Thursday, September 25, 2008

Scouting Tour (September 18-24)

Thursday, September 18
TangoVida Ladies Technique. We began with our usual foot strengthening and articulation exercises, rib cage disassociation exercises, and muscle memory embellishment exercises. We spent most of the time walking, but with new added twists: We added an emphasis on the hip going up after the step back (very Georgina), and also added the rib cage cadencia to our walk as well. We did some walking embellishments: the beats back, caracia immediately into rulo, two rulos after a side step. We worked on a milonga embellishment: beats back. It was a great lesson, as usual.

Milonga Roja @ La Pista with lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas: "The Ocho Parada Experience." We began with open embrace forward ochos, with the emphasis on the Follower being over her axis, getting good spiral, her chest being up and open to maintain better axis. Follower should try to place feet close to Leader to keep her axis, and should keep her hips close to Leader during the ocho, since feet will follow what hips do. With Leader in teapot embrace (right hand behind back, left hand regular, done so that lead comes from chest), he proposes the parada on each side. Leader collects, changes weight back over on main axis, then extends foot (unweighted, with no transfer of axis), with the outside edge of foot (where the little toe is) to the floor. Leader should stay well below her knee when he extends his foot, since the "rule of the knee" is that if Leader's leg is at her knee or higher, she can't get over (he's led a block).

For the Follower, it is her job to be perfect in her spiral, pivot, and axis; if she is not, it will show obviously if there is something wrong with any one of those three things. Follower should try to keep her feet on the floor as much as possible; this will help her stay on axis; her heel is still on the floor during the pivot (but weight is forward on the foot so she doesn't break with it). Leader needs to stay over his own axis to give Follower a good idea of where she should be. For the lead, smoothness is key (no jerky surprises). Leader rotates his chest to the right, then right foot comes out; Leader rotates his chest to left, left foot comes out. The Leader foot extension comes in the middle of her step, with Leader making contact with his foot before her pivot. She needs to feel his foot so that she knows something is there. Her options at this point are to get over or around his foot.

Three Follower pasada options:
(1) Step over it regularly.
(2) Rhythmic Step: Follower takes a little 2" step back with the free leg, then a side step that clears the front of Leader's foot by an inch or two, opening up a channel for her to step through forward with her free leg (in this pasada, the Follower's step around lands in exactly the same place as if she passed over regularly -- i.e., close and around Leader). The timing of this pasada option is QQS.
(3) Big fan where Follower's foot fans out to touch the back of Leader's back foot.

All of these pasada options can be combined.

Though Leader usually waits for the Follower to do her pasada, he can lead her to step over if he needs to because of traffic or if she takes too long to get over.

We did a variation: with Leader and Follower ochos to parada so that the Follower pasadas outside leader (instead of the usual inside pass in front of). Leader does a half turn counterclockwise and snakes right foot out, starting the spiral in his chest to release the hips.

Finally, maestros showed us the most challenging variation, whereby Leader paradas with a back ocho sacada-like leg extension.

The milonga was nice. I had a good time. There was good ventilation (I never knew the big window opened up!).

Friday, September 19
Private lesson with Santiago Croce.
We continued to clean up the technical details of the figure we've been working on.

La Tangueria Milonga @ Just Dance Ballroom in Oakland, with Lesson by Julian Miller Ramil.
The lesson was outstanding. Maestro is a bandoneonista with the San Francisco Tango Orchestra, and the lesson focused on musicality. He noted that when we dance, the movements should come from the music. Tango music is 4/4 rhythm (sometimes 2/4), and the basic pulse is strong-weak-medium-weak, and we can hear this by how the bandoneon bounces. The culture of the country really reflects the music (made up of German, Italian, and Spanish influences). The first half hour of the lesson we focused on walking, finding the phrase in the music, and we only worked with one song: Tres Esquinas by D'Agostino, with vocals by Angel Vargas. For the figure, it was a simple stop, where Follower's right leg steps back, she does two back ochos, and then steps back with her left leg. Then we did an ocho cortado; only our job was to play with different ways to do it depending on the music/orchestra. Maestro's advice was to go to itunes and listen to a song like El Choclo (there are a bazillion versions of them), to listen to the first 30 seconds of each orchestra's rendition, and write down the quality of the music you hear (fast, hard, soft, driving, sharp, sweet, etc.). Just Dance Ballroom is done up quite upscale (maple floor [unsprung], granite, name brand toiletries). There is ample parking and plenty of water. Food was chips and salsa, macaroni salad, olives, grapes, cookies, water (no wine), served on Styrofoam. :o( The milonga was not too heavily attended, so it was a treat to be able to dance in such a large space. Floorcraft was not an issue, and nobody gave anyone the hairy eyeball for doing showier moves on the social dance floor. The quality of dancers was good.

Saturday, September 20
Luciana Valle workshops:
(1) Aware Walking: Deep Technique. We did many walking exercises to work on projection, intention, and making sure our knees never lock, and in anchoring with our supporting leg foot, then extending the free leg. We practiced walking (big small, forward and back). Maestra recommended a feet slightly outturned (not too much) posture for the Followers.

