The back cross, and the power of not thinking

Long enough ago that I can’t find my blog post about it, I did a group class with Winston and Silvia on the back cross. Since then, my hit-rate on leading it has been somewhere around 50%, so decided it would be good to work on this during tonight’s private with Filippo.

Janet said she has no real preferences in what we do – her focus is purely on posture and technique, and she can do that whatever the topic …

Actually, that isn’t quite true, as she did have a request for a future lesson: working on milonga! That will be great for me too, since it involves something I feel I struggle with: changes of speed.

To be precise, followers follow perfectly when I do it (for example, from the normal walk into double-speed walk and back), and they tell me my lead is fine when I mention it, but it always feels rushed and awkward to me. So since we’d agreed to do that next week, I thought I ought to try a little of it in our warm-up dances tonight.

Since Janet followed perfectly as ever, and Filippo expressed his pleasure at seeing it, it appears that – for that particular change – what I have to work on is purely what goes on inside my head … But double-time in milonga is a whole other thing, so we’ll see what happens next week!

A reminder of a simple sandwich option

Filippo noted that I only entered a sandwich from a back ocho. He then showed another option, which is simply to pivot the follower backwards to my right, and go straight into the sandwich. He said this was an excellent option for crowded milongas.

I then remembered that Laura in BsAs had told me the same thing. Somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten this. Which also reminded me that she was the inspiration behind something which is now absolutely integral to my learning process:

“Experiment,” she said. If a teacher shows me something on one side, try it on the other and see what happens. See what happens if I do only part of it, or if I keep going. See what feels like a natural thing to do next.

While practicing this, for example, I tried it on the left as well as the right. It was harder to remain balanced, but it did work.

Back cross

The version of the back cross I knew was a left side-step, leader-only change of weight, then aiming to lead the cross itself entirely with the chest. I tried it with Janet, and nothing happened.

Filippo confirmed that the torso-only lead is possible, but rather advanced. So instead he had me do this:

  • Side-step to the left
  • Leader-only change of weight
  • Forward step with my left foot, only to the mid-point
  • Create a back-and-right movement with my chest
    as I step forward with my right foot and collect*

*It was easiest to start this as a small side-step, but then I quickly got the hang of creating the sideways feeling without actually moving sideways myself.

We didn’t, however, get to this right away. We first worked on leading the follower into a linear boleo behind her, which is the first part of the movement. Filippo then had me work on mixing-and-matching a lead for a linear boleo with a lead for Janet to collect. That was a really useful tool for understanding the momentum needed, but also as a general precision exercise.

Once I could lead both reliably, Filippo then introduced the sideways element of the movement. We initially did this as a side-step, then reduced my sideways element until I was only collecting.

Challenges

One challenge was to actually collect, and not end up with my right foot behind my left one. Another was to avoid any element of pivot in the side-step, as that would make leading the cross much harder.

A third, and really interesting, challenge was timing. With some movements, the leader has complete control of the timing. With others, like ochos or giros, the leader can signal a desired speed, but we actually have to follow the follower during the movement itself.

With the back cross, in the simplest case, I want the follower to land in the cross on the beat. But I don’t have control of the landing, only the ‘throwing’ of the leg, as it were. (Fun fact: the word boleo comes from the verb bolear – to throw.)

My job, then, is to create the right amount of momentum to have the leg swing naturally out and back, with the landing on the beat. It’s like throwing a discus but aiming to control not just the direction but also the timing of the landing.

This is as tricky as it sounds, but Filippo did go on to say that the follower has some responsibility here too. That although the ideal is that the natural pendulum swing of the leg would have it land in perfect time, the follower is expected to play her role in adjusting the swing to match – it just helps if the leader gets the timing close enough that the adjustment is a tiny one.

The cross completed, we are then in cross-system. While I have tiny forays into cross-system, it still makes my brain melt, so my initial aim with any cross-system movement is to return to parallel asap!

I initially did the simplest possible thing: a leader-only change of weight as Janet landed. Filippo spotted this and veto’d it as he wanted me to remain in cross-system for the moment. Damn.

He showed me a couple of more interesting resolutions, one of which was a cross-system cross, the other of which was … something else. My brain is confused by cross system at the best of times, let alone toward the end of a lesson.

We danced a song using lots of back crosses. Which proved interesting … Every time I tried to think it through, and come up with a plan for switching systems, it failed. Every time I just ‘did something’ and didn’t worry about it, the switch took care of itself.

Afterwards, I realised that all I have to do is lead a step to a collect, then a leader-only change of weight, and off we go. Although I was open to Filippo’s aim of taking advantage of cross system to try something new, I first needed the comfort factor of having an easy resolution – otherwise I’d be scared to try it in a milonga.

So we can return to this another time.

Asia arrived for her private after ours, and I borrowed her to find out whether I could lead it with her. It wasn’t a true test, as she’d seen what we were doing, but she said it felt very good.

Basic posture issues

I am, of course, still working on basic posture issues. I do seem to have mostly cured the tendency of my left arm to close in, and I’m getting better at keeping my hand at the height of the follower’s shoulder (though still need to consciously remind myself of this from time-to-time).

The issue Filippo is now having me address is the same one mentioned by several teachers: the tendency to let my head come down and forward. I think I have figured out why this happens. Some followers like forehead contact, so bring their own head down and forward in this way, and I match it. That then became habit, so now I do it myself. I apparently did do this much less after a reminder.

So another great lesson, and tomorrow I’ll get to try the true test at Tango Terra: leading back crosses in the dance with other followers. If those work, I will consider it part of my vocabulary (which is a topic for a whole other post sometime).

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