When winging it works, and when it doesn’t

winging it.jpg

The tango gods decided to amuse themselves this evening. The theme for the Tango Space classes is the ocho cortado, and I was already feeling comfortable with that, so felt like it was going to be a great opportunity to work on refining my technique.

Ha …

I was having one of those days when I was just feeling clumsy, and my previously-available ocho cortado was all over the place. Taking a diagonal rebound instead of dissociating while doing the rebound in a straight line … not dissociating enough on the back step … taking too big a side-step … Basically, anything you can get wrong with an ocho cortado, I was.

I was also feeling that I was failing to apply pretty much everything I’d learned from my brief taste of following. I felt I was tending to move my follower rather than create openings for her, and I wasn’t always allowing her quite enough time. But I guess being aware of that is something …

But then I danced with one of my regular followers, and suddenly everything was working. That isn’t necessarily a good thing – it might indicate a follower who is used to compensating for my shortcomings – but it was a welcome relief. I think also with my regulars, there’s less stress, because I know we’re both going to just laugh at stuff that doesn’t work.

It still wasn’t one of my better evenings, but I think things did improve a bit as the evening went on, which at least beats the reverse.

After the beginner class was a half-hour practica in which I first worked on resolving an issue I’d found with another follower: we ended up a bit offset from each other. Julia identified two reasons for this – one thing for me to correct, one thing for my follower. We used that feedback, and sure enough, that fixed the problem. Or, at least, reduced the offset to a tiny one that was easily corrected in a single step.

The improver class introduced two additions. The first was a sacada into a giro. While the follower was in the cross, the leader did a leader-only change of weight, then opened to the left and did a sacada with the right foot, then continued into a giro. More on that in a moment.

Once we’d done that (for varying values of ‘done’), we then added a switch into a clockwise giro. I’d never done one of those before, though often wanted to, as it seemed a really useful move in a milonga.

When winging it works

Never having done a clockwise giro before, and not really knowing how those work, I was basically making it up. It wasn’t ending the way it was demonstrated, but I was finding a way to resolve it with each follower. Not necessarily neatly, but in a way that enabled us to walk out of it, so that’s a win.

And in a milonga, when I’m not trying to achieve something specific, but rather dance in a musical and enjoyable way, that’s enough. I mean, if I can make it neat too, that’s great, but I can live with something both of us find enjoyable even if an observer might be averting their gaze.

Not that I plan to try it in a milonga anytime soon, but the principle holds. Winging it can be a valid approach so long as it works out and my follower is able to comfortably follow each element.

And when it doesn’t

But I realised that something has happened with giros.

When I first learned to do one, I wasn’t attempting to pivot. I was instead using a series of steps to turn myself. That worked fine, and because I was taking one step myself for every step taken by my follower, I could mentally run through her steps. With my usual entry, that’s side-step, forward step, side-step, back step.

Later, I managed to pivot in a medio-giro, and although I was no longer matching my follower step for step, essentially the limit of my pivot was ending on the follower’s side-step, so I still knew where she was in the sequence.

But pivoting in a full giro, it all got very vague! I was no longer keeping track of my follower’s steps, and winging that definitely doesn’t work! So now I think I need to focus my next private lesson on this. How to pivot rather than step, but still track the follower’s steps.

Teacher feedback

Federico approached a couple of us afterwards and asked for feedback on the class, and specifically whether the final element had been too much. R, a follower, said it was good to mix it up, but she knew her partner preferred to keep things simple. I said that as I struggle with step sequences, my vote will always be to keep it as simple as possible. R said she recognises that more experienced dancers may want to be challenged, and I agreed – so you’re never going to please all of the people all of the time. An approach a couple of us adopt is just to stick to the previous version when it all gets too complicated, but that does mean I feel my followers are being cheated.

I also suggested they borrow a couple of things from the Tuesday class. First, if there are extra leaders or followers, to invite those who skipped a song to choose a partner before people move round. Second, to have the leaders move right rather than the followers – just so there is consistency between the classes, to eliminate the confusion that arises by having opposite systems on the two days.

Having offered some suggestions for change, I felt I should reassure them that I love their teaching. People are always quick to criticise, often not that forthcoming when it comes to praise.

Tomorrow is a new day

I’ve had other Mondays when I haven’t felt on form, but the Tuesday has been great – so I’m hoping that’s the case this week too! And I’m really looking forward to the milonga after tomorrow’s improver class.

Image: Shutterstock

5 thoughts on “When winging it works, and when it doesn’t”

  1. I enjoyed this latest “slice of tango life” reporting. It takes me back to my earlier days, and you paint the picture well.

    Regarding keep it simple, or not. A teacher can introduce the night’s figure with options for simplifying it or for making it more complex. Of course, even with exactly the same figure, one can concentrate on learning it, on making it work smoothly with a variety of partners, and, if those are easy, concentrating on technique and adding adornments.

    In my experience a partner wouldn’t feel cheated if their partner wanted to limit or simplify things to make it work better.

    Regarding changing partners when some must sit out a song. Consistency and simplicity are important. Having people choose new partners introduces uncertainty and stress when there are already plenty of those in a class.

    I prefer to have Leaders move to the next follower, as that is the way it works at the milonga. I put extra dancers, whether leaders or followers, between couples. Everyone keeps track of the person of their role preceding them and following them. When a song starts, the singles step back. When the song ends, the singles enter la ronda in their proper place, and then the leaders move to their next position in the line of dance.


    1. Thanks, David. I think the times I feel I’m depriving a follower are where they are capable of following the full version but I can only cope with the interim one. I’m not good at learning steps, so get lost once it gets too complex. It did just occur to me, though, that it might be easier if I only did the new bit – ie. the extra steps added. Will try that next time.

      Not sure what you mean by ‘as that is the way it works at the milonga’?


      1. At the milonga, social dance party, regardless of who initiate the mirada/cabeceo, the Leader goes to meet the Follower at their location. Also, the Leader has the greatest responsibility for situational awareness, and for taking the Follower back to their original location. Ergo, it makes most sense for the Leaders to be the one moving between partners in class as well. Thanks for asking!


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