Tonight was my best tango experience yet!
The evening began with the Tuesday improver’s class, on the cross in cross system. Yesterday I’d been having mixed success with this, as I’m new to walking in cross system anyway. Tonight was still mixed success, but weighted more to the success side of the scales …
When it wasn’t working at all with one follower, and I couldn’t work out why, Amy spotted the problem: my follower was changing weight with me. The follower didn’t understand how it was happening, and I said I must have been letting her change weight instead of holding her in place. Amy said maybe, but it might be that my follower was on auto-pilot, detected my weight-change and made an unled one.
Either way, once we figured that out, it then worked well. In part because of my taste of following, I’m wary of doing anything that might feel uncomfortable to my followers, so basically aimed to lightly hold her in place while doing as discreet a weight-change as I could manage, but I’m also understanding Maeve’s point that I have to adjust my lead to the follower.
It was clear by the end that I knew how, and it was working with most followers. I tested this by varying the number of steps before leading the cross. That detected the two who were on auto-pilot – step, step, cross! – but even with them, once they’d realised that it wasn’t a predictable pattern, I was then able to successfully lead them.
I do need to keep working on my degree of dissociation. I think my following experience has me using my arms less than I used to, but that only makes it more important to increase the dissociation in my hips as I’m now ‘cheating’ less.
I stayed for the beginner’s class, and was glad I did. Although dancing with complete beginners (there was one follower in her very first lesson, another who was three lessons in) is a very different experience, it’s all useful practice. And also serves to make me realise that I have come rather a long way, even if my focus tends to be on the vast chasm between where I am now and where I want to be!
That was also true immediately before the lesson. Natalia was there finishing up a private lesson with someone who was obviously very new to tango. I watched him do exactly what I used to do before starting to walk: lead about a billion weight changes! I now have that down to, usually, one weight change on the last beat of one phrase, signalling I’m about to start walking on the first beat of the phrase. I’ve also gotten much better in the last few lessons at using my left hand to also signal ‘ready, steady, go.’
I was feeling quite tired by the end of the second class, and wasn’t planning to stay for the milonga, but Pablo then came in to say that they had a live singer tonight from Argentina, who was on for one tanda in 15 minutes. I moved through to the milonga.
The live singer: Federico Pierro
I’d initially thought it would be lovely to dance to a live singer, but he was so fantastic I decided instead I just wanted to listen. If I’d danced, I’d have had no spare attention left to really enjoy the singing. He was absolutely amazing! He sang from the centre of the ronda while everyone danced around him. It felt quite magical.
When we persuaded him to do an encore, I then thought it would be a shame not to dance to the final song. I danced with one of my regular followers. We communicate well in dance, and it was very enjoyable, but I was absolutely right that I had little tango brain left to enjoy the singing, so I’m very glad I just listened from the sidelines to the first four songs.
Since I’d only danced that one song with U, we stayed on for the next tanda, and everything really came together.
I’d previously made my vow to do one new thing at least once in each tanda – that is, something I was confident leading in class but had never used in a milonga. Tonight, having now had four lessons this week on the cross, that seemed the obvious choice. And I was able to incorporate that.
But I also made myself another promise that night: I wasn’t going to otherwise stress about figures in a milonga. I’d focus on musicality and a comfortable lead, and anything else was a bonus. Despite this – or perhaps because of it, who knows on Planet Tango – I was able to incorporate walking, outside walking, ochos, paradas, ocho cortados and medio-giros into the dance. And suspensions! I usually forget those, but was able to use some in a way that felt really good.
The pista was quite crowded – I think there were more people than usual there to hear Federico sing – and yet navigation didn’t feel stressful either. The ronda seemed to be moving well, and when it wasn’t I had enough things to do on the spot.
Tandas 3 and 4
There were two other followers there who I really like, both with the initial M. I hadn’t seen one of them for a while, as she’d been off trying other schools. We chatted away, and I hit my usual issue of not knowing how to cabeceo someone while talking with them. A little later, the two of them were chatting, so I positioned myself somewhere that would give me a good sightline when either of them looked around – but neither did.
I concluded that they weren’t looking to dance, so was happy enough with the evening and changed my shoes, put on my jacket and picked up my bag ready to leave. By that time, the two of them were sat at a table chatting, so I sat down with them just to say goodbye, and they were both ‘What? You can’t leave! You haven’t danced with us!’
I explained it was not for the want of trying!
I put my shoes back on, and arranged that I’d dance a tanda with M1 first and M2 afterwards. I had a really lovely tanda with M1. Again, focusing on musicality and a comfortable lead, not worrying about anything else, and again, remaining in the line of dance was effortless, I never felt trapped. When the ronda stopped moving, I did whatever felt right. Sometimes it was a medio-giro, sometimes ochos, sometimes just rebounds or rock steps while turning 360 degrees.
