A mystery solved, and five take-outs from a lesson which fried my brain

Five takeouts fried brain.jpg

David’s view of what I can manage is flattering, but not always entirely accurate! Cross-system always fries my brain, so a sequence involving crossing, uncrossing and then exiting in cross-system was never likely to end well – especially after I’d been woken at 4am by damned mosquitos and so was really tired.

I did, however, partly solve a mystery around this, and got five really useful things from the lesson …

I should stress that the sequences we play with are not the point. My brief to David at the outset was to help me understand principles, and to find variations on things I can already do. This is not about me learning the sequences we use, but rather using them to get a better understanding of what is possible and how things work.

I won’t even attempt to describe the one attempted in the first half of the lesson!

A mystery partly solved

But it did help explain one reason that crosses and cross-system tends to confuse me. I realised there are different approaches to teaching followers the cross, either between London schools or at different levels within schools. Some followers have been taught that anytime they do a cross, they should automatically change weight ready to walk out of it. Others are taught not to change their weight unless that change is led. So a follower may or may not change weight after a cross, and often I can’t tell whether they have.

Of course, there is a simple solution to being unsure where a follower’s weight is: lead a change of weight so I do know where it is because I put it there. But that takes an extra beat, so feels clunkier, and somehow doesn’t seem as simple where crosses are involved. Sometimes I feel like I’m taking the follower off-axis when I try to lead an unnecessary change of weight.

David has given me a solo exercise to do which he thinks will help resolve this one: doing a series of side-to-side leader crosses with changes of weight so that I get a feel for the follower’s experience with it. This also serves as an excellent balance exercise, so I shall be doing it religiously this week!

A solution for cross-system confusion

To make things easy for my simple tango brain, I’ve always avoided walking in cross-system (despite Fede’s best efforts to persuade me otherwise!). But if a cross gets confused, I can find this happening inadvertently. David had a simple solution for this.

Since it is apparent from the first forward step, just turn that into a rebound, lead a change of weight and then walk out in parallel system. Perfect.

Refining my simple volcada

I know lessons are helping me understand principles when I can take a sequence and then figure out a simpler version. I was able to do that with the volcada, taking David’s sequence, eliminating the initial pivot and instead start from a side-step.

I was able to successfully lead this with Steph, without her knowing what I was going to do, but it still felt wobbly. I showed it to David who had a solution to that:

  • Side-step to left
  • Lifting sensation (which can be quite subtle)
  • Back-step on my right foot (which Wai Fong encouraged me to make bigger)
  • Side-step on my left foot
  • Forward step on my right foot, leading the cross

Although this is one extra step, it’s a better option as the sideways swing for the cross is very clear for the follower, and it’s easier for me to maintain my balance.

The power of simple back-and-forth movements

A variation on the volcada above is to not collect in the forward step, but simply to transfer my weight, which then makes it possible to play back-and-forth with the leg swing.

David always draws attention to these opportunities for back-and-forth movements, for example the two points at which you can do this in an ocho-cortado. I know from pre-lockdown experience that many followers really like this – it often elicits a smile.

This is such a simple way to add variety to a small vocabulary, and a lovely way to play with this music. I need to make this a conscious focus when dancing until it starts to become second nature.

A new sweeping movement

The sequence David showed me in the first half of the lesson included a lovely sweeping movement for the follower. Something like a cross between a boleo and a planeo. I asked David what would be the best term for this and he said ‘circular movement’ – heh!

I asked his help in finding a simple way to lead just that movement, and it was indeed delightfully simple:

  • Side-step to the left
  • Lifting sensation to signal for the follower to remain on her right leg
  • Step around the follower to the right
  • Which leads her to sweep her leg backwards
  • Collect and over-pivot her into a forward ocho

Learning about follower decorations

I’ve mentioned before that David is really good at giving equal attention to leader and follower in these lessons, so I’ve been able to pay attention to the feedback and suggestions he offers to Wai Fong.

A lot of this is about how the follower can take the basic movement led by the leader, and turn it into something prettier. An example is in the volcada, all that is being lead is for the free leg to swing forwards and then backwards into the cross. But the follower can use a pointed foot to add a whole new level of elegance to this movement.

Eavesdropping on these suggestions gives me a better understanding of how a follower might embellish a movement, and also provides at least the inkling of some ideas about how to apply the same principles to leader movements. That will mostly be some way off in the future – I have enough to think about at present – but it’s good to have some sense of future opportunities for refinement.

Tango is an unpredictable thing. Immediately after the lesson, I wasn’t feeling great about it. The initial sequence was too complicated, and it underlined how confused I get about cross-system. It was only when I came to write the blog post that I realised just how much I’d learned from it. I’m really look forward to practicing on Sunday!

Image: Shutterstock

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