Finding my own dance (a lengthy post)

Finding my dance

This was originally going to be a post about vocabulary. What I have. Where I’m at with it. What more I need. My next, ah, steps from here.

But, as I started writing, I realised it’s about more than that: it’s about finding my own dance …

I can’t, though, get to that without first talking vocabulary.

I wrote before about a plan to expand my available vocabulary in milongas.

In general with milongas, I find myself shrinking back into my Minimal Comfort Zone […]

I think I need to set myself a kind of milonga resolution: each tanda, if not each dance, I will use one thing I don’t normally do. I don’t mean shoe-horning something in that doesn’t fit the music, but rather finding a moment in the music that provides an opportunity for something [in this category].

I did that for a while, then it kind of got lost to other things. Mostly, I think, to the sheer pleasure of dancing in milongas, and feeling connected to my partner and the music – which is not a bad excuse, as excuses go. But, all the same, if I want to be able to express more, I need more available vocabulary, and the only way to achieve that is to get more experience using it.

So, what vocabulary do I now have, and what level is it at?

Things I can do, and do all the time

  • The walk
  • Sidesteps
  • Big rebounds
  • Small rebounds (as of the last couple of weeks)
  • Forward ochos
  • Back ochos
  • Pivoting between front and back ochos
  • Circular ochos

Things I can do, but don’t use as often as I could

  • Suspensions (I generally remember these just after the right time to use one …)
  • Forward ochos with paradas (a new discovery!)
  • Planeo
  • Cross-system walk
  • Rebound ochos
  • Calasita

Things that need work before I can use them

  • The cross (50% of the way there, another private to follow)
  • The one-step cross (ditto)
  • Walking ochos
  • Americana (I think I just need a quick video refresher one this)
  • Ocho Cortado*
  • Ocho Cortado with parada
  • Medio-giro*

*I used to use both in milongas, but I’ve downgraded them. Not because my technique has worsened, but because my standards are now higher. They’re ok, but not great, and I want to get them to the same standard as my ochos before I resume using them. I plan technique lessons for the giro generally, so that’s in hand, and working on my ocho cortado technique will probably follow.

Things that need tearing down and starting from scratch

  • Giro

I could be generous and put this into the ‘needs work’ category, but honestly, I want to start again here from first principles. I’m not leading it clearly step-by-step, which is what I should be doing with followers at my level, and I’m hopeless at exiting cleanly at my desired point. So, back to the drawing board on these!

The cross was also in the category before my private lesson promoted it one level.

Additional vocabulary I would like

I don’t want much more than I have, but there are two additional things I would like to learn to do. Both look fun, and also useful for dancing in small spaces.

  • Clockwise giro
  • Sandwich with barrida (that move where the leader slides the follower’s foot along the floor)

But I think that’s it. If I could add those, and bring everything up to my present walk and ocho standard, I’d be a very happy man.

Why I don’t want much more than that

There are two reasons for this. First, learning steps is so not my forte. I struggle every time with a new sequence.

I have a great memory for some things. Writing, for example. I can walk down the street and compose several pages in my head, then sit down at my keyboard and simply type it out.** An ex once said only half-jokingly that I got paid to laze in the bath. I’d get up in the morning and have a leisurely bath, then when I was done I’d get dressed, sit down at my Mac and write a thousand-word article in no more time than it took to type it because I’d already written it in my head.

**Not this blog, though. My blog posts aren’t just writing: they’re about processing what happened that evening, thinking about what lessons I can draw from it, and deciding where I need to go next. They take me time to write because learning takes time, and writing the posts is a core part of my learning process. They’re really for me, not you. Sorry about that.

Where was I? Oh yes, memory. I have a great memory for some things and a terrible memory for others. Sequences of steps, for example. Now, you could argue ‘So it’s hard, so what? Suck it up. Improving technique is hard too, but you’re happy enough to spend time doing that.’ But there’s a big difference between the two for me.

When I make make a noticeable improvement in my technique, there’s a big payoff. My dance immediately feels better, both to me and my followers. My response to that is an ‘aaaah’ one. When I finally get the hang of a step sequence, my only emotional response is ‘thank fuck for that.’ There’s a slight difference in feel between the two.

Finding my own dance

I told you it would take a while to get here …

When people first talked about finding my own dance, I hadn’t the faintest idea what they were talking about. I mean, I was learning this new thing called tango. How could I have my own dance? I just wanted to know what the hell I was doing.

But now I understand. At least, in part: I’m sure this too will be one of those things where there’s always a next level and a next level and a next level.

What has brought me the greatest pleasure in milongas is that feeling of there being only my partner and the music. Where I somehow manage to delegate the navigation to some spare part of my brain, and I’m not thinking about what I’m going to lead next. I’m just feeling the music and the connection with my partner. When there’s almost none of this going on. Where I don’t have to think about steps.

I’ve only got there very, very recently, and only when I’ve kept it very simple. So yes, I want to expand my available vocabulary so I have more options, but I’m still aiming to keep my dance simple.

Previously, I didn’t have the confidence to believe this would be satisfying to followers; I was constantly worried that they’d get bored. But two things have changed in recent weeks.

First, that private lesson on my ocho technique, and the solo practice I did afterwards, has made a massive difference to the feel of my dance. I can feel it myself, and my followers can feel it. I’ve had multiple spontaneous compliments on the feel.

Second, I’ve had tandas where I’ve done nothing more than walking, rebounds and ochos where it’s felt great to me, and followers I trust to tell the truth have said the same. So, sure, I’d like to do a little more, but not masses. Here’s what I want my dance to be:

  • A warm embrace
  • Dancing to the music
  • A clear and comfortable lead
  • A collaborative dance
  • Simple things, done well

Those five things are, I now see, enough.

Not for everyone. Not all the time. But I’m not looking to dance with everyone. And there is, in any case, something else I’ve realised. Even followers who like to do complex figures that challenge them, or to be twirled around at breathtaking speed, don’t necessarily want that all the time. Sometimes we want a rollercoaster ride, and sometimes we want a pleasant cycle ride through the park. I’m never going to provide the former, but I can provide the latter.

I have a decent start with four of my five bullets, and creating a collaborative dance is very much on my radar.

Every bullet-point will need work. But with time and focused lessons and practice, I feel they are all very much within my grasp. The whirling dervish stuff, I’m never going to do. But those five things; there, I’m on my way.

Image: Shutterstock

9 thoughts on “Finding my own dance (a lengthy post)”

  1. Only 13 days until your arrival in the city where tango was born. You will be able to put your “list of five” to the test during two weeks. You will see how simple this social dance is when it comes from the heart, not from the head.


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