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

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

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Maybe I should have taken the train after all. I had thought that my partner's friends were not dancers; I was wrong. I found myself in a group of salseros, discussing steps, teachers, festivals, respective merits of cuban vs Puerto-rican salsa. They played salsa music, to me it looked like the ambience music you can hear in elevators, just some pleasant noise so you're not afraid by the silence.

I discovered that my partner spends more time for salsa than for tango, twice as much. She's a young and cheerful girl, I should have figured out much earlier

Common points between salsa and tango dancers: the shoes for women look pretty much the same; the dance is easier to learn for the follower. Difference: the salsa community is more numerous and younger.

posted by Pablo  # 5:15 PM (0) comments

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Not good for improv 

About two months ago my partner #3 scheduled a party for her birthday; it will take place next Saturday and many friends of hers, all non-dancers, are invited. Oh and yes, I'm invited too. I like things like this, planned a long while in advance. By the way I'm making plans for the next CITA festival in March 2007.

And here is a mail from partner #2, received today:

"Wanna go to <400-mile-away town> next weekend?
I'd like to see the show by <famous argentine choreographer and dancer>, they told me some tickets were still available, it's this Saturday night, and then milonga until dawn."

Here a true improviser would have:
- phoned to partner #3 to cancel
- bought a train ticket near Saturday noon for a six-hour-long trip, just putting the dance shoes and a half-dozen shirts in the bag.
- once there, bought late-bird tickets and attended the show
- walked then to the milonga and danced until dawn
- on Sunday morning, walked to the railway station and taken an early train, being back home in the afternoon.

Being the little me, who likes to plan, schedule and ponder, I will of course spend the Saturday night with partner #3 and her friends. But I may feel I missed something.

posted by Pablo  # 7:11 AM (0) comments

Monday, August 14, 2006

Damn tuesday 

Found an ad:

"Follow in search of a partner for the September advanced class by on Tuesdays, and practise time in my own studio the other days. "

Just what I needed! I know her, she's not the pupil next door but a tango teacher as well, even if tango is not her "major". I took a private with her two years ago. Not a pleasant memory. Old, assertive, prompt to find out and expose her partner's weaknesses. Not sure many leaders here would want to take classes with her as a follow. So I may have my chances if I applied. Sure, part of what attracts me here is that she would have to acknowledge that we're on equal terms now...
And practise time the other days of the week... just great!

Now, On the other side, before getting in touch with this prospective follower I had to consider the situation with another partner, quite the opposite. Young, easy to live with, not much better than me (used to be an intermediate, but left tango apart for one year). She made it clear in June that she wanted me as a leader for a class next season but was not yet sure of the day.

This morning she sent me a mail:
"Tuesday. And we'll see the other details together in September, ok?

Damn Tuesday.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Are you a teacher? 

Yesterday I wanted to go to a class but couldn't make it on time, so as a plan B I went instead to another unknown milonga. The place though was familiar to me from my ballroom years. It's still a ballroom place, where once a week they have a milonga. A versatile place. The level was not that great, I figured the people here were versatile too, coming here to dance swing on Mondays, ballroom on Tuesdays, tango on Wednesdays and have their bingo lottery every Friday. The orchestra was playing standards (El Choclo, Felicia, and yes, even La Cumparsita) but with a somewhat jazzy flavour.

Near my table a middle-aged lady in a versatile outfit (small dress, not-so-high heels, can be used to dance swing) stood up and moved to the edge of the dance floor, then froze in the "invite me" position. We danced, in Gainesville style sort of, and when the orchestra finally gave us a break she asked:
"Are you a teacher?"
Ouch. The infamous teacher style. Slightly over-reaching to make the steps clear. Slightly over-leading, just in case. Taking no chances. Safe-safe-safe. Predictable. Boring.

I thought my lead was all the opposite, hazardous and unexpected. It isn't. How can I be creative? This is another question for my teachers.
Fine, I have a class tonight. Mmmmm, a class.

posted by Pablo  # 4:21 AM (3) comments

Monday, August 07, 2006


(exploring unknown tango places, the sequel)

I can't say I went to a milonga tonight, but I came close. I went to the place, equipped with all the necessary gear:
- a book so I have someting to do (I can't be drinking beer all the time).
- tango shoes, breathmints, a 2nd (and even 3rd) shirt, all this in case a lady invites me by lack of a better plan.
I went to the place, could hear the music coming from upstairs, saw people at the balcony, and... could never find an open door to enter the building.

On my way back to the metro, an unknown lady (this is becoming a running gag) stopped me: "I know you're a tango dancer; any idea where the milonga is?". I told her, mentioned the issue with the doors and wished her good luck.

posted by Pablo  # 12:25 PM (0) comments

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Fantastic dancer 

Went to a new, unknown to me, twice-a-month milonga, to see how it looked like. It looked nice. Space, good floor, about 25 seats (more than enough). Candles on the tables. Mp3 tandas of Di Sarli, D'arienzo, De Angelis, four pieces then a country-western cortina. More men. Two couples of men dancing between themselves, much better than the "regular" couples by the way.

