Saturday saw me first at the beginner’s class at Tango Garden, and later at a Tango Space workshop.
The Tango Garden class has a constant influx of first-time students, so often doesn’t progress beyond the walk in practice embrace. This was the case again today …
I said in a previous piece that continuing to work on the basics is still valuable, and Gav is a really good teacher able to give individual attention within a group setting. For example, one thing she said yesterday – about thinking of an upward component to the walk to add lightness – was incredibly helpful.
But I was feeling conflicted about it. On the one hand, even a single piece of advice like that makes a class worthwhile. On the other, my torrent of tango is very demanding of time and energy, and I need to pace myself somewhat – which means looking for the optimum return on that investment. So I’ve reluctantly decided to drop those classes from the mix.
The evening was spent at Tango Space. The monthly workshop was on floorcraft: the rules of circulation, and the cabeceo and leader cabeceo. These were things I knew in theory, but I’d never used the cabaceo in practice.
The structure of the workshop was perfect. After the initial circulation practice, it was done as a pretend milonga, where we started with an empty dance floor and had to cabeceo a partner. Determining whether or not eye-contact has been established across a dark room isn’t always easy, and I could definitely see potential for the kind of comedy errors we were warned about! But by the end of the workshop, I felt comfortable using it.
We then moved into the real milonga. As with the Tuesday classes, because one flowed into the other, there was no intimidation factor to dancing as a beginner. More experienced dancers were accepting both my cabeceo and my limited abilities. And while I mostly still just walk, I am now able to incorporate ochos into the mix.
There’s also no substitute for a real milonga when it comes to finding out where your lead is unclear. I felt that I might manage an ocho cortado. Mostly there wasn’t room on the very busy floor – there were vanishingly few times when there was space both ahead and to the side (at least, until I have the skill to lead a very compact version). But my one attempt to lead one failed, as it was received as an ocho. Similarly with rebounds – I could tell my followers at first thought it was a step – so it’s clear I need to work on the ‘snappiness’ needed here. That was a really helpful learning point.
But I also enjoyed myself. The music was mostly very beginner-friendly. I forgave myself my mistakes, and my followers seemed to shrug them off. Although the floor was mostly crowded, there were occasions when I was able to walk an entire phrase with a step length suited to the music. And I coped when we got stuck, even if it was just using rock steps to turn on the spot.
Best of all, I think I may have found my practice partner. I met a woman who was at a similar level to me, and she’s about to switch to the Tuesday classes which provide a practica for the rest of the evening – with the option to dance in the milonga too. That ability to flip back-and-forth between the two will, I think, prove the single most useful tool in transferring practice skills to the milonga.
I suggested we partner for practice afterwards, and she likes the idea. We’ll need to discuss details and see how well it works, but we have a potential plan (albeit one delayed by a week as I can’t make the next Tuesday class).
Finally, I had a conversation with Anne – of Pablo and Anne – where she told me a truth I think not often shared with beginners. She said that, for leaders, it takes two years to become good dancers. Obviously it’s a journey with no end, and any timeframe is an arbitrary one, but I think based on an understanding of what it is I want to achieve: have enough vocabulary to express the music the way I want to, and to be able to do so fluidly in a milonga. A point at which I’m not having to consciously think about steps or figuring out what the music is up to, but can focus on expression, my partner and fun!
That could be seen as a depressing stat. Certainly I would never have embarked upon this madness had that been said to me on day one. But it’s an encouraging one too. If the journey lasts two years, then where I am now doesn’t seem too bad. I’m three months in with nine private lessons and eight group ones behind me. At this point, Bridgitta says I’m where she and Steph were when they first started going to milongas.
I shall, though, be Having Words with Steph for deceptive practices in advertising.