ALTERATIONES

Philip – Gustavo did not teach Thursday night at Dance Arts.  Jesica, dancing with women from the class demonstrated the leader’s role.  She wore flat, practice shoes and her “Can’t Bust’em” trousers.  There is something almost humorous about this delicate, birdlike woman evoking the power and intention of the leader.  I was fascinated because every woman she partnered with got each of Jesica’s leads.  From across the room I could almost feel this teacher waiting until each element of her lead was understood and executed by her partner.

The figure, which almost featured this need to lead and then wait and allow the follower to understand and then move, was based on three “reverse of directions” or, alterationes. It started with the couple facing each other in an embrace.  The leader shift his weight to his left foot and makes sure his partner is standing on her right.  He then opens immediately and steps out in an Americano, he onto his right foot and she onto her left.  As he steps forward he pushes his foot a little beyond his partner so that as he steps he can move in front of her, pivoting 180-degrees. He then side steps onto his left foot while maintaining his partner on axis on her left foot   Since they now both have their weight on the same side foot, technically they are in cross system.  The focus of the lead through these steps is to keep the follower on her left foot and pivoting clockwise so that when the leader side steps back onto his right foot, the follower steps back onto her right with her pivot reversed into a back ocho.  This is of course a “reverse of direction.”  The key is keeping the follower on her left foot, preventing her from stepping sideways onto her right, which immediately kills the figure.  So the leader is pivoting, shifting weight and side stepping while, at the same time, over pivoting his partner on her left leg and helping her keep on-axis so that when she steps, she steps back (and not to the side) into a back ocho.

Except for the entry into the Americano, this is the same figure Gustavo and Jesica taught three weeks ago.  We all worked with it for a while.  Only the most stubborn followers insisted on taking a side step at the pivot but, hey, that’s tango.

The next element of the night’s figure flowed directly from the point of the back ocho.  In the beginning we led another back ocho until our partner was again stepping to our left.  We, the leaders, counter rotated our torso so that we could step onto the “dark side,” continuing the back ocho lead.  Our next move was a side step.  We interrupted our partner’s counter clockwise back ocho, reversing it into a front ocho, the second reverse of direction.

The ending, or resolution of the figure was quite elegant.  The leader sidesteps to his left, keeping in front of his partner as she makes a forward cross onto her left leg.   He leads the next forward ocho, which has the follower pivot counter clockwise on her left foot at step forward in a cross onto her right foot.  The leader changes his weight so that he can step back on his left foot, accompanying his partner’s cross onto her right foot.  With the right side of his body, he blocks her so she cannot pivot and step into the next front ocho, leading her instead to reverse direction of her pivot and step back and around onto her left foot.  This is the third “reverse of direction” or alteration.

Once they again face the line of dance, the leader steps forward onto his left foot, leading his partner to step back onto her left foot.  They are in cross system.  They walk to the cross and end the figure.

Ruby was exhausted and stayed home.  I danced the class with most of the women there and full tanda of the practica with Maya who is quite a good dancer.  What struck me that night was the structure of tango and the way various moves can hook up like tinker toys.  For instance my body now understands that if I have led my partner into back ochos, at a point I can change to the “dark side, side step and reverse her direction, leading her into front ochos, and from the first front ocho led to my left, I can step back, block my partner, reverse her direction into a back ocho, turn her to face me and walk out or pivot into an Americano and so on.  The key seems to remain very close to my partner and make sure, movement by movement she has understood my lead and follow her as she executes, all if this without using my arms, so to speak.

NEEDED: REFINEMENT AND CONSISTENCY

Philip – Tuesdays, Ruby usually doesn’t go to work.  We spent a leisurely morning and early afternoon and arrived at Alma Del Tango at 4:30 for a private with Debbie Goodwin. Ruby looked stunning in a black silk top with a graffiti pattern, slim black pants and black, open toed Comme Il Faux tango heels.   Debbie had a new shipment of shoes and tango skirts, an instant distraction.  There was a short blue silk skirt with an unusual cut in the back that proved irresistible.  It, and a pair of black and white Comme Il Faux shoes went home with us in Ruby’s purse when we left.  Perhaps it was the state of distraction that produced the following. Debbie asked what we wanted to work on and, while admiring the cut of the back of the skirt and seemingly without missing a beat Ruby replied, “I guess we can work on the stuff from last night.  The “stuff from last nights” was colgadas.  So for an hour, we reviewed, deconstructed, practiced, refined and looped together all of the colgadas we had studied along with a new one.  By the end, everyone, including Debbie, was drenched in sweat.  It was intense.

