Tango secrets

secret

Ok, this one, too, might sound a bit like a return to The Crazy Days, with a practica, group class and milonga all in one evening – but it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Tonight’s Tuesday milonga was temporarily relocated to O’Neill’s this week due to redecoration at the normal venue. As there was no separate room for lessons, they were offering an all-levels class which sounded like it might be fun (‘Tango Secrets’). Plus the milonga was likely to be crowded given the smaller space, so I thought the pre-class practica might be a good plan if I hoped to do any walking …

It did indeed get very crowded later, so the practica plan was a good one! I danced with a few different followers, mostly just dancing, but taking advantage of the fairly empty floor to free up some attention dollar to practice giros with matching weight-changes – which I think I managed for the first time on the dance floor.

The lesson

The lesson started in a suspiciously Pepa-like manner. We were to lean into our partner and cup our hand to their ear, like we were about to tell them a secret, and then dance a song more-or-less in that stance instead of the usual embrace.

It did feel silly, but the intention was clear – that dancing should feel like we are sharing something special and private with our partner. After the first song, we switched to a normal embrace, but the goal was to maintain that same feeling.

I have to say that these types of exercise, strange as they may feel, do work.

The next exercise was to dance, and then Pablo or Eva would call out a keyword, and we had to focus on trying to communicate that quality to our partner. One example was energy; another embrace; another relaxed; another love.

I’d done something similar to this before in one of Olga’s musicality classes, and it’s a fun idea to play with. The most practical side of it, which I do try to apply, is to think about how the song makes me feel, and to consider my goal is to convey that feeling to my partner.

Finally, because there would probably be riots if there wasn’t also a sequence, they introduced one. As the class was an all-levels one, it had to be something simple enough for beginners, but with enough in it to keep intermediate students engaged. The sequence they chose was genius from this perspective: it was a simple variation on the cross.

It was, simply, lead the cross in the usual way (in this case, side-step, dissociate, right-step, short left-step, re-associate). But at the end, a leader-only change of weight, open the embrace a little and do a parada – leader’s left foot to follower’s crossed feet – and then lead a pivot so the follower steps over.

That version of the cross is taught in the beginner cycle, so most students would be familiar with it – but for more experienced dancers there is a lot of technique you can bring to bear. For example, starting to open the embrace on the lead-in to the cross, and pivoting your foot as the follower pivots, so your foot follows them around.

And as a sequence in a milonga, it’s lovely! It puts together two things I already know how to do, and means that I can use it in very different sections of the music.

Performing it in the incredibly crowded space was a feat in itself. Imagine about 50 people in a relatively small room, each pair trying to do a movement which requires one side-step, two forward steps and room for the follower to pass from one side of the leader to the other – all simultaneously.

It was like being an air traffic controller while simultaneously flying one of the planes. Trying to figure out where all the other nearby couples would be four and six beats from now, then trying to fly into clear space between them.

The milonga

A beginner follower I met at Sunday’s practica was asking how milongas worked, as she’d never been to one before. I gave her a quick briefing on the tanda system, the TTVTTMTT sequence, the mirada and cabeceo – and, crucially for beginners, why you never thank your partner at the end of the first song!

I also lead her first ever tanda in a milonga, where she was all of about six lessons in – though with the enormous benefit of a background in ballet and other dance. As I mentioned last time, it always feels fantastic to be able to provide that experience to someone. I enjoyed it, and she was clearly very happy.

The floor quickly became very crowded. It was a good thing I now felt comfortable with giros, because I led a lot of them!

I also got to see how just one rogue leader can cause chaos in the ronda. There were two lanes, and there was one guy who couldn’t stick to one or the other. He also kept stopping to do lots of on-the-spot stuff, often managing to hold up both lanes while doing so. There was a time when I was stuck behind him in the inner lane, as was the leader alongside me in the outer lane. One person essentially brought the entire ronda to a halt.

As we walked off the floor at the end of the tanda, the other leader and I exchanged a comment about it, and another leader overheard this and said ‘Oh, the guy with the green shirt?’ We confirmed. Later, another leader complained about this guy who’d been straddling both lanes in a completely different tanda. ‘Green shirt?’ I asked. Yep.

I do now have the tools to dance in crowded milongas, but I don’t enjoy the experience anything like as much as I do when the ronda moves and there is opportunity to walk. I only danced a few tandas, spending the rest of the time socialising and watching.

It’s underlined my policy of arriving early at milongas so I get to enjoy an empty-ish floor for a while. And anytime I find myself in a milonga which is both crowded and has little movement in the ronda, I’m going to call it quits at that point. Get some nice dancing in early and leave happy.

We’re at the theatre Thursday and Friday, so Saturday’s monthly Tango Space workshop will be my next tango outing. Perhaps it’ll be third time lucky with a vals workshop … please god.

Image: Shutterstock

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