The cross is one of those movements where I’d never felt I’d found the happy medium. If I lead it the way I think I’ve been taught it, then it only works about 50% of the time. And if I lead it clearly enough to get it up to 100%, I really feel like I’m throwing the follower around.
I’ve tried to find a compromise between the two, but that seemed to be the worst of both worlds: it didn’t always work, and it felt like I’m moving the follower rather than moving my chest and trusting her to move herself. So I wanted to devote today’s private lesson with Federico and Julia to the cross, and in particular the one-step cross …
As I wrote before:
Since I still struggle to work out when songs are going to end, but have about a 90% success rate at recognising the final two beats, I figure that if I can reliably lead the one-step cross every time, that’s a great way to end.
But, of course, we began with the walk. We danced one song, just walking, then Julia delivered the good news and the bad news.
The good news was that she said my walk feels really good. There’s a clear projection and very good push – which Federico also said he could clearly see. Julia also said my embrace was comfortable, and she liked the way I walked and paused with the music. She said that’s honestly most of it – “no-one will ever complain about this.”
The bad news was that, of course, there’s aways a next step. Right now, that’s about fine-tuning my head position. She said this was the only comfort issue: to turn my head a little to the left to give my follower space to keep her own head perfectly straight. Federico also noticed that my head was a little bit forward. I think this is either a remnant from the days when I used to look at the floor, or an over-correction for this.
Making a very small change like this, and having it stick, is surprisingly hard. But when I concentrated on it, Julia said it then felt really good. I’ve added this to my pre-flight checklist.
Federico got back on my case with my feet position, looking for an open-toe position. In the walk, this is more stable, and in close embrace it makes for more room for the follower’s feet when they are collected. It definitely makes sense, though the irony is that my closed-feet position is over-compensation for my normal everyday stance, which is with feet rather wide apart! So my task there is actually to get back to where I started, only continuing to brush my ankles together.
Julia also picked up on my rebounds, which were more like an actual forward step and back-step: there was too much transfer of weight. So we worked on converting this to a much smaller movement, with only half the weight transferred. This immediately made sense of something I’ve seen in milongas – a really subtle movement to play with small moments in the music. And doing a series of these and then moving into a big step feels really lovely. Best of all, I now have two versions available to me, which feel very different.
We then moved on to the cross.
We started with my compromise, and Julia said it was fine. It was clear, and didn’t feel rough, though it was more than she needed. She suspected that my fellow beginners need more, and that’s why it was only working some of the time. She suggested leading the subtle version first, and dialling it up if needed.
However, as we did more, more issues emerged! What was missing, they both said, was a very clear weight-change. Because the follower changes her weight as she does the cross, the leader has to make her really feel that weight change. Mine was too subtle, and too late. I was effectively doing it as preparation for the next step rather than as the completion of the step into the cross itself.
We worked on that, and between them they identified the feeling I need to give to the follower, which is really bringing her weight back down to the floor. Federico led me to give me a good sense of it, which was a bigger feeling than I’d thought. Creating a real downward feeling – like I’ve been lifting her and then put her down.
I tried that. Nope, more. Tried again. Still more. Tried again, and this time really exaggerated the downward movement. “Yes, perfect!” Ok, now I knew what to aim for.
Once they were happy-ish with my cross, we moved onto the one-step cross. With this, of course, clarity of the movement is key. Plenty of dissociation, and a very clear weight change as I re-associate.
From the one-step cross we moved onto leading a succession of crosses. I’ve seen this done in milongas, and it looks good, and I also immediately saw a practical application: for those songs where the ending is a few more beats away than I thought, if I’ve led a cross to finish and the song doesn’t, I can just lead one or two more!
One thing that helps a lot at this stage is to slow down: to dance the cross half-time. I’m not great at doing that – I tend to slip back into normal-time – but I’ll practice.
Head angle again
Federico said that I had a strong tendency to turn my head when dissociating, rather than keep the angle unchanged. It’s definitely going to take time to get that, but Federico gave me some homework which should help: sitting on a chair facing a mirror, and dissociating my chest while keeping my head forward. Sitting rather than standing means I can’t move my hips. I shall do that as tomorrow morning’s solo practice, and then aim to do a few minutes a day of that.
I have another Spitalfields milonga next Sunday, and five group classes over the following weekend, so my next private will be in three weeks. I was told that’s how long I had to sort out my head and feet positions. In the meantime, in tomorrow’s group classes, I’ve asked them to give me a ‘feet!’ reminder if they see them closed.
The next private will continue to work on the cross, but now with a parada. I’ve also asked them to teach me how to do well something I’ve seen done to great effect in milongas: ochos with a parada for each pivot. Julia asked me to demonstrate, which I didn’t think I could, but she said I was halfway there already.
Meantime, this week’s Tango Space theme is the calesita. I have a vague memory of that from the first time around, but hope that one beginner and two improver classes this week will turn it into something I can use in a milonga.
But today was a perfect lesson: encouraging, some very obvious progress during the lesson, and some clear goals for the next step.