Many mediocre ocho cortados, and one great moment

ocho cortado.jpg

This week’s Tango Space theme is the ocho cortado. I’ve done this before, so had the basic idea, but that was at such an early stage that I was very happy to meet it afresh.

I wasn’t on my best form this evening. Not terrible or anything, I just felt a bit clumsy. Also, the ocho cortado felt to me like it should be a snappy movement, so I was finding it harder to get the feel to slower music …

Of course, the reality in tango is that pretty much anything can be done at any speed if you have the skill – as Julia and Federico ably demonstrated. But my experience is that slower is often harder, as is smaller. Partly because a slower movement requires better balance (or perhaps makes palpable any balance issues that might otherwise be disguised by the speed of the movement).

But partly also because slower movements provide more opportunity to second-guess yourself on each element when you’re not feeling 100% in the groove. ‘Am I going a little too far forward with the rebound? Am I dissociating enough? Am I dissociating early enough? Are we supposed to end up facing exactly the way we started?’

I was also working on being engaged with my left arm and hand, so that layered in more questions. ‘Am I providing enough communication through that hand? Or too much pressure? And do I now have tension in my shoulders as a result?’

Well, anyone prone to overly-active inner dialogue will understand. If you don’t understand, be grateful!

One great moment

I did have one really great experience. There was a stage in the class where the aim was to dance, and include a few ocho cortados in the mix. I at one point led a medio-giro, and my follower executed it perfectly. She asked me afterwards what it was, and it turned out she hadn’t learned it yet. That was, to the best of my knowledge, the first time I’ve successfully lead a figure my follower didn’t know. I did feel very happy with that!

And slowly, the ocho cortado was coming together. In the 30-minute practica after the beginner’s lesson, I was able to include some in the mix, and walk straight out of them. I wouldn’t say I was satisfied with many, but they did almost all work, and I do think that when I’m feeling it more, I can probably call on them in a milonga. A theory I hope to test tomorrow evening.

The improver’s class – part 1

I decided to stay on for the improver’s class afterwards, and the first half was, as usual, really great. There’s more emphasis on technique, and the use of close embrace is just so much nicer than the practice/open embrace used in the beginner’s class. It also means I’m getting experience of things as I’d actually use them in a milonga.

I still wouldn’t say I was happy with my ocho cortados, but I did feel like I’d at least got the gist of the various elements. Two further lessons tomorrow will, I hope, put me properly in the groove with them.

Another great thing about the improver’s class is it’s easier to get feedback from followers, because they have a far better idea of how the lead should feel. I told several followers I was working on being engaged with my left arm, and asked for their feedback on that. Essentially I seemed to be present in the arm most of the time, but my tendency to let it come too far in had returned. I focused more on that.

Federico complimented me on my walk at one point – which is high praise indeed – though of course the compliment was followed immediately by the next thing I needed to fix!

The improver’s class – part 2

After the basic ocho cortado, it was time ‘to make it a little more fun.’ Federico and Julia demonstrated a sequence that had me ready to quietly sit down and take no further part in the proceedings!

From the cross of the ocho cortado, Federico did a leader-only weight-change and then used a sacada while beginning a giro to the left, ending in a leader cross with a parada to complete the sequence.

The details aren’t massively important, but … a sacada is a displacement, where the leader’s foot takes the place of where the follower’s foot was. A parada is where the leader blocks the follower’s movement, in this case inviting her to step over his leg. The bottom-line is it looked frighteningly complicated!

There was not the slightest chance that I was going to be able to lead this, so I was seriously thinking this was the time to make my excuses and leave. But my follower of the moment was having none of this. “You’ll be fine.” Fortunately, she knew what she was doing, so all I really had to do was follow her in the giro until she pivoted toward me and I managed, on most attempts, the parada.

My movements bore absolutely no resemblance to what Federico had done, and most assuredly had none of the elegance. There is not even a remote possibility of me attempting anything of this nature in a milonga this side of xmas, but nobody died and there was some kind of passing familiarity with what the other students were doing. Mostly I’m going to chalk it up as more experience with a giro.

One amusing thing on the feedback front. Brits are, of course, polite, so I have found I need to make it very clear that I really do want feedback from my followers, not just reassuring noises (though some sprinkling of the latter always helps, of course). But the tango classes are – as you’d expect in London – very mixed nationality, and at one point I was partnered with an eastern European woman who had no qualms about … direct feedback. “You’re not dissociated enough here. You need to move your foot further in there. You need to be more assertive at this point.”

Diplomatic it was not, but I think it was all accurate, so I thanked her quite genuinely for the help.

One last thing

I wasn’t on my best form, but even in the improver’s class, I didn’t feel totally out of place. I mean, I was definitely pushing the boundaries in the second half of the class, but even there I clearly wasn’t the only leader whose first instinct on seeing the sequence was to curl into a ball in a corner, sobbing quietly to myself.

I’m definitely feeling that this approach is the right one: do both beginner and improver classes, and just take as much as I can from the latter. So tomorrow I get to do it again, in reverse order …

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