Properly entering the delusional phase


I talked before about the delusional phase most tango dancers get to enjoy.

In conversation among experienced dancers, someone said most people make it through the first couple of years of tango thanks to a healthy dose of self-delusion. By the time they realise they weren’t anything like as good as they thought they were, they are over the hump – or at least, too far in to escape.

I was complaining that having an advanced tango dancer as a life-partner meant that I never got to enjoy that myself …

Then found that, actually, I did have a decent dose of delusion, and now I think I’m properly in that phase.

There was the time in early April when I felt like I finally had enough vocabulary to get by in milongas. I’d like more, but it’s enough for enjoyable dancing. There was the realisation later that month that I now felt like I belonged in the Tuesday milonga – and subsequently found that I felt reasonably at home in others too. Indeed, that even extended to the huge and high-profile Romantica Milonguera milonga on Saturday. If anywhere in the UK was going to feel intimidating, it would have been there.

Improver class

The delusion continued this evening. Last time I did the Tango Space improver’s class on the Americano, the sequence was simply beyond any hope of me achieving it. This time, by the end of the class, I was managing it.

It was complex. The Americana itself, leading into a cross-walk into a sacada into a sandwich, a parada and then a pivot into another parada.

My first impression was the same as last time: that there wasn’t even any point attempting that, as I wasn’t going to remember half of it. That was indeed so the first few times.

But on, I think, the fourth round, I struck it lucky with my follower. It was the same woman who’d helped me last week, and with her guidance we were almost there by the end of the song. She again made it her mission to get me there, so asked Hamdi if she could stay with me rather than changing partner. By the end of that song, the whole thing had come together.

I won’t claim my technique was up to much, but I was just astonished to have strung together what had seemed like an impossibly complex sequence.

I have questioned the value of such lengthy sequences. It’s not like you’re ever going to use them in a milonga. But I do now see the point in them. Once you do finally reach the point of not having to think about the steps, then you get to experience a reasonably lengthy flowing sequence. And that’s the point: knowing the flowing feeling we’re trying to achieve in the milonga.

Beginner class

I’d decided my usual approach would be to do beginner and improver classes on Mondays, then on Tuesdays do the improver’s class and then dance in the milonga. As the bank holiday meant no Monday classes this week, I’d felt a bit torn between staying for the beginner class and dancing in the milonga.

I decided on the latter, but there were none of my regular followers there, and when the beginner class turned out to be short a leader and Hamdi asked me if I’d mind stepping in, I happily agreed.

It turned out to be a good thing for a few reasons. First, of course, more time working on my Americana technique was useful. Second, as there were some very new beginners in the class, it provided a yardstick to show how much progress I’d made – and naturally fed my delusion of competence. As did the various early beginner followers I worked with, who were all very complimentary.

Of course, I had Amy and Hamdi there to burst my bubble somewhat, picking me up on various technique issues during the class. There’s no doubt that I’m still very much working on my basics.

Two of my followers both said they were only on their second lesson. One was picking things up at an extraordinary rate, and the other, Z, already seemed incredibly skilled for someone so new. Chatting with her afterwards, the mystery was solved: she used to be a salsa teacher! At one point, I asked her if she knew ochos. She didn’t, and without any explanation I led some, which she followed perfectly.

The milonga

Z was so good that I felt it wouldn’t be crazy for her to dance in the milonga. She jumped at the chance. When we relocated to the room, it was a milonga tanda! I explained what that was and suggested we wait for the tango one, but she was having none of it. We headed out, I led some weight changes to make sure she had the speed, and then we danced.

My milonga dance is as basic as can be. It’s just single-speed steps and rebounds, maybe the occasional ocho cortado if you catch me on a good day. But it’s still fast for a complete beginner. Z, though, took it all in her stride.

We danced in the tango tanda which followed, and in that I led some ochos. Z had an initial tendency to launch straight into them without waiting for the lead, but quickly realised what she was doing. The next time, I deliberately lead a pause after the pivot and before the step, and she was then properly following. And then some! She was already adding decorations …

Since we’d just done some Americanos, I led some of those too, and realised they are a very flexible tool because you can pause either at the initial pivot on the leader’s backstep, or at the pivot on the forward step. You can also have them accelerate or decelerate. I played around with that to the music, and Z was picking up on the timing perfectly. It was a really fun tanda.

I spotted one of the followers from the intermediate class I’d danced with on Saturday. She was quite some distance away – much further than I would normally have attempted a cabeceo – but I tried anyway and it worked straight away. That was officially my first ever real-life long-distance cabeceo. She always dances in very close embrace, which was a good test of my ocho leading skills. It felt challenging but also lovely. With giros, I did still have to open the embrace a little, but not much at all. That says much more about her skills than mine, but still very satisfying.

Finally, there was a vals tanda. I love vals and looked around for a follower. Z was sat on her own. As she was new, she wasn’t familiar with the cabeceo, so I compromised by sitting down with her, chatting for a few moments and then nodding toward the floor with a questioning look. That did the trick.

Again, it was a lovely tanda. There were some bumps, but we both laughed at them, and had a really fun time. So that, then, was the third reason the beginner class worked out well: I think I’ve found another regular follower.

Enjoying the bubble until Sunday!

The thing with the ups and downs of tango is that you never know when they’re going to happen. However, on this particular occasion, I think I know precisely when my delusional bubble is going to be popped: around 17:05 on Sunday.

That’s because I have a 90-minute private lesson with Federico and Julia starting at 5pm on Sunday. They’re both great teachers, in part because nothing gets by them. Dancing with Julia while Federico observes means that, between them, they are going to feel and see every weakness in my technique.

The lesson is geared to fixing all the technique issues with my ochos. That will not, I suspect, leave much room for illusions of any kind.

I may not get that far: I also have an all-levels vals workshop on Saturday. Wish me luck! Until then, however, I shall continue to enjoy my delusions of competence.

Image: Shutterstock

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