Just under two months ago, I wrote my six-month appraisal. The bottom-line of what I wrote then hasn’t changed:
By one measure, I’ve come a huge, huge distance. From zero to being able to lead an enjoyable, if simple, dance … for a fellow beginner.
By another measure – the standard I see in milongas – I’m almost nowhere. I watch people effortlessly do these amazing-looking things, and I can’t even tell you what they are doing.
But three things have changed significantly …
First, a milonga no longer feels like alien territory – a place I don’t really belong.
It struck me on the way home that I’d felt at home there. I mean, I wish my technique were better, I wish I made fewer mistakes, and still I wish I could do more, but … I no longer felt like this was someone else’s space. I felt like it was for me too. That’s a pretty big mental shift.
Since then, I’ve danced in two more milongas. The Covent Garden one, which is also run by Tango Space but feels like a more formal affair, and the outdoor one at Spitalfields, which is anything but formal! So the feeling extends beyond my usual haunt.
Which is not the same as saying I feel relaxed during a tanda. I’d love to pretend that I’m aware only of my partner, the music and the ronda, but sadly that is far from the case: there’s a … bit of internal dialogue going on. Here’s a peek inside my head during a typical first song in a tanda.
Actually, before that, I should perhaps clarify that all of this is layered on top of the enjoyment of the music and the physical sensations and the connection. It’s all present, but this stuff is there too.
If I enter the embrace slowly, where is the dividing line between ‘Mmm, entering the embrace already feels like dance’ and ‘Who does this guy think he is, Gavito?’ – and which side of it am I on right now? How close an embrace does she want? If it feels a bit unconnected to me and I lean forward more, will she welcome that or feel uncomfortable? God, I hope people are going to do some walking. Oh, I like this song. If it’s the one I think it is. Right, make a decision on the embrace and get on with it. Ok, good. Now, when is the couple ahead of us going to stop talking and start dancing? Ok, there they go, finally. Posture, grounding, change of weight and a bit of hand movement to signal we’re starting, project, push. Is my left hand giving enough presence, or too much pressure? Is my right hand comfortable for her? There’s a nice slow bit of music coming up, perfect for ochos. Ok, front or back? Let’s go with front to start, that’s easier for the follower. Make sure I wait for her to finish. Ok, she’s perfectly on the beat, so no problem! Is this song the one where it suddenly goes all pom-pom-pom in a moment and I need to be ready to end the ochos and do some snappy steps? I think it is. Ok, let’s end the ochos … here. Her weight should be on her left foot, right? Yes, it is, ok. She’s very responsive, that’s lovely. Hmm, that couple on the inside is getting closer, and she’s doing a lot of kicking, and I’m not sure if we’re in his blind spot, but the couple ahead has stopped and the couple behind are close. Can she feel I’ve just tensed up? Ok, the couple ahead has moved forward, let’s get to a safer spot. Oh, this is a nice moment in the music for a giro. Can I risk a pivot, which feels nicer but doesn’t allow me to lead step-by-step, not that I’m exactly great at leading a giro step-by-step anyway, so yeah, let’s go for it. Ok, phew, she knows her steps, oh, and what a wonderful pivot into the back ocho. Now, to be able to walk out in the line of dance, I need to end the giro on the next step, will that have her weight on her right or left foot? Ok, springy hand and draw her closer to signal the stop. Oh, that was nice. Let’s lead a change of weight to be sure she’s on her right foot. Ok, she was, and is now probably wondering why I did that. Right, there’s a gap ahead, let’s walk. Ah, this bit coming up is a good opportunity for a suspension and a mid-flight check. Posture? Left hand ok? Hmm, I’ve opened my hand a bit, let me close again, remembering Bridgitta’s ‘dancing the corrections‘ approach, do it slowly, ok, right hand good? Maybe a bit high, let’s adjust that. Right, we’re stuck again, we’ve done front ochos and a giro, what else could I do on the spot? Maybe back ochos will be sufficient variety? Actually, this is a good point in the music for an ocho cortado. Nice. Now what? Can I risk those tight circular steps? They work really well with some followers but others don’t understand what I’m leading. But she’s good, it will be fine with her. Yes! Still no sign of movement ahead. Back ochos, then. Let me see if I can just do a pivot here and end in front of her. Ah, she thought that was a giro, ok, no problem, let’s go with that. Actually, that worked out rather well. Ok, is this the final phrase? I know I know the song but can’t remember the orchestra and whether it ends with a chan-chan or whether it’s one of the sneaky ones. Ok, I think this is the ending coming up. Do I have time for an outside walk into a cross? No, damn, left it too late. Can I lead a one-step cross? Not from that foot, ok, let’s just turn snappily like … so! Oh, that isn’t the end. Right, I get it now. This is the actual ending coming up … er, in one beat. Just collect, but do it with feeling. Phew, that was on the final beat at least, and she went with it wonderfully. Good ending. Next song. I hope that couple moves.
(If you’re one of my regular followers, none of this applies when I’m dancing with you, obviously – then it’s just your presence, the connection and the music. Honest.)
Where was I? Oh yes, the second thing that’s changed: my attitude to this two years business. That’s the time most people seem to agree it’s likely to take before my combined technique and vocabulary reach the point where I can simply enjoy the dance during a milonga, rather than having all that going on in my head. What I said before was:
But that’s two years of, let’s be honest, a vast amount of work with some smaller percentage of fun.
And now I no longer feel that way. I mean, yes, it is a lot of work too, but I’d say it’s pretty much 50/50 in terms of the work/fun ratio, and that’s no different to writing or photography or anything else worthwhile.
Third … well, in truth, points one and two are kind of academic, because I’m hooked. So even if the rest didn’t apply, there would still be no way out.
My name is Ben Lovejoy and I’m a tangoholic. It’s been 24 hours since my last milonga.