Today was a little like going back in time to my crazy days of tango, when I signed up for every class and workshop on offer, peaking at seven classes and a milonga in one week.
Today was a two-hour practica, a 90-minute intermediate class and a milonga …
The practica was one started by David, a Tango Space student who felt the same way I did: that the lesson was fine to get the basic idea, but a lot of practice was then needed to get to grips with the technique needed to bring it to a point where we can use it in a milonga.
We unofficially borrow some space at one of the South Bank Centre buildings, where there’s a very nice polished stone floor. An event today meant part of the time was spent instead in a carpeted area, but we coped.
This was the closest thing I’ve found to that elusive practice partner happy to do the same a hundred times until we have good technique and it gets embedded in muscle-memory. Everyone there had a shared aim of helping each other figure out how to do things, either at all or well, depending on the things in question.
In the course of the couple of hours, I worked on four things on my hit-list, starting with the simple ‘swinging’ turn I’d seen Pablo do in a video. He was able to get a 180-degree turn out of it, while the best I could manage was about 120-degrees – but it was easy, worked well with multiple followers and felt good.
I also worked on the cross and the ocho cortado, where I just need the confidence that comes with practice.
Finally, I worked on the barrida-into-planeo sequence where I’ve had mixed success. I think I now know the key elements. One of them is outside my control – a follower who is familiar with the concept at least, so not wondering what the hell it is I’m trying to do – while the other is a technique issue. There’s quite a narrow range where you need to stop the follower. Too early, and they won’t have fully transferred their weight to the back foot; too late, and they will have set themselves up for another pivot or a step. Key, too, is signalling a stop – of which more shortly.
And working on things followers wanted was also really helpful. On that side of things, we did the medio-giro, the giro – which would have been on my list anyway – and the calesita.
I’m not necessarily doing the Tanguito pre-milonga classes now that I know a bunch of followers there, but the topic of the intermediate one was ‘Changing direction with back ochos,’ which sounded useful. The timing worked well in any case, with an hour between practica and class, giving me just enough time for a snack and to head up to Islington.
The class taught a couple of different sequences based on the back ocho. We started with an interesting exercise where you lead a back ocho but then do it with the follower – so both leader and follower are doing mirrored back ochos. With normal back ochos, the follower has the hard bit while the leader is just doing side-steps with dissociation; this time, both had the hard bit to do!
Next was switching between forward and back ochos while still mirroring each other, and we also swapped the lead, which was fun.
All this was just preparation for the actual first sequence, which was a complex one:
- Lead a back ocho to the left
- Then right, but …
- Leader changes weight and mirrors the back ocho, but …
- Stops the follower in mid-step
- Leader then reverses the back ocho pivot on their own, the follower static
- Then as the leader actually takes the back-step, bring the following along (a forward step for the follower), but …
- Only into a rebound
- Then a sacada and pivot the follower to the right
- Resolve by collecting or … a bunch of other options
As you might imagine, I struggled to get this sequence! But although it took me some time, I did manage a rough-and-ready version by the end. I’ve emphasised the change of weight, as that was the thing I was missing for a while and then wondering why it wasn’t working. Fortunately Bruno immediately diagnosed that.
You’ll note one of the bullets here is to stop the follower in mid-step. I’ve had experiences a number of times where I thought I wasn’t leading anything, so the follower would stop, where she in fact continued. This sequence helped me understand that sometimes a stop needs to be a very positive signal, rather than just the absence of leading something. That’s key in the barrida-into-planeo sequence, for example – so that’s something I can now practice.
The second sequence was a little simpler, but not much:
- Lead a back ocho to the left
- And to the right, but …
- Interrupt the follower’s back-step with a sacada
- Which leads the follower into a boleo
- Then unwind the follower and lead a rebound step on the leader’s left foot
- As the leader rebounds, pivot strongly to the left
- The leader is just pivoting, not stepping
- But as the follower comes around the leader, they step twice
- So it ends up as a greater-than-180-degree turn
- And you can walk straight out of it
This was a milestone for me: I got the sequence first round! This was literally the first time in my tango journey where I’d been able to successfully execute a new intermediate sequence within the first song. Indeed, within the first two or three attempts.
