Thursday, June 26, 2008

Scouting tour (June 19-25)

Thursday, June 19.
Practica @ the Beat in Berkeley. The opening practica for SFTX was well attended, with regular Beat goers, local SFTX people, and folks from all around the country who came in for SFTX. At times the dance floor was quite crowded, and I didn't find it particularly "practica-like." If anything, it just seemed like a milonga with brighter lighting and no food.

Friday, June 20.
SFTX. I arrived in the middle of the Biomechanics of Pivoting seminar, basically a powerpoint presentation that covered (1) the physical anatomy of our bodies, with focus on the muscles and skeletal elements involved when we dance, and (2) the physics of body movement with respect to the springing action, frequency, energy intention, acceleration, rotational dynamics, wide movements versus narrow movements (there was an interesting film clip of a figure skater shown doing a slow twirl with his body, first with his legs and arms wide out, and then bringing them in during which the speed accelerated) etc., and (3) a discussion of these aspects related to ochos and boleos. During the "exchange" part of SFTX, we did random dances (one dance each with whoever was nearest us for 3-4 dances). Then we broke up into ~12 person groups to discuss what we found interesting about the biomechanics presentation, and what we'd like to explore (boleos, muscles, etc.). From there, we split off into smaller groups of 2-3 people to explore in more detail the subject we were interested in more-- practicing, figuring out, testing, and playing with the concepts. After that, we got back into our large group to share what we learned. Then we did another round of random dances (one dance each with whoever was nearest us for 3-4 dances) to "practice" what we learned in our study groups, and then we were given the opportunity to learn/discuss/share what we learned with whomever we wanted, which naturally segued into the open dance portion. It was nice being in the community and dancing with so many new-to-me leaders. I guess I should make more of an effort to go to Cellspace Wednesdays occasionally. I skipped the potluck dinner, and milonga afterwards as it was much too hot for me (yes, I am a wimp when it comes to hot weather).

Saturday, June 21
SFTX panel discussion "Many Authentic Brands of Argentine Tango" was essentially a discussion on how tango is danced differently in different parts of the world. There were five panel members from Holland, Spain, Canada, and the midwest U.S. It was noted that yes, tango is different in other parts of the world, as we all have different histories, context, influences, age of community. In Buenos Aires, different milongas on different days at the same venue can have entirely different dance populations (example: Salon Canning). The worldwide tango community is becoming more diverse because of YouTube. The topic of the embrace came up, comparing the U.S. (where it is a community/familiarity/"cozy" thing) versus in Europe (where it is a "sensual" thing), versus in Buenos Aires (where it is an "archetypal" thing). Different embraces facilitate different types of movements, and different countries have different spatial constraints (very crowded Buenos Aires versus lots of room U.S.). There was some discussion on the Villa Urquiza style of tango, and its elegance, cadence, and posture, and it being the root style of many of today's great maestros. A YouTube clip was shown of Tete's birthday party at Practica X. With respect to the embrace, there was discussion of the "stuck together" close embrace that is chest to chest, the more open V embrace, and the concept of the "rolling close embrace" was introduced, whereby the Leader limits the space, but doesn't constrain the Follower. It's more a sliding of the skin, arm-made-of-teflon thing, somewhat similar to hinging like opening and closing a book. To see how this feels, we can do all the steps we know in open embrace, then in close embrace, and then in rolling close embrace to see how they feel different and experience the different dance possibilities that arise from each embrace, especially in the context of ganchos, back sacadas, and volcadas. For the embrace, it's important to understand why a dancer chooses to do something in a certain way. There was some discussion on communities around the world, and if there were any teachers who had significant or strong effect on specific communities (example: Alex Krebs in Portland). Also, there are some communities more interested in the kinetic possibilities/priorities versus those that are more interested in the emotional possibilities/priorities. With respect to women, the subject of playful, feminine, flirtatious, sensual, expressiveness, and how women present themselves is different worldwide came up. Felipe noted that he has been in lessons in Buenos Aires where the question came up, and the followers were instructed to play with their hips, stick out their breasts, stick out your butt, and be more free in your legs, which basically all boiled down to gender relations (in Buenos Aires versus other places). We wrapped up with a short discussion of dance maturity and experience (i.e., beginners being more interested in executing steps versus being more interested in connection). We then did the exchange portion like yesterday (random dances, large group discussion, small group exploration, random dances, then open exchange/dancing).

