Returning from The Feast feels a little like returning from BsAs – that I’ve been living in this incredible, magical bubble, and now I have to return to the everyday world. It’s almost jarring.
Last year, I described how it was a bit of a slow-burn as a first-timer. The vast majority of Feasters are regulars, so all know each other, and are keen to dance together again. But by my third visit, I was one of those regulars, and was receiving invitations from the first tanda …
Of course, my mild facial aphasia meant that I didn’t always recognise people, but plenty of followers remembered this, so reintroduced themselves. In fact, with some it was one of only two things they did remember about me: “I can’t remember your name, but I enjoyed dancing with you and remembered I need to re-introduce myself.”
Then there were those who did know my name, but hadn’t met me. A number of followers asked “You’re Ben, aren’t you?” I assumed we’d danced before, but no, it turns out a friend of theirs had pointed me out. I took that as a great compliment.
Everyone comments about what a nightmare mild facial aphasia must be in tango, and yes, it can indeed be entertaining! But I did meet one follower who perhaps had it worse: she has a twin, and they both dance tango. So if both are at the same event, people see the other one and think they’ve already danced with her!
This is my tango
I won’t repeat everything I’ve said about why I love The Feast so much – you can read all that here – but the executive summary is that it’s super-friendly, everyone dances with everyone (after the first night), the floorcraft is fantastic*, and the DJs do an amazing job!
*Ok, the middle of the ronda can get a bit random when people get carried away in particularly exuberant tandas, and I readily admit to a ‘When in Rome’ approach in those cases – but even then, it’s still very courteous.
Ridiculously early in my tango journey, I felt like I’d found my tango style – though I knew it would evolve. Three years later, it’s amazing how much of that still holds true.
One question-mark about that early feeling is how much was chicken, and how much was egg. At a time when I felt my vocabulary was small, and I wasn’t sure how much it would grow, there were two possibilities. One, that ‘slow and simple’ was my style; two, that what felt like my style was simply a reflection of my abilities at the time.
But while my ambition is now somewhat greater, in terms of getting increasingly comfortable and confident with faster dance, I still think that very early take was right. Those five bullet points are as true today as they were then:
- A warm embrace
- A clear and comfortable lead
- Collaborative dance
- Simple things, done well
Really what’s changed is more about degree than it is essence. You can take any one of those criteria, and I of course expect much more of myself today than I did then. But each of them is as important to me today as it was three years ago.
Even proper following (as opposed to the early ‘informing my lead’ kind) is essentially an extension of collaborative dance.
It’s these values I find at The Feast.
Each DJ of course has their own style, and everyone has their favourites, but it was clear that all aimed to serve the room rather than their own tastes. (Nothing worse than a DJ who takes pride in playing music other DJs don’t; listen to obscure music all you like, mate, but do it on your own time.)
For me, there’s a difference between ‘obscure’ and unfamiliar. Being introduced to unfamiliar versions of familiar songs can be enjoyable, so long as they remain danceable. That was always the case with the Feast DJs.
There was only one DJ I wondered about. The first couple of hours were almost non-stop rhythmical tandas, and I was wondering if it would ever end. But it did, and when the switch was made to lyrical tandas, that too was non-stop. So my learning with that particular DJ is, as with several others I’ve experienced over the years, arrive late!
That’s not to say I didn’t also have fun with rhythmical dance: I very much did. It’s the melodic music which really calls to me, but I can enjoy the exuberance of faster and more beat-driven music. This included something of a breakthrough with milonga tandas.
I was chatting to a couple with around the same tango miles under their feet as me, and we were talking about milonga being our joint nemesis. Although I’d been making pleasing progress with rhythmical dance, I still felt my rhythmical dance was too limited for a full milonga tanda.
J said she felt nervous about following in a milonga tanda, and I suggested we try an experiment on the practice dance floor outside the main ronda. We danced a milonga tanda together, and I threw in all the stuff I’d been trying in solo practice, but wasn’t sure I could actually lead.
All of it worked! Not perfectly – I still have trouble switching from double-time back to single time – but way better than I had imagined. That gave me the confidence to dance some milonga tandas later, and it does feel like that’s coming together well. J said she had a great time, and it boosted her confidence too.
I realised that some of what I’d been impressed by, when watching other people dance milonga, were things I was now doing myself. The Feast is a somewhat flattering in terms of follower feedback, as everyone is so lovely, but you can tell when something is heartfelt. It’s now clear that my actual milonga ability is – when I trust myself and my partner enough – ahead of my earlier perception of where it was.
Tango is of course a melting-pot of dance, as the Río de la Plata is of cultures. From African milonga roots to European waltz ones, Argentina and Uruguay assimilated many dance styles, and made them their own. Tango was then exported to Europe, and re-imported to South America in somewhat modified form.
Vals is an obvious artefact of this, as a derivative of waltz. But there’s another, lesser-known one: Foxtrot. Enrique Rodríguez in particular played a number of foxtrots, and occasionally a DJ will play a Rodríguez foxtrot tanda, either as an extra one, or in place of a milonga.
I was aware of this, but had never heard one played in a milonga, and had certainly never danced to one! The first time David Prime played one, I just watched – and videoed.
But the next one, I decided to try. I cabeceo’d a follower, warned her I’d never danced a Foxtrot before, and then gave it a shot …
I really enjoyed it! It felt like a cross between a vals and a milonga: the civilised pace of a vals, but allowing the simple steps of a milonga. More, please!
Chasing the tango dragon
My London tango schedule may be very much quieter than it was, but my dancing outside my home town is about to get busier! I’ve recently arranged things so that I can take more time off work, and much of that liberated time will be devoted to tango.
Next up will be Tango by the Sea, in a fortnight. A fortnight after that will be the next Feast. In March, I’ll be returning to BsAs for a month. And probably attending another festival or two before then.
Any festival recommendations, in or out of the UK? Please share in the comments!