(2) Ochos, Pivots and Spirals. For ochos, we worked on the technique of our back ochos, specifically of the rolling out and in in our torsos, inside the Leader's embrace. We worked on getting deeper torsion for our overturned ochos. The Leader's chest dictates the Follower's hip movement. We worked on planeos from the forward and back ocho, both clockwise and counterclockwise. For the Leader, do not lift Follower during planeos, otherwise she will automatically collect. It's important for the Follower to understand the concept of unwinding from the top of her body down to her hips coming around as a consequence.

(3) Expert Technique in Turns.
Maestra noted that when we walk, our axis is oriented forward. When we do ochos, our axis is oriented in the center (upright). In the molinete, for both Leader and Follower, the axis is oriented slightly back and slightly away from each other. We played with the concept of who is the center of the circle, and who is walking around the center of the circle.

La Milonguita Del Camino Real @ Shall We Dance Tango Studio in San Mateo.
This was the opening night of a new milonga at the studio owned by maestro Hector Villalba (owner of the Dandi in Bs As). Unsurprisingly, the ballroom looks much like the Dandi (similar mural, mirror, ballet barre, floor -- it was surreal). I got there late for the lesson taught by David and Nancy Mendoza, and sat it out since there were many extra beginner followers. The sequence taught was one focused on doing something more interesting in close embrace for small spaces. So in the appilado style, the students attempted to do the 8CB to 5 (cross), then Leader steps in to displace Follower, and pivot her around into a back cross then a front cross, after which Leader then pivots her around again to force a leg wrap of Leader's right leg by Follower's left leg. Leader then pivots her again to do another leg wrap with a "sloppy sacada" or Leader gancho of his right leg to her left leg. The milonga was lightly attended, but the charming owner and his grandson were there to take the Followers out for a spin -- what a treat to dance with portenos! The food was decent -- yummy sopresata, a cheese log with saltines, cantelope, chips, grapes, wine, water with lemon. The lighting was more authentically milonga (it was bright enough to cabaceo).

Sunday, September 21
Luciana Valle workshops:
(1) Releasing the Free Leg.
We did many exercises to get Followers to release their free legs, and for Leaders to lead Followers to do so: (A) Leader anchors down, bends knee to send Follower's leg back, forth, side left, side right. (B) Then we did it from walking: the Leader stopped abruptly, and Follower's free leg went back as a consequence of the stop. Then we did a random dance to experience this concept. We added ochos, with really freeing the free leg, with up or down energy to give shape to the ocho.

(2) Linear Boleos.
We did more exercises to free the leg. For the Follower, her left hand connection is key: Thumb should be engaged to front of Leader's arm when leader goes forward, index finger should be engaged to back of Leader's arm when Leader goes back. We practiced different types of footwork for linear boleos: (A) the regular straight back, (B) to the front cross and then back leg pops out back behind and then Leader leads her to step forward with that leg, (C) ochos, straight out to the side, and then a more rounded around. We did lots of muscle memory drills to really free up the leg. Again, supporting leg should be bent (never locked straight up or hyper extended).

(3) Piernazos. We worked on piernazos from overturned ochos, both on the closed side and open side of the embrace. The Leader stepping behind Follower in her overturned ocho is key. Otherwise he won't have room. When he leads her around to do a piernazo, it is her chest that rotates, and then her hips and legs come around to wrap around his butt as a consequence. The piernazo is related to boleo movement, so we worked on "with" piernazos, and "contra" piernazos (just like boleos).

Studio Gracia Milonga. I skipped the lesson, and just made it to the milonga. I had an OK time. Muma and a maestro from Portland did a milonga demo; they looked good. They had to wait to perform because Jerry's and Hitoshi's birthday dance was so popular it required a second vals, and even that didn't accomodate all the Followers queued up for a spin with them.

Monday, September 22
Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas: The Boleo & The Embrace.

First, we began with our ocho technique for regular forward and back ochos, straight ochos in a slot, and overturned ochos. Follower technique is important in the ocho since she will execute the dynamics to develop the boleo; she must create counterspiral energy after pivoting and reaching, but her upper body still faces the Leader (hips face other direction while top of body faces the Leader). This creates good energy in the hips. Hips should be close to the Leader, chest should be back, and nose should not be down. The goal is to have Follower's head lined up over chest, over hips so that she is on top of all of her major joints (with no lean forward); weight is in the middle of her foot, not forward on the balls. Follower heels still touch the floor, but gets released/relieved at the point of pivot. For the Leader, we practiced with three embraces (most difficult kettle with both his arms behind him; easier teapot with his right arm behind him, left arm regular; and easiest regular open embrace). For the Leader's footwork, he can do the (1) regular straight side step, (2) the ocho mirror, or (3) contra ocho.

The embrace: The communication during the embrace is also key. We began with the "sticky hands" exercise: face to face, hand to hand, giving the same amount of push or neutral energy. Then we embraced, with the focus of the Follower's right hand in the Leader's left hand, the goal of the Follower to give resistance in the correct direction during the ocho. It's a little bit of push/pull, more like give/resist. In the ocho, Follower pushes forward against Leader's palm when Leader pushes forward, and Follower pulls back against back of Leader's left hand when Leader pulls back. Follower needs to do this on her own initiative; Leader does not actively engage the push/pull, and does not pump his left hand/arm to get her to do it. The proper amount of push/pull will enable the Follower to get 20% more power in her hips for the ocho, which is particularly helpful during the overturned ones.

