When I started this blog, I was mostly doing it as a diary for myself. I figured a few tango friends might enjoy reading it, hence making it a blog. It’s much the same reasoning as the Journeys section of my website: mostly I enjoy reliving the experiences, and interested friends effectively view it as a kind of extended Facebook post.
So I’ve been surprised to see from the logs that the blog gets over a thousand visits a month. I think readers fall into one of four categories …
- tango friends and my own teachers taking a personal interest
- other experienced tango dancers and teachers interested in how a beginner sees the tango world
- other beginners interested in comparing notes
- non-tango friends trying to understand why they never see me any more
For the latter two groups, I’m using italicised sections to explain terminology. As I’m a male leader and mostly working/dancing with female followers, I’m using he and she to refer to leader and follower respectively, but of course women can lead men, men can lead men, and women can lead women.
Following yesterday’s introduction to the giro, today’s lesson with Mariano continued the pivot theme: the ocho cortado with parada.
An ocho cortado is a move in which the follower effectively swings around to the side of the leader and then ‘bounces’ back as if on elastic. And parada literally means stop. To the observer, it seems as if the leader puts his foot in the way and stops the follower from moving further. This is actually an optical illusion, and the leader’s foot comes in to meet the follower’s foot only after she has completed the step.
As Mariano wanted to use this as the entry point to a sacada, he showed me a variation on the ocho cortado with more pivot for me. We started in a more open embrace, then made the movement smaller for close embrace.
A sacada derives from ‘sacar’ – to take away – and is a move where the leader appears to push away the follower’s leg. Like the parada, this is an optical illusion, the leader’s foot stepping into a space just as it is vacated by the follower’s foot.
As our lessons are 45 minutes (so Steph can have a 45-minute lesson afterwards without being worn out), we have to use the time efficiently. Rather than repeat the same thing over and over until it’s good, Mariano’s approach is to have me do something enough times that I hit the ‘basic idea is working and I’m not breaking any of Steph’s toes’ standard – after that, it’s down to practice.
Mariano then showed me where we were headed next: an ocho cortado into a sacada. I tried this a few times, not as a way of attempting to learn it at this point, but so I would know the next step, and could be doing the current figure in a way which would lead easily to the next. But again, the basic idea was working.
For both figures, I can get a lot of the way there by practicing on my own, especially as the first stage is to get my own steps to the point where I don’t have to think them through while I’m doing them. (My tendency, when I need to concentrate on steps, is to rush them, so I’m getting ahead of the follower. If I’m more familiar with the steps, then I can focus more on the pace, and staying connected to the follower.)
Stage two will be trying the movements to a variety of different songs – some slower, some faster. And only then will I co-opt Steph into practicing it with me.
An update on the journey
There seems a fairly consistent view that it takes a beginner leader two years to reach the point where they can reasonably drop the beginner label. That is, if you like, the big picture. Equal parts daunting (so far to go!) and encouraging (no problem to be where I am now given that two-year timeframe).
Some have suggested that with the sheer number of lessons I’m taking, the mix of group classes and privates, and the amount of practice I’m doing, it could be a shorter journey for me. And Mariano was encouraging in that respect, saying that my private lessons are putting way more emphasis on quality of technique than is typical at this stage – partly because that’s how he teaches, but also partly because that’s how I learn and what I value. I’m very much a quality over quantity guy.
So it may take me longer than I think it should to get the hang of a figure, but when I do, it’s likely a more solid version than someone who quickly picks up the steps but doesn’t necessarily have a good feel for the movement.
It’s also not a straight-line graph. There are the tango highs and lows, of course. But additionally the fact that everything is connected to everything else. If you can do one thing, it makes it much easier to do something else related to it. This thing is a variation on that thing, but you could also do it this way or that way or adapt it for X or change it for Y or …
So there are times of accelerated learning, like the transition from a medio giro to a full giro. 180-degree turn to a 360-degree turn. And I can see how, once I’m reasonably fluid with the ocho cortado with parada, substituting a sacada should be equally easy.
So I’m feeling good about where I am.
Not all the time and in all ways. I’m still somewhat impatient – I want to be able to do all the stuff I can do in theory, to the music, in a milonga, and I want it now! I still watch experienced dancers in a milonga and have no idea what it is they are doing. I still get annoyed when I could do something last week and then struggle to do it this week.
But I’m encouraged by the developing sense I’m getting of one thing leading to another. I’m encouraged by the assessments of my teachers. I’m encouraged when I learn something in a lesson and it then works with Steph, even if it’s a version she didn’t (consciously) know about. And that 42-week countdown to our trip to Buenos Aires – the point by which I want followers to feel like I’m a good beginner and an enjoyable dance partner – feels like a reasonable one.