I have dim and distant memories of learning the contra-giro, but my only memory of actually using it is at Tango on the Thames with Steph and having a fantastic time just winging it!
I tried this during yesterday’s practice session, and it worked beautifully once, reasonably well other times and badly a couple of times! So tonight I decided to make that the focus of the lesson …
Refining my giro
I lead a couple of giros in the warm-up dance, and David had some feedback to offer each of us on those.
Sometimes different teachers appear to offer contradictory advice. Sometimes it is contradictory – there are many different approaches to the same things, and everyone has their own preferences; sometimes it seems contradictory until you figure out that they are in fact saying the same things in different ways; and other times it’s about levels: you teach one approach at one level, and the opposite one at the next level.
I think tonight it was about levels. Fede has emphasised matching my steps in the pivot to those of the follower as she does the giro. He said it didn’t matter what steps I did, but he wanted me to at least change weight to match every step taken by my follower, so we were always in sync.
That was great advice, preventing me getting ahead of my follower, which is what tends to happen when I’m focused on learning something. So my normal approach to the giro is step back and left to start, then collect on the next step – then repeat for the follower’s next two steps.
What David wanted me to do was just pivot. No steps. Which is fine if you have a rubber body, as David does. He can lead a full giro just by pivoting his torso, then following with his hips in one fluid movement on the follower’s final step.
My body is not made of rubber: it’s mostly made of empanadas, Malbec and tea. But David had me try it, to see how far through the giro I could twist my torso without my hips following. He reckoned it was 2.5 of Wai Fong’s steps; I reckon he’s a flatterer. But certainly two steps was do-able.
So in theory I could do that: pivot my torso for two steps, pivot my hips and feet, repeat.
I say in theory because I’m not 100% convinced I could remain in sync with the follower with that approach: I am very used to using my own steps to track hers. But it’s certainly something to try, and see how well it works.
David then took it a step further, with foot placement that was the exact opposite of what I was doing. I could get the theory, and it looked good, but that was definitely a step too far for me!
Variations on my giro
You can, of course, enter a giro from any follower’s step: side-step, forward step or back step. As I’m a bear of little step brain, anytime there are multiple possibilities, I tend to find one that works and stick to it. My habitual entry to the giro is from the side-step, which David liked.
But since these lessons are all about exploring variations, David had me try it from each other step. Which actually seemed easy. I think I struggled with the giro for so long that the last thing I wanted to do was mess with something that (finally!) worked. But I seemed to have made enough connections that it immediately made sense from any step.
The contra-giro: like the giro, but to the right …
If you’re an experienced tango dancer, that sub-head will be ‘Well, duh!’ – but it was actually something of a lightbulb moment. I think the first version I tried was stepping around the follower, and for some reason I had this idea that the contra-giro differed in that way.
But David had me begin it in each of the ways we entered the giro, and … it didn’t feel any different.
Well, that’s not quite true: it felt less familiar, and I felt less in my axis, but the principle didn’t feel any different. That’s ‘just’ a question of practice.
Real and fake paradas
When it came to entering the contra-giro from the back ocho, David initially showed me an entry which began with a parada (like my usual entry to the sandwich), but then I kept opening my torso as the invitation to the follower to step over.
However, Wai Fong did what followers are taught to do with a parada: stop! David explained to her that if the leader kept opening, then she should keep pivoting, which would require her to step over my foot. That made sense in theory, but in practice I think any other follower at our level would do exactly what Wai Fong did: instantly turn into a statue. So I wasn’t all all convinced this would work.
David solved this with the concept of the ‘fake parada.’ I would do the same step, but a shorter one that didn’t contact the follower’s foot, so the follower wouldn’t be aware of it, and would then follow the torso. Wai Fong still found the fake parada off-putting, so David had her close her eyes – and then it worked.
As the contra-giro is less familiar, I need to work on my footwork – whether following the Fede or David approach – but that’s again about practice.
Once I had the giro and contra-giro working from any step, David had me play with variations.
The first was giro into contra-giro via a snappy pivot: reversing the follower’s back ocho into a forward ocho. I found a way to do this which worked and felt good. I think it has an unnecessary element which I can remove, but I’ll need to try that on Sunday to see.
Next was exiting the giro with a planeo! If you’d said those words to me before the lesson, I would have stuck my fingers in my ears and done the ‘la-la-la’ thing, because it would have sounded complicated. Only now it didn’t. Wait for a back ocho, then lower the follower’s height and turn it into a planeo.
I lead planeos by lowering my height too, which definitely doesn’t meet with David’s approval! He wants me to lower the follower’s height without changing my own. We did this previously, and it does make sense, but it’s still a lot to think about in the moment, and I’m not convinced subtle hand signals would work with followers of my own level (if you’ll excuse the pun). But it’s something to work on.
The planeo could instead be a boleo, just with a change of pace.
Next was a leg sacada into a planeo. I was convinced I didn’t know or couldn’t remember how to do this. David asked me to do it anyway, and it seemed I did know or could recall. Basically insert my hip during the follower’s side-step to the left, then lead the planeo as usual.
That was followed by leading a forward planeo. I’m still a bit vague on those, but I get the basic idea; it’s again a step too far at this point, but the theory makes sense.
Finally, a giro into a volcada! Which was:
- Lead a giro as usual
- Do a leg sacada in the follower’s side-step
- Provide a lifting sensation
- Lean toward her as I do a back step …
- Then side step to left …
- Then forward step
Amazingly, on the second attempt, this worked. On the third attempt, it worked well!
This is coming together!
These lessons are working so well! I’m really making connections. Combining movements in this kind of way is now starting to feel obvious.
Of course, doing it in a lesson and doing it in dance are two very different things. I still have my comfort zone when dancing, and I’d have to consciously decide to use these new ideas. But, as I’ve done before, choosing one thing at a time and working on that until it becomes habitual will be the key.
We had a great practice session yesterday, mostly just dancing, but specifically incorporating a few of the new things. I’m really excited by the progress I’m making, and the possibilities I see ahead.
David is the right teacher at the right time, and Wai Fong an unusual follower in that she really listens to the instructions for the leader and can help me make sense of it. Now we just need some milongas …