A really useful hiphop-free practica, and a crowded but fantastic milonga

lengthy blog post

Yeah, this is another lengthy blog post. You know the drill: grab a cup of tea or glass of wine before reading …

Some might argue that a 2-hour practica, 90-minute group class and 3-hour milonga is a touch enthusiastic. Indeed, an unkind person might be tempted to suggest this has shades of a return to The Crazy Days.

Especially as I was doing all of this instead of going to a friend’s birthday party, but then she is a tango teacher so is understanding of the early-stage addiction to all things tango …


The unofficial practica group has 50 members in total, but typically 6-8 turn up each week. Since competing with hip-hop music is less than ideal, I figured that was a small enough group to host at our place, which has the benefit of wooden flooring, good multi-room speakers and no break-dancing.

There were seven of us – three leaders, four followers – which was fine in the space.

Since three of the followers weren’t looking to practice anything specific, that gave me an opportunity to practice five things over the course of a couple of hours:

  • Anti-clockwise giros
  • Clockwise giros
  • The cross
  • The cross in cross system
  • The Barrida with planeo

My giro is coming along nicely. I learned two things today.

First, when leading a less experienced follower who doesn’t have her own steps in muscle-memory, I need to clearly lead the pivot into the back-step. One of the followers was only two months in (though doing incredibly well for that stage!), so wasn’t clear on her steps, but it worked perfectly well once I did that.

Second, if you have an experienced follower, fast clockwise giros are about the easiest possible thing you can do in tango. You don’t have to think about steps at all. The only things you have to do during the giro are focus on a smooth pace and keeping the centre of the circle in one place – and figure out how to end it! You have to be able to pick a method of exiting, which is essentially deciding which step to turn into as linear one, then anticipating that early enough to change the direction and slow it to a halt.

I practiced the cross with a follower who said she couldn’t understand why I thought I needed to practice it. “Just believe in yourself.” Buoyed by that, I tried the cross-system cross too, and that too worked perfectly. I think I am finally over my neuroticism where the cross is concerned.

Finally, I had a go at the barrida with planeo sequence. That still needs some work, as I need to ensure I hold the follower in place while changing her weight to her back foot, else she’ll be tempted to collect. And the leg sacada, like the cross, just needs confidence. But definite progress made there.

Los Angelitos intermediate lesson

I’m a little torn about whether to go to these. On the one hand, the theory is I’m doing one class a week and the rest of the time just dancing. On the other, I’m going to the Los Angelitos milonga anyway, so including the lesson is just a case of arriving a bit earlier, and it’s still a good way to meet new followers.

The sequences can get complex. Today, for example, ended with … a back sacada. That was frankly laughable for me. It requires a massive amount of dissociation, and there was not the tiniest of chances I was going to get anywhere near one, as a brief experiment demonstrated. But that was, thankfully, just the last ten minutes of a 90-minute class.

The first sequence was:

  • Lead two forward ochos
  • After the second one, pivot into an Americana
  • Lead the follower into a side-step, crossing in front of the leader
  • As she does so, do a sacada toward her right (forward) foot
  • Turn and bend the leg so the follower does a gancho
  • Then, from the spine, do a flick left and right to lead a boleo

This one would require a fair bit of practice for me, I think, but I was basically getting the hang of it. The gancho was the complex bit. If I omitted this, then it was easy to do a simple leg sacada to lead the boleo. I think I could get the hang of that fairly quickly.

I always swore I wasn’t going to learn to lead boleos as I’ve seen so many inappropriate ones in milonga injuring people, and have indeed been hit by one myself. They can be really dangerous.

However, with my penchant for slow dance, the boleo would be low and slow, no different to the barrida and planeo sequence. It’s a movement which feels really nice for the follower, I think, so I do want to practice slow versions of that.

