Two hilarious tandas at the Spitalfields milonga


I could only make the final hour or so of the Spitalfields milonga, and had four tandas, two of which were hilarious for different reasons.

Regular readers will know that when it’s clear I’m dancing with an experienced follower, I will do my best to create space for her dance via the parada-and-pause approach: lead a parada, pause, relax the embrace and see what happens. Prior to tonight, I would have said there were three levels of response to this – plus a level zero …

Level 0 is: nothing. The follower waits for me to get on with it.

Level 1 is to do some decorations in the parada, and then wait for me to lead the step.

Level 2 is to step over in her own time, and then kind of hint at what she wants to do next. For example, if she wants to do a back ocho, she’ll move very slightly in that direction, then wait for me to lead it. So it’s her suggestion, but technically my lead. If I’m about to do something and she wants to pause, she’ll stiffen the embrace but not actually prevent me leading a movement.

Level 3 is to effectively back-lead for a time. For example, if I’m leading walking ochos in single-time, she might switch to double-time. I then sync with her until she stops, when she will typically hand back the lead. In some cases, she might back-lead more than one sequence, and I’ll do my best to figure it out and stay with her.

I love it when this happens. Often it’s clear she knows the song, and can anticipate what’s happening, so it creates a greatly improved level of musicality to the dance. Sometimes she’ll do things I recognise from classes but don’t know well enough to risk attempting to lead in a milonga. And on occasion, I don’t recognise what it is she’s back-leading, and I try to make like a good follower: follow this step, this pivot, without worrying about what it all adds up to. (Pro tip: If you’re going to do this with me, do it slowly, so I stand a chance of keeping up!)

I love it because it makes me feel like a better dancer than I am. My usual milonga vocabulary limitations don’t apply. I get to do things I can’t reliably lead, or don’t trust that I can. I experience the music in new ways. And I enjoy the fun of both leading and following within the same dance.

Tonight, I discovered, there is a level 4. Namely: take over before I even get to do the parada-and-pause bit, and leave me hanging on for dear life for the rest of the song!

I couldn’t spot any followers I knew when I arrived, so I cabeceod a woman in a semi-random fashion, by which I mean I just looked for women who looked keen to dance and were responding to the music. The couple ahead were still chatting, and I wanted to begin dancing but there was no room to overtake. There was, though, space to the inside, so I led a side-step, and a forward ocho. At the pivot, she did a long-drawn-out lapice behind her. It was twice as slow as the pivot I’d intended, but was to the music, and felt good, so I smiled and went with it.

And that set the tone for the rest of the dance. This wasn’t decorating or hinting or back-leading a little before handing back the baton. This was taking charge. Essentially I was taking care of the navigation – leading a forward step or two when there was room – and she was taking care of the dance. I was far more follower than leader, and remained so for the duration of the tanda.

It was hilarious! I honestly don’t even know if half the stuff she was doing was tango. For all I know, it was blues or West Coast Swing. But I do know it was fun, and I’d definitely dance with her again. She clearly enjoyed it too, so the chances of this happening seem reasonably good …

I danced two other tandas (plus the third song in a milonga one, per standard operating procedures). One was good, the other wasn’t so much. That one wasn’t terrible, I just didn’t feel we connected very well.

I also did a little spectating, trying to pick up tips from the leaders who were dancing musically and with relatively simple movements. I think I have a new goal for my next private, but that’s for another post.

And then, suddenly, it was the last tanda. I recognise that people generally want to dance that with their life-partner or favourite dance partner, so I never attempt to cabeceo until the tanda is underway and I can see who is still free. As I looked around, a woman caught my eye. She was sitting. She looked a little taller than average, but not, in a seated position, exceptionally so. I smiled and nodded.

You can see this coming, can’t you?

She stood up. As she did so, and I walked toward her, it became apparent she was about eleven feet tall. Ok, maybe not, but she was a lot taller than me. It had been deceptive because very tall women are often quite statuesque generally. She wasn’t. She was slender, just very tall.

When we entered the embrace, I could see literally nothing ahead of me.

I’ve read a lot about the codigos, but none of them had mentioned this situation. Being the last tanda, it was crowded, so the ability to see what was ahead of me was, I felt, something I ought to possess. I led some clockwise rebound turns until we were facing out of the ronda and I could look left. There was room for two forward steps. I rebounded us back in line and took them, hoping the space was still there. It was.

I led quite a few giros. Each one, I used as a scouting exercise to see whether or not there was space to walk forward at the end of it and, if so, how far. I then walked into it, thankfully each time without incident.

She was an excellent dancer. When I fluffed the lead for something, she would recover gracefully, and there were times when she’d hint strongly at something that was a far better match for that moment in the music than what I’d been about to lead. Had I been able to see, I think I’d have enjoyed the dance a lot. I mean, it was still fun, but the compensatory tactics required to navigate with vision only to my left did require rather a lot of my attention dollar!

So, two new tango experiences …

I do like outdoor milongas. That one is more crowded than I’d like, and the floorcraft is very variable, but still great fun. The last one is on Sunday 22nd September. It clashes with London Open House and a London Car Free Day cycle ride, but we’ll see which wins the battle come the day. Your money is on the tango, right?

Next up for me is Juan Martin & Steffie’s final classes – on a ‘surprise topic’ – followed by the Los Angelitos milonga, my fourth and final one of the week*!

* Note to pedants: my weeks, like those of all right-thinking people, begin on Mondays.

Image: Shutterstock

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