As I mentioned last time, my plan to tone things down doesn’t kick in quite yet. Today had two afternoon Tango Better workshops with visiting teachers Fausto Carpino & Stephanie Fesneau, followed by an evening Tango Space one on the milonga rhythym.
The first workshop was on Connection and lead, which sounded like it could be relied on to be exploring fundamentals rather then requiring me to learn new steps. The same wasn’t going to be true of Milonguero Turns, but they did make learning the steps very easy …
We were incredibly fortunate in that only four dance couples were present, despite more having booked. It was a beautiful day, so I suspect the rest had decided to take advantage of that. But I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
People were encouraged to book with a partner. I’d booked with M, one of my regular followers. They didn’t rotate us in the class, which has pros and cons, but I was happy as M makes for a relaxed fellow student and we were able to work at something until it fell into place.
Connection and lead – or how to stay closer during pivots
Fausto started out describing the way the ocho cortado is normally led, which is with quite a significant amount of movement to the side. They then demonstrated a way of leading it where you keep the follower much more in front of you, and she passes just to your right.
The idea is for the leader’s steps to essentially be just forward and back, but to initially dissociate a little to the left on the first back-step, which has the follower come into an outside step on your right – and then continue from there as usual. The result is that you stay much closer, the follower pretty much brushing ankles with you as she passes. M and I got closer and closer as we practiced this.
They then showed us how you can use the same approach to lead a circular ocho into a parada, again in closer contact than would be typical.
This was perfect for me, as I really like close embrace for the walk, but tend to open the embrace significantly for most other things. With the right follower, I can now do ochos without opening the embrace too much, but I definitely open things a lot for an ocho cortado, and this showed me I don’t have to.
Finally, they showed a nice way to use a sandwich to change direction. This was a bonus for me as I hadn’t been taught a sandwich before, and it was on my list as it seemed a simple yet pleasurable movement. It didn’t disappoint: it felt really lovely.
The workshop wasn’t really what I’d been expecting. I’d thought it would be more about the technique of the embrace itself, and more general principles on leading, but this was essentially ‘just’ about how to do things in closer embrace.
However, it was in no way disappointing thanks to the absolutely stunning quality of the teaching. They broke everything down into its component elements, and talked about the technique for each part. When a problem occurred, they were able to immediately diagnose the issue and provide succinct feedback on what was going on and how to fix it. It didn’t matter which of them was doing this, they both had exactly the same level of ability with this.
Fausto had the sweetest way of providing feedback when he spotted something we hadn’t. “I have a question for you.” Then he would ask what we thought would happen if we did X, or if we had any theory as to why Y was happening.
One thing that really impressed me about both of them is that they gave equal time to the followers. I sometimes feel followers get short-changed in group classes, as the focus often seems to be on making sure the leader knows their part, and only offering guidance to the follower if they are doing something obviously wrong. But Fausto and Stephanie both gave as much time and advice to the followers as to the leaders.
Milonguero turns – and more!
The time flew by, and then it was time for the next workshop, on milonguero turns. This was, my Googling tells me, the standard way of performing a 180- or 360-degree turn in tango before the medio-giro and giro came along.
We prepared for this by walking in left-hand circles, gradually making them tighter, until we were close to turning in our own space. The key for the leader is not to step away from the follower, but really tightly around her steps.
This was a great introductory step. Sometimes in classes, you jump straight into something that requires decent technique, which we won’t yet have. But practicing tight circular walking first meant we got to organically discover the technique and feel of the milonguero turn.
Which is extremely simple! I was initially over-thinking it, and getting a little confused, but fairly quickly realised that it was in fact very straightforward. The leader opens to the left and the follower pivots into a circular back ocho. Then – and the timing here is key – as soon as she starts stepping back, the leader steps around with his right foot and basically follows her around the turn. Leave it too late and you lose connection. Get the timing right, and the leader simply does a change of weight and then you can begin walking in the opposite direction. You can also do two of these turns in succession to do a 360.
