Farewell lessons with Juan Martin and Steffie, and a lovely, lovely milonga


Today was the final lessons with Juan Martin and Steffie before they leave London. The topic was described as ‘a surprise,’ which I feared would equate to something fearsomely complicated for the intermediate lesson, so I decided on a yes for the beginner and a maybe on the intermediate …

On arrival, I explained that the vals intermediate class had definitely been beyond me, and on that basis what was their view of me doing the class that day? Steffi said I’d be fine. Then again, teachers always say I’ll be fine … But I decided to risk it, and I’m glad I did.

Beginner/improver class

I’ve developed a whole new level of appreciation for the experienced followers who danced with me in my first few months. There were no first-timers in today’s class, but there were some very new followers. I had some small sense of what people were coping with, dancing with me at the same point.

I do, though, have a good track-record at passing on the ‘project then push’ advice that is a staple of Fede and Julia’s beginner classes. Every single time I’ve shown a beginner follower how to do it, they’ve got it right away and it’s made an immediate and huge difference to their walk.

The sequence we were learning was a variation on the barrida we did before. This one introduced a repeated barrida around the follower:

  • Lead a back ocho, and a simple parada (ie. just contact her foot to stop her)
  • Take a leader-only side-step to the left
  • Make sure her weight is fully back, then sweep her foot leader right-to-left
  • Then repeat the side-step and sweep, so you gradually turn her

Having noted Steph and co.’s warning about being sparing on the barridas, I wouldn’t do a full turn or anything, but it’s a nice alternative to the one I learned before.

Improver class

True to Steffi’s word, 90% of the intermediate class sequence was simple-ish …

The first sequence was:

  • Outside step with the right foot to the leader’s left
  • Into a side-step to the left
  • Pivot right and change weight (or take very small step on right foot)
  • Then one step as either* inside walk or outside walk to leader’s right
  • Side-step to right and repeat as desired

*Depending mostly on how far the follower pivots – if it’s a lot, you can do an outside walk to the right, if not as much then inside walk.

One point they made was that you can only do the outside walk to the right in open embrace. That was a relief, as it had always looked impossible to me in close embrace, and that was confirmation that it actually is, rather than just me not being able to do it.

I got this sequence ok, though that was using a lot of sideways room that we wouldn’t typically have in a milonga. The key to making this one work in real life would be to compress the size of it. But what I loved was this was a step (sorry!) toward a simple but lovely-looking sequence I’ve seen used several times, especially in vals, which is a couple of outside steps on one side, reverse, then a couple of outside steps on the other side. I need to work with a teacher to figure out the details of that, but I now feel that could be achievable.

I’ll skip over the next stage. It was a somewhat fiddly sequence with a forward rebound, pivot and backward rebound, with a change of weight at every point along the way. I did manage it, but had to really concentrate. It was definitely not something I could do in a milonga without way more practice than I felt it merited, so I let that fall out of my step memory straight away.

The final stage, fortunately only added in the last 20 minutes of the class, was … Who knows. A sacada and a leader cross and some black magic. I made no attempt whatsoever to either do it or remember it. I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget the first sequence.

But that first sequence, I do want to try that. Fortunately, I should get an opportunity, thanks to a new informal practica started by a Tango Space student. This takes place at the South Bank from noon on Sunday afternoons. I’m going to join that from next week, and hope it’ll provide the missing link between stuff I can do in class and things I’ll use in a milonga.

The milonga

I’m officially past the point of feeling I need to dance all the time. I’m now relaxed enough to pick and choose the music to which I want to dance, and to either socialise or learn from watching the rest of the time. I think I danced half a dozen tandas in the course of two-and-a-bit hours, and it felt just right.

I really like the music played at Los Angelitos. There’s a lot of dramatic music, which is really my thing. The purely rhythmical songs, I feel like I get bored with my own dance by the end of a tanda. But music to which I can dance half-time and pause … that always feels enjoyable throughout.

I’ve finally got the hang of ochos in vals! I now feel confident enough to lead fast ones, and when you do them fast, they definitely feel like vals. Later in the evening, I got chatting with a couple of followers, both of whom I’d danced with earlier, one of them a vals tanda. She said that she didn’t know what it was, but she really liked ‘a kind of side-step thing you were doing – it felt really vals.’ I had to think for several seconds to work out what she was referring to. It was … rock steps!

