Friday 8th March
6:00-7:30pm : Class “Why Women should lead – an introduction to tango”
Class £15 tickets available here
TOG (the Office Group)
133 Whitechapel High Street
Riffs, thoughts, meditations, rhymes, stories, rants, ideas and... well I think you get the idea.
You see a tango class advertised and you’ve never danced before. How amazing would it be to do that? Sequins, heels, dancing. Move over Beyoncé, mama’s getting her tango on.
“It’ll be fine, there’ll be guys there I can dance with.”
You come to class with the expectation that the teacher will organise a man for you to dance with AND that he will be good enough to lead everything in the class without a problem. Well, this is your class right? It’s a natural assumption that if you go to a class you want a guy there to lead you. You get there. There are a few couples, three men and ten women. You realise tango isn’t about sequins and acrobatics. You get to dance and learn a little, but you spend a fair bit of time sitting down or doing solo exercises to make the most of the time, it’s not ideal.
Let’s say you’ve been learning to dance and you want to go to the milonga. There’s a ‘Special’ night on, everyone is going to be there.
You get ready and look great, you feel great. You arrive at the milonga, put your shoes on, last check in the mirror and in you walk. Lo and behold… there’s the lady’s bench. You know, that line of women, all looking great, all wanting the same thing. To dance.
And all of a sudden you don’t feel so great. The chances of you dancing seem slimmer. Your male friends are all dancing and it’s not even that. There are just so many women dancing that you don’t feel like you’re seen. You can’t dance.
As you’re sitting there you start to run things through your mind, or more like your mind starts to play havoc with your zen. Do I not look attractive enough? Am I too old? Is my dancing that bad? Have I not worked on my dancing? Do I have spinach in my teeth? You remember that thing you read on a tango blog and tell yourself to look less grumpy and more available to dance. You chip, chip, chip away at your confidence and your evening. Shall we just go home for a cuppa, a biscuit and straight to bed then? Tea??? Pour me a whisky Linda!
In reality, it could be any of those things. The decision process and motivation to dance with you is a very personal one and varies from dancer to dancer. But before you consign your shoes and dancing to the “all the gear and I can’t be bothered anymore’ heap, or “I’m just going to go to classes”, let’s consider a couple more scenarios.
You see a class advertised and you’ve never danced before. You go and find out that there are two ways you can dance tango, you can lead and you can follow. Great! I’m going to learn to lead. There’s people waiting for me to partner and dance with them and I’m learning loads. It’ll make me more aware of the other side of the dance and I can use that for when I’m following too.
You want to go dancing and arrive at the milonga. You look amazing and feel great. You see the lady’s bench and instead of walking over and taking a seat, you look at one of the other amazing women there and invite her to dance. You dance simply, building the connection and focusing on her, staying in the ronda behind one of your mates.
After the tanda finishes, you take her back to her seat and she thanks you. You spend the rest of the evening choosing who you want to dance with, as a leader or a follower, and have a blast. You go home too tired for a cuppa, but force yourself to take your makeup off before collapsing into bed. OK, maybe that last bit is a little too much to expect, but let’s go with it and stop using baby wipes on our faces. Erm, I digress.
Really. Why? One of the most common frustrations in tango is a lack of leaders, let’s be honest here and say leaders who listen in the dance. We work on our dancing, go to the milonga and spend more time sitting than dancing. The point here is that we have a choice. We can lead, we can follow, we can dance.
It will make you more active in connecting and receiving when you’re dancing because you understand first hand what the leader is experiencing when he is trying something new. That alone will make you a better follower. It opens up a spectrum of tango that you may have missed before, not only for the roles but also for the feeling. Read as, you’ll also become more patient with the guys because leading is hard. If leading is hard, you’ll want to do it even more, because that’s what we do right? 🙂
You’ll experience the milonga in a different way. Women leading women and men is going to mix up the socialising aspect of the milonga too. Because we tend to chat with the people we dance with and if the majority of people we dance with are of the opposite sex we’re limited in the interactions we have.
