Feeling like a tango god or tango toddler; rarely anything between the two

This city can make me feel like a tango god. When I get the right milonga, the right atmosphere, the right music, the right follower, the right floorcraft … when everything flows effortlessly, my partner and I reading each other perfectly, and I feel like I own the floor.

It can also make me feel like a tango toddler. When I’m at a milonga where the music is relentlessly fast, where everyone is spinning in high-speed circles, and I wonder what the hell I would do even if someone was looking in my direction …

The two extremes are, I think, more common than the ground between them.

A sleepy private

My private with Laura didn’t get off to the best of starts. I woke just after 1pm, initiated my standard 4-hour wake-up procedure, then realised I had a lesson in less than an hour. This left time to shower, shave, dress, and have two cups of coffee – but not to transform myself from a zombie into a human being.

I’d given Laura a brief on my arrival, when I’d hoped to get a tune-up before I started dancing here: Let’s just dance a couple of songs, and you tell me what I need. However, Laura’s busy schedule meant it was almost the end of week three before I could have the lesson, and by that time I was still exploring the implications of a new embrace, and additionally wanted help with fast rhythmical dancing.

That was kind of the perfect storm! I was half-asleep, so not dancing well. My original brief had essentially been to work on fundamental technique. But I’d also thrown in a request for help with some specifics. That left poor Laura trying to cram a great deal into a one-hour lesson, and me needing 80% of my attention simply to keep my eyes open. It wasn’t pretty, and I definitely felt more tango toddler!

Generally, my privates work on one thing at a time. One technique issue, or one type of movement. In the course of a single lesson, I can make definite progress with that thing. This was kind of the opposite. I didn’t have a single focus, and was struggling to deal with several things at once, which is not my strong-point even when I’m conscious.

But occasional privates like this can be good things to have in the mix. While I wouldn’t say that I made any noticeable progress on any one of the things we addressed, Laura’s feedback did all make sense – so now I can work on one of them at a time. Those types of lessons can keep me busy for some weeks!

As an example, we worked on achieving a smoother transition between single- and double-speed movements. Paradoxically, the secret to this was to slow after the final normal-time step, in order to signal that something is about to change – even though that thing is an acceleration. My first step with this is a lot of solo practice.

We also worked on how to really contain pivots when dancing quickly to the beat. I’d worked with Diego on transferring only a certain amount of weight in interrupted steps and rebounds, and this was exactly the same principle in say an ocho cortado. Combined with the more contained embrace, that all made total sense, and I was able to start putting that into practice the next day.

I’ve talked before about apparent contradictions in tango teaching, and how some things only make sense when you understand how to resolve this into a bigger picture in which there is no actual contradiction – just coming at the same thing from different ends. In this case, trying to implement Gonzalo’s input of ‘begin every movement by sinking, and do so before indicating the direction of the movement’ without losing the chest lead. I haven’t yet figured this out, and I think that one will take some time.

Parakultural, at Marabú

While I’m not worrying about trying lots of new milongas, I had planned to try Yira Yira.

I first visited Yira Yira in 2019. I got dragged out of there after just one tanda by my then-girlfriend, so I’d planned to go on Friday night. However, they were already fully booked by the time I messaged them at around 3pm. They did put me on the waiting list, and later offered me a table, but only if I could be there by 10pm, which was too early for me.

So that saw me once again taking the short walk to Marabú for the Friday night Parakultural.

I’ve concluded that I have absolutely no idea how to tell a good table from a bad table! When stuffed at the very back one time, it turned out to be sharing a table with two popular leaders, so lots of tangueras looking over. Tonight’s table, which I had to myself on the raised platform at the back of the room, also seemed dubious, but I found it to be a very good vantage point for cabeceo.

I had a terrible first tanda! First, I cabeceod a woman at a table of three, and all three stood up! I’d had two before, but never three. This essentially turned into a tragi-comedy, where the woman I had actually cabeceod sat down again. I was determined to stick to my policy of not being British, and dancing with my original invitee, but there was what felt like about 45 minutes of the three of them variously sitting and standing until we got it straight. I was hoping not to set a precedent by offending two women for every one with whom I danced.

Second, it was a vals tanda, and while the first song was lovely, the second was one of those where the vals rhythm gets buried about seven levels deep. I really struggled with it.

Third, there were some very large groups at the entrance end of the floor, talking very loudly, so it was hard to hear the music over the hum of the chatter when you reached that end. Given I was already struggling to pick out the rhythm, this did not help!

Finally, a leader reversed onto the floor in front of me, requiring a rapid evasive manoeuvre which clearly left my follower wondering what the hell I was doing. I did at least get the satisfaction of seeing the other guy he cut off deliberately bumping into him by way of reprimand. I’d heard people talk about this, but it was the first time I’d seen it.

So, yeah, it wasn’t a good start, and I had to avert my gaze when passing their table for the rest of the evening.

Fortunately, my tactic of responding to a bad tanda by immediately dancing another one paid off big-time! It was a Troilo tanda, with a crowded floor, so I felt slightly apprehensive when we had to move immediately to the inner ronda, but this was perfectly behaved. The music was wonderful, and my very active follower an absolute delight. I couldn’t have asked for a better reset.

