Venturing once more into the great outdoors


After the Hyde Park bandstand milonga, Sunday provided another opportunity to dance outdoors. Rene and Hiba from Tango Fever organise Tango@Spitalfields, held in the Amphitheatre Canopy outside Patisserie Valerie.

It felt strange to be going there to dance: I’d passed several of these milongas in my pre-tango days, and always thought of them as a really fun idea. I never imagined I would one day be participating!

I posted it on the Tango Space Facebook group, and a few of us arranged to meet at 2pm. Having learned from the Hyde Park experience that it’s a pain/concern having a bag with you in a public space, I wore my practice shoes, put a tenner and a debit card in my pocket, my phone in my jacket and that was it.

As I arrived, I spotted Federico – one of my Monday teachers – dancing. He spotted me and managed to shake hands with me while still dancing. 🙂

I’d gotten there a little early, and wasn’t planning to dance with anyone I didn’t know, so sat down to watch the dancing. Just looking around the pista, I felt eyes on me, and looked to my right to see a laser-beam-like mirada. Since I’d just arrived, and it wasn’t anyone I knew, it was clearly nothing whatsoever to do with me, and everything to do with the fact that she wanted to dance and an available leader had just arrived. Well, it was her choice to pick an unknown quantity, so I took the view that she couldn’t really complain at what she did or didn’t get …

The pista was already fairly crowded, so it was the usual challenge of dancing in small spaces. I did a lot of single-step walks, ochos and ocho cortados. I felt constrained, but the music was lovely, my lead was working and my follower seemed happy, so all was good.

At the end of the tanda, I looked around and still saw no familiar faces. I decided to sit out the next tanda and adopted a simple tactic: look for men who were leading a very basic dance, and try to gauge whether their followers seemed content with what they were getting. Note those, then target them for the next tanda.

That was the theory, and I did spot a couple of candidates. However, Eva (the DJ) was playing one of my favourite songs, and I really wanted to dance. There was a woman sat on her own next to the DJ booth, and I decided to take a chance. I looked in her direction and she looked back. I smiled and nodded. She continued to look, so I wondered whether she was mirada-ing someone behind me. I tested this with a nod, and she looked either side of her, finally concluded I was cabaceoing her and nodded back.

By that point, it was even more crowded, and the floorcraft was best described as variable. In the first song, by that point the last 30 seconds of it, I was almost immediately kicked in the shin by a follower in the lane to the left doing a boleo. Thanks.

But the music was great, and my follower was smiling despite the very limited dance I could achieve in the available space, so I was again happy.

I spotted B as a vals came on. I love vals, though wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do in the by now really tight space. However, B knows my level, and what she will and won’t get with me, so I felt comfortable cabaceoing her. The ronda was barely moving at all, so there was a lot of rebounds and circular steps, but B added her own decorations, which I appreciated. It felt musical and fun, despite my own limitations.

I then saw M talking to Federico, and went to say hello. Once she’d changed into her shoes, we danced the next tanda. I’d managed to position us behind a good leader I knew, so felt confident that there would be no unexpected backsteps or anything else I needed to worry about. This was indeed the case, but they did spend an absolute age chatting at the start of each song. I tried rather ostentatiously entering the embrace with M in the hope that would act as a hint, but no luck! So, some weight changes and side-steps back and forth until we finally got to move.

By this stage, the pista was absolutely rammed. In the course of the entire tanda, we didn’t complete anything close to a full lap. But M is very relaxing to dance with. She again is very familiar with my level, and can make the most of a simple pivot. Again, many ochos, mostly circular, a few of my rough-and-ready giros which she managed to smooth out, and many, many rebounds and much circular walking. As always with M, I felt the freedom to try things out, knowing she’d simply laugh if they didn’t work; I did and she did.

I decided to sit the next one out and do some more observing. By the end of the next tanda, I had a shortlist of four different unknown followers who’d appeared content with a very simple lead. I cabeceod one, she accepted and it was immediately clear she was a good dancer. She was an older woman who clearly decided in the course of the first song to take me under her wing. “Relax,” she said, “you’re doing fine.”

I realised I was feeling about 50% enjoyment and 50% stress at the crowded environment. I smiled and said I’d do my best. One thing I’ve learned with good experienced followers: do a pivot and a parada and let them to their stuff! She didn’t disappoint, doing some lovely decorations that an unobservant person might have thought I was leading. And in the times when all I could do was rebounds, she managed to interject some double-time stuff that I wouldn’t have even known how to lead! I did a lot of following the follower in that tanda. I thanked her warmly at the end, and she said it had been a fun dance. Which it had, though the credit was entirely hers.

I wandered around the outside and didn’t spot anyone, so just watched for three songs. Then I spotted a very tall and elegant dancer who was clearly very skilled, but was also on my short-list of followers who’d looked happy with a simple lead, so I figured with one dance to go I could chance it. That was a lovely dance, and we remained chatting at the end, but then Rene announced the next one would be the last tanda. I knew she’d have many better offers for that, and she apologetically said ‘Oh, the last tanda,’ so I thanked her and off she went.

I know most people reserve the last tanda for their life partner or a favourite dancer, and I would have been happy with my lot, but when there were followers still sitting, I figured I’d be brave and risk inviting someone I hadn’t seen dance. My rationale was that even a limited dance had to be better than nothing on the final tanda, so cabeceod a woman more or less at random. Not entirely randomly, as she was looking alert and tapping her foot to the music.

No surprise that the final tanda was the most crowded of all! But by that time I’d made my peace with what I could and couldn’t do in the space, and just focused on keeping it comfortable and musical. It was again clear she was a good dancer, and again taking opportunities to follow the follower were rewarded.

M and her partner came back to our place for drinks and pizza. He’d been doing a leader’s workshop I would have done too had it not clashed with the milonga. He gave it the thumbs-up, so I hope to do the next one.

On the walk back to ours, I was talking about the no-contact leading we’d done on yesterday’s workshop. M was curious about that, so I stopped in the street, faced her and without any explanation led a contact-free side-step and straight into a forward step, which M followed as instantly and smoothly as would have been the case in the embrace. It couldn’t have been a better proof that there is no need to move a follower.

There followed much drinking of wine, eating of pizza and talking non-stop about tango. A very enjoyable end to the weekend!

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