A tango dancing friend protested I was having it all too easy. Private lessons and a highly experienced follower on tap. Not like in her day, when you had to (tango) walk 43 miles through the snow in your bare feet, listening to scratchy music through a crystal radio with a broom for a dance partner …
Saturday afternoon, then, saw me in the beginner’s lesson at Tango Garden. The full story of that lesson is an entertaining tale best told over wine. But I will say Gav is an excellent teacher, and I got to briefly enjoy practicing with a fellow beginner – which we both agreed felt good. Gav also gave me some useful feedback, saying that while she liked my lead, I would need to make my intent more obvious when dancing with some followers. So, a useful session despite some unexpected entertainment, and I’ll be there again for the next one.
I was returning later with Steph for the practica, but had one small matter to attend to in the meantime.
I think Steph viewed it as insurance: having spent that much on a pair of shoes with only one function, I was further committed to this madness.
It is a truth, universally acknowledged in the tango world, that just because you can do something when practicing on your own, doesn’t mean you can do it with a partner. I’m quite proud of my little practice sessions on my own at home before work. If solo tango ever becomes a thing, I’m there.
But in the real world of the milonga last week, all I could manage was the walk. This time, in the practica, I was able to introduce some side steps and turns into my repertoire. Even some extremely ragged cross-walking. Perhaps next time I’ll venture as far as a rebound or two.
Bridgitta – she of the 43-mile journeys through the snow – first watched and then allowed me to lead her, giving me a piece of advice for which I may be more grateful than Steph. We identified that I was a little afraid of stepping on my follower’s feet, so didn’t always take the length of stride I wished to. Her response to this was simple: when learning, you have to be willing to take the risk.
She did, at least, volunteer her own feet as potential victims, positively inviting me to try to step on them. I didn’t succeed. I’ll update you later on any subsequent toe fractures.
I’d read much about how leading and following is a far more complex interaction than it might appear. That a good leader also takes cues from the follower. Bridgitta turned theory into practice when I was a little too fast, able to add sufficient resistance to slow me down. The idea that the leader imparts intent and the follower interprets that in her own way became, for the first time, something my body as well as my mind could understand.
The practica had so far been only partners arriving in the room together to practice as a pair, but one woman arrived on her own and I asked her whether she would care to dance with a beginner. H bravely agreed, and three songs later expressed surprise that I’d only had six lessons, which was a lovely confidence boost.
The last half an hour I spent in the milonga, just observing. Mariano and his dance partner were from another world, effortlessly moving from one complex-looking sequence to the next. Steph and Bridgitta, too, were dancing at a level I can’t even imagine. But I also saw a smoothness and elegance in some of the dancers with the simplest moves; I took heart from that.
In writing this blog, and thinking back to the practica, I realised something about those three dances with H. This was my first time dancing with someone I didn’t know and who wasn’t there to provide feedback. It was practice, for we were in the practica, but it was also … dance. Simple dance, for sure (I saw later in the milonga what H could do with a skilled leader!), but dance all the same. I am, in my simple way, a dancer.
 I’m not quite sure of the etiquette of referring to strangers by name. Friends will let me know if they prefer otherwise, but for others, I will use only initials.