A truly magical experience – and a rhythmical breakthrough – at Negracha

I had to be almost bodily dragged to Negracha. I’d heard people talk about it, and seen a couple of videos, and it was clear to me that the level there was far too high for me.

But the visit was a group one – Emma, Diego, Asia, Steph and me – so the worst-case scenario was that I’d do a little dancing, and have a great time socialising. What happened instead was something I couldn’t have dared hope for …

There are a couple of pieces of context needed to make sense of what follows.

First, I said this two days ago:

There’s been a sensation of a glass ceiling. I’ll confidently cabeceo followers of my own level, and some significant way beyond (a long way beyond in the case of friends), but there has been a limit.

If I saw an unknown follower dancing, and it was clear she was super-advanced, I wouldn’t dare cabeceo her. And there were certain milongas whose reputation was such that I considered them out of my league. Negracha was one of these.

But Diego and Emma urged me to go, and Steph echoed this. When I was faltering in my resolve, Asia took me to task, told me all the things a follower of any level would enjoy about my dance, and essentially told me I was going and that was the end of the discussion. Ok, then.

Second, I have a rule about milongas: I try to limit my dancing to the things I can do well. Trying new and unfamiliar things, I reserve for lessons and practice sessions. I do make an exception for something new that I feel I can safely try once or twice with each follower, and I’ll push things a little further with a good friend, but not too far.

Fun from the start

The evening got off to a hilarious start when Diego and Asia, who’d had a private beforehand, went to the old Negracha venue in Brixton! Asia called me literally as we were walking in the door, asking for the address. I then had to try to simultaneously sign in, claim our table and look up the postcode. They grabbed an Uber, which was apparently a memorable experience; I will get (and add) the story later!

The Great Restart is seeing people return to tango rather slowly, so Negracha is currently in a relatively small room, and there were, I think, eight men and eight women. (I say men and women rather than leaders and followers, as there were quite a few dual-role dancers.)

That could easily have spelled bad news. A small milonga with regulars can sometimes mean a very cliquey group, who only want to dance with each other. But nothing could have been further from the truth tonight: I think almost everyone danced with everyone else in the course of the evening, including me.

The level was high, which could have been intimidating. But the atmosphere was so friendly and welcoming that it wasn’t at all. Dancers were doing impressive things, but the vibe I got was that they were doing it for fun, not to show off. There was zero feeling of snobbishness.

Then the dance …

I danced the first tanda with Steph, and it was fantastic. The gap between our levels means that we don’t dance with each other very often, and it has – with total frankness – been a variable experience for both of us! But last night, I felt that were truly equal partners in the dance, and Steph said she felt the same. (Also adding: ‘Now that you’ve finally decided you like rhythmical dance,’ but that was the less romantic addendum.)

Steph is a very active follower, and usually there are times when either I will pause and relax the embrace to let Steph have control – or when Steph actively proposes something and I go with it. But for the first time tonight, there weren’t those conscious moments of switching back-and-forth. The lead just flowed between us, and for much of the dance I couldn’t tell you who was leading and who was following.

The only exception was when a gap opened up in front of us and we needed to walk. It was just effortless to complete whatever movement we were doing, gather Steph back into close embrace and walk, before returning to the flowing lead.

Next, Asia and I danced a very rhythmical tanda – the kind I’d most likely have sat out before my recent privates with Diego and Filippo. It was amazing! Something just clicked. I started with just rhythmical steps, the kind of things I would have led before, just with less energy. Now, however, I was really going for it.

I tried some interrupted steps. Instead of feeling new and tentative, they felt great! And not just in the two main things I’d practiced, side-steps and forward steps, but at any point. I tried some back-and-forth playing with weight changes. Same thing!

It wasn’t long before I decided to just switch off my brain and dance, quickly, rhythmically, and see what happened. I have not the slightest clue what I led. Or, indeed, when I was leading and when Asia was. It was exactly the same as it had been with Steph. Asia and I have long enjoyed collaborative dance, but where there are usually definite moments of passing the baton back-and-forth, now we were just dancing together and I neither knew nor cared who was making the decisions.

Again, context: Asia and I have had some truly magical lyrical dance, and I can’t think of a time when it has been anything less than lovely. But afterwards Asia said she felt this had been our best dance ever.

I too felt like my dance was on a whole new level. I was happy to cabeceo anyone in the room, and happy to dance to any tanda. Every dance felt fantastic.

The dance with Emma was like something from another planet! Dancing with a teacher is always amazing, of course, but usually I can sense them adjusting their dance to my level. But not with Emma. I would lead something simple, and she would add in syncopations and flourishes and … who knows what! I couldn’t tell you a single thing she did, but it really felt like she was free to dance her dance with me, that she didn’t have to limit herself.

It also felt like the same kind of effortlessly collaborative dance I’d had with Steph and Asia. Again, I couldn’t have told you who was making any of the decisions except when there was a gap to walk into.

Emma told me afterwards that she loved it too, and as kind-hearted and enthusiastic person as she is, I do believe she meant it. This, to me, was real proof that I can be an enjoyable dance partner for even the most advanced follower.

The rest of the evening was a blur. Every dance felt great. I felt free. I felt like I could do anything. It was honestly one of the best nights of dancing of my life.

Everyone else seemed to feel the same way. At one point, Emma told Diego that they needed to go now, to catch the last tube, so he sat down to change his shoes – only to find Emma back on the dance floor! They announced the last tanda at about 00:30 (which I danced with Steph), including La Cumparsita. Everyone applauded Diego and Ivan … but clearly nobody wanted to leave. A couple of minutes later, the music was back on and the dancing resumed!

This is a whole new world

I’d previously started writing an upcoming blog post: my three-year appraisal. I’d listed rhythmical dance under ‘Weaknesses,’ but noted that I’d started to work on this. I described it as a long-term project.

After tonight, I had to rewrite that section.

I sent this message to Diego:

Wow! I literally cannot believe how I’ve gone from basically zero to where I am now with rhythmical dance! I was happy inviting anyone for a rhythmical tanda, and had the time of my life dancing them! Sure, syncopation is still to come, but this is a night-and-day difference.

I’m British. I use about three exclamation marks a year, and I just used a year’s supply in one paragraph. That should tell you how much this means to me.

I feel like my rhythmical dancing has gone from kindergarten – dancing the beat and the phrase – to … well, at least first year of university.

Just as we were leaving, Ivan paid me a lovely compliment (which I won’t share – my British reserve has to return at some point in this post!). I mean, he’s the organiser, and a cynical person might say he has a financial motive to be nice to the customers, but it felt totally genuine, and was the perfect note on which to end the evening.

Tomorrow, the Argentine Ambassador’s Milonga! As grand as it sounds, I can’t imagine how it could possibly match tonight’s experience. But, like Negracha, anything could happen …

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