Tango is a great way to meet people and whilst I’m not sure of the exact stats, many a union has been initiated through dance. But if we start using the milonga as some kind of live Tinder, we’re going to run out of options pretty quickly. More importantly, the spectrum of tango is wider than seduction and sensuality. Don’t get me wrong. Tango is erotic, it is sensual, but it is also more than that. It is friendship and love, brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, it is beyond a man and a woman.
“Dance with a woman?”
“No thanks, I’d rather wait for a guy.”
“Do you know how to lead?”
“A man just feels different you know?”
“I need a man to lead me.”
The last three are things that have been said to me over the years when I have invited women to dance and you know, it could be that they just don’t want to dance with me. After all that is the deal, followers can and should say no. It could be that they didn’t know I lead, but isn’t that the same kind of risk they take when going to dance with anyone for the first time?
With tango increasingly having to be described as “open” and “friendly”, maybe, just maybe, queer tango exists because there is still a need for the space where your sexual orientation isn’t important and the configuration in the dance is fluid. For me though it is tango. Two people coming together to dance in an embrace. Besides, queer or not, why are we still having to define that today?
This is fun and cool.
So ladies, we’re in the majority here. Let’s work it to our advantage. This is a call to embrace, a call to lead. If you want to explore the other side of the dance, you have a space to do that in my classes. If you need a gentle nudge to say you can do it this is it. It’s International Women’s Day on 8th March and I couldn’t think of a more apt time to start.
Next week there are two chances for you to do this. Wednesday we’re back at Kahaila for a class and milonga. And on Friday I’ll be at The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs at TOG space in Aldgate for a specific class on why women should lead. All the details below.
Wednesday 6th March
7:00-8:30pm : Class “the Cross in cross system”
8:30-11:00pm :’abrazos’ milonga
Class £15 (includes milonga)
Pay on the day
Tube: Aldgate, Liverpool Street
Train: Liverpool Street, Fenchurch Street
Friday 8th March
Yanina Erramouspe & Leo Ortiz – ‘Siete Palabras’
One of the challenges of deciding to learn tango is overcoming what you think it should be.
The man leads, the woman follows.
The man dominates, the woman submits.
It’s just like that tango show I saw.
One of the challenges when learning tango is overcoming what you think it should be.
It has to be the step that we see.
The steps are to be copied.
The steps are to be perfect.
The thing is that the steps are simple. It is really making them together that is the hard bit. The things that you may not notice whilst looking at the steps. The waiting, the breathing, the pausing. Timing. A flourish that seems effortless in it simplicity because it has been crafted. The walk that has been walked so much it looks easy. The consistent work that has been done to shape the dance. Watch the video again, I have. Many times.
This came up on my feed and it was delightful. Easy to watch and say that they’re not doing much. But they’re doing so much and that’s the lasting impression.
Buddhists call walking meditation ‘kinhin’. It’s practised between “zazen”, a seated meditation. The idea is to be mindful of your experience whilst walking and staying aware with what is happening in each moment of the walking. Walking in tango when done mindfully can have a very similar effect.
When we start to walk more, repeating the basic movement of putting one foot in front of the other and moving. More of the details start to emerge.
Questions…How can I be smoother? How can I stretch my step and still be connected? How can we be consistent with our walk?
Actions…. I want to receive and give the walk with my upper body open to my partner. I want to feel the floor under my feet. I will feel the moment of being on one foot and searching of my free foot. I want to activate my ankles to help my walk. .
A mantra for me,
A mantra for flow.
A checklist of sorts
Or just something to know.
A guiding hand,
For a voyager’s heart,
Am I embracing and embraced?
Can I connect as a start?
If I am connected
Can I stay that way?
Not only in linear
But in circular too
Because torsion is cool
And so are spirals too.
Yes, there is movement, Steps?
There are three
Forward, side and back
If you need to know.
