I’ve made surprising progress in my following: I now feel like a beginner

Perhaps it’s an odd way to express it, but after three more privates, I now feel like I’ve reached the stage of being a beginner follower.

What I mean by that is that, previously, I very much felt like a leader trying to make the very difficult transition to following. Some tango concepts learned as a leader were helpful, of course, but in other ways my experience as a leader was actually hindering my attempts to follow. Now, though, I feel like I’ve (mostly!) succeeded in letting go of the internal struggle between the two, and can actually fully focus on the follower role …

Coming at the same thing from opposite ends

Since my last blog post, I’ve had two lessons with Filippo, and one with Diego. The two teachers have taken very different approaches with me. Filippo’s approach is to focus first on the fundamentals of the follower posture and embrace, on the basis that everything else is built on top of that. Diego’s approach is to start with the big picture, and get me following in some fashion so that we can identify and address the technique issues which arise out of that.

I honestly think it’s impossible to say that one approach is better than the other. They are coming at the same thing from different ends, and I know from my experience of both teachers that they have the same values, the same goals.

They are also of one voice when it comes to technique. The issues Diego identified were the exact same ones Filippo worked on with me, enabling me to instantly recognise what Diego was referencing, and quickly snap into the required posture. While the mix of teachers was simply scheduling happenstance, I’d say I got very lucky in how well things worked out! (I’ll also be bringing a third teacher into the mix in December, when I take my first following privates with Emma.)

The many, many technique issues!

I sometimes remind people that my primary audience for my blog is me: it serves as reminders of the things I need to work on. The following list may or may not be interesting to anyone else, but they are all reminders I need!

  • Keep weight off my heels, as a shortcut to good posture
  • Have enough forward lean that I am clearly offering forward intention toward the leader, while still being able to (just) remain within my own axis
  • In back steps, think torso forward, hip back
  • Activate my core (hip back is a good shortcut) while keeping shoulders relaxed (I need to buy a magic potion for this one)
  • Feel the in-between moments for both steps and pivots: Feel the moment in steps when my weight is at the 50/50 point during the transfer, and feel the moment in pivots where my torso is turning but not yet my hips
  • A step or pivot isn’t complete until I’m again offering forward intent toward the leader
  • For pivots, dissociation isn’t just good technique, it’s essential to avoid over-pivoting: I need to feel the leader end the pivot of my torso in time to decelerate my hips
  • Also for pivots, sink downward toward the floor to free the hips
  • Keep my heels up throughout the pivot, and ‘drag’ the free foot to keep it slow
  • In the cross, brush my knees to avoid opening or over-stepping, as either changes direction
  • Final step in classic cross needs to be longer to create space for the cross itself; this is the counterpart of the lead, which is to take a shorter final step to create space
  • A ‘cheat’ in the cross is to transfer 50% of weight at the end, ready for either option
  • In the ocho-cortado, the standing foot has to pivot 90 degrees, so heel up
  • In the flexible embrace, lean back into the leaders right hand so they can block

Yes, that is a huge list, and no, I have no idea how long it will be before I can think of more than two of those things at once. (Oh, and apparently you’re supposed to breathe occasionally, but that’s definitely one too many things to think about at present: I’ll breathe at the end of the song.)

Small things which make a big difference

One thing I struggled with was recognising whether in a back step (for me) I was being led to collect or to do a full step. Diego’s response to this was to think ‘magnetic feet’! Always collect, then pause momentarily to see whether the lead was continuing. That instantly fixed the problem!

Similarly, in pivots, I couldn’t always tell whether I was being led 90-degrees or 180-degrees, and had a tendency to anticipate. ‘Dissociate and delay’ was the solution to this.

‘You can follow now’

The final part of yesterday’s class, there were a few specific points of focus, but mostly we were just dancing for a few songs. Sure, I could only manage to concentrate on one or two technique issues at a time, I was relying on an industrial-sized lead from Diego, and I wasn’t going to win any prizes for elegance, but … it worked! I was following!

Diego said at the end: “You can follow now.” And he’s right. It’s beginner-level following for sure, but that’s a great place to be!

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