Many familiar faces and embraces at the delicious Sheffield Tango Festival

The Sheffield Tango Festival was a first for me, but it certainly didn’t feel that way: there were a great many familiar faces and embraces from London, Cambridge, The Feast, Tango by the Sea, and – in at least one case – Buenos Aires.

Of course, the ‘familiar faces’ part is for varying values of same, and in some cases it was the embrace rather than the face I recognised …

The venue was the rather grand King Edward VII Upper School, which I was surprised to discover was a state school, rather than the public school I’d assumed.

The festival prides itself on its friendliness, and that was absolutely the case. The only exception was when Charlotte’s amazing cakes appeared, when there was significant risk of being trampled underfoot by the charging hordes of ravenous tanguer*s. I hear next year’s event is being renamed the Sheffield Cake (and tango) Festival.

Katerina Stoyanova and David Prime were already on my favourite DJs list, and John Tan was added to same after his amazing Saturday evening set! We were also treated to a gorgeous live band in the form of Orquesta Tipica Andariega. As ever, nobody wanted them to stop.

I’d discovered in BsAs the one drawback to now enjoying rhythmical and well as lyrical dance: I get far less rest between tandas! Indeed, after dancing an absurd amount in both afternoon and evening milongas on the Saturday, I found myself reverting to BsAs time on the Sunday: eating breakfast, then going back to bed and setting a wake-up alarm for 3pm.

Talking of not stopping …

I do try to stop when I’m tired enough that my dancing fades, but it’s hard when there are so many great familiar followers, and so many new ones to try. All three nights, I danced right through to the last tanda.

While it was a role-balanced event, there seemed to be more followers than leaders sitting, and I did my best to help address this. (Selflessly sacrificing myself to the wonderful dancing, you understand.)

Beautiful, close-embrace dance

The Argentine embrace is every bit as addictive as tango itself!

Not everyone likes to dance in sustained close embrace. There are followers who like a very elastic embrace, with lots of space to play, and that is fun too, for sure. But I must say that that there’s nothing quite like feeling a tanguera just melting into the close embrace – and the festival was very generously equipped with followers who love to dance this way.

I’ve also enthused at length about the joys of being able to lead with greater subtlety and precision within this embrace, but what still feels even more incredible is where I lead only a direction, and let the follower figure out the rest. It’s both liberating and magical!

I remember learning to lead the giro, and the different approaches. At one extreme, the leader aims to lead every one of the follower’s steps. At the other, the leader indicates a direction, start and stop – but otherwise follows the follower as she chooses the pace and feel.

I mostly enjoy the latter approach, and what I’m experiencing now is just how much of the lead can – with a skilled follower – apply the same principle. For example, while I like to say I learned how to lead a one-step cross, it would be more accurate to say that I learned the torso movements required for a good follower to perform a one-step cross without any input from me in terms of steps.

I still haven’t yet fully figured out how to create space for collaborative dance within a fully-closed embrace. I get far fewer followers taking advantage of my usual ‘pause and relax the embrace’ invitation – but perhaps it’s simply that more women are happy to ‘just’ follow in sustained close embrace? Feedback from followers welcome!

Speaking of following …

I was generally treating the milonga tandas as downtime, and when the live band announced they were about to play one, I turned to my partner at the time and told her that they weren’t my strength. She had a simple, wordless solution to this: she promptly reversed the embrace.

I followed her. For a milonga song. On a crowded floor. I’m still not sure which of us was being braver here.

I just took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Amazingly, it was great fun, and a great success! I’d been wondering whether to resume my following lessons at this point, and I have to say the festival very much fired my enthusiasm for doing so.

It was also notable that there were a lot of dual-role women there, and I sense a time coming when men who don’t also learn to follow will be missing out on a lot of fun!

Floorcraft entertainment

The floorcraft was not without its entertainment factor. In one tanda, my follower and I were just laughing aloud as a guy decided to take a stroll across the dance floor, bumping shoulders with dancers, while the leader in front of us was doing a blind whirlwind impression. Fortunately she’s a dual-role dancer, so we jointly treated it as a game and were thoroughly amused by it!

But it turned out that it was, in this case, the one good reason for poor floorcraft. Ann explained that they encouraged newer dancers to come, and some of them weren’t yet familiar with the milonga codigos – like leader cabeceo when entering the floor, and not swapping between inner and outer ronda like a drunk weaving between lampposts on their way home. Hopefully their teachers will soon provide the required etiquette education, but I’m all in favour of getting people onto the dance floor as soon as possible.

Dancing in the dark

I’d heard of this before, and always been curious about it, so signed up as soon as I heard it was offered.

Registration ensured a balance of leaders and followers, and each were given day-glo wristbands. At the end of each song, leaders held a hand in the air, and followers came to you.

There were similar day-glo markers for the pillars, and edges of the dance floor, and it wasn’t quite 100% dark, so avoiding collisions was easier than expected.

I’d assumed we’d be dancing to tango music, but no. Very no. The music was … um … er … uh … not tango. I’m pretty sure one track was just a recording of two whales mating.

I took my usual school disco approach, and danced tango to it anyway.

It was too crowded, too hot, and too Not Tango – but definitely a fun experience! I’d do it again if the music were guaranteed 100% whale-free tango.

A special thanks to Tina’s Fine Dining Ltd

When it came to dinner arrangements, Tina was the leader and I the follower. She made bookings at local restaurants, with delicious meals the result.

But she also gets hero points for her breakfast delivery service! Breakfast finished at 10.30am, which is about the time I’m giving vague consideration to the possibility of opening my eyes. She took my mug, and delivered coffee, pastries and yoghurt to my room!

An excellent weekend, and my heartfelt thanks to all involved.

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