Next was an absolutely lovely circular sequence:

  • Side-step to left
  • Leader-only change of weight
  • Outside step to the right with left foot (a back-step for the follower)
  • 180-degree right-hand pivot for the leader into the Americana position
  • Use your hip to change the follower’s weight to her right
  • Americana, then …
  • Lead a side-step for the follower
  • Then repeat from bullet 3, the outside-step

As-is, this takes four beats (including the weight-change). But it struck me that if I could combine the pivot and follower-only weight-change into a single beat, this could be perfect for vals, as it then becomes a three-beat sequence.

I definitely need to practice it. I got a clunky version, but I think if I work on this at next week’s practica, I could probably turn this into something usable.

And then … the back sacada nonsense. That, I think, was thrown in for those at the advanced end of the intermediate/advanced scale. It requires the dissociation of a cat.

But the simplified version of that first sequence, omitting the gancho, I did like that. And I really like the idea of the second sequence. So that’s two things to try at next week’s practica.

While learning new vocabulary isn’t my priority, it is helping me connect the dots. That ‘Americana into side-step’ element, for example, is a little bit like a mirror-image of the vals sequence we did at Tango Space. Not entirely, but it has a similar feel to it. So I’m tending toward the view that these classes are useful from that perspective if nothing else.

The Los Angelitos milonga

Today was the 8th anniversary, and it attracted a big crowd. A very big crowd. One of the things I love about this milonga is there is very often room to walk. I got to do that today for exactly one song – when the inner ronda was mostly empty. By the second song, it was packed.

Bruno transitioned from the class to the milonga with something he called a ‘milonga train.’ Couples lined up in a single ronda, the couple at the front begin, and everyone else dances in line behind. Where the front of the train moves, everyone else does too.

The reality of this exercise was that basically nobody moved. And everyone was really close together. In other words, my idea of tango hell. It was saved by only two things. One, I finally have confidence in my giros and contra-giros. Two, I cabeceod one of my favourite followers for it. We did a shedload of slow ochos, giros and contra-giros. I did still feel claustrophobic, unable to walk a single step, but it was, despite this, enjoyable.

Much of the milonga itself was a blur. I danced a lot. It’s unfair to followers that the numbers are imbalanced by probably 20%, but if you’re a beginner leader …

Some highlights (and one lowlight) …

My first tanda was with a friend. I wasn’t ready to try anything from the class, but she is more adventurous than me! So I tried the gancho/boleo sequence a few times in the second song. Maybe four times. I think the tally was one burst of laughter, two ok attempts and one fairly decent one. In the third song, I tried the circular sequence with no success at all! That one needs some geometric analysis and slow-speed practica attempts. But I’m appreciative of friends who encourage me to step outside my comfort zone.

Another friend who did yesterday’s milonga workshop was there, so we ventured out for a milonga tanda in close embrace. It worked! There were a few glitches, where we got blocked by the crowds (yes, even in a milonga tanda!) and I found it hard to navigate us out of trouble then figure out how to get back into the 6-step sequence, but 95% of it was great! We had a second tanda later, and I am officially declaring that I will now dance entire milonga tandas!

Two reasons for this. First, as I’ve mentioned before, that 6-step sequence actually feels more varied than it is. There’s a bit of everything in there: back-step, side-step, outside-walk and change of weight. You can turn as you dance it, and dealing with the navigational challenges actually adds a lot of variety.

For example, when we’re completely hemmed in, as we were a few times, all the steps are tiny. When there’s open space ahead, it’s small back-step, small side-step, two big forward steps. When there’s no space ahead but space behind, it’s big back-step, smaller forward steps. When there’s space to the left … Well, you get the idea. Essentially the ever-changing navigation environment means that you can be doing the same 6-step sequence, but it really doesn’t feel remotely repetitive.

Second, while I am categorically not doing any traspie, the single-time rebounds on either the back-step or outside walk again feel like they add a lot more variety than they really do.

So after two trial tandas with a friend, I am next time going to risk a milonga tanda with AN Other follower. Well, ok, in reality, not actually a random one, but one of my regular followers where I’ve had a chance to issue an advance disclaimer that this is an experiment.