For the boleo, the Follower must maintain her axis because she is on one leg and twisting at the point of executing the boleo. The Leader compresses a little, and he stops the energy into the floor, so it's important that he follow the rhythm of the music. For the Leader, the block occurs in the Leader's left hand; he rotates his right shoulder and then immediately steps on in the opposite side with his left foot (and the opposite sides if he wants to lead a boleo of her other leg). At the height of the boleo, the Follower's embrace gets a little more compressed or compact (by about 10%) to stabilize her core. It is important that her core be strong, and her embrace will help with this (noodle bodies will have a more difficult time). During the boleo, it is a quick core engagement, and then back to default when it's complete. Follower should let hip open first, and then let the leg fly after the knee is behind the knee of the other standing leg (not parallel -- BEHIND). The height of the free leg doing the boleo is irrelevant; it's the quick rotation in the hips that makes the boleo (not the height of the foot). Follower must keep foot on the floor in crowded milonga conditions. For the Leader, when Follower is doing the boleo, his right hand should hinge so that Follower can remain on her axis; do not push her, otherwise she may fall out of axis. Resolution was to forward promenade.

You can do the boleo from overturned ochos or overturned sacadas.

Tuesday, September 23
TangoVida Ladies Technique and Rhythmic Tango Lesson. In Ladies' Technique, we began with our usual foot strengthening and articulation, body disassociation and embellishment (taps, caracias) muscle memory exercises. We spent most of the class time walking with embellishments (taps, caracias, rulos). We also spent a little time doing grapevines up and down the room to improve our molinete technique. In Rhythmic Tango, we reviewed the regular baldosa, then did the 8CB to 5 (cross), and then did the same in cross system (with footwork change for Leader only). The figure was an 8CB to 5 (cross), then clockwise half molinete for Follower of forward on her right foot, the side step with her left foot, followed by a swivel after which Follower steps forward with her left foot counterclockwise across the front of the body of the Leader. Again, we did this in parallel system and cross system (where only Leader's footwork changes). Maestro emphasized the musicality of this sequence, and we spent the entire class working on it to Di Sarli's Este Noche De Luna to get the timing and punctuation right. We practiced on really slowing things down when the singer sings and hits his high notes, to respect the music and what he is trying to say.

Bailongo Milonga @ El Valenciano.
The dance floor is postage stamp size and crowded, much like Buenos Aires, but oddly unusually textured for oak hardwood. It was dark. It was hot. Most dancers generally respected the line of dance, but there were still a few flying stiletto-clad feet, and couples who weaved in and out or completely stopped the line of dance, which I found obnoxious for such a small space and crowded conditions. Maybe my grumpiness was exacerbated by the lack of nibblies, unassuaged by the fully stocked bar.

Wednesday, September 24

CCSF Follower's Technique: topic: Turns. We began with our usual floor and barre exercises to increase strength, flexibility and range of motion. At the barre we also worked on our ocho (back and forward) technique, and included side steps with them as a prelude to working on our molinetes. It was emphasized that the rotation should begin in our chests, and our hips should come around as a consequence of our chest rotation. Then we spent time cleaning up our molinete technique.

CellSpace Milonga and Lesson with Homer and Cristina Ladas: Close Embrace Turns.
Our class music was entirely D'Arienzo, the King of the Downbeat, and our goal was to be tight with the rhythm and be comfortable in the close embrace and still turn.

We began with an exercise in body connection by dancing together without using our hands at all, doing basic steps like walking, weight changes, forward and back ochos, and turns to the left. The goal was to maintain consistency, connection and forward energy, with no air bubbles in the embrace, to think about our breathing and lift our chests at the correct angles. Follower's technical point: Be strong in the legs on the floor; take your time; get good reach; transfer weight as smoothly as possible. Leader technical point: Start the turn off with a rock step to prepare Follower for it.

We did another exercise where we walked, with the Leader turning in even tighter circles, with just our chest connection.

The Sequence: First turn to the left and do the Vanilla Bean back Ocho (no pivoting in hips); Leader plants foot, then turns 180 degrees to left (which is a half turn) when Follower does left foot ocho, then Follower takes side step with her right foot, pivots it, then left foot steps into tight front cross. When Leader starts the turn, he must keep his body and intention forward, and not peel off unnecessarily from the Follower.

We did another exercise/training technique of the Leader's Paddling Feet, whereby the Leader plants his left foot, and his right foot paddles around his axis and does not pass or get in front of his hips. Here it is important for the Leader to have one center and be on his axis, so that Follower will go around him. We incorporated the Leader's paddling feet to the turn so that there was more than a half turn (full turn, several turns). We also did the sequence going in the other direction.

Follower's technical point: In this tight turn, the forward and back steps end up being front and back crosses, short and truncated, because it's in close embrace when there is no space on the dance floor. The side steps can be long, but still need to be around (and not away from) the Leader. The goal of the Follower is to place her feet around Leader in a comfortable way, and to do this she should be utilitarian and practical. The Follower's process of stepping around Leader is getting smart feet, and all steps in the molinete are important, including the side step (not just the back step where we try to get a lot of rotation around near leader).

Technical point for both: There is slight forward tilt in both the Leader and Follower. To really practice this, you can try the figure in the close embrace hug (both arms around each other hugging).

We then played a game, with all the dancers in one big circle, the goal of which was to walk forward by using back crosses. The flip side was to try to walk backward while doing front crosses.

The milonga was OK. They played a lot more alt that night.

