"She should still be there!"

The second class...

I recognized a few people from the previous class as I came in. Then I noticed a few other people who seemed to be quite advanced in their dancing - at least from their warm up stretching and posture exercises. I tried to look casual. Or something that passes for casual. I was still over-dressed and I hadn't noticed right away that I still had my lanyard and badge around my neck. Nothing says sexy tango dancer like wearing your work badge and key around your neck. And I was still the oldest one in the class, but at least I'm here, I thought.

I wasn't getting quite the mileage I thought I might get from telling my coworkers about my tango classes.

"So how are the salsa classes?"
"I'm taking tango and they're going great, thanks!"

Two hours later, another coworker, "How are those samba classes going?"
"Oh, I'm not taking samba, I'm taking Argentine tango - and they're going just great." Really they are.

On my way out after work, "so how are you liking mambo?" Mambo???
"Umm. I'm taking tango actually. Liking it a lot, thanks."

I packed up my things and headed across campus. As I walked through the door of the dining hall, I tried to turn my nervous gate into more of a confident sort of saunter. I got 5 steps before I tripped slightly over one of the tiles in the floor. Oh yeah. Look at me. I'm here for the tango lessons, baby. At least that time the instructor wasn't looking. Just four of the leaders who I hoped weren't making a mental note to avoid me like the plague during practica.

Once again we were called to form a circle around our instructor and do some warm up exercises. So far so good. He then described the importance of feeling for weight changes - for leaders to know which foot their partner was on, and for followers to "feel" for the lead to know which foot to move. Most importantly, the follower should not change weight without their partner. This was so important that he repeated it three times during the class. The last time he mentioned it, he added, "if I put my partner on her right foot (pointing at the right foot of his assistant), I should be able to leave and get coffee, finish my thesis, go get more coffee, and when I come back she should still be here, waiting on her right foot.'

Both of the women on either side of me, and myself, made an audible 'humph' sound. You could almost hear the followers' eyes rolling. This was the 21st century, after all. We're not furniture. I was a feminist being told to stand on what foot indefinitely? You must be joking. Of course this is only one of many times that I would have to resolve a conflict between my feminist ideals and my tango life.

The next moment I hear another follower, one of the more advanced dancers, speak up. She was tiny Mediterranean young woman who looked both irritated and determined. First she scowled at the instructor and then she raised her hand and stepped forward. "No, I do not think that is right," she said confidently, still holding her hand up and pointing to the instructor's assistant who was now grinning broadly.

"If you leave her - she will find someone else to dance with!" Every follower in the room grinned with delight. Oh yeah, we liked her - she was on our side!

She was my new favorite person.

Our instructor nodded, opening his hands apologetically. "Of course, but you still shouldn't change weight without your leader."

At that, our defender and spokeswoman nodded curtly and stepped back in to the circle. She was in many of our classes and frequently spoke up when the follower's perspective wasn't given proper treatment. Every time I walked into the class and saw her, I felt a bit relieved. I had a tango follower advocate in the class!

More on weight change . . .

I should add here, that the instruction that I would receive later would have cleared up a lot of confusion early on. It's not that you change weight automatically when your partner changes weight. As a follower, you change weight when you are led to change weight. What I didn't know was that there are times that your leader will change your weighted foot while he stays in place. That's very tricky to teach, however - and a bit intimidating for the students.

One of my earliest rough tandas at a milonga, held the following week in the same room as our class was held, was made difficult because I believed that I needed to change weight every time my partner did. However, he was not leading me to change my weight. I hadn't learned to follow as much as I had learned to "mirror".

The leader I was trying to mirror, knowing that I was a beginner, was leading me to execute very simple steps and movements while he performed far more complex steps in such a way that would have made both of us appear very musical together. Yet despite what I was being led to do - I was trying to mirror his steps. Finally, after a great deal of frustration on my part, and near infinite patience on his - he whispered in my ear, "stay right there." I froze. He then shifted weight slightly to find out where my weight was. At just the right time in the music, he turned me 360 degrees (a calesita or "the carousel".) My first thought was, 'you can do that?' That was the first time I understood being led to change weight versus change weight to mirror my partner. It would be another 7 months before I could consistently and genuinely follow a leader without trying to mirror his every step.


Unknown said...

I'll wait for him, he'll wait for me until I am ready... We'll seem to be moving together with the rhythm of the music. This is tango, that's why we all love it.

Mari said...

Simona - agreed!!

Frances R said...

Every time I read something like that, my heart goes out for all the beginner tango students who do not receive proper instructions in their classes.
Congratulations on your persevering and figuring it out despite the obstacles.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm with Frances on this one. I have a problem when the leader leaves you on one leg too long while they are doing whatever fancy foot moves I can't see or trying to feel the music. One must move and feel the music in time and shift weight accordingly. I thought I was getting arthritis at one point by the time I realised what was going on, and since I am not one of those followers that will tell a man what to do, I had to stop dancing with these lovely men for awhile in order to recover.

Kirra said...

The tricky thing is to not take the instruction literally yet make it work on the dancefloor. Hard to do which is why the fundamentals (aka beginner classes) should be taken many, many times. What we hear in the first class is so different from what we hear the tenth time round. Subtlety is hard to teach and show.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing the information. I too had visited this class last year and I met many of my friends over there.
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