of for the tables, I will have a good time, and dance better. Showing off is human, but resisting the urge makes for stellar tango."

The point though for me is that following or leading is not only about focusing on one's partner, it's also about focusing on the music. It's about dancing for your partner and the music.  If you feel inspired by the music to ornament do not resist the temptation to do so because someone might call you a "show off"...

Ornament
to your heart's 
content!