Come join me!
Friday, September 26
Homer & Cristina Ladas Advanced Seminario @ the Garaje @ Allegro; topic: Turns. Bring your skilled partner with you.

Saturday, September 27
Luciana Valle Workshops:
(1) Barridas
(2) Tomas & Pasadas
(3) Perpendicular Colgadas

Late Shift Milonga with Tango Con*Fusion Fundraiser Boutique.

Sunday, September 28
Luciana Valle Workships:
(1) Rebotes 1: Techniques & Mechanics
(2) Rebotes 2: Structure and Dynamics
(3) Dynamic Combinations

Cafe Cocomo Milonga

Monday, September 29
Stay tuned for four weeks of scouting tour tidbits from Buenos Aires and one week from New York City.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Scouting Tour (September 11-17)

***HOT OFF THE PRESS: the TangoStudent blog is now live (with notes by me): ***

Thursday, September 11
Studio TangoVida Ladies' Technique & Milonga Lesson. We began with our usual foot strengthening/articulation exercises. Since the class was small and had no beginners that night, Maestra decided to teach something more challenging. So we put on our heels and worked on boleos and their embellishment possibilities. First we began with low floor back boleos and forward boleos from forward and back ochos. Then we did them high. Then we did them high with floor taps (1, 1-2-1, 1-2-3-1), and then with air taps. Then we did a more complicated version in the ocho with boleo on one side of the leg, then the other, pivoting to do an air arc at the end. Our final challenge was to combine them, forward and back ochos, high and low boleos, side and air arch boleos, and also adding the beat back embellishment to the ocho before doing the boleo. It was an incredibly challenging class! In Milonga we worked on the basic baldosa, the traveling baldosa, and the interrupted baldosa, and combined it with the step we learned last week (a half turn of Follower back-side-forward), and added one step to the Follower left (Leader right), followed by a forward step of Follower's left (back step of Leader's right), and then two steps to the Follower's right (Leader's left), into another half turn or resolution. It was great to see so many dedicated Leaders at this class week after week.

Friday, September 12
Private lesson with Santiago Croce. We worked on cleaning up and getting the timing right for the sequence he taught last week. We also changed it a little, working on the technique for continuous turns (which got me dizzy). He emphasized the turned-out foot placement for my left foot stepping forward, as well as the concept of letting my right arm go behind me at certain points in the sequence so that I can get more rotation disassociation in my chest (and not just be in front of the leader). It was a great class.

Saturday, September 13
Oscar Mandagaran & Georgina Vargas workshops:
Workshop 1: Magnetic Movement. We began with a little pep talk from Oscar about Tango and how everything we do (dress, body carriage, perfume) IS tango. We then did bodywork exercises led by Georgina, to help us with disassociation, followed by exercises led by Oscar related to timing, rhythm, and muscle memory that really emphasized intention (as if we were a tango show star). We did various partnered exercises: (1) Leader walking forward (while Follower walked back on Leaders right, her hand on his chest) with lots of projecting energy intention, as if he is HUNGRY, stalking like a lion or panther. (2) Same walking exercises with energy intention, only Follower is on the other side, Leader's left, to get us used to contra position in chest and body. (3) Walking with Leader alternating sides, left and right with the first step big, then the next steps shorter. The sequence taught was a simple walk with parada, Follower dramatic catch with sudden body twist to pasada. Follower adornment: Follower's left foot can cross behind right foot on the back step before stepping back with her right foot. During the catch, Follower pivots dramatically (getting in touch with her inner show tango diva), flexing a bit at her knees to go down a little, and collect her heels (and not do some other strange thing with her feet).

Workshop 2: Giros w/Sacadas. We began with exercises: the toe step pivot (or ochito). We did these fast, then slow, then alternating between fast and slow, to work on the technique of torsion in our body, and from initiating pivoting in our hips. Then we added sheets of paper to the exercise -- holding out a paper to our side face forward, taking two steps to the left, then pivoting out bodies but holding the paper in the same direction, and then taking two steps to the right, and then alternating continually between the two down the line of the room in one forward direction. Then we did forward ochos, holding the paper face up like a platter. The sequence was one of the usual ones of Follower molinete, with leader sacadas at various points, though there was one interesting "figure" during our work on technique that combined two of Follower going forward, side to the left, and then changing direction to do forward, side to the right, with a stretching, dramatic movement in between for both Leader and Follower when their bodies are opposite each other.

Oscar & Georgina are fluent, fun, friendly, enthusiastic teachers, and paid lots of individual attention. Throughout both workshops, they reiterated the Oscar and Georgina isms:
(1) Solar plexus is where the connection should be (magnetically pulled toward each other), so bring it forward with energy intention up.
(2) Imitate the bandoneon's projection and return in terms of our own energy, intention, and projection in our dance (it seems Maestros' opinion is that there can never be enough projection).
(3) Lots of emphasis of perfecting the technique of contra position.
(4) Knees can flex so that dancers go up and down for more drama.
(5) In walking forward and stepping forward, project with the toes, but step with the heel.
(6) Out turned feet for Follower for stability and balance.
(7) Follower bunion on the floor to make it pretty (not tips of toes, and not sole of foot).
(8) NO VACATION for the tango student!

