I realised today there’s quite a difference in musicality between what I do in solo practice at home with Mrs Mop, and what I do in milongas. Part of that is entirely understandable: at home, there are few demands on my attention dollar. I normally decide in advance what types of movement I’ll be practicing, so I can spend 50 cents each on technique and musical interpretation.
In a milonga, of course, my partner and the navigation need a lot of my attention, and usually I’m deciding on the fly what movements to lead, but there’s another factor …
In milongas, I feel more inhibited, especially when it comes to suspensions; a concern that it would feel pretentious to use dramatic pauses at my level of dance.
Pablo introduced me to the concept of actitude quite a while back: a combination of acting and attitude, aka fake it ’til you make it, but I hadn’t really dared take it too far for that reason. Tonight, however, I felt it was time to have at least one tanda where I put this into practice.
The improver lesson
First up, though, was the improver lesson. This was again on the walk, and we did one exercise I loved: walking in close-embrace position with our torsos, but no arms – just held behind our partner, but not touching them.
This was a great way of underlining the importance of acceleration and deceleration. I did the exercise twice with S, a follower who was really short, but gave lots of presence, albeit chest against belly. And it worked beautifully. I switched between half-time and normal time, between small steps and large steps, threw in some changes of weight and even used some side-steps for navigation purposes, and she followed everything perfectly.
We also did an exercise following the follower – where the follower walked backwards in the usual way, but they lead the walk, determining the speed and size of the steps. So two lots of following in two days, and I again really enjoyed it.
It was roasting hot in the back room used for the lessons, so I was very glad I’d bought a spare shirt to change into for the milonga. It wasn’t as bad in the main room, but still very muggy, so I might even bring two spare shirts next time!
I wasn’t feeling the music at first, so sat out the first couple of tandas. But then the music felt more to my taste and I invited M1 for a tanda. Dancing with her is always enjoyable, mostly feeling the music together and occasionally laughing together at my failure to lead something.
I did at one point try to lead the sandwich I’d learned on Saturday, but was too slow. That taught me the importance of doing the sacada the moment the follower begins the back-step, as you have to catch her before she transfers her weight. It worked well the second time, even if my technique needs some work.
The ronda was quite crowded, but M1 is very stable, so I felt confident leading some half-time movements, where the challenge was my balance rather than hers. We had a couple of amusing moments, but it was a really good tanda despite M1’s nonsense claim she was out of practice. “I haven’t danced for a week,” says the woman straight out of her intermediate class …
Coming off the floor, I ran into J, and decided to risk cabeceoing her during the cortina. Not knowing what the music would be was taking a bit of a chance given that I hadn’t liked the first two tandas, but I was feeling brave! We were lucky, and the music was really nice. That tanda was also crowded, so there was more circular walking and repeated ochos than I would have ideally liked, but I’m gaining confidence in the view that if the connection is good and the movement musical, it will be an enjoyable dance – and it certainly felt that way.
I sat out the next tanda and got chatting to E, initially about non-tango topics, but then agreeing that tango was full of geeks (which, for the avoidance of doubt, is a compliment coming from two people who qualify as same). It was a milonga up next, and we agreed on my Usual Plan – which I suspect is now also hers, after I employed it with her a couple of weekends ago: dancing the last song together.
E had a theory that milonga songs usually got faster during a tanda, and I think she’s right: the third one was indeed fast! The inner ronda looked to have more room, so we headed there, and that was a smart move: there was a lot more room to move, with only two other couples sharing the space (plus another doing on-the-spot stuff in the centre). All my fond hopes of using the 6-step pattern I’d learned at the Saturday evening workshop were lost to the pace, but I did manage more variation than usual in my steps thanks to trusting my feet to get on with it without a great deal of input from my brain. We both had fun!
Next up was M, the friend who’d magically converted from open to closed embrace during the Fausto & Stephanie workshop at the weekend. I’ve always enjoyed dancing with her – she’s a good follower, musical and has a relaxed attitude – but the experience is dramatically better now! She’s gone straight from open embrace to a really close one that feels super-connected.
The music was, though, really weird! I have no idea at all what it was, but the rhythm was quite unpredictable, stopping and starting, and changing pace. At one point, the beat got incredibly repetitive with the melody very much in the background, something I expected to last half a phrase or a phrase at most, but it just went on and on and on … But as M is also doing the musicality workshop with me, I figured she would get it if I ignored the beat and danced to the quieter melody, which wasn’t quite as unpredictable. She did indeed, so we had fun.
I was planning on chatting for a while, but then Pugliese’s Remembranzas came on! I absolutely adore this song, and had to dance it, immediately. M was on board, and this was my perfect actitude opportunity! I know the song well, so knew what was coming up, and where I could use suspensions. And hell, if you can’t do it to Pugliese, when can you?
So I had a fantastic time, and M too was very obviously enjoying it. The other songs, I’ve heard but don’t know well. However, they definitely fell into the accessible Pugliese category, so I was a very happy man. It was really easy to this music to apply the technique from the first musicality workshop of switching between the beat and the melody, and M totally got it.
I decided that this partner and this music was also the perfect time to try to make it more of a shared dance. I led a few paradas, then relaxed the embrace and waited. M didn’t need to be invited twice, and did some lovely-feeling movements to the music. Later, when we were doing some ochos, there came a point when I wasn’t really sure which of us was leading – all I knew is it felt great! A really fantastic tanda.
There were other followers I’d love to have danced with, but it was really muggy, and nothing was going to top that tanda, so I decided to call it a night.
Tomorrow is the next musicality workshop. I already felt like last week’s one was pushing the boundaries of what I can use now – most followers at my level would have no clue what I was doing if I tried to dance to the counter-melody – but it’s all racking up ideas for the future, so really looking forward to the next one!