We started with the colgada off of the media luna where the leader “invades his partner off of her open step, sending her off-axis and preventing her from turning back into what would be the next step in a normal molinette, a back cross.  By a careful placement and shifting of his weight, the leader can keep the follower on her right leg and slowly turn her counter clockwise.  This pivot is increased as the leader sends his left leg back and around, does the little “hula hoop” move with his hips, shifting his weight to the ball of left foot.  The couple continues to turn counter clockwise.  By stepping back onto his left foot, the leader makes a place for the follower to step into with her left foot.   The leader and follower then both step forwards onto their right foot, she in a side step and he careful to place his foot next to hers, and they continue to turn until they reach the line of the dance.  Debbie distinguished this colgada as “off of the followers open or side step.”

The next version she called “off of the follower’s forward step”  Hmmm.  They’re actually both off of the follower’s open step.  Oh well.  For this one, the leader initiates an Americana.  Side by side, she steps forward on her left and he on his right.   The next step, if you ignore the implied molinette, is another forward step, she onto her right and he onto his left.  As he steps, the leader places his foot very close to the follower’s and gives an impulse forward and up.  This sends the follower off axis and causes her to bring her left foot up to the level of her right knee. From this point, the same careful placement and weight shift onto his right foot followed by the swing around with his left produces the same two long pivots to the line of dance.

The “colgada off of the follower’s left cross” starts with a counter clockwise turn and a sacada close to the follower’s base leg (her left leg).  The leader pivots, stepping to the side so that her base leg ends up between his two feet and with her outside (right) leg unweighted.  This outside right leg inscribes a wide circle as the couple pivot and then, as the leader steps back and around on his left leg, the follower lands on this leg and continues the pivot.  As before the leader steps back onto his right leg, which he places close to his partner’s and the two continue to pivot until they reach the line of dance.

Believe it or not, we practiced a fourth version.  It is off of rock-step.  The leader steps back, side steps to his left and then forward onto his right while his partner mirrors him.  On his next step onto his left, he rocks first forward and then back and slightly around onto his right foot and then side steps to his left.   While “selling” the side step to his partner, the leader immediately shifts his weight back onto his right, leaving his left foot pointed out in front.  The selling the side step and then shifting back sends the follower off axis onto her right leg.  Debbie had us freeze at that moment, highlighting the follower’s figurehead posture.  Then slowly turning counter clockwise, the follower is led to step over the leader’s outstretched left leg onto her left foot, the two pivot to the line of dance and then walk out.

“These are very elegant figures and can be danced tight and close on a crowded dance floor once you master them,” Debbie told us.  “It just takes a lot of practice to really get them.”  I was soaked with sweat and a little drained but I sensed what she said was true.  It felt that Ruby and I were at the point where the figure had been roughed out in stone, so to speak.  The structure is there.  What we need to develop is refinement and consistency.


ANOTHER “ALTERATION”

Philip – At the Thursday night Intermediate Class, Gustavo and Jesica returned to the “alteration” or change of direction as their theme.  They again approached the central move, the alteration via the Americano.  The leader leads the follower to the cross, pivots her 180-degrees until they stand side by side.  He changes his weight so that, when they step forward, they both step out onto the leg nearest each other, she on her left and he on his right.  The important thing to remember is that, for the follower, the flow of her turn has been clockwise.

The leader edges his right foot a little beyond the follower’s so that he can step out in front of her, pivoting clockwise 180-degrees.  With a little uplift, the leader keeps the follower on her left leg, stops the clockwise rotation and turns her back counter clockwise, hence the alteration or change of direction.

