Third-time lucky with a vals workshop!


I hadn’t had the greatest success with vals workshops in the past, so was hoping that the third time might be the charm.

Fortunately, that turned out to be the case – despite the inclusion of a decidedly intermediate-level sequence. My working theory is it’s because I’ve become Irish, and therefore automatically a better dancer …

(Thanks to an Irish grandfather, I was able to apply for Irish citizenship to ensure I remain an EU citizen in the hopefully unlikely event that we actually go through with this Brexit nonsense. That came through ten days ago. Ireland allows dual-citizenship, so I will remain British too, but becoming Officially Irish has to improve my dance, right?)

It was a hot day, I was feeling tired and had for a few minutes debated skipping the workshop; I’m very glad I didn’t.

It started by looking at the qualities that distinguish vals from tango. Anne suggested five things:

  • The feeling (playful, light, fun rather than dramatic)
  • Continuous movement (no pauses*)
  • Soft steps (bent knees)
  • Circular movements
  • Flexible embrace

*As in big dramatic ones – you can of course pause for a beat to dance the 123_ rhythm.

We practiced dancing with these qualities, initially alone and then with a partner.

Next was a simple sequence in the walk. Two normal steps, then an outside step to the left; two normal steps then an outside step to the right. The outside step to the right requires a sliding embrace and a lot of dissociation, as well as the leader dropping their hip to make space.

The technique would require work for sure, but I was able to do it in open embrace.

Pablo then showed a sequence which initially looked like one of those I was never going to get. He showed it three times, then asked if we wanted to see it one more time.

“Twelve more times,” I said, and the woman next to me agreed.

But actually it was fine when I tried it. It was:

  • Lead a forward ocho to the left, the leader remaining still
  • Lead a forward ocho to the right, still remaining still
  • Lead a side-step (as in the start of a contra-giro)
  • Sacada the follower’s trailing leg
  • The leader then pivots around her, more-or-less 180 degrees
  • That opening up invites the follower to do a back-step (ie. continuing the contra-giro)
  • Suspend her there for a moment, then step back for a parada
  • As the follower steps over, turn and collect

It fits beautifully to vals, and you could then immediately repeat the sequence after just a one-beat pause.

As if that weren’t complicated enough, Pablo then showed how you could chain together that last section:

  • Instead of collecting, lead another side-step
  • Then repeat the rest of the sequence from the sacada

I was again sure that was going to be too complicated for my step memory, but actually it felt easy. I was fortunate to have a really good follower, a friend I kept getting partnered with, and that definitely helped.

Generally, the moment a teacher turns their attention to you is the moment it all goes horribly wrong. But in this case, I led a chain of three of them, which felt lovely, and Pablo turned out to have been watching – “Great!” he said.

It is a sequence which requires some room around you in all directions, so not something for a crowded milonga, but when you have the space, it’s lovely.

And I think it could be adapted to tango. While the pivot itself works better with some speed, you could definitely lead the parada with a big suspension. And, logically, it feels like this sequence should be most of the way there toward another version of the contra-giro. Everything connected to everything.

I’m definitely getting more confident with longer sequences, mostly because they are including more and more familiar elements now. The parada is essentially the same as the one I use a lot from the back ocho, and which can lead into a planeo. The part-contra-giro is a variation on the one I did with Steph. Everything connected to everything.

This was definitely the kind of sequence I’ve seen taught in the Tuesday intermediate class, so I’m feeling a lot more confident about tackling the Thursday class now. Which could, of course, be famous last words! We’ll see.

Meantime, I’m going to the Tanguito intermediate class tomorrow. I have no idea what the topic is. And the Los Angelitos milonga afterwards. Perhaps preceded by the first hour of the Spitalfields milonga if the weather is cooperative and I get out of bed in time … We’ll see about that too!

Image: Shutterstock

3 thoughts on “Third-time lucky with a vals workshop!”

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