From our man on the spot

2008, September 18

Lately in a tango forum a lady expressed the idea that, given the choice between a young beginner and an old advanced dancer, the leaders will always leave the older follower on her chair and dance with the beginner.

To me it can’t be true, if only because
– There is no such thing as a young beginner. Providing the instructor is good enough, twenty minutes are suficient to turn any woman into a decent follower (source: Miles )
– There is no such thing as an old advanced follower either. Either they were advanced in their younger days and lost their advanced-ness when they reached 40, or they were never advanced in the first place, they plateau-ed at intermediate level and then the years added to the years but not to the technique.

On the other hand, the lady’s opinion can be met very often in forums. So many people cannot be wrong, logic is a beautiful thing but real life is… well, real. So I decided to attend an actual milonga, equipped with a pen and a notepad (the paper one). Here are the figures at the beginning of the milonga, later more people came but I cannot count higher than ten.

There were five followers and five leaders, including me.

About technique and age:
The oldest one had the poorest technique (terrible pivots during the ochos).
Among the four who were dancing the youngest had the best technique.

About the follower’s choice by the men:
Four women were dancing. One wasn’t, she was the youngest, thinnest and prettiest.
The two oldest women were dancing.
The youngest follower had a better technique than her leader.
The remaining leaders had a better technique than their followers.

Now who am I to give marks for technique? In this case no sharp eye was required. Hanging or not on the partner to avoid falling, stepping on the beat or not, that was enough to calculate the rankings.

All in all, from what I saw this night, inviting the best followers meant inviting the younger ones, and inviting a woman despite her lack of tango skills meant inviting an older one.

Much later when I was still there with my pen and paper, this time using them to write down the names of the pieces I liked (e.g Biagi’s El Recodo) I couldn’t help noticing a fantastic dancer. I’d say Eugenia Parilla is her role-model. Same haircut, young, blonde, a weight-less free leg, and the same smile that says “Oh, you want to lead me that? You know, there were so many
other possibilities, much nicer, but ok, I’ll do what you want, don’t be sad, your choice is not that bad.”

Of course I was allowed to watch but not to touch, she came with her own stable of leaders.

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2008, September 17

(This is not a post not a post not a post)

Recruitment day

2008, September 8

My (main) dance studio will open only in two weeks, but one of the teachers asked everybody to come and dance in the street, while giving flyers to the passers-by.

And on this windy chilly Sunday morning one dozen of volunteers were there, with their worn-out tango shoes. One half of the pupils were told to dance, and the other half were given flyers. I was put in the dancers group, my partner being one of the assistants.
Granted, sidewalks here aren’t as bad as the BsAs ones, but a sidewalk remains a sidewalk. Despite large amounts of talc on my soles and even with the help of my partner it was clear to me that the elusive audience was not exactly impressed.

It became clear to the teacher too and he soon called me.
“Ok, the people keep asking me if you’re both beginners and it’s a bit embarrassing, let’s make a switch, here are some flyers. Your target will be the ladies.”

Cool. One minute later I was in the middle of the road chatting with a mother and her daughter, answering their questions, saying to the latter that no, most probably there would not be teens in the class, only (very) mature guys, and to the former that yes, it was true that many people danced chest-to-chest, even with a stranger. For some reason they gave me back my flyers.

The teacher called me once again. “Forget the young people, and remember we’re trying to recruit pupils.” Well then, one nice thing with older passers-by is, even at full speed they’re easy to catch, they can’t walk very fast.
“No, no, young man, this is not for me.”
“Yes ma’am, it is, age or weight is not important for tango, take this flyer, see, we have classes every night and…”
“But look, young man, I have a peg leg!”

Oops.

The teacher confiscated my flyers. “Can you see the CD player? Good. You will remain over there, you sit and you replace the CD each time it ends.”

Monday partner

2008, September 2

I had tried this Monday class two years ago, and the conclusion was that there was no need to attend it on a regular basis because it looked very much like my Tuesday class (by another teacher). Both would present some material (e.g. sacada de la mujer) and then let us explore the possibilities; sacada on our side step, on our forward step, changing the introductory step, changing the end, doing the sacada with the other foot, and so on. But the Tuesday teacher was a better dancer, gave more material, and his class was cheaper. If there had not been this Tuesday class then yes I would have attended the Monday one, but as there was a Tuesday class… No need to buy a Hummer when you already own a Sherman tank.

But this year the Tuesday teacher has retired. That’s why yesterday I put my shoes, towel and mints in a bag and tried my luck. Luck is what provides a nice partner to the lone leader. Nice and lasting, if you are very lucky.

Yesterday it all started quite well, the teacher introduced me to a little brunette for the warm-up. The room was large, wooden floor, mirrors, fans. Three other couples walking around. This supposedly was an intermediate-advanced class, but they were not looking so intermediate really. Intermediate is when clumsiness is gone, and here even a system switch (parallel/crossed) was a complex protocol for them, involving half a dozen preparatory steps and the loss of the beat as well.

One leader particularly, a young thin tall guy with a peroxide blonde for partner, was struggling and stumbling. His face relaxed only when the teacher asked for a general trade of partners. I thanked the brunette, not knowing I was seeing her for the last time. She went to the tall guy and the peroxide came to me.

And the nice class was history.

I received from her the same flow of instruction – in quantity, that is – than when I take a private in BsAs (you know, the first 10 minutes, when all you do is wrong).

“Take more care of my axis when you turn around me!”. Sure, if only you could stop leaning forward with all the weight of your 140 pounds. “More dissociation! Turn to me! More! More!”. If a human being could dissociate that much then he would be signed by a Hollywood producer to perform the 360° head spin in the Exorcist. “Now that’s a gancho! Did you like it?” Oh it happened too fast, I didn’t even know I was leading something at all. “Pull your left hand backward to lead my back sacada. Much more!” Excuse me but this is the only left arm that I have, once dismantled it cannot be fixed. “Oh excuse me for taking this step, *I* was listening to the music.” I’m glad you can hear something, my own ears have a system failure/stack overflow.

Of course there were subsequent partner trades but the other leaders carefully changed between themselves, leaving me with the pterodactyl, err sorry the peroxide.