We had practiced this very move before with Gustavo and Jesica and other teachers.  What I learned that night was to start the rotation as soon as I can.  As I pivot my partner off of the cross, I rotates as much as possible beyond the line of dance so that when I step out and pivot in front of her we will have turned almost 270-degrees and on the next step can be facing the line of dance with a relatively small quarter turn..

For the figure last Thursday night, Gustavo had the leader lead a back boleo at the point of the alteration.  This was followed by a counter-boleo and second back boleo.  So the follower, standing on her left leg as the leader steps in front of her, pivots clockwise and steps back onto her right leg.  At that point the leader stops the rotation and gives an impulse to turn counter clockwise.  Still standing on her right leg, the follower is led to first flare her left leg back and around counter clockwise, then forward and in front clockwise ad finally back and around counter clockwise.  The leader steps forward placing his right foot just to the outside of his partner who steps back onto her left foot.  The wordiness of this description may make it difficult to understand the naturalness of the back boleo, front boleo, back boleo.  The leader (ideally) is timing the impulse of his counter boleo lead so that that the follower’s leg whips and rebounds back, forward back naturally, like, well  a whip.  It takes a little practice to get the feel.  Above all the leader must not try to lead with his arms.  Rather, it is in turning his whole torso that the pivot and counter pivot is communicated through the frame of the embrace.  Once you get it you can start to refine it so that the movement of the music is expressed through the boleo, counter boleo.

Gustavo and Jesica added an ending detail that turned out to be quite tricky.  The leader steps forward, just to the outside of the follower’s right foot as she steps back onto her left.  The leader then crosses is left foot behind his right creating a counter clockwise turn bringing his partner to sidestep onto her right foot.  The leader then increases the turn, pivoting on both feet.  This winds the follower so that her left foot crosses in front of her right in a spiral cross kind of resembling a cut ocho.

There are two main difficulties.   First, the leader has to keep the follower in front of him and prevent her from stepping back, which would be the default move after her sidestep.  In this it is similar to the ocho cortado.    The leader does this by keeping his right arm around his partner and his right elbow close to his side.  I was dancing with one woman who is normally a little proud and somewhat assertive.  For some reason she did not want to do the ending cross.  But I kept my right elbow pressed to my side, preventing her each time from stepping back.  Forced to step forward, she stepped a little wide missing the opportunity for turning the very elegant spiral cross.  Oh well.

The next problem has to do with the fact that the two dancers are pivoting while quite close to each other.  Their feet pass so close that is the timing isn’t perfect the follower kicks the leader as she is led to the cross.  The odd thing was that if led correctly, there was no conflict.  At the same time, if I brought my right foot back sharply to make room for my partner’s crossing left foot, the problem could be avoided.  I watched Gustavo carefully.  There were times when he brought his right foot back sharply, even lifting up and back, out of the way.  At other times his and Jesica’s feet seemed to mesh perfectly like gears.

By the time I worked through the rotation to dance with Ruby, she came into the embrace, rolled her eyes and announced that none of her partners to that point “got” the ending.  I smiled.  Who knew, maybe I would get lucky.  I felt I sort of understood the move.  The first time we danced the whole figure the ending was a little rough.  We interrupted the pivot before the tight spiral cross was completely wound in.  But the structural outline was there.  As we repeated the figure the ending got tighter and better.  Yeah!

 

AMAZING, AMAZING

Philip – The amazing thing about a private lesson with Jesica (she spells her name with one s) is the way she effortlessly strips things down to a level one didn’t even know existed.  Ruby and I showed up at Dance Arts on Thursday evening.  Jesica had us dance one warm up and began her deconstruction.

She worked on both of us.  Ruby needs to drop her weight down into her legs.  Part of this requires her not balancing using her arms.  As Ruby and I embraced and walked forward, Jesica stood behind Ruby and adjusted her posture, bringing her hips over her ankles, correcting her back step, urging her weight down.  With me, she had me shorten my step and drive from my hips.  We worked on all of this for several songs.  In the beginning the instructions seemed so complicated as to almost paralyze us.  Then Jesica spoke transcendent truth.  She said,

“Philip, you must give the impulse to walk and wait for Ruby to interpret your lead.  Then you must follow her.”

