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

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

Thursday, September 08, 2005


With almost all classes in town having a break from the end of June to mid-September, a single five-day festival has been my only AT time in the summer. Classes on the afternoon, milongas in the evening. While the former were undoubtedly interesting, and ruined only by my partner's poor health, the milongas had an horrible taste of déja vu. Comparing with the same milongas in the same festival last year, my tango was just... the same. The same sensations, the same sequences, the same Bs and Cs. I had hoped I would do either more (a richer variety of sequences, of rythm changes) or better (better grounded, more precise, leading with less efforts) but...no. Like I've reached a plateau. And a not-so-high one.

Why should I continue then? I've been taking classes with the best of the bests (Fabian, Chicho, Osvaldo, Tete, Gavito), I can't expect to suddenly find an AT guru than will unveil the ultimate secrets of the dance. The problem is that, unlike many leaders I know who stopped taking classes and now just go to milongas and the occasional workshops, my AT is not worth much.

Let's see. First of all, my approach of the whole thing: as a leader I see myself as a musician, whose instrument is not the bandoneon or the piano but the lady. I sure take care of her, like a violonist takes care of his violin. But the one I'm trying to make happy is the composer (or the orchestra director), not the lady. During milongas, I don't invite the woman I like most and then dance on any music. I dance on the musics I like most, with any partner I can find.

My abrazo is open-close, with frequent but short switches to open-distant. By open-close I mean we're close (my right hand near hear right armpit) but we're not leaning and the chests don't touch.

Posture: quite bad (looking at the feet, right shoulder forwards, chest backwards). All the aforementioned masters tried to correct it, either with words (Tete) or by touching my spine and chest (Osvaldo. Hey lads, can you imagine, Osvaldo touched me! ) but to no avail.

Walk: ok, I suppose. I fail to see why teachers stress so much the importance of the walk, as in milongas there is no space for walking, all you can do is pivots, giros and rock steps.

Beat or melody: melody. I usually follow the violin, or the most treble instrument.

Balance: unreliable. If for some reason my partner loses her balance I'm not grounded enough to hold her.

Musicality: if I happen to have a strong point, it's there. The (not too frequent) compliments I've got from followers have always been about musicality. I'm good at calculating the tempi so that the highlight of the musical sequence and the highlight of the dance pattern will match. For most parts of AT you can't progress without a regular partner (which for me means I can't progress at all), but at least musicality in AT is an ability which can be trained without the lady, just by listening tangos again and again. Which brings me to...

Partners. President Reagan, to explain he wasn't any more the horse rider he used to be, said once something like "I'm still riding, but my horses are older and older." Well for me it's the opposite, my...partners are getting younger and younger, more attractive and more skilled! Unfortunately they all prefer, by far, milongas to classes. I still have a find a dedicated partner, one who would take two classes a week with me. Well, even once a week would be a significant improvement.

Style: versatile, depends on the music. Well no, that would be great. I've seen me on video tapes, and it's incredible how big the gap is between what you think you're expressing and what you actually express. I once thought that my dance was quick-stacato-rythmic on d'Arienzo, smooth-large-legato on valzes, nuevo on Tanghetto but when I saw the videos with the sound turned off I could not guess what I was dancing on.

Preferred music: changes all the time. I've had my De Angelis period, then I switched to Pugliese, now it's Tanghetto. Maybe Fernandez Fierro next month...
Most disliked music: Di Sarli (and Fresedo, as it sounds like Di Sarli). Teachers play all the time Di Sarli in their beginner class, so each time I hear some Di Sarli in a milonga it reminds me of who I am.

Preferred empanada: beef.

Tango trance: I still have to experiment this. When I read about it in forums it always happens in close embrace so I guess it's mainly a pheromone thing and they would get the same trance by dancing a slow number. I can imagine though what a tango trance could be for me: a fluid tango where inspiration would come easily to me, where the lead/follow process wouldn't be a fight and where the partner would make it look all nice.

