I love vals, but vals workshops don’t seem to be my friend …


The last vals workshop I did, back in June (a time that already feels a lifetime ago), wasn’t a notable success. I’m hopeless at switching between single- and double-time in general, so something that required me to do so quickly and learn a new sequence was never likely to end happily.

I was hoping today’s vals workshop with Juan Martin and Steffi might be a different story; sadly that was not to be …

Beginner/improver class

Sometimes these are on the same topic as the intermediate class, but today’s wasn’t. It was, however, on the medio-giro – so a useful topic for me. The specific version was new to me, as was the way to combine two of this type into a giro.

I’d need to do more playing with it to see if I can make the whole giro version work, but the medio-giro was simple and felt nice. It was similar to the one I know, but with a leader cross:

  • Side-step to left, leader taking a bigger step while leading a smaller one
  • Forward step with leader’s right foot
  • Leader cross (left foot behind right) while leading the follower’s side-step
  • Pivot to lead forward step and side-step, transferring weight to right foot
  • Collect

There was then the option of a lapis before leading another one.

Next, the leader can continue the pivot, feet still on the floor, ending up in the opposite cross. Finally, there was an exit where you lead another forward step and then do a sacada and reverse it into a parada. I didn’t quite manage to string that sequence together, but did get the basic idea, and I did see similarities to other sequences, so the idea that everything is connected to everything in tango is making increasing sense. I do think there’s a breakthrough out there waiting somewhere …

One really fun thing was swapping roles with a friend. She’s learning to lead, and that can be awkward in a group class, as everyone assumes women are following. So once we were partnered, we stuck together for the rest of the class, swapping back-and-forth.

Following the medio-giro was a really useful exercise – and I was pleased at being able to actually follow it. My following record to date has been:

  • I’m halfway-decent at following the walk
  • I can follow side-steps, but they have to be signalled super-clearly
  • I can do very incompetent ochos
  • One leader managed to lead me into a cross, but it took vast effort!

Today, with the medio-giro, I did feel like I was following reasonably well.

JM also gave the followers an exercise to do at home, doing the follower steps for the giro around a broom, and I’m going to do that myself and I think it will really help my lead.

Intermediate/advanced class

Ok, today I’m giving this class its full title, as I think the content reflected that!

I’m told that what we did was a classic vals sequence. It was:

  • Step around the follower with the right foot
  • Into a forced cross (leader cross to the right, forcing a follower cross)
  • Walk one step then leader cross to the left (which also leads the follower cross)
  • Walk one step then repeat

So it was a kind of zig-zag walk with an alternating cross every other step. And as if that weren’t enough, they quickly started playing with the pace – switching between single and double-time, which was exactly what caused me all the trouble last time.

It made perfect sense in theory, and I could see how it was a great fit for the vals rhythm. I was even able to do the actual steps individually, even when we did them quickly (quite an amazing thing in itself!), but no way could I lead it. Even with a follower who knew exactly what she was doing, it was all very messy. With any who didn’t, it was just a non-starter.

The class was also ridiculously crowded. Really there were about twice as many people as the room could comfortably accommodate for a linear movement. Much of the time was spent trying to start the sequence and then being forced to abort as a gap disappeared.

So mostly the second lesson was wasted on me. But, as with every class, I still got some things from it. For example, I was beginning to understand that the forced cross is all about confidence. Just like the standard cross, I have to not be afraid that it will feel rough, and go for it. I’m not there yet, but I’ll work on it.

I did, though, decide there is absolutely no point in doing their Wednesday intermediate class, which is on the milonga. I’ll return next Sunday for their ‘mystery class’; I suspect that too will be complicated, but we’ll see …

The milonga

I think not being able to manage much in the second class had dented my confidence rather, so I felt like I was off-form in the milonga – but followers disagreed. I do know from previous experience that my own perception of my dance isn’t always reliable.

I danced first with a friend, and while she said it felt good, I was aware of the things I was messing-up. I was also rather self-conscious as her husband was videoing it. I haven’t looked at the video yet … Update: I now have, and it looks fine!

But, on the plus side, I felt I was able to dance my way out of my mistakes – and I was leading giros and contra-giros successfully, which is still huge.

I wasn’t sure how much dancing I was going to do, partly because of how I was feeling, and partly because it was really crowded. There definitely wasn’t going to be much walking. I did, in the end, stay for 90 minutes – longer than I expected. In part because I was getting some clear cabeceos each time I went to leave.

I was consistently aware of the gap between my goal for my dance and the reality of it, but at the same time there were a lot of things that were right. I felt well-connected with each of my followers; it felt musical; and my extended vocabulary was on tap. I was happily leading giros and contra-giros, and successfully led the barrida-into-planeo sequence with each follower. (I did follow Steph’s advice of once or twice per tanda.)

One follower I didn’t know invited me to dance a milonga tanda with her. I explained my third-song approach, but as this particular music had the beat really well hidden, I said I wasn’t sure – but I’d happily dance the following tango with her if not. We chatted a little while waiting, and I explained I was 11 months in. After we did indeed dance the next tango, she said my lead was very smooth. “There are some leaders who have danced as many years who aren’t as smooth.”

So sometimes your tango sucks, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes you think it does when it apparently doesn’t …

Image: Shutterstock

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