It finally happened.
That moment when dancing stops being about steps, where you stop having to force technique – stop wondering if you are doing something right, because it just feels right – and suddenly, you are simply following, and understand perfectly what your lead is communicating.
That magical moment when you body absorbs a dance, and you feel it in your bones.
If you’ve ever moved to foreign country where you don’t speak the native/dominant language, it’s like that moment when your ears seem to readjust, and you suddenly understand and keep pace with the conversation, because you finally understand the language itself.
Today, I sensed a change in my tango dancing from the very start of my beginner Argentine tango class, to the end of my intermediate lesson.
Everything about my tango dancing felt different today. I felt grounded for the first time, and that is what made the difference. Whereas in the past, my steps would always feel somewhat off-balance, and, at times, a bit uncertain, today, my steps felt sure. My upper and lower bodies detached themselves so that my torso stayed with my lead of its own accord, and let my lower body twist and turn on its own. My feet landed firmly on the ground — tango feet, rather than the salsa feet, that have up until now stubbornly forced their way into my tango social dancing. My center of balance felt steady and sure, and I remained poised to follow whatever my lead threw at me, regardless of how fast or slow.
For two hours, I felt what tango must feel like for tango dancers. I felt attuned to every twist, turn, lean, push, pull, lift, and weight transfer made by my lead. With both of my classes short on leads, I got to practice many of my tango moves with my tango teacher, and he didn’t correct me on any of my following except for a new adornment (styling) we had learned that day (I was doing it too quickly), and he even said that I followed a new move that he had just taught perfectly. He didn’t need to tweak anything.
Also, when I had to practice a move at different speeds with a lead, he prefaced our turn by shaking his head, saying we wouldn’t get it, but we did it again and again, over and over, at fast, slow, and varying speeds, without screwing up once, and he told me “Very good!” at the end. I was only able to keep pace with it because I was, in fact, following his lead, rather than trying to perform memorized steps.
As long as a lead led a move with proper technique, I was able to follow it precisely. It was like my skin had sprouted sensors that allowed me to tell exactly what my lead’s body was telling me.
Ironically, I discovered that, if you dance tango with the right technique, it is virtually impossible not to follow exactly what your lead leads — and also impossible to back lead. I literally could not do my tango moves today unless the leads in my classes led them with proper technique: You can’t step forward on your own if a lead has your weight completely centered over your feet, you can’t cross if your lead does not twist his torso and push your forward, because your body will be stuck beside his.
I ended up pissing off a lead in my class who expected me to back lead my moves. He literally told me, “It’s your job to twist your own body.” and wanted me to take my own steps forward and determine the direction my body went by myself.
I couldn’t have done any of it myself, even if I had tried.
For two hours, I got to feel what tango can really feel like, and I loved it! Tango feels amazing to follow properly!
Reaching this state today came at a high cost: I had gone tango dancing at a milonga the night before, and I had one of the worst dance nights of my life, where couldn’t follow any of my leads, no matter how superb their leading was (I even danced with the teacher at the milonga, who all the best follows thought of as an excellent lead). I think it was probably because I had spent the four hours right before it taking classes in cuban salsa, salsa ladies’ styling, merengue, and intermediate salsa, and was too salsa-headed to switch over to tango mode. It was like I knew what the proper technique entailed, but couldn’t make my body do it. My feet kept taking salsa steps (stepping with just the balls of my feet), leaving me light and unbalanced. It didn’t help that I hadn’t danced tango since New Year’s Eve, and that this was only my third milonga.
It wasn’t until the end of the dance — when I asked a follow what I should be watching if I wanted to learn something from observing the dance floor, and she pointed out a particularly good follow to me — that I learned about the concept of grounding.
“Watch her. She’s very grounded,” the follow told me.
Until then, I hadn’t even realized that tango was a grounded dance.
For some reason, the concept clicked and found its way into my dancing today.
It changed my tango following completely, and tango just felt “right”.
So I’ve found the tango feeling once, but don’t know if it will stay.
I think the handful of dances I experienced and that talk with the follow really helped bring me into the tango mindset, but I am not sure how to keep it.
My dance schedule doesn’t have much space in it to fit tango social dancing in, and my reputation in the tango scene has been destroyed by Saturday’s dance experience (tango leads watch you and never ask you to dance again if they see you dancing badly), so it will be tough to enter the scene again, especially so soon after showing just how bad I can be.
We’ll see what happens.
But the point of this post is to celebrate the fact that all my struggles with tango finally came together and allowed me to wrap my head around the dance, if only for two hours.
I finally experienced the “click”, and it has made all of this worth it.
So if you find yourself discouraged by a dance, I urge you to keep at it! When you get it, you will know. And that is when you will finally begin to understand the magic and addictiveness of dancing. 🙂