When it comes to resolving my tangistential crisis, Filippo had given me a way forward which seemed to be working. Namely, take one element of my less-used vocabulary at a time, and figure out alternative resolutions for every step. Practicing those would then give me the confidence to use them in crowded milongas, knowing that I always had a plan B.
Another aspect of my crisis, however, was feeling unsure how far all my technique work was going to take me …
A leader who is good enough could do the simplest things and their dance will feel amazing.
But that’s my second problem. Focusing on the how is mostly what I’m doing in my privates, and working so intensively on my technique has absolutely resulted in improvements, especially to my posture. But it has also done something else: made me more painfully aware than ever of the huge gulf between where I am and where I would need to be for the above to be true.
Indeed, the hard truth here is that I really don’t know whether that level – simple things that feel amazing – is even possible for a guy who took up dance after 50, sits at a desk all day and isn’t going to be spending hours a day practicing.
Diego was having none of this. It’s just technique; it can be learned; and I’m already on that journey. I don’t have to reach teacher or performer level to have a lead where simple things feel great.
Via a somewhat roundabout route, we ended up with a plan to put this theory to the test. Diego showed me something, and I protested that my balance wasn’t good enough to do it. Again, he disagreed.
Balance is just technique
I gave him an example of something I considered utterly beyond me: leader lapices in the giro. I said I wasn’t sure I would ever reach that level of balance, and he said that balance isn’t something we have, it’s something we do.
So we decided that, next lesson, in two weeks’ time, we would work on that! I remain exceedingly sceptical, but will be delighted to be proven wrong.
Follower axis in the calesita
In the meantime, though, we put the principle into practice by continuing the work I started with Filippo on the calesita. I’d reached the point where I could feel whether and how I was taking Janet off her axis (in mostly tiny ways), but I didn’t know how to stop that happening.
The chef Heston Blumenthal once said that the difference between a professional chef and an amateur is not that the pro never makes mistakes: it’s that they know how to fix them, so the meal is not ruined. Diego’s advice with the follower’s axis in the calesita was the same: it’s not that the leader has to never disturb the follower’s axis, it’s that they can immediately restore it.
There are three main secrets to this:
- Have the follower’s axis be the main focus of my attention
- Have flexible arms, so that variations in distance won’t pull the follower off axis, and so that any shift in the axis can be compensated
- Lean back into the follower’s left hand (with my whole back, not just my shoulder)
The latter point ensures there is the slight outward lean needed here (and in the giro), never an inward one. It also provides the follower with a solid support point for her to support her own balance.
Once I got the hang of those three things, it was a night-and-day difference! Diego said he could now do absolutely anything during the calesita, and he demonstrated this by doing decorations, taking his free leg back and forward again, even switching feet! He said it felt perfect, and it did to me too.
Diego also had me position my right hand very differently to my usual small-of-the-back position. Instead, he had me place it just behind the follower’s left shoulder, almost under the armpit. He said this, combined with leaning back into her left hand, created a solid but springy connection between us.
‘Now we can think about the feet’
Diego has often said to me in the past ‘Don’t worry about your feet’ or ‘I don’t care what your feet do.’ When he does start talking about my feet, then I can feel pretty confident my upper body is finally doing the right thing!
We looked first at the four basic possibilities for the calesita:
- Follower on the left or right foot
- Leader travelling clockwise or anti-clockwise around them
When it comes to the feet, there are also multiple possibilities, starting with the two I do at present:
- Backward steps
- Forward steps
- Side steps
- Any combination of these, eg. back and side alternating
- Weight changes
He even demonstrated that the leader could be doing the follower’s giro steps: forward, side, back, side. (It was this suggestion which led to the balance discussion above!)
We also played with using soft rebounds to reverse the direction of the calesita. As well as a way to express the music, that’s a very simple Plan B when my path is blocked.
Adding in the ‘weight change around the follower into cross-system cross’ exit that Filippo showed me, there is certainly no shortage of calesita options! So now I have lots of things to play with, and focus on, at Tango Terra tomorrow. Followers, expect a calesita-fest …