This was followed by nothing but lovely tandas. The demographic of Parakultural is an interesting one. Quite a few dancers in their 30s*, and lots 60+, but an apparent gap between the two. My theory is that the core attendees are older, and the 30-somethings are those who want the same style of dance. This seemed to be confirmed by the fact that I had very similar experiences in dancing with a mix of both age-groups.

*Of course, I’m hopeless at estimating ages, so this may actually turn out to be 18 to 50 …

I’m not a Canaro fan, and when a very boring song began, I returned to my table and ordered a coffee. Then regretted it when the second song was Poema – which I haven’t heard for long enough to like it again – and the final one was the Roberto Maida version of El Adiós. Ah well, can’t win ’em all.

I can almost rate the quality of my dancing by what happens when I dance with a woman from a group of tangueras at a table. If the others mirada me afterwards, I know it was good; if they don’t, but accept my cabeceo, I know that I must have gotten a decent review at least; if they look away, then, not so much! Happily, I danced with all four women from one table.

Once again, the elderly woman with the endless stream of taxi dancers was there. I’d been reliably informed that she was British – by one of her taxi dancers – so introduced myself, and expressed my admiration for her stamina. She told me she was 83, had arrived there in November, was staying until May, and danced every night. I said that I very much hoped to be able to follow her example at that age.

Ale teases me about dancing with the oldies, while I point out that they have decades of experience. Sure enough, one of my absolute best tandas was a local woman who must have been 70-something. I danced a D’Arienzo tanda with her, and she was as energetic as any 20-year-old!

I danced about 80% of the live orchestra set, including a lovely tanda with a tanguera from Bruno’s group. I’m now joining the large group who hang up their dance shoes when the live set ends. The final tanda had been wonderful, and I’m learning to always leave on a high note.

Saturday: Tango Camargo at El Beso

I’d had a wonderful time at Camargo last year, so headed back today.

Things got off to a good start when I recognised(!) a follower from another milonga looking my way. As soon as I had my shoes on, we had another lovely tanda.

As with last year, the music was a balanced mix of lyrical and rhythmical, and the DJ announced each tanda. Now I’m actually enjoying dancing to rhythmical music, Di Sarli has really climbed my orchestra rankings, from the Like to Love range. Especially the songs which mix legato and staccato sections. It’s been a long haul, this one, but I kind of feel like I’m really there this time.

I love El Beso as a venue, but it does have one drawback: it feels a bit like a goldfish-bowl in terms of visibility, especially those milongas which leave the main lights up. With most milongas, you’re only visible to some people some of the time. With El Beso, you can easily watch someone dance an entire song. So the stakes feel higher if I mess up!

For that reason, while I’m being braver about milonga tandas, I’m still cautious here – and today I was very thankful for this fact! The first song in the tanda was both beautiful, and with a relaxed pace. Anywhere else, I’d have jumped out of my chair. But I resisted, and was exceedingly grateful for this: the singer dominated more and more each song, and I still have absolutely no idea how to dance milonga when my ears want to listen only to the singer!

Early on in the milonga, the DJ announced that a chacarera would follow. I swiftly pulled out my phone to give myself a refresher on the structure, from the notes I’d made watching YouTube videos:

  • Claps 
  • 2 x approach
  • 2 x pass (out, back)
  • 1 x tap dance [woman lift skirt]
  • 2 x pass (out, back)
  • 1 x tap dance [woman lift skirt]
  • 1 x pass (out)
  • 1 x  back-to-back then embrace

I cabeceod someone, who gave the usual look of surprise at an extranjero wanting to dance chacerera, but nodded. I won’t say my dance is anything to write home about, especially my ‘tap dancing,’ but given most people seem to treat it just as a bit of fun, I don’t feel too out of place now.

I do think it does me favours in milongas. My partner clearly felt I’d held up my end of the dance, I got smiles from a table of women as I left the dance floor, and the couple at the next table smiled and said something I didn’t understand, but was clearly positive. I recommend visitors give it a bash!

I do, however, draw the line at zamba! At least, for now; I saw very few couples doing the ‘official’ steps, so it again seems to be something that is mostly enjoyed as a fun bit of variety. Perhaps I’ll prep for the next trip!

One tanda, my follower and I were dancing very well together when suddenly something went wrong. She half-stumbled then came to a halt, and I wondered what I’d done! But it turned out her elastic belt had sprung open, and gone flying across the dance floor … A couple about ten feet away returned it.

I did have one embarrassing moment. On the final note of the final song in a tanda – exactly the point at which you least want to mess up – I was leading a calesita, and just accelerated a little during the final beat to swing her foot back to me. Unfortunately it was a Pugliese, and I got a little over-energetic with it, causing her foot to swing out more, and catch the woman behind us. My fault entirely. I apologised, but thankfully she was fine, and the four of us ended up laughing about it. But not quite the ending I had in mind!

The time really whizzed by, and when there was just half an hour left, there was another Pugliese tanda. I cabeceod the same woman with whom I’d danced the first tanda, and not only was there no attempted GBH this time, it was perfect! Again, I applied the principle of ending on a high note, and after a big hug and an enthusiastic conversation in which I contributed little and understood about 20%, I returned to my table to change shoes and take my leave.

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