An Official Declaration

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When I started writing this blog post, this was my original opening:

I look forward to the time when I can stop writing about bloody ochos. I’m hoping this will be at some point within my lifetime. It is, however, not yet.

By the end of it, I’d realised that, actually, it is. This is, despite appearances, not another damn blog post about that damn ocho …

I had my first lesson with Maeve. She isn’t available every week, so I can’t neatly slot her lessons in between those with Mariano as I’d hoped, but hey, I’m being more ocho about this.

For the first half, we worked on my walk. Maeve said that it was very smooth, but the next stage would be for me to turn my upper body more (read: at all in any fashion discernible to anyone other than me), so we worked on that. She has a very systematic approach which is perfect for me.

The downside of this new piece of the puzzle is I felt like I was having to learn to walk all over again. The upside is I can really see how that will take my walk to a whole new level once I manage this. This morning I will begin practicing this new walk.

Then we tackled my nemesis: the Dreaded Ocho.

There’s bad news and good news. (I’m beginning to get the sense there is absolutely nothing in tango about which this cannot be said.)

The bad news is that I’m still struggling with it. The point at which I will be able to smoothly lead into, through and out of an ocho, in real time, to the music, feels as distant as ever. The times it worked with Maeve, when it all made sense, were very slow-motion versions. At my absolute best, I was doing it at half speed (two beats for every part of the move) – and I’d very gladly settle for that if I could do it consistently, which I can’t. When I tried it with Steph afterwards, it took a considerable amount of experimenting and puzzling on both our parts before it worked with her.

But there were three pieces of good news. First, Maeve broke it down into very small components. The entry as a two-part move, for example. By the end of the lesson, my understanding of how it should work was much clearer. How Maeve had built on Mariano’s work had been so perfect they could have been the same teacher.

Second, Maeve emphasised a point I also read in a blog post by Iona Italia:

Leaders, you need to keep repeating it like a mantra, keep reminding your subconscious mind: you don’t need to do things to the follower’s body: you make movements within your own body and trust her to respond.

I have a tendency to try to lead with my arms – a classic beginner’s error – and I continually need to be reminded not to. From the same blog post (phrased as advice for practice partners when offering feedback):

Most of the critiques you’ll have of your partner will be things he or she already knows: think of them not as instructions but as mantras. For the body to understand, we may need to repeat the guidelines many many times.

Third, it’s even more obvious to me that I’m not just attempting to learn an ocho here. I’m trying to learn the whole basis of how leading a pivot works. And that’s a much more empowering way to think about it. I’m actually learning one of the absolute fundamental building blocks of tango, and it’s not at all unreasonable for that to take a whole series of lessons.

Both Steph and Mariano have told me that, when I manage to do this, a whole new world opens up – and learning other pivot-based figures will be so much easier. My scepticism about this has now gone.

Saturday’s upcoming group lesson at Tango Garden is on the ocho. But I hereby Officially Declare that this blog post isn’t. It’s about my latest step forward in learning the wonderful new world of pivots.

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