My plan for the day was simple: work in the morning, a 90-minute private in the afternoon, a suit fitting, the first hour of a milonga in the evening and in bed by midnight.
Some of that happened …
Well, most of it, to be fair. The work, the suit fitting and the first hour of a milonga all happened. Only … three other milongas muscled in on the action. Not all of it was my fault.
Private lesson 3 with Aurora Lubiz
Aurora had co-led the group class at Muy Lunes on our first day here, which already felt like weeks ago! The lesson took place in a wonderful shabby chic studio just one-and-a-half blocks from our hotel.
Steph had just had a one-hour lesson with her (also on leading), and I had foolishly booked 90 minutes! Foolishly because the combination of the intensity of the lesson and the heat meant my brain was melting by the end …
I guess there’s good news and bad news in hearing a rather consistent story from three different teachers. The good news is you know what you do well, and what you have to work on. The bad news is when three teachers tell you the same things in successive lessons, it can feel like you’re not making any progress.
But the the lessons have only been five days apart. Granted I’ve danced at five milongas in that time, but technique issues don’t get fixed in that time, you just (hopefully) make some small progress in the right direction.
Themes common to all three lessons have been:
- Compliments on my walk and musicality
- Not to worry about my close embrace giros feeling messy, that’s normal
- Adjustments to my posture (mostly consistent)
- Relaxing my shoulders and arms
- And sending the follower a little ahead of me
More specifically on this latter one:
- Lead the intention, ensuring the lead comes from the chest
- Wait for the follower to begin her step or pivot
- Follow her
- Feel in her spine when she has completed a pivot, being sure to wait until the very end
I think I sometimes feel pressured to hit the beat or a particular moment in the music, hence sometimes rushing the next lead, but with slow dance I can always wait for the next moment. One thing BsAs has done for me is to slow my dance even more, and have me give significantly more attention to the embrace itself.
We mostly worked on the ocho cortado. My focus is on improving my technique with my existing vocabulary, and this was another area where I felt my lead was a bit vague. Again, Aurora stressed the importance of fully staying with my follower all the way. So in the side-step, in slow dance, fully transfer my own weight and keep my intention forward toward my partner even though I’m going to want her to stop – and then simply ensure that my own body does stop, not allowing the top of my body to continue to pivot, else the follower will continue too and make another step.
This is particularly important for me as I quite often lead circular ochos, so it would be easy for a follower dancing with me to confuse the lead for the two unless there is a very clear ‘stop’ signal.
It was a pretty intense lesson! Aurora is very much one for the details, and very insistent on each element being performed correctly. If you’re booking a lesson with her, I would recommend one hour over 90 minutes!
Second fitting for my suit
7pm saw us heading back to my tailor for the second fitting of my suit. It’s all a bit last minute, but we’d pretended our flight was tomorrow instead of Saturday to give us a little slack, and they promised to deliver it to our hotel that evening.
Milonga 20: El Bailarin
This one was chosen semi-randomly, in that it had a convenient start time and from a video looked to be the right sort of style. My plan was to dance there for a couple of hours and then join Steph and a friend Ian at a second milonga at 10.30pm.
However, when I arrived they were still finishing the class and it was just three couples. There was a young family at a table and I cabeceod the woman when the class ended and had a dance with her, but that appeared to be the sum total of available followers. I looked up another nearby milonga and headed over there.
That’s the beauty of this city: there’s always another milonga!
Milonga 21: De Querusa
This one was rather livelier!
It’s a good setup. A long dance floor at the front, with tables and seating down each side, more seating at each end – and then a raised rear area with a bar/cafe. Those who want to dance sit around the floor, those who want to socialise go to the back area.
It’s a rather schizophrenic place. On the one hand, there are clearly the regulars from the neighbourhood who all know each other and mostly want to dance together. There were quite a lot of followers in that group who showed zero interest in dancing with an unfamiliar face.
But there are some locals, and a number of tourists, who are happy to dance with newcomers. You just have to find them! Once you do, it feels like a friendly place.
