Dropping the beginner class, and getting some bonus experience as a follower


Many years ago, I did an introductory scuba diving course. Known as the PADI Open Water Diver course, it took four days, and comprised about a day’s theory, some swimming pool exercises and then a couple of days of diving. Do that, and you emerge as a certified diver.

Want to become an Advanced Open Water Diver? Certainly: go on to do one deep dive (30m), one navigation dive (following a compass to swim in a triangle) and three other ‘adventure’ dives (eg. a night dive), and suddenly I’m an ‘advanced’ diver – with all of eight days in the water.

Tango gradings aren’t quite that bad, but schools definitely use inflated levels designed to flatter the student …

They all seem do the same thing – I guess because if one does, the rest kind of have to. If one school promises beginners they’ll reach X level after Y weeks, then competing schools have to do the same, otherwise it looks to newbies like you progress faster with the first school.

The common conceit shared by Tango Space and others, then, is that after 12 weeks you progress from Beginner to Improver. I was under no illusions about the labels, but feeling able to drop the (absolute) beginner class still feels like a milestone of sorts. This cycle, I’m just doing the improver (really ‘beginner plus’) classes.

Tonight’s class was the start of a new cycle, and thus on the walk – with the usual ‘project, step, push’ mantra. We were very short of followers this evening, so I danced with Julia at one point who said my walk felt very good but I pushed more on faster steps. I do feel that myself – similar to the way it’s harder to really push with very small steps. I think this is a key area for me to work on.

The improver variation was using a disguised change of weight to switch between parallel and cross-system. The leader takes a step and then, when collecting, quickly and subtly changes weight to continue on the same foot while dissociating to walk on the outside. Because the leader changes weight and the follower doesn’t (in an ideal world, she wouldn’t even notice), you are then in cross-system. Do the same thing again to switch back into parallel walking.

It was easier than I expected it to be, though it would take some practice to coordinate the change of weight and the dissociation, but I can see it as something I could learn to do.

The final sequence was another matter! Going from outside walk in cross system on the right (which I’m terrible at) to some kind of right-angle turn into the cross. Yeah. No.

I had a scare when I danced with one follower who, immediately afterwards, went to change out of her dance shoes and prepare to leave halfway through the class! Fortunately it turned out she’d just had a really long day and was feeling very tired after the beginner class, but she didn’t take much persuasion to stay, and we danced again later.

The shortage of followers meant that there were two pairs of men each round, and both times I opted to follow just because my tiny bit of experience of it gives me a slight edge over those leaders with no following experience at all. As I said to them afterwards, if they can lead a follower as incompetent as me, they know they can lead!

It did, though, underline that I do want to learn to follow too, in the long-term. Having just wound down my tango schedule to a sane level, I’m not about to try to do that now, but one day …

Tomorrow, I have the improver’s class again, with a different variation, and then it’s time to play in the milonga! Oh, and I may get the opportunity for some more following in the practica – we’ll see!

Image: Shutterstock

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