My first in-person lesson in 4.5 months – and it was a great one!

Variations.jpg

I was shocked to look back in my blog and discover that it had been two months since my last virtual tango lesson, and a full 4.5 months since my last in-person one. Lockdown time flies by simply because there are so few events in our lives by which to measure time.

A friend has been raving about David and Kim Benitez for ages, and I’d been meaning to try a lesson with one or both of them. The gradual easing of lockdown rules provided the opportunity for at least a halfway-house lesson …

Teachers can’t dance with a student, as they have to maintain social distancing, but they can at least now watch and provide verbal feedback in person.

I’ll confess to opting to follow the spirit rather than the letter of the ‘social bubble’ rules, forming a bubble with a follower friend who lives alone so we could dance together. We’d practiced together a few times, the first feeling super-rusty, but gradually getting back into the feel of it. A lesson with David was, however, our first time dancing under the watchful eye of a teacher!

Variations, aka tango Tetris blocks

Wai Fong was happy just to get feedback on her following, rather than doing anything specific, so she left the lesson brief to me. I said that what I really wanted was small variations on things I already know, and David said that was no problem.

We started, of course, with the walk, and David already had a variation to offer. I tend to insert a slight pause in the walk, and he said that there are two places you can do this: at the end of the step, or as one foot passes the other.

Staccato pivots

We then moved onto pivots. I will quite often vary the pace of these, one example being a single-beat pivot in one direction and a two-beat pivot in the other. David said that as well as varying the speed of the pivot, you can also vary the feel. You could, for example, take four beats to lead a pivot, but instead of having it be a single slow turn, have it be four staccato quarters. Or you could begin a slow pivot, and accelerate. Or begin fast and decelerate.

Ochos without leader steps

Back when I’d been really struggling with dancing in small spaces, Diego showed me how to convert a forward ocho into a circular movement. I use that a lot, but although I turn within my own footprint, I do take tiny (turning) steps. The challenge David set me was to lead both forward and back ochos without moving my feet at all! This took some doing, but I got there.

An ocho cortado without leader steps!

Next was a bigger challenge: to lead an ocho cortado without stepping! I couldn’t figure that one out at all, but he then had me try one normal one and then a second one without stepping. With a bit of hinting, I got this one:

  • In the cross, I give a bit of a lifting sensation to prevent my follower changing weight
  • I then pivot to the left, and keep pivoting until she uncrosses and takes a back step around me
  • Then pivot right until she takes a step
  • Then pivot left back into the cross

When I was finally getting it right, that was a very, very nice movement, and a brilliant option when trapped in place in a milonga!

Ocho cortado with parada

Finally, David showed me another ocho cortado variation, with a parada:

  • Start with a normal one, but when I pivot the follower to the right, parada her right foot
  • From there, change her weight to the right while parada-ing her left foot, which will stop her moving into the cross
  • I can then play back-and-forth, with two possible resolutions:
    • Simply collect my feet and lead a cross as normal
    • Maintain the right-foot parada and lead her to step over

That too is really handy in crowded spaces, and a lovely way to play with the music.

The time simply whizzed by! We’ll have to see how much of it I can eventually put into practice in dance, but I really feel like I have some great new options. And for Wai Fong, it was great following practice, as all the variations meant she could never assume she knew what I was leading.

David was great at giving technique feedback to both of us, and doing so in bite-sized chunks, so we only ever had one thing at a time to worry about. Maintaining social distancing from us meant he couldn’t lead Wai Fong or back-lead me, but a combination of him demonstrating the movements on his own and verbal descriptions worked well. We’ve booked another lesson for next week.

Image: Shutterstock

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