Review: Tango Mango (Devon), October 2009 - Two

1st November 2009

Date: 26th October 26th - 1st November 2009

Location: Rudolf Steiner School Dartington, near Totnes, Devon


Following on from my introduction article, here's some comments based on a couple of "Tango elements" classes, run by Ruth Zimmerman (the organiser of the Mango) every morning. I only caught the last couple of these classes, but I'm assured that the others ware of similar quality.

The Tango Elements classes ran from 11:15 - 12:15 each day, in one of the small rooms downstairs from the main hall. The class size was 12-15 people. Ruth ensured there were even numbers of leaders and followers - if required, popping upstairs and requisitioning one or two spare leaders / followers as needed.

Each class followed a basic theme - I attended a class on ochos and on giros.

Thursday: Ochos

Ruth quickly summarised the Wednesday class - walking in lanes. One nice idea for me was that you could walkin in crossed system (3 lanes) and step directly onto the other side, retaining walking in crossed. I may try that out at some point...

"Seamless transition" - yeah right

We then went straight into leading sidesteps into ochos - using the same sidestep-transfer weight-sidestep sequence as I described in my ochos notes. Surprisingly, if the transfer of weight is seamless enough, this actually works even with minimal pivoting.

(Of course, the bonus of dancing with beginners is that if you get it even slightly wrong, you'll know because they won't compensate for you at all...)

A bit more about pivots: in close hold, you can't pivot as far as you can in open - most people simply don't have that amount of flexibility to permit that level of dissociation, without losing the connection.

So, don't. Keep the connection, but don't pivot so far. Connection is more important than pivot angle.

And talking about connection...


We then went into an interesting technique of .... hmmm, I don't want to say "dissociating", let's call it "disconnecting" - disconnecting your body movements from that of your follower. So you can move around the follower without moving her. This technique works very well for steps such as sacadas - it allows you to get in close to your partner, without her running away from your leg.

Caveat: when disconnecting or reconnecting, you have to be especially clear, as there's a certain level of anticipation built in - that is, normally the follower will move when you do, as that's the default mode of movement, whether you actually lead the follower to move or not.


Next, we talked about how the follower can elongate the pivot or stepping motion of an ocho step - allowing the follower to have some control over (or at least, to have some input into) the flow of that step.

A key point in this is that the leader needs to start listening to the follower - I'll expand on that point in a later article - and to avoid "forcing" the step if the follower isn't ready to take it.

Friday: Giros

Greek dancing

We started in a circle, holding hands. Fortunately this was not some hippie thing, but in preparation for a grapevine exercise. We simply did the standard giro pattern (side -> forward -> side -> back), looking a bit like dancers at a Greek wedding or something. There was a mention of the leader being a kebab also at some point, so keeping with the whole Hellenic theme. Anyway, here are some notes I made...

Follower pivots the lead

In a giro, in a sense the follower is pivoting the leader. The follower is the one walking, and so providing the energy for the turn as a whole. The leader's role is to indicate the direction, the tempo, and when to stop.

Relax your partner

Don't let the follower get too tense - if she makes a mistake, you can either:

  • Live with it. Stuff happens. If the follower's relaxed, that's the main thing.
  • Correct it. The follower will learn, and hopefully improve - but in the short-term, may tense up for the rest of the dance.

Which option to choose depends on the leader / follower at the time.


Ruth briefly described the enrosque motion for leaders, as described in my notes here.

A couple of extra tips on that front were:

  • Heel lift: lift one heel over the other foot when twisting, rather than keeping both feet far enough apart to avoid collisions.
  • Pre-wind behind: As part of a walking motion, you can cross one foot behind the other to pre-wind up for a giro movement. For example, cross the right foot behind the left to prepare for a clockwise giro.

Summing up

One thing that's become clear to me recently is that a lot of us are horrible snobs in Tango. Sure, we pay lip service to the concept of revision, of practice, of constantly re-evaluating the basics, and so on. But when it comes to putting our money where our mouths have led us... Not so much. How many of us are happy, after a couple of years' dancing, to revisit beginner classes? How many of us make efforts to attend regular, structured, practicas?

I'm no better of course - I'd initially intended to attend these classes as a follower, to work on my following technique, but seeing that several other guys had the same idea, I changed my mind and took them as a leader instead. I'm glad I did, I learnt a lot; but I wouldn't have chosen to do so normally. So I guess the main meta-lesson for me is, don't get hung up on the "level" of the class, but always go for the good teachers.

Ruth's a very good teacher - she communicates concepts clearly, consistently, and concisely. She's also confident enough to demonstrate how these concepts work for both leader and follower roles. That combination depressingly rare in Tango classes, so we should celebrate when we find someone with these qualities.

More details:

- David Bailey, 2nd November 2009

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