Stunning, in order to lead, the leader must wait and then follow.  This advice was deeply embedded in the actual physical technique of tango.  We are taught to walk forward by transferring our weight to our base leg, digging in with the ball of our foot and extending the unweighted leg forward.  Then, at least as I understood until yesterday, we are supposed to drive with the base leg and then drive again with the extended leg and land.  You can hear this kind of drive/drive beat in the rhythm of tango.  For three years I thought this was what I was seeing when I watched experienced dancers.  I thought it was the lead that caused the follower to extend her unweighted leg back and then extend a little beyond.   I was wrong.  The leader driving at the end of the extension produces a pulse with an up and down component that is the scourge of the beginner.  What Jesica revealed was after I ground myself in my base leg and initiate a move forward I must wait.

“You have to let your partner drive the extension and then follow her. She provides that impulse,” she explained

I know that those readers that seriously try to dance tango understand the problem of bobbing up and down and of jerking.  A reader that doesn’t yet dance may have difficulty believing this insight of Jesica’s has any meaning at all.  “What are you talking about,” he or she might wonder.  But there we were, Ruby and I, embraced and simply walking when suddenly the whole dynamic changed. I led, waited until I had a sense of Ruby’s leg extending about behind her and then followed her extension.  Ruby, driving back for the extension, released the tension in her arms, grounding herself through her legs into the floor.  She became weightless, and we more balanced and more relaxed then we had ever been.  Walking was much easier, requiring a lot less energy. I could see in the mirrors and even feel our dancing was smoother, without the up and down bob.  Wow.

Curiously, as soon as we got this, Jesica asked me to lead some more complicated figures, ochos, boleos and so on.  I started with a linear ocho cortado.  Jesica encouraged me to stay in front of Ruby.  It worked perfectly and the smoothness was still there.  We experimented with other steps and combinations.  Before I knew what I was doing, I led the dreaded colgada.  It worked. I invaded, Ruby went off-axis, I counter balanced and we swung around in a tight circle and exited in the line of dance.  A miracle!  I looked over at Jesica who stood there laughing and murmuring, “Amazing, amazing.”

TANGO CAN BE FUN

Philip – Later Tuesday evening Ruby and I drove to Emeryville for Nora and Ed’s Intermediate class.  The large dancehall was not full making lots of room to dance.

The night’s figure was a very clever combination of basic walking elements put together in an unexpected way.  Kudos to Ed and Nora.  The figure started out with the leader crossing to the “dark side” stepping with his left.  Now, while advancing step by step in the line of dance, the leader guides the follower to just step backwards on each strong beat.  As she steps straight back on her left, straight back on her back right, the leader accompanies her along the line of dance, stepping alternately side to his right foot, pivot, forward to his left foot, pivot.  After two of three steps the leader can change the lead to a back boleo to counter boleo.  I couldn’t figure how to do this lead without walking back against the line of dance, a sure disaster even in an uncrowded dance floor.  So I stopped Nora and asked.  She had me lead her from the boleo.  So, walking sideways I stepped onto my right foot and gave a counter clockwise impulse as a lead for the back boleo.  Then I stepped onto my left to lead the counter boleo when Nora stopped me.

“No,” she scolded me.  “You have to step around me to give me the correct lead for the counter boleo.”

It was the exact comment Debbie had made about my counter boleo technique earlier that afternoon.  So, I got it.  Work with me here.  I am stepping sideways, 90-degrees to the line of dance.  I lead the boleo stepping sideways to my right, still 90-degrees to the line of dance.  To lead the counter boleo, I step 180-degrees around my partner so that when we both step out, she is facing the line of dance walking forward and I am again sideways or 90-degrees to the line of dance sidestepping, but on the opposite side.  So I sidestep left, join, sidestep left,  join and she simply walks forward left, right, left, right.  After a few steps I can pivot her 180-degrees so that she now has her back to the line of dance and we can walk out.  These are all very basic elements but the combination creates a wonderful and manageable weaving effect.

