A somewhat ambitious private that I think paid off

Regular readers will know that I am a bear of little brain when it comes to steps. That’s one of the reasons I don’t really pay much attention to sequences – it takes me an age to get the hang of them, and there’s zero chance I’d be able to do them in a milonga, even if there was room and it worked with the music.

My ‘lego block’ approach to learning – where I try to understand the individual components, and play with those – works far better for me. But tonight I did want to have a go at a short sequence …

There were two reasons for this. First, I’d seen it – or some variation of it – numerous times in performances, and always loved the look of it. Second, I was pretty sure if I could understand how it worked, that would spark other ideas.

The sequence is this cross into planeo:

The fact that I’m illustrating the movement with a video of Asia and I during the lesson is itself testament to how well I felt the lesson went. Not that it’s perfect – I’m focusing so much on what is to come that the crosses fail to live up to my earlier preparatory ones – but I feel like we’re clearly on the path to a decent version.

Getting that far took some work, and that brings me back to something I’m sure I’ve said before …

My occasional semi-rant about the cross

My view is that the cross is actually a really advanced move that is presented to beginners way too early.

Leading and following a cross well requires a lot of technique in order to be able to control each individual element: the preparation, the cross itself (as a continuous movement rather than a ‘snap’ one) and the weight change at the end if desired.

What happens in beginner classes is leaders are given this fixed set of steps, and followers are taught to recognise these steps and to cross – but it all happens on auto-pilot.

That would be absolutely fine if teachers said ‘Listen, this is a cheat that will work for now’ and then came back to it later. But I haven’t seen that happen, it seems to be something where intermediate classes just assume everyone knows how to lead and follow the cross – whereas the reality is everyone knows how to go through the motions of a cross, but leaders haven’t been taught how to actually lead it, and followers haven’t been taught how to actually follow it.

This only becomes an issue when a leader wants to lead some variation on the standard cross. For example, continuing in cross system an extra couple of steps, or leading the cross very slowly. At that point, leaders discover the gap between the classic steps and actually leading it, and followers tend to go onto auto-pilot.

All of which became very relevant in tonight’s lesson, which requires a variation on the classic cross, and full control of the follower’s movements throughout.

Cross into planeo

This isn’t a complex sequence. In essence, it is:

  • Lead a cross
  • Lead a planeo

But there’s a fair bit to it in terms of technique. First, the planeo requires an open embrace, so you need to open the embrace during the cross. Second, you really want a sense of momentum during the cross. Third, you need to lead the weight change and then move smoothly into the planeo so that it feels seamless. Finally, having opened the embrace, you then need to close it again.

So the above two bullets become:

  • Lead the side-step
  • Slide my right hand around to her shoulder in preparation for opening the embrace
  • Lead the follower to take larger steps than me to open the embrace
  • Lead the cross such that the embrace is now fully open
  • Lead the follower’s weight change and immediately …
  • Step around her and bend my right leg to create the extension for the planeo
  • Pivot, while simultaneously moving my left foot to contact her standing foot
  • Lift myself back up toward the end of the planeo
  • Pull from my right hip to lead her into my space, not around me
  • Close the embrace with a combination of that plus …
  • Take a bigger step than the follower when walking out

But the great thing about all that is that it requires attention to every component. For example, with a follower who can actually follow a cross (rather than moving on auto-pilot), I now feel confident I can lead a cross at any speed.

I also finally feel that it’s ended one of my great dilemmas over the cross: I never felt I knew whether I was leading too much or too little for any particular follower. Either I felt I was at risk of being too subtle for a beginner, or too exaggerated for an experienced follower.

But with the way Filippo broke down the actual lead of the cross, as a right-hand pivot into the follower’s side-step prior to the cross, then just pivoting my left shoulder away, I feel like I finally know how to make it clear to a less experienced follower without risk of being rough with an experienced one.

Next steps

I need to practice, of course. The real test, as ever, will be whether I can lead it with an unsuspecting follower.

But I feel confident. Not that I’ll necessarily do so first attempt, but that I know what I’m doing in terms of the key things I need to remember to make it work.

For now, though, Asia said it felt great by the end, and it did to me too. I’m always nervous about looking at video of myself, especially when something felt good, because there’s always the risk that it won’t look the way it felt. But in this case, I was pleasantly surprised! I need to get the sequence down well enough that I can focus on my cross technique, but I don’t think that should take too long.

Tango Terra tomorrow will provide an opportunity to see how it works in real life …

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