Tag Archives: dance

The moments that test you as a leader

I am beginning to find the moments that ask deep questions of me as a relatively inexperienced tango leader to be very special indeed – to the extent that I now seek them out – I hover on the edge of failure as this precisely where the air is thin, the learning is deep and both the excitement and the improvement await.

To me there are 3 completely separate and very different questions  that hold up these mirrors for me to learn more about myself – moments where I can try to freeze time and linger longer.

1. The Big Ask

I am sure we all have these moments. A talented, charming, musical  and confident dancer, perhaps someone significantly more experienced than yourself, is unusually sitting waiting at a table.

You have watched her dance from afar – you know she is better than you – now is the moment when you need to ask.

But this is Europe not Argentina, she is talking to friends or in any event not sitting there staring ahead waiting to gracefully refuse or accept your cabaceo with no-one else even noticing.

So you have to move. At least into range where you can catch her eye – perhaps you even have to walk around the room. You have to take a risk.

If you don’t move now the moment will be lost. Memories of the last woman who rejected you at a Milonga – childhood nightmares at school discos, the attraction of the kitchen at parties – whatever the ghosts they will rise up precisely because this is important if you are to progress.

You feel tense. You are not as good as her.

Enjoy discovering yourself, think about how you feel, what holds you back. What feelings and choices like this mean to you as a person. Decide how you want to live your life.

Then move.

Ask her.

2. The Ronda

A very different kind of challenge to The Big Ask. This is something that is in the background for the whole tanda, more appropriately  for the evening – and is so tough for me precisely because it is in the background, and for me much of my effort to improve is to bring her and the music into the foreground.

I am better now – I think – at focussing on only her and the music. But I remain poor at contributing to the Ronda, so that the milonga itself might be more coherent and alive because of my presence within it.

I need to finish the same distance from the more experienced leader that I started behind. I need not to drift towards the centre. I should be aware of every couple around me – what musicality they are feeling – to try to watch them with my peripheral senses – and if I can then in some way resonate with their musicality as well as our own.

This is a huge challenge for me – it seems to correlate with being very aware of your place in life – to not be too self-centred but to seek joy in the intelligent and musical participation of us all. This is a multi-layered story, as we zoom out from ourselves we become aware and appreciative of new patterns, spirals and turns. Couples move around the milonga in the same way that we move around each other.

Paradoxically the more I become lost in the music and the musicality of the follower the harder it is to contribute to the Ronda, to always be aware of my correct place within it. Reconciling these two is a big challenge for me.

3. When she chooses to walk through the other door.

This – I think – is currently the most important challenge for me if I am to progress as a leader.

It is a necessary part of tango that very often I will ask the follower to consider a particular response to an invitation – and she will for whatever reason choose quite another,

This moment – the split second that I realise she has chosen another way – is just amazing. I so wish I could get more time in this moment – that time would freeze and I could practise my response to her unexpected lead.

For now her follow of a different path is in effect the lead for us both. It is up to me to follow her – and in such a way that she never even guessed that I was asking her to consider some other response entirely. She should never know that we changed roles. Or if she does, she should smile.


I know I fail when she tenses. When she charmingly whispers “sorry”, or when our dance together stumbles – for a moment the magic is suspended – worse of all we just stop and then politely start again.

What I am striving for is the ability to completely welcome that act of creation, and the skill to use it so that we can both move forwards.


The Big Ask, The Ronda and the Other Door .. for me these test me as a leader.

I am sure that as I continue to stumble along my Tango journey more challenges will demand a different approach, a different skill set – another layer of this deeply fascinating and demanding experience.

I look forward to learning what they will be, and how they are going to help me to improve.

Pina Bausch : On the mountain a cry was heard

Absorbing a work by Pina Bausch is a process that fights my natural tendency to understand logically, to define and name things.

She leaves images to work their magic in your mind. She invites you to places that before her could only have been glimpsed out of the corner of your eye… or with Borges, or perhaps in some chemically assisted dreamscape.

She gives a physical dance theatre reality to ideas that for me, without her, would have been left as vague concepts. She brings such impossible things into a sharp physical focus.

Last night what drifted into my mind paraphrased  the opening of the old bbc series “civilisation” …as I recall it through the decades ..  “I don’t know if I can define art, but I am looking at it right now..”

It is pure art. It speaks directly to the part of my brain that resists words, that is somehow primal. Metaphors about nothing, slow repetition, fragments of discomfort and pain.


I watch enthralled as yet again a large man in red underpants patiently and slowly inflates a balloon until it explodes. I watch a woman climb walls and two older men play out a mutual dependency that fascinates me for reasons that I cannot understand. Innocent girls move through their lonely journeys to self awareness while women have their hair pulled in some screaming personal nightmare.

Images follow one after the other making not so much a coherent whole – for there is no logical structure in this place  – but a multidimensional and infinitely rich physical landscape that in some magical sense came from the random wanderings of my own mind.

Such confidence, such faith that the audience would go with her. Daring to present this work on a soil filled stage that immediately cuts off so much of a more conventional dancers vocabulary.

Your cry was heard by me, just as it has been heard by so many that you have touched through your art.

2015 – the year I stop being terrified of amazing women

As 2014 draws to a close I am approaching two years of learning this amazing dance – only a few months to go – and because it is that time of year I think it deserves a resolution.

