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Middle-Aged Moves

Hurray for the Tango Tanda

By Rochelle Lockridge

“I don’t like it. I don’t like it. I don’t like it! And just in case you missed it, let me say it one more time. I do NOT like this it’s-okay-to-be-a-work-in-progress philosophy with ballroom dancers.”

Hmmm... Yep… That was sure me… written right here in this column… A year later? This work-in-progress’s philosophy has progressed; it’s now SOMETIMES-okay-to-be-a dance-in-progress.

What brought this about? I have two words for you: Argentine Tango. Two months ago, Middle-Aged Moves was exploring my marked preference for social over competitive partner dancing. I’ve now fallen head-over-heels in love with, in my opinion, the ultimate, improvisational, social partner dance ever. And it continues to change my life: the way I dance, the way I think, the way I connect with myself and my partners on and off the dance floor.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with dancing the Argentine Tango, let me tell you, don’t be lulled into thinking you know THIS dance. It is NOT Ballroom Tango. Ballroom Tango, with steps standardized by dance studios to better facilitate judging at competitions, has been relatively fixed in style for decades. It is very structured around memorized patterns of steps and is often choreographed and danced either as a performance or in competition. It tends to be very stylized and theatrical (think rose in the teeth). Argentine Tango, however, relies heavily on improvisation; It is an evolving dance and musical form, with continual changes occurring every day on the social dance floor. Just like me!

Wikipedia further elaborates, “Tango dance is essentially walking with a partner and the music. Dancing appropriately to the emotion and speed of a tango is extremely important to dancing tango. A good dancer is one who transmits a feeling of the music to the partner, leading them effectively throughout the dance. Also, dancers generally keep their feet close to the floor as they walk, the ankles and knees brushing as one leg passes the other… Argentine Tango is danced in an embrace that can vary from very open, in which leader and follower connect at arm’s length, to very closed, in which the connection is chest-to-chest, or anywhere in between.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentine_tango]

That embrace they’re referring to? A ballroom dancer might initially assume this to be akin to the typical strong ballroom frame they’ve been diligently cultivating for years. Unfortunately, that assumption could hamper their ability to learn to dance Tango correctly. Your upper body is more relaxed than in Ballroom Tango, and most everything happens below the waist. As I sense it, (but don’t quote me on this, I’m still just a novice student) there is a necessary felt connection with the hands and a subtle tone in the arms. But most of what ballroom dancers would consider “frame” is found in the legs as the feet press into the floor. I’m getting off lucky with this one. Since I’ve thus far only acquired two years of ballroom body memory, my frame is more malleable. I don’t have much to retrain; Although switching back and forth from Ballroom to Tango too quickly has my partners wondering what the heck is going on: too limp for Ballroom, too stiff for Tango.

As I retrain a little and learn a lot about this amazing social dance, I have found two Tango conventions that provide the support I need to embrace that embrace and learn to dance Argentine Tango well: The Practica and the Tanda.

The Practica is a focused and scheduled practice time somewhere between a group class and a formal Milonga. Students work and practice to Tango music, alone and with others, without an official instructor directing their time.

The Tango Tanda is a string of three songs that are danced together at tango dance parties called Milongas. Dancing the set provides an opportunity to learn how to dance comfortably and enjoyably with each new partner. (Note of Tango etiquette: You do not talk while actively dancing on the Milonga dance floor; That is for the Practica and the brief pauses between songs only.) A dance-in-progress looks something like this:

*Cortina: A short song segment played at the end of each Tanda; letting you know it is complete and time to find a new partner.

*Song 1: Get to know one another, the music, and the dance floor.

*Song 2: Practice and try things out

*Song 3: Time to Dance!

I love how my coach puts it, “You dance your dance, your partner dances their dance, you dance with each other, the music, and the room.” Hurray for the Tango Tanda!

So, sometimes I enjoy being a work/dance-in-progress: Out on the social dance floor, in group classes and practice spaces. It’s the vulnerability inherent in performing in public where I put up the fuss. The one place where it IS okay to embrace the “it’s-okay-to-be-a-work-in-progress” philosophy is when I’m writing my Middle-aged Moves column each month: Where I’ve chosen to chronicle my dance journey, in real-time, with someone besides myself, in PUBLIC. Thank you for supporting me on this journey, connecting, letting me know you enjoy and benefit from my open authentic exploration of partner dancing from a middle-aged perspective. And as my private teacher reminds his students every week at the end of class, “Keep on dancing. Woo hoo!”

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