Another lesson with Maeve, as usual starting with working on my walk, and then moving on this time to the medio giro.
I’d been introduced to three different versions of this between Mariano and two Tango Space lessons. One of the three was easier to remember than the other two, so we worked on that one. (Oddly, it wasn’t the simplest version.)
This reinforced my previous learning: it’s not about the exact steps; these can vary. Whenever I stop worrying about exactly what my feet are doing and focus on the overall shape of the movement, things work much more smoothly. Which is a paradox of tango I’ll return to shortly …
For example, Maeve had me try a couple of variations on what I’d done before. One where my right foot pivoted a little as I stepped back onto the left; and another where there was no right foot pivot, I stepped back a little further and pivoted on the toe of my left foot. We settled on the second of these.
At first, it all felt rather messy compared to the original version, which ended (when I did it well) with a neat feet-together pivot on my left foot. Now my feet were ending up apart, and it felt far less elegant. But then Maeve prompted me to collect my left foot as I pivoted on the right, and suddenly it all felt snappy again.
And that was a really useful general point. I don’t have to rely on everything coming together neatly on the occasions when my foot placement works out. I can sort out any untidiness in a way that actually ends up looking just as elegant. As Heston Blumenthal once said about cooking, it’s not that good chefs don’t make mistakes, it’s that they know how to fix them so no-one would ever know.
We did (at my request) lots of back-to-back versions of these, and the less I focused on the moves and the more on (a) the overall movement and feeling and (b) my lead to Maeve, the better it worked. When I was concentrating on my own movement, I had a tendency to get ahead of Maeve, and my left elbow changed angle, which made my lead unclear. When I had my attention more on Maeve’s movement than my own, then it was instantly a better experience. That was a great practical demonstration of an important principle of tango.
I’m still working on doing a medio giro to the music. Currently I do the first half at half-speed, then kind of hope for the best in the second half, slowing the end of it as needed to finish on a down-beat. But musicality is so far the smallest of my challenges*, so I’m sure I’ll figure that out.
Maeve ended the lesson by having me dance three songs, mixing parallel walking, cross-system walking and medio giros. Aka my Stage Three Test: can I do something when actually dancing rather than just when practicing a figure?
The news there was mixed. I’m able to switch to the cross-system, but stumble when it comes to switching back. I really need to practice that, lots.
But the good news was that I could incorporate the medio giro into dance in a way that felt smooth, and could then move immediately back into a walk. No stumbling, no superfluous weight-changes, just slotting right back in. We’ll see if I can do it in a milonga, but I’m so far feeling confident, so am giving it a tentative tick.
A tango paradox
I said above that worrying less about my exact steps created a better result, and I’m fairly sure I’m on the right track there. And yet at the same time, there’s The Walk. Which I’ve been practicing every day for months – and by all accounts can expect to continue to work on for the rest of my life.
So there’s one element on which paying attention to the finest of details is required, and others where it seems the key is not doing so …
Which is not to say there aren’t important details outside of the walk. For dissociation in ochos, for example, I was struggling to twist my chest without my hips coming along for the ride. When I tried to concentrate on keeping my hips still, it was really hard. But when Maeve told me to forget about my hips and focus on keeping my feet pointed in the same direction while I turned my chest, suddenly it was ten times easier.
The missing ingredient
But talk of practice brings me to the missing ingredient in my tango learning: rote practice with a partner.
Iona Italia says that practicing the same thing over and over and over again is absolutely key, and I can relate to this 100%. I’ve done it with other things – skiing, for example. When I first graduated from wide parallel turns to short ones, I spent half a day on a nursery slope doing them over and over and over again until the technique was second nature. In the course of that half-day of practice, I must have done the same turn well over a thousand times.
I really want to do the same with tango. Ok, not a thousand medio giros, but probably a hundred. Ditto ocho cortados. Ditto the cross. Again and again and again until my body knows how to do it and my brain no longer has to think through the components.
Parts of it I can do on my own. The latest version of my walk, with added dissociation, I can practice that on my own. But something like a medio giro, I can’t. I mean, I can practice the movement on my own, but it’s absolutely not the same. Especially when I know my focus needs to be on the follower’s movement, not my own.
What I really want is a practice partner who also relates to this rote learning approach. Building things into muscle memory.
So far I haven’t found one. For Steph, an experienced dancer, it would simply be too tedious – and she also has back issues which are exacerbated by repetitive movements. If I have a fellow beginner in the group classes who would be up for this, I haven’t yet met them.
Part of the difficulty, I think, is that the learning journey for leaders and followers is different. What a leader needs is to be able to confidently, consistently and fluidly lead the same movements. What a follower needs is … well, I won’t pretend to know, but I think it’s much more about sensitivity to the lead than familiarity with a series of movements.
Steph agrees with my above assessment, and says that followers can do their own rote practice on their own, with only a bar or wall for company. She thinks the answer is to find a fellow beginner leader as a practice partner. I think she may be right, but the two-fold problem there is (a) I’d need to find a leader who was equally committed to the idea and (b) both of us would need to learn to follow!
I tried just now with Steph and it was hilarious. Some of the time I could do it – very clumsily; other times I had no idea what the lead was; and yet other times I thought I knew what the lead was but I seemed to be on the wrong foot. Not helped by the fact that Steph is an inexperienced leader, so the issue there was probably me but may have been her …
I do have one potential plan, so we’ll see whether that works out. But in the meantime, if you know a beginner follower who would be up for the ‘over and over and over again’ school of practice, or a beginner leader who’d be on board for that and prepared to learn to follow, let me know!
*When I know the music. Not knowing the music is a whole other issue. But that’s a topic for another blog.