Monday, 12 April 2021

How I learnt to dance both roles V: milongas and practicas

Now I felt relieved in all senses.  I was on my own but I had some experience of dancing tango.  I was following my instincts about how to learn though at the time I had no idea how much that was a good thing.  Things were starting to make sense - not the dance moves specifically but about what did and didn't work as a learning process.  Learning as the woman was largely about trust, being able to trust guys, to let go, to know which guys to trust.  The classes and the twice or three times a week two hour round trip to get to the classes, the practica and the milonga had been expensive too. I am glad I don’t have that energy or motivation any more.  This was also the year I met someone who told me there was an easier, more natural and more enjoyable way to learn to dance than in class.  The basic idea:  that class is hard but dance is easy and the two are not compatible, already made sense.  But I didn't realise at first how pernicious class is.  From there, and from a natural inclination, a lot of my thoughts around freedom and control more generally developed.

So now there was 'just' the milonga and practicas.  From there I learned by walking in the milonga with kind and generous women. Because I had already danced as the women for about two years I knew what felt nice and what didn't and I already knew the music.  Knowing the music is essential for dancing as the guy. It's that simple - if you don't know the music you can't dance it, at least not well, not well enough. 

 Gradually, much more slowly than the overwhelming 'one new move a week' that guys pay for in class, things started to happen.  I could manage corners of the room in the ronda.  I could manage when a guy in front of me didn't move.  I was getting better at keeping my partner safe.  It could never be said that I have a wide 'repertoire', but the partners I dance with don't look for that.  I was advantaged in that I already knew from dancing as the woman that it wasn't necessarily moves that made a guy feel nice, or at least it wasn't extravagance.  Often it was the quiet guys or the guys who didn't look as if they were doing much  who felt best.

Giros came by themselves, a guy taught me the cross in a practica before a milonga. I didn't get it at the time and then weeks or maybe months later it just sort of arrived by itself.  In a practica I asked a guy I used to dance with a lot in both roles to show me how to do ochos.  But I had to keep interrupting the flow of dance to think about them and he didn't seem to care that I didn't have them so I just left them out and never really felt the lack. Of the hundreds of people I've danced with, only one woman, a young flashy type from BsAs who liked dancing in the Sunderland club, ever complained I didn't lead ochos and that was in my first couple of years in the guiding role. Most people I dance with don't seem to notice or if they do, don't seem to care.  My favourite UK dancer, a superb dancer, said the same thing only a few weeks ago.  And with all that comes confidence which is half of it really. 

As I gained experience and confidence I started to dance more in swapped roles in the milonga for those reasons and because the guys I wanted to dance with (who also want to dance with me) were dwindling in number. Eventually, I (generally) stuck with that role because I realised women were, in general, better dancers than men. A notable exception to this are the queer tango dancers I met from Paris. It’s a growing thing, with women in Europe. The people who most attract me for dance now are those who dance both roles, a few guys, with - usually - many years experience and one or two younger guys with a bit less experience. And new people. I especially like dancing with new guys, particularly young guys, who are happy to dance in the woman’s role. They tend to be more open-minded, slighter and easier to move. 

Recently, I just really wanted to know how to do ochos. I went to a practica and saw a guy I know slightly. He could dance both roles and asked him to show me. He said sure. I asked him to show me another move I wanted to learn. I call it the space invader move where a guy steps into the woman's space and either her foot or her leg gets moved away. Someone told me afterwards they are sacadas but they sure aren't like sacadas the way I saw them taught in class. Maybe they're social sacadas. I liked that when guys did them with me. That’s why I wanted to learn them.

He showed me that too, gave me some time to practice with him. While it was tricky for the first ten minutes, I felt I got them. Later in the evening he very kindly invited me to practice them again in the milonga. I was very grateful.   That same night I danced with an experienced guy with him in the woman's role. He couldn't believe I'd learnt those moves that night. But there's nothing special about me. Colin was the same, he danced amazingly after a few hours. It's simply the effect of learning in a very different way. 

I practised them again with another experienced guy I knew in a practica. The following week in the same pre-milonga practica, when I needed a reminder of the feeling I asked another guy. I hadn’t seen him before nor seen him dance but figured I would also find out how he danced from the experience. He too, kindly agreed.  I said before there is a lot of goodwill in the milongas if we look for it and are open to it.