Getting an impromptu class upgrade in Boston

Boston Tango Society

I was spending a couple of days in Boston, and was lucky enough to be upgraded on my flights – but that wasn’t the only upgrade I got. On Wednesday evening, I found myself in an intermediate class for the very first time …

The Tango Society of Boston runs classes four times a week at Dance Union in Somerville. On Wednesday, it offers beginner and intermediate lessons followed by a milonga. And yes, that floor is as wonderful to dance on as it looks!

My plan had been to do the beginner class, nip out to a tea-shop during the intermediate class and then dance a tanda or two in the milonga before heading back to my hotel at a civilised hour.

The beginner class was all technique, mostly solo exercises. I really liked it, for two related reasons. First, there was a a lot of backward walking, something leaders don’t often get to practice. Second, Silvana also had us all doing the follower movements for both forward and backward ochos – at quite a pace, too! I’ve only tried ochos as a follower very briefly, so doing that was both fun and useful.

The class also once more underlined my view that following is at least as hard as leading: leaders may have to navigate and play a bigger role in decision-making, but followers generally have the more challenging movements, as well as having to be ready for anything that comes their way.

At the end of the lesson, I asked – just out of curiosity, you understand – the topic of the intermediate class. Silvana shrugged.

“I see what people seem to need and want,” she said.

“It’s just that I’m terrible at learning steps.”

“You can do ochos, you’ll be fine,” she said, as if that settled the matter. And apparently it did.

Intermediate class

We started by dancing a couple of songs in close embrace, just walking, and the quality of the dancing was immediately apparent as both my followers gave me lots of presence and were perfectly in sync through accelerations, decelerations, pauses and weight changes.

Then it was time for tonight’s topic.

“What would you like to do?” Silvana asked the class.

Regulars said they really liked the turn she taught them last week, so she she said she’d continue with that ‘plus another version.’

This, as anyone who knows me will immediately appreciate, did not fill me with confidence. Not only was I in a class above my pay-grade, but I was going to have to play catch-up with what everyone else learned last week before then learning some new version of that!

She proceeded to remind them of – and introduce me to – last week’s sequence. It looked complicated, but woah, cool move! It was a kind of clockwise giro, but done while continuing to walk throughout. She described it only as ‘an alteration’ (on a giro, presumably?) and I’m told it’s known, logically enough, as a walking turn. I videoed a later demo – excuse the vertical video, but it’s allowed for this:

The amazing thing was, it seemed less complicated once I tried it. It just seemed to flow really well. It was helped enormously by my followers already knowing their own part, of course, so as long as my lead was vaguely pointed in the right direction, they were able to follow it.

I did find that sometimes my follower would end up in a back ocho. The trick here turned out to be a very slight suspension before the forward step, to bring an end to the follower’s pivot.

I learned this because each of my followers couldn’t have been more helpful in offering feedback and suggestions. This was clearly a class ethos, and a really good one. A couple of them asked if giving feedback was ok, and I assured them it was very welcome. Silvana also watched and gave advice on the back-step, and then watched some more to make sure I did it properly.

Within three rotations, it was actually feeling good, my follower-tutors were happy and I got a “Yes!” from Silvana.

Of course, the usual class disclaimer applies: everyone knows what they’re doing, and if you’re expecting this particular sequence, then the lead is pretty much unmistakeable, I think. I’m not going to be attempting it in a milonga just yet, but I would like to try it with some of my regular followers in a practica.

Each of my followers had their own tips. Now, I should say at this point that the class was predominantly grey-haired. The song playing when I danced with one of the … more mature followers was quite a fast one, but it’s not a move that you can slow down, really – it has to be done on the beat. So I compromised by turning less, so she had a smaller distance to rotate in the same time. She was having none of this: “You need to rotate more.” So I did, and she did.

The variation was an anti-clockwise one, which required an outside step on the opposite site. I’m usually rubbish at outside walking on my right, but because it was a new figure for everyone, they were using open embrace, and it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. My hit-rate was definitely lower than for the clockwise version, and half the time we ended up in cross system (while the teacher didn’t), a mystery I didn’t get to solve in the available time.

In principle, I could have led the cross-system cross I recently learned, but my step memory was full, so combining the two will have to wait for another day!

The milonga

Not everyone stayed for the milonga, so it was pretty quiet, but I was impressed by the dancing. There were no flashy moves, but everyone looked musical and connected.

I only wanted to dance a few tandas, as I had to get up at 4.30am the next day to catch an early flight home, but found I was learning a lot from watching. There was one older guy in particular who was leading simple-looking things perfectly. He obviously knew the music inside-out. That’s the kind of dancer I want to be. I listen to tango music all the time, but think I’d need to do so for the next decade or two to be as familiar with individual songs as he was.

I danced a few tandas, which were lovely. Close embrace, smooth following, no anticipation. I did try the parada-and-pause thing with two followers, but the response in both cases was to politely wait for me to lead the step. This is a traditional joint.

I did also attempt strandas at each airport without success, missing one follower at Logan by a few hours and four terminals! Ah well. Judging from the posts, success is rare unless it’s an airport after a local festival, but it’s a fun game.

And tango is a lovely way to travel. Knowing you can turn up in any major city anywhere in the world with a good chance of finding a milonga on while you’re there, and that it doesn’t even matter whether you speak the language. Tango is the somewhat harder-to-learn version of Esperanto, but where a small vocabulary can get you a long way. My tango shoes are now on my packing checklist.

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