I really enjoyed SFTX, especially random dances and learning and sharing via the study circle way, but missed many of the events, specifically the milongas. If I go next year, I'd sign up A La Carte for the presentations/exchanges, and add in the milongas separately (instead of signing up and paying for SFTX Completa like I did this year).

Los Zimmerman house party that night in Sunnyvale. The hosts were gracious and charming, and the home was lovely, with the dining room with tile floor doing double duty as milonga space (and at times just as crowded with tangueros as BsAs). There were tangueros galore, many students and several of our local maestros and milonga organizers. No empanadas or parilla, but plenty of malbec by Norton and La Boca to complement the American favorites like potato salad, deviled eggs, steamed veggies, bean salad, ham, hummus and edamame.

Monday, June 23.
La Cumparsita Milonga with lesson by Nick Jones on circular sacadas, which are basically Leader sacadas during Follower molinetes. This was a very technical lesson, with much emphasis on posture being key for both Leader and Follower. For the Follower, she needs to step widely and evenly in order for Leader to have room to do sacadas (or kicks, or other moves in between her legs) and for the turn to be smooth. Also, her posture needs to be absolutely upright because if her head is tilted forward even a little, it will throw them off balance. Same goes for the Leader regarding posture. Nick made some interesting comments to Leaders when dancing in the social dance setting: You are supposed to make her feel wonderful. So just accept what she does; don't criticize or try to change what she's doing. The lesson and milonga were extremely balanced; I had a good time.

Come join me!

Friday, June 27 Diamond Heights Milonga @ St. Aiden's.

Saturday, June 28. Arona & Rosa's Tango Kinesis Women's Technique class, followed by grand re-opening free practica and shoe party @ TangoVida. Jesica and Gustavo Hornos lesson and milonga @ Stage Dor in Sausalito that evening.

Sunday, June 29. Michelle & Murat workshops @ Cheryl Burke.

Monday, June 30. La Cumparsita milonga & lesson (Hector Villar teaches) @ Slovenian Hall

Tuesday, July 1. Women's Technique class @ TangoVida.

Tango in the Square is starting up again, with the first date June 29. So put on your tango shoes and get your groove on in Union Square from 2 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on the last Sundays of the month through September (6/29, 7/27, 8/31, 9/28). It's a great way to build community and heighten the visibility of Argentine Tango.

The free summer concerts at Stern Grove are underway, and Bajofondo, an Argentine tango band, plays there August 3. The concert starts at 2:00 p.m., but most people get there around 12:30 p.m. to stake out a good spot and picnic. Be sure to bring a picnic blanket, lawn chair, a big sunhat, plenty of sunscreen and money to donate to the cause. Parking can be found on the avenues south of Ocean Avenue.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Scouting tour notes (June 12-18)

