In this interview, Kirsten Kaschock touches the relationship between boundaries and creativity in poetry and dancing.
I have seen the same relationship in tango. Some followers coming from modern dances or contact improvization have commented that tango “steps” constrain their movement too much. I have found the opposite to be true, at least for me as a leader with my current experience.
To me, like language, tango offers a rich vocabulary. The difficulty lies in how to remember less used expressions in the vocabulary, and how to use the expressions in the vocabulary in a creative way. I find that many forms of creativity actually require a shared vocabulary. This vocabulary is the “boundary” that frees me to be creative.
One form of creativity comes from “mistakes”, in other words from some incongruence between the leading and following. There is the quite famous saying that in tango, there are no mistakes, just variations. For a beginner, this is a healthy attitude.
One should truly not be afraid of mistakes. I have never danced with anybody, even with a world famous teacher, who did not do any “mistakes”. (Professional tango dancers seem to be quite vocal when they do a “mistake”, seems like they want to make sure the student does not think it was student’s fault.)
I have found out that the cause for the “mistake” is rarely where we think it is. The “mistake” is a natural consequence of broken connection. And as a leader, I can immediately feel when the connection is broken, so I am in some way already expecting the “mistake” even before it happens. I cannot necessarily guess what the “mistake” will be. But often there are not too many variations, so you can “fix” any of them immediately.
The broken connection seems often be a result of some tenseness in muscles in follower. Tense muscle is less sensitive, and cannot feel the direction as well as relaxed muscle. When follower cannot feel the direction, they can easily become anxious and start guess. But guessing only causes more “mistakes”, which again result in more tenseness. So, very fundamentally, the problem is not the “mistake”, but the fact that we are afraid of “mistakes”.
I have found that improvisation theatre has healthy attitude towards “mistakes”. Rather than re-label mistakes as “variations”, they are brought into light and celebrated as a source of creativity. For example, one might exaggerate a “mistake” to the point of absurdity, and then it becomes comedy. Much of the fun in improvisation theatre comes from this.
Even when we become outwardly more free from the fear of mistakes, we still seem to have some subconscious fears towards them. In practice when we feel a “mistake” was made, it creates negative emotions. When we exaggerate the mistake, the energy behind the negative emotion is released, and we feel reliefed. Laughter is the consequence of the release of this energy.
I try to do the same in tango whenever possible. Obviously it requires that very quick reactions, because comical aspect is situational and very sensitive to time. It also requires that I as a leader share a vocabulary with the follower. Unless she knows what I tried to lead, and, the recognizes the incongruence between the my lead and her follow, it is not possible to exaggerate the incongruence, and the comical aspect is not there. So, the boundaries of shared vocabulary are really necessary.