A mixed day, but began and ended on a high note, so calling it good

mixed day

Today was a rather a mixed day. Started well, went downhill and looked like it wasn’t going to get any better, but was rescued in the end.

It began with the unofficial practica, which we’re currently hosting at home while the numbers permit. There were eight of us today, which was a full house. This included Steph, who joined us as a leader …

The practica has definitely filled a hole in my tango journey. Mostly I worked on the forward-step exit to the giro Diego taught me yesterday, and by the end of the practica it seemed to be working well. I still need to work on the foot sweep for the parada, but that will come with time. I was very happy to reach the point where I could reliably lead the exit.

I also worked on the planeo, as I find this a lovely movement which I know feels really good for followers and is, in theory, easy to lead. Practicing it gave me a much better understanding of what appear to be the key elements for me at least:

  • A slight pause before the final forward ocho step with bended knee
  • Making the bend a significant one to really clearly signal
  • Ensuring I have transferred the follower’s weight onto her left foot

Failing to do the latter is how I end up leading Accidental Calisitas, which have always struck me as a kind of pointless unless there isn’t room for a planeo. They essentially require same technique but don’t feel anything like as special to me.

The lesson

The lesson – with visiting teachers Gaston Camejo and Lorena Gonzales, while Bruno is away – was billed as about the fundamentals of the lead.

Lead, embrace to lead, and communication: myths and truths

The first third of the class was interesting. They said the normal way of thinking about the lead is that the leader makes the step and the follower comes with them, and tries to stay in sync with the leader. This has the leader very slightly ahead of the follower. They suggested the leader think of it the other way around: that you make your intent so clear, the follower actually begins the step before you, and is then slightly ahead of you.

To play with this idea, the leader had to lead a step but not actually make it – so the follower took the step and the leader stayed where they were. This was effectively a variation on the no-contact leading I’ve done a number of times (and always enjoy).

After that, I assumed we were going to go with the follower – which we did, but with an extra challenge thrown in. Teachers often present the tango embrace in this way: start by hugging your partner as you would a friend, then the leader extends their left arm, the follower takes their hand and then you are in the embrace – which still feels like a hug.

Today, they had us remain in that hug and dance like that, using the approach we’d just practiced, of communicating our intent before we moved. That embrace leaves even less room than the normal close embrace, so it was challenging! But really interesting to play with.

My main take-out was the idea of signalling clearly to the follower ahead of time what is about to happen. I do already try to do that, but it’s one of those things where regular reminders are always helpful.

After that, however, we were into a sequence – which was not only complex but also rather subtle. You’d need very good technique to pull it off in the class, and fantastic technique to lead it with a follower who hadn’t ever learned it. The whole thing was a non-starter for me. (I won’t even bore you with the details, except to mention that part of it was leading a linear version of the world’s most subtle ocho cortado.)

The only good news was that there were spare leaders, so I could duck out without feeling guilty. Two other leaders did the same, and then I watched the rest of the class attempt it for the next hour. The hit-rate wasn’t high …

I think for advanced students, it could be a wonderful sequence. I shan’t be taking their other classes, however!

It’s sadly not unusual for visiting teacher workshops to sound really intriguing but then quickly descend into just teaching a sequence. But it did feel frustrating this time. ‘Myths and truths of communication’ in tango had sounded like a fascinating topic. Maybe the idea of the leader moving first was a myth? Who knows; not the people who were in the class, anyway …

The milonga

The milonga, unfortunately, wasn’t looking much more promising. It was very crowded, and only one of my favourite followers was there at the beginning – and she was in demand, so I didn’t get a chance to dance with her for a while.

The music, too, wasn’t to my taste. I like slow and deep; the early music was all fast and shallow. I know lots of milongas move from one to the other in the course of an evening, but one thing I love about Bruno’s DJing is you get a real mix of music throughout.

I did finally get a tanda with the follower mentioned above, but not to the music I would have liked. It was nice, but not up to our usual standard.

A second of my favourites arrived, and I had the same experience with her. It was enjoyable, but it’s just not the same without the right music.

After 45 minutes, I was debating whether or not to stay. This is the type of evening that can go either way. If it doesn’t improve, instead of feeling meh for 45 minutes, you end up feeling meh for three hours. On the other hand, if you stay, maybe something great happens later.

I opted for a compromise. I’d wait until the next milonga tanda, as I wanted to test my new-found belief that maybe I could now dance an entire tanda.

While waiting, I spotted a rather advanced dancer from the Tango Space intermediate class. I’d danced with her a few times in class, but never dared cabeceo her in a milonga. However, she’s a lovely person, and she was sitting, so I smiled in a way that could be interpreted as either a cabeceo or an invitation to chat, and she immediately took it as the former, springing out of her chair.

We then had a really great tango tanda. It still wasn’t the music I’d ideally have liked, but it was music that could be danced at half-speed and still feel appropriate. Diego would have been proud of me: I led lots of suspensions, and was rewarded with lots of small and lovely-feeling decorations.

Giros were also a delight. She knows her steps inside-out, and I felt I went around her pivot into the back step the way Diego had shown me, so we felt completely in sync. I also successfully (and easily) lead the forward-step exit into a parada. It all felt great, and she gave me a lovely compliment at the end of the tanda.

We were still on the floor chatting when the next tanda began. It was a milonga. ‘Want to risk it?’ I asked her. She did. I was able to lead some of the ‘short rebounds that are actually single-time but feel like double-time’ as well as get enough variety into the size of the steps that the 6-step pattern didn’t feel in any way boring.

And actually the crowded floor worked somewhat to my advantage here, as sometimes I either had to lead very small steps all around, or could lead big ones in one direction and small ones in another, so that again added to the feeling of variety.

It was great fun! I decided that was a suitable high note on which to leave, and so, for the first time ever at Los Angelitos, I think, I left before the end.

Not a perfect day, but I’ll take it!

Not the fantastic experience I usually have there, then, but a great ending to the day. I’m very happy that I have now officially upgraded myself to full milonga tandas. And I’m really pleased that the work I put in at the practica on the forward-step exit to the giro paid off!

I got home to find Steph getting organised about our trip to Buenos Aires in three weeks. She’d scheduled visits to all the milongas Diego recommended, and also looked up details for DNI, the school he recommended. The Brexit-induced exchange rate for sterling isn’t exactly helping with most trips abroad, but Argentina is one of the few countries whose currency is in a worse mess than the UK, so group classes cost … £2 for 90 minutes! I think we may have a busy schedule …

In the meantime, I have my second private with Diego tomorrow evening, and I think we’ll work on the barrida plus my technique for the clockwise giro. I’m looking forward to it.

Image: Shutterstock

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