The Argentine Ambassador’s milonga is one of my absolute favourites. A spectacular setting, fantastic DJs, three dance floors, and a friendly atmosphere. If the grandeur were more faded, you could almost imagine it were BsAs.
One difference from the real version is that, in London, a flexible embrace is the norm. That’s also the case in some BsAs milongas, but in the more traditional ones, the prevailing style is very much sustained close-embrace: where everything can be danced chest-to-chest. I therefore followed up with a private focused on this …
Mr Ambassador, with all these tandas, you are really spoiling us
You have to be familiar with a certain cringeworthy TV ad from the 90s to get the reference …
This one was five hours long, and – anticipating that it would be an evening of non-stop dancing (with milonga tandas to rest …) – I opted to skip the first hour. I figured four hours was likely to be the limit for my feet, and the music gets more lyrical as the evening goes on, so better to miss the first hour than the last. That was definitely the right call!
It was indeed a magical evening. Of course, what’s a perfect evening for one person may be the opposite for someone else, especially considering the potential for very different experiences for leaders and followers. But what was notable to me was how almost every follower I asked was similarly happy.
That asking, by the way, is a conscious step I now take. I think one simple way to make London milongas more friendly is just to start more conversations. Particularly where leaders are sat next to followers they don’t know, there seems to be an unspoken rule that people sit silently in their chair. That’s a rule I deliberately break.
It helps a lot when the layout of a milonga facilitates this. One reason the ambassador’s milonga is friendly, I think, is because the landing at the top of the stairs is a very busy area away from the dance floors. It’s essentially designed as a place for socialising. Put a lot of people in a crowded space, mix in coffee and refreshments, and enable them to talk without risk of drowning out the music on the dance floor, and you have a winning formula.
The role-balance of the milonga is always compromised to some degree by cheating: followers who buy leader tickets when the follower ones are sold out. I’m not sure there’s much that can be done about that, but it didn’t seem to be as big an issue as last time I was there. Most of my follower friends, every time I looked for them, they were dancing.
They always have wonderful DJs, and this time it was Hernan Brusa, another of my A+ faves. With a real-life role-balance, or close to it, I didn’t feel any pressure to dance the tandas which didn’t appeal, but there were very few! Most of the rhythmical tandas were layered ones, where I didn’t feel that dancing relentlessly to the beat was the only option, and there was no shortage of collaborative dancers who could do double-time (or, in one case, quadruple-time!) steps to my normal-time ones.
I could wax lyrical at length, but suffice it to say I danced almost every tango and vals tanda, and went home with very sore feet and a huge grin on my face.
Dancing in sustained close-embrace
I said before that I’ve switched back to leading lessons for my last few privates before BsAs, with two focal points: double-time, and dancing in sustained close-embrace. Diego had given me lots to work on in terms of double-time, so in tonight’s lesson with Emma I worked on the latter.
I told her beforehand that the walk was fine, and I thought I could lead the ocho cortado without opening – but I sometimes had difficulty telling when the follower had fully transferred her weight in CE ochos, and the giro felt messy.
The lesson was a delightful surprise! For several reasons …
First, because Emma confirmed my view that I had no problem with the CE ocho cortado. After including this in lyrical dance, she had me use it in a rhythmical dance, and that again worked really well. Not a total surprise, but still delightful news.
Second, because the solution to monitoring the follower’s weight in ochos turned out to be incredibly simple. In fact, it was a reminder of something someone – quite possibly Emma – had told me before: everything I need to know about the follower’s movement is in her spine. By focusing on this with my right hand, it was obvious when she was still pivoting, and when she had completed the movement. More on this in a moment.
Third, despite Diego’s assurances about pulling the follower’s arm around in a giro, I’d still felt apprehensive about it. But Emma confirmed that it felt good. Indeed, it made it easier for her to have a slight outward lean during the turn – though I did need to ensure that the direction of the pull was around me, and not outward. And … I was leading the giro in close-embrace without it feeling difficult.
Indeed, Emma said I needed to ensure my left hand was playing an active role throughout my dance. This will take some time, but will work on it.
In our previous lesson, Señor Pugliese had assisted; this time, it was Señor D’Arienzo. Emma had suggested a D’Arienzo song to test my rhythmical ocho cortados in CE, and having selected a D’Arienzo album, I continued with it through most of the rest of the lesson. To realise afterwards I’d had a major breakthrough without even noticing it at the time!
I was dancing everything I normally dance in lyrical tandas to D’Arienzo songs – including the giro. My immediate reaction on realising this was to wonder why on earth it had proven so easy? I figured out that there were two obvious answers to this.
One, I was dancing with an incredibly skilled partner. Which will also very often be the case in BsAs.
Two, in sustained CE, the size of the movements is smaller. Smaller movements take less time, so are easier to dance at a faster speed. (Emma also said that the follower danced the giro differently to rhythmical music in CE, but my brain was already full before we could explore that.)
The other thing I realised about rhythmical dance is, even when you’re dancing to the beat, it doesn’t mean you have to dance every beat. If my fingers on Emma’s spine told me she was still pivoting when the next beat came along, no problem – just pause for a beat then resume.
As with many tango breakthroughs, it was 100% obvious in hindsight.
An earlier lesson finally sinking in!
Tonight, I solved a mystery – and realised that an old lesson had finally sunk in.
I’d seen on YouTube an ocho cortado danced in parallel system, rather than cross-system – and couldn’t figure out the geometry of how it worked. I led it, and it worked, but still couldn’t understand why, as it seemed like it shouldn’t! Emma led me, and it worked, but I was still no wiser.
Then finally it clicked. There was an extra follower step in the middle of the pivot, and I was changing weight in the middle without even realising it. It was that which put us in cross-system, for just two steps.
That felt like another exciting discovery, because I still fear cross-system even more than I fear double-time. The cross-system cross is the only time I ever venture into cross-system, and it always feels a relief to return to parallel. So to find a way of moving into cross-system and back in just two steps felt like a big win.
But the bigger win was realising that, though my mind had been completely confused about it, my feet had still figured out what to do to make it work. It seemed that something many of my teachers have said is finally sinking in: Don’t think about what to do with my body, just think about what I want the follower to do with hers. In leading this, it appeared I had done exactly that.
So … an amazing milonga, followed by an amazing lesson! A brilliant start to the week, and tomorrow it’ll be time for a second visit to Un Placer. Here’s hoping my good fortune continues …