Monday, 15 December 2008

Geraldine's Women's Technique Class

In Tango-in-Action's latest series with eminent visiting teachers, was a women's technique class with Geraldine (Rojas) Paludi. If you don't know who she is you can read this (in Spanish) or if you can't read Spanish, just look at the videos there and be told that she is generally regarded as a tango goddess. And since she was only passing through and I am only a tango hedgehog, I took this class. For my future reference and your curiosity, this is what happened. I'll just relate it as I remember it, and from my notes.

Geraldine speaks practically no English, although she obviously understands quite well, so everything she said had to be translated by Ezequiel and Stefano Fava. I understand some spoken Spanish, but I found her hard to follow. So what I relate will be a paraphrase, at best, and when I quote, the words are not hers, but an imperfectly-remembered combination of my translation and and somebody else's. So take with pinch of salt. My descriptions of what she physically did are limited by my powers of observation, which are not that hot. Interjections purely from me are [like this].

Geraldine is small and pretty with very black hair and dark eyes, a strong tendency to laugh, white-olive skin and a pleasing, rounded figure; if you saw her on the Tube you might take her for Persian or Turkish. She resembles Maria strongly in the quality of her movement, especially the perfect centredness and neutrality of her steering when she dances with Ezequiel, and a dignified air of physical self-confidence. I think of it as "Yerwhatness" - a slightly dangerous expression of the whole body and face that says "you lead me, I do it, deal with it!". She has no hesitation whatever in declaring the difference between Right and Wrong; she did not hedge, because she does not need to.

This class was billed as "all levels", and I think that was correct. I don't think you really needed more than minimal tango experience to benefit from it, but very experienced dancers and teachers could and did benefit too.

Exercise 1
Stand with feet together and lift first one heel, then the other, off the ground, putting them down gently and always leaving the toes where they are. She moved up and down while doing this, but only slightly.

Advice and instructions: use your knees, and toes, and most of all the ankles. Don't make a loud noise with your heels.

Exercise 2
From standing with your feet together, move one foot forward so its heel is just a little forward of the other toe. Then, keeping your weight or centre of gravity in the middle, not moving forward or back, lift first one heel, then the other, off the ground, putting them down gently, just like in the first exercise. [This was an exceptionally useful exercise for me, and I don't remember ever having seen it before - nor indeed the first one.]

Advice and instructions: Keep your weight in the middle and your toes flat on the floor. Use your knees, ankles and feet. You dance with your legs.

Exercise 3
Start with your feet together, then cross one foot over the other at the ankle, putting your toes flat on the floor, then return it quickly to its former place. Keep doing this movement. Then repeat the movement, gradually bringing it off the floor into the air, and up to knee level, on both sides.

Advice and instructions: This movement is from the knee and with the ankle, not "where you shave ...." (pause) "... if you do." Don't squeeze your thighs together! When you cross, you cross at the ankles. The ankle crosses first and the knee stays in front. You feel like you are dancing with your legs apart (ungainly demonstration, laughter) but you aren't, it's just a feeling, ignore it. The standing leg is important, think about the standing leg. If you feel you are losing your balance, push down on the standing leg. Don't worry about collecting.

Exercise 4

Draw a circle on the floor with the free foot.

Advice and instructions: Don't make it too big. Don't push down so it makes a noise. It's in contact with the floor, that's all. Move with the knee and ankle and foot. The standing leg is important. It's not bent or straight [locked], just "normal", ready to go.

Exercise 5

Ochos forwards.

Advice and instructions: Think about the standing leg more than the free leg. Push with it. Manage the weight change just like before [referring to exercise 2. There wasn't exactly what I would have called a weight change there, but I think I get it.] Step within yourself - don't displace [i.e. move from side to side] when you are practicing ochos alone! This is not your business, it is the man's business! Don't do it! Just do ochos on the spot. (Demonstration with Ezequiel where he stands still and she does ochos within the space of his embrace, without displacement, then again where he moves a little from side to side and she goes with it - "Now we displace".) When you are practicing alone, don't try to dissociate your upper body - don't try to keep facing the front. You dance with your legs.

Exercise 6

Ochos backwards.

Advice and instructions: Don't try to collect in the middle of the movement! You are all trying much too hard to collect. You are doing it in forward ochos as well, but it's much more obvious in backwards ochos. Don't pass through "position zero" where you stand with the feet together. The free foot just goes round the standing foot. (She demonstrated repeatedly - a quick and vigorous sweeping motion in which the free foot does go past the standing foot close by, but doesn't pause or appear to stick to it.) [Much emphasis and repetition here; and fairly general consternation among students who have been told to collect every other week since they started doing tango. Everybody's ochos wobble all over the place, and fall apart, and we all develop panicky or absent expressions while we try to put them together again without tripping over or kicking each other.]