During the practica, Ruby and I danced the evening’s pattern and most of the other figures we had recently studied.  As each new dance began, we again practiced the ceremony of the “careful beginning.”  Our connection felt strong and more, we laughed a lot and our dancing felt more like play. At one point we were just free styling along and I recognized we were flowing into an Americana.  Some agency in me knew what to do, that is recognized the moment we were about to be in, and, before I could flinch, I lead the dreaded colgada (See Monday nights class).  Ruby sensed perfectly the invasion lead to off-axis. Up came her left knee and around we turned in perfect counter-balance.  Then two full pivots followed, the first on her left foot and second on her right and out we flew, crossing and dancing.  I heard Ruby laugh, almost squeal out loud, “That was fun.”

There had been a moment in our dancing when Ruby despaired that tango was too difficult, too serious.  “All I want is to have fun.” She claimed.  I understood perfectly.  Those who have read The Tantra of Tango know how I suffered and doubted during my initiation.  It seems we have come full circle.  After a lot of struggle and concentration we have rejoined the starting point where, as in the beginning, dancing tango can be fun.

JUST WALKING IN CROSS SYSTEM

Philip – On Tuesday afternoon, Ruby and I had a private lesson with Debbie.  We had “fasted” on Monday and eaten a wonderful Salade Nicoise on Tuesday afternoon.  We met Debbie at 5:00.  Ruby and I had agreed to work on “just walking” in cross system.  We started the warm-up, demonstrating the “careful beginning” we had just learned with Jesica.  I stood in front of Ruby and waited until the nervous, automatic movement stopped, then embraced her with my right arm and took her right hand in my left hand.  Debbie applauded saying that she could see, after the initial pause, the connection forming between us.

We worked on walking in cross.  I stepped to my left and changed my weight without changing Ruby’s and then stepped out, Ruby backwards onto her left foot and me forwards onto my left.  There were three tracks, the central one where we both stepped in line with our right foot and the two flanking tracks where we stepped separately, each with our left foot.

Mostly Debbie corrected where I placed my left foot.  I had a tendency to step too far to the out side which forced Ruby to either pivot or lose her axis.  When it works, walking in cross is wonderfully sensual with thigh brushing inner thigh at each step.

The next challenge was to walk “in cross” on the dark side, that is so that my left leg is walking in line with ruby’s left leg with our right legs flanking.  The tango embrace is not symmetrical with the leader’s right side closed and left side open.  In order to walk on the dark side in cross, each dancer must seriously counter rotate their upper torsos in relationship to their lower legs, in order to maintain the embrace.  It’s not as extreme as walking on the dark side in parallel system as you are half a body closer to each other.  There is something right feeling about the fit when you get the technique.

Then, when Debbie suggested we were doing okay, we added changing from the outside to the dark side in cross.  To do this, the leader, walking on the outside, as he steps onto his fight foot, he turns it out, towards the dark side.  On his next step he must lift his left foot and snake it through to the slot in line with his partner’s left foot.  This “snaking” takes a little practice but, as soon as I got it, Ruby proclaimed that the move felt really good.  I don’t need much more motivation than that.

For the last ten minutes of the class, we returned, almost like horses to a barn, to the colgada.  We went over exactly the same figure we had danced on Monday.  I was stunned by how much of the technique seemed brand new.  For instance, the figure starts with the lead of a back boleo to a front boleo.  I didn’t realize until Debbie focused on it, that I was supposed to step a quarter turn clockwise to lead the counter boleo.  This does two things.  It brings the couple back into the line of dance. It also gives enough impulse to the counter boleo lead to create in the follower the snap she needs to do the counter boleo correctly.  Ironically, later that evening at The Allegro, Nora would focus on the same technique with me for the figure she was teaching that night.

Anyway, when we left Debbie’s, even though the class was demanding and even draining, I felt filled with energy.  I had the faint sense that Ruby and I were actually getting better dancing with each other.  It’s odd that the impression that one is developing should be so pale.

