I kept saying, throughout my extended tango high, that there had to be a crash around the corner. It was a surprisingly long time coming, but when it did, it was an impressive one.
Let’s start with the good news …
I’ve been working on my posture, not just in tango, but in life generally. Putting my weight more on my heels when standing. Keeping my head fully upright when walking. Sitting upright in my office chair, not slouching.
The good news is that this is really starting to change my habitual posture. I feel much more upright, and that shows up in my dance too. It’s quite amazing that teachers can talk about posture time after time without me really getting it, then suddenly it clicks.
The neutral news is that everything feels different. Standing. Walking. Sitting. Dancing.
The bad news is that, when it comes to dancing, I suddenly feel lost. I feel less sure of how to walk. Less sure of how to turn. Less connected to my partner. Less sure of how to lead.
Private with Emma Lucia Reyes
That was the problem I intended to present to my tango engineer, but Diego was feeling unwell, so had to cancel our private. However, I’d been wanting to try a lesson with Steph’s primary teacher for leading, Emma Lucia Reyes. She had a slot available that evening, so I threw the same problem at her. It was rather a big one for a first ever lesson with a new student!
But Emma had consulted with Diego, and did an amazing job at both diagnosing the problem, and getting to work on the solution.
The problem and solution
My forward posture worked in terms of a lead as the chest lead was very clear. With a more upright posture, the chest lead is lessened. The solution to this is the thing I’d just started to work on with Diego: appreciating that the lead comes from the entire frame, not just from the torso.
In my tango journey to date, I’d been very focused on a comfortable lead, and trying to avoid leading with my arms. The ‘lies to children’ approach my teachers had taken was to say that the lead always comes from the chest.
That was exactly the right approach at the time, but now I’m ready to leave that lie behind. The lead comes from the whole body. I need to have my back, my shoulders, my arms and my hands all play their part in the lead. This is the more holistic lead I began to work on with Diego, Madalina and Filippo. So the reassuring thing here is that I’ve already taken the first steps in the right direction.
Several teachers have talked about the frame as if holding a beach-ball, and that was the primary thing I worked on with Emma: having that rounded embrace. She said that begins in the back, specifically with the lats – the latissimus dorsi muscle.
I may have mentioned before that I kind of look blank when teachers talk about using specific muscles. However, I’m doing some WordPress work as a favour for a friend, and he’s a fitness trainer with an excellent understanding of anatomy, so I’m going to arrange a swap where he educates me on the relevant muscles and how to isolate them.
One very specific issue Emma pointed to was my tendency for my left elbow to end up behind the line of my back during ochos. This is something other teachers have mentioned, but it wasn’t a massive thing when the lead was all coming from my chest. However, when I’m trying to have my entire frame provide the lead, this becomes a big problem.
I knew that some things were going to fall apart as I worked on improving my posture, and one of those was the sliding embrace. My tango attention dollar can only do so much, and that had dropped out. Additionally, the way I slide is now different with a more upright posture, so that’s another thing I’m essentially having to re-learn.
One of my recurring issues is a collapsing hip, which Emma said was especially obvious in paradas. She said we all have asymmetrical bodies, and mine tends to lean to the right, so an upright posture in a parada actually feels to me like I’m leaning left and back. That’s about retraining my body sense, which is another issue I can work on in everyday life.
Emma also talked about exactly the same thing as Filippo: lifting my pelvic floor. See above comments on muscles! Filippo had found a good way to explain this one to me, but I have absolutely no idea how to do that without tensing my whole upper body. I’d better hope Keith needs a lot of WordPress work!
She showed me a variation on the ocho cortado, switching to double-time on the rebound and back step. I love this type of suggestion: a small variation on something I already know, to get more variety into my dance. I mentioned my thing with switching between single and double time: that it does work, and follower friends I’ve asked say it feels fine, but it feels awkward to me. So we did some work on this, in the walk.
The reason this feeling awkward immediately became apparent – and was again something other teachers have mentioned but I’d forgotten. I was trying to maintain the same step size at twice the speed! That also had me moving up instead of down into the floor. As soon as Emma had me switch to much smaller steps for the double-time ones, all was good.
I was also a bit lacking in confidence with these speed switches, so Emma had me do it on my own, said it was perfect and then to do it with her but as if she wasn’t there. That was an immediate confidence boost!
At one point, Emma wanted to demonstrate something, and used the Americana as an example. This is something I theoretically know how to do, but hadn’t ever felt I’d got a good feel for it, so don’t include it in my dance.
However, we quickly got to grips with that, so I got a free bonus – an additional piece of vocabulary for my dance. Additionally, Emma solved the problem I sometimes have in the ocho cortado, of letting the follower pivot too far. Surprise! The containment comes from the frame, and was a very easy fix.
I’m really spoiled for choice now when it comes to teachers! Diego, Filippo and Emma are all amazing, and while it can potentially be confusing to mix-and-match teachers, here it really isn’t. I’m working on the fundamentals with each of them, and they are all giving completely consistent messages. Julia and Fede will also return at some point, and it will be really interesting to get their take now.
My original plan was to head to the Tango Space milonga after the lesson. This didn’t happen …
Someone was using the studio immediately after us, so we had to grab our things quickly and move to the outer room. Emma then couldn’t find her jacket, so we carried out a search of the studio, outer room and bathroom without success.
Emma’s next theory was a convenience store she’d stopped at on the way, so I said I’d walk with her to there. We got most of the way there when I decided to message friends at the milonga to say I’d be a bit later than expected, and realised I was missing something too: my phone! As we’d begun the jacket search before I’d finished putting my things away, my phone was still sitting on a table.
We returned to the studio to find the outer gates locked, and no entry code. That seemed to be that, but Emma had other ideas. She eyed the very small gap beneath the gates – which appeared to be about 12cm – and reckoned she might be able to squeeze under.
Emma is very slim, but I had doubts that even she would fit under there! However (and I swear there was no alcohol involved), she decided to try. She tried feet-first, which definitely wasn’t working. She then tried head-first, and got her head and left shoulder under. She couldn’t get any further, and was also worried about whether the rest of her would fit even if she could.
I could see that if she could get both shoulders through, the rest of her would fit. She wiggled back out and then had a stroke of genius. There was gravel on the ground, so if we excavated that, it would create a larger gap.
We did so, and yep, success! She got through, retrieved my phone, unlocked the gate from the inside to exit more conventionally, and we retraced our steps to resume the jacket search.
It wasn’t at the shop. Theory three was a coffee shop by Mile End tube, so we headed to that, but that was closed. Hopefully they will have it safely tucked away.
We then got on the tube, and I figured I could still get to the milonga by 10pm, except … I’d been thinking it was at Bank, where the Saturday edition is. As the tube approached the station, I realised no, it’s in Covent Garden. I would be around 10.30pm by the time I got there, and it closed at 11pm, so had to abandon my quest.
Ah well! Terra on Thursday, and let’s see how much my new-posture-new-dance progress fares in real life …