Review: Tango Boot Camp (Brighton)

3rd March 2009

Workshop Date: Sunday 1st March 2009

Location: Ralli Hall, Hove Actually.


The Tango Boot Camp is a new institution, run by Warren of Decadance, as an intensive 1-2 day session of learning. The Boot Camps have been running for about a year now, and they've already developed a good reputation around the country.

This session - "Step into spring" - was a 1-day set of 3 workshops. About 6 hours of training in all.

The teachers

The worksops were taught by the excellent Stefano and Alexandra of Tango in Action. Warren called them the best tango teachers in the business. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but they're pretty damned good, that's for sure - I've not found any better, at least. They are both extremely clear, they work very well together, and Stefano gives good quote. What more could you ask for?

Getting there

The workshop is in Hove ("Brighton", for the rest of us). From North London, on a Sunday morning, it took around 90 minutes of quite boring motorway driving to get there. Parking was fine, as Hove station car park is free, and it's only a couple of hundred yards from the venue itself.

The venue

Ralli hall is a medium-sized hall with a main floor, which was of good quality. There was one sticky bit, but Warren eagerly got down on his knees for me when I indicated it to him. With a washcloth, that is.

The facilities were good - and refreshments were regularly provided, which made a nice change from some "you're on your own" workshops. The Bootcamp website is very informative about transport, accommodation, parking and so on.

"Is this a mike in my pocket, or...?"

"It's good that we have a mike, as some of the things we say are quite important." - Stefano

Workshop 1: Ocho cortado

We first tried out variation on ochos, "cutting" the ocho and leading the lady to do a side-step and then a pivot, instead of a pivot. So from a forward ocho, you're leading a half-pivot, a sidestep, and then another half-pivot. It's a bit like a step turn. Well, sort of.

(Actually, the motion is quite similar to the step-turn bit of the ocho-soltada I learnt with Rene and Hiba at the Dome a couple of weeks ago. Which may not be useful to you, dear reader, but hey, it's my review and I'll divert if I want to)

So, we started off with hand-held leading, which made it easier as there's more flexibility on both sides of the embrace to give a lead. On the negative side, it means most of us men went into Matthew Pinsent mode (that is, rowing like crazy).

The trick with the ocho cortado is to lead a very light and quick "tap" on the sidestep bit, rather than a full weight-change step. It helps if the man mirrors this motion with a "tap" step - almost like a feint step. But to do this, the man needs not to change weight when leading the ochos (or, to change weight twice), as the man's weight needs to be on the same side as the woman's weight to do this feint step.

"Only put your feet where your body is"

One of the common errors was for followers to over-pivot, too early - Stefano commented on this later, but for now the advice to the followers was to only pivot when led to pivot.

Handy tip: double-timing on sidesteps (which you see a lot in Milonga dancing) can also be done in Tango.

We finished with the standard ocho cortado sequence, using what we'd learnt for this exercise.

"As usual, the women do too much, and the men do too little"

Workshop 2: Colgadas and Volcadas

Stefano started off by explaining that they were lying, and actually, this workshop wouldn't really be about Colgadas and Volcadas, mainly because they were done in Nuevo Tango and he didn't know how to do that.

That minor detail out of the way, he then demonstrated a turning sequence, which did indeed involve a colgada to make it work, and we then worked on that sequence throughout the rest of the workshop. So he was probably just getting in an anti-nuevo dig at the start.

We started off with a "trust" hanging exercise, in partners, both of us linking arms, and leaning away (to the side) from each other, until we could both take our outside legs off the ground.

Once we'd done that, we moved on to the sequence proper. It involved a sort-of sacada motion from a front ocho, into a clockwise turn, all around a shared axis and leaning out for more "oomph" (technical term).

The sequence went as follows:

  • Lead into a cross, then out into a forward ocho (to the man's right)*
  • Block the woman's forward foot (her right) with the man's right foot - on the outside of her foot, not the inside, however.
  • Man open's up space on his right side - allowing the lady to lean over to her left - whilst leaning to his right, achieving the colgada effect.
  • Now, rotate both of you clockwise around your shared axis. The woman keeps on that foot, but the man swaps to left foot during the rotation, and finally steps back on the right for the finish.

(* Any forward ocho will do, but the cross is a good way of getting preparation time and space.)

Note: this sequence is not just a pivot turn - you need the colgada to create momentum and make the move more effective. It's all about the va va voom.

"Why should I move my feet, when I can move her instead?"

One common problem was that, at the "lean" step, many men were adjusting their position, shuffling sideways to get themselves into the "right" position. Stefano's commment was aimed at these men - the point is, if you get your partner into the right position, there's no need to move yourself.

Once we'd worked on that sequence for a while, they then introduced a variant, where instead of placing the man's right foot by the side of the woman's forward foot, we made it more like a sacada, by placing our right feet in between the woman's feet.

Note: this is not a "proper" sacada, as a proper sacada would involve placing the man's foot where the lady's back foot has just been. But it's quite close - "sacada-ish" I guess.

To then emphasive the differences between leading a sacada and the colgada pivot, we then worked on a sequence which involved leading a sacada from the forward ocho, then leading the colgada pivot, so that we could clearly differentiate between the two.

"At the end of the day, if it goes wrong, you still have a woman in your arms - it's better than digging a ditch, heh?"

Finally, both Alexandra and Stefano made a fascinating and insightful point about "Attitude and Energy" - in that the follower should invest both into every single step. That's what makes a follower look good - not the steps, as these are led, but the attitude and the energy put into each step.

In fact, one of the next Boot Camp workshops may well be called "Attitude and energy"... you heard it here first.

"Tango is Bi... Vals is tri"

Workshop 3: Vals

This workshop was mainly about the Vals rhythm, working out the 1-2-3 bit, and when to step.

We did a lot of walking around to music, listening to the strong "1" beat, and then working on the occasional double-time beat, stepping on the "1", the "3" and then the "1" again.

One moment of inspiration for me came when I realised I'd been stepping on the "1" then the "2", and then missing the next "1". The trick was to wait a bit for the "3", then quickly step on the next beat, which is the "1". Hopefully that makes sense - it did to me at the time at least.

Thou shalt not suffer a twitch to live

Stefano then demonstrated how to provide the same level of energy for both double-time and single-time; mainly be demonstrating what not to do, which is "twitching" - jumping up and down whilst double-timing it.

Again, we did a lot more walking around the room. I kind of missed this from the first workshop, I always find it soothing to start of with a room walk. It's like my Tango workshop comfort blanket.

We then used the double-time motion with a forward-cross movement; I've done a few classes on this one, so I managed not to fall over in the attempts. The trick is to make the cross deep, and to allow the motion from the back foot to seamlessly transfer to the front foot, a bit like the executive balls toy. The other trick is not to fall over of course.

We did a few slow-slow-quick-quick sequences in couples for a while then.

For something different, we finished off with a turn-based sequence, which was nice but most of us were clinically brain-dead at this point, so it took us a while to get the hang of it.

Summing up

A great day - left me wanting more.

More details:

- David Bailey, 3rd March 2009

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