ANOTHER COLGADA

Philip – Monday night at Debbie and John’s Advanced Class, colgada was again center stage.  There were five couples, all veterans of the Advanced Class.  Debbie and John’s teaching technique has a pace and rhythm for these difficult moves.  Usually they start with an exercise that either works up to or highlights the most problematic part of the figure.  Monday night they laid the whole figure out and invited us to work on how ever much we could.  The leader starts by side stepping to his left, leads a back boleo and then steps around his partner to lead a front boleo.  As leader and follower step, they are side by side in the classic Americana position, he stepping forward onto his right foot, she forward onto her left.  The leader must match the follower’s forward step.  The next step is crucial. The leader must step forward with is left foot landing quite close and slightly behind his partner’s right foot.  He gives impulse to his momentum forward which, by the placement of his foot, sends his partner out and forward off-axis forward.  At the same time he is surging forward, the leader must send his weight backward to counter-balance his partner’ forward lean.  Remembers, this is an advanced technique.

At this point, the follower is balancing forward on her right leg with her left foot drawn up to her right knee, which is actually a movement led by the upward and outward impulse given by the leader.  The leader has stepped onto his right foot, which he has carefully placed, just to the outside of his partner’s standing right leg.  The leader then sends his left leg back and around while rotating his upper torso.  This rotation in turn starts the follower turning counter clockwise.  As soon as he feels his partner turn within the cylinder of his embrace, the leader steps back onto the ball of his left foot and continues pivoting.  At this point everything is very circular. The “stepping back” onto the ball of his left foot boot causes the follower to step around the leader’s right leg onto her left foot.  Always continuing the pivot, the leader steps forward onto his right foot, place it on the inside of his partners now weighted left foot.  Her next step is a side step onto her right foot.  The leader continues pivoting with weight on both feet, turning and then finishing the turn by standing on his left which, through the pivoting, is now just on the outside of his partner’s right foot.  You have to kind of be there to even begin to get it but, in essence, the figure features a long turn with two sustained pivots, the first off-axis with the follower on her left foot and the second on-axis with her on her right foot.

The double pivot is quite useful and can be done completely on axis after an almost endless number of lead-ins.  This Ruby and I would encounter the next day at our private with Debbie.

For rest of Monday evening, the five couples struggled to learn this colgada.  Ruby and I have just begun a diet where you fast two days and eat whatever you want for the remaining five. On the fast days, you limit your caloric intact to 500 calories for a woman and 600 for a man.  Ruby, having worked hard all day in hospital and having had very little to eat, was in a terrific mood.  Learning the colgada was more like play.  We laughed a lot at our mistakes played a little with the form during those rare moments we were free.  By the end of class we could pretty much dance the figure even with a little style.

A MOST AMAZING PRIVATE

Philip – On Thursday night Ruby and I had the most amazing private lesson with Jesica Hornos at Dance Arts.  The 7:00 o’clock class was held on the large, upstairs dance floor along with a half a dozen other private lessons, all different styles, ballroom, West Coast swing, latin, all to the same music.  It was utter chaos.  Jesica asked us to dance two songs while she stood and observed.  She stopped us and asked us to start over, from the very beginning.  In fact, she insisted we start ten seconds before the very beginning, at the point where Ruby and I approached each other and came into an embrace.  I sort of knew what Jesic had in mind so, for a moment I stood in front of Ruby and waited.  Impatient to begin, Ruby streched her left arm up over my shoulder.  Jesica sgtopped us.  “You must wait,” she coached Ruby.  We tried again.  Still impatient, Ruby waited until I circled her with my right arm but then, ahead of me, raised her right arm in anticipation.  Jesica stopped us.  “You must wait.”  She again coached.  The lesson was now structured so that at each begining, Ruby and I stood before each other listend and then slowly entered the embrace. At the heart of tango is thi relationship where the leader leads and the follower follows.  It seems simple enough but it’s not.  Before we took a single step, Jesoca was helping us esgablish that relationship.  It was as if we, together, were striking the all important first note of a song, a note  that defined everything about the song, the key, major or minor, the rhythm, the beat.

This slow, careful approach to the start of a dance seemed to create for us a ritual that allowed us to search, in the moment, for this centrally important connection that is the molten core of tango.

