Tuesday, 30 March 2010

If only it was always like this

I was in a special workshop run by a visiting teacher. My partner and I stumbling through the step, the teacher demonstrated again for us all, we changed partners and again we were stumbling. I kept getting the signal to ocho back and pivot but always fell off balance. The teacher came over to us, watched and then said to my partner ‘Watch again’. We embraced, he led the step and it was perfect.

I thought ‘Wow – with a leader like that, how could you ever go wrong?’

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Silent tango

The other day, I was watching a tango video from a blog. I can’t remember which one it was or who was dancing but one of the comments said something about watching the dance without the music as it was easier to see the connection between the dancers. This had never occurred to me before but I’ve tried it a few times and found it quite interesting, especially as it sometimes shows you when the follower is back leading or responding to the music without her leader. I’m sure all followers have been guilty of it at one time or another, in fact, I’ve realised that some of my better dances have been not to my favourite music but tangos I don’t know too well. It stops me waiting for a particular ‘twiddly bit’ that I know is coming and doing a particularly appropriate embellishment. It may fit well but I’m not hearing the music anew - I’m hearing it in my memory and responding to that.

Which leads nicely onto musicality which is suddenly a big hot tango topic. Earlier this week, I did a class where we focused on one song for an hour. We dissected it and then tried to separate out all the different parts and instruments. Then we took it in turns dancing to certain aspects – a really awkward exercise and quite chaotic. At one stage I looked around and all I could see were ‘unconnected’ couples everywhere – people listening so hard for particular bits that they had completely lost any connection with their partner. It was a really challenging class but useful.

Afterwards, I thought about how you could try that exercise but in reverse – maybe get couples to dance without any music at all; or to dance completely at odds with the melody/rhythm. It would certainly make each partner connect to the other and would highlight where the lead is going wrong and stop women anticipating the ‘twiddly bit’ and going straight into a giro because ‘8.5/10 leaders are going to do a giro to that part’. I’m not starting a silent revolution or anything but I think an exercise like that might help to shake people up a bit. I wonder who would want to try it with me?

[Aside: I told a friend about my idea later and she scoffed. ‘That sounds like dancing with a bad leader’, she said, ‘I get enough of those at a milonga!’ Maybe its not such a good idea.]

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


I have definitely made some friends since my initial foray into tango but coming from the wrong side of town for most milongas, means that I pretty much always travel there and back alone. The other day however, one generous soul agreed to do a wide detour and drop two of us off rather than letting us miss the final half hour.

As we drove through the streets, one of us said how much she had enjoyed the night and how she knew she would never be able to sleep once she got home. I agreed and said that I was the same and was always buzzing when I got in. My routine therefore, was to make a cup of tea, have some hot buttered toast and, snuggled under a thick blanket on the sofa, watch a few youtube tango videos.

The third amongst us said that he always drank some milk, ate a biscuit and then in socks, would quietly practice his moves to the silent tango playing in his head. The first admitted that she too practiced and replayed the moves that had gone particularly well that night in her head and on her lounge floor.

We laughed as we realised that all over London (and even the world) there will be other tangueros - tired from a night out but still thrilling with the night’s emotions, unable to sleep but happily reliving their milonga experiences. It makes me smile to share that.

Friday, 12 March 2010

How good do you have to be before you can ignore the rules (and should you)?

Early on as a follower, I learnt that the cardinal sin was to expect/anticipate a step from the leader. As someone who has danced her whole life (but never in partner dances) I found this aspect of tango very challenging. I was used to being in control of MY body and dancing how I felt steps fitted to the music. In tango, I couldn’t do this – I had to give up that aspect of my dancing and instead learn to respond to the leader’s marks.

So for about 18 months, I have worked on this and now I follow (if I do say so myself) reasonably well. I’ve learnt to shut off the part of my brain that says is this right? I keep a tight lid on the part of my brain that delights in the music and says a giro would fit in with this phrase (unless a giro is led there in which case I rip off the lid with exuberance!) and instead I just try to read like Braille the script of the dance that is being created.

This is a good place to be in and will most likely suffice for most of my ‘tango career’ but can you get to a level where you become so good as a follower that you can ignore these rules? And perhaps more importantly, should you?

Last night, my friend said to me,

- X is here. She is wonderful and teaches in BA. She’s over here to visit her husband’s family and she always drops in to XX milonga. She is amazing, whatever you lead, she follows! Its breath-taking dancing with her.

I looked over at this ‘goddess’ in interest, keen to know who to watch for in the future. But then a thought crossed my mind.

- But what does she do if you lead something wrong? Does she follow you anyway?

- Oh no. If she senses you are doing something strange/not right with the music, she will extract you both from it straightaway. I’ve been dancing with her before and suddenly, she has ground me down and held me in place while she dances us out of the mess I’ve made!

- So it was ok for her not to follow you then?

- Oh course. She’s so good, she knows when to bend the rules.

‘Is this true?’, I wondered later. Can you get to a level where you know and do deliberately move away from the traditional follower mould? My friend is certainly an adequate dancer although like the rest of us, open to making errors sometimes. He was obviously accepting of the fact that X had ‘led’ them into something better but isn’t that a dangerous path to be starting on? Or it is ok for followers of a certain level to do this? Unfortunately, I never got a chance to see the divine Ms X dance as I left too early but still I’m uncomfortable with this idea? It seems to change the whole structure of tango as I know it.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Tango and alcohol

Tango is a little bit like alcohol.

Most people can enjoy it in moderation. You get that little high but no repercussions the next day (Tango Equivalent = lessons/classes/practicas).

Sometimes you go out to a party or have a big dinner out and you get a bit beyond moderation. Maybe you order a few too many glasses of wine, you have that extra G&T when you know you probably shouldn’t. You feel happy, smiley and bubbly at the time. It’s a bit 50:50 here as to whether you’re going to suffer the next day from tiredness; achiness; mild despondency and a let down feeling after the high. You might be lucky and suffer nothing.(Tango equivalent = going to a milonga ranging from the ok to the brilliant).

Occasionally though, you meet people who have had that little bit too much. They’ve gone beyond the happy feeling and are now sliding into sadness and melancholy. They need to confide in you about their extreme emotions and they want to theorise and philosophise about them as well. This is that guy at the party, the one who starts to bewail about his life and the girl who left him. (Tango Equivalent = it’s the same, there’s no difference)

Well I got my first experience of this the other night.


[The friend approaches Golondrina and looks doleful]

Friend: Dance with me. I’m feeling so low.

[They dance but it is evident the Friend is not happy]

Golondrina: What’s the matter?

F: Its K. She won’t dance with me. I’ve been ‘cabesceo-ing’ her all night but she keeps looking away. What’s happening? She was happy to dance with me last night.

G: Maybe she just wants to dance with some other people

F: Yes, but I’m so jealous. We dance so well together. I put my whole soul into every dance with her.

G: I’m sure its not you.

F: I’m just not sure where my place is in the milonga anymore. Should I be here? Who am I when I’m on the dance floor?

[G looks at her friend with narrowed eyes]

G: How long have you been tango-ing tonight?

F: Well, I started this afternoon over at TC and then I came straight here.

G: So, that’s about 8 hours straight.

F: Yes, plus I was out last night.

G: I think you need to leave and go home. You’ve had a few too many tandas.