A fabulous lesson as always, and some (likely explicable) magic at Tango Terra


Things have been pretty non-stop of late, and I did briefly consider skipping the class to just go to the milonga – but I’m so glad I didn’t! 

The Thursday intermediate class is always excellent, and tonight we started with what had to be the most ironic exercise ever for me …

“You can dance whatever you like, but dance everything at half your usual speed.”

I laughed, and thought, ‘Luis, have you seen me dance?!’ As anyone who has danced with me anytime in the last six months or so will know, I am Mr Slow Tango. I take time to settle into the embrace, I generally dance at half speed, I like to linger in the ochos to the lyrical sections, and an increasing proportion of my dance is suspensions. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to dance at half my usual speed!

But it was. I danced the rhythmical sections to every fourth beat, and in the lyrical sections, a single ocho took an entire phrase. It was challenging balance-wise but great fun!

We then continued work on the same sequence we’ve been working on the past couple of weeks, this time completing it – or one particular version of it, anyway. The full sequence was:

  • Back ocho to the left
  • Start leading a back ocho to the right, but …
  • Do a leader-only change of weight and then a reverse Americana
  • Side-step slightly around the follower without leading a change of weight for her, then …
  • Pivot her 270 degrees into a new back ocho to the left
  • And a back ocho to the right, but this time …
  • Step around behind her (ie. lead a contra-giro)
  • Pivot to face her
  • Resolve with a circular forward ocho*

*Actually, there are a bunch of possible resolutions. I found that one worked best, but we experimented with a few different options.

Again, the full sequence isn’t the point – though it did work very well and feel very nice. But two of the elements seemed to me ones I might want to use.


  • Start leading a back ocho to the right, but …
  • Do a leader-only change of weight and then a reverse Americana
  • Side-step slightly around the follower while not leading a change of weight for her, then …
  • Pivot her 270 degrees into a new back ocho to the left

And second:

  • A back ocho to the right, but …
  • Step around behind her (ie. lead a contra-giro)
  • Pivot to face her

Both are ways of introducing variety to back ochos, which are my second-favourite movement after walking. I decided to see if I could use one or both in the milonga.

Tango Terra time – and some kind of magic has occurred!

Let me start with some context. I think it’s rather obvious context, but I just need to make sure we’re on the same page first …

I have my favourite milongas, and my favourite followers in them. Go to the same milongas often enough, and you get known. Getting known gets you dances. (At most milongas, leaders are also in the fortunate position of being out-numbered by followers, which gets me dances above my pay-grade, but Tango Terra is actually usually very well-balanced.)

‘Favourite followers’ tends to mean a few different things for me. One, they really enjoy slow, simple dance. Two, they have a lot of presence in the embrace. Three, they fully play their own part in expressing the music and the slow-motion world we’re enjoying – like those lingering ochos and leisurely step-overs from paradas. (Liking them as people helps too, of course, but I do have a few with whom I’ve never had a conversation.)

That’s, then, a compatibility thing. I love to dance with followers who love the same things I do: a comfortable embrace, leisurely dance, simplicity, musicality, and a complete indifference to anything that doesn’t work out. And so they in turn love to dance with me.

But I’ve never made the mistake of believing my own PR. I know the mutual warmth and enthusiasm expressed is about compatibility, not because I’m an amazing dancer. I’m a good dancer for people who like my kind of dance and who are mostly at a level where my technique seems decent – as well as for better dancers who value mutually-satisfying style above pure ability.

Some kind of magic

But tonight, something new happened. In addition to my favourite followers, I was getting very focused miradas from lots of followers I didn’t recognise. Way more than I could possibly accept.

I don’t think that was due to any imbalance between leaders and followers – the times when almost everyone was on the dance floor, there didn’t appear to be many spare followers or leaders.

I got three clues. One friend said she’d been watching me dance on Tuesday, and my footwork looked really neat. That came as a great surprise to me, as I’ve always felt it was something that was rather messy unless I consciously focus on it – which I don’t, much, in milongas. But I have been working on it in lessons and practicas, so it seems the work is paying off.

Another follower tonight said my previous follower had a dreamy smile on her face as we came past. I smiled at that myself, remembering early dances with Steph where she would frown a lot at whatever I was getting wrong at the time – and I’d have to point out she wasn’t exactly helping my tango reputation! I gave her strict instructions that she was to look blissful at all times, even if I was treading on her toes at the time.

Another follower said I’d been recommended by her friend.

The likelihood is that this is all perfectly prosaic. I’m finally getting my feet roughly where they belong. My favourite followers smile when they dance with me because we’re compatible dancers. And followers who like my style of dance recommend me to friends with similar tastes. No actual magic required. But I don’t care: it still felt magical!

A few other notes

I danced with a friend from the class, and we actually ended up doing the same quarter-speed dance I’d done in the exercise at the start of the lesson! It was a really lovely dance, despite occasional wobbles.

The real test of a lead is always leading something with a follower who doesn’t know the steps. A friend couldn’t make the last couple of classes, so didn’t know the contra-giro part at all, but I was able to lead it and she was able to follow it perfectly fluidly. I also led it with a couple of other followers who weren’t in the class, and with them too it worked beautifully. This is now part of my milonga vocabulary, so one of my bullet points got de-italicised tonight.

Finally, I risked truly improvised steps in two tandas. One milonga that was so fast I had two options: do the 6-step pattern the whole time, or take my life in my hands and make stuff up at milonga speeds. The latter had worked once before, in BsAs, and it did again tonight.

I also tried it in a faster tango tanda. There were a couple of bumps, but was 98% successful.

This is all so good, the tango gods must surely be preparing me for a fall – literal or otherwise. I’m already tempting them with a brand new milonga tomorrow: The Mercer. Perhaps that will be another Carablanca, where I won’t even want to dance. If so, there will be no complaints from me: it will be followed (after my next private) by Sunday’s Tango Terra!

Image: Shutterstock

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