When Fede said my dancing on Sunday was my best yet, he was referring to my posture and technique. Behind this was a single secret he’d been trying to share with me for some considerable time: do one thing at a time.
With a back ocho, for example, lead a side-step first. No more than that. Don’t enter the side-step deciding in advance that it’s going to be a back ocho, as that will lead to me blending the two, compromising my posture in the process …
After the side-step is fully complete, and at a point at which it would be equally possible to lead anything at all – from a forward step to a giro – then pivot into the back ocho. When that pivot is complete, do the leader-only change of weight and take the side-step, leading the back ocho.
And so on. One. Thing. At. A. Time.
Several things have been getting in the way of this. First, at least one teacher has recommended beginning the pivot in the final part of the side-step. Second, during the lengthy time of feeling my vocabulary was too limited, I would be constantly trying to think about how to vary it, so thinking further ahead than the current movement. But most of all, I’ve had the idea that ‘one thing at a time’ is a beginner version and more experienced dancers smoothly blend things together.
That’s an understandable mistake on my part, because most skills feel exactly like that. But when you examine it, it’s illusion.
Take driving, for example. A learner driver fully dips the clutch, then changes gear, then lets in the clutch. An experienced driver dips the clutch just enough, and it feels like the whole sequence blends into one. But still, it’s clutch in, gear change, clutch out.
It’s the same if you watch tango maestro videos. Lots of things seem to be happening at once, but watch them in slow motion, and it’s one thing at a time. So that was my primary goal for tonight’s milonga: one thing at a time, taking things as slowly as needed to achieve that.
Things got off to the perfect start when one of my teachers mirada’d me for the first tanda – and this time she didn’t have to do the ‘when is he finally going to notice?’ dance first.
The ronda was very crowded, but dancing mostly in half-time takes a lot of pressure away. Everything happens more slowly, so I don’t feel trapped in one place for so long. A lot of the evening was like that, with little space in which to dance, and erratic movement of the ronda, but I felt perfectly relaxed about it.
Dancing with a teacher is a always a funny mixture. On the one hand, I have an incredibly skilled follower who will compensate for my errors; on the other, I also know that none of those errors will go unnoticed! There was something I’d been working on with the sandwich (hips back, chest forward), and I remembered that and she noted it. But mostly it was just a lovely dance.
I was incredibly lucky this evening. I now have quite a few regular followers I know for certain enjoy slow, simple dance – and almost all the Tango Space ones were there tonight. Four of my tandas were with them. Another was with a friend who I think I’ve mostly danced vals with of late, and who I don’t think I’ve done my half-speed dance with before, but she too said she really liked it.
Five tandas in, I said to another friend that I’d had five tandas, all of which had been really lovely, and I was now torn. Did I trust that I was on a roll and keep dancing, or did I quit while I was ahead? There was a milonga playing, and I asked her whether she knew the six-step pattern taught in the last Tango Space milonga workshop. She said she thought so, and we tried it in the bar area, and it was fine. So we ventured out for the final song, and had a really fun time.
I might risk two songs next time. That six-step pattern feels reasonably varied in practice, because it has every step in it, and you tend to be turning as you dance it, so that gives it a more dynamic feel. Once I finally manage to include some double-time steps – and Steph showed me a way to include these in the same six-step pattern – I really think that will be all I need for milonga.
I had one more tango tanda after that, also lovely. There were two other followers I wanted to dance with who I’d spotted earlier, but I couldn’t see either when I looked, so decided not to tempt the tango gods any further. They’d given me a wonderful evening, and there will be plenty more tango at the weekend (a workshop, practica, group class and milonga).
So, six tandas, and one third of a milonga tanda – all great!
My one-year appraisal
My six-month appraisal was a somewhat angst-ridden one.
By one measure, I’ve come a huge, huge distance. From zero to being able to lead an enjoyable, if simple, dance … for a fellow beginner. By another measure – the standard I see in milongas – I’m almost nowhere […]
I’m kind of toying with the idea of setting myself a deadline of a year. Which would pretty much coincide with our Buenos Aires trip in November. If by then, I feel like I can dance, continue; otherwise, call it a fascinating experiment and move on to something else.
My nine-month one had a very different flavour.
I feel like a dancer. I’m enjoying myself. I have a number of regular followers who like to dance with me. I have a clear vision of where I want to get to. And I think I now have a solid and sustainable strategy for getting there. I’m well ahead of where I thought I would be three months ago.
At just over a year in, things have again improved way more than I would have expected in just three months.
I know exactly what type of dancing I love. I know the type of music I love to dance to. I know the type of followers I love to dance with.
I’m now relaxed in moderately-crowded milongas. Sure, I greatly prefer ones with room to walk – there’s still absolutely nothing I love more in the dance – and I do still hate ones where the ronda doesn’t move at all, but in a typical busy milonga, I’m content.
I’ve gone from being reasonably confident there are followers who like slow, simple, musical dance to knowing it for a fact. I now have a decent number of followers who very actively seek me out for just that.
I’ve found a milonga I love. I still very much enjoy the Tango Space Tuesday one. It’s a fixture in my diary because a lot of friends go, as well as quite a few other followers I love to dance with. But Los Angelitos is my milonga. The music is fantastic. There’s often room to walk. And there are lots of followers who love my kind of dance.
With that last private, something clicked about ‘one thing at a time.’ It’s also a perfect match for my type of dance. Slow, deliberate, strong focus on the connection and embrace. I have no idea why it took me so long to get it, but I think I now have.
And in group classes, something has clicked there too. Sure, there are still complex sequences that make my brain melt, but significantly fewer of them. More and more, I’m finding things that seemed incomprehensible before now feel more familiar, even if they might still be beyond me right now.
Crosses too have finally fallen into place. I still only use them when I have room for the classic sequence of side-step, two forward steps and cross – which isn’t all that often in milongas. My one-step cross attempts are not there yet. But that’s on the agenda for my next private with Fede and Julia, so I’ll get there soon enough.
Finally, this cross-system stuff. I’m not going to attempt it in a milonga yet, but I am very much looking forward to trying it at the next practica. And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll try it in the milonga afterwards.
Oh, and Buenos Aires … It’s one month away, and I’m now really looking forward to it! One year in is a very good place to be.