What’s more important is to be free…
Free to flow in your walk
To know that passing the anchor foot is not a hard stop
Free to choose to give and receive
And welcome the music to your dance
The tango you make is cyclical
With your mantra you can dance
Or you can just embrace your partner
And leave the rest to chance.
What is tango to you? Flicks and slices at lightning speed? Macho men in fedoras looking moody dancing with women in fishnet stockings? Or is it something like salsa? People often say that tango is the hardest dance in the world. It’s not hard because of the steps. It’s hard because you get to know yourself. It’s not all perfect, you have to trust your partner, hard if you’re not used to doing that.
When I dance, I’m drawn in. The dance compels my attention. The world is outside, the everyday world of stuff, interruptions and you know, those deep sighs of apathy. I’ve pressed pause and am in a different place. It’s indisputable, being there and journeying through each step, consuming the flow given, completing a circle of exchange with my partner and my own energy. I stay with my partner, the connection to the ground. Checking in with myself, whilst balancing on one foot or twisting in spirals. Am I present, am I there?
Ever travelled with your nose pressed up against a window, taking in every detail of the adventure? From soaring in take-off to flying over islands and mountains, from gentle pacing to the high speed whoosh of trains. Fields, cities and villages blur and a bird’s eye view changes your perspective. Quite different to a commute. The landscape stays the same, you know each step and can do it with your eyes shut. A commute, where you may even bring something else for distraction.
Tango is transportation and if you want the travels, adventures, landscapes and snapshots, you go with it. It’s not the commute. So you’re there with yourself, open and exploring. Ready for your next journey. This is a pause button to breathe, find yourself and a human connection. This is a return to you.
Press play to hear how Jason & Rowena’s perception of tango changed after they tried it. Tell me your impressions of tango in the comments. I’m curious about those who have tried and those who haven’t.
Dancers, what did you think about tango before you started dancing?
If not, what do you think tango is?
Tango isn’t something you think you want to do until you’ve tried it. Really tried it. It’s challenging, slow and deliberately detailed. It demands patience and concentration, rewarding you with moments of delight, sighs of satisfaction and human connection in a totally unique way.
Without a good teacher though, all you’ll have are a bunch of steps.
Where to start?
With some music – see Feb’s playlist
By listening to a story – try Firewatching (an audio taste)
With your first embrace – come to class on Wednesday.
It’ll be just the beginning, let it arrive to your heart slowly.
There’s a lot going on in group classes and it can be overwhelming. The teacher/student relationship, the complexity of the material for you, the rapport between you and your partner, group dynamics are but a handful of things that can be distracting. Here are a few thoughts about how get the best out of your group classes.
Why are you in the class? You want to dance in the milonga. You would like to feel more confident with a particular part of your dance. Or, you’d like to add to what you already know.
You’re investing in your dance. I don’t mean the money you pay for the class but the time and energy you put into being there, so make the most of it.
You’re coming to a class to challenge yourself, stretch the challenge muscle. Don’t expect to be spoon-fed. Tango is as much about you and what you put into it. If you don’t get it right the first time or even ten times after that, don’t worry. It’ll be in there, just not ready to come out yet. If you’re overloaded – take a break and come back to it, break it down into smaller part.
Your partner is in the same class, maybe not experiencing the same challenges as you but others. Be gentle, have compassion and work together. If you’re stuck, ask for help to unstick and carry on. Use the same compassion for your fellow dancers in the class, don’t hog the teacher and remember the space is a shared one, just like the milonga. You don’t need to finish the steps if you run out of space.
Bearing mind some spatial awareness for your fellow students. If you’re having problems, break it down into the steps. Then move to the next level….
Developing this awareness of your connection with your partner and linking it to the movement takes time. This is what we’re looking out for, so look.
It’s easy after classes to feel frustrated and lose sight of the progress you’ve made. Remember the ‘aha!’ moments in your class. The cross that was led, the ochos that were connected all the way through, the end that finished with the music. There’s your progress and that’s your gold.
Classes start tonight, see you there.