Giros, Pugliese and Practice


After last night’s drunk tango, I had the kind of hangover commensurate with the amount of wine consumed. Which made for a somewhat more challenging two-hour lesson this afternoon than would otherwise have been the case.

In principle, we were just working on technique, and I’d asked Maeve to work with me on two things: improving my dissociation in ochos, and aiming for some fluidity in giros. However, in my hungover state, the lesson included some remedial material too …

I’ve mentioned before that Maeve has a great way of deconstructing and then reconstructing movements so that they make sense on a whole new level. The ‘increasing my dissociation in ochos’ part of the lesson was breaking it down into each individual element of the movement before then bringing it back together, at first very slowly and then at normal speed.

The test for when I was getting it right turned out, after all that work, to be rather simple: if my hips hurt as I twist, then I was dissociating enough!

Maeve is very slightly built and has a really soft voice. Despite these facts, she manages a remarkably good impersonation of a drill sergeant: each component has to be right before I’m allowed to move onto the next. (For the avoidance of doubt, this is a very good thing.)

It was the same approach with the giro. Although it’s possible to lead a giro without knowing the follower’s steps, that only works with an experienced follower. And even then, there is value in knowing exactly what the follower is doing in each phase.

Taking that approach to it, Maeve got me to really appreciate that a giro is effectively a forward ocho, side-step, back ocho and side-step. And when I think of it like that, it makes it much easier to lead fluidly – understanding the feeling I needed to convey to the follower, and also getting a solid understanding of the timing: pivoting together, stepping together.

To keep things simple for my limited tango brain, we stuck to a single version of the giro – the one that feels most natural to me – but we did now introduce exiting it from the back ocho as well as the forward one.

When we dance, Maeve starts with a system where she decides the ‘what’ and I decide the ‘when.’ So, for example, she’ll say ‘Giro exiting from back ocho’ and that’s what I need to work into the dance. Once Maeve is satisfied with each version, then we have a few dances at the end where I can lead freely and try to incorporate as much as possible of the work we’ve been doing. (This approach also gave me an idea, but that’s a topic for another blog post, once I’ve seen whether it works.)

By the end of it, I did feel like incorporating giros into my dance at a milonga would be feasible – I’ll get to find out on Tuesday …


When I first embarked upon this mission, I put together a Spotify playlist of tracks with the tango equivalent of a head-banging beat and phrasing so regular you could use it to run a Swiss railway. All lessons and practice sessions had to use this playlist. Di Sarli’s Cara Sucia. D’Arienzo’s El Choco. Canaro’s Toda Mi Vida. You get the idea.

Non-dancers: If you have Spotify, you can listen to the examples through those links if you’re curious, but all you need to know is that these tracks all have an absolutely unmistakeable beat, and the structure of the songs is very clear and consistent.

Most tango music was too complex for me – and Pugliese was my nemesis! But I wrote recently that I’d had a breakthrough with the music.

Listening to a tango playlist on the way to the lesson, I realised something else. Mala Pinta was playing, and I found that the structure and phrasing was making sense to me even though it’s a really playful piece that would have left me totally lost at an earlier stage. I was able to make sense of it because enough of the structure of a tango song has filtered into my subconscious even though I couldn’t yet properly describe it to anyone.

Yesterday, I decided to put this to a proper test by listening to some Pugliese. Amazingly, I suddenly found that I liked it! Not all of it, certainly, but most of his most popular songs on Spotify.

So when we danced today, it was mostly to Pugliese, and I really enjoyed it. That would have been unimaginable a couple of months ago. Not just dancing to more complex music, but also music I’d only listened to once or twice.

I’m also just starting to play with pauses, and Steph’s input afterwards was to make sure that I didn’t relax in them, but used them to continue building tension before released into a movement. That’s going to be a lot of fun to play with, and Pugliese seems the perfect music with which to do it.

Practice pays off

Maeve said that she really liked my walk now – could really feel the difference. And Pugliese was perfect for me, she said: ‘You have a really strong Pugliese walk.’

I told her that I practiced it every day, and she said it showed. That was really good to hear.

I can’t recommend hungover tango as much as I can drunk tango (insert ‘not at a milonga’ and ‘with an equally drunk partner’ disclaimers here). It was definitely a handicap. But it didn’t prevent me having another great lesson. Really looking forward to trying to put it into practice!

Photo: Shutterstock

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