Tango Argentino > The rules of a practica

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by Lois Donnay, Aug 3, 2015.

  1. Lois Donnay

    Lois Donnay Member

    I think it is time that we remind people of some of the rules of a practica. Practicas are an important part of the tango learning experience, but there are rules here, too. Help me to list some!

    1. A practica is not a cheap substitute for classes. They are an opportunity to work on things from classes. If you don't go to classes, you will wear out the patience of those who do.
    2. Don't teach. Keep your opinions to yourself unless specifically asked, or an agreement has been made up front. Especially if you are a leader who doesn't follow trying to tell a follower what to do, or vice versa. (OK, this one is hard. But try.)
    3. Don't bug people for dances directly. Just because a practica has fewer rules doesn't mean you can force people into dances or uncomfortable refusals. Make sure that someone wants to dance with you beforehand.

    I was at a practica recently and heard a follower (who doesn't go to classes) complain to some guys that there were lots of followers sitting, and they should get busy. There are often more followers at this practica, which is not the case in local classes. No one owes anyone dances, do they?
    Any other thought, or better ways to phrase some of these concerns?
  2. tangomaniac

    tangomaniac Active Member

    The same rules for inviting and accepting an invitation are the same for practicas and milongas. I find cabeceo can be used at practicas because the lights are ON, just like in BA. Body language sends a message. A woman who is involved with her mobile device sends a message she doesn't want to dance the tanda. That may not be the intended message but that's the message I get because I'm not going to ask her to turn off her device.
  3. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    Another rule that you might want to add to your list is one that I have been dealing with in my area recently.....

    A practica is not a milonga. It is for practice, not for just dancing all of your favorite fancy steps wit hall of your favorite fancy partners. If that's what you wish, great. Come to the milonga.
  4. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    I beg to differ, to say the least. Too many practicas are milongas in disguise. In my neck of the woods many places are labelled a practica but I know only one where people actually practice. Various pupils come as a pair, leader and follower, as they are in the class of their respective teachers. They practise. There are no invites, except sometimes when two couples come from the same class, they may trade the followers/leaders. Two resident teachers are here to help. There are no cortinas. There are quite a lot of discussions and arguments and talking.
    It's a practica.
  5. tangomaniac

    tangomaniac Active Member

    I understand a practica's purpose. But honestly, how many people want to hear feedback on how they could dance better? I've seen tango drama in classes where one partner says "You're not doing what the teacher said" or "How long have you been dancing tango?" Women told me they just ignore what the leader is telling them because the leader isn't leading what he thinks he's leading or makes it difficult for them to execute because they are being pushed around the floor.

    It's extremely rare that a woman asks for advice. My advice is always the same. "Breathe deeply, relax the muscles, and feel but not think. I can't lead the next step until you finish the current step."
    Lois Donnay likes this.
  6. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Oh dear: rules, rules, rules. Too many tango dancers have controlling tendencies that are not very attractive.

    There aren't any rules. There should be good manners, courtesy and consideration but there aren't any rules.

    Certain conventions apply at milongas, but many people ignore most of them, most of the time (or are ignorant of them) anyway; but the conventions of the milonga have no place at a practica. Even the conventions of the milonga can vary from place to place and over time.

    You'd have to define practica, anyway. For a large part of the Golden Age there were no classes, and no teachers. Men learned to follow and then to lead from older members of their own peer group, and standards were high. Women were instructed separately, usually by immediate family members and often at home. Times have changed: teachers appeared on the scene, tango became a business and the practica came to be the place to, well, practise. Times have changed again, and more often than not, now, a practica is just a relatively informal opportunity for social dancing.

    Many of us lead busy lives. The idea of going out to dance late, and into the small hours, makes a pretty limited appeal to most people. Formality, particularly for men, is out of fashion. Most people that attend tango classes, for example, will never attend 'real' milongas.

    If dancers are really practising, then feedback (flowing both ways) is essential if the practice is to be beneficial; but if you've just gone to dance, then I'd say that feedback is just as unwelcome as it is at the milonga, and for the same reasons. Teaching is not at all out of place in the right context by those competent to offer instruction. Anything goes, as long as consideration is shown towards all present.
    Mladenac and oldtangoguy like this.
  7. tangomaniac

    tangomaniac Active Member

    The word rules don't bother me. I look at rules the way Argentines consider codes at milonga. Instead of rules, substitute the word etiquette.
    Lois Donnay likes this.
  8. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    You may think so but not me. In fact practica rules (if there are any)
    are those imposed by the organiser and yours are too controlling.
    The best practice experience is dancing with a partner you know
    and with whom you have some dance empathy. It's for practise
    and self-development of the individuals and the partnership.
    The attendance of classes is unimportant unless the organiser
    is organising the practica for his/her students. That's another
    matter entirely.
    This has me spitting feathers. Where do you draw the lines
    between coaching, learning and teaching? I danced with a relative
    beginner at a milonga yesterday, we knew one another from other
    dancing and she positively wanted advice. What she really needed
    was the dose of confidence gained through lots of practise and
    maybe some different teaching unfortunately.