Milonga with Performance and Pablo's Birthday Vals. The lesson before the milonga was a simple one (8CB with interruptions and embellishments). Since there were lots of extra beginner Followers, and the lesson was similar to what they taught earlier in the day, I sat most of the lesson out. The milonga and lesson beforehand were in the same room that the workshops were in, Hall 1 upstairs with Pergo floor. It was a well-attended milonga (about 90 people), and Ann did a great job with the decorations and food (cheese, crackers, fruit, nuts). The show tango performance of two dramatic tangos and one milonga were excellent, as was Georgina's singing. During his vals, Pablo was the beau of the ball, with all eyes on him and the many followers (including a very skilled tanguero) who cut in to dance with him.

Sunday, September 14
Oscar & Georgina workshops.
Workshop 1: Couples Adornments. We began with exercises with Georgina, the emphasis being out-turned feet. Then we did exercises with Oscar, the emphasis being intention in our bodies and being bandoneon like in our projection and return. The Followers then practiced embellishments at the barres: rulos (big, small), taps, front cross/tucks, back cross/tucks, caracia, paying careful attention to make sure our big toe (future bunion) was always on the floor. The men were doing their own embellishments with Oscar. We then partnered up, and did a simple sequence, but inserted a lot of adornments in them (rulo, crosses/tucks, and linking them). The Followers also played with changing our axis, and the relation/movement/shift of our hips when going from one axis to another. Maestra emphasized that Followers need to practice all the time ALONE, playing with all the possibilities, and with all different orchestras, all the tango music you have in the house (not just your favorite one over and over). That way when at milongas, the adornos will be natural, flowing and you won't have to think about them. For the Leaders, it was emphasized to take your time, wait, the point is to be romantic/sexy/passionate; have intention like a panther or lion, don't be mechanic, accentuate the music.

Workshop 2: Complex Tango Figures
. The Followers first began at the barres to work on boleo technique (boleoing leg's knee should be behind the other, foot in air on rotation, pivot, foot returns to the ground). The Leaders learned the footwork and technique for executing the turn in the figure. In my opinion, the figure wasn't too complicated. It involved a regular salida, then Follower boleo, then Follower molinete during which Leader sacadas and did various weight changes, to Follower forward ocho.

Wednesday, September 17
CCSF Classes. In Follower's Technique, I arrived late. I believe the video was of Rebecca Shulman on back ochos, the topic of the night. After our usual floor and barre exercises, we practiced ocho technique and embellishments at the barres, with much emphasis in starting the rotation in our chest, and then having our hips and legs come around as a consequence of our chest movement. Also, on the foot initially stepping back, the heel coming to the ground should be a controlled movement like stepping on the breaks of the car (not kerplunking). The embellishments were front and back tucks, rulos, the air boleo pivot. We concluded with doing forward and back ochos up and down the room, adding embellishments freely, including ones we made up on our own. In Advanced, it was a review day, so we did all of the different Gustavo sequence variations we had been working on (last week's was a new ending of colgada into volcada).

Come join me!

Thursday, September 18
TangoVida Ladies Technique followed by either the Milonga Lesson or La Pista milonga with lesson by Homer beforehand. I am torn. I want to go to both.

Friday, September 19
Private lesson with Santiago Croce

Saturday, September 20
Luciana Valle workshops

Sunday, September 21
Luciana Valle workshops

Monday, September 22
Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson by Homer and Cristina

Tuesday, September 23
TangoVida Ladies Technique and Tango Lesson

Wednesday, September 24
CCSF Classes

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Scouting Tour (September 4-10)

Thursday, September 4
Studio TangoVida Ladies' Technique and Milonga Lesson. We began with our usual foot ankle strengthening/articulation exercises. We spent the entire class walking, and included taps. We also learned a simple turning sequence (back, side, forward). In Milonga, we began with the basic baldosa. Then we added a three-step forward walk sequence for the Leader (follower goes back three steps), then into a simple turning sequence (back, side, forward).

Friday, September 5

Private Lesson with Santiago Croce (for the bargain price of $40 + $10 floor fee for 40 minutes). Pablo wanted to take privates in preparation for his Birthday vals at Oscar & Georgina's Milonga. Since finances were a major factor, we considered Sean & Charity, but decided to go with Santiago Croce & Amy Lincoln since he is porteno, the price was about the same, and location was easy and convenient (La Pista). We began with discussing Vals musicality (it's 1-2-3), and Maestro's opinion is that a lot of people believe Vals has a lot of circularity and turns to it; he says this doesn't have to always be the case (would look a lot more ballroomy). We worked on a simple Vals sequence: Follower steps right, then into 2 back ochos, then left foot steps side out, whereby Leader sacadas. He leads her side into cross, then Follower's right foot steps side right, whereby Leader sacadas. It is important that her left foot at this point is turned out. Then he rotates his body to open up enough room on his right side to lead her to step forward to his outside right, and when she does, he catches her right foot, and sweeps it back, and then switches the catch to her left foot. It was a very pretty sequence and we just repeated it over and over to get the timing right so it was exactly on the beat.

Monte Cristo Milonga with lesson by Ruben Terbalca. Mr. Milonga taught a very basic milonga lesson, first doing the basic baldosa, then a three step to the Leader's right (Follower's left) step. The final step was basically a Leader's right foot meeting Follower's right foot, then into a ocho cortado-like step where her left foot steps forward outside right of Leader, then back into cross over her right foot. The lesson had many beginners in it, which is why the step taught was simple. It was a hot night, so even though the Monte Cristo had good ventilation, it was still sweltering. I don't think the heat agreed with Maestro either, as he was very subdued during the lesson, and left the milonga before doing a demo.

