Julia danced with me in the milonga on Tuesday, and told me afterwards that I was ready for the Tango Space intermediate class.
That was extremely encouraging to hear in terms of what it says about my technique, and as the intermediate class is a broad church, I can believe that I am somewhere in the right ballpark technique-wise. But I’m absolutely not able to cope with the step sequences: I’ve seen the kinds of things they do in that class! Even the more complex of the improver sequences took me about 45 minutes to learn, by which point there was little time left to focus on technique …
Hence my dilemma: I love the Tango Space experience, but I don’t see a next step within the school for what I need at this point.
The beginner class would be too soul-destroying to repeat – and possibly even counter-productive. But the improver class is sequence-focused, which isn’t what I want. The intermediate class looks to have some great technique exercises, but that then leads into even more complicated sequences.
I want the simplicity of beginner/improver classes in terms of steps, but with the close embrace and technique focus of intermediate classes. That doesn’t exist within Tango Space, and I suspect it probably doesn’t exist in group classes anywhere. Last night’s sampling of a couple of lessons at Tanguito served to strengthen that suspicion.
I started with the combined beginner/improver lesson. The label seemed apt: the first half of the lesson felt like a complete beginner class. For example, walking was literally on the beat, non-stop, for two songs. No pauses or changes of weight for the phrases, no varying the pace between normal time and half-time. (I was a bit of a rebel and did dance to the phrase, but was the only one to do so.)
But the second half was closer to a Tango Space improver one in terms of the complexity of what was being taught. The step sequences were quite fiddly, and there were three variations within about 30 minutes, so I had my usual issue of having to focus too much on the sequence rather than the principle, only more so. There was no way I had enough brain space or time to take my Tango Space approach of viewing the practice sessions as dance in which I incorporate the sequence.
So unfortunately, you could take my Tango Space quote above and apply it to tonight’s Tanguito class in its entirety: the beginner half was too basic, while the second half was too fiddly in terms of steps. Which is why I think I simply may not find what I want in group classes – but more on that below.
Bruno had us doing fixed patterns in terms of the beat: ‘one and two and three and four’ for this part and ‘five, six, seven, eight’ for that part. That’s great for complete beginners, as he was very much emphasising the connection to the music from the start, but made it next to impossible for me to propose simpler versions to followers.
While I couldn’t see myself using the sequences as taught, one of them used rebounds to turn in a clockwise direction rather rapidly. I think if I can distill the principle of that and figure out the simplest possible version of it, it will be a very useful tool.
Of course, with different teachers come different ideas, some of them seemingly contradictory. Fede has spent weeks trying to get me to open my toes when walking, and tonight Bruno wanted them closed. I’ve seen some professional dancers use one, while some use the other, so I suspect this is a style thing as much as anything. That said, Fede explained his reasoning, which made sense to me, so I’m going to stick with that.
The second class was described on Tanguito’s Facebook page as Intermediate/Advanced, but pitched to those who took the first class as suitable for all levels. It was advertised as a ‘Tango MOT.’
(Almost) a year of technique condensed in one session covering the mighty caminata, how to build a nice embrace, prepare and execute more stable pivots, and decorate with adornos for both roles. Intense, and immensely useful for all dancers who want to fine tune their technique and communication in the embrace.
The session as run dropped the embrace part, and instead covered the cabeceo in some detail, and very briefly touched on floorcraft. That went on a bit long for me personally, as it was all stuff I knew, and was quite a lot of time spent standing still, which was starting to give me some back-ache. But I do think it’s really important that teachers emphasise the cabeceo, as was very well argued in a recent Facebook post.
I did definitely get some useful things out of the rest of it. Bruno demonstrated a particular walking style he’d borrowed from a performer whose name I didn’t catch. It was almost the opposite of projection before push in that it was holding back the rear leg as long as possible by bending that knee and dragging the foot along to the point of collection – using the floor to hold it back – and then suddenly releasing it.