That really underlined two things to me. One, it’s not what you do, but how you do it. Two, you don’t have to worry (too much, anyway) about having a limited vocabulary, because followers aren’t thinking about what you are doing, they are following the individual steps and pivots.

Rock steps! The very next thing I learned after the walk, and which I hardly ever think to use. And, in fact, I’d used them only because I got trapped behind a couple who were doing endless giros and another couple who closed up behind us, so I had very limited space. But my follower thought it felt great!

This was also the first time I finally heard with my own ears something I’d been told that some followers say: “I wish that leaders would sometimes just walk.” Which was when she said she’d enjoyed that I did a lot of walking.

Later, I did my ‘third milonga song’ thing. For the very first time, I danced the basic milonga pattern I’d learned on a Tango Space workshop:

  • Back-step
  • Straight into side-step to left
  • Outside walk, two steps
  • Side-step to right
  • Change of weight
  • Repeat

I’ve sometimes incorporated that into a milonga, but didn’t think I could dance a whole song just doing that – and, in any case, would usually lose the pattern at some point. But tonight I did it for the whole song, and because the pattern has a bit of everything in it, and because you have to turn while doing it to remain in the line of dance, it doesn’t actually feel remotely repetitive.

I still think it would maybe be too much for three songs rather than one, but …

Steph, as a fledgling leader, did a milonga workshop yesterday. Afterwards, she showed me the three patterns they’d learned – one of which was a simple way to switch between single- and double-time. It was a small variation on the above pattern, with a switch to double-time in the side-steps. I had a practice on my own, then led Steph … and it worked.

Now, that was as artificial a situation as can be. Steph knew the exact pattern, and it was just the two of us, with no navigation concerns. But … I did feel this might be achievable, with some practice. And if I could manage that, then I do feel like that, with Actual Double-Time™, this could be enough for a whole milonga tanda.

In between tandas, I did a lot of spectating, looking for simple things I could learn. I again saw a version of that simple-looking turn I really want to add to my vocabulary, and I think it is:

  • Rebound step with leader’s left foot
  • As you rebound, turn to the left, so the follower’s step becomes a diagonal one
  • In which you end up having done around a 120-degree turn to the left

That’s another thing to add to the practica list.

I decided I wanted one final tanda before I left, provided it was a good one. If it turned out not to be, I would have stayed for one more. But it was really lovely.

It was Pugliese. A follower I didn’t know, but with whom I felt connected from the start. I led it at half-time. I used everything I felt I can do well, plus my okay giros: walking, side-steps, rebounds (small and big), forward ochos, back ochos, giros, contra-giros, the new barrida and … pauses. The oft-forgotten tango superpower. It was dramatic music, and I led quite a few of them.

I felt it had been the perfect last tanda. Between songs, we were chatting a little, and I’d told her I was a year in. Afterwards, she said ‘That was amazing for a one-year dancer.’ That sealed the deal: I was definitely going home on that note!

Ingredients for the ideal Ben milonga

I really like the Los Angelitos milonga.

I have now, I think, worked out the four magic ingredients for the ideal Ben milonga:

  • Familiar faces (which is easily achieved by doing pre-milonga classes)
  • An informal feel (created by lots of students present)
  • Space to walk
  • Dramatic music

The Tango Space Tuesday milonga generally ticks those boxes – though I do find the music can be a bit variable, for my tastes. Los Angelitos ticks all the boxes. Spitalfields is fun, but it’s utterly impossible to walk, and it has fewer familiar faces.

A friend wasn’t keen on Bruno announcing the orchestra for each upcoming tanda. I agree that it would be better displayed on a screen, as I’m told some milongas do, but I did appreciate it. It means that for orchestras I like, I can start looking for a follower during the cortina. And, in the case of Troilo, it saved me! There are Troilo songs which sound very danceable for the first phrase – then head immediately off to the Planet Zaarg from the 9th note. But because he’d said it was going to be Troilo, I stayed glued to my seat and was very glad I did!

I may or may not continue Tanguito classes now JM&S are gone, but I think the milonga is going to be a weekly fixture for me. I’m chalking this up as a complete success for my Modified Just Dance approach: take the pre-milonga classes to meet followers, then Just Dance.

Image: Shutterstock

2 thoughts on “Farewell lessons with Juan Martin and Steffie, and a lovely, lovely milonga”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s