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

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

Thursday, September 23, 2004

first Intermediate class 

Well, not exactly first. I had already attended a couple of so-called intermediate workshops given by
touring teachers. But yesterday was my debut in a regular, weekly, collective, intermediate class.

In front of the door, familiar faces. Students from last year. They greeted me with all the seriousness and dignity required by our new status. For a brief moment we shared a smile, remembering our first beginner session. How young and naive we were! Now, the days of insouciance were gone. Serious stuff was on the agenda.

Some newbies from the beginners' class, just before ours, were still here, and looked at us with both envy and respect. They did not leave the room immediately, and their silence was like a mute begging. Suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of mission, we felt it was our duty to show them how tango is done. Without any unnecessary words we began to invite each other for the warm-up tango. The song finally ended and the novices left, obviously thinking that maybe, one day, they too would be Intermediates.

Then, with the solemnity of devotees during a Church celebration, we beholded the teachers demonstrating the Sequence: giro con enrosque y lapiz. After that we were requested to reproduce it.

This was the moment were all our sense of mission vanished. All of a sudden we were once again beginners fighting with a new sequence, ignoring the music, bumping into each other, stepping on partner's feet, losing balance. The lapiz proved particularly destructive in our crowded classroom, like scythes during a harvest. As for myself I was struggling, more over, with my partner: the giro con lapiz y enrosque requires that the follower knows the giro: forwards, side, backwards, side. She didn't. Her giro was forward, side (quick and small), forward again, side (small), ocho (unled), ocho (unled).

Noticing the disaster, the teachers broke the sequence into smaller elements and after a while it became easier, as now everybody here knew his/her role. So there was no need for me to lead the "what" any more, I just had to lead the "when" (the "quicks" of the "quick-quick-slows").
Of course it was as artificial as a playback song, and I can't seriously imagine whispering to my real-life milonga partners "Ok, ready for a giro con enrosque y lapiz?" each time I'll try this sequence.

Oh, and the teachers never corrected any of my moves. They must think my case is hopeless.

posted by Pablo  # 3:23 AM (0) comments

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


Went to a milonga on Sunday evening. Quite unsure, because lately I used to go there with my partner, and to emphatically ignore all the ladies sitting along the walls. But now my partner, the one and only I ever had, is gone, back to her russian homeland. So I was alone, and modestly sat on some remote chair in a dark, hidden corner. Then I saw and waited. Would the followers payback and decline all my invitations ? I was not even sure whether I really wanted to know, so I didn't even try to approach any lady.. Yet as it happened, four of them came to me and asked me to invite them.
A wonderful display of virtue and pardon ? Not exactly: there was a marked shortage of leaders, this sunday evening...

posted by Pablo  # 5:36 AM (0) comments

Friday, September 17, 2004

Nice try 

Two weekly classes in two days. What a pity, I thought. Why should I not try to have them all the same day ? Problem: the class by teachers X begins at the very moment when the class by teachers Y ends. So I'd have to run as fast as Maurice Green in his younger days to go from one school to another. But hey, I thought, teachers X are 50% argentine, so they'll be late, so their class will actually begin with something like 15 minutes of delay. And so I gave it a try.
This plan was too smart of course. I had forgotten something: teachers Y are argentine too, 100% argentine by the way, and so their class ended half an hour late. I ran as fast as I could (almost at Maurice Green's speed...when he's walking) yet when I reached the second class my partner had become tired of waiting and was gone.

posted by Pablo  # 7:51 AM (0) comments

Monday, September 13, 2004

another tango week-end 

Went to an afternoon practica on saturday. Not really crowded: at first I was alone, then there was a couple plus me, one hour later three couples plus me. A climax was reached with four couples plus one guy plus me. Then the reflux slowly came, and I was the last to leave.

The good news are that I got no refusal by any woman. The bad news are that I never got any chance to invite one. Nevertheless I'll keep going to this practica, to support its promoter. Plus, I always take a heavy novel-book when I go there. I read a lot during practicas and milongas, which is in any case a much better way to use my time than my usual sessions of beer'n chips in front of the TV.

Went, the day after, to an evening milonga. Joined friends at their table. Four of them. Two couples (sigh). All other people unknown to me. A few lonely women, and the same number of Kings-of-the-tango to perpetually invite them. Bad new and good news: see paragraph above.
Main difference with saturday: instead of reading, I mainly spent my time taking care of my friends' belongings (bags, clothes, drinks).

Finally, I'm being accepted in our tango community. As a cloakroom boy.

posted by Pablo  # 2:57 AM (0) comments

Friday, September 10, 2004

Exhibition of incompetence 

My teachers, to begin this new season, got the interesting idea of organizing six consecutive free "open house" evenings in their school. This included beverages, food, and demos. These demos were supposed to be the cornerstone of the whole things: several couples of students of various levels demonstrating their skills to the newcomers (and potential new students), thus giving them a strong desire to become themselves able to do all these marvellous steps. The high spot of each evening being, of course, the final demo by the teachers themselves.

