Big question, right? I don’t believe some people are creative while others aren’t. Of course just like in everything else some folks are just natural, but creativity is a process that we can all explore. In this path, some of the difficulties that we find are conceptual, some are physical/technical and yet others have to do with the general framework with which we approach what we want to learn. Let’s expand a bit on each of those issues, OK?
The general framework
So, a part of the problem lies in the way we think about and understand tango. We know that in order to dance we don’t need to learn a complete choreography beforehand, right? But still we usually learn and study the dance and its elements with little pieces of choreography that we need to repeat very precisely (the steps or figures). Because this repetition creates “muscle memory” (actually, procedural memory), it turns out that by studying these same actions we end up becoming stagnant and repeating them almost exclusively. In other words, learning steps hinders our creativity because it makes it easy to repeat dance fragments almost automatically.
We can begin to solve this by drastically reducing the importance we place on and the time we spend studying lengthy sequences of movements. This doesn’t mean to study less, but to do it differently, and to focus on other things. We can tackle a group of variations at the same time, or even chop down these contents into smaller parts. But switching 10-movement steps for smaller 2- or 3-movement modules is not enough, especially if we study these smaller pieces the same way we studied their longer relatives.
So, what is creativity?
Another part of the problem is related to the idea of creativity itself. Usually we tend to link creativity with the idea of something new. This concept is attractive and makes sense, to create something is to bring into existence a thing that did not exist before. That is also the divine concept of Creation, the idea that the mere words or thoughts of a supernatural being can be the origin of the universe itself. And it is also an idea of extreme arrogance when it comes to us mortals.
I prefer to think that creativity is a consequence and almost a synonym with authenticity. But what are you talking about, Juan? Look, maybe this will help understand. Creating is not making stuff out of nowhere. Creating means having a set of ideas, our own personal taste, a problem to solve, a set of materials, and to mix all that until something comes out. So any “creative” solutions are just a reflection of a particular combination of ideas, preferences and materials that were used to solve a problem.
What are the advantages of this way of thinking? Well, for one, it gives us more clarity towards understanding how to act. The thing is, if creating is getting something out of nowhere there’s little we can do to help. On the other hand, if creating has to do with searching our personal solution to things, then we know the path to creativity is the path towards our own personal development. This means that the most creative solutions are also the most personal ones.
The other part of the equation besides ideas, skills and preferences, concerns materials. And when discussing dance these are our knowledge of specific movements and techniques, but also the characteristics of our bodies and of the bodies of our partners.
Talking specifically about improvisation, the idea is not to develop our capacity to do any thing at any time, but our ability to search for the one action that fits this particular instant and these circumstances best.
Getting ready to improvise
The last thing we’ll discuss today are the special requirements that improvisation places. There are quite a few things we could discuss regarding the limits posed by this type of work, but what we’re most interested in right now is the fact that it’s an instantaneous process. This particular relationship with the flow of time also means there is little tolerance for technical inhibitions.
We usually think of technique because of its value in helping us achieve more things, of greater difficulty, and with less effort. This is important, especially if we don’t approach technique mechanically. But that’s not the aspect of technique that we’re looking for right now. What we need in order to improvise is to focus on the part of technique that brings us closer to being more spontaneous.
In this sense, our work is not about polishing movements but rather about cleaning the physical channels that let those movements emerge from our ideas and about developing our ability to react. This is not as complicated as it might seem, but it certainly requires a specific type of work that is different from traditional exercises like caminata (walk) and ochos. This part of the work usually takes a really long time… In part because it is a long and gradual path, but also in no small part because we never explicitly focus on this, so any progress we make is sporadic and indirect.
In closing, the creative process is something that is within everybody’s reach but that benefits greatly with some ideas and ways of working. And when these things are present with enough force we can begin to shed away the idea of a creative process and enter into a true creative state, a special “color” that will gradually appear in all the actions and thoughts of our life.
Questions? Comments? Leave them down here…
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