Tango: my life as a not-so-good leader

And you thought that YOU were the worst dancer in the world ?

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Whatever happened to the heroes ?

Listening to this old Strangler's song, I remembered the enthousiastic group of first-time tango beginners, who, almost one year ago, assisted a workshop, and at he end of it exchanged phone numbers and mail addresses, to stay in touch. And I wondered what they had become.

Well, ladies first:
D. L.: still assist beginner classes, but not on a regular basis.

L. S.: was a "false beginner" (she already knew all this ocho stuff long before
the workshop). Quit classes, but still belongs to the world of tango, as she is now assistant manager of a tango "tipica orquesta".

I. R.: a few weeks after the workshop, she had to make a tough decision: spending her money either for tango shoes or for tango classes. She bought the shoes, of course. And never went to any milonga or practise afterwards. Well, no matter, she has beautiful shoes by now.

A. S.: had a salsa background. She seemed gifted for tango too, but had to move to another town after a few months, because of her studies. Miss her, for sure she must still be dancing something now, but probably salsa, as it is so much more popular.

B.B.: Another woman with a salsa background. But unlike A.S, she doesn't
have the balance and quickness you would expect from a salsa dancer. But she liked tango. After some thought, she decided to give it a try and now goes to a weekly class. Plus a monthly milonga. Plus the occasional workshop.

And now the guys:

D.L.: Nice and smart. But he felt clumsy on the dance floor. And as he's a tall guy, he thought that everybody could see how clumsy he was. He quit after four or five months.

P.L.: yours truly. Ballroom background. Goes to CITA in a few days.
Despite pathetic efforts, remains a beginner. Hates the milonguero style.

T.T: his pure joy when he had just mastered a step or a sequence was communicative. But when he went to his first milongas, he got very impressed by the high level of all the leaders but him (or what he believed was a high level), and thought he would not keep the pace with the improving guys in the group. No news, I bet he quit.

B.M.: another "false beginner", as he already had a six-month experience of tango when he assisted the workshop. Opted for the milonguero style. Never misses a milonga, and takes a lesson twice a week. I can't say I like the way he dances, as I find it a bit sleepy, but at least his partners don't seem to mind sleeping in his arms.

And finally the couples:

S.A. & S.P: A couple à la ville, they're always together also in tango classes, about twice a month. They opted for the milonguero style, and improve slowly but steadily.

J. A. & boyfriend: She was reasonably interested in tango, but her boyfriend (who also assisted the workshop) wasn't. So her only motivation was that her mother being a (enthousiastic, but really bad) tango dancer, the daughter hoped to become the best one in the family. Not a big incentive,indeed. She went for a little while, without her boyfriend, to some beginners classes, and then disappeared.

So, half of the people left. The group itself collapsed, as the ones who
didn't give up took different directions (mainly milonguero style versus open style), and are now studying with different teachers.

Whatever happened to all of the heroes ?
all the Shakespeares ,they watch their Rome burn

Whatever happened to the heroes ?
whatever happened to the heroes ?

No more heroes anymore
no more heroes anymore
no more heroes anymore
no more heroes anymore

Stranglers - No more heroes (1977)

posted by Pablo  # 5:58 AM (0) comments

Friday, February 20, 2004


No, it's not the weather. It's just me. I have a cold. I sneeze, and my throat hurts. For almost one week now, I have missed all my tango lessons. No need to contaminate all the followers in the class. Also, the lead is clearly less precise when you have a handkerchief in your left hand. So, potato couch is back. TV, soaps, beers. Having been attending classes for almost a year by now, I had forgotten how nice it was just to do nothing (but becoming a little fatter on every day) on the evening.
No shower, no quest for an ironed shirt, no mints, no perfume (Axe Marine), no difficult choice between my two dance shoes pairs (the new one which soon causes pain, or the confortable one - but old, so old that even a beggar would hesitate to wear it). No rush for the last metro.

A minute ago I got an e-mail from argentine fellows informing all their friends that they will reserve a table in their favourite milonga tonight, and everybody is welcome. And I won't go. And I appreciate it.

My only concern is that tomorrow, who knows, maybe I won't be ill any more.

posted by Pablo  # 6:46 AM (0) comments

Monday, February 16, 2004

CITA, preparing for the unexpected

Two months before the event I had cautiously booked 20 CITA classes, endlessly weighting the pros and cons of each teacher, asking advices to my argentine friends, scanning the Internet for information, and so on.

