Clarity and castellano

It’s a good job I’m not a professional writer. Apparently some of my posts have been open to misinterpretation. They lack the clarity I thought they had.

So just in case you thought otherwise, my teachers in the UK have not taught me to tango in a hurried “Anglo-Saxon” way, or to dance without regard for my partner, or the music, or the surroundings. When I had some private lessons here with Cherie y Ruben last December they complimented me, and therefore my UK teachers, on not having been taught any bad habits. I hope to take some more lessons with Cherie y Ruben soon.

Clarity is required in tango too. It sounds obvious but a leader needs to lead. I have to communicate to my follower what I want them to do. Sometimes I forget to do this physically and try to do it telepathically instead. And then things go wrong! Doing it physically doesn’t mean being aggressive but it does require a degree of assertiveness. There’s the equivalent of a volume control on the assertiveness. Too much volume is uncomfortable for the follower, too little volume means she can’t hear me and things go wrong again. The way they go wrong depends on the follower. Sometimes she’ll do something other than what I intended, sometimes she’ll just freeze and wait to be lead. Occasionally I think the volume is OK but the follower still does something other than what I intended.

Whenever a follower does something other than what I intended I try to adapt what comes next to suit and keep dancing. I’ll usually try to lead the same thing once more a little later in the dance. If it still produces not the intended result then I don’t try it again with this follower in this tanda. Also I make a mental note to review and maybe to change the lead for whatever it was.

If the follower just freezes that’s a clear sign to me to turn up the volume and lead with more clarity.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m generally not leading “loudly” enough. There are often hot and sweaty leaders coming off the pista at the end of a tanda. Unless the room is overly warm I’m not one of them. Maybe this has more to do with the fact that I prefer dancing to the slower tangos and usually find a way to dance the faster tangos slowly too.

If something goes wrong in a class or practica situation and the follower apologises to me I always reply with “Just assume if something goes wrong it’s because I lead it wrong, even if you think I didn’t”. It seems most likely to me that I lead it wrong because when I have been in a follower position with a teacher in a group class or private lesson there is no doubt at all what the response should be to their lead. In general I subscribe to the view that a good leader with a relaxed follower can lead just about anything. By implication, if the follower fails to follow then the leader didn’t lead properly. However, Mari presents a different perspective in this post.

The opposite of clarity is ambiguity. Ambiguity is imperfection and that irritates me. Context sensitive languages are ambiguous and the irritation that creates inside me is a very real barrier to learning. Castellano (Spanish) is very context sensitive. Here a few examples:

  • si – means “yes” or “if”
  • si no – means “otherwise”
  • sino – means “but”
  • hablamos – means either “we are speaking/we speak” or “we were speaking”. The 1st person plural of an ~ar verb conjugates the same way in the present and the preterite tenses.
  • fui – means either “I was” or “I went”. The verbs ser (to be) and ir (to go) conjugate identically to each other in each of the 6 (in Spain) or 5 (in South America) positions.
  • por – means “for” or “by” or “through” or “per” or “in”
  • que – means a multitude of different things depending on the construction it is used in.

Castellano is also supposed to be a phonetic language – words should be pronounced the way they are spelt and vice versa. Yet the porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) often aspirate the final phoneme of a word and speak so fast as to run one or more words together. Attempting to decode which words they have spoken, and then decoding the meaning from the context to work out what they actually said is hard work.

And when I try to talk to the locals and they look puzzled and say “¿que?” – because I haven’t worked out how to create some of the phonemes correctly, let alone pronounce whole words and use the right aspirations and spew the whole lot out at 200 words per minute – that is just plain frustrating.

Those are my (admittedly not very good) reasons for not working hard enough on learning castellano. So the promised 1-month blog post entirely in castellano will not be happening this week.
This post may also lack a bit of clarity, but if I try to make it perfect it will never happen!

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3 Responses to “Clarity and castellano”

  1. jamesy says:

    Hi mark
    Seems clear to me
    'Solo Tango con confianza y no te preocupes que lo llevan y aprender Aleman'
    remember this is it! enjoy it, and ring every last drop out of it, for who knows what the morrow brings
    Have fun
    Jim & Suzanne

  2. Johanna says:

    This is a wonderful post. I sometimes wonder whether leads are aware of their ambiguity. After many years of dancing, I tend to choose stillness when faced with uncertain input, rather than do something to cover the lead in question.

  3. Mark says:

    Jim & Suzanne – thanks for the advice. I'm doing my best to follow it – except for the learning German part.

    Johanna – thanks for commenting. I wasn't sure this post was really a good idea or that I had said what I was trying to say. One of my regular partners at home adopted the freezing/stillness option a few months ago. I actually prefer it. It sends me a crystal clear message to lead and concentrates my mind wonderfully.

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