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.

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