Saturday, September 6
Private lesson with Santiago Croce. We continued fine tuning the sequence he taught yesterday. I need to work on my right arm not collapsing in the embrace, and yet keeping it free of tension. He says it's more of a lat engagement thing. I found it very tricky to do (and quite frankly, suck at it). (Now that I think about this, this is likely what Alison Hurwitz meant when she said our frames should be like holding tennis balls in our armpits.) He is more of the no lean, be completely vertical on your axis school. He gave some simple exercises to do to improve the embrace/sensitivity of lead-follower technique.

The Late Shift Milonga with lesson by Homer & Cristina Ladas.
Cristina was sick, so Andrea Fuchilieri subbed in for her. The topic of the night was connection and compression. The point in the idea in compression is to communicate better, and from (sending) the center of
our bodies (which is especially important for moves like colgadas). As long as we balance each other, we are stronger (more balanced) than any one on our own.

We began with an exercise to experience the concept of ankle flexion and compression -- basically pushing toward each other and letting our bodies tilt forward and pulling away from each other and letting our bodies tilt back, matching the energy/intention both ways. (So we
went from / \ as we pushed toward each other, to \ / in away). For Followers, it is important that there is core strength and stability (but don't clench/grip) so that the body doesn't break; this concept is very important in nuevo, where the dancers use their centers more. For both Leader and Follower the chin should be down, and back of the head up and straight.

Then we did a walking exercise, walking back and forth in open embrace, stopping at each step, and then compressing (squeezing the air out of the embrace) before taking the next step. Next, we did another exercise compressing the embrace, with the Leader using the
compression concept to lead Follower to reach back with her foot/leg three times before taking the actual step. For Followers, it is important to get to your own center (axis) before taking the next step.

Our last set of exercises were the trickiest -- Leaders walk back, while Followers walk forward. Here we played with the energy intention/compression, which was the same as in the first exercise we did: / \ when Leaders walked forward (Followers walked back), and \ / when Leaders walked back (Followers walked forward), trying to smoothly transition forward to back. We began this in open hands (like the first exercise), and then in the embrace. In the embrace, when Leader invites Follower to step forward (while he walks back), he
can open up the embrace a little. It is important in the transition, forward to back, that the Leader gives Follower time to connect and understand the intention and not barrel into her in the walk. For the Follower, don't be afraid to step forward if the Leader leads it --
just GO. If Follower hesitates, Leader can take her outside to his right; it's a more forgiving space than walking straight on.

These were exercises to help us communicate better, in an eternal flow, to get to a more rounded, three dimensional plane in our dance with higher quality of movement. For many tango steps, you can practice them on your own (like when you are brushing your teeth).

Monday, September 8
La Cumparsita Milonga with Lesson by Ruben Terbalca.
We began with the basic baldosa, and then he taught a cute step that was basically a forward diagonal front cross step of Follower's right foot over her left foot (and Leader's corresponding left foot over his right foot), then back into a forward cross of Follower's left foot over right foot. He then also taught the same three-step side step to the left for Followers (right for the Leaders). Again, he left before doing a performance. The milonga was fun, with cake and a birthday tango (not vals) for Carolina. The tango boutique was fun. I donated four of my shoes; 2 of them sold before the night was over. I picked up VHS tapes of the CITA 2000, 2001, and 2002 for a whopping $3 each.

Tuesday, September 9
Studio TangoVida Ladies' Technique and Dramatic Tango Lesson.
In Ladies' Technique, since Jennifer wasn't around, Maestro decided we would work on ganchos, which we've never done. We began with exercises to increase our range of motion and disassociation of our rib cages and hips, as well as ones to develop our muscle memory for gancho leg/footwork. We focused on two different types of ganchos -- the straddling kind where the leader holds out his leg in a crooked position with thigh up and foot pointed down with toes to the floor, and the follower ganchos it, alternating with her left and right legs, inside front and inside back. We also worked on the straight back gancho where the Follower stands perpendicular to Leader, then pivots away from Leader to back gancho behind her between the Leader's triangulated legs. We worked on the whipping motion in our legs, and also in our hips (for the straddling gancho) to make the gancho look as legitimate as possible. In Dramatic Tango, we worked on the basic baldosa, and then the cross system cross (double time step).

Wednesday, September 10
CellSpace Alt Milonga with Lesson by Homer & Cristina Ladas on the Funny Volcada (also called the Armpit Volcada).
It's called Funny because it's at a funny 90 degree angle of Leader and Follower. It's a very nice transitional step to go from open embrace to a closer embrace, capturing the partner in the end. The Funny Volcada is similar to the calesita, the main difference being the Follower taken off axis in the Funny Volcada. Typical Follower volcada posture rules apply: core strength is key so that hips and back do not break/collapse; the left arm digs down and pushes down to get upward lift as if getting out of a swimming pool, and to make a lengthening strong core, with support right down to the supporting (right) leg.

We began with a trust/support exercise: Follower falls forward, and lets her left leg go forward and back at the same time while keeping her right leg strong and straight. Leader has his hands on the tops/fronts her shoulders and prevents her from falling too far or stepping completely onto the floor with her foot. The purpose of this exercise is to practice supporting her weight on his part, and trust on her part. What kills the Volcada is (1) if the Leader goes down or (2) goes straight back over his axis. These actions have the effect of bending her back. We then did open embrace Follower back ochos while Leader had the teapot arm positioning (leading with his left hand only, his right hand behind his back; Follower has her left hand on his bicep with thumb in front at the indentation).

