Tango in lockdown: motivation, practice and confidence

Tango in lockdown

A lot of friends seem to be having similar experiences with the lockdown at present. There’s this idyllic theory, that we could be using all the extra time we have productively. Writing plays. Learning languages. Reorganising our homes. Doing tango technique exercises.

And then there’s the reality, which is not feeling the motivation to do any of these things …

I think it’s that everything feels so far away that, well, what’s the point? Why write a play when there’s no prospect of it being performed anytime in the foreseeable future? Why learn a language when travel is but a distant dream? Why practice tango technique when it feels hard to believe there’ll be any milongas anytime this year?

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that, in the fortnight since my last video private, I’d done exactly none of the technique exercises Fede and Julia carefully curated for me.

I mentioned last time another difference between theory and reality. People think I’m really lucky to have a tango dancer as my life-partner, that we can dance together all the time. The reality, not so much …

Steph and I are not remotely well-matched in terms of level, of course, and we also have very different musical tastes! It’s additionally very hard for Steph to resist the temptation to try to teach me, a phenomenon which is probably the leading cause of divorce in the tango community … All of which explains the fact that we normally dance only about once a month.

And that hasn’t changed – so I also hadn’t danced since last time.

We decided, then, to use the lesson to go back to basics. To spend some time doing the technique exercises I hadn’t done on my own, and to work on the embrace – ironically, by not using one.

We did three technique exercises:

  1. Dissociation while sat on a chair
    The great advantage of this is you can’t move your hips, so it isolates the abdomen and chest. Before, I’d done this with my linked hands out in front of me, but I found the problem with this is that I can’t tell when I’m cheating – moving my hands more than my chest. So this time, we did it with my hands on my chest, which I found way better.
  2. Dissociation-led pivots
    Dissociating as much as possible in one direction to build tension, then allowing the feet to turn to release it.
  3. Lapice into pivots
    Doing a lapice to the right, then changing weight to the right and doing a dissociation-led pivot as above. Then doing the same to the left.

After that, Steph and I danced, but with my arms at my sides and Steph’s hands on my chest. The idea was to really drive home leading with the chest, and to teach my body that my arms need play no part in the lead.

Given how rusty my dance was anyway, this was hard work at first. Fede and Julia were very reassuring about it. When we’re not dancing, we get rusty, that’s just a fact. But it also doesn’t take that much work to bring it back.

And they were right. With feedback from all three of them, it was soon working well. By the end of it, I was able to switch speeds back and forth, and do rapid changes of direction, including back-steps, with Steph – eyes closed – following it all. By the end of it, we were dancing.

That was a huge confidence boost. From feeling like I was nowhere with my dance to being able to actually dance, using only my chest. It was the lesson I needed.

I do need to dance, though, to motivate myself to put in the work. I’ve persuaded Steph to indulge me in a plan to dance every Friday. Just a tanda or two.

And we’ll see what the lockdown news is tomorrow. It won’t involve dance, for sure, but if it’s a step forward, then perhaps it becomes easier to see another step three weeks from now. There’s been talk of one future step allowing ‘small social bubbles’ – extending physical contact to perhaps one other household. Allowing people to hug. Which tango dancers will, of course, do in motion. That’s the dream right now.

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