The music tended toward the lesser-known, at least to me. There was quite a lot of Troilo and Laurenz, for example. I studiously avoided looking up when those tandas were playing. But there was enough danceable music to have fun.
One woman, I’d danced with at another milonga somewhere, though neither of us could remember where. We were both on our first visit to the city and doing the same kind of … enthusiastic … schedules, so it could have been almost anywhere, really.
I enjoyed a fun milonga tanda with a woman from California who recommended Yira Yira the following night. She said a lot of her friends would be there, and she’d be arriving late after a party. We already had a Diego recommendation for our last night, but there’s no law saying we can’t do both …
That took me through to 10.30pm, when it was time to hop in a cab to meet Steph and Ian at Bilongon.
Milonga 22: Bilongon
This was a Diego recommendation, with live music. I got there before Steph and Ian, to find the place very quiet.
The music was great, the lighting likewise, and the floor was empty, so I didn’t waste any time! Shoes on to first cabeceo was about 15 seconds. We had a lovely tanda.
Still no sign of Steph and Ian afterwards, but I managed to cabeceo another woman. We had a slightly strange tanda: perfect connection for about 85% of it, then every now and then my lead would fail for no apparent reason. I wasn’t doing anything different between the two times. Strange, but still a good experience overall.
Steph and Ian arrived during this. They’d opted for a sofa, which swallowed you as soon as you sat in (rather than on) it. I initiated a move to a table.
Steph and I danced. She couldn’t pivot much at all, so it was quite different from my usual dance, which has been known to feature an ocho and giro or two. But Steph could manage a modified giro, and had a lot of ideas about things we could do, so we had a lot of fun.
Steph also danced with Ian, but after that we weren’t having much luck. There were a lot of couples apparently on date night, so not dancing with anyone else, and there also seemed to be both leaders and followers who didn’t use cabeceo. Both Steph and I had the experience of attempting to cabeceo and getting no reaction whatsoever. Not looking away, not returning our nod, just looking rather blankly back. That was weird.
There was also little sign that the live band was going to be starting anytime soon, so we decided to try our luck elsewhere. I had a look in the Hoy-Milonga app to see what was close, and see if Ian knew any of them. He found one he said was worth trying, so we got an Uber there.
Milonga 23: La Balmaceda at La Nacional
We could hear traditional tango music as we walked up the stairs, but we immediately got a clue that this would not be a traditional evening when a guy passed us on the stairs wearing a pair of heels. It turned out that the milonga was hosting one of the Queer Tango evenings.
Things started well enough. We were seated at a table by the bar, with the promise of a table closer to the floor when one became available. The music was decent, and it was a fun floor: men leading women, women leading men, women leading women, men leading men and a fair bit of intercambio – swapping roles within a tanda.
Steph cabeceod the guy in heels, and set off to lead him. Video to follow. She said it was fun, but they both decided to switch roles, so the next time I spotted them, Steph was following.
Things then went a bit downhill. There were a lot of announcements. Ian said some milongas were unfortunately like that: it was particularly ironic when the organiser spoke at length about the great community of people dancing together while they are stopping people doing just that.
Then it was the raffle. Then some demo dance of something vaguely Flamenco-ish. I was about to head home, when finally the next tanda began. Steph wanted no pivots at all by that stage. That quickly turned out to be academic as things got more and more crowded to the point where I wouldn’t have even had room for circular ochos. We had to make our dance smaller and smaller. At one point, we’d reduced it to tiny steps and weight changes.
Not everyone had adapted to the crowded conditions, however. Some were still doing rather out-of-control giros in open embrace. At one point one of them hit my back and still didn’t calm down. After the second song, I decided it was too dangerous to continue, so we headed back to the table to pay the bill and then make our escape. That turned out to be a good call as dancing then stopped again, this time for a performance (top photo). It looked fun, but we were there to dance rather than sit.
So: private, suit fitting and first hour of the planned milonga all ticked. And the suit was delivered to the hotel that evening as promised (photo tomorrow). But three extra milongas were added to the schedule. And it was 4am by the time I got to bed. Some three hours before I had to get out of it again …