The healing power of tango, and musical hilarity

I’m currently awaiting a hospital referral for recurring abdominal pain which has left me largely out of action for the past month or so. The unpredictability of when the pain will strike, coupled to tiredness from broken sleep, has made it difficult to commit to anything in advance.

However, when a friend suggested an on-the-day decision to attend the Tango Amistoso class and practica, I decided to give it a go. By the time I got there, I was already questioning the wisdom of this decision …

I was already feeling tired and hot, so was just hoping I could last through the first hour of the class.

In normal times, Winston and Silvia have separate advanced and intermediate level classes. But with fixed partners, and fewer attending, they currently combine them into a single class. That means it starts with an intermediate-level sequence, and then adds in an advanced-level one.

Alessandra was also tired. My expectation, then, was that we’d do the intermediate part – about the first hour – and head home after that. This turned out not to be the case: we made it all the way through to the last tanda of the practica. Far from feeling exhausted, I felt energised.

The class often opens with walking, but with the followers determining the size and timing of the steps. It’s an exercise I like, though as both Alessandra and I walk to the phrases, it was kind of hard to tell who was leading!

Ganchos

The theme of the class was ganchos. I’m always conscious of the ‘men who gancho‘ phenomenon, so view them more as something for friends rather than strangers, and Winston also emphasised that leaders shouldn’t necessarily expect followers to want to do them with anyone. But it’s all grist to my ‘understanding tango possibilities’ mill.

The specific sequence we did was an ocho cortado into a gancho. In the follower’s side-step, contact her standing leg and then lead the cross movement as normal while lifting the toe of my right leg, bending the knee and relaxing the leg.

As both the ocho cortado and gancho were familiar to me, it wasn’t too difficult to get the hang of it – once I had a tip from Winston on keeping the follower close in the embrace for the side-step.

Next up was a double gancho. As above, then:

  • While pivoting to unwrap the gancho …
  • Track the follower’s left foot with my right foot
  • Use thigh contact on that leg to signal a gancho and continue the pivot into it

You can then switch back-and-forth as desired, and lead the normal cross to exit.

Silvia’s tip here was to lead a relatively small side-step, and very much around me, rather than out. That made a huge difference. After that, it was very easy to lead, though I think doing it in single-time would be challenging! Half-time worked really well, as did dancing it to the melody rather than the beat.

A challenge for the follower is not anticipating a second gancho, and following the cross to exit.

The advanced part of the class was a leader gancho. Essentially leading the first part of the ocho cortado, until the follower’s forward step, then:

  • Interrupt the step halfway with a sinking motion
  • Do <something> to lead the follower to point her foot and relax the knee
  • Aim to collect my feet level with the follower’s forward foot
  • Do a weight-change onto my left foot
  • Gancho the follower’s forward leg

I can’t recall what the something was, and I have no reason to enquire. The less said about my attempts to do this, the better. But hey, at least I gave it a go! I think actually pulling it off requires excellent technique, very precise awareness of foot position, and great visualisation of the position of the follower’s legs. Lacking these things, it isn’t something I have any ambitions to attempt, but it’s still useful understanding of the possibilities. However theoretical they may be!

Practica, with musical hilarity

The practica commenced, and we practiced the ganchos. I mixed-and-matched them with the normal ocho cortado, and varied the number of ganchos before the exit, to test my lead. By the end of it, I felt completely comfortable with the movement.

During the practica, the speaker sounded really terrible to me. Not long after that, we learned the reason: it’s a dual-powered one, battery and mains, and the mains lead had failed while the battery ran down. Silvia dashed home on her bike to fetch another, while someone put their phone on maximum volume on a chair in the centre of the room.

While no-one was talking, that actually worked surprisingly well – but failed as soon as some of those sitting started talking. There’s a piano in the room, and Shaun had the idea of playing along with the phone. He did so impressively, but as soon as he started playing, he could no longer hear the phone.

The recorded and live music got further and further out of sync, which made dancing … interesting! Fortunately Silvia soon returned with a cable, and normal service was resumed.

All being well, we’re going to do next week’s class.

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