I arrived about 5 minutes after eight to find something that didn't look like a practica at all--about 25 or 30 obviously college-aged folks were standing in a circle around our dear Joe and Jenna, who were giving what sounded like a well-rehearsed welcome-to-your-first-tango-class-ever speech. Mike was in the corner with a laptop hooked up to the sound system, and a young lady whose name I never caught was organizing a bunch of paper on some tables--release forms and various pieces of legal mumbo jumbo to prevent me from suing PSU should I sustain grievous bodily harm while dancing. Several times while I was peeling off my rain gear, she gestured encouragingly for me to go over and be part of the class (not sure what else she thought I was planning to do). I managed to join the circle just in time to do the first practice dance.
I enjoyed seeing how the lesson differed from our usual Sunday classes. For one thing it was huge. I'm used to getting a chance to dance with nearly everyone every class; not possible here. I'm also used to switching between leading and following every few minutes. Leading for an entire class is so boring! We are much better tango dancers (and, I think, learners) than they are, and Joe and Jenna have accordingly higher standards for us. Also, they didn't seem as willing to drill this group on a few skills for the whole hour the way they do with us. They seemed more interested in covering a range of skills so that even an absolute beginner would actually be able to do something that looked approximately like tango after an hour. I can understand that, since they want people to feel competent once the lesson is over. But our way is better.
At 9, the class ended and it truly did become a practica. akatchoom had showed up by this point, as had a few other Portland tango community folks that I vaguely recognized from milongas. Many of the students drifted off, so that the crowd gradually shifted from almost all beginners to almost all experienced dancers. I was very glad to have been there for the class because it gave me a chance to meet a few people and beat down my inhibitions. Dancing with akatchoom, which used to be very difficult for me because of our height difference, is becoming much easier and quite enjoyable. I also had some very awkward dances with two women I had never met before.
I think I've identified two liabilities that the Sunday classes have left me with: one, I have no practice at being a creative leader, because there's so little free dance time after the Sunday class, and two, I stumble and fall all over myself whenever I'm dancing with someone who isn't as good at tango as the Sunday group is. I need to work on those two problems, and PSU practicas seem like a good way to work on them.
At some point while I was standing around Joe introduced me to a fellow named Matt (I think), saying something like "Matt needs to work on leading ochos, and you need to work on following them. You two should practice together." So we danced a set. I now desperately want to work on forward ochos. Matt asked me how I got interested in tango, so I told him about the Sunday class. He seemed interested, and I encouraged him to attend. Maybe we'll see him there.
The practica ran until 11, but at around 10:30 I was getting tired and my voluntary suppression of inhibitions was wearing down, so I decided to pack it up for the night. I'm definitely going back next week.
P.S. I need a tango userpic. Someone take a picture of me dancing sometime.