Most of my lessons are very technique-focused. The great thing about those is that a small detail can make a massive difference to the experience you give to a follower. The downside, however, is that because you’re always revisiting the basics, it can make you feel like you’re starting all over again.
Today, I went from feeling like starting again from first principles to feeling like a tango god …
Private lesson 1 with Iona Italia
I had thought I might take quite a few private lessons, but the good teachers are of course in demand, so arranging slots took some doing!
Most independent teachers don’t have their own studios, so these need to be booked separately, but our hotel room was large and had a wooden floor, so a little furniture re-arranging gave us a perfectly good – if unusually shaped – studio!
I didn’t have a specific goal for this lesson: I wanted to just dance and let Iona tell me what we should work on.
We danced two songs. Iona asked Steph to video so we could watch together afterwards, which was a useful approach. I led a number of pauses, and her feedback there was to remain more still.
This was a little confusing at first, as other teachers have talked about the importance of a suspension remaining dance – to have some tiny continuing movement. However, what Iona meant was not to have any ‘noise,’ in the sense of any movement to the beat during a pause. No fidgeting, as she put it!
We then worked on adjusting a couple of related things about my leading technique. First, the timing. Aiming to give the follower an indication of her direction but then allowing her to get slightly ahead of me rather than the other way around. This is something Fede and Julia have also worked on with me, but I think at the time I had so many things to think about, that one got a bit lost along the wayside. Ninety percent of tango lessons are reminders.
Second, aiming for shoulder alignment with my follower. This is another way of ensuring I don’t get ahead of her. To think of it as trying to keep our spines pivoting together.
I did feel like enough things were in my body to have room in my head for this one, and was later proven correct in this when I was able to make it a focus in a milonga.
Iona also had a suggestion for the cross, but I think that was at a level which was a bit too advanced for where I am now, and would also be too subtle for most followers of a similar level to me, so I parked that for a later date. (It was about delaying my own step and weight change in a way that allowed the follower to control the speed of the cross.)
After the lesson we went for lunch in a lovely courtyard and didn’t talk about Brexit too much …
Milonga 14: La Glorieta del Belgrano
Officially called El Kiosco de Música Antonio Malvagni, after the director of the Municipal Band of Buenos Aires, everyone knows it as La Glorieta del Belgrano – and it’s probably the most famous outdoor milonga in the world.
The daily milonga originally operated under a permit from the government. We’re told the permit long since expired, and now it is simply accepted as a tradition. Run by volunteers, it attracts a mix of locals and tourists. More locals since the financial crisis, as there is no entrance fee – you are instead invited to offer a voluntary donation of ‘the price of a cup of coffee.’
In summer you can apparently get up to 300 people turning up, but tonight was just a handful of people. Steph and I each danced one tanda, after which Steph needed to rest her foot and I wanted a proper milonga.
Milonga 15: Feeling like a tango god in Sueño Porteño
Steph suggested Sueño Porteño on the basis that she had a really good time before, and it was an early one, making it feasible for me to have my planned early night before dragging myself out of bed at 7am ready for work.
I took a cab there, dropping Steph at the hotel along the way.
The name means ‘dreaming of the city.’ Mostly what I was dreaming of in my first tanda was being able to speak Spanish. After the third song, I was attempting to ask my follower if she was from the local area, pointing down to indicate here. She thought I was thank-you-ing her with a ‘Sitting down’ gesture and promptly walked off, returning to her table to, presumably, complain to her mates about me.
That’s not even the worst bit: after the first song, the organisers had asked the two of us to pose for a photo, so that would probably have been on a warning poster by the following morning. I called my emergency translation service and then went to show the woman.
Hola señora – este hombre es mi novio y quiere disculparse por la confusión. Quiso preguntarte si era de acá, no despedirte! El disfrutó mucho bailar con vos, así que te pido perdón.
This man is my bf and would like to ask for forgiveness for the misunderstanding. He wanted to ask you if you were from here, not dismiss you. He enjoyed very much dancing with you, and he is sorry.
Laughter and thanks ensued.
Steph found the photo on the milonga’s Facebook page the next day – thankfully with no warning text added:
That sorted, I had rather better communication with my follower in the next tanda. It was a milonga one. Pablo from Tango Space had recently confessed that he used to hide in the gents when it was time for a milonga tanda, and it appeared the toilets were also popular with the men in this room. There were already many more followers than leaders, and when it came to those looking around during milonga tandas it must have been about ten to one …
I managed my fake double-time and to mix in my new steps, and had a very enjoyable tanda with much more space on the floor. My follower, who spoke a little English, clearly enjoyed herself too.
I also experienced what I think was my first ever mirada while dancing. At one corner, the couple ahead were doing some very nice things on the spot for about 20 seconds, and I noticed one woman at the corner table was looking quite intently at me, and didn’t stop doing so until we moved off. More on this in a moment.
Again, I won’t do the tanda-by-tanda reports. Enough to say that I danced a lot! Milongas aside, the floor was relatively crowded but not crazily so. Floorcraft was, with one exception, very good, and the ronda moved really well. The one exception was a leader who decided to overtake people, including us, by waiting until we led either a back ocho or a giro, so we were to the left for a moment, and he came blazing through. Bizarre.
I was working on putting Iona’s feedback into practice. In both ochos and giros, I was concentrating on trying to keep the follower a touch ahead of me and to keep our shoulders as closely aligned as possible. And, of course, pauses without fidgeting.
All of which was helped by the excellent music! Lots of lyrical songs which demanded slow ochos and giros, as well as plenty of pauses.
I noticed I was being mirada’d a lot. I mean, by a silly number of women. The main reason for this was obvious: leaders were in short supply, so when there’s a man sitting on his own, he makes an obvious target. Additionally, I don’t think there were many foreigners there – everyone I danced with was a local – so I think there’s the novelty factor of a new face.
But I like to think a bit of it was my dance. And the intellectual knowledge of the main reason didn’t change in the slightest how it felt: it still made me feel like a tango god! So, if tonight is in any way typical of the milonga, I highly recommend it to leaders – but not to followers.
The DJ was announcing the orchestras, for which I was grateful. When he said the next one would be Troilo, I made a beeline for my seat and ensured I was extremely engrossed in my phone. I then had cause to be even more grateful for the information: the first song was one I love, and I’d have been out of my seat like a shot had I not known what it was. I would have been regretting it deeply by the third song.
Although they hadn’t put me on a wanted poster for my earlier faux-pas, they clearly decided some kind of punishment was still required.
Yep, another bloody chacarera tanda. And if that weren’t bad enough …
Oh yes, it was followed by a zamba one, perhaps the only dance that can compete with chacarera for silliness.
That nonsense aside, I could happily have continued dancing there all night, but I knew that getting up for work in the morning was already going to be a shock to my system. I decided that once the Argentine version of Morris dancing was over, I’d dance a couple more tandas – three at most – then head home for the night.
However, the samba was followed by … I have no idea. Not tango, anyway. I decided then to call it a night. As I put my street shoes in front of me, one of my followers from earlier in the evening marched up to me and said a firm ‘No!’. Apparently I wasn’t allowed to go home. I tried to protest that I had no idea what this dance was, but was met with ‘It’s no problem for you.’
As she dragged me onto the dance floor, I looked around at the other dancers for some clue, but it wasn’t helping much. They were in the tango embrace but I had no idea what they were doing other than it was quite fast. I’d already established that you can dance milonga steps to pretty much any music, so that’s what I did. For quite some time.
I got to bed at 00:30, somewhat later than planned. Wish me luck for the morning …
Top image: Shutterstock