Making lemonade under lockdown


We’ve decided to make the lessons with David a weekly fixture during the tango famine, working on that same mix of technique, and variations on things I already know how to do.

We worked this week on the planeo …

I’ve done a few related versions, of which the simplest is one Fede and Julia taught me. The other is similar, but a side-step with parada, and then swinging the follower into the planeo from there. What both have in common is beginning with a backward pivot into a forward planeo.

David started with a couple of basic technique reminders:

  • Make sure the follower has taken her step before lowering the height
  • But also make sure she can’t change her weight

Next, he worked on my posture: ensuring that I didn’t lean toward the follower, just straight down and then straight up. That also made it much easier to raise myself back up in a slow, smooth and elegant way that results in the follower automatically and neatly collecting.

(David is, by the way, really great at giving equal attention to leader and follower during lessons, so he had just as much feedback for Wai Fong as for me, but that would be for her to share should she choose, even if I were capable of remembering both. But I will share one piece of excellent advice: never apologise! If you make a mistake, just leave it to the leader to resolve it from there. That’s such good advice. And you’re doing me a favour: if you make a mistake, I’m going to assume I messed up the lead, and if I’m able to resolve it smoothly, I’ll figure that you never even knew and be proud of myself!)

Planeo from a forward pivot

It was then time for the first variation: a forward pivot into the planeo. Same technique:

  • Lead a forward ocho
  • When the follower steps, stop before she transfers her weight
  • Lower her height to signal the planeo
  • Lead the pivot
  • Parada her left foot with my left foot

This was hilarious. Things I’ve done with a parada to date involve being quick – getting the parada in early enough to signal to the follower that she needs to stop. So I was initially rushing the parada, which resulted in all kinds of confusion.

What David pointed out was obvious in hindsight: not only is the planeo (usually) a slow movement, but the follower isn’t going to do anything beyond contacting the leader’s standing leg – so there is all the time in the world for the parada. Indeed, I could even wait for the leg contact and then do the parada. That might not look very elegant, but it would work.

David commented that my right foot position for the parada was great, while my left one … wasn’t. I said the right-foot parada was something I used a lot, a left-foot one rarely. He echoed Laura’s advice: everything that can be done to one side can be done to the other. So it’s just a question of practicing left-foot paradas until that feels as natural as right-foot ones.

Dancing the corrections

He also echoed Bridgitta’s advice about dancing the corrections: when my left foot wasn’t in the correct place, just move it there to the beat. And then something that might not otherwise look elegant can be turned into something that does.

He also reminded me about last week’s lesson, varying the pace and style of my ochos, and how this can apply equally to planeos. Fast(er) ones, slow ones, accelerating ones, decelerating ones, ones where I play back-and-forth before completing them and so on.

The final piece of the puzzle was David’s suggestion that I could change the follower’s height without changing mine. I couldn’t figure out how, especially as he said it’s not really about moving my arms, but I eventually found that kind of lifting then relaxing my shoulders worked.

I need a lot of practice at this, but I know what I’m aiming for, and I know that it will gradually come together. David videoed our final practice song, and I have to say it didn’t look terrible.

Making lemonade under lockdown

When I was doing no dancing at all, Steph had been reassuring me that it will all come back. Indeed, she’d said during a flu-induced hiatus back in December that sometimes a break can be exactly what is needed, enforced or not.

And while I don’t feel my dance is yet back to the level of fluidity I had before the lockdown, and I have definitely forgotten half the figures I used to know, that has had a distinct upside.

After my trip to Buenos Aires, I realised I needed a new approach to my privates. I needed to approach my learning not from the perspective of adding figures to my repertoire, but from the other end: understanding the smallest elements possible, and figure out ways to connect them.

Maeve broke this down into direction (pivot) and space (step), with changes in height as another variable. She said you can lead direction first – pivot the follower before a step; lead space first – lead a step before a pivot; or both together. The pivot can be either direction and any degree of rotation. The step can be forward, back, left, right or diagonal. And the same for each subsequent movement – the same possibilities exist

Playing with the individual lego pieces, not preformed chunks.

And I realised tonight that I’ve made some real progress there. Some of the things I do in dance are not figures, they are either completely freeform moves, or sequences I’ve put together for myself. Sure, countless others will have done them before me, and there are probably names for some or all of them, but that’s not the point: for me, they were improvisation, not rote learning.

And these lessons with David are the perfect way to build on this. The things I’m doing with him are his suggestions for variations, but the bigger picture here is that he’s giving me more ideas about what’s possible in truly improvised dance.

Life can be funny like that. I would never have chosen to take a break from dancing. I would never have chosen to make even a temporary switch from Fede and Julia as my primary teachers. In both cases, circumstances dictated events. But both have worked out in my favour all the same. (After lockdown, I’ll keep David in the mix – I get very different things from the different teaching styles.)

The coronavirus crisis has very little to commend it, but sometimes when life hands you lemons, it also provides a recipe for lemonade.

Image: Shutterstock

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