So there is much room for improvement. But when will this improvement finally come? This year I'll try to take as many classes as possible, with as many different teachers as possible. Four times a week, and more if I can find more than four partners. No milongas, as in milongas I can't experiment and thus I can't improve. Even worse, by going there I lose the muscle memory of what was learned in classes. No practises either, as practises here are just milongas in disguise. Basically I'll only dance during these 5 minutes at the end of the class when the teachers play a tango while they're having a coke in the studio's lobby.

If at the end of the year there is once again no trace of improvement then my case will definitely be hopeless and I'll just to back to where I'm coming from: social ballroom. I kept in touch with former partners, and it seems there is a shortage of leaders...

posted by Pablo  # 3:30 AM (0) comments

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Choreography workshop #2 

Things are becoming to repeat in this blog, and I'm not sure I'm liking this. So after "CITA #2", now comes
a second report about the annual choreography workshop which closes the tango classes. This time,
I somehow tried to prepare (unlike last year), as there is some competition between pupils, and
this is more or less the occasion to see who is the better couple among the students.

So, two months before, I had e-mailed the teachers to know which music they had chosen. Getting no answer, I tried to make logical guesses. What I knew was:

- The song must be familiar to everybody and frequently played in milongas
- It can't be La Cumparsita (for some reason all teachers here just hate La Cumparsita), nor Recuerdo (already used last year)
- It must have some structure: intro, theme A, theme B, adagio, fantasia, final
- It must not be too difficult or too rich (No Piazzolla, no Color Tango)

After listening to everything I had, the winner was A Evaristo Carriego (Pugliese version), with three
runner-ups: Orlando Goni (Mores), Quejas de bandoneon (Troilo) and Cafe Dominguez (D'Agostino).
Nice try... but they actually chose Quejas de bandoneon by Sexteto Mayor, an orchestra I had written off as "not danceable enough". Go figure...

Also, it turned out my partner wasn't in a "show off" mood. While most of the other couples worked off nice seduction play for the intro part (the first notes of the song. In milongas, it's when you chat with your partner), she rejected all my imaginative ideas, such as:

In fact, she threatened to just leave if I even tried to implement my ideas. So we did it her (most unimaginative) way: I walk to her, I invite her, she stands up, we dance. The dullest intro ever. 16 tempi wasted. By the way, like most couple during these two days, we argued all the time, on every sequence. But mainly about the lift. She didn't want to jump, and until the last minute she tried to persuade me with silly reasons:

"- We never do it in milongas!
- Sure, but today it's a *choreography* workshop.
- What if I land badly and break my foot?
- It's at the end, there is nothing after the lift, you can break all your toes and feet if you want..."

Eventually she realised she was the only opponent. Everybody wanted to see a lift, and we were the only couple with one. There was too much pressure. So she jumped reluctantly, not high, but she jumped.
And when, at the end of the two-day workshop, every couple "performed" in front of everybody (the students
plus the people who came for the ensuing milonga), here is what we demonstrated :

0:01 - 0:16 intro dull invitation

0:17 - 0:33 giro CW with double-time things

0:34 - 0:55 two sacadas with colgada-volcada effect
footwork on 8CB

0:56 - 1:11 two giros CCW with lapiz
Three boleos (back, front, line)
sandwich and sacada with shared axis pivot

1:12 - 1:32 adagio bicycle
low-slow boleo

1:33 - 1:48 adagio four alterations

1:49 - 2:12 fantasia cadena of linear back sacadas
giro CW with double-time things (the same)

2:13 - 2:26 fantasia cadena of circle back sacadas

2:27 - 2:36 final lift
freeze in a more or less dramatic pause

Last year I had really felt the stage fright when the teachers had called our names. Not only fear, but the physical sensation that the feet were frozen and would not move. This time it went all smoothly, I kept my composure despite all the mistakes I was continuously doing. It seems I've learned to live with my mediocrity.

posted by Pablo  # 4:12 AM


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