Ruby, a doctor, is intelligent and accomplished and quite accustomed to directing others.  I too am a product of a culture obsessed with individuality, of doing my own thing.  There we were, the two of us, complete beginners learning how to listen to each other, to find in each other the connection that makes tango meaningful.  We spent an hour coming together, finding the connection and then, mostly, just walking.  Jesica was relentless, adjusting every detail of posture, our weight placement, our step.  It was exhausting but it produced consistently a sense of connection that enabled each of us to relax almost weightlessly into each other’s arms.  Pretty amazing.

We stayed for the intermediate class that followed.  Gustavo and Jesica taught a variation of the ocho cortado, adding a double sacada to the end.  Their version of the ocho cortado has the leader with his partner, step back, to his left and forward onto his right.  On the next beat, the leader does a forward rock step, just touching his left foot and pushing back, landing on his right foot.  He doubles in place while leading his partner to side step to his right, then interrupts her movent, extends his right foot touching the inside of her right foot and leads her back into the cut turn or ocho cortado.  This is a figure that is fundamental to tango, especially when danced in close embrace and is taught by all teachers.  The complicated description reflects the difficulty in the figure but, once you get it, the ocho cortado becomes a major element of your tango.

That night, Gustavo and Jesica added a pair of sacadas.  At the end of the ocho cortado, the follower has crossed her left foot in front of her right and changed her weight.  From this point, the leader steps back crossing his right foot behind his left.  This invites the follower to step forward into a clockwise molinette.  Once initiated into the molinette, the follower’s steps are proscribed; forward cross, side step, back cross.  The first step out of the ocho cortado is the forward cross.  On her next step, the side step, the leader steps forward onto his left foot and sacadas her back (right) leg.  On her next step, the back cross, the leader continues the clockwise rotation and steps forward onto his right foot, sacada’ing her trailing (left) leg.  You can get used to doing this.  Mostly, for the follower, the trick is to keep turning and stepping towards her partner.  For the leader, the difficulty is stepping between his partner’s moving feet onto his sacada’ing leg.  He must find a way to step completely onto the leg he is doing the sacada with, resisting the safer approach of just extending his leg without committing his weight.  It tkes time to get used to this.

At the end of the class, Gusgvo invited students to demonstrate the figure.  Ruby was dancing with Paul, a tall, gentle, man in his forties and pretty good dancer.  Watching, I realized Ruby was dancing it as a fully choreographed figure.  They executed the figure, stepped at the same time and Ruby even gave her feet more energy, more style.  They looked great but there was no real connection.  That is, the quality of his movement was completely different from the quality of her movement. Paul danced his version and Ruby danced her own and they were not the same or connected. Perhaps I would not have noticed this had I not spent an hour carefully cultivating this relationship.

Ruby and I danced the practica together.  It took nearly the whole time to just get back to a basic sense of connection.  We had to abandon the fancy steps and complicated figures and practice “just walking” before our movements began to merge and blend in that sensuous quality that defines real tango.  Tango is hard and clearly, cannot be learned quickly.

A FACE FROM THE PAST

Philip – Later Tuesday night, I drove to The Allegro to attend Nora and Ed’s intermediate class.  The hall was full although some of my friends were not there.  I arrived a little early, saw that one of the women in the beginner’s class lacked a partner and volunteered.  The class was working on a pretty interesting figure.  The leader brings his partner to the cross, turns her and leads into an Americano with the two dancers turned side to side, she stepping forward on her left foot and he on his right.  The leader extends his right foot just beyond the follower, pivots 180-degrees until his back is facing the line of dance and then steps back onto his left foot.  This invites the follower to step forward.  The leader then steps back on his right and pivots on both feet while the follower pivots on both feet and then steps back on her left.  Pretty neat!

The mood turned serious during the intermediate class.  The figure began with the leader going to the cross and turning his partner back into a forward ocho.  The leader continues the turning with a lead for a clockwise molinette. When the follower does her side step onto her right leg, the leader captures her unweighted left leg with his right and sweep it to his right, turns his partner and blocks her with an extended right leg.  The hard part was getting the sweep or barida.  The leader has to contact his partner’s foot with his foot at the precise moment she transfers her weight to her forward (left) foot.  So imagine the leader, standing on his left leg, sweeping with his right leg and then turning and blocking his partner.  It was possible but it took some work.   A difficult but all-important detail was the need to keep the movement continuous.  If the turning stopped, the follower would weight both feet making the barida or sweep impossible.