Now, here was where things got complicated! After we’d got the turn itself, they showed us a sequence we could perform using it. It wasn’t stupidly complicated, but neither was it simple, and it was the sort of thing I’d normally have backed away from in a group class. However, the way they broke it down meant I stuck with it.
The sequence was:
- Milonguero turn, with a lifting sensation
- Leader continues to pivot, leading the follower into a cross
- Leader still continues to pivot, this time with a down sensation
- That uncrosses the follower
- And leaves the leader spiralled with right knee behind left knee
- Leader pulls hips back to create space for the follower to do a parada
- After the parada, the leader follows the follower to face her
- Then resolve with a forward or back ocho
They separated us into leaders and followers and taught us our own parts first. The key for the leader is to keep facing left until the follower begins the parada. As you follow the follower, you pivot back to the right. The tricky part here is you need to pivot on your heel, not the ball of your feet, else you end up in an awkward position.
Once we’d been separately briefed, we got back into couples and tried it. With us, it just wasn’t happening. M kept getting tangled in my feet, and also ended up in front of me instead of off to my left. Neither of us could figure out why. While waiting for one of the teachers to be free to help, I watched the others and realised that all of them were ending up pretty much in front of the leader, and the parada was something of an illusion. That part solved, that left how to not tangle our feet!
Fausto quickly diagnosed this: we were too far apart. That meant M had to basically try to go around my feet. The solution was to each move our hips back. Once we did this, it enabled us to remain closer, which meant M no longer had to go around me, and our feet were then fine. It also moved her more to the left, so the parada was a bit less illusory.
The class over-ran slightly, and I needed to get to the milonga workshop, so I made a dash for it during the final demo – which M kindly videoed while I changed shoes.
The milonga rhythm workshop
Milonga-the-dance had initially terrified me. It seemed absurdly fast, and I didn’t think I had a hope in hell of leading anything at that speed. Or even working out what it was I wanted to lead. I swore I’d never go anywhere near one.
But then I had an unexpected introduction to it. I quickly came to enjoy it a lot. However, my milonga was incredibly basic: essentially just a mix of walking and rebounds, large and small. It felt ok for a single song, but too tedious for a whole tanda, so I’d taken to cabeceoing someone for the third song in a milonga tanda.
Tango Space had previously run a workshop on The Three Rhythms of Tango: tango, vals and milonga. That got me to the point where milonga felt like fun, but at that stage – as someone who’d never been taught the so-called 6-step or 8-step box (a kind of dancing-by-numbers approach some teachers use with complete beginners) – I wasn’t going to attempt to learn that at high speed!
But in this evening’s workshop, the box steps felt easy enough, and that already felt like I’d doubled my ability to dance milonga!
We tried some other simple sequences – one of which was:
- Outside step
The purpose of that one turned out to be leading the follower to do the side-step without the leader, which we tried next. I managed it about 40% of the time, but never really got the point, as it seemed to take us out of the embrace.
At one point, I had a follower who apparently thought she was a teacher, and spent the entire song trying to teach me what she thought we were supposed to be doing. It didn’t help that I don’t think she was right, but her persistence in trying to ‘teach’ me rather than actually follow was really annoying. Another leader spontaneously mentioned the same experience when we were chatting afterwards, and it was immediately obvious it was the same woman. I said to him that I’d felt like telling her to fuck off, and he said ‘Thank you!’ – he’d felt the same. (I did actually ask her to stop talking, which she rather huffily did.)
That experience aside, it was a lot of fun! Lots of mistakes were made, but I emerged from it feeling better equipped to dance milonga, and I am now officially upgrading myself: from now on, I’ll cabeceo someone for the second song rather than just the third!
I didn’t have the energy to stay for the milonga, but couldn’t quite tear myself away immediately. I put my ‘two song tanda’ plan into action with a South African woman I met in the class, and we had a messy but fun time. I then spent a bit of time chatting with her and then Greta before heading home. And two more workshops tomorrow!