Passing my Spanish pronunciation exam; a great private; the best bookshop in the world; and some missing magic

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As is usual this week, I had work in the morning. Getting up at 7am is never pleasant in my world, but it wasn’t as bad as yesterday thanks to me exercising restraint where milongas were concerned.

After work, it was time for my second Spanish pronunciation lesson, dealing with the rest of the consonants …

I had to pass an exam at the end of my two-hour course: Judit asked me to pull up another of my tango playlists and pronounce all of the titles. There was much consulting of my crib sheet, but I got almost all of them right, so I would now say that my Spanish pronunciation is at the 90% level even if it does take me about 45 seconds per word.

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Private lesson 2 with Laura Heredia

I had to nip briskly back to the hotel afterwards, for my second private, with Laura Heredia, one of the teachers from the pre-milonga class at Maldita. I didn’t have too much interaction with her in the class, but Steph got a lot of attention, and promptly booked three privates with her. She was very happy with Laura’s teaching, so I booked one private, with an option for a second if that went well. This lesson too was in the improvised studio in our hotel room.

It was a truly fantastic lesson. I suggested we just dance, and then she could tell me what we needed to work on. She was very complimentary about my walk, and said my musicality was ‘muy bien.’ The good news out of the way, she set to work on my pivots!

First, my back ochos – starting with reminders of two constant foes! First, a tendency to lead with my arms as much as my chest. Second, not dissociating enough. However, the good news was that she had solutions for both problems.

To take my arms out of the equation, she said simply to relax them. Once I’m consistently not pushing or pulling with them, then they can play a role, but for now I should just leave both very relaxed. There is a lot of talk in tango about the need to maintain the frame, but this is about what I need right now to reach the next level, which is essentially to have my arms play no part at all in my pivot leads. Later, I can bring them back.

In terms of dissociation, she said the earlier you begin leading a pivot, the less dissociation you require. So if I begin my dissociation the moment a follower begins her step, then a small amount achieves a lot.

The other issue with my ochos is ensuring my partner has fully completed her pivot before leading her next step. Here she had me close my eyes and focus on feeling her spine. She said if I focused on the movement of the spine, I would know when the pivot was over. I tried this, and closing my eyes helped a lot. I just needed to remember to open them again afterwards! It’s a very nice feeling, dancing with your eyes closed, and I now understand why a lot of followers do it.

Next, we worked a lot on my posture. There are many things I need to fix here!

  • My head has a tendency to come forward and down (especially with shorter followers)
  • My chest also can be too far down as I bring it forward
  • And the usual issue of collapsing my hip, though this is much better than it was

She asked what else I wanted to work on, and I said slow giros in close embrace. Fast ones are fine – I just open the embrace and we whizz around perfectly happily. But in close embrace, I still feel like they are messy, and sometimes I lose balance here and there.

Laura said the first thing is not to worry: ‘giros in close embrace are messy, that’s ok.’ She had me lead some and she said there was work we could do, of course, but there wasn’t a problem. My lead was clear and my technique was ok – not great, but not bad.

We mostly did the version that begins with a side-step, forward step and then leading the follower into a side-step while I do a forward cross. Her feedback here was:

  • Ensure I fully transferred my own weight forward, so the follower’s axis was correct
  • Be more confident! My lead is fine, just trust it, don’t be hesitant!
  • Again, focus on feeling the follower’s spine to know when her movement is complete

She said this latter point was so key for leaders. “If you focus on the embrace, you will always know where your partner is.”

We then did a mix of faster and slower giros, and she said they were good, it was mostly about trusting myself.

Finally, she said that I always led the sandwichito in the same way, with a forward ocho and a parada with my right foot. She said I need more flexibility in a crowded milonga, as there may not be space for the follower to step in that direction. So she showed me I could instead step over the follower’s leg and then barrida her into a cross, and a parada from there, which would then be in the opposite direction. That was brilliant! Such a simple thing, but more variety and more flexibility in a crowded space. I need many more such things!

I’ve booked her for another private on Friday. Technique-wise, she’s already given me a lot to work on, so I think a good focus could be on other crowded milonga tips like that.

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Suit fitting and El Ateneo

My suit was ready for my first fitting, so we headed over to the tailor for that. It seemed remarkably quick and casual, but then the same is true of the Hong Kong tailor who makes my shirts, and his work is fantastic, so I’m taking it as a good sign.

There’s a very famous bookstore in BsAs called El Ateneo, which used to be a theatre. I’d seen photos, and was really keen to see it in the paper! Wow! It is absolutely stunning. Ok, I couldn’t read most of the books (there are a few in English), but a simple restock and this would be the ultimate bookshop.

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Milonga 17: La Maria (second visit)

I was really keen to go again to this one, but was trying my best not to build it up into a big thing. Last time was so special it was hard to imagine it could be matched.

We all know the tango gods are fickle; sometimes they align the stars for us, and sometimes they don’t. Tonight they didn’t.

By that, I don’t mean the evening was terrible (though one tanda was, of which more in a moment), but it was very, very ordinary. No magic tonight. Well, almost no magic.

The terrible tanda (which that henceforth be known as the TT) was with a follower who liked a very open embrace. It was nothing personal, I saw afterwards she danced like that with the next leader. It’s never something I find satisfying, and in this case I just couldn’t feel her presence. We had basically zero connection.

I tried several times to just pause, lead slow weight changes, focus on the embrace and establish a connection. But each time, I felt nothing. It wasn’t quite at the level that it justified breaking tanda, but neither of us were enjoying it and were trapped by tango etiquette. There needs to be some socially acceptable way of saying after the second song that ‘It’s not you, it’s me, let’s just pretend this whole tanda never began.’

The very next tanda couldn’t have been a greater contrast. It was a milonga, and enormous fun. As yesterday, a very good follower who gave me the confidence to just make stuff up on the fly. Only this time, only one slight clunk that I can recall: she just seemed to have this magical ability to be on the correct foot even when I was sure I’d messed up. A big hug at the end of that one.

The only other good news was the new sandwichito move worked well with everyone – and I even successfully led it in the TT.

None of the other tandas were notable one way or the other. Which would be disappointing in London, and massively more so here. But hey, that’s tango. Some days you win, some days you lose, and some days … meh. Tomorrow is another day.

Which raises a dilemma. Do I return tomorrow to Sueño Porteño and risk the same thing? I shall sleep on it.

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