At the end of the current Tango Space cycle, I’ll have completed it twice, at mixed levels …
- Initially, beginner classes only
- Later, beginner + improver classes
- Now, improver classes only
That’s working out well in many ways. The teachers are really good, and manage to give a surprising amount of personal feedback in what are often packed group classes. At the same time, the sequences we’re taught are actually the least useful thing about the classes to me.
The problem with sequences
The improver sequences no longer scare me the way they once did, and I’m generally able to get a halfway-competent version of the whole sequence by the end of the class. However, the chances of me ever using any of them in a milonga have always been close to zero – all the more so now.
I’ve talked before about the tango maths problem.
I have to know how many beats it will take to complete a figure order to finish it at the end of a phrase. Take an ocho cortado, for example. Forward step, rebound, pivot, back into cross. That can be done in four beats. Since the follower could use a moment to uncross to go back into the walk, that works really well as the last four beats of a phrase. So to do that musically, I need to start planning it from the beginning of the phase, figuring out which foot to start with to be ready to execute the four-beat figure.
If I can pull that off, I retain my musicality and all is good. But if I mess up by starting on the wrong foot, or beginning it a beat late, it’s no longer a musical dance. I’d then be losing the main reason someone might want to dance with me.
It only takes me miscounting the number of beats needed to complete a sequence, or either one of us to be half a beat slow on a particular element, and suddenly it’s no longer in sync with the music. The music is over there and we’re over here.
It’s always bothered me when that’s happened, but when I’ve decided my only tango superpower is being at one with the music, then that’s a non-starter.
Focusing on my solution to this
I’ve also talked about the solution to the maths problem, namely forgetting about fixed sequences and focusing on the smallest possible components. A cross, for example, can be lead from a standing start in two beats.
I’ve made a little progress with this, but I now see that it’s absolutely key to the type of dancer I want to be. I need things I can do in two-beat or four-beat units to ensure I can stay in sync with the phrases of the music.
There’s also one specific skill I need to cope with rondas that don’t move (or, more frustratingly, when the couple ahead of us fails to notice the bus-length gap ahead of them): clockwise turns. I can comfortably lead tight anti-clockwise turns by a circular walk, and that has the benefit of being as controllable as a linear walk, namely I can pause, rebound or change direction at any point. I’ve briefly played with a clockwise version, but it’s not there yet, so I’m going to make it the focus of my private with Diego on Saturday – specifically, having it be something I can easily exit at any point. Diego is my tango engineer: I throw him my problems, and he figures out how to solve them.
*I also rather optimistically thought I had a working giro in close embrace, but the milonga reality proved otherwise. We’ll continue working on that in my fortnightly lesson with Julia and Federico on Sunday. If I can ever master it, then it should be as controllable on a beat-by-beat basis because it can, in principle, be exited at any point.
I’m going to complete the current Tango Space improver cycle because I get useful technique feedback from every lesson even if the sequence isn’t of much practical value to me. But I will then need to decide what to do next.
One thing’s for sure: it won’t be the Tango Space intermediate class! They do some great technique-focused things, which I’d love, but they also do even more complex sequences.
In terms of sheer value for money, it would probably make sense to funnel all my tango tuition budget into privates. However, group classes also serve a hugely valuable social role. Not just the camaraderie of learning with others, but also finding dance partners for milongas.
One possibility is to look for pure technique classes. I did try one before, though it did also use sequences. One of the problems with some of those is they mostly attract much more experienced dancers, so familiarity with quite a lot of figures is assumed. There will be technique classes out there that don’t involve sequences, I’m sure. However, if they are mostly solo work, they may not serve the social function well.
For that reason, I suspect the most likely bet will be an improver class with another school. My plan, then, is to do sample classes with several different schools and see which one seems to suit me best. Meantime, I’ll continue attending the Tango Space Tuesday milongas.
As an aside, levels are tricky when it comes to choosing the most appropriate classes. Taking the Tanguito levels guide as a random example, I plotted where I am in terms of each element, and it looks something like this:
(The dotted line for the embrace, because I would say that my embrace generally is at a decent improver level, but when learning anything new, I can tend to fall back into partly leading with my arms. And maybe I should have been further to the right on musicality, but that was my second attempt at drawing it, and I got bored.)
If you have recommendations for London schools for me to try, please let me know in the comments.