I realised recently that I was missing an understanding of the kind of physical dancer I want to become.

Here I have made some progress – the key qualities I am looking for are : Milonguero, Precise, Playful, Still Framed, Musical, Stable and Quiet

I have also thought about my emotional response to – and engagement with – the dance. I believe that I honestly do care very much about the follower. I want her to feel respected and protected, to have the chance to dance what she feels in the music and to express herself.

But I have also occasionally had the chance to dance with truly talented, focussed, balanced followers that from the moment you embrace them are very clearly significantly more experienced than me. So much more talented, surer of who they are and what they are doing.

As soon as they hold me I can feel their focus, their restrained but electrifying energy – asking what I have – wondering if I can give them the experience they are looking for.

And always – on the few times I do get these opportunities – it absolutely and completely terrifies me.


So that’s my resolution for 2015. I am going to welcome those opportunities. I am actually going to seek them out, to ask them to dance – rather than hide in the corner, terrified that they will catch my eye and invite me.

I am going to breathe in, focus, and stop being scared of beautiful dancers.

Matisse, Guillem, Maliphant and Liberation

In the last week I have been fortunate to spend time at the Matisse cut outs at the Tate Modern, and to get a chance to see again Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant in Push

Both of course are wonderful – such talent.

I was really moved by a particular Matisse – Acrobats – a work that I had never seen before. It spoke to me of so many things.

One of the many examples on show inspired by the circus, to me it spoke of a journey between two realities – the one constrained and the other free.


Matisse Acrobats

I was thrilled to feel the same message in Push. I don’t think that these artists necessarily were thinking on these lines at all – but that is one of the reasons that abstract art and contemporary dance are so strong – you are free to connect with it in a way that makes sense for your own soul.




Sylvie Guillem and Maliphant in Push

So what this mean for me – am I constrained? Stifled?  Or free ?  Is it a progression over time?

I like to think that it is – and that in the last couple of years I have become far freer than ever before. But I know I have a long way to go – I am still too intense, too demanding, poor at just relaxing and enjoying the moment. At staying in the present.

The main image is from that great Christopher Bruce ballet – Swansong – that I last saw at Sadler’s wells back in 2007. At the end of that work the prisoner is finally liberated by death – and that image of him walking slowly offstage towards a distant light has stayed with me so strongly.

Each of us has some version of our own prison – some sense of how our wings are clipped. But once you see a way to free yourself… it’s just amazing – what else is there?


So uplifted by world class contemporary dance

Last night I had the privilege to see the Nederlands Dans Theater 1 performing Sehnsucht / Schmetterling.

I just stand in so much awe of the truly creative people that can make such an evening happen.

Schmetterling ( “butterfly”) was one of the strongest works I have ever seen. It truly captured me, it got into my heart and ran me through the full spectrum of emotions from laughter to profound sadness.

But most of all it made me feel energised, passionate and involved. I left the theatre feeling so very, very alive.


I was so desperate for it to keep going, to never end.

And in a way that is exactly what a performance of such greatness achieves – it is within many of us who shared that evening and so will never truly end. Ripples of thoughts reach out to so many parts of my life, changing perspectives, shining a light on such difficult subjects to talk about.

And that is one of the thoughts that has stayed with me – how dance can be so eloquent at phrasing such difficult subjects as age, death and love. The human body is capable of so much – and words are sometimes such an approximate and closed way to articulate complex ideas.


Flamenco in the Dark

Sometimes you just get stuck in the wrong place with the wrong camera, but if you take enough shots and enjoy the experience you can still capture images that connect emotionally with what you are feeling.

So here’s my effort from a couple of evenings ago. On the White Night Festival in Seville, I went to a great Flamenco performance – and only had a pocket camera – but actually I quite like the results.

They are of Carmen Iniesta Iniesta – an amazing performance – and all completely free. It took place in the Palacio Marqueses de la Algaba – a 15th century site with the most gorgeous inner courtyard, high arches and a haunting echo to the wonderful singing and guitar that accompanied Carmen.

As someone who knows nothing about Flamenco it was interesting to sense the conversations between the dancer and the musicians, it seemed to me to have a sense of improvisation and dialogue which was very open and fascinating.

All in all a great experience, and made a wonderful diversion from my continued Tango lessons with Joao Alves.

High Resolution Images are located on Flickr here.



There is a heightened atmosphere when it starts. I always miss the build up – somehow my appearance seems part of the collective first breath out. I never hear the lights come on but an electrical discharge hangs in the air and collects in small pockets around the stage.

This evening the start is gentle, which helps me get into the flow. It’s hard without anything to go on. The dislocation from nothing to this is so demanding.

Your early moves are complex, fluid and full of grace – my instant replication is always simpler, two dimensional. I am warmed up now and I follow you effortlessly. I enlarge and contract, flow along the surfaces. I am thrown to the side and impossibly stretched along the wall, it is no effort for me, just a slightly annoying lack of definition at the edges.

I sense the audience over your shoulder, I enjoy their focus on us.

I wonder about myself. No volition, no apparent history. Yet there is a sense that I am your shadow again, just as I was before. For a short while our relationship is perfectly complimentary – we share the same body until the coming darkness separates us once again.


[Image is of David Hughes found on a Scottish Arts Council Archive]