Two absolutely fantastic group classes with Juan Martin Carrara & Stefania Colina

Juan Martin Carrara & Stefania Colina

Given the unusual nature of what I’m seeking as my next step, it’s no surprise than the standard Tanguito classes didn’t seem an especially good match. That’s not a commentary on the quality of the teaching; it’s commentary on the gap between what most schools offer and what I actually want.

However, for a four week period, something rather different is happening at Tanguito. Namely, visiting teachers Juan Martin Carrara & Stefania Colina are taking over. Steph and friends were raving about them, and they weren’t wrong!

The usual Tanguito setup is a one-hour combined beginner/improver class followed by a 90-minute intermediate class. But as tonight’s second class was advertised as ‘all levels,’ and I got JM&S to provide a written oath signed in blood* that they wouldn’t be using any complex sequences, I decided to do both.

*Or it may have been a verbal assurance; let’s not quibble over details.

Steph was there with a friend, both taking turns to lead. She needed a little more persuasion to stay for both classes, but did. Her brain had melted by the end; I’m still enjoying her finally understanding what it’s like for me as a beginner leader!

Beginner/Improver class

This class was exactly what I’d been looking for as a next step. It was mostly focused on technique, and although they did introduce a new-to-me sequence, they did it beautifully: one very small step at a time.

After walking for a few songs, they had us lead side steps. Nothing more than that, just side steps, back and forth, focusing on being perfectly in sync.

Then they showed how the leader could continue to lead the follower at the same pace but move a little faster in order to place my foot on the inside of the follower’s standing leg, so that she would sandwich it when she collected. Again, just that at first, nothing more, until we could all do it easily.

Next, the leader led a back ocho to the left, putting the follower’s weight on her rear foot so the front one was free, and holding her there. Then a barrida – a new thing for me – in which the leader sweeps the follower’s free foot to the right. Then the follower sweeps it back. Repeat if desired.

There were a number of possible exits from this. The one that felt most obvious to me was to continue the follower’s interrupted back ocho, then change it into a front ocho and exit as usual. Another was to pivot her to the right and then lead a parada. I tried both, and both worked well.

The net result was a sequence which was:

  • Easy to learn
  • Felt lovely
  • Flexible (lead one or more)
  • Adaptable in terms of pace
  • Another opportunity for collaborative dance

The latter because the follower controls the barrida in the opposite direction.

I wasn’t really looking for new vocabulary, but if I was going to get some, this was absolutely perfect! And it was all simple enough that I could focus on technique while I was doing it. I couldn’t have been happier with the class.

Steph and an experienced follower friend both cautioned that barridas tend to be over-used, so that’s something to be aware of, but I think it’s something that could be sprinkled in here and there.

All-levels technique class

I’m always a little wary of ‘all levels’ classes. While they all claim to be technique-focused, they can have a tendency to assume knowledge of all kinds of sequences.

But that wasn’t the case here. Although a sequence was used, they assumed nothing and again built it up slowly, one element at a time. The class was a revelation to me, because it was the sort of sequence that would normally have set my brain on fire, but because they built it up so carefully, it was absolutely fine! The only bit that exceeded my step memory was when they added in leader crosses at the end. That was definitely a step too far, but the rest was not only fine for me, I honestly think I could use it in a milonga right away!

The other thing Juan and Steffie did brilliantly was to show how to repeat the sequence. So it’s not one thing you do, resolve and then move on, but can do enough times in a row that you really get the hang of it. The end result actually looks frighteningly complex, but taught in the way it was, it was entirely manageable even for a man who is terrified of sequences.

The class massively exceeded my expectations. Not only because of the teaching, but because it gave me something I really felt was missing from my vocabulary in crowded milongas: a simple, clockwise circular movement!

I really need to get my giro to a level where I feel comfortable using it in close embrace, and then add a clockwise version.

I hadn’t imagined for one moment I was going to get that clockwise moment tonight.

Admittedly this particular movement can only be done in open embrace (I checked with Juan, and he said yes, it wouldn’t work in close embrace – though the embrace doesn’t need to be massively open*). I ideally want to be able to dance continuously in close embrace, but I’m a long way off that anyway. This will absolutely do the job for now.

*Their definition of close embrace is a chest lead. As soon as you are no longer leading with your chest, even if there’s a millimetre between you, that’s no longer close embrace because you need to have the strong frame of the open embrace from that moment. Fausto and Stephanie in their embrace workshop went even further, and said that as soon as the leader changes hand position from the follower’s back to partly on her side, signalling a change to open embrace, it is open embrace from that moment even if you still have chest contact at that time, for the same reason: you need to stiffen the frame in preparation for leading in open embrace.

The sequence as taught started with an outside walk. So we started by practicing that – and one follower persuaded me to try switching sides. That had never worked well before, but in open embrace it was ok. I mean, I think my technique was terrible – I felt lopsided as I did it – but I could at least do it, and switch back and forth, which was further than I’d ever got before.

From an outside walk on the left with the right foot, collect then pivot 90 degrees to the right so the leader is facing out and the follower is facing in. Then the leader changes weight and leads a single back-step on his right foot. Pivot the follower to her left, so so she is now effectively in a forward ocho. As you lead her step, step between her feet, that is, a sacada. Then as you lead her pivot as if to another forward ocho, the leader pivots quickly to end up beside and facing the follower. Then you can repeat from the back-step.

Here’s a video demo. Note that it includes the leader crosses, which I omit:

It was quite tricky to lead from a single step to the outside, much easier from the third step. But then it becomes much less practical in milongas. I asked Juan how to lead it from an ocho, and he showed me, which was really easy! As you’re essentially leading a forward ocho anyway, you can just start from that and simply begin with the sacada.

The class was quite crowded, which definitely posed some challenges. Despite pleas from Steffi, there was little sign of a ronda. And even when there was some vague approximation of one, we spent a lot of time stuck in place. But then what we were doing was mostly good for that exact situation.

Steph is more militant than me when it comes to leaders who don’t move. I couldn’t recall whether she’d advised me to poke them or slap them roundly on the back of the head. I tried poking her when she was that leader …

I was up for staying for the practica, but Steph was too tired and hungry, so we nipped next door to the excellent Vietnamese restaurant. I haven’t found a really good one since my favourite one closed down many years ago, but I think I just found its replacement!

Conclusions

Everything I was told about Juan and Steffi was absolutely justified. They are amazing teachers, and I loved both classes.

I’ll be doing the rest of their Wednesday classes for sure, and am going to do this Sunday’s ones too, even though I’m supposed to be cutting back on lessons. It’s just too good an opportunity to miss. Plus there’s a milonga afterwards, so I can tick the Just Dance box too. I’m looking forward to it already.

5 thoughts on “Two absolutely fantastic group classes with Juan Martin Carrara & Stefania Colina”

  1. Yes, we enjoyed the class as well and a useful step for small spaces in this workshop, even if you adapt the intro, or combine with other elements. Especially useful in crowded milongas. Well worth the travel for a lesson with Juan Martin and Stefania – as you say, too good an opportunity to miss. Just wish I could do enrosques like Juan Martin – you should have stopped for the practica for some examples.

    Hope you enjoy the rest of the series. Sadly won’t be able to make all of these, but that does give an opportunity to embed them into our dance.

    We visit Tanguito when possible. Bruno and the team of Beth and Paula are excellent. Great explanation, especially detail, and helpful – but too much for us on a weekly basis.

    Liked by 1 person

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