We all tried that individually, and it was interesting. Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to dance it with a partner. My concern would be that the lack of projection could be confusing to a follower, but Bruno suggested using it for slower sections, where I think it could have a nice feel and it would be more obvious to a follower what was happening.
There was an exercise where a partner walked ahead of us while pushing our chest while we walked, and we swapped halfway through. I felt that was a particularly useful exercise for letting followers feel how wonderful it is when you get enough resistance to really push into the floor in the walk.
Another exercise was to walk on our own, while our partner tried gently shoving us in different directions. It felt as odd as it sounds, but the idea was to practice dragging the free leg along the floor to aid stability, and I did feel it was useful for that.
Bruno then demonstrated some pivoting techniques. None that I’m likely to be using at this stage, if at all, but they were a lot of fun even though I was laughably incompetent at them! The main one was showing how a lapiz could be used both as decoration and to help power the pivot.
We also did a couple of exercises where we used a partner to help our dissociation by having them first hold our hips still (or counter-rotate them) while we dissociated our upper body, then having them hold our shoulders still while we pivoted our lower body. Those were both really helpful exercises.
Finally, Bruno demonstrated a sequence which was essentially a linear giro. Combining small side-steps, forward steps and back steps while moving in a straight line along the floor. He showed how this could work really well to a fast variacion. I didn’t think there would be the remotest chance of me ever managing it at that kind of speed, but I was to be proven wrong!
I was partnered with M, who was familiar with the movement, so helped me get to grips with it. I was soon able to lead it at normal speed, but double-time still seemed an impossibility. However, M wasn’t giving up, and after taking a deep breath, I gave it a go. Amazingly, it worked!
I have to admit it was fun. It’s also not inconsistent with my plan for simple dance, in that the actual steps are simple, even if leading it at that kind of speed isn’t. (I’m not sure how much leading was involved with M! She knew what she was doing, and indeed it was her leading me to start.) I might try it at normal speed to see whether I can actually lead it, and how it feels in dance.
There was a 30-minute practica afterwards, but unfortunately everyone stayed with one partner throughout so I didn’t have a chance to dance with different followers.
Conclusions so far?
Back to the problem I described above:
I want the simplicity of beginner/improver classes in terms of steps, but with the close embrace and technique focus of intermediate classes. That doesn’t exist within Tango Space, and I suspect it probably doesn’t exist in group classes anywhere.
In principle, there’s a very simple solution to that: drop group classes, continue with privates, then just go to more milongas to Just Dance.
However, that doesn’t take into account the all-important social aspect. It’s much harder to get dances when no-one knows you, and also harder for me to decide who to cabeceo. So turning up at random milongas with the aim of Just Dancing isn’t, I think, likely to work that well. Pre-milonga classes are the best way to get to know followers: to decide who I’d like to dance with, and to become a known quantity for them.
In theory, I could go to milongas which have a class beforehand, and treat the lesson more as a social introduction. Don’t worry too much about the content, just view it as a chance to do some dance with a number of different followers, and treat anything I learn as bonus. (And in truth, I’ve never been to a class where I didn’t learn at least one or two useful things.)
However … the immediate pre-milonga class is usually an intermediate one, and if I can’t get the steps, that’s unlikely to sell followers on the idea of dancing with me in the milonga. And if there’s a beginner/improver class earlier, I don’t know how many of them will hang around for the milonga. Hmmm.
But, for now …
On Saturday afternoon, I’m going to the Tango Space milonga for the first hour or so. There will be some familiar faces there, so hopefully I’ll get a tanda or three. Then in the evening there’s the monthly Tango Space workshop, and I’ll aim stay for the milonga too. The levels there have been intimidating so far, but with my new approach to dance working well, I have more confidence to try it there. And on Sunday I’m going to try the Los Angelitos milonga. However, as the pre-milonga class is on ‘linear and circular boleos,’ I shan’t be going anywhere near that! I may, though, do their beginner/improver class on Wednesday and consult them on whether or not to stay for the intermediate one.