Further advice and instructions in response to questions

Don't try too hard to dissociate your upper body. The staying in front of him, the connection, is in the mind. You're not exactly square on all the time. If your upper body doesn't follow your legs, doesn't turn at all when you do ochos (demonstration of pivotless ochos), the man can't tell which foot you are on. (Demonstration of pivoting ochos in close embrace, with the upper body rolling gently from side to side).

You dance with your legs. Your free leg swings freely from "where you shave" but the movements are with the knee and ankle. Both legs are alive all the time. Don't try too hard to "relax" your upper body, either - you can't possibly go floppy, that makes no sense - do what's natural and obvious.

Push down on the floor with the weight-bearing foot and manage the weight change like in exercise (2) above. Energy flows right round your body through your feet and to and from the floor. Tone not tension.

"It's a social dance, it's evolved from a social dance, anybody can do it, you don't have to be a ballerina". [I don't know whether this should have been translated 'ballerina' or only 'professional dancer'. Either would make sense.] Movement should always be natural. Anything artificial is right out.

At this point the people who'd paid for the room next hour started moving chairs in, so there was a round of applause, a general exchange of concerned and impressed looks, and we were all thrown out.

My Results

At the end of the class I did not feel exhausted, I did not feel stressed, and my lower back was absolutely fine. I felt that I had a lot of work to do, and that my ochos had imploded, but also that I'd been handed the tools to do the work if I chose. Exercise 2 was very useful to me, though it seems so simple, and also the transition from that into doing ochos. So were all the demonstrations about how the body moves as a whole, and just watching. In general I felt reassured about my own possibilities, and that I had a much better idea of what to explore next if I wanted to improve. This was just the class I needed. I also felt newly immunised against the pussyfooting stagey soulless triple-refined aenemic pretension that can so easily creep in if we don't watch it - Geraldine moves like a woman, not like a flamingo on coke.

A quiet practice session at home with my video camera revealed that I could produce a recognisable, if clumsy, imitation of the exercises - except for the ochos. But I'll keep trying.

Take this class if you ever get the chance. It was illuminating, and at £20 per person, good value. I got a lot to think about.


Game Cat said...

"If your upper body doesn't follow your legs, doesn't turn at all when you do ochos...the man can't tell which foot you are on."

Ms H - I can personally vouch for this. In fact, I would suggest that it is even more acute for the leader when the follower is VERY good, because you hardly feel her weight transfer onto the collecting foot and her upper body is very dis-associated with her lower body. Just happened to me last night.

"(Demonstration of pivoting ochos in close embrace, with the upper body rolling gently from side to side)."

I don't know if the class covered this, but I understand the leader has to play an important role in this too...he needs to keep the embrace closed but open it enough to let her body "roll". That's tricky (at least for me).

Ms H - I'm glad G taught this to her new apostles whose example may spread the word in London!

msHedgehog said...

@gamecat, I also know that's true, I recognised it as soon as she said it because I know I've made that mistake many times without quite understanding what exactly had gone wrong, just knowing that something had, so it was very useful to me to have it spelled out.

mwornast said...

Sounds good.

Missed you at the last LGTN

Claudita said...

Sounds like a great class - love the 'Flamingo on coke'!!! Being not in the least flamingo like I have recently found myself to be somewhat discouraged by the growth of the 'Flamingo Aesthetic' .... very glad to hear that hedgehogs and other beings can dance Tango, too - hehe.

Anonymous said...

LOL Ms. H. I couldn't get past "where you shave"! Where exactly is that :-)

msHedgehog said...

@Johanna - in the USA, who knows? We hear all sorts of unlikely tales.

Anonymous said...

They hype is always more interesting that the truth, Ms. H. :-)

Tangocommuter said...

"If your upper body... doesn't turn at all when you do ochos... the man can't tell which foot you are on." Really? I've led ochos in close-hold with several partners for a while, and I know exactly when their weight changes. The close hold is a very sensitive connection. You can also sense when followers are adding decorations and would like more time.

Ochos in close hold require flexibility in the lower back, particularly the follower's, and most followers are uncomfortable without a little space to roll a bit from side to side, even if the leader is leading with slight turns of the torso. Of course it also depends how big the ochos are. But the relatively small, neat ochos of salon/milonguero tango can be and are danced in close hold, and the leader can know exactly what's going on.

msHedgehog said...

@tangocommuter - I don't think it's the close embrace, all of this is in close embrace and she didn't open it up at all to demonstrate the slight movement. From her demonstration I understood her to be talking about whether the pivot's actually there at all. She was talking about dissociation (or not) a moment before, but now you mention it perhaps this is something else.

I can certainly disguise which foot I'm on, mostly accidentally, but I suppose I could do it on purpose.

Anonymous said...

Ms Hedgehog
You should definitely give Alexandra Wood (Tango in Action's) women's technique class a go if you liked Geraldine's, they preach from the same hymn book but Alexandra does it week after week... and with a lot of attention to all the people of the class. There were way too many people at Geraldine's class in my opinion.