Friday, June 13 Milonga and workshop with Gustavo & Jesica Hornos in San Rafael (topic: sacadas, boleos, and volcadas). The lesson was very similar to the June 4 lesson taught by David Cadiz at La Pista. The word volcada comes from the Spanish verb "Volcar" -- to tilt (to turn, to upset, to knock over, to empty out, to topple, to capsize). We began with a simple sacada of Follower's left leg whereby Leader walks into her space, and after which Follower does low floor boleo (foot needs to be on the ground, no flying out--it looks bad), followed by a normal volcada while Follower's entire weight is on her right leg (technical point: Leader can be sure he gets her there by lifting her slightly so all her weight is on her right leg and her left leg is completely free). For the Leader, in the volcada, he steps (smallish) back with his right leg, side with his left leg, and then forward slightly angled with his right leg, which drives her left volcadaing leg into the cross, and causes the couple to get into an upright position again. Maestra emphasized the importance of the Follower keeping her posture; her body must not break -- that is what will make the volcada difficult to execute. The milonga was extremely balanced and fun. It is wonderful to dance in a ballroom so large; there were few bumps and enough space to practice what we learned in the lesson though some people were not pleased with the couples weaving in and out. Starting June 27, lessons & milonga/practicas until midnight will be held here every Friday. Saturday lessons (with milonga on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays) at Stage Dor in Sausalito continue.

Saturday, June 14 Omar Vega workshops on Milonga (Figures & Floorcraft, Traspie). Maestro especially emphasized the rhythmic aspects of milonga music, and really spent a lot of time trying to help us train our ears and our bodies to move to the tango rhythm. Maestro taught us 5-6 small simple steps (like the two steps shown here -- a basic step, and a forward and reverse step for right and left foot --, that, at the end of the day, we all put together to dance milonga quite nicely. At first, I was bored, thinking that these were really basic steps he was teaching us. But when we were able to pull it all together in one dance, it was an amazing experience. He also made us work on our floorcraft -- which was a great experience in and of itself, and which made it blazingly clear that this is not really taught anywhere else. Basically, he made us all dance together, in the line of dance on one track -- no cutting in, no weaving in and out, and no dancing in the middle of the circle to do show tango. It made us all more aware of dancing in community, and the importance of waiting for the couple of in front of us if they were stopped, and also that we shouldn't hold up the couples behind us or step back hugely or much at all. Whenever a couple would drift or purposefully dance into the middle of the circle, he would make a buzzer noise, which would shock the offending couple sheepishly back into place (I know, sounds obnoxious, but it was really had to be there). Overall, it was an excellent experience.

Nora's milonga at Allegro. I had a much better time here than I typically have, perhaps because they did not turn on the strobe light (which gives me a headache).

Sunday, June 15 Omar Vega workshops on Tango (Figures & Floorcraft, Orillero). This lesson had twice as many followers than leaders, and some couples who didn't change partners, so it was a bummer day for single followers. Like yesterday, Maestro began the day with helping us train our ear to listen to tango music and to move our bodies to the music. He illustrated the three different types of candombe rhythms (one like a horse, one like a pampa, and the third like something else I forget). Interestingly, he taught a musicality concept of dancing not on the beat, but slightly ahead of the beat. We tried it, and most of us were confused by it and couldn't do it, so we ended up walking on the beat the same way we all always do. He noted the dancers with amazing musical sense are Pupy Castello, Julio Balmeceda, and Tete (who is coming to the Bay Area in August --- woo hoo!!!). I don't remember any specific step/sequence from the day's first workshop.

The second workshop was on tango Orillero, which is a very old style of tango dancing, and which doesn't really exist much anymore. Why? Because it is difficult and you need a lot of space to do it (traditionally this was done outside on patios, on the ground, on dirt, and you might see it at the outdoor milonga at the Plaza Dorego in Buenos Aires). The way the feet hit the ground has a historical reference point, it having been done originally by the gauchos -- who were not used to wearing proper shoes since they wore boots all day -- so they would step exaggeratedly and gingerly. Other aspects of Orillero: It is done in close embrace, and the follower is held very tight; there is a lot of flexion in the knees; the Leader's left hand is lifted high in the embrace, and he holds the Follower's finger tips so he doesn't twist her wrist; it's a very strong dance with lots of connection. We did a series of steps: (1) the low crouching forward step with a front and back step in the right foot for Follower (left foot for Leader), and then a jump switch to get Follower's extended forward right leg to back and her back extended left leg forward. (2) Forward walk leg entwined ochos. (3) Crouching linear jump flip from one side to the other, followed by crossing step forward facing diagonal ocho, done when Leader and Follower are side by side next to each other. Technical point during this is that both people have to be upright. (4) He then turns her so she is back in front of him, and they do a series of diagonal grapevines to the Follower's left, whereby their feet meet, and then to Follower's right, whereby their legs are in parallel. (5) A series of side steps with alternating forward and back grapevines. This was an extremely challenging class and unlike any other I have experienced. Maestro is very funny and a great teacher. I wished I were a man so I could have gone to his Men's technique class last Friday. He will teach different subjects at his other workshops in the Bay Area, so it would be worthwhile to attend them all.