I think there were a few different keys to picking up this one very much faster. First, it was technically easier for the leader. Second, the rebound-with-pivot part was effectively the mirror image of the turn I’d been practicing in the practica. Third, I was strongly motivated, as it seemed a really useful, practical movement. Finally, I was lucky enough to be paired with a follower with whom things really click.
Bruno is good at breaking things down, and I’m beginning to see that my Step Memory Problem will eventually go away. I’m increasingly seeing how one thing is a variation on another thing – like the right-hand rebound turn being a variation on the left-hand turn I’d been trying earlier. And it was also a kind of variation on The Boston Turn. I’m feeling a little more confident now about tackling the Tango Space Thursday intermediate class.
Paula was really good at offering tips for both leaders and followers once Bruno had outlined the steps; they make a good team.
Los Angelitos milonga
Tonight one of the followers from the class decided she was going to stay for the milonga for the first time. I don’t think we explicitly said so, but it was mutually understood that we’d partner for her first ever tanda in a milonga.
I think leading a follower in their first ever milonga has to be one of the best experiences there is in tango – an experience I’ve had three times now. Seeing that nervousness dissipate as you lead simple things at half time, and then the smile emerging. Seeing and feeling the pleasure they get from the difference between practicing something and dancing purely for fun. I could tell she was loving it, and we exchanged a hug at the end.
I’ve done enough classes there now, and danced in the milonga enough times, to have a number of followers I know I love to dance with. There are followers I know love slow, simple dance in close embrace, and it’s very relaxing to dance with them.
Slightly less so this week, however! I promise this is no exaggeration: three times, with three different followers, they entered the embrace with some version of ‘This is one of my favourite songs!’ In one case, specifically: ‘This is my favourite song.’ No pressure, then!
One was La Yumba, and the inner ronda was empty, so that was perfect. We took possession of that, and were able to do a lot of walking. For the second time, I got to hear first-hand those magical words of legend: “I wish more leaders would just walk.” That was a delight.
The second example was a song with which I had a nodding acquaintance. It was also slow, so all was good.
The third one was a song I didn’t know At All. When she said it was her favourite, I could only tell her that I’d do my best! The good news was that it was slow and lyrical. I didn’t know what was coming, but could dance to the melody and be reasonably confident there weren’t going to be any nasty surprises. I also led a lot of paradas, and although she didn’t do a full-on back-lead, it did provide plenty of opportunity for collaborative dance. Indeed, it felt like one of the most equal dances I’ve had so far, where it didn’t feel like either one of us was in charge, but we both played our part.
One lovely moment. There was a staccato section of music while we were doing a back ocho. I led a sandwich with parada, and matched the staccato feel: so sharp contact with right foot, sharp contact with left foot, sharp withdrawal of right foot with step back. My follower matched the staccato feel exactly in the way she stepped over and pivoted.
I was at one point pimped-out by one of my regular followers there! A friend of hers hadn’t had a tanda as yet, so it was– well, I was going to say strongly hinted that I might invite the woman concerned, but there wasn’t much hinting about it! It was, though, a good introduction. We again had very compatible styles, and it was a lovely tanda.
There was a live band for part of the milonga, and I love dancing to live music. In this case, it was a little more challenging to dance to as they played some non-traditional music, and some quite different arrangements of songs I knew – but I still enjoyed the experience.
When the recorded music resumed, Bruno asked if there were any requests. I’d intended to dance only one more tanda, so there was no doubt what I wanted. ‘Pugliese’ I called, and Pugliese I got. A lovely final tanda with a follower I really like. A real high note on which to end the evening.
In the course of the evening, I realised I’m much better now at dancing through mistakes as though nothing had happened. Whether I failed to lead something clearly, or the follower messed up, I’d say that 50% of the time I’m able to recognise what’s happening early enough to smoothly go with it such that the follower wouldn’t realise anything had gone wrong, and another 40% of the time do so in a way where the follower would know, but there was still no interruption to the dance. Only about 10% of the time do I have to fix it in a clunky fashion.
I danced a lot tonight! I arrived home with very sore feet, but it was totally worth it. The practica provided a missing ingredient for me; the lesson was really good; and the milonga was once again fantastic. The tango high continues.