Returning to leading lessons as BsAs fast approaches

Three things to me are clear from my following adventure: I’m really enjoying it; it’s helping my lead too; it’s going to be several months before I get anywhere close to being able to follow competently in a milonga.

That being the case, and with my month-long return to Buenos Aires rapidly approaching, I decided it was time to use my last few privates before March to tune-up my lead …


I was amazed at how Diego and Laura both independently told me (during my last spell in BsAs) that it was time to work on this, despite my objections. I was even more amazed at how well this progressed, with additional help from Emma on my return.

My double-time has so far been very simple. Interrupted steps, where I do a quick rebound before completing the step; some double-time steps in the walk; some fast and small ochos; the occasional fast ocho-cortado.

In tonight’s lesson with Diego I decided it was time to turn up the dial a few notches. Dance a couple of songs, throw in everything I was able to do in double-time, plus things I might be able to do, and add in one or two crazy ideas that probably wouldn’t work but you never know.


There was good news, bad news, and good news on the technique front.

The good news was that Diego followed all of it. The bad news was that this was sometimes because he could figure out what I was intending to lead even when I wasn’t really leading it. The good news was that when Diego gave me his feedback, it all made immediate sense.

Some of it, I was able to act on immediately. More of it will require practice, but I’m clear about my goal, so I’ll be going to a few practicas between now and March to work on those things.

The most fundamental feedback Diego had for me was that there are two components to an interrupted step, and it’s easy to compromise either one of them:

  • Begin the step exactly as if it were going to be a full one
  • But interrupt it before any significant weight-transfer

I had to work on both. Diego said that sometimes there was a hesitant or unclear lead to the movement, because I was already thinking about the interruption; and other times I was letting him transfer too much weight, so it was then jarring for it to be stopped.

To address the first issues, I had to prepare and signal the step in the same way I would a full one – for example, pushing into the floor and ‘sinking’ down to prepare it – not have it feel in any way half-hearted just because I’m not going to lead the whole step.

But conversely, keep 90-95% of my weight on the standing leg so that it’s easy for the follower to interrupt the step. I found that thinking of my foot pressing a brake pedal while I was ‘sat back in my seat’ was a good visualisation.

Additional ideas

I’m not a sequence kind of guy – I prefer to think in terms of individual steps and pivots – but sometimes it takes someone with a lot of experience to understand just how many options there are. So Diego ran through a bunch of simple options (and one not-so-simple one, but we’ll gloss over that one).

It’s kind of obvious in hindsight: any step you can take, you can interrupt. But it was less obvious to me that, for example, an ocho could be interrupted, with a pause or rebound mid-step. Or, more accurately, that this could be a double-time element, since I do sometimes do this in normal time.

In general, the technique issues arising from the things we tried were the same, fundamental ones – but there were examples of needing to take into account the changed geometry involved in having interrupted a step. For example, in an interrupted back ocho, the resolution requires a linear step to the side of the follower before I can lead the final pivot.

Giro technique

Being a tango teacher requires a level of patience I can barely imagine. Not only because technique progress can be painfully slow, but also because so much of your time is spent reminding students of things you’ve told them before!

I included some giros in the first couple of songs, just for variety, and Diego of course wanted to work on my technique for those. I’ve written before about the ‘lies to children’ phenomenon.

There comes a point when the worst bad habits have been trained out of us, and we find that teachers have been telling lies to children. Once we stop using our arms to lead, then a teacher can safely introduce the concept of the supplementary role that arms can play in the lead.

But even habits that used to be good habits can take time to unlearn after they’ve served their purpose. Diego has been working with me for, uh, some time on the good kind of pushing and pulling in pivots.

Diego talked of push and pull in ochos, for example. But of course, he doesn’t mean shoving followers around, he means pulling from my shoulder blade, and ‘pushing’ in terms of providing that springboard, that invitation.

Similarly, in giros. One follower friend told me she wanted more momentum in the turn, and also a clearer signal to stop. Working with Diego on this, it suddenly started falling into place. The momentum is delivered by me strongly pulling my own shoulder blade around. That then transmits through my arm, so that there is some sense for the follower of being pulled from her hand – but in a way that keeps her in her own axis. Around, not toward or away.

When I was doing that, then not only did it provide greater momentum, but also the stop signal is completely obvious, because that pull is converted into a push back against the follower’s hand. 

So, yeah, we worked on that. Again. I’ll get it eventually.

My next private is with Emma, and it’ll again be time to revisit an old topic: sustained close embrace.

Perhaps the most visible differences between London tango and dancing in traditional BsAs milongas is the embrace. In London dancing, a flexible embrace is the norm – opening for pivots, closing to walk. In milonguero-style, everything is danced within close embrace.

I haven’t danced sustained close embrace in a long time, and found it somewhat tricky when I did, so working on this is another key part of my BsAs prep. (I’ll also need this skill for encuentros, having recently booked my first one.)

Before then, I have two milongas. On Sunday is the Ambassador’s milonga – one of my absolute favourites – while tomorrow is my first ever visit to Un Placer. This was recommended to me by one Diego, Señor Bado, and is DJ’d by another, Señor Doigneau, so if nothing else, great music is guaranteed!

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