Alberto's Milonga. I stopped in briefly since Dorcas as kind enough to comp me in since I had taken all of Omar Vega's workshops the last two days. I only stayed long enough to dance with one of my favorite leaders, who brought in his children to watch him dance, and when I was bold enough, with Omar Vega, whom I asked to dance. We danced to two songs, and I found him incredibly charming and obviously a great lead. I tried to quiet my screaming mind "Oh my gosh!!! I am dancing with Omar Vega!!!" but wasn't terribly successful.

Come join me!

Thursday, June 19-Sunday June 22. SFTX events. Check or to attend the events open to the public (especially the cellspace Space costume milonga Sunday night -- SEE YOU THERE!!! Think Star Wars cantina...).

Monday, June 23 La Cumparsita milonga and lesson with Nick Jones. Nick taught at the August 2007 Tangoed Up in the Blues; I thought he was great and super cool. Should be an awesome treat.

For anyone interested in joining the CCSF yahoo group (open to everyone, not just CCSF students): CCSF TANGO Mailing List and Yahoo Group

For anyone interested in signing up for Fall semester tango classes with maestra extraordinaire Chelsea Eng, visit to enroll and register. CCSF is just a stone's throw away from Balboa Park BART. I find her women's technique class particularly useful.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Scouting Tour Notes (June 5-11)

Saturday, June 7 Arona Primalani & Rosa Corisco women's technique workshop on expressive feet. We began the day with floor exercises to increase the range of motion in our ankles and feet, as well as coordination exercises linking our feet with our pelvis and our hands. Some exercises were tricky (like matching the outsides of our feet with the insides of our hands, or turning our hands in while our feet were turned out, or tilting our pelvis up with our heels off the ground, or tilting our pelvis down when our toes were up). We then worked on concepts related to improving expression in our dance: Passive weight (limp or heavy), Active weight (light [on metatarsal] or strong [on heel]), Time (sustained or sudden), and Flow (bound or free). With respect to synchronicity, try to match leader's energy, but don't lose who you are. Honor the music. We finished with working on our alignment in our entire bodies, starting from the feet up-- feet, ankles, hip (pull down), rib cage, arms, shoulders, neck, head. It was an excellent class (much of it like a guided body work/yoga/imagery class), with ample time to experiment, play and understand the concepts. Parking near the studio is easier Saturday afternoons than during weeknights.

Gustavo & Jesica Hornos intermediate class and practica in San Rafael. The class was held at a different facility, the Marin Masonic Building Association (1010 Lootens Place) in San Rafael. The building has a large ballroom with a very nice oak hardwood floor. The sequence taught was a typical walk back for Follower with weight change for Leader to get her into a wide cross, after which he leads her to do a large rounded pivoted turn counterclockwise around him. Technical point: Leader has to lift her at the pivot to get her all the way around him. Then, he can do a normal resolution or can reverse the direction in a small boleo, then get her a little off axis as if for volcada, but lead it into an enganche bounce of her left leg of his right leg, then out to resolution. It was a great class, as usual. EXCITING NEWS: Gustavo & Jesica will hold Friday classes (+milongas?) here going forward, likely every other Fridays on alternating weekends with their Saturday milongas in Sausalito, with the first date being this Friday, June 13. Parking is easy.

