One perfect lesson, one beyond me, and the best compliment yet

compliment

Having re-added giros to my milonga repertoire, two things have become apparent. One, I was worrying unnecessarily about them. My standard was, in fact, perfectly typical of someone at my level.

Two, that isn’t saying very much …

I think the giro is one of the movements that really separates a beginner/improver from an intermediate dancer.

I see four elements to a giro performed by a good leader:

  • A sense of fluidity to the movement (opening … opening …)
  • Combined with precision (perfectly in sync with the follower’s steps)
  • Smooth and timely communication of ‘stopping … stopped’
  • Lapices to generate momentum and for decoration

I’m pretty good on fluidity, and slowly getting there on communicating the stopping. My precision is … imprecise. Lapices are but a distant dream.

So when I discovered today’s Tanguito classes were on the giro, that settled the battle between classes, practica and Spitalfields milonga – even before the latter was cancelled due to rain.

Beginner/improver class

This was titled ‘My first giro,’ so I was hoping that revisiting it from first principles would provide a good opportunity to work on my technique.

The first thing I learned is that I’d misunderstood the language. I thought a giro was counter-clockwise and a clockwise version was a contra-giro. But it turns out that either one is a giro, and if you then switch directions, the second one is the contra-giro.

We started by practicing pivots individually, including walking ones, zig-zagging down the floor – which I found really useful. We then took it in turns to do the giro steps, walking around out partner who just remained still in the middle, acting as a point of reference. I loved doing the follower steps, both because that was a useful reference and because the pure physical sensation is really satisfying.

Finally, we did the full giro, alternating lead and follow, with a leader pivot for the turn. That’s quite a different sensation from turning by stepping. It does solve my problem of fluidity versus precision, and I tried it later in the milonga where it seemed to work well.

Bottom-line: I was right. I don’t think I can do too many beginner classes on the giro.

Intermediate class

The topic here sounded both useful and fun.

Directions: or how to suddenly change direction, with precision and in line with the music and the available space around you.

More specifically, we will explore how to create changes of direction using the Giro/Contra-giro.

As with the first class, we initially started work on technique, in this case practicing a short sequence of leading the follower into a forward rebound to one side, the leading a side-step and leading them to a forward rebound on the other side.

Then the sequence was introduced …

It was complex, and seemed to me not very giro-like. I almost ran for the hills when they first demonstrated it, and was still inclined to walk very briskly in an upward direction after they talked through it. It was:

  • Lead a side-step to the leader’s left
  • Then take a forward step
  • Pivot the follower 90 degrees (to their right)
  • Leader takes a side-step while follower does a forward step
  • Then <deep breath> …
  • Leader pivots the follower to their left …
  • Then immediately back to the right, with a strong ‘spring’ stop
  • At the same time, the leader does a leader cross but without changing weight (the cross is really insurance in case the follower continues, so you can step with her instead of falling over)
  • Then <mumble>, where <mumble> is something vaguely like the leader taking a side-step while the follower takes a back-step, then leading a quick pivot-and-back on the spot, then a further step to collect

I did get much further with this than I expected to, but there is not the slightest chance of me ever using it, or anything approximating it, in the real world.

The one useful thing I took from it was the ‘pivoting the follower 90 degrees while the leader is still’ part. That’s no different to reversing the direction of ochos, but for some reason it had never occurred to me that you could also do a 90-degree pivot as well as a 180. That strikes me as a useful tool, so will play with that another time.

Oh, and a friend from Tango Space was there. Since more practice of the above was pointless, I asked her if I could try the sequence I’d learned the day before. She asked what it was, but I said I wanted to see if I could lead it without telling her. I tried it, and yes, I could, at the first attempt! That gave me the confidence to try it in the milonga afterwards.

Milonga

The Los Angelitos milonga is absolutely my favourite, and it again didn’t disappoint!

Not all of my favourite followers were there this week, but some were – and I was in the mood to take chances with unfamiliar followers, so again danced a lot.

Which also gave me plenty of giro practice. I think the lesson helped, and I was feeling greater awareness of the follower’s steps, which helped with smoothly stopping as the back step is an obvious time to do it.

I also tried yesterday’s sequence, and it was again successful. I think that’s an absolute record: 24 hours from lesson to milonga with a complex-ish sequence!

It’s not coincidence that Los Angelitos is such a friendly milonga. Bruno often includes one or two ‘stranger’s tandas,’ where the idea is to invite someone you don’t know. And as there were more followers than leaders (not massively imbalanced, but somewhat so), he also asked leaders to look out for followers who weren’t dancing much, and to invite them. I think that’s a lovely thing to do, and I made a point of doing it.

And was well rewarded! Two of the followers I didn’t know and hadn’t seen dance were from South America. Both for some reason assumed I spoke Spanish, and one of them persisted in this notion for a surprising length of time in between songs. But we had tango as a common language, and both tandas were very enjoyable.

One funny moment with one of them. She was trying to ask something, but didn’t know the English for it. I eventually worked out that she was asking if I was ok with close embrace as she was quite sweaty. I laughed, and said ‘Es tango!’ It reminded me of a realisation made at the Romantica Milonguera milonga.

I’d been chatting with someone earlier about how much tango had changed me (a topic for a future blog entry!). I’ve gone from a typical British bloke who hugged only the closest of friends to someone who hugs rather casually, for example, and the heat of the room prompted mention of another change; sweat! The idea of getting physically close to someone who was sweating would not have been high on my list of desirable activities outside of the obvious exception. But in tango you frequently do, and in that room, we absolutely were! And I was fine with it.

Speaking of South America, one of my favourite followers there is from Buenos Aires. She paid me what I think must be the biggest compliment I’ve had so far about my tango. A friend of hers had been visiting the previous week, and she told me the two of them had dinner afterwards, and her friend said her favourite tanda of the evening had been with me. “I told her mine was too,” she said.

think her friend was this one.

The third song was one 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.

They are both absolutely lovely dancers, and I’m sure danced with many more experienced leaders than me that day, so that really meant a lot.

Just to make sure I didn’t get too carried away by this, she later said that she’d been watching me in a (third song of a) milonga, and had some feedback to offer. I should, she said, aim to keep my knees soft but still try to keep my shoulders level, not bouncing. She then stopped herself, looked worried and started to apologise for offering unsolicited commentary. I smiled, and reminded her I’d told her once before that I was very open to feedback and suggestions, and much appreciated it.

Another funny moment: prior to that third-song invitation, I’d stepped outside to practice my milonga steps to the first song. Bruno and one of the regulars spotted this, came and pressed their noses up against the glass in the door and offered approving commentary.

So, another excellent milonga, and again returning home with sore feet and a grin.

Next week is a busy one: the Tango Space milonga on the Tuesday, a giro workshop with Olga on Wednesday, my first Tango Space intermediate class with Luis on Thursday, and my next private with Fede and Julia on Sunday. For which I think I have a goal, but we’ll see where I am by then …

Image: Shutterstock

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