(Disclaimer for the record, again - I am not a teacher - only dancer, and still a pretty new one at that. These are simply my opinions and not meant to be taken as the gospel truth about anything. What follows gets a bit ranty and occasionally preachy. Please feel free to rant/preach/bitch generally, back to me in the comments. I'm a glutton for punishment - so fire when ready.)
I've emphasized how much milongas are the core of my tango addiction. They are the safe haven of my hectic world - the place I go to see my friends, enjoy the music, and dance until I practically fall down. Milongas are a sanctuary. Milongas feel safe, and comfortable, and welcoming. They feel this way because milongas are not practicas. They aren't classes. They aren't workshops. The beautiful feeling of a milonga can be shattered by dancers consistently experimenting with new moves they haven't learned well on unsuspecting, and unwilling partners. (Let me stress that I learn a ton at milongas - just about every minute that I'm there. I think we all do. My focus for the purpose of this post is on "practicing" new stuff there.)
Many times we point to the leaders trying out new fancy moves they just learned in that day's workshop - but followers do it as well. I've done it. I saw a pretty way to execute an ocho from a teacher - and tried to practice it at the milonga that same night. After all - I wasn't leading anything. I was just changing the way I stepped through the move. Except that I struggled with it. I couldn't keep my axis and make it pretty. I was affecting my leader's axis at the same time. I learned quickly when I felt the frustration and confusion from my partner. I screwed up. I waited until the next practica the following week, and worked on it there.
Here's the key to all of it - to the source of so many things that go wrong in our dancing: When we have to focus on something else (a new move, because it's not part of our "muscle memory" yet) during the dance - we are taking at least some of the focus away from our partner. That total connection between dancers is what we're all here for. Giving the best dance to our partner - giving everything we've got - which has everything to do with focus, and next to nothing to do with the step in our repertoire.
Practicas are the most important part of building my tango skill. Practicas are where a technique goes from being something I "learned in my head" - to something body knows how to do well. It's where I first learned to "feel for the cross lead" rather than to follow it on every second outside step, for example.
When I learn in a class or workshop, which can, as others have said, be very inspiring - I am learning somewhat in a vacuum. Everyone is learning the same thing in the class - so both partners get a bit of "help" from each other completing new things since everyone knows the move. At practicas, I can practice what I'm working on with strangers/dancers that weren't the same class/beginners etc. to really see if I know my stuff.
The trick is, there have to be enough practicas for dancers to work on the things they're learning. Without enough practicas - the milongas become the place to "practice". Also, if the expectations of the practicas and milongas are not made clear, both events can be opportunities lost as dancers simply "social dance" at the practicas, and then practice at the milongas. We all, dancers, organizers, teachers, have a role in making sure that (especially new dancers) know how to make best use of these venues.
From: InScenes Tango Milonga Dance Etiquette
"Trying to show a new move at a milonga is one of the most obvious marks of very poor dance etiquette. I'm constantly amazed at how often this phenomenon occurs during milongas in North America. It almost always is initiated by men and many times by those who should know better. In the more then ten trips I have made Buenos Aires, I don't recall ever seeing this happen at a Milonga."
The problem of social dancing at practicas, and practicing (or worse, teaching) at the milongas is pervasive from what I've been told. Much of this could be alleviated simply with education - organizers and teachers have to commit to explaining the etiquette thoroughly and consistently. Every single milonga and every single practica. Every comunity has to decide from its own dancers how many practicas are needed. I'm of the opinion there can never be too many. But time and money constraints are just a fact of life.
If you have learned a new step or pattern that you're just dying to try out at the milonga, ask yourself these questions:
1.) "Have I led/executed this successfully consistently in practica, with several partners?" (Preferably partners that were not in the same class in which you learned the step.)
2.) "Do I thoroughly understand my partner's role and requirements for this step?"
For followers, do you understand how this embellishment/change of embrace/interpretation will feel and affect your leader and what he wants to lead? For leaders, do you thoroughly understand how to prepare your follower for the move you want to lead? How this move will affect her axis?
3.) "Can I lead this step/execute this embellishment/interpretation consistently with the music?" If you don't know, you're probably not ready to lead it.
Consistency is the key - can you lead it/perform it:
- consistently with different partners (and not the ones from your class),
- consistently within the music
- consistently respecting the line of dance and other dancers.
The only way to know if we're at that level of consistency is to practice it over and over and over at practica. How much time does it take to learn something sufficiently - no one can answer that question for someone else. When the move/embrace/step/embellishment feels natural (to you and your partner, and in the music) - then it's ready to be performed. When in doubt - don't try it. A milonga is not practice space.
Exceptions - of course there are some. If you are dancing with your regular dance partner, or another class member and you've both agreed in advance that it's acceptable and desirable to practice a bit, so be it - provided you don't interfere with anyone else's dancing on the milonga floor. If you're practicing something that requires interrupting the line of dance - move off the main floor to work on it. Be discreet.
Warning: Now that I've had my little rant, I want to make one warning.. Just because we can't see what a couple is practicing (they may look like they're social dancing at the practica for instance) doesn't mean they aren't working on something. And just because we may hear one partner giving "instructional feedback" to their partner, doesn't mean it's unwelcome to that partner. We don't know what's happening between to dancers from watching them. Only they know. Just because I, for example, have strong feelings about milonga/practica expectations - doesn't make me the tango police.
For the comfort and enjoyment of your partner, at the milonga, keep your focus on your partner and dance what you know.