Sunday, June 8 Cafe Cocomo milonga and lesson with Polo & Diana. I got there late, so missed the lesson. There was very little commentary from the DJ regarding the orchestras, time periods, etc., like he has done in the past. The milonga was OK, not overly crowded, so it was possible to do more showy moves without getting the hairy eyeball from other social dancers, especially in the beginning of the night.

Monday, June 9 La Cumparsita milonga and lesson with Pampa Cortez with assistance from Gigi Jensen. The extremely well-attended lesson was a sequence going from the 8CB to 5 (cross), whereby Leader sacadas Follower's clockwise molinete on both her forward and side steps, then leads her to do a back ocho. He can either do a regular resolution here, or take it a step further, and do another molinete to ocho cortado with leader sacada, to a stop and a change of direction into another molinete. As usual, I had a good time at the milonga.

Thursday, June 12 maybe La Pista milonga with lesson by Homer and Christina

Friday, June 13 Gustavo & Jesica Hornos milonga and lesson (topic: sacadas, boleos, and volcadas).

Saturday, June 14 maybe Omar Vega Milonga workshops? and maybe La Milonga de Nora with lesson by Pampa Cortez? or the Late shift?

Sunday, June 15 maybe Omar Vega tango workshops followed by milonga? or Studio Gracia Milonga with lesson by Pampa Cortez?

Monday, June 16 La Cumparsita milonga @ Slovenian Hall with lesson by Pampa Cortez

Wednesday, June 18 Tango Lesson with Carolina @ Slovenian Hall (topic: Volcadas)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Scouting tour notes (May 29-June 4)

Monday, June 2 Tango Con*Fusion fundraiser milonga @ La Cumparsita @ Slovenian Hall. This event was extremely well attended, which gave practicing/executing the steps Maestra Chelsea taught during the lesson quite challenging. The topic was changes of direction and the sequence was a linear, opened up molinete or grapevineish step, then a stop (with follower embellishment), then linked with a pivoted catch step to turn it around to face the other direction (toward the inside or facing the outside). The tango boutique was a blast, with lots of fun dance clothes, tango shoes mostly from Artesanal and NeoTango in sizes 8 & 9, CDs, books, jewelry and various other tango-themed items. The event raised enough for 2.5 airline tickets for the troop to attend the Queer Tango Festival; another event will be held later this year, likely in the East Bay. It was great to see everyone come out (especially the other maestros) and support this worthy cause. If you missed it, you can still donate $$ or miles.

Wednesday, June 4 Sacada and Volcada workshop with David Cadiz and Mayumi Fujio Morrow @ La Pista. We began with simple sacadas of various displacements of follower's left and right feet from basic open and close positions whereby leader walks into her space, and after which follower does low floor boleo (foot needs to be on the ground, no flying out--it looks bad). The small volcada we did was one that built on this, where leader leads follower's right leg to hook back behind her left leg, which causes left leg to pop forward. He then leads her left leg to step back out to resolution. Lots of technical discussion. Maestra emphasized the importance of core (abdominal) strength when doing the volcada, and the strength in the follower's left arm to push down on leader's right. We also did some volcada trust exercises (falling/leaning). Next two classes in this series are on June 11 and 25 (no class June 18).

Come join me:

Saturday, June 7 Arona Primalani & Rosa Corisco women's technique workshop on expressive feet.

Mark your calendars!

June 13-24 Omar Vega is coming to town! If you are a man, you should take his Men's Technique class (June 13 & 20). If you like his teaching style, you should go to the rest of his workshops (especially milonga). See the complete schedule at
and be sure to preregister if you can.

June 18-22 SFTX -- all sold out, but I was lucky to snag a spot. But wait!!! Many of the milongas are open to the public! Come check them out (see, especially the space milonga @ Cellspace.