The missing factor
As you probably understood these last four post deal with the metaphor of story telling in terms of dancing. I have written about how the dance changes when you face it as a story telling process, how knowing stories behind the songs can help us in dancing and what tools we have to tell a story when we dance.
In Tango, however, there is obviously one more very important part of this storytelling process. Your partner. Being a leader I have many times written about how much I enjoy when my partner suggests and contributes to the dance. If we see our dance as a dialog where both partners have a say then we need to ask ourselves. How can both partners (and especially followers) contribute to it? I am focusing especially on followers because the role itself implies a passive activity of listening. I also need to say that I don’t have experience as a follower but I can definitely understand when the follower does contribute to our common storytelling. Plus I must also say that whatever bits of advice follow apply to both roles.
So how do we do it? How do we both contribute to the storytelling? Think about it. The easiest thing one can do when you tell them a story is to simply mirror your attitude. Great conversationalists know first of all how to build rapport. Rapport means mirroring the attitude of their partner in the dialog. So if I am excited, their face will shine and their body will expand, or if I am telling a sad story they will express this sadness on their face. Even by simply nodding when someone speaks you give them a sign that you are really listening to them. When you feel that the counterpart in a dialog feels the same as you, it is much easier to open up because you know there is a person on the other side to get your message. So, simply mirroring your partner’s attitude, you can already contribute more than just being there as a passive listener. You are encouraging your partner to tell you their story.
But this is only the beginning. The next part comes from theater and more specifically from improvisation. In improvisation theater classes the people who act have one rule. Never say no! Never deny what your partner says or asks. Just take it in and build on top of it. Have you ever been in between a group of good friends and you start making a joke and then a friend of yours gets it and takes it a step further, and then another one makes an impression of someone on the joke, etc? The laugh just builds and builds and builds until the whole group is in tears and can’t stop laughing.
Recently, I saw a short tutorial video that reminded me that it’s the same in Tango. Tango is an improvised dance. So if we apply this rule then both partners are free to add things to the dialog. One can tell, I feel sad now and the other can hug them tighter, then the other can say I may have something to cheer you up and starts being a bit more playful. The other takes it up, plays along, and then goes on with another suggestion e.g. now I feel like making a stop and enjoying the music, etc. As I wrote we have our whole body as our voice so we can make it sound sad, in love, happy, funny energetic, etc. If you apply the rule of improvisation then whatever attitude one has is mirrored and topped up by the other.
Now imagine you had in mind to tell the story of the song in a specific way. However, your partner started suggesting different things, changing their attitude, their mood their body language and you always agree and top it up and suggest your own storytelling twists. Then whose story is this in the end? Is it the story you had in mind to tell in the beginning? Is it the story your partner wanted to listen to? Is it the story they wanted to tell you? It’s nothing of the above and all of it together. It’s a story you told together as a couple. It’s like when a couple tells their story of their vacation for example, or how they met, etc. You listen to both of them telling the story, adding on top of each other, sometimes correcting each other, other times mirroring each other, changing it, and making it together… on the fly.
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango is a song calling for you to co-write its story. It only gives you a title that might sound like a direction. “Comme il faut.” As it should be. It might mean something to you or it might mean nothing. In any case, it calls you to improvise on the story you will tell (as you should always do). Would it be a happy story? A sad story? A funny story? A story with many plot twists? A story with a predictable arc? Who knows? Just start telling it… listen to your partner and remember… NEVER SAY NO!