It was understood that the reservations were first open to people within groups (mine will be about 30 people), and only then to individuals. Well, due to some mistake, the opposite occurred, and when the representative of our group sent his form to Fabian Salas, it appeared that everything was already full. After a sleepless night of negociations, our representative finally found room for all of us in CITA classes, but... not necessarily the classes we had booked.

I'm relatively lucky, only one of the classes I intented to assist (by Julio Balmaceda & Corina) was replaced by another (by "El Pulpo"), but for some of my team-mates the replacement ratio almost reaches 100%. They'll sure have fun in Buenos Aires: imagine they're beginners and they'll have to learn the professional-level class about high jumps, or leaders assigned to "tecnica para mujer" classes...

Lately realizing that the offer was not matching the demand, Fabian hired three more teachers (Esteban Moreno & Claudia Codega, El Pulpo & Luiza, Guillermina Quiroga), who will give 18 additional classes. It means that, besides the 7 planned levels of classes (beginners, milonga, intermediates, advanced, professionals, thematics, masterclass), there will be an 8th one, without name for the moment. May I suggest "late bird"...

posted by Pablo  # 8:15 AM (0) comments

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Just not wednesday

My (argentine) teachers of (argentine too, makes sense) tango already proposed weekly beginner classes, advanced classes, intermediate classes (even subdivised into "intermediate 1" and "intermediate 2").
They also proposed two thematic classes: milonga and giros. Seems they're still full of energy, because they recently started "half-privates" classes. "Half-collective" could have been a better name, since these classes need 4 couples, (no more, no less), and the price is the same than their collective classes.
I put my name on the list, with a proviso that any day was good for me, except wednesday. After a few months a 8-people group was ready, the
chosen day being friday.

I liked the first session, because my usual problem with collective class (male students overnumbering by far the nuber of female students) disappeared,
because the teachers paid individual attention to everybody, while the pressure on me was much more bearable than in a private (It puts a lot of stress on me to feel the constant attention of two teachers on the little me). A small concern yet about my partner, who appeared a bit late, forcing the female teacher to dance with me (and therefore putting
great stress on me)

The second session was nice too, except my partner came one hour late. Female teacher, stress, and so on. Yet, all in all a nice session.

A few day before the third session I got a message: "the group would like to change the day. Is it a problem for you?". I hate seing changes in what had been agreed, and I had plans for all the nights of this week, but I did not want to go against "the group". Also, the classes where already all paid, and not refundable. So I replied "As you wish, change the day. Just not on wednesday."

The day after another message came: "The group has arranged things: the class will be on wednesday."

Maybe it's the argentine way of organizing things. You sign, you pay, and then they change their part of the contract.
We'll see at CITA. By the way, I already began to see: I had signed (and paid, yes) for CITA classes by the famous Geraldine Rojas, and instead the teacher will be (not so famous) Melina Brufman.

posted by Pablo  # 3:53 AM (0) comments

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

So close, and yet so far

Having heard the laments of a young damzel complaining about her not having a partner to dance with, a milonga host kindly invited me (Yes, invited. I didn't have to pay the entry fee. The same kind of honour that organizers make only to renowned milongueros) and made the presentations. She had been taking classes for three months, was reasonably gifted, young and lovely, and our respective sizes and weights matched. Usually I wake up at this point. But this time it was not a dream, and I enjoyed a few pleasant dances.

Of course, things soon went wrong. Tango is about pain, failure, anger, betrayal, losses, sadness, not roses, fresh water and love. It quickly became clear to me that she wasn't skilled enough to follow me, i.e to compensate for
my shaky, uncertain lead. And clear to her that I wasn't skilled enough to lead her, i.e to lead steps known to me but unknown to her. After a few missed steps, we began to argue about what the follower what supposed to do by herself. The cross, the back step in giros... We stopped dancing. The connection, this precious and vulnerable little thing, was lost.

Fortunately she did not have to wait more than one minute before being invited again; by a young, skilled guy, who not only kew to dance but also knew how to deal with beginners. First, very simple steps: walk and the occasional habanera. For a whole tango, as if they had all the time in the world. And by the way, one hour later, while sipping my beer I could see they were still dancing together and having fun. The combo skilled guy/lovely debutante makes wonders.

Alas there is no wonderful combination involving an unskilled man. Paired with another beginner, the result is the sum of our deficiencies (unless she takes classes with the same teachers; then we have some common knowledge). Paired with a great dancer it's even worse, I've always felt like I had been put into a Formula One and couldn't even find the way to start the engine, and now not only don't I invite skilled women any more, I also decline their invitations.

