Voleo variations

I once swore I was never going to learn to lead voleos as I’d seen (and on one occasion felt) them led dangerously on quite a few occasions. But after a brain-melting lesson last week, I wanted to make sure we kept things simple this week.

I told David I wanted to understand the principles, work on my technique and then have him show me some variations – all of which was achieved …

The first voleo I ever did was from the back ocho:

  • Lead a fast back ocho
  • Almost immediately reverse the pivot

Actually, the first version I ever did, in a group class, prefixed this with a sacada to the inside on the side-step, I think as a way of signalling that this isn’t going to be just an ocho. But it’s really helpful to understand the purest possible form.

It turned out that reversing the direction of the pivot, as in the above example, is not an integral part of a voleo. In other variations we did, the lead is accelerating the speed of the pivot rather than reversing direction

David explained that with the back ocho version, the voleo is away from the leader – but from the front ocho, the voleo is toward the leader, the follower containing it so that her leg is drawn up on the inside.

Voleo from the giro

Next up was doing it from the giro. Since this contains both front and back ochos, you can lead it from either one. In addition to the general principle, which I’ll get to in a moment, he said the important thing to remember is you can only use it as the exit to a giro: the follower doesn’t have time to do a voleo, drop her leg and then continue in the giro.

I tried this a number of times. The timing is crucial, and can be tricky to get right. It’s easier with slower giros, though, and I think with practice I could get there. More on giros below.

Voleos in the ocho cortado

David then explained that a voleo can be circular, as we’d been doing so far, or linear. He presented the ocho cortado as an opportunity for the latter type.

This is as simple as doing the longer (classic) version of the ocho cortado, and making my left-foot rebound a snappier one. This worked well.

He also said you could lead a forward voleo on the side-step. The trick here seemed to be to fully transfer my weight to my right foot, and while my weight is there, over-pivot the follower quickly. This felt a lot vaguer and more confusing to me. I’m not sure I’ll be trying that one!

Key principles of the voleo

The key to leading a voleo is to give the follower a whipping sensation. With the first version, it’s very clear because there’s a change of direction. With other versions, it’s the speed which creates the lead.

But …

If you simply lead an ocho quickly, the follower will simply do a snappy ocho. The difference, David said, is when you accelerate the pivot.

  • Accelerate at the start of the pivot = snappy ocho
  • Accelerate at the end of the pivot = voleo

Indeed, the clearest way to lead one is actually to first slow the pivot before accelerating it – the contrast providing the clarity of intent.

David also said that more is more when starting with voleos! I’ve worked a lot on making my lead comfortable, and constantly trying not to use my arms, but David said with the voleo, the whipping sensation is key, so I shouldn’t be afraid to use my arms here. It felt quite rough to me, but Wai Fong assured me it didn’t feel it, so it’s just about having the confidence to do it.

I guess it’s like when I first learned to drift a car. On and off track, I prided myself on being a smooth driver. But to put a car into a drift, you have to be willing to be rough to push the tail out. I’ve worked hard to be a smooth and comfortable lead, but I need to be willing to push the envelope a little here.

Also important was understanding that the leader can’t do it all. The leader has to provide the initial sensation, but then the follower has to play her part in really using that energy. David said it’s like a giro: if the follower doesn’t know her steps, there’s really nothing the leader can do about it. With the voleo, if the follower doesn’t pick up on the sensation and run with it, the same is true.

Speaking of the giro …

A lot of tango learning is this sequence: WTF? WTF? WTF? WTF? Oh! Hang on. Ok. Aha!

Of course, it’s a spiral, not a linear sequence. As soon as you have the aha moment, then it’s time to take it to the next level, and that very often involves returning to the WTF phase.

Ochos were like that for me, and giros were almost an exact echo. I struggled and struggled and struggled, and then suddenly they started to make sense. But then it was time for the next level and it definitely felt like starting again.

I so far have two distinct approaches to giros.

The first, on slower ones, is to do it as Fede taught me: match my steps to the follower’s steps, and try to focus on which step the follower is on at each stage. Whether I can actively lead each specific step seems to be a matter of opinion: some teachers say yes, others say no, the leader’s job is to lead the turn and you have to rely on the follower knowing the giro sequence. But certainly I can lead it slowly while matching steps.

The second is not to worry about anything other than turning! This is the approach Steph encouraged me to take, and worked amazingly well with her at my first Tango on the Thames. I’ve successfully taken this approach with other followers too – and with contra-giros too.

The amusing thing is that I don’t really know how to lead contra-giros! But if I don’t think about it and just do it, it works. So I can lead fast contra-giros, but not slow ones …

Image: Shutterstock

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