    A competent leader of the close embrace dance can in fact give
    very good advice to partners if they ask or need it. How do you
    think the golden age men learned from one another? Indeed
    I had to teach partners in order to have people to practise with.
    One eventually danced in Buenos Aires and has never attended
    a class nor any formal teaching. She even danced with Steve Pastor.
    The only thing I agree with. If it's a practica a fixed partnership
    or a relative few partners by choice is perfectly acceptable and
    even preferable in my experience.
    UKDancer likes this.
  9. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Well, I suggested good manners, courtesy and consideration. Call it etiquette if you prefer.

    But we need a working definition of what a practica is and what it is for. Should we have a separate term to denote a short and informal session of social dancing: milonguita is sometimes used, as is practilonga? Are there others?
    Lois Donnay likes this.
  10. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Wow! (;))
  11. Lois Donnay

    Lois Donnay Member

    These were not written in a vacuum. These are complaints that I have heard recently. One very good leader was so sick of beginner women who never go to lessons coming to the practica, wanting advanced moves, (I want to do boleos. Lead me in boleos.) and guilting advanced leaders into dances, he was ready to give up tango. Then there was a woman, a beginner, so inundated with unsolicited advice that she was also ready to give up, thinking she was too terrible to go on. (Luckily a couple guys just danced with her, no teaching). And there was another guy, a nice dancer, hurt terribly by a woman who ridiculed his dancing and knowledge of tango. Her aim was to get him to change to her teacher (she gets perks) but he didn't know that. These events had ME spitting feathers ;) Yes, a little advice is great, but a lot is too much. I can't help but give advice now and then, too. But if we refrain from teaching when not asked, we can reduce the amount of pain we inflict on our partners.
    Mladenac and tangomaniac like this.
  12. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    Well, we could have a long discussion about the types of inappropriate
    personalities that the visual perception of this dance and its marketing attracts.
    But overall this just adds fuel to my argument that empathetic dance partnerships
    are those that gain most from practica opportunities. However the really perceptive
    ones practise together elsewhere altogether. Music is all you need and that is easy
    to arrange at home. Domestic spaces are both large enough and small enough
    to practise and perfect everything you need for dancing at a true social milonga.

    Oh dear, a visiting teacher to BsAs instructed her pupil to "don't forget to shut
    your eyes" as we entered an unequivocal embrace at an afternoon milonga.
    My partner noticeably reacted nervously and I said to her "you don't have to,
    in fact I'd rather you didn't".

    Good she said, I don't like closing my eyes, I teach movement in my job
    but not dance and etc., etc. It wasn't good preparation for a first dance was it?
    She was actually very pleasant to dance with and when she returned to the table
    she announced to the rest with a smile "I'm in love!".
    Teacher's reaction was to say to me: "But you're not even Argentine!".

    I've heard your comment from other teachers too,
    why don't they follow their own advice?
    jantango and Lois Donnay like this.
  13. Lois Donnay

    Lois Donnay Member

    This is what I'm sending to our community: "Practica? This kind of event is unique to tango - a place where you can go and practice what you are working on in classes. It is a nice stepping stone to milongas. There are fewer conventions in a practica than in a milonga - there are no tandas, so you can dance only one dance or many, and you can stop in the middle of a dance to work on something. Although the "codigos" are more relaxed, good tango etiquette always applies - keep unsolicited teaching to a minimum, don't ask anyone for dances directly unless you know they want to dance with you, and of course still respect the dancefloor flow. Want to get that comfortable walk down? Want to see if your lead to the cross works on multiple partners? Just want to get some kilometers in on the floor? Try a practica!"
  14. koinzell

    koinzell Active Member

    A practica is definitely a cheap substitute for classes! But that also really depends on who you take classes from ;)
  15. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Hmm - to be honest I don't agree with most of this - it feels to me like the complaints point to people not actually wanting to do a practica, but an informal milonga.

    I think of a practica as a place to practice things, i.e. it is all getting/giving about feedback ("teaching"), dancing things we don't want to dance because that is what our partner is working on, and I have told followers what to do (and learned a lot about geometry and what is doable and what is not by doing that), just as followers have told me what they wanted me to do (and I hope my feedback was as helpful for them as it was for me.

    My suggestions for "rules" for a practica would be something like this:

    1) A practica is for practice - do things you are not comfortable with, that you do not do well, and be prepared that the partner you are working with will also do things that they are horrible at. This is unlike a milonga, where we want to enjoy dancing, here we want to work, and enjoy getting insights.
    2) Know what you are working on - give yourself a specific task every time you go to a practica, and be disciplined about it. Besides making the practica more productive by having a plan it also protects you from unnecessary and misleading advice - work on something that you have an idea what your issues are , and where you can evaluate feedback. Don't do "new" stuff, do stuff that somewhat works some of the time - this is the time to fine-tune and explore things, not to develop new things (unless you are working with somebody whose judgment and sensitivity you completely trust)
    3) Talk - tell the person you are dancing with "I am not sure about my cross, so that is what i am going to do this song - could you please give me feedback about what you feel and where you are doing the move without being actually lead. What are you working on? Ah, boleos - would you prefer if i just mix them in now that you can try them from the flow, or if you want we can the whole next song just boleos, walking, and different entries and exits from boleos." If your partner does not know what you are working on they can't help. And especially for leaders this is important because followers are often extremely good at deciphering half led stumbles -if you ask them to not dance, but give you as precise feedback as possible of what you actually have lead you get often very different results :)