So everything ended well: I got my 15 seconds of glory when I entered the milonga WITHOUT HAVING TO PAY, and the damzel found a nice boy to dance with.

posted by Pablo  # 7:00 AM (0) comments

Thursday, February 05, 2004

It takes two...

During classes, after the teacher has demonstrated the sequence, I envy the couples à la ville who can immediately begin to rehearse, while I have to wait patiently until some follower becomes available. And when this happens, I still can't exercise immediately, we have to "adjust" for a while with simple steps until the connection is there, before embarking on the nice pattern (e.g. back saccada with double jump) which is the subject of the class.

I also envy them because they can practise, i.e. repeat indefinitely the same sequence until it works. This is something I theoretically could do too, if I happened to be in an empty milonga (you need space to practise) with a student follower, who would have assisted the same class, who would be available, (alone, not with friends or husband, not already invited by advanced dancers), willing to practise. In real life this never happens, of course. During the milongas all I can do is refine somehow the patterns I already know, mainly the 8CB. And most of the nice steps I'm taught are quickly forgotten.

So, the cons are obvious: the steps are more difficult to learn for me during the classes, and impossible to practise. The pros do exist, yet: the constant feeling of frustration for not having someone to dance with suits well with tango. Remember, this is "A sad feeling that can be danced", therefore at least I'm in the appropriate mood. Also, varying the partners avoids taking habits such as "half-leading" (I just lead the beginning of the pattern, the woman recognizes it and finishes it on her own), anticipation (the woman knows that after a giro I always lead a gancho) and so on.
So theoretically, in the long run it is probably a good thing. I will develop into a better leader, but it will take me 14 years instead of the 7 it usually needs. In real life, of course, I'll be dead by then.

posted by Pablo  # 3:06 AM (0) comments

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

If you can't say anything nice...

...better say nothing. My town's tango community is not that large. The percentage of women who don't try to run away when I enter a milonga isn't large either. So I try to refrain from telling anything offending, whatever I may actually be thinking. Same for followers, they think something and say something else.

Last afternoon, at the end of the class, while practising a bit, here is what Michelle was thinking while I tried to lead some beginners's patterns:

"- Look at this blond chick over there, she's doing f.....g well. Of course, she has a skilled leader, unlike me. With Pablo, for sure I can only expect 8CB after 8CB. I'll be happy enough if his heel doesn't step on my toes, as
happened last week, and... oh, s..t! That was an ocho!"

And here is what she said:

"- Sorry Pablo, my mistake. See Helen, she's dancing well by now!"

What I thought:

"- Of course she's dancing well. But nothing special, after her three months of classes she's got the usual level girls have after three months of classes. I saw women who were dancing like this after only a week-end workshop. It's not her who is gifted, it's you, Michelle, despite your two years of classes and the unnumerable workshops you attended, who are still unable to understand some simple concepts such as 'The leader leads, the follower follows', 'The follower does not lead, this is the leader's job', and who are unlikely to ever reach the so-called 'intermediate' level. "

And what I replied:

"- True, she's dancing well by now..."

posted by Pablo  # 4:57 AM (0) comments

Monday, February 02, 2004

The leader is always wrong.

When some catastrophe occurs on the dance floor (bump, fall, gancho on another couple's leg...), the blame is usually put on the leader, because he is the one supposed to be in charge of everything.
As for myself, I'm even wrong when nothing spectacularily bad happens to my partner. For instance, the onlookers can see her executing a nice (ok, an acceptable) giro. The only problem is that I was leading (or thought
I was leading) a backward ocho! My counter-clockwise giros invariably turn into front ochos, my clockwise giros into half-turns, my barridas into sandwiches. My ocho cortados are rarely cortados. When I lead a gancho, my
partners always make saludos, and funnily enough the opposite is also true, i.e they make nice ganchos when I expect a saludo.
Who knows, maybe it's the same for each and every leader, maybe no follower ever followed anything, maybe all these so-called tangueros are only a big bunch of hypocrits.
Of course, some tango patterns are not similar to any other sequence, so
for instance when I try a back saccada the woman can't be confused. In this case things are much simpler: I far and large miss the step, my heel hitting the woman's ankle, or sometimes the nearest chair.

posted by Pablo  # 7:37 AM (0) comments


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