I sometimes have difficulty figuring out the exact beat on which a song is going to end. It’s fairly common for me to expect it on one beat, then find it continues for a few more. Occasionally it also ends unexpectedly, though that is a less common experience now. But tonight, I was able to nail the ending on each song. Not that I did anything special for it, but I did at least do something that clearly marked the ending.
At the end of the tanda, we returned to the table, both very happy, but M2 was nowhere to be seen. Since it seemed a shame to waste the next tanda, we had a second, and had a repeat of the previous experience. Everything Just Worked.
By that, I don’t mean I didn’t make mistakes. There were times I tried to lead something and failed, and once or twice I had to pause for a beat or two just to reset, but none of that mattered. The experience, the dance, the connection, was really lovely.
At the end of the tanda, we found M2 and it was the same thing again with her. Everything worked.
Well, ok, as before, not everything, but the few hiccups were nothing. The embrace was lovely, the connection was lovely, and the whole thing felt like real tango.
Gaining in confidence, I decided to try an experiment. In my solo pivot practice, I have a move where I just open to the left, then close to the right, aiming to have it be feet, hips, torso to the left, and torso, hips, feet to the right. I’d wondered what would happen if I tried that with a follower, and I decided that things were working so well, this was the time to find out.
Admittedly I felt a lot more comfortable trying this with a dancer at roughly the same level as me. There was little chance she was going to launch into something unknown to me. I figured it would either be an ocho or a giro, and I would just go with whichever of those she did.
Sure enough, she did a circular forward ocho. I followed that – thank you, Diego! – and once she returned to the right, a second experiment seemed in order. What if I did the Follower’s Liberation thing of leading a parada and then waiting? Would she take advantage of the opportunity to take the initiative? I did, and she did! I then followed her for a few moves. I couldn’t even say exactly what she did, I just aimed to stay with her, and then when she stopped, we walked forward from it and it all felt smooth and natural. That was a special moment.
The thing about it is … I don’t know for sure whether M saw that for the invitation it was, and took advantage of it, or whether she thought she was following me while I was in fact following her. And I love that I don’t know. (Ok, I’m a bloke, and a British one at that, so I will of course have to ask her next time I see her, but I still love that, for now, I don’t know.)
I didn’t want to risk anything after that proving an anti-climax, so at that point I changed out of my dance shoes for the second and final time.
When I got home and told Steph all about it, she congratulated me on my first tangasm.
What conclusions can I draw from this?
Experienced tango dancers often say tangasms are unpredictable things, and I’m absolutely sure there’s a strong element of that. Why did the ronda seem to be moving tonight when it often seems stuck? How did I manage to have fantastic tandas with three different followers when I’d have been delighted to have had just one of those? Why did I have enough attention dollar to freely incorporate pretty much everything I can lead with what might, on a dark and foggy night, pass for competence?
Some things just happen.
But I am genetically bound to analyse everything, and I think three conclusions can be drawn. To wit:
First, I’ve had specific lessons in how to dance in small spaces. Two with Diego Bado, plus the Tango Space workshop. I’m 100% confident those lessons played a huge part in my new-found comfort in crowded spaces.
Second, the lessons I had in following with Maeve and Mariano made a massive difference. I learned an incredible amount from both. That a clear, comfortable and musical lead trumps pretty much anything. And that followers – at least at my level – don’t actually keep mental track of whether or not you’re doing enough interesting things, they are just focused on this step, then that one. That gave me the confidence to not worry about whether my dance was sufficiently varied.
Third, that a huge part of my stress in milongas has been because of the rather unusual way I was dragged into the tango world. Thanks to Steph and friends, I was initially dancing with much more experienced dancers – or, worse, strangers. I was constantly worried that my dance would be too boring for them. With dancers at my own level, that stress simply isn’t there.
Steph made a wry comment about my six month appraisal. And I could understand why. I wrote then:
So I think that’s where I’m at with it. A year of lessons, culminating in a trip to Buenos Aires. If I call it a day at that point, I’ve experienced a whole new world, been able to share in a part of Steph’s universe that was previously unknown to me, made some lovely new friends, and had a glorious adventure. But if I feel that I’ve reached a point where what I do in a milonga feels like dance, then I’ll stick with it.
And, yep, tonight was dance. Not even felt like dance; it was dance. I don’t know whether my three followers feel quite as amazed by the experience as I did, but I do know from their reactions and comments that all three had a good experience.
So if that was my test, then I’ve already passed it.
Of course, the tango gods will now be out to get me, so my next tango experience will probably be horrible (it wasn’t!). But for tonight, no-one can take this away from me.