After successfully setting aside my dance inhibitions in yesterday’s practica and lesson, it was now time for the real test: how well this would work in a milonga!
The good news is that the answer is … very well indeed. The bad news is that it comes with a caveat: with the right conditions …
I was again able to put my new approach into effect during the class.
I’ve long aimed to make the practice sessions in class into dance. Not just to repeat the specific figure over and over, but to incorporate it into dance.
Yes, because it’s the focus of the class, I will do the figure many times during each song – I don’t want followers to feel like they aren’t getting full value from the class – but I won’t only do the figure itself.
A lot of the time, the room is crowded, and we need space for the figure, so I will dance us to a suitable space. And generally I’ll wait for the beginning of a phrase to execute the figure, so there is a clear starting point and an opportunity to find out how many beats it takes. But before, while I’ve taken the approach of ‘dance the connecting dots between figures,’ I’ve done so without actitude. Tonight I gave it some actitude too.
And it definitely worked. There’s a kind of ritual of thanking each other after each song, before we switch partners, but tonight I was getting way more animated thank-yous!
The lesson itself was good too. It was essentially the same as yesterday, but Hamdi gave me some great feedback that really helped. One key part of it was to do enough to provide the lead, but no more. I was finding my left arm was ending up in an awkward position, and he said it was because I was trying to pivot more than was necessary to lead the turn, so when I ran out of dissociation, I was moving my arms. I tried it again with less initial pivot and it worked much better.
Although I’m aiming to keep my dance simple, I couldn’t resist another attempt at leading the figure we did in the Boston intermediate class. Greta was curious, so we tried it in the practica. As with Julia, I was somehow leading an extra step, but at least this time I could understand how I’d been accidentally leading a back ocho, and was able to cut the lead short to avoid that. We still ended up with the extra follower step, I think because I don’t lead it with sufficient momentum, but it still works in this modified form.
Greta thought it was something I could use in a milonga. I almost felt she might be right if there was enough room, but it really requires a lot of space. It’s not going to be practical in (m)any London milongas!
As for the milonga, the good news is that my new approach absolutely works. I had an absolutely fantastic tanda with one of my regular followers. It was a vals (which I love), and she’s a great follower with lots of presence and zero anticipation, so we were off to the perfect start. We danced three songs of mostly walking with rebounds – forward steps where possible, circular walk when not – and it was just delightful. We did a few ochos, but 90% of it was just walking, the music very much the star of the show, and it felt lovely. And that wasn’t just my impression: I emerged later to find a message on my phone reading ‘That was a lovely, lovely tanda.’
I had another tanda that was almost as good, with another of my regular partners. Really well connected, everything in sync with the music, lots of suspensions, and that too got an enthusiastic response at the end.
And a third really nice one, with an occasional milonga partner, not from my class, which got me a hug at the end.
But I also had two tandas that didn’t have the same feeling, and I realised afterwards why. It was because the music wasn’t really calling to me. I’d danced because I wanted to dance, and because I enjoy dancing with those two followers, but because I wasn’t moved by the music, it all felt a bit flat.
So that’s the bad news. Yes, simple, connected and musical dance works wonderfully well – but a key ingredient is that I have to love the music. If it’s music I only find ok, that formula isn’t going to work.
That means I’m not going to be able to dance every time I want to. I can have the perfect follower keen to dance with me, and be raring to go myself, but if the music feels meh to me, it isn’t going to work.
The other necessary condition is close embrace. It just doesn’t feel the same to me in open embrace. I think in close embrace it’s just much more obviously about the connection – between the leader and the follower, and between the two of you and the music – so simple dance can feel wonderful. In open embrace, it feels like there’s less connection, so you have to make up for it with more interesting movement.
That, then, is the bad news. And it is bad news, because I’m going to miss out on opportunities to dance with lovely followers who’d like to dance with me – at least at that time. If I could magically love all tango music, I would. But I don’t. And if I could wave the magic wand again to get the same satisfaction from open embrace I do from CE, and I’d do that too. There are, however, no wands in sight.
But hey, that’s just the bad news. I’m still on a high from the good news. I have my tango – and it works!
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