Milonga with Diego; a workshop with Corina and Ines; and an unusual Tango Garden

Milonga (the dance) and I have an unusual relationship.

Most leaders run a mile from it during their early years; I didn’t. Because I could dance to the beat long before I had the vocabulary to dance to the melody, I was actually very happy with milonga tandas from a very early stage. And because a lot of leaders hide, it made it very easy to get dances, even as a raw beginner.

But as my lyrical dance emerged and evolved, my rhythmical dance felt increasingly unsatisfactory – all the more so at milonga speeds. I wasn’t so much afraid of boring followers as feeling bored by my own dance. I was doing the usual leader’s milonga journey in reverse: I’d now become one of the leaders who avoid it …

Milonga private with Diego

However, the work with Emma and Diego meant that I was getting more confident at making my rhythmical dance more interesting. Diego had said he’d get me doing it at milonga speeds, and I decided it was time to put this claim to the test!

My two challenges were, first, the speed meant that my brain was pretty much only keeping pace with my feet. I couldn’t really think ahead, so ended up trapped in this ‘one beat, one step’ space. Second, even when I was able to switch speeds in solo practice, that feeling of being rushed meant that I couldn’t figure out how to create the time to lead a change of speed.

We danced one song. At which point, I realised I had a third challenge with milonga: I don’t have the same familiarity with the music, so had managed to choose a super-fast song!

The good news was that Diego followed everything I led. The bad news was that it felt as rushed to him as it did to me. Also, while in tango I was going down toward the floor in my steps, in milonga I was going up …

Many things in tango are blindingly obvious in hindsight, and Diego gave me one of these. Milonga music, just like tango, has 8-beat phrases. Rather than having to think of what I’m going to do next and when to do it, do one thing for the whole of one phrase, and then something else for the next one.

He said it didn’t matter how basic any of the things were, if I was changing each phrase, and clearly marking the phrases by doing so, it would feel like a varied and musical dance. For example:

  • Change weight
  • Step and change weight
  • Small side-steps
  • Rebounds to front/side/rear (the latter much harder!)
  • Walk with rebounds
  • Forward step and sweep past collection point into a side-step; then change weight and begin with a side-step
  • The classic milonga box pattern

He also threw in a new sequence:

  • Side-step to left, then outside walk for the rest
  • Forward step with right
  • Rebound with left
  • Back-step with left
  • Backward rebound with right

That’s eight phrases worth right there. By mixing and matching these, and changing direction as I do with the box pattern, I have a varied dance. If I can manage to execute the changes to the phrase, I have a dance which feels musical beyond simply dancing to the beat.

Of course, as with anything else, the theory was easier than the practice, as I still had to make the switch at milonga speeds. Basic things like not transferring too much weight in rebounds became a lot more challenging at speed. But technique issues like that are things I can fix with solo practice. I can also test it out at Esteban’s practica.

Workshop with Corina and Ines

I don’t generally do group classes, and when I do, I don’t worry much about whatever sequence is being taught, but rather aim to find one principle I can take from it to apply to my own dance.

But Corina Herrera and Ines Muzzopappa are legendary teachers as well as performers, so when they came to London it felt like an opportunity I shouldn’t miss. They were making the rounds of London milongas, and I opted to try the Tango Garden workshop, whose topic was a giro with lápiz.

The topic felt ambitious, but Diego assured me that there would be plenty of people there whose technique level was below mine. I wasn’t under any illusion that one group workshop would enable me to actually lead a giro with lápiz, but I’d apply my usual approach of taking from it whatever I could.

They totally lived up to their reputation as teachers! They built things up one step at a time, from the weight transfer in a single step. They then took us through a series of exercises – some of which seemed only tangentially related to giros at the time we did them – which then meant the final sequence was an ‘Aha! Of course!’ moment.

Of course, actually leading it is every bit as challenging as I’d expected, but it now made sense in a way it hadn’t before. I think it would take a lot of solo practice followed by several privates to actually get there, and it’s not something I’m motivated to give that much effort at the moment, but I found the understanding and technique work along the way very valuable.

The other amazingly impressive thing about the teaching of Corina and Ines is the individual attention they managed to give despite the large size of the group. They went round the group as we practiced, and I think pretty much everyone got the chance to lead and/or follow them and get feedback on it.

I shall seek out opportunities to slip “Ah yes, this reminds me of when I was leading Ines” and “Oh right, this is like when Corina was leading me” into casual tango conversation.

An unusually chaotic Tango Garden!

Tango Garden is usually one of the few London milongas with good floorcraft. Not so much today!

The visiting stars meant that it was very crowded, and the demographic was also somewhat different to usual. As ever, it only takes one or two selfish people to mess up a ronda, and Tango Garden had two of them. One trying to show off (and looking rather pathetic in his attempt, given the teachers present …), and one completely clueless guy who I don’t think could even spell ronda, let alone dance in one, who was literally zig-zagging from one side of the room to the other.

But such is life, and tango.

The first hour or so of the music was very much not to my taste, and I spent almost all of it chatting, drinking tea, and eating the excellent cake. After that, the DJ’s choices and my tastes slowly aligned, and there came a point when I was dancing almost every tanda.

There were lots of followers with whom I love to dance, and despite dancing almost non-stop for much of it, I still didn’t manage to dance with all of them! But I had an absolutely heavenly time.

I’d had this crazy idea of going on to Nacimiento, where Pablo Valentino was giving a Pugliese workshop. That meant it was likely there’d be lots of Pugliese in the milonga, and I really, really, really wanted to go. I dragged a friend off to Westminster for a drink and some food, so I’d be nearby, but my brain and feet were both utterly exhausted. By the point at which it was time to walk there, I had to admit defeat.

The elapsed time between my head hitting the pillow and being fast asleep was 0.0001 seconds.

Photo: Shiro Hatori/Unsplash

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