Imagination in dancing: show dance vs. slow dance

In the last article I argued that looking has a negative effect on your ability to listen to the music, to your body and to your partner (When you’re looking you’re not listening). Still, if you look at some people dancing, even if they seem not to be looking at their feet etc, they seem to be motivated by an image of dancing that is not ideal. Generally speaking people seem to be doing too much, too fast, with the result that they end up in awkward positions.

This is the natural result of focusing on a lot of movement which is characteristic of all dancing that is intended for exhibition. Performers are in a hold but this is usually very open and attempting to execute so many large movements in a closer embrace leads to an uncomfortable dance.

Yet people are often seen attempting to execute large steps in large numbers while in a tight embrace. They want the image and feeling of intimacy, but they hold that image together with the image of much movement. These are mutually contradictory goals and something has to give if the dancing is to be, let’s say, not so wearing.

Point is, looking at tango exhibitions gives you a mental image that controls your dancing even if you’re not looking at anything at that particular moment. It’s in your memory and still controls how you dance. It will therefore inhibit the perception of music, your body and your partner. It will result in what Alexander called “end gaining” by which he meant that people tend to be focused on a task or goal at the expense of focusing on the body that needs to execute that task, leading to excess strain and poor use of the body.

Once you set out with the idea that dancing requires movement you’re set to be doing too much and to be losing the awareness and the listening that is required in order to develop a more efficient and pleasant way of moving to tango music.

The solution that I propose is to replace the mental image of the show dance that you get from the teachers/performers of tango everywhere with the image of a slow dance that is familiar from the prom night etc. I still remember slow dancing to sappy 80s tunes like “I’m Not In Love” by 10CC. The girl puts her arms on top of the guy’s shoulders and they sway from side to side in a hug.

A slow dance is a type of partner dance in which a couple dance slowly, swaying to the music. This is usually done to very slow-beat songs, namely sentimental ballads. Slow dancing can refer to any slow couple dance (such as certain ballroom dances), but is often associated with a particular, simple style of dance performed by middle school, high school, and college students.

When two partners dance together, the male partner typically holds his hands against the sides of the female partner’s hips, buttocks, or waist while the female drapes her hands on the male’s shoulders. The couple then sways back and forth with the music. Foot movement is minimal, but the pair may use their feet to slowly turn on the spot. Because the dance requires little physical concentration, participants often talk to each other while dancing. Some couples who have a close relationship may dance very closely together, in a “hug-and-sway” fashion.


Now, starting with that, you just need to add a rhythmic component to the swaying movement, a swing that goes with the habanera rhythm that is always there in tango (see Tracing the origins of Tango music to contradanza and habaneira).

Rather than putting his hands on the woman’s waist as in slow dancing, the man would embrace the woman around the upper body as in a hug. The rest is then figuring out, by way of trial-and-error, how to walk, and then walk around each other, adding the tresillo swing on a regular basis to spice things up.

The benefit of this strategy is that you bring the movement to the bare minimum to sustain a flow to the music and connection to partner, without focusing on having to be moving all the time and doing radical and exaggerated steps that you always see people do. You’re pulling it in, internalising it, keeping it simple. If you try something and it doesn’t work so well you have a base to get back to, regain composure and get back into the flow of the slow dance.

You’re connecting to music and your partner without the need to peacock with the radical moves of the clown wearing the oversize tango pants taking oversize tango steps.

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