An amazing private, a lovely dinner and two last milongas

Laura

Private lesson 3 with Laura Heredia

My third and final private was another with Laura, and it was an absolutely amazing one! Half of it was devoted to technique, the other half to more simple tools for use in crowded milongas and to give me more options for expressing the music.

We worked on the first step of the walk, aiming to get a vertical diagonal feel to it – pushing down into the floor with the standing foot while creating a rising sensation in the chest. Laura also had me try the Argentine style position with my left hand …

She said European dancers have the hand quite loose most of the time, while Argentine dancers tend to like more assertive presence in the hand, almost bending the follower’s wrist back somewhat. I’m surprised it’s comfortable for followers, but I do see it everywhere here, so when in Rome … It’s not something I’ll do in London, though.

Our goal was the same thing with pivots – more upward feeling. “You have it, that feeling, it’s about more of it.”

We also worked on my ocho cortado technique. Unlike Aurora, who wanted me to transfer my own weight into my right foot for the step to the side, Laura had me keep it on the left for faster ones. “Then there is no way the follower can mistake it and take an extra step, it’s impossible.”

With slow ones, she said the goal is to create a particular feeling in the follower’s body, moving fluidly from one direction to the other. “An S-shape,” I ventured. “Yes, that exactly.”

The other thing she wanted when gathering her back into the embrace was a feeling of my arm coming fully around her body. I’ve noticed Argentine followers bring their left hand further around my shoulders, and it feels more natural in turn to bring my right hand further around their back – a position you can see in the above photo. It will be interesting to see if that also feels natural with followers in London: if one of us embraces in that way, will the other match?

Then it was time to look at more simple things I can do to first add variety to my dance and second give me more flexibility when my intended direction is blocked. These were all more variations of the barrida.

She started out by observing that I always led it from the back ocho. “You don’t need that, just think about where you want me to be for the sandwichito and invite me directly there.” In other words, I can simply pivot her to the right from a standing start. That was one of those things that was blindingly obvious after it had been pointed out. And right away becomes something I can do in a very small space.

Second, she said the barrida into cross we did last time has two other possibilities. The way I was doing it was a diagonal step, which left room for the follower’s foot to move into a normal cross. But if I instead lead much more of a forward step, very close to the follower’s leg, then it becomes a very tight cross. I remain in the sandwich and pivot the follower into a tighter parada from there.

Although this is almost exactly the same movement, it feels very different for both leader and follower.

This was followed by something I’ve done before in a group lesson somewhere, but had forgotten about, probably because my technique at the time wasn’t up to it so it didn’t feel very fluid or natural. Today it did. It’s simply repeated barridas while walking around the follower. So barrida into normal cross, then I step around her with my left foot and repeat. End with a parada at any point. “Just don’t do 400 of them!”

I tried it, and with my half-speed dance, three plus the parada was perfect for one phrase of the music.

“And,” added Laura, “whatever you can do on one side, you can do on the other side.” I tried leading the sandwichito and barrida to the closed side of the embrace and it was much harder. Laura said the closed side might not be so easy, but that was just practice. I tried it again, and … magic happened! After I led the parada, I just instinctively turned counter-clockwise as Laura came toward me, and found myself leading a giro! It felt super-fluid and natural.

“Experiment,” she said. If a teacher shows me something on one side, try it on the other and see what happens. See what happens if I do only part of it, or if I keep going. See what feels like a natural thing to do next.

This is the perfect combination for me. Refining my technique, and working with small variations on things I already know how to do. Taking something I know, and adapting it in case I need to take us left instead of right, or to go further, or not as far. This is my idea of (London*) intermediate teaching.

*DNI has seven levels, and what is labelled ‘Intermediate’ in London is ‘Beginner 2’ here, which makes a lot more sense to me. In DNI terms, I sit somewhere in the 1-2 range.

Finally, having gone about 20 minutes over time, we danced one more song, with Laura asking me to include everything we’d done. It was great! A little more concentration on the ‘stuff’ than usual, but it was all easy to incorporate into dance. Laura gave me a delighted laugh and applause at the  end; she’s so sweet. I videoed in, and that will become my slightly belated official one-year video. I’m going to video one song a year so I can see my progress.

One last piece of advice for me. She said I know my style, and that’s great. But sometimes things may only be discovered when you try them faster. And that makes sense. My Diego-engineered turn, for example, requires some momentum to work well. So while I think my style will remain slow*, I will experiment.

*Ok, I now love milonga too, but I essentially think of that as a completely different dance that happens to share embrace and technique with tango.

I felt sad that will be my last lesson with her until next time, but once we schedule our next trip, I am definitely booking a whole bunch of lessons with her in advance of our arrival.

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Milonga 24: Milonga de Buenos Aires

I had a bit of downtime after the lesson – very much needed after less than three hours’ sleep last night – before heading out to another new milonga. This one was chosen on the basis of convenient location and timing, enabling me to get a very brief milonga fix before dinner. I was a little sceptical about the name, feeling it might be aimed at tourists, but Steph said no, they are very proud of their city, so I shouldn’t worry – and this was indeed the case.

I changed into my shoes, and the first tanda of my evening was a milonga. I did a medium range cabeceo, helped by good lighting at the tables. It’s always great to get a dance straight away, not just because it’s frustrating to sit when you want to be dancing, but also because many followers want to see you dance before they will accept your cabeceo.

Sure enough, I got another dance right away, and two more after that. I think followers work on the basis that if you can avoid treading on your follower’s toes or falling over during a milonga, you’ll at least be safe …

Unfortunately, four tandas (having sat out one I didn’t like) was all I had time for. I should have come earlier. I think I caused some confusion leaving so quickly as I was clearly enjoying myself and had followers from a nearby table trying to cabeceo me as I was changing my shoes. I tapped my watch, shrugged and smiled, hoping that conveyed the message.

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Dinner with Iona Italia and Pablo

We’d arranged to have dinner with Iona, and a friend of hers, Pablo. We’d originally wanted to go to Don Julio, but they don’t take bookings and a table for four was likely to involve a lot of hanging around, so we opted instead for Uco, on Iona’s recommendation.

I don’t normally do the ‘Instagramming your dinner’ thing, but this was really wow.

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This was truly fabulous food and wine in beautiful garden surroundings. A two-course dinner for four, with a ‘well into page two of the Malbec list’ wine, came to less than £100.

We were going on to Dos Orillas, which was advertised as having live music, but when we got there it had no such thing, and was pretty dead. We headed on instead to a milonga that had been recommended by one of my follower’s yesterday.

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Milonga 25: Yira Yira

It was by now after midnight, but tonight was our last night in BsAs, and the flight tomorrow would be an overnight one, so a brief visit seemed reasonable.

Steph was resting her foot, and I said I’d be happy with a single nice tanda. I had to roam the room a little to find a follower to cabeceo as our table wasn’t ideal, but then had a very enjoyable tanda with a local woman. That was a good way to end the trip for me, but she said her friend would love to dance with me too. However, her friend wasn’t paying any attention, and Steph was ready to leave, so we hopped in a cab back to the hotel.

And that, unless we manage a Stranda at the airport, completes the trip!

I’ll write another blog post at the airport or on the plane reflecting on the experience, but the executive summary is I am head over heels in love with this city, and can’t wait to return.

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