A breakthrough after an unplanned break

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Steph had suggested that there can be value in taking a break from tango every now and then, to allow things to consolidate. I could see sense in that, but the fixed cycle of the Tango Space classes complicated matters. I wanted to wait until I’d completed the full 12-week cycle, and then pick a week with a topic where I felt sufficiently comfortable to skip a week.

As things turned out, I didn’t get any say in the matter …

For nine days, I had the cold from hell. Had I not once had actual flu – where I couldn’t have crawled out of bed if you’d put £10,000 a few steps away and given me half an hour to claim it – I would have used the term. Muscle pain, hurts to swallow, painful cough, headache, you name it.

The timing seemed suspicious; I’m pretty sure Steph obtained a sample of some nasty virus and put it in my tea to force me to take a break.

By the 10th day, I was starting to feel semi-human. I had a private lesson with Diego scheduled. I didn’t want to risk passing it on to him or his other students, and in any case wasn’t sure I’d be on form for dancing, so I initially suggested he show me some solo exercises I could carry out to improve my technique. In the end, Diego decided I seemed non-lethal, so we did dance.

The lesson was very much a continuation of my previous one: working on doing things in small spaces to reflect the reality of London milongas. Last time, Diego showed me a circular version of an ocho, working on the open side of the embrace. This time, we worked on refining that, and then progressed to doing the same on the closed side of the embrace, which is a little harder.

Diego also showed a rebound entry into a circular ocho, which I can definitely see coming in handy on those occasions when I’d planned to walk forward but then been blocked.

Finally, he taught me how to turn an ocho into a parada, something else that can be done in a very small space, and another way to introduce pauses – as well as create opportunities for my follower to be an equal partner in the dance.

There were, of course, many technique issues to address along the way. With a circular ocho in close embrace, really opening up space into which the follower can move is key, and that requires a lot of dissociation. In particular, moving my hip out of the way while keeping my head upright.

There’s one reminder I need on a regular basis, and I suspect the same is true of most beginner leaders: that it’s not our job to move our follower, only to create the space and thus the invitation. Both Mariano and Diego explain this in the same way: visualise the embrace as a circle, and think about where I want my follower to be in that circle (in front of me, to the left, to the right, by my side and so on) – then open the space and trust her to move into it.

We ended the lesson with Diego running through everything, and all the points I needed to remember, while I videoed it.

Diego has the perfect mix of encouragement and rigour in his teaching. When something isn’t right: ‘No. You need to do this. Again.’ But also plenty of praise when you get it right: ‘Yes! Exactly!’ He also reiterated his kind comments on my walk. He said I found walking easy. I protested that I’d been working hard on it for five months. ‘Five months is absolutely nothing for that walk.’

It was again a fantastic lesson. I really feel like I’m developing some vocabulary I can call on when walking is impossible. None of it is complex. None of it requires any focus on steps. It’s just mixing-and-matching simple steps and pivots. And that idea – that tango is all just steps, pivots, weight changes and pauses – is gradually becoming more real to me.

I have much solo practice to do first, to develop my technique in these new things. But for the first time ever, I’m actually actually looking forward to a crowded milonga, so I can put this stuff into practice – and see whether I can feel like we’re dancing, not waiting, when there isn’t room to walk.

Image: Shutterstock

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