Wonderful DJ, and more following dividends, at El Boliche

When I don’t have the energy for 5-6 hours of dancing, my approach is to go later in the evening. Generally the music gets more lyrical as the evening goes on, and as I appear physically incapable of leaving a milonga before the end, this gives me 2-3 hours of dance.

Arriving at El Boliche around 10pm felt a little like a return to BsAs timings …

In awe of great tango DJs

The DJ was Rodrigo Fonti, who had delivered an amazing evening of music at Browns on Tuesday, and did so again tonight. He’s now up there in my all-time favourite DJ list, in such exalted but non-exhaustive company as Diego Doigneau, Alessia Cogo, La Rubia, Hernán Brusa, Hubert Voignier, Fernando Guidi, David Prime and Gustavo Rosas.

I’m frankly in awe of the knowledge, talent and intuition it requires to be a great tango DJ. You need a decent sprinkling of tango’s greatest hits, so everyone can dance to music they know, without so many that it sounds like a generic milonga. You need to surprise people with new versions of songs they know, and some lesser-known songs from famous orchestras, but still ensuring that most people can dance to it. You need to satisfy the needs of both rhythmical and lyrical music fans, ideally finding layered music that works for both at the same time. You have to keep happy both Golden Age traditionalists and fans of contemporary tango orchestras. You need to think about energy levels, avoiding a fast rhythmical tango tanda immediately after a milonga one (mentioning no names …). You need that mystical yet very real ability to read the room, to understand what these dancers at this moment in this milonga want.

Perhaps most challenging of all, you need to be able to consistently deliver an incredible experience, milonga after milonga. There are some DJs whose music I love one evening and not another. I might put that down to my own mood, except that the DJs I’ve mentioned have given me that same wonderful experience every time!

The joys of familiar and unfamiliar followers

For me, there are very different but equally joyful experiences to be had dancing with favourite followers, and with new ones.

There were very few familiar faces at El Boliche, and the general level appeared relatively high, so it took time to get dances with new followers. It was the usual virtuous circle: the more you are seen dancing, the more dances you get.

But that slow-burn process meant that Tina and I danced more than usual. The great thing about dancing with a good friend is you are immediately comfortable in the embrace, and know each other’s styles. I know what they do and don’t enjoy, but also have some freedom to experiment because I know they’ll just laugh at anything which doesn’t work. I know how they respond to the music.

Additionally, you each get to experience and enjoy the development of the other’s dance. Tina and I both take regular privates, and it’s beautiful to be able to feel the benefits of that. She’s always been ballerina-like in her pivots, but recently she’s been working on her walk – and the results have been incredible. I can take big steps with her, and following those takes real ability when you’re five-foot nothing! And despite her elfin stature, she can now give a lot of forward intention. It’s a real delight to see that transformation.

Equally, I love dancing with new followers, for different reasons. In the best of cases, you can go from zero to a great connection in the course of just a few minutes, which never loses its sense of wonder. How a stranger can become someone you can’t wait to dance with again.

My facial aphasia gives me a third possibility: I can think I’m cabeceoing someone new, then find I wasn’t! Sometimes I’ll learn this when they greet me by name; sometimes I’ll recognise the embrace; other times I’ll recognise their dance at some point during the tanda. Awkwardness aside, that can have its own delight!

Another following dividend

Last time, I described two huge leading dividends from my lessons as a follower. Tonight I discovered another one.

While I’ve been working on developing my rhythmical dance for what turns out to be a year now, there has long been one issue which has held me back. I learned from an early stage the importance of a comfortable embrace, and of signalling moves before beginning them, and I know from many follower comments that this makes a huge difference. I always felt like the latter was almost impossible in fast, rhythmical dance, so was wary of staccato movements. And if you’re hesitant about staccato movement, that makes it kinda hard to express staccato music!

But what I realised in following Diego was that sudden changes of direction can be an enjoyable surprise! I’m definitely not good at following unexpected movements yet, but I did manage it sometimes, and it is really good fun!

One of the things I loved about Rodrigo’s music selections was that it was almost all layered, so there was a great deal of opportunity to switch between the instruments, and to mix staccato and legato movement. I had a lot of fun doing so, and everything worked.

There’s also been an indirect benefit from dual-role dancers. I’ve watched followers who are new to leading, and one thing that’s very common is they mostly stick to steps and weight-changes rather than pivots at first. That might feel or look boring, but the reason it doesn’t is that years of following means they know every note of the music. So interrupted steps, small rebounds, and assorted little shimmies are a joy to watch and, I’m sure, to follow.

I’m now incorporating much more of this into my rhythmical dance, and that too is great fun!

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