Around and around: an excellent ocho technique class with Maeve

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My last lesson with Maeve was way back in March of last year, when we devoted a two-hour lesson to following instead of leading. That turned out to be one of my most valuable lessons.

Today’s lesson was me leading, but the theme was very much the same …

It was all about understanding the sensation I want to create for the follower.

Some might think I’ve devoted quite a lot of private lesson time to ochos, and it’s true. But it’s such a fundamental thing, and the feedback I get is so valuable, that there’s no question at all about the worth of it.

We started with an exercise whose purpose wasn’t initially clear, of opening our arms wide, then embracing with two arms, and repeating. Then the same thing but aiming to maintain arm contact the whole time.

The reason for this became apparent when we began working on ochos. The idea, said Maeve, is to create that feeling of contracting the embrace at the end of each pivot, and expanding it in between. Creating a sensation of opening and closing, expanding and contracting. That made so much sense, and I could really feel the difference when I got the hang of it.

Next we worked on me really creating a sense of enveloping the follower. So much of tango teaching is reminders rather than new information, and Maeve reminded me of two things. First, to really think of the ocho pivots as me trying to go around my follower. Second, to have all my pivots be centred on my spine. When I focused on those two things, both she and I could immediately feel the difference.

We then worked on a technique for super-compact circular ochos within our own space. The ‘step’ here was keeping my heel in the same position and simply rotating my toes 90 degrees. That’s a really useful one for very crowded milongas. The trick here being to still have a complete change of weight, and to maintain that feeling of going fully around the follower even though we’re remaining within our own footprint.

Small elements and variations

In keeping with my goal of using my private lessons to work on small elements and variations of things I already know how to do, Maeve noted that I always begin my ochos with a side-step. She asked how I would do it without one, and I got to see you could begin it with by leading a follower-only change of weight. We practiced this, and it’s again a really useful option to have in a crowded milonga where there may not be the space for a side-step.

I’d noted that forward ochos feel harder than back ochos, and Maeve provided the obvious-once-stated explanation: because the pivot is toward the embrace, it feels like there’s less room. Somehow just knowing this helped!

Another habit I have with back ochos is ending them from the left side, probably because it feels easier to change the follower’s weight. Maeve said it could feel really nice for the follower to end them from the other side as there’s no change of weight for them, only the leader, so it can have a more flowing feel. We practiced that and I then found it easy to exit from either side.

Actitude again!

Maeve noted my confidence in the walk and prompted me to bring this to my ochos. She said that wasn’t advice she would offer to all leaders, as that could lead to them throwing the follower around somewhat, but that wasn’t a risk for me. That proved to be as simple as switching on some actitude, and Maeve said she could immediately feel a big difference.

Trying to combine everything …

  • a feeling of opening and closing
  • a sensation of enveloping my follower
  • pivoting from my spine
  • actitude

was … not easy! My tango brain finds it hard to include so many disparate concepts all at once. But I was, by the end of the lesson, much closer to this than I’d been before.

I think in practice it’s a question of ensuring that I think of each of these things individually at some point while dancing, and trust that eventually they will become habit.

Planeos next

I’d identified planeos as a potential ‘quick win’: something I in principle already know how to do, and feel I should be able to bring up to milonga standard within the space of a lesson or two.

We ended the lesson by trying a few, and Maeve gave me one tip that’s again obvious in retrospect: this requires a balancing feat on the part of the follower, and they may want to end the planeo early. So if the follower appears to be closing before it is led, that may not be an error on the part of one or other of us – it may simply be the follower signalling that she can’t continue!

We’ll work on those, and maybe calesitas too, next time. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing how much of tonight’s lesson I can put into practice in tomorrow’s Tango Space milonga.

Image: Shutterstock

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