During the class I danced with Elizabeth, an elegant North Bay dancer with the reputation of doing ballroom.  I told her I had heard the rumor that she had a new boyfriend and that there mere men were gnashing their teeth in Marin County at the thought they would never again have the pleasure of dancing tango with her.  Elizabeth smiled a Mona Lisa smile and assured me her new boyfriend danced tango and added that he would join her at The Allegro later that evening.  I told her I would be thrilled to meet him.

During the practica I spied Elizabeth dancing with a gentleman.  He looked a little familiar.  I watched as they danced around the large dance floor, stopped to greet both Nora and Ed.  By this time Elzabeth and her new boyfriend were dancing towards me.  I must have been staring.   Her new boyfriend, an old friend of mine named Morris, waved briefly and danced on. Small world I thought, remembering how he and his then German girlfriend used to join my late wife, Susan, and our friends at our house when we first started dancing tango.

A PRIVATE PRIVATE

Philip – Never count a dance in advance, or something like that.  By the time I got home Tuesday night to meet Ruby, she had a massive headache, her neck and hips throbbed in pain and she was overwhelmed with work.  So, reluctantly, I drove off alone to Alma Del Tango to have a private, private lesson with Debbie Goodwin.

When asked what I wanted to focus on I said I wanted to work on dancing slowly so that my partner could show off her languid planeos and sensuous boleos.  Debbie laughed and then agreed.

So we danced a warm-up dance and then began the study of slow dancing.   Debbie’s technique is interesting.  First, she is very careful to dance what I lead so when I fail to lead she just stops.  This gives me a working sense of how I am dancing.  She asked me to lead something.  I side stepped to my left and led a back boleo to a front boleo.  Debbie stopped me, had me repeat the lead and then started the work of refining my technique.

The first thing she suggested was I slow down.  Then she had me extend my unweighted right foot between her feet as she joined.  Then she suggest I press my right foot up against her right foot, explaining that any space left would force her to stand with her feet apart, which is not a very elegant way for a woman to stand. Then, as I led the back boleo, she suggested I step on the diagonal around her with my right foot.  This seemed to push her off axis so I experimented and found the best result when I stepped directly to my right.  And so on, we examined and adjusted each step until a figure emerged.  I overturned her slightly at the front boleo and then swung my left foot back and around as we learned to do in the colgada class.  This led her to step around and in towards me, landing and then pivoting on her left foot.  I found I could repeat swinging my left leg back and around leading Debbie to side step onto her right foot and pivot.

At her suggestion, I added the ocho cortados we had practiced at the Friday night class.  Then, instead of the tight, ocho cortado, I worked on leading her into a rounder, pivot and step.  Then I added baridas or stops.  Always, through all of this we returned again and again to the idea of dancing slowly.  We had repeated the various element enough times I felt I would be able to lead Ruby and even other women through this same slow, sensuous dance.  Later that night at The Allegro, I found I was wrong, but I will return to that later.  For the moment, let me just say that a great deal of the slow sensuous dance that afternoon at Alma Del Tango was due to Debbie’s consummate skill as a dancer.

At ten minutes before the end of the hour, we turned our attention to the colgada.  In the strange, circular web that is tango, the slow, careful dancing I had practiced for the first fifty minutes made dancing the complicated and difficult colgada much more accessible, that and dancing with a professional dancer.  Anyway, without too much trouble I found myself leading the dreaded colgadas with some success.  The main problem was after the first sacada, when I stepped slightly outside for the calesita, our knees kept colliding.  Debbie immediately suggested I try stepping to the side and not around her, much as I learn to do at the beginning of the lesson.  It worked perfectly.  Our last colgada was a monument to smooth, seamless, slow, elegant movement.  Later that evening at The Allegro I would have to face the fact that, without a professional partner, my skills as a leader are a little more down to earth.