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
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