After an hour it became obvious that something was missing though: a library. I took this habit in another milonga where they have shelves of books, picking one and read it at the light of the candles. Julius Caesar (Shakespeare), Ficciones (Borges)....

Here an unknown lady came to me.
"Hi Pablo, saw you from a distance and figured I might invite you as I don't know anone here". We had that kind of dance when I feel there is a big difference of levels but can't tell whether the lady is much more or much less experienced than me. It turned out that she had been attending classes for roughly one year, possibly not with the best teachers in town. She also mentioned she had come with a friend, so I felt I had to dance with this one as well.

The friend immediately warned me: she was a neophyte. But aren't we all? Her outfit was saying the opposite, especially the golden, high-heel shoes. I had to concentrate on the shoes because the cleavage was quite spectacular. (And the other parts were not bad either; she looked pretty much like Carmen Electra, to give an idea). But a neophyte she was. The cross was a concept unknown to her. And no, there is no way to lead the cross to a lady who does not know the cross. To my surprise she complimented me, but the surprise vanished as she finished her sentence:
"You're such a fantastic dancer! I saw you dancing salsa at [mentions a salsa club] with [mentions a girl name], it was incredible..."

Phew. She thought I was somebody else. With salsa I can only lead the basics. But this explains her nice dancer outfit, unusual for a neophyte. It was probably one of her salsa outfits. Also, I bet that in real life she's wearing glasses...

posted by Pablo  # 5:30 PM (0) comments

Friday, August 04, 2006


Summer is also the season to reconsider partnerships. This lady who was a beginner in September, is now much better than me. She will probably break it up and look for an advanced leader. That one, who was *slightly* overweighted one year ago and since then gained a dozen additional pounds, while my own strength and muscles lost their past efficiency (age, you know...), will I still be able to lead her into colgadas? Maybe I don't want to take the chance.

Eleven names are on my list. Two of them moved; they're still dancing tango... but in other, distant towns. One is still studying cuttlefishes DNA, sending mails from her island every 6th month or so. One made it clear to me she wanted to switch to any more skilled partner, and did so. And finally, the youngest one has a boyfriend now and is only interested into introducing him to tango (or tango to him); makes sense. So I have to bar five names. On the other hand, the one who had to leave for one year to prepare her PhD got it (and celebrated it, we offered her a bicycle), so she'll probably be back soon.

And there is my "historical" partner, the one I used to love, and for whose eyes I took up the tango in the first place, the one who refused to take classes with me during my first two years of learning. She was my partner this season, and asked me to continue in September. But I won't. I like my partners to be either good (so they can dance despite my lead), or playful (so we can both laugh at my mistakes) or sweet (so they forgive my mistakes), and she's nothing of that. By the way, out of the remaining ones, one is good, three are playful and two are sweet.

posted by Pablo  # 3:12 AM (0) comments

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Class hopping 

At the end of the day I can't force my nature. Whatever my intentions were about going to milongas during this period of the year where my regular teachers are away, I didn't go anywhere.
Instead I'm class hopping, taking one lesson here, one lesson there with teachers unknown to me, considering the time I need to go there, the place, the floor, the sound system, the attendance, the male/female balance, the style, the level. Also there is always the hope of possibly finding a tango partner.

Yesterday I went to a so-called "intermediate" class. By how they were dancing, "beginner" may have been more suitable. Nevermind, with summer classes you can never know whether a class is the last of a year-long series (in which case the students, having attended one year of intermediate classes, have actually reached the intermediate level) or the first of the next season series (in which case the students are intermediate wannabees).

The teacher explained we would "explore the cruzada". The idea being to try and vary the 8CB theme , leading the cross or not, and when the cross occurs letting or not the lady put her weight on her crossed foot; changing the possible exits; trying to switch feet on the "one", or on the "two", and so on.
Fine for me. Quickly enough though, the pupils got tired of exploring and asked the teacher to add something else. He duly obliged and demonstrated the sacada from the cross. Not a complete sequence, with a sacada, a transition and the 6-7-8 ending of the 8CB. Just the sacada. One step. He invited us to explore once again the possibilities, explaining that from the cross there were many options to lead the woman, and that the sacada could be made with either foot, thus creating a lot of possibilities.

This is where he got overwhelmed by questions. What's next? Where do we go from here? I do this, and then? I'm on the wrong foot to do 6-7-8, how do I do? I did my usual step but it did not work because he changed his foot, who is wrong?

He first tried to struggle, pointing out that this was precisely what the lesson was about, to let us explore the situations and figure out our own ways to manage them. But soon he understood that he had been somehow over-ambitious and that the students had not yet enough tango knowledge to feel comfortable and creative when in improvized, unknown patterns.
He sighed, then demonstrated a clear-cut sequence, cross, sacada, sacada by the woman, mirror, 6-7-8 of the 8CB.

posted by Pablo  # 5:35 AM (0) comments


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