    So basically:

    i think she is doing it right - boleos are something you have to learn in movement while being led. This is in my opinion much better than the followers who spend a lot of time practicing boleos solo - it is easy to get mechanics wrong that way. As a leader at a practica you have agreed to be a practice dummy - this is the only place where followers who don't have a practice partner can work on specific moves on their own terms. This is not as much an issue for leaders - we can always decide what we practice by just leading it, and we can sneak stuff in at milongas, so we tend to overlook this.

    Why is she at a practica if she does not want advice/work on things? If the scope of the advice was outside of what she was working on, she needs to tell her partner "no i am working on backwards ochos, not the 25step tango de la muerte".

    the sole purpose of a practica is to get feedback - i.e. i spend a lot of time telling my partners what i felt, how i wanted to move and was not able to, where a bit more angulation would have helped. If we don't talk there is the risk that the follower will follow our intent, not what we actually lead, and vice versa. There is a lot of unhelpful advice, but that feeds back into the point that a practica is not a class - if you don't know enough about a move to distinguish bad advice from good advice after trying a few times you probably need to learn it first before you start practicing.
    jantango likes this.
  16. jantango

    jantango Active Member

    The practicas were for MEN ONLY in Buenos Aires during the 40s and 50s, because there were no classes. The teenaged boys danced with their friends and others who already knew how to dance.

    Today, so-called practicas are held in cities around the world where men dance with women. When men learn the woman's role, they'll dance better. When men learn from MEN WHO DANCE WELL, we will have more good social dancers.

    If practicas don't incorporate the conventions of a milonga in some way, how are people going to know how to behave when they enter a milonga?

    Practicas get people out to do what they should be doing on their own. We all know that adults don't practice anything because life and work get in the way.

    The milongueros viejos are the gems of the milongas. They were focused on learning to dance well as teenagers because there wasn't much else to do and they wanted to meet girls. The girls learned to dance by dancing with the boys who passed the test when an older friend said, "you're ready."

    If it wasn't for these men who fell in love early with tango, where would tango be today as a social dance?
    ArbeeNYC likes this.
  17. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    That's how i would phrase it:

    "Practica? This kind of event is unique to tango - a place where you can go and practice what you are working on in classes. It is a nice complement to classes of privates. A practica is freer than a class - you can work on whatever you want at your own pace, you can work on one thing for the whole time, or on multiple things, you can dance a bit to practice how something works out of the flow of the dance. Although it is a practice environment, not a social event, good tango etiquette always applies - be aware of the difference between giving feedback and unsolicited teaching. If you ask somebody to practice respect if they don't want to - they might be there to work on specific material with a specific partner. While there is no expectation of dancefloor flow try to either keep moving or step to edge or middle of the room when a discussion is going to take longer - some people might want to try things from movement. Want to work on your lead to the cross? Want to feel how different leaders lead boleos? Try a practica!"
  18. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Sometimes, it may be best to continue using those (off putting to some, apparently) Spanish words.
    Years ago, I gathered various definitions for various sources. Here's one of them.

    Codigos Codes: Refers to the codes of behavior and the techniques for finding a dance partner in the milongas in Buenos Aires.

    Denniston defines Practica (but with the accent mark above the first "a" (one of the challenges of using other languages!) thusly. In the Golden Age of Tango a practica was a men's practice dance, which was also used by new Tango dancers as a place to learn the dance. Today the term is used for a low-key social dance.

    Not a whole lot to go on there, so I think in making up guidelines, or whatever you want to call them, we are pretty much on our own.
    I DO think having tandas at a practica is not the best way to have people mingle and "dance with as many people as possible," as Rusty Frank said at her swing dance.

    P.S. I seem to remember John's friend still talking to me afterwards, so I guess it wasn't TOO bad.
  19. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Not really, the girls learned to dance by dancing with their friends and older sisters at home, too. There is much less written and talked about the "vieja milongueras", which i think is a shame because there is so much knowledge and skill lost. But while the old milongueros returned to the milongas and try to recapture the glories of their youth when their wives died, and the old milongueras stayed at home. And the few that are around are much less inclined to dance with strangers or teach. When i was living in BA i danced a lot, with a lot of followers, but there were 2 times where i got lucky enough (well, and had been going to the same milonga as them for months) that i got to dance with vija milongueras - and it is among my more cherished tango moments.
  20. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    I have toyed with the idea of having a practica that has "tandas" where the same song is repeated 5 times or so, and then the next one is repeated 5 times and so on. This is how i play the music when we practice by ourselves, and i found it a good compromise between not wanting to be distracted by the music, still having the structure of a tango, and not getting completely bored (i tried having just one song the whole time, but that got somewhat grating).

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