I have taken professional classes in all manner of topics - writing, photography, cooking, makeup artistry - tons. I've left those classes feeling secure in my knowledge, even victorious over mastering some new skill.
Tango classes aren't really like that.
When you leave tango workshops, you generally have a grocery list of new things you get to work on, new areas where you now know that you're weak.
In apilado class, we covered a style I've been wanting to learn very badly - but enthusiasm will only take you so far. Then you have to get to work. And work hard. I still pulled my shoulders back. I still wasn't bending my knees enough or extended my leg back far enough - or rather starting the motion where it was supposed to start, much higher up. And if I worked on one part, I stopped working on others - like keeping my ankles together. In apilado position, you become much more aware of your comfort and that of your partner. You're suddenly aware of how tall you are, where and how you fit together. Some people are easier instantly - some take more adjustment - especially when you're first learning to trust each other and the dance.
Behind me, as we rotated partners, I heard Daniela say, "I need a bigger girl" (to demonstrate with) and I giggled, until I realized she meant me. I knew what she meant though, I think. The young woman she was demonstrating with before that was very, very petite - and just learning this like the rest of us. With inexperience all around, choosing a woman closer to her frame is simply easier to demonstrate with and less intimidating for the student. Dancing with Daniela feels very comfortable. She feels secure - especially when she's telling me, "lean, lean, more, more, more - good!" I must admit to thinking that being led apilado steps by a woman would feel uncomfortable - and that truly wasn't the case. It's always nerve-wracking to dance with the instructor - but I felt such a strong, secure lead from her that I couldn't help but relax a bit and just get to "work". As we rotated around, I found I had different things I needed to do to get comfortable and balanced against their frame. Connection is paramount to absolutely everything else in this style.
From there we went into Milonga class where I had my a** handed to me on platter, as my dad would say. I'm a bit of a disaster during milongas - which is why I took this class. As we went through exercise after exercise, drill after drill, she finally said, 'okay, get a partner!' You mean that was the warm up??? I was already sweating like mad, and my ankles and calves were burning. Now you want me to do all of this craziness to the music!? You betcha - with all of the little pauses and 'rushes' in the phrasing. And keep connection. And collect your feet. A**. Platter. Thank you.
So now I have my list of stuff to work on - some things I already knew, some new areas.
But I did have one victory and it's a big one. (Other than just getting my butt to the class - which is a bit of a victory.) I could watch myself in the mirror - all of me, not just my feet - without flinching. I could keep an eye on my shoulders, my posture, my hips - everything, without having the sudden and pervasive desire to look away. I could face myself and my areas of weakness, my areas of progress - and really look.
(If I could have managed it in that state of exhaustion,) maybe I should have a victory lap after all.