For the Funny Volcada, Leader leads back ochos, then catches her at the closed side of the embrace to step to right to transition closer to Follower so that they are at a right angle (perpendicular) to each other. Here Follower needs to change her embrace too to be closer. The Leader, beginning with his left foot, takes three steps backward while Follower, being taken off axis sideways, does a fanning action with her left foot going forward and out counterclockwise. For resolution, leader takes a side step to make her pivot out (unwind) of the volcada. Technical points: it is important for the Follower not to to unwind too quickly and straighten up too soon/early. It is important for both to consider how to use the embrace to give maximum support, and provide continuous support until Follower unwinds to resolution (with no air bubbles or hiccups in the embrace). Follower footwork on the fan: foot can be pointed, like for ballet, or with heel down and foot flexed, which is more sassy. To practice this at home, Follower can push against the wall with her left arm supporting her while she leans on it, with weight on her right foot, and practice the movement of her left foot fanning out.

For the demo, the song played was Fumando Espero by Carlos diSarli.

This alt milonga was fun. I danced with Maestro. It was nerve wracking since I don't dance a lot of nuevo; I think I did OK though (of course, he's such a strong leader, who wouldn't do OK?). Dani Tuero and Shorey Myers did a nice dance demo. The yummy finger food was dignified and elegant, consisting of a lot of bite-size veggies and fruit, cheese, crackers, chips, and bite-size desserts.

If you've read this far, you might be wondering why my Homer notes are so long... The answer is because I am part of an experiment. Many of you know about TangoStudent's YouTube videos of Homer's lessons... well, we will be adding my notes to them at some point, and start a separate blog with video link. It is our hope that we put other teachers' lessons on there too, but there's only one of me, and only one TangoStudent. Of course that doesn't prevent any of you budding videographers from joining in on the fun, particularly if I am at the same lesson (which means I am taking notes). And hey, I know there are other note-takers too out there (Jerry B, Joe, Pablo...).

Come join me!

Thursday, September 11
Studio TangoVida Ladies' Technique & Milonga Lesson.

Friday, September 12
Private lesson with Santiago Croce
Palo Alto Milonga with lesson by Humberto Decima & Elizabeth Olivera.

Saturday, September 13
Oscar & Georgina workshops, followed by **special** Milonga with Performance and Pablo's Birthday Vals.

Sunday, September 14
Oscar & Georgina workshops.

Monday, September 15
Orange Practica @ The Beat in Berkeley with lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas.

Tuesday, September 16
Studio TangoVida Ladies' Technique with Dramatic Tango Lesson.

Wednesday, September 17
CCSF Classes

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Scouting Tour (August 28-September 3)

Thursday, August 28
La Mariposa Milonga with lessons by Orlando Paiva Jr. and Laura Tate.
The Beginner lesson: The Basics...For those who know... strengthen
your knowledge of the basic step with correct footwork and posture.
The intermediate lesson: --The Connection--How to connect with your
partner. It was a kind of strange, but really great lesson. Pablo
couldn't understand why I wanted to go to the beginner lesson but I
was intrigued by the suggestion that the "Paiva style" was unique.

The lesson was very technical in nature, and focused on their version
of correct footwork and posture. Maestros taught it from the
perspective of maximizing their aesthetic of elegance. They taught
foot extension first, then body moves over to axis where there is a
rise to stand up straight and tall. For Follower footwork, they
recommend an angled out V shape (like Ariadna Naveira) for added
stability and elegance, and that when she takes a back step, she
should point with the heel (not the toe); for the forward steps, the
(future) bunion should be on the floor. For Follower posture in the
8CB, it is not straight up, but slightly to the side, disassociated in
the rib cage more toward the center of the Leader's chest (but still
offset). This gives him more room to walk. The class was very small
(just two couples), so we got lots of individual attention. In
addition, they are also proponents of the Follower automatic cross if
Leader does two steps to the outside right of Follower (rather than
him having to initiate it with his chest; I've had teachers teach it
both ways and have heard complaints about the "automatic crossers").
Basically, for the 8CB, they believe the Leader's chest should always
be absolutely forward (no movement).

We went on to molinetes. In their style, instead of any side steps,
they are replaced with another forward step. So it's
FWD-FWD-BACK-FWD-FWD as they believe the woman's open step doesn't
look pretty, and that a more closed, in-motion body looks more
elegant. They also said that the leader can initiate the molinete,
but once he does, the Follower has to GO (not wait for the Leader to
lead her all the way around to complete it-- this is also the opposite
of what many teachers teach).

The intermediate lesson was basically a continuation of the first
lesson, much like a continued group private lesson since the class was
so small. Maestra comment regarding the embrace -- for Follower in
close embrace, the left arm should be around the Leader's back; in
open embrace hand should be firmly grasped on the bicep with thumb in
front, and elbow connected to leaders arm for a solid frame. She also
talked about the concept of the ankles being the source of spring (and
taking the impact) in the dance, not the knees. She seemed to be more
of the school of heels off the floor (more than on).

