They make long hours at this time of the year

Why does no-one ever believe me when I say I’m only staying for the first hour of a milonga?

Today was the final Tango Space workshop of the year, a one-hour one billed as lessons Pablo and Anne had learned from their students, followed by Prosecco and mince pies – then the monthly Browns milonga …

The workshop was a fun mix. It included sharing something useful we’d learned or discovered; sharing our one-word goal for next year (I said collaboration but am actually making it improvisation as that’s my bigger challenge right now); air-playing the different instruments in the band; and each dancing through a narrow corridor of students.

Next up was Prosecco and mince pies for an hour of socialising. It was good to have some dedicated time for this, and to celebrate how far we’ve all come.

Then it was the milonga.

I’d previously found the Saturday Tango Space milonga to be more formal and crowded than the Tuesday ones, but with more experience now of dancing in small spaces, I thought it was going to be interesting to see how it compared. The answer was: well!

Some tasters …

It was really nice to dance with some fellow students I’ve know for a long time, with a whole bunch of us somewhere around the one-year mark, now dancing at a grown-up milonga and feeling comfortable doing it. It felt like an opportunity to acknowledge each other’s progress.

I felt almost completely relaxed doing simple steps and ochos, the occasional giro, in really crowded tandas.

‘Almost’ simply because the milonga does seem to attract a few wannabe performers who are oblivious to everyone else, and keep spinning in circles when a huge gap has opened up in front of them. I wouldn’t have any qualms now about overtaking people who do this, but there was no room to do so. But that was slightly annoying rather than actively frustrating the way it would once have been; I was still able to dance in place.

I danced with a friend who said I was now really good at dancing in small spaces. That was good to hear. All that practice in BsAs had done its job.

On that broader point, and my shifted balance between lessons and milongas, a number of experienced dancers have endorsed that approach, saying there are things you can only learn in a milonga, and that’s absolutely proven the case for me. It’s important to keep doing lessons too, of course, so I get active help in identifying and fixing technique issues, but I think my balance is right.

There was one thing that stood out for the wrong reason: a follower friend who said one leader had made her feel like her dancing was bad. I said to her that this was a comment on him rather than her. Tango is a partner dance, not a solo one. It’s a leader’s job to adapt to the follower’s dance, whether that’s limiting figures to ones the follower knows (not an issue I often have!), making the lead clearer, or just slowing down and keeping it simple. If they don’t do this, they’re not a good dancer, no matter how impressive their own skills.

We had a couple of really lovely tandas, and fortunately she had the same enjoyable experience with another leader friend.

I was selective with music, but the shared DJing was great, and I did a lot of dancing. More tandas dancing than sitting for sure. Most of my dancing was with regular followers, but I also danced with some less familiar ones, and a few tandas with strangers.

One of these, a very nice one, was a German visitor. She had lived in Argentina and was returning to visit family for the first time in several years, so we swapped notes on milongas there.

I did have one frustrating experience: there was some wonderful music late in the evening, when a lot of people had left, and I couldn’t see any free follower I knew or had seen dancing. So I cabeceo’d a woman at random.

For some reason, her ochos seemed to be about 1.5 beats long. I tried slowing them to two beats, without success. I tried listening out to see if I could hear her dancing to another instrument, but nothing seemed to match. Any other music, I would have been less bothered, but this was a tanda of four wonderful songs! I mean, it wasn’t terrible or anything, it just felt like a waste of one of the best tandas.

Fortunately, I had the perfect antidote to this. I spotted a friend just as a Pugliese tanda was beginning. She said she’d promised the next tanda to someone, and we’d dance later. I thought she meant she’d promised this one, but it turned out not: she’d thought this one was just about to end. That cleared up, we had an absolutely amazing tanda. She’s a really beautiful dancer, we’re very compatible in expressing this kind of music, and dancing with her really feels like a conversation. Perfect.

So ok, yes, I did dance through to La Cumparsita at midnight, but that’s just because they make hours long at this time of the year. Four times longer than usual, to be precise.

Image: Shutterstock

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