Feeling at home in the Thursday intermediate class

feeling at home

I’ve long said what I really wanted from intermediate classes was not additional vocabulary, but work on technique within my existing vocabulary. Quality, not quantity, of movement.

Tonight’s* Tango Space class seemed to be promising exactly that …

*Technically last night’s class, as I’m writing this the following morning with a hangover, but I backdated the post so it appears on the correct day.

Balance & Connection in Forward Ochos:  We know…. it’s easy easy to lose the connection in the pivot when you do them… But let’s make your forward ochos very sexy, will you? This all has to do to how connected you are in the pivot and how balanced you both are. Core muscles, alignement, and the perfect balance between power and relaxation… we’ll break it down for you!

In reality, there was a sequence – and a relatively complex one – but everything friends had told me about Luis’ teaching was absolutely right. He does have a strong technique focus, he does break things down into manageable chunks, and he does explain things really well.

We started with something he calls ‘three eights’: doing three versions of something, each eight times (ie. to one phrase of the music). In this case, it was three ways to lead a forward ocho:

  • Normal method, with leader side-step
  • Leader pivoting but not stepping
  • Leader mirroring the follower’s ochos

My follower ochos are rubbish, but I got the idea and can definitely see that as a fun idea once I get better at them. Something for a practica session sometime.

Luis led us gently up to the sequence with a couple of short things first, and that approach worked really well. By the time we came to put it all together, all the elements were somewhat familiar. The final version was:

  • Medio-giro
  • Into front ochos
  • On a right-facing one, a leg sacada with the leader’s left foot to the follower’s trailing foot
  • Which leads a follower pivot, but leader remains with feet forward, just pivoting chest to the follower, so leader and follower feet are at a 90-degree angle
  • Then leader takes a big forward step with their right foot, stepping slightly away from the follower
  • At the same time, leading the follower into their own forward step toward the space you are leaving, so they sacada the leader’s trailing foot
  • Then … see below

Luis resolved with another leader sacada and then collected. My step memory was full, so I didn’t get that last part – and I’m not sure anyone else did either. However, it was easy to resolve by leading a circular back ocho and then pivoting to face each other.

This latter part is something I’m really happy about: I’m now able to instantly figure out a resolution to almost anything. Usually with an ocho of one kind or another. I’ve been able to do that for maybe a month or two now, and it’s such a great feeling knowing that I’m almost never going to get stuck. If something goes wrong, or my step memory is full before we complete a sequence, I’ll figure out an exit that works.

That kind of free-form resolution is also something Luis actively encourages. He shows you the core element, then says ‘and then figure out how to exit’ or ‘and then you work out how to exit, remembering you’ll be in cross system here.’ Given I do now have the ability to do that, it’s far easier for my limited step memory.

Luis also encourages a very collaborative dance. When a leader asked him how to lead the follower to take a big step (at a point the leader wasn’t stepping at all), he said that you use a lot of dissociation and then something along these lines:

You give her a lot of space into which to move, and hope she uses it all. She may not. She may take a small step, in which case this won’t be possible and you have to do something else. She may decide to take advantage of that space to do something of her own, and as a friendly leader, you will change your plan and go with her.

My kind of teacher.

I didn’t expect to get as far as the follower sacada, but I did. Not well, obviously, as it was a very unfamiliar concept, but it was basically working.

Luis acknowledged that this is a type of thing you can only really do with a follower who is already familiar with a follower sacada otherwise they will be ‘WTF? You’re trying to make me crash into you!’. So it wouldn’t be something to try in a milonga even if I could lead it well, unless it was a follower I knew to be familiar with it.

I also think that part was, literally, a step too far for where I am now. But it was interesting to be introduced to the concept. I’ll file it away for future reference.

Mostly what I got from the lesson was more dot connecting. The mirrored ochos are essentially the same idea as a mirrored clockwise giro. The sacada we did here to lead a pivot was like the barrida-into-planeo sequence. And I got to again appreciate ochos as my all-purpose ‘get out of jail free’ card when it comes to exiting from an unfamiliar position.

I was very much sold on the class, as everyone said I would be. More than that, though, I felt at home there. I didn’t feel it was above my pay-grade. Yes, I didn’t get the final step, and my follower sacada lead was as rough-and-ready as it gets, but it was clear from follower comments that I was in exactly the same position there as other leaders in the class.

I’m also tempted to sample one of his beginner classes because I like his* teaching so much.

*You may have noticed I usually refer to ‘their’ teaching when there are two teachers in the class, but not here. I’m in no way downplaying Natalia’s role here, but they did have a very clear-cut approach of Natalia always covering the follower role, so in this case it was all about Luis’ teaching for me.

A friend from the class had recently got a new job, so a few of us went to the pub afterwards for celebration drinks. It was a really fun evening, swapping leader and follower perspectives on the learning process and … whatever else we talked about. My memory is rather hazy, but I do remember it was entirely tango-related.

The haziness is not unconnected to the fact that, for some reason I don’t understand, it was 00:20 by the time the pub chucked us out. I think they gave up on hinting that we needed to leave and just decided to do the cleaning around us while we continued drinking. Two of us then returned to my place for yet more wine – and, apparently, to practice milonga in the lobby, while drunk, in close embrace, for the first time with each other, to rather fast songs, in street shoes. Miraculously, no legs were broken in the process. We figured if we can dance milonga together in those conditions, we’re good to go on Tuesday.

Image: Shutterstock

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