Overall, I thought they were excellent teachers (both fluent in
English). It was such a pity that more people didn't show up for
their lesson. Maestros emphasized that every step you dance, try to
make it as perfect, as beautiful, and as elegant as possible. They
also said that to be a beautiful dancer, you only need to master the
technique for 5 things -- the 8CB, molinete, ocho, walk, and for the
Leader, the turn/swirl thing where he stays in place, but plays with
his free foot as he is turning on his axis as she is
walking/molinete-ing around him (see example at around 2:40-2:50 and
3:17-3:26, among others).

The milonga was lightly attended, but the dancers reasonably skilled,
so I had a good time. There were no floorcraft issues because we had
so much space. Their performance (a tango and a vals) was very nice
-- they specifically didn't do any show tango; they wanted to
illustrate their extreme elegance in the salon style danced at social

Monday, September 1
La Cumparsita Milonga with lesson by visiting maestros Alex and Luz on
Ganchos and Piernazos (with many extra Followers). We began with two
gancho sequences: (1) Follower steps back right, then takes a step as
if for back ocho but then does gancho of Follower left leg to Leader's
right leg. Then she steps forward and side, into a gancho of
Follower's right leg to leaders left leg, then she steps back to
gancho Leader's leg. (2) This was three ganchos in a row, starting
from Follower taking a back step, then taking a step as if for back
ocho, setting her up for a gancho of Leader's right leg by Follower's
left leg, then immediately into a gancho of Leader's left leg by
Follower's right leg, immediately into back gancho of Leader's left
leg of Follower's right leg. Follower's technical tip for the first
gancho: it is important that she steps as close to the the leader as
possible in this back step (clockwise back step, as if for molinete),
which means she must rotate her hips a lot to make the back step in a
circle around leader and not more straight out and away.

Next, we did two piernazos. (1) From a back ocho in the closed side
of the embrace, leader steps in to send Follower's left leg into side
out front in "with" boleo (it can be floor or high; talus should be
fully extended), and then while her weight is still fully on her right
leg, he leads her directly into a Piernazo of her left leg to Leader's
Left hip. It is a very quick move. After the piernazo, Follower's
left leg pivots back in to resolution. Follower technical tip: Core
needs to be fully engaged for this to work well -- otherwise the body
flops around. Leader's technical tip: Leader cannot turn her in --
her body should remain turned out and away so that her leg has room to
go out and around. (2) Follower steps side right, then sets up for a
back ocho, but it turns immediately into a piernazo of Follower's
right leg to Leader's right hip. The lead is more of a planting down
and sending the impulse up and around in a piernazo (otherwise it will
just feel like a gancho). On his plant down, Follower's supporting
knee flexes, so she has lots of impulse energy to go up and around
with her piernazoing leg.

The milonga was fun, with many excellent leaders in attendance. Alex
and Luz did a nice demonstration that was more nuevo in flavor. Ruben
Terbalca showed up (he will be at Monte Cristo on Friday and La
Cumparsita next Monday -- where we will celebrate Carolina's

Tuesday, September 2
TangoVida Ladies' Technique and Fundamentals Dramatic Lesson. In
Ladies' Technique, we spent the entire time practicing walking, only
this time Ney taught the class. He spent a lot of time on the foot
and rolling off of the foot and weight changing forward to back, with
an up emphasis in the middle. We walked on the beat with napkins
underneath the balls of our feet to emphasize the connection to the

In the Tango lesson we learned a simple sequence -- a Gavitoesque way
to get Followers to the small cross, then right into a Leader
Parada/Follower Pasada. The thing about this particular small cross
sequence was that it was linear, not rounded, and meant to be done in
small spaces and straight forward. Maestro taught several Follower
Pasada embellishments: (1) the floor boleo; (2) the contra tiempo
step -- kind of like the cha cha cha step where Follower, after she
catches the Leader's left foot with her right foot, takes a step
right, does a weight change to her left foot, then steps forward and
around Leader with her right foot. (3) various accented taps -- three
around in a semicircle. We also played with the timing, first
beginning the sequence on 5, then on 3, and then on 1, in order to
give the Follower more time to play with the embellishments and really
find the end of the musical phrase. It was an excellent class.

Wednesday, September 3
CCSF classes. In Follower's technique we worked on posture, core
strength, and walking. We began with a video clip of Florencia
Taccetti, who discussed walking technique (with much emphasis on core
strength). In class we did our usual floor and barre exercises and
walking across the floor, plainly and then with embellishments (single
tucks, double tucks, and front and back tucks). In Advanced, we
worked on the same sequences as last week, only adding the brain and
body exercise of doing it on the opposite sides. Good brain bender!

Come join me!

Thursday, September 4
TangoVida Ladies' Technique and Fundamentals Milonga Lesson.

Friday, September 5
Monte Cristo Milonga and Lesson by Ruben Terbalca on Milonga.

Saturday, September 6
Musicality class with Guillermo Garcia followed by the Late Shift
milonga with lesson by Homer & Cristina

Sunday, September 7
Ruben Terbalca workshop in Palo Alto, followed by Alberto's milonga.

Monday, September 8
La Cumparsita Milonga with lesson by Ruben Terbalca on Milonga,

Tuesday, September 9
TangoVida Ladies' Technique and Tango Lesson followed by El Valenciano milonga

Wednesday, September 10
CCSF classes followed by Club 23 Milonga in Brisbane.