I had my first experience of a stolen tanda! There were two followers sat next to each other. I was no more than ten feet away, and cabeceod the one on the left, with whom I really like to dance. The woman on the right was a stranger. As I nodded, the stranger leapt to her feet and walked over to me.

Now, perhaps I’m wrong, but I didn’t actually think that was an innocent mistake: my impression was it was a hijack. Someone of a different nationality might have corrected the mistake or non-mistake, but I’m British, so there wasn’t the slightest possibility I was going to have the ‘Oh, I’m sorry, that was for the woman next to you’ conversation; I smiled and danced the tanda with her.

On the plus side, it was a very enjoyable tanda, albeit not in the same league as the follower I’d actually cabeceod. I did catch up with my actual target after the tanda, confirm the cabeceo had been for her and we managed another tanda later. Which was absolutely wonderful.

Over tea, I got chatting to a follower who was two months in. ‘What do you know?’ I asked. ‘Walking, ochos and giros,’ she said. I thought that sounded like a lot for two months. It felt like a good opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ for all the experienced followers who danced with me at two months; not that I see myself as an experienced dancer, but all these things are relative. I did a short-range cabeceo, which she got.

She swore she did no other form of dance (‘just kick boxing’), but it was just like dancing with a tango beginner who comes from other forms of dance – she was way better than she had any right to be at two months. I said as much, and she said that made her night; it brought back memories of the same happening to me.

I do tend to be quite picky about my music now, and can afford to be at Los Angelitos since they play so much great music. I am, though, wary of what I call the Sucker Troilo songs: the ones that start out perfectly danceable for the first 30 seconds and then descend into unintelligible gibberish. I listened to the opening of one song, and wasn’t quite sure. I was close to the DJ, so stepped over to ask the orchestra. ‘Caló,’ he told me. Ok, then.

The one unpleasant interlude was a follower who had been really helpful in the class, good at analysing what was and wasn’t working. I cabeceod her, and had one of the worst tandas I’ve ever had. Possibly the worst, actually. She couldn’t stop talking while we danced, providing a commentary on what she thought was and wasn’t working.

It wasn’t that she was being critical of me, she was equally open to the idea that it was her, but I really don’t want any conversation while dancing, let alone blow-by-blow analysis of how well we’re doing. After the second song, I politely said I’m not good enough to dance and listen at the same time, and she did then desist from talking while we danced, but wanted to spend the gap between third and fourth songs asking what it was I’d been trying to lead that she’d missed. I had literally no idea as I’d caught that it wasn’t working and, I thought, moved smoothly on. But she was obsessed with wanting to know what it was. And then when the tanda finally came to an end, several days later, she wanted to do a debrief. I ran away.

The worst part of this is my facial aphasia. To me, she looks identical to Stolen Tanda Woman. I’m happy enough to give STW the benefit of the doubt, and would dance with her again. But now I wouldn’t dare to cabeceo her in case she’s The Nightmare Woman. I’m clinging desperately to the hope that TNW felt the same, and won’t want to dance with me again, but I am less than confident about this.

It was 7.30pm, and I was ready to call it an evening, but I was absolutely not going to end the day on that note! Fortunately the next tanda was a slow one, and I cabeceod one of my favourite followers, a woman from Buenos Aires who loves slow, simple, musical dance. It was a lovely, lovely tanda, and was already the perfect way to end the day, when she hugged me afterwards and said ‘I love dancing with you.’ I assured her it was entirely mutual. That was the moment at which to call it a day.

The other thing I loved: it was really crowded throughout, but I never felt panicked by it. Now that I’ve added clockwise and counter-clockwise giros to the static things I could already do (mostly various ocho combinations and paradas), I feel like that’s enough to keep things interesting. I’m still always going to vastly prefer a milonga where I can walk, but I’m still going to have an enjoyable time when I can’t.

Ok! I know that might seem like a return to the tanda-by-tanda reports, but I promise it isn’t: that was just the highlights. I love, love, love this milonga.

Image: Shutterstock


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