This was the concept. Now the reality: social tango (and our teachers emphasized all along the year that we had to dance this way) is not spectacular. Following the LOD may be capital in a milonga, but when a one and single couple has the whole floor at its disposal, and does not use it, and cautiously follows counter-clock-wise the outside edge it is very weird to look at. Same for the steps ("Smaller! smaller! Forget showy stuff!", we were taught all the time during classes), for a newcomer it may have been quite strange to see us making miniscule steps on a vast, large, empty floor.

The first evenings I successfully stay hidden when students were picked to perform, but finally my turn also came. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, Helen, a two-year experience student, and Pablo, one year and an half of tango, will show you what they can do!".

So here we were, frozen by stage fright, in front of the wild crowd expecting to see the wild jumps that always occur in tango shows. But hey, I can't lead this. As for Helen, I don't know, maybe she can actually jump. Yet as she is a more advanced girl she usually never dances with me ( a two-year follower's prefers six-year-or-more leaders), so our 8CB worked but my attempts to lead ganchos resulted in her doing saludos, she ignored most of my paradas, and, maybe in a search for spectacular stuff, she went into spontaneous, heavy leans, which caught me unprepared; or worse, maybe I actually led these leans, without even knowing it. And of course she could add that for her, used to leaders who feel, protect and preserve her axis, it was quite challenging to dance with
me, a rookie intermediate being too concerned by my own balance to also take care of hers. Finally the
song came to an end, with a last, missed, parada.

The only question is: who was the most horrified by our demo? Us, our teachers, the onlookers ? Or even Tete, who happened to be there ( and joyfully initiated the young damzels here to the 8CB), and who muttered, while I was "performing", something like "How can they be that bad, their teachers are very good..."

After that, the teachers' demo was like these before/after ads (A few pictures with a big, fat, short-legged, ugly nerd, then "three weeks of delight-light-max diet" and finally some pictures showing a seductive, charismatic, young, tall Baywatch athlete). At last, some tango.

posted by Pablo  # 3:21 AM (0) comments

Monday, September 06, 2004

Hit by Tete 

After their summer sleep, Milongas begin to flourish again. Last Sunday, the hosts guided me to a table touching (to my horror) the dance floor. I prefer, of course, being hidden somewhere in the third or fourth rank of tables, the danger to be invited is not so high.
So there I was, keeping a low profile, anxiously avoidind to meet the eyes of any female creature coming more or less in my direction.

I was rescued by an old, little, fat, short-sighted man to whom I gave my chair, as he was obviously willing to be as close as possible to the dancers. Soon I became a bit irritated by him, as he kept humming the songs, or whistling them. His hands were moving too, clapping. And every ten seconds he would yell something at the dancers: "Well done, old man! Show them how it's done!" or "good one, go on, go on!", all in Castillano of course. He just couldn't stay still and silent. After a while, his feet began to follow the tempo, hitting the
nearest chair, which happened to be mine.

First I thought he was an argentine soccer fan, maybe Boca Junior. Then I noticed that from the neighbouring tables, and even from distant corners of the milonga, local teachers were trying to get his attention or at least meet his eyes. It looked like a sort of smile contest between them.

And I realized that the humming guy was probably Tete Rusconi.
Suddenly I felt very happy and honored to be hit and hustled by him, a living legend of tango. Kindda same
feeling than when Fabian Salas once put his large, warm hand on my shoulder. (Ok, it was because the corridor was narrow and he wanted me to give way.)

The hosts soon approached him and begged for a demo. He kindly agreed, and chose a vals ("a short one, so I won't be suffering for too long!"). Here I felt sorry that my videotape had stayed home, but not for long, as the performance was not outstanding. I was expecting to watch superb footwork and subtle leads, but he just rebounded and rebounded like a big rubber ball, making large steps with a small rotation between them, keeping the momentum. Watching him, it's impossible not to think of a ball, as he has an enormous belly. He dances milonguero-style of course, there is no choice, his belly reaches further than his arms...

He came back to my table, under the wild applauses of the the assembly, had a little chat with the male half of my teachers, then soon invited the female half and went back to the dance floor, while the remaining part of my teachers (male component) warmly told me how much he liked Tete. "You can take any BsAs milonga, the most packed, nobody can move a toe; and you see one guy who keeps going, and going, only one, and it's Tete. He just can't stop. Once he enters a milonga, his life begins." Back to my table, the female component of my teachers disclosed her feelings: "It's so funny to dance with him. You know you'll be moving all the time. He
leads with his whole body: his arms, his stomach, his knees, his neck..." She also added that what I was seeing today was a "light" version of Tete, that because of age he had to calm down a lot. Yet, there was more energy and happiness in him than in any of the sinister-face, dark-dressed leaders sitting there.

posted by Pablo  # 3:57 AM (0) comments


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