I was feeling relaxed about tonight’s improver class, as the cross in cross system was essentially working yesterday (when I remembered to do the leader-only weight-change, doh!). So tonight would be a chance to work on my technique.
After that, my plan was an hour’s dance in the milonga, then trying to recruit a few volunteers to help me practice my giros in the practica from 9pm …
The lesson was good. I was again asking followers to give me feedback on the unclear-to-rough scale, and got very consistent feedback: the right level of lead for most was what felt to me like 80% intensity – that is, something which felt to me on the rough side, but I was assured it wasn’t. I would, obviously, need to tone it down for more experienced followers, but that wouldn’t be a problem.
The room was very crowded, so it was quite challenging to lead something which ideally required a number of steps (so the follower can’t anticipate when the cross is coming). Often, I had to first navigate us to a suitable space, then lead the cross. But I made sure my navigation was dance, and several followers commented on how it felt more like dance than practice and how much they liked that.
Hamdi stopped me a couple of times to give me useful feedback. Just when I felt I was doing it really well, he tapped me on the shoulder again. Damn. “I had to stop you,” he said, “to say that’s it exactly!”
A wasn’t staying for the milonga, but agreed to help me practice my giros before she left, which we did at the bottom of the staircase while waiting for the improver lesson to finish – much to the amusement of passing students. I was starting to get more of a feel for them.
I wasn’t wildly taken with the music in the first couple of tandas, so did some socialising. I got chatting to E, and despite the leader and follower journeys often being quite different, we found there was a huge amount in common between our experiences.
We have a shared love of vals. I said I love the rhythm, but my challenge was that not all of my limited vocabulary was suitable for the dance, so I felt even more constrained than usual. E declared that she actively preferred very simple dance, and was a fan of circular rebounds in vals. This is my kind of follower! We agreed to dance the first vals tanda together.
That was truly lovely. Her preference for simple dance took away all pressure, and I could just focus on her and the music. When you’re not trying to do anything other than walking, circular walking and rebounds, you can really be taken by the music.
We’d been discussing the virtues or otherwise of ocho in vals, but the second song seemed perfect for them. I led them to the 1-2-3 phrasing, either pivoting between front and back at the end of a phrase, or walking out of it, and I could really feel E completely in the music with me.
In the break before the final song, E said I mustn’t judge her on her back ochos as she didn’t feel very confident with them. I said, truthfully, that they felt great to me, and she invited me to lead some more. I duly did this in the final song, and was totally taken by surprise by a fast section in the music! It was exactly the wrong moment to have led an ocho at all, let alone a back one. But I decided to take a chance and lead the pivots quickly, ready for an abort plan. But E followed them at full speed, and it was a perfect moment!
The next tango tanda also wasn’t grabbing me, so I chatted some more, and asked S – she of the pub milonga fame – if she would help me practice my giros in the practica. This started with very rough-and-ready ones, but did improve. I did as many as I thought could reasonably be inflicted on an innocent practice partner.
It was quite amusing, as we were doing this during a milonga tanda (the music is the same in both rooms). Milonga isn’t the obvious music to which to dance giros! So mostly we were ignoring the music, but in the second song I used every other beat, which amused S. I explained my ‘dance to the third milonga song’ approach, and she decided that was a plan, so we went through to the milonga to dance that. It was fun and simple, though I actually thought we’d made a better job of it in the pub – but it is possible I’d drunk enough wine there to affect my perception of that dance …
I really ought to stop dancing with followers whose first name begins with M, else I’m going to run out of numbers for them. There is one very experienced dancer I don’t cabeceo very often, as she’s a much better dancer than me, but every now and then I decide I’ve improved enough since last time that I can risk another tanda.
Her response to my cabeceo was a kind of ‘Ok, then’ shrug. As we met on the dance floor I joked that it wasn’t the most enthusiastic acceptance I’ve ever had. She laughed and said it was nothing to do with me, she just wasn’t enjoying the music that night, and I could understand that given my own lack of enthusiasm with many tandas.
I’ve often seen another-M dance with someone who leads a lot of paradas, and she does lovely-looking things in response, so that seemed an obvious thing to do with her! Sure enough, that was well-rewarded. And when I lead the sandwich, M did a really lovely lapis. And yes, I did do that again. And once more.
That’s the beauty of having learned a couple of small things about turning tango into more of a shared dance: do that with a very good follower and she’ll make me look good!
I also knew she’d know her giros backwards, so would make up for any shortcoming in my lead, so risked one. She again made my lead look way better than it is, but it was a good confidence boost. I lead another, and figured that ticked the ‘tried it in a milonga’ box, though I’m still a long way from being willing to do that with followers of my own level.
I then did more socialising before I cabeceod one-of-the-original-Ms for what I’d decided would be my last tanda of the night. She’s the friend I’m doing the musicality workshop series with, so I decided it would be fun to play with some of those ideas.
I first reminded myself to slow down, so danced mostly half-speed, which created a really different (and lovely) feel. Now that M has been converted to close embrace, she has an absolutely lovely embrace. She was worried that she was giving me too much forward weight. I assured her not, and said that was basically impossible with me – the more I get, the happier I am, as that gives me a feeling of being able to lead anything.
During one song, there was a section where there was a call-and-response pattern in the beat itself. I decided to pause during the call and then dance to the response. That was really fun. I wouldn’t risk that with many followers, but I was confident it would feel right to her, and it did, even though she hadn’t consciously noticed it.
I really enjoyed the slower speed, and think I need to remind myself to do this more often. It’s partly that I’m gaining confidence in my technique, but it also needs a follower with whom I feel really connected and is very stable herself so any of my wobbles aren’t going to throw her. Though, actually, in that tanda, I don’t think there were any wobbles on my part.
The evening was another one in which I did more socialising than dancing, and really enjoyed both.
Tomorrow is the final musicality workshop, all about finding our own personality in the dance. I do feel I’ve got a good sense of where I’m headed, so it’ll be really interesting to see what else is revealed by Olga’s approach. I’m really looking forward to it!