One perfect moment … and many imperfect ones

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In my final lesson on Sunday, a 30-minute one with Mariano, I had one perfect moment.

Steph wasn’t happy with my lead. ‘More chest!’ So I stopped. Mentally ran through my checklist for the walk. Feet grounded. Knees soft. Upright posture. Shoulders relaxed. Head up. Push back against the floor. Lead with the chest. Arms doing nothing other than maintaining the embrace. Then I began walking.

Everything came together. ‘Yes!’ said Steph, emphatically. ‘Now you look like a milonguero,’ declared Mariano. Just for that moment, I felt like one too …

There wasn’t too much opportunity to revel in the moment, as the two of them had other plans covered in the previous post. But I could have enjoyed that walk for hours.

The following lesson was a little less spiritual: a group lesson at Tango Space with fellow beginners. They use the practice embrace, which feels very different. But I love these lessons for different reasons.

First, I really like the Tango Space setup. For those familiar with it, skip the italics. It isn’t a sponsored post by Tango Space, but it might just as well be: I’m a very happy customer.

First, you can buy multi-class passes which make frequent lessons much more affordable. For example, this month I have time to take eight classes, and there’s a £65 pass that gives me those – but also includes a Saturday workshop and free access to milongas.

Second, classes on the same topic are offered three times a week in different locations, with some variation in the specifics. That means if you can’t make one evening, you can drop into another one – or, as I’m doing, do the same class twice in one week to get another angle on it and additional tuition and practice.

Third, the Tuesday evenings in Farringdon combine classes and a milonga – and they open the concertina doors between the practica and the milonga once the classes end. That means that you can practice to the same music, and there isn’t the same intimidation factor about entering the milonga. It’s a shared space, and many/most of those in the milonga are students from the classes (albeit with a strong bias toward the improver and intermediate classes). The easy back-and-forth between the two also makes it a very sociable space for beginners. All in all, it’s an extremely well-thought-out operation.

The lesson was on the cross. For those unfamiliar, it’s an extremely basic part of the tango puzzle. In the version we learned, as the leader walks forward, they twist their chest one way then, on the next step, the other. At which point the follower should be directly in front of you with crossed ankles.

Perhaps it’s because it really is very simple, or perhaps because I’ve lost my fear of pivots, I didn’t seem to struggle at all with this one. Which, when you consider the multiple lessons worth of struggle I had with the ocho, is something of a cause for celebration.

Of course, there were many imperfect moments too. I mentioned last time the three levels for me in my learning to date.

  • Movements I can practice on my own, but not smoothly perform with a partner
  • Movements I can do smoothly with a partner while practicing
  • Movements I can use while dancing

There’s often quite a gap between the latter two. While dancing, the music, the navigation and the walk take most of my attention dollar; I don’t have enough of it left to do anything which requires me to actively think through the steps.

I realised I failed to mention another blindingly obvious difference between bullets two and three. When actively practicing something specific – as in the topic of the lesson we’ve just finished – my follower already knows what it is I’m attempting to do. She’s expecting it, and any signal, however unclear, will be interpreted as ‘Ah, now he wants to do the thing.’ She’s not trying to figure out what my intent might be from an infinite number of possibilities. In that situation, the bar is very low.

I raised it slightly in the practica afterwards, introducing some ochos as well as crosses. At which point I had a number of imperfect moments. I mean, I might not know how to enter an ocho directly from the walk, but some of my practice partners did – when I’d thought I was leading a cross.

I’m adopting the view that as it’s the leader’s job to communicate intent, any miscommunication is the leader’s responsibility. Interestingly, and I think without exception, my followers always apologised for mess-ups. This applied even to mistakes that were unequivocally my fault – like trying to lead their weighted leg. I’m not sure whether this says good things about women or bad things about men. Perhaps both.

I’m trying to keep life simple for myself at this stage: I always lead a back ocho, and always from one direction. There will come a point when I’ll introduce variations, but I haven’t reached that point quite yet. So, with my consistent approach, you’d think it would be easy to remember that the exit requires a change of weight before walking. But no, apparently not. So some more imperfect moments there.

But none to compete with my attempts to dance to unfamiliar music in the milonga …

Bridgitta was in the mood to dance, so she came along to the milonga a little later in the evening. She got to enjoy some dances with some decidedly non-trainee tangueros, but was also kind enough to allow me to don my L-plates on the pista. Unfortunately this coincided with a tanda of songs where the orchestra’s primary intention appeared to be to play a game of hide-and-seek with the beat. I think the most positive thing that can be said is that I provided Bridgitta with considerable amusement. Oh, plus I didn’t collide with anyone.

The funniest moment for me was when I was entirely oblivious to the fact that a particular song was about to end, and Bridgitta back-led me to a stop in a manner not unlike that of a sergeant major drilling a particularly obtuse cadet.

On Thursday I shall be repeating the cross lesson in Holborn. And xmas drinks. Consecutively rather than concurrently, I think.

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