How Debbie & John came to know, study and dance with the Maestro
by Lanny Udell, writer, content strategist and Alma del Tango board member
While Orlando Paiva may not be a household name, to the tango cognoscenti he is highly revered for his elegant and graceful, and very personal style of tango
Debbie and John had the pleasure of studying and dancing with him going back to the late ’90s when Debbie also assisted in his classes and served as his translator. In fact, she partnered him when he was training Robert Duvall and his wife, Luciana Pedraza, for the movie Assassination Tango.
Here’s how it all began:
Back in the day, Fairfax residents Al and Barbara Garvey were passionate about tango and wanted to build the Bay Area tango community, which was small at the time. They started a newsletter for tangueros so everyone could know where and when the milongas were being held, and when visiting professores were coming to town. Their effort grew into the Bay Area Tango Association.
Orlando was living in Los Angeles at the time, and when he arrived in San Francisco needing a partner, the Garveys called Debbie, who also speaks Spanish.
But even before that, Debbie and John had taken workshops and studied with Orlando privately.
“What impressed me about Orlando,” says John, “was that he was very deliberate in his movements, he did everything with precision. By profession he was a machinist, and that translated into his dancing. His movements were precise…always the same…the embrace, posture, foot placements.”
And he was a stickler about followers’ feet, says Debbie who learned her beautiful foot technique from him.
You can see other influences of Orlando’s style in their dancing, such as going to the cross in cross system, with the elegant way the leader holds his left leg back. And the level changes during the Basic.
Orlando’s Signature figures
Orlando taught tango for more than 45 years, creating at least 160 exclusive figures, and he gave each one a name.
• El Puente, or bridge pose…“It looks like a volcada, but the way you get into it is the opposite,” says John. “You enter it from a left turn. The leader invites the follower to step around him until, gradually, you get the lean.”
• Salida del Gato … “His version of walking to the cross which also took the couple from a close embrace into an open embrace,” explains Debbie. “he moved like a panther, so his name, Salida de Gato, Entrance of the Cat, was fitting.”
• Giro Común translated it means “common turn” … but it wasn’t so common the way he did it, says Debbie, “it was so beautiful!”
When Orlando was coaching Debbie and John on how to teach tango his advice was, “you can’t fix everything…find the thing they need the most help with.” Sound advice from the maestro.
Later, Orlando returned to his hometown of Rosario, Argentina where he had a home, studio and workshop. He continued to teach there for the rest of his days. One of his sons followed in his footsteps and later in life changed his name to Orlando Jr.
Read Terry Clarke’s article, Tears for Orlando
More from Debbie & John’s photo album: