Thursday, January 29, 2009

January 22-28

Friday, January 23, 2009
Homer & Cristina Ladas Advanced Seminario co-taught with Felipe Martinez & Rosa Corsico on "The Hard Side"
(see the video at

The purpose of this seminario was to explore doing things on both the open and close side of the embrace, and how they felt differently in terms of easy and difficulty, and to work on what types of adjustments we need to make in our bodies to execute the moves well on both sides.

We began with an exercise where the Leader stays planted in place, and leads Follower to do three steps around him in the molinete, then pivot her around to change direction, to do three steps around him in the other direction. For the pivoting change of direction, the Follower does a back ocho on the closed side of the embrace, and a forward ocho on the open side of the embrace. The Follower needs to be cognizant of how she has to hold her body and legs in pivoting. Followers often have trouble pivoting on the right leg on the closed side. It is important for the Follower to engage and work the supporting, standing leg. The Leader changes his left and right arm on whether he leads forward or back ochos on the open or close side, and there are different challenges of each -- it is important for the leader to not be static, and not block the movement. Leader needs to be open in the shoulders and grounded on the floor to minimize tension and potential for liming the space. As usual in the molinete, the Follower should try to keep her hips close to the Leader and not float away. Sometimes the arm relationship will feel funny. It is important for the Follower to maintain her spiral and not collapse on her right side, which would cause her to tilt.

Next, we did the same exercise, but added a more dynamic Leader pivot energy during the Follower ochos to lead her to do either (1) boleos or (2) rebound/switch step/rebote. Here, the Leader can let go of the contact with his right hand when she pivots/boleos/rebounds, but still use his arm and forearm for connection and contact. The Follower still holds onto the Leader to maintain contact and connection to the lead coming from his body, but she must not use him to keep herself in balance. For the Leader, he uses compression energy to get the rebound on the closed side. Our work showed that for the leader, this is easier to lead on the open side. To distinguish between the boleo or the rebound step, the leader must make sure the Follower's hips do not pass in rotation out, otherwise it will certainly be a boleo rather than a rebound. Follower needs to be fully on her axis on the supporting leg with knee slightly bent to get a nice boleo.

We tried doing these steps (rebound/switch step or boleo) in all of the ways and locations -- forward and back, open and close side. We found the back switch step to be the most challenging. Follower has a tendency to collapse in the right side of her body in the embrace; she needs to really engage her right lat to not do this.

We then danced to another song, working on boleos, rebounds and ochos, playing with getting more send energy and more rotation. It was noted that the Leader brings the Follower closer for the back ocho, and lets her out father away for the forward ocho. Felipe said the Leader has to anticipate the move (boleo or rebound) so he can lead it and know what's coming. If he doesn't think about it and she's already there, it's too late to lead a boleo or rebound/switch. The goal is to blend one step with the next so energy is maximized and there is flow to the dance. The Follower should let her hips amplify the energy she gets from the lead. Rosa reiterated that the Follower's upper and lower body needs to be connected through the center, which means that the core must be actively engaged.

Next, we worked on sacadas, both on the open side and closed side: Leader's back sacada on Follower's forward cross or back cross. For these Leader back sacadas, he needs to release his arms on the more open side. For the Follower, the embrace is movable. She needs to rely on her legs, not on her arms. Her arms are sliding in the embrace to make room for the Leader to get around. For the Follower's overturned forward ocho, she needs to keep her shoulders on top of her hips and ankles, because if they are ahead, she will fall into the step. Felipe noted that on the open side for the Leader's back sacada, the Leader can put his left hand and her right hand behind his back like in an L shape to get the dancers in the correct position so that their arms do not block each other, enabling the Leader to do a back sacada with his right leg.

Homer and Cristina showed us a step on both sides: Follower's forward ocho with Leader's back sacada. Here, while Follower does one forward ocho after another, the Leader simultaneously does one overturned back sacada after another. The Leader must do this over his axis, and it requires a lot of pivoting and precision on his part. There was discussion of back sacada technique. Felipe and Rosa do this differently (using a less physically challenging technique). Felipe recommends "looking for the triangle" -- whereby the Leader sets up the triangle so he knows where to step out to enter between the Follower's legs. Thus, there is no pivot, but a series of steps.

Again, Felipe reiterated on the Leader's back sacada technique, he needs to manage the embrace much more on the open side, to get Follower close enough, he needs to do an L with his left hand and her right hand. To get the hands in the correct position, he needs to change the hold of her hand, where the fingers go underneath, and he holds her hand from the top of it. In addition, he needs to release the close side of the embrace, so his right hands slides down her arm and looks for the connection, maybe in her left hand. For the back sacada, the Leader needs to get a lot of pivot, but if he is not physically capable of it, or does not have really long legs to step through, he can cheat on his back step by doing a back cross step. Still, the Leader must try to look at the Follower during the back sacada to maintain connection and a sense of where she is, and try to create his own spiral in his body.

Next, we attempted to combine what we learned to the Follower forward boleo using her left leg on the closed side, immediately into a Follower overturned left leg back sacada of Leader's right leg. If Leader's left arm does not have a lot of control, he will send (knock) her off her axis. If Leader is receiving a Follower back sacada, he must not jam her. He has to create space by going a little away from her. Felipe said Leader should try to create space for Follower on the step before, when she is doing the boleo. Homer and Cristina said you can create space by stepping away at the end. Either way, both said Leader should not jam the Follower and must create space.

Next, we did the Follower overturned back sacada. Felipe clarified his "looking for the triangle" technique for the Leader to set this up. The Follower's standing foot is one corner of the triangle. The Leader's two other feet make the other two corners to give her a place to go into with her overturned back sacada as Leader steps around her in a circle.

The final concept of the class involved doing a different type of sacada after the boleo -- the "fourth sacada." Here, the Follower does a back sacada, then immediately Leader does a back sacada, they continue to do this, on both sides.

The final, final concept of the class involved the Follower forward boleo, directly into a Follower back sacada using the same boleoing leg, to cause Leader to do an enrosque (pivoted forward cross), directly into a leader back sacada.

Our conclusions: What's difficult or easy for the Follower may not be difficult or easy for the Leader with respect to the sides they are dancing on. For some moves, the open side is easier, for others, the closed side. For some moves, the Leader might think the open side is easier, others the closed side. The Leader really needs to manage the embrace and what he's doing with his left and right hands and arms when he does back sacadas. Our experiment in co-teaching was to give instruction differently from each other, sharing our perspectives, and saying it in a different way from each other that might resonate better with the students and give them a different, more complete viewpoint.

To Canaro's Organito de la Tarde, Homer & Cristina did a partial demo with some movements, focusing on the initial setup for the framework for the class concept of executing different moves on both the close and open side of the embrace for both the Leaders and Followers.

The milonga was fun; it wasn't super crowded since there were six other milongas that night (we are very blessed in the Bay Area) so there were no floorcraft issues. Cristina, as usual, did a fabulous job catering. There was a veggie platter, a cheese platter, crackers, sliced fruit, blackberries and pomegranate seeds in a ginger sauce, a hot artichoke and spinach quiche-like dip, a roasted pepper and eggplant dip, and yummy Indian rice pudding.

Saturday, January 24, 2009
Homer & Cristina Ladas Intermediate Intensivo on "The Hard Side."
(see the video at
We began with the same exercise as yesterday, with the leader standing and leading the Follower to do three steps of the molinete in front of him, then pivot her around using a forward ocho or back ocho to do the molinete the other way. We discussed which side was easier or more difficult, and some potential reasons why (see yesterday's notes).

We worked on the Leader's technique, an exercise where he avoids using his right hand in leading ochos (though it is OK for him to use his arm). Here, the Follower still maintains connection and contact with the Leader with her left hand on his bicep. Like yesterday, maestros reiterated repeatedly that the Follower should keep her hips close to the Leader, and actively try to maintain her spiral by facing the Leader as much as possible. The Follower needs to be on her axis, with no lean forward, chest up, nose back, and joints stacked on top of each other.

Then we worked on the rebound/switch step/rebote. Here, the Leader uses stop compression in the embrace, using both his hands. Follower's arm connection to Leader is equally distributed among both her arms (50% each arm). When does the Leader lead the Follower to do the switch? Before the point of no return. If the Follower's hips go past a certain point, it will be a boleo, not a switch step.

We did one dance changing between ochos and switch steps to feel and to understand the change of embrace from open to close, and to understand the different physical demands of the open side versus the close side, and the energy intention of the soft switch versus a quick switch, with the Leader's experimenting with the amount and speed of compression in the arms and the energy in his spine.

Next, we did a series of linear switch steps to the easy (open) side (Leader goes left while Follower goes right). (The hard side is for the Follower to go left, Leader to go right.) Basically, it was a series of short forward step, pivot to face each other, short forward step, pivot to face each other, etc., with Leader snapping his hips to get good rebound energy to stop Follower. We experimented here with tight weight changes with feet together or looser weight changes with more open steps. One creative idea: Anything done in a line can be done in a curve or circle, counterclockwise or clockwise. So then we played with this step, with Leader doing small, tight pivoting in place while Follower steps around him in tight switch steps, and then the Follower doing small, tight pivoting in place, while the Leader steps around her in tight switch steps. The difficult thing about this is that sometimes the Leader's left hand pumps the Follower's right hand or he may use his right hand as he attempts to force her to pivot. If he does this, the Follower cannot feel any rebound energy. To remedy this, the Leader can practice this by himself, holding his left hand up as if it is sliding across a wall while he does a series of tight pivots linearly. This "wall", this plane between the Leader and Follower, is important since that is where the rebound comes from. So here, the Leader's left arm and Follower's right hand need to be on a straight line, with no push or pull.

Next, we worked on the ocho and blocking the ocho to rebound her back, in addition to working the boleo. Again, if the rebound energy is too late, you will get a boleo. The Leader's right arm and forearm are used to lead, but not the right hand.

Since our boleos didn't look very good, we all did some exercises to work on the technique so that we could get high energy for snappy boleos. The dancer plants his left foot, while trying to whack his butt with his right foot (thigh is lifted). Here we were to rotate our hips to do this, but not pivot, so we could get a whipping motion, striking the floor like a match to get the whacking sound on our left butt cheek. For the feet, point them and turn them out when it leaves the floor, and be sure foot doesn't sickle. As always, soften the knee of the supporting standing leg. Follower needs to be ready to take the rebound.

Next, the Leaders attempted to lead a back ocho after the Follower's front boleo on both the open and close side.

Next, we did Leader and Follower back sacadas, working on the hard side and easy side. For the Leader, it's a stretch on the back sacada of his right leg of Follower's trailing left foot on the open side of the embrace. On the close side, Leader does back sacada of his left leg of Follower's trailing right foot. In doing sacadas, chest needs to remain up, and there is a breaking of the embrace on the close side. Importantly, we quickly practiced changing the embrace with respect to the Leader's left hand and Follower's right hand, whereby his thumb goes on top of the back of the Follower's hand, and then he reaches his other fingers underneath. This type of hold is common in ballroom, and this change in hand embrace is necessary for the Leader to get her hand behind the left side of his back as his left arm does an L behind his back to do his back sacada of his right leg of Follower's trailing left leg on the open side of the embrace. When changing the hand embrace, the Leader leads her to pivot, and should try to do the hand transition in the middle of her step.

When doing the Leader's back sacada on the close (easy) side of the embrace, there is a transition of the Leader's right hand down Follower's back. Here, the Follower's arm must not be underneath the Leader's arm; it can be over or on top of/ on the outside of Leader's arm.

We discussed but did not have the time to do any rebounding off boleos into back sacadas.

Maestros did a demo of what was taught to Di Sarli's Viviani.

Monday, January 26, 2009
The Beat Orange Practica with lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas: "The Decarean School" (see the video at

We began dancing with two songs by Julio de Caro: Tierra Negra and Anibal Troilo, to introduce us to the Julio de Caro sound.

Next, we danced to segments of four songs: D'Arienzo's El Flete, de Caro's El Monito, Canaro's La Melodia de Nuestro Adios, and de Caro's Mi Dolor. We then discussed the comparisons and contrasts among the different orchestras (staccato, a way of straining instruments, more soloists and when they happen, the wobble, the variación -- de Caro created the formula for solo improvs -- "variaciones").

The first element of de Caro's music that we explored was Pausing and Breathing. We attempted to stretch our dance movement though the shimmy or two-foot ideas (with our weight on two feet and legs open). Here, we attempted to work on articulation of the hips in an unconventional way, where the hips are more separate from the torso, playing with the concept of different ways to articulate our hips, and the flexion in our knees, in both linear and side articulation. It was noted that this move was somewhat bluesy. We did this to de Caro's Mala Junta.

We continued our discussion of de Caro's music: how there were shifts, that it was rich in variación with lots of unaccompanied solos, the element of "whistling", how de Caro's music was known more for innovations than playing virtuosity, the use of his specially made violin-coronet, the music's playfulness, sometimes the strong beat is missing, during which you can switch into pitter-patter mode.

The second element we explored in our dance was the planted two-foot pivot. Here, the Leader takes two steps forward, plants the Follower while her left foot is back and right foot is forward, then the Leader walks around her clockwise; her upper body follows his, maintaining connection, until all of the weight transfers fully to her forward right foot, at which point his continual motion around her causes her left leg to free so she pivots all the way around on her right leg. One option to this is that the Leader can change direction both ways clockwise and counterclockwise, forward and back, to unwind the Follower the other way.

Followers should take their time coming to their axis on this move (go ahead and hang out). She can easily practice this by herself, transferring weight as she rotates around one side to another. For a more advanced Follower technique, she can play with the way her body moves as the Leader walks around her, letting her knees go so that they open up the hips, where there's a delay of movement from one joint to another. Generally, the hips turn first, then the knees follow. However, sometimes there is a movement where both knees are turned out.

For the Leader' technique, it is important that he lets his right hand go (just like for all big pivots or big ochos), still providing a frame in which the Follower can move, but not restricting her body rotation, as her rib cage has to be free to have maximum torsion without any hand pressure from him. At the point of where the Leader plants the Follower, he actually stops short of the middle as the Follower's foot starts to put the weight down. For the Leader, it is important that he walks around close to the Follower, and that he attempts to walk around the standing, pivoting leg of the Follower. The Leader should envision an invisible circle that he has to walk around the Follower, using her right leg as the center of the circle as his goal. If he walks too far away, he will pull her and she will fall.

Next, we attempted to focus the energy on the release to try to lead a boleo at the end.

Next, we changed the ending into a volcada instead of boleo. The trick was that the release of energy is farther away when the volcada is led.

We then tried it in close embrace, and also changed the ending to a shared single axis turn, or the two foot shimmy out to resolution.

The concept of strechiness can be found in many orchestras (Troilo, Pugliese, Donato, Laurenz). About 80% of de Caro's music is instrumental, with only about 20% having vocals.

To conclude, we danced to two de Caro songs: Derecho Viejo, and a milonga, Saca Chispas.

It was noted that de Caro was so interconnected with the musicians of the time, that Piazzolla wrote a tribute to de Caro. Pugliese was such an admiring student of de Caro that he dedicated a whole album to him.

Maestros did a demo of what we learned to de Caro's Anibal Troilo.

Shared class materials were from:
"History of Tango Music" masters thesis by Pablo Aslan
A page from the coffee table book called Tango (picture of de Caro's orchestra, and he with his violin-coronet)
A tango diagram of orchestras and composers "Cuadro Relacionador de estilos orquestales"
Maestro's handwritten class outline

Wednesday, January 28, 2009
CCSF Classes: In Follower's Technique,
the topic was Posture, Core Strength, and Walking. Maestra had a handout (Health and Fitness for Life). The video segment was Rebecca Shulman on Posture (Bridge to the Tango series). Rebecca spoke about breathing and how it expanded the rib cage in three different directions: up, to the side, and forward. The ribs filling automatically helps keep the belly in. She also talked about the concept of improving posture by improving our breathing, and how good breathing and posture increased the space between our rib cage and hips. To use this in our tango, our breathing helps us get lift first, and then we can go forward with our chest. The rib cage and arms are related, and Rebecca recommends dropping the elbow so it points down to the floor, and keeping the back of the neck long. After the video, we did some walking exercises, with the tuck and rulo embellishments, and practiced the concept of catching the end of the beat and using all of the music in our movement. We did our usual floor exercises to increase core strength, torsion range of motion, and leg flexibility. At the barre, we continued our work on walking, and walked backwards this time (using Piazzolla's Buenos Aires Hora Cero).

In Advanced, continued our work on the sequence we learned the first day in class ("sequences around your partner"): 8CB to 5 (cross), Leader's legs are crossed in the back (right leg behind left). Then Leader simultaneously unlocks himself and the Follower from her cross. Follower steps forward clockwise with her right leg, Leader does right leg sacada of Follower's trailing left leg. Then Leader pivots Follower around, so she steps forward with her left leg to sacada Leader's right leg. Leader crosses behind (weight change), pivots as she steps forward with her right leg, and goes in to do a sacada with his left leg of her trailing right leg, pivots, and spirals back out to resolution (Follower steps back with her right leg). Then we revisited the ending we didn't quite get the first week, Maestra had us work on an exercise to help us get just the ending, where Leader leads Follower to do a forward ocho to the open side, outstepping her to his left side, so that as she steps down on the open side, he changes her direction by pivoting her clockwise so she takes a back step out to resolution. Here, the Leader can't let the momentum die, otherwise it won't work. This exercise helped immensely in solidifying what we were trying to accomplish in the last part of the sequence.


Friday, January 30, 2009
Milonga & Artist Reception for Soad Kader @ TangoVida
Diamond Heights Milonga

Saturday, January 31, 2009
The Late Shift with Tango Con*Fusion's 5 Year Anniversary (with cake, performance, and boutique).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 15-21

Friday, January 16, 2009
Monte Cristo Milonga with lesson by Cecilia Gonzalez and Donato Juarez: Parada and Pasadas.
We did a regular parada and pasada. Leader's right foot meets Follower's right foot on closed side of the embrace. Weight transfer. Leader goes back to give Follower room to rotate and do her pasada from the closed side to open. Technical points: Don't be too tense with the arms. Leader's right foot goes toward the center of Follower's foot to give her room to pivot. If it's too near the heel, she can't pivot. If it's too close, she doesn't have room to move. Next: Leader right foot steps back, Follower left foot steps back outside partner. There is a change of direction to other side. Leader does forward ocho while Follower does back ocho. Leader's left leg paradas (with weight change back to front and around); Follower does right leg pasada to the close side of the embrace as she stands on her left supporting leg. Follower forward ocho to resolution. Technical points: Follower always bends knees. Next: Follower back ocho to close side of the embrace. Leader's left leg "sacadas" Follower's left leg. Next: Leader left leg steps forward outside (Follower right leg steps back); Leader's right leg steps forward (foot can be a bit angled in to help with what's coming next), while Follower left leg steps back. Leader pivots counterclockwise on his right foot (foot turns to point toes into 10:00) to do a back sacada catch with is left leg of Follower's left leg. Leader does reverse pasada with his right leg, stepping back over Follower's left leg. Follower does pasada with her right leg (standing on supporting left leg) from open to close side of the embrace. Technical points: Leader needs to relax the embrace as he pivots around in the back sacada catch, and the Leader's feet touches the Follower's foot, but not too close because she needs room to pivot. Next: Leader right foot steps forward, Follower left foot steps back. Leader left foot forward parada while Follower steps right back. Leader's left leg; Follower's left leg. Leader pasadas with right leg clockwise. Follower's right leg steps forward. Leader sacadas with his left leg the Follower's trailing left leg. Leader sacadas with his Right leg the Follower's trailing right leg. Since the class was extremely crowded and the students very intent and enthusiastic about trying out what they learned, Maestra emphasized that as dancers, we are part of the community of Argentine Tango dancers at the milongas and in class, so it is very important that we pay attention to floorcraft as we are part of a shared bigger picture. Despite her emphasis, the floorcraft at the milonga afterwards was unruly.

Saturday, January 17, 2009
Cecilia Gonzalez and Donato Juarez workshops.
(1) Milonga: Looking Beyond Traspie.
Indeed we did. We worked a lot on pivoting around each other and changes of direction, Follower forward sacadas and Follower boleos in the context of milonga.

(2) Ganchos: Get it right! Technical aspects in depth. We began with one dance doing all the ganchos we knew. First gancho: In cross system, we began with the Follower back ocho. Leader steps to the side. Follower does overturned back ocho, back step right leg. Leader "sacadas" with his right foot, the Follower's right leg, with his heel a little up and knee bent and rotated a bit. Follower does gancho of Leader's right leg with her left foot, with her hips facing away from Leader. Next, we tried doing this on the other side, where we needed to open the embrace a little bit to make this work. Here, it was especially important that the Leader really lead the overturned back ocho so the Follower is near and goes around very close to him. The Leader lets the shoulders open on the close side of the embrace to lead the Follower's overturned back ocho easier. The Leader's embrace changes, as Leader's left hand goes in close to his shoulder when he leads the Follower to overturned back ochos on the open side of the embrace. Next, we combined two ganchos in the line of dance with the idea of leading ganchos to the outside of the dance floor, so there is a Leader pivot in between each gancho. The Follower steps forward with her right leg, then a Follower left side step pivot, stepping back with her left leg to do a back gancho with her right leg of Leader's left leg on the open side of the embrace. Next: In a 45 degree V embrace, the Leader's right leg meets Follower cross (no weight change for Leader, but weight change for Follower because of cross). Leader arrives to his axis, transfers the energy to release Follower's right leg, then he brings her back into him to gancho his extended right leg as they face each other on the close side of the embrace. Technical points: In the gancho, the Follower's knee points down. She must always be on her axis and maintain connection while doing the gancho, and when she does the gancho, she should have the same energy as what the Leader leads (not overdoing it or underdoing it). The ganchoing leg movement is from the thigh/hip joint (not just below the knee). The supporting standing leg is bent. The Follower's thigh makes contact with with the Leader's thighs. Leaders should not wait to for the gancho; they must lead it.

(3) Ganchos for Men and Women. New, exciting (and challenging) combinations with ganchos. In close embrace, Follower steps side right, Follower steps left foot forward, leader steps back left and turns hips. Leader does right leg gancho of Follower's forward stepping left leg. Dancers are at 90 degrees to each other, with their hips touching. Follower does back ocho, going forward and back, with Leader (not when Leader goes side to side) on the open side of the embrace. Leader leading the intention of the boleo turned this Follower overturned back ocho into into back linear boleo (gancho) through Leader's legs. For Follower's technique: She should pivot with her feet together, then let the leg go straight back at the last moment between the Leader's legs.

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Cecilia Gonzalez and Donato Juarez workshops.
(4) Giros in Combinations (i.e., sacadas). Techniques absolutely necessary for lever level of tango.
Follower did counterclockwise molinete: back left, side right, forward left, collect. Leader's part during this time: he does his weight changes, etc., and he also steps around the Follower (he does not stand in place). Pivot to change direction to clockwise molinete: back right, side left, forward right (Leader does left leg sacada of Follower's trailing left leg), small side left (like a collection) to resolution. We spent a lot of time on this, specifically the timing and trying to staying the line of dance and our floorcrafting. Follower must not be too stiff. Next: Follower steps back left (Leader forward right), to clockwise molinete: Follower does back right (Leader forward right to take space Follower leaves), side left, forward right (Leader left leg sacada of Follower's trailing left leg). Next: Counterclockwise molinete: Follower Back left, side right, forward left, side right, back left. First ending: back ocho reverse to other side back, side. Second ending: collect, turn her to do clockwise molinete forward right, side left, back right, pivot back into line of dance.

(5) Sacadas for Him & Her. Indispensable technique. From the normal system walk, there is a stop and pivot. Follower does forward ochos while Leader does side steps, back into normal system walk. Follower counterclockwise molinete of forward left, side right, while Leader does pivot on his right leg to do back sacada of left leg of Follower's trailing left leg. Next: Follower does back ochos, to the left and to the right, while Leader steps opposite to where the Follower is. This was tricky. On the closed side of the embrace, after the weight transfer of her back ocho lands on her right foot, she does overturned back ocho so her left leg sacadas, going back in between leader's legs. Follower's technique: She needs to pivot a lot, but not twist the spine more. Her right arm needs to be free, not blocking the range of motion, to have maximum pivots. The leg that sacadas (enters) is weightless, and then after that there is a transfer of weight (so you don't kick through or cause pain to the sacada receiver). From the close side: Back ocho. Overturned back ocho. Follower left leg sacadas in between Leader's legs. Leader and Follower back sacads in the context of turning and swirling around each other. Open the steps so he can enter.

(6) Planeos and Sacadas. Beautiful complex combos for men and women! First: Men's Planeo as Follower molinetes clockwise around him. He does the amague needle of his right leg while standing on his supporting left leg, into a reverse rulo into a right leg sacada int Follower's trailing left leg. Second: Follower Planeo: From Follower forward ochos, as she steps left toward the open side of the embrace, the Leader projects the energy intentional diagonally and down, so she does an exaggerated ocho of her right leg way out behind and to the right side, then Leader lets the energy back up at the point of Follower collection. It is not necessary for the Leader to go down too as the Follower goes down, but he can. His goal here was to try to just lead her energy intention down while he remain upright. Third: The relationship of dancers was similar to the Funny Volacada, only the angle of lean is with Follower forward. Follower steps forward left as dancers are in 90 degree angle toward each other. Leader oversteps her so Follower if off axis, with body tilted forward. Her right leg is free, so it falls forward and then leader leads it to cross in front of her supporting standing left leg. For the leader there is no twist of hips. For the leader to lead this, he just needs to overstep to the outside of her to get her right leg to be free, and then side step to the his right to get her free right leg to back cross in front of her left leg. Fourth: This was an away outside planeo, using colgada energy. From the Follower ochos overturned forward ocho, Follower steps forward with her left leg, while Leader steps outside and diagonally forward (parallel to hers) with his left leg. This sends the energy intention of her right leg out, then it comes back in to cross in front of her left leg. There is a weight change to pivot around so her weight is now on her standing supporting right leg (basically, this whole right leg out to pivot then change weight to stand on right leg is a needle [aguja]), then her left leg does back sacada between Leader's legs. To emphasize again: The embraced has to be relaxed here, otherwise movement will be blocked. We then linked this last "planeo" to the Leader's needle/rulo/sacada "planeo" during Follower clockwise molinete.

Quite frankly, I was a little disappointed with these workshops (so it was kind of agony transcribing my notes). The workshop titles seemed to emphasize technique, yet there was little discussion of the any in-depth technical aspects. Mostly, maestros taught very interesting steps/sequences, many that I had never done or thought of before, but some were the standard same old, same old (Leader's back sacada, anyone?!). One interesting thing I noticed about Maestra's teaching style (Maestro spoke in Spanish so Maestra translated), was that her language and verbiage is different from what I am accustomed to. So it was more difficult for me to understand her audibly even though she spoke fluent English. In describing what went on in class, I have used my verbiage, not hers (especially for the planeo seems she calls lots of moves planeos, even though I would have labeled them agujas [needles], volcadas, colgadas, rulos, exaggerated ochos, etc.). That being said, I did like maestros' communication energy -- they are very calm, their voices melodic and soothing, with a very patient cadence. And kudos for them for reiterating ad nauseum the importance of floorcraft and being in community with other dancers, so point your boleos and ganchos outside so none of the other dancers on the floor will get hurt.

Studio Gracia Milonga. I missed the lesson by Negracha y Diego, but had a fantastic time at the milonga itself though it very crowded, and floorcraft was an issue at times. Regardless, the milonga was great fun and I had a truly splendid time catching up on dancing with many of my favorite leaders. There were many folks who were celebrating their birthdays, so the birthday vals was quite crowded. We had two large cakes to celebrate. Negracha y Diego did two dance demos. We attempted to do Chacarera, but Diego was not happy with the Chacarera song the DJ played. Negracha y Diego will be back in the SF Bay Area in May. Woo hoo!! The Bay Area tango community is truly blessed to have such talented maestros visit us so often and for such extended periods of time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Studio TangoVida.
In Fundamentals, we worked on walking: forward, back, with partner. We also worked on leading: how to do it, where does it come from, specifically how to move the Follower's legs. It is important to think of the legs as starting from the rib cage. To help us understand this concept, we did partnered exercises: Leaders held on to Followers' rib cage and moved her right land left with his torso and hands. We moved Followers side to side, then side to pivot around left and right. Then we walked and did a fast shakey shakey (pivot). The trick to getting her to stay on her leg and pivot was to give her a slight lift. Then we walked in the embrace, forward, side to side, and paused.

In Dramatic Tango, we worked on a very simple parada in the close side from Follower clockwise molinete. Follower steps side right (Leader side left); left leg back ocho, back right, side left, front right, Leader rotates Follower, Leader paradas with his right leg, Follower pasadas with her left leg. Optional pasada embellishments: Knee Up with or without air circle or air bat side to side, caracia down other side. Maestro spoke a bit about the "variación" in tango music (specifically Pugliese, Troilo, and Laurenz, but it happens in a lot of other composers' and orchestras' music too) -- which is when the bandoneon comes in; here is where you should save your best "showy" moves.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
CCSF Classes. In Followers' Technique
we did our usual walking, barre, and floor exercises, focusing on perfecting our walks and weight changes, and adding tuck embellishments, as well as focusing on getting liveliness and animation from our trailing foot. In Advanced we worked on a lot of walking exercises with and without partner, with the tuck embellishment, and the right turn.


Friday, January 23, 2009
Homer & Cristina Advanced Seminario co-taught with Felipe y Rosa on "The Hard Side"

Saturday, January 24, 2009
Homer & Cristina Intermediate Intensivo co taught with Felipe y Rosa on "The Hard Side"
Gustavo & Jesica Hornos workshop & milonga in Sausalito

Sunday, January 25, 2009
Jorge Torres workshops @ Alberto's:
1:00-2:30 p.m. Surprising Changes of Direction
3:00-4:30 p.m.. Fluid Turns in open and close embrace
5:00-6:30 p.m.. Dramatic & Dynamic Energy for social dancing
Studio Gracia Chinese New Year's Milonga

Monday, January 26, 2009
Orange Practica @ The Beat with lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas: Decareay School of Music.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Studio TangoVida

Wednesday, January 28, 2009
CCSF classes with Chelsea Eng -- time is running out to add... be there or be square

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Scouting Tour (January 8-14)

Thursday, January 8, 2009
Milonga Roja @ La Pista, with lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas: Organic Leader's Back Sacada

We began with one dance, trying to do lots of turns and Leader's back sacadas so maestros could see where we were skillwise. Apparently, it did not impress them. ;o)

For Leader's back sacadas, the molinete (turn) technique is very important. So we began with Followers doing counterclockwise molinetes, the goal of which was that the Follower take big smooth steps around the Leader, and employing good technique during her reach, collect, pivot, and weight transfers. Follower should always be behind Leader, and make steps as even and smooth as possible. For the Leader, there is a pull lead in his left hand (as opposed to a push lead). This Leader's left hand pull lead is important because for the organic back sacada, the lead is also from the pull of the Leader's left hand (as felt by Follower's right hand).

For the organic back sacada, we began with the Leader doing a linear grapevine pattern of FWD - SIDE - BACK (big pivot) (and here where it should be a SIDE step) BACK SACADA. The Follower takes big, equal steps, especially on her side step, where she receives the Leader's back sacada. For the Follower, her steps are BACK - SIDE - FORWARD - SIDE (on this side step is where the Leader does his back sacada through her legs). The Leader must really engage his left arm lead so that Follower feels his pull during his back sacada (this was emphasized repeatedly throughout the lesson). At the point of the Leader's back sacada, the Leader lets his right arm go to give Follower room to get around because he is coming into her space. The Leader's back sacada might not be directly on the line (but should be very close to being in line). You can also try this on the other side (pull would be from the opposite arm).

For Leader's technique, he can practice the grapevine pattern alone:
-Walking in a line.
-Practicing the pivot: for the pivot he should keep his spine very straight to keep his axis, and not tilt his head forward or back or in a strange way as it will throw his balance and posture off.
-Working on his upright posture and straight forward walking and solid foot placement by imagining he is on a balance beam in the Olympics.
-This grapevine pattern is more difficult to do alone because we give each other balance when we dance together.

For Follower's technique, she must keep her spine straight, chest up, have no forward lean in her posture to create space for each other, but not be too far away from each other.

Because we weren't getting enough torsion when we attempted to do the Leader's back sacada, we did some muscle memory EXERCISES to work on our pivots and hip rotation:
(1) The Turn Game: We were to do molinetes (turns) with each other, and on the BACK step (of FWD-SIDE-BACK-SIDE-REPEAT) we were to see who could pivot more (the goal was to get lots of pivot in our hips).
(2) The Walking Game: Followers did maximally overturned back ochos while Leaders did maximally overturned forward ochos; then we switched roles with Follower doing maximally overturned forward ochos and Leaders doing maximally overturned back ochos.

Then we went back to trying the original liner organic back sacada from the grapevine. We improved and went onto the next back sacada:


For the Leader:
(1) Leader steps side left (Follower steps side right) as if he is getting on the balance beam.
(2) Leader right foot steps straight forward
(and) Leader pivots, with hips coming around 70% of the way, and right hand needs to let go and drop. At this point the Leader's left hand compresses in to stop Follower from stepping, because any pressure will make her step to the side too early.
(3) Leader's does back sacada with his left leg as his hips pivot around the rest of the way (30%)
(4) Collect.

For the Follower:
(1) Follower steps side right
(2) Follower left foot steps straight back
(and) right foot collects
(3) Right foot steps side right, curving around Leader
(4) As Leader does his organic back sacada, her left leg peels away as a consequence to exit.

We can do this in close embrace, but Leader must let Follower go to her axis by letting go. Leader lets go with right hand, while left hand stays fixed.

For the exit when Follower receives the sacada, there are options for her free left leg:
(1) She can do a floor fan, which opens out and away, fanning with the arch on the floor, and fan out with either the toe or heel on the floor.
(2) She can receive the sacada and have her leg peel away with her knee up, raised but keeping her leg close to the Leader's body. Her toes should be pointed down to the floor, and she should not open up her hips, but keep them close.
With both of these options, the Follower needs to be strong and supportive in her standing leg so that the free leg can be articulate (and she has more control over the movement and aesthetics of what the free leg is doing).

For the Leader during the sacada, his heel should be where it normally is when walking backward. Since many leaders do not walk backward at all, as a reminder he would use the same technique as Followers use when walking backward: Stretch the leg back, don't lift heel too high, and don't bop up and down, but try to have body remain on one constant level.

Maestros concluded with a demo to DiSarli's Nada with vocals by Alberto Podesta. tangostudent was not there to film it, but another student did. Hopefully he will forward it so we can post for all to see... or hey, maybe if someone would underwrite the cost of a digital camera, I'd have incentive to learn how to take the footage as well. ;o)

I didn't stay for the milonga, as this new job and the commute has really wiped me out energywise. But my brain is more fully engaged than it's ever been, and I am thrilled and excited to be learning so much. It's only been 4 days, but things just feel really RIGHT, and it sure as heck beats waiting for yet another axe to fall on Wall Street.

Friday, January 9, 2009
Tango Magdalena Milonga in Oakland.
This was a milonga only, no lesson beforehand. I was curious about this place since it's relatively new (the studio has only been open since February 2008), and was recommended by Maestro Shvarts. The space is in a charming building where you have to walk up to the third floor. If you park on the side of the street where the building is, you need to move your car by midnight since there is street cleaning (it's better to park across the street). The ballroom is small, but cozy and comfortable. The hosts, Jean-Pierre Sighe and Bianca Blesching, are very warm and gracious people, and danced with everyone in attendance. Jean-Pierre is a tremendous dancer in terms of musicality, life in his feet, and solid embrace and connection. The milonga was not crowded (a pity), so the dancers could really go all out and not worry much about floorcraft (a plus). The floor is softwood, I believe (or at least a very soft hardwood). The food was simple, but elegant, ample, healthy and satisfying (blueberries, oranges, apples, persimmons, cheese, crackers, chocolate truffles, fruitcake, cookies). There was wine and water. This was an unpretentious, friendly milonga, and I am glad I went. I had a good time, despite the low number of dancers (who were thankfully reasonably skilled). Music was mostly traditional, with a nuevo and salsa tanda thrown in later in the evening. Check it out!

Sunday, January 11, 2009
Cafe Cocomo Milonga with lesson by Christy Cote and Adolfo.
I skipped the lesson, but heard the tail end. Maestros taught walking, the embrace, the 8CB, the molinete, the ocho cortado and an interesting turn variation based on the molinete. The milonga itself was quite fun and extremely well attended (including lots of local and visiting maestros and folks from the C&C CITA 2008 group). DJ Polo did a nice job as usual. The food was more ample than usual, with the addition of a brownie dessert and more nuts to the usual spread of salami, ham, saltines, cheese, olive dip and tomato dip, and pretzels.

Monday, January 12, 2009
La Cumparsita Milonga with lesson by visiting maestros Cecilia Gonzalez and Donato Juarez: Boleos.
They went right into the step: Leader steps side left (Follower steps side right), Follower steps back left (Leader forward right), Follower back ocho, Follower back boleo with right leg, collect. For the boleo, the idea is to first let the Follower's body go, continue the movement with hips, and at the last moment the leg goes up. During the boleo, the Follower's supporting leg is bent. For the Leader, he goes longer on the side step. On the forward step, he turns a little so the intention to turn is already there. The Follower feels the transfer of weight. The Leader accompanies her in the steps, so she feels the turn. Basically, he walks around her to make the energy circular. Next, the Leader steps right foot forward, the intention is with stepping circularly. Then he does a side step in the same direction, then returns, then collects and walks out. This is a regular with boleo. Note here the embrace is suspended, but the Leader doesn't push. Next, we did a variation, changing the ending: Instead of the Leader stepping side left (and follower doing the back boleo after that), the Leader does a back cross step with his left leg to lead a contra boleo. Then Leader steps side right. Maestra noted that boleos should always be done to the outside of the dance floor to not hurt other dancers. It is important to take care of the other people around you and not hurt other dancers when you are doing boleos. Floorcraftwise, first you do the pivots, then the leg gets sent out so that you are taking the space you are leaving. Technical notes: the Leader should be sure to lead the pivot of the Follower. Follower's boleoing free leg needs to be relaxed; the most important leg is actually the bent free standing leg; the boleoing leg should be articulated from the hip (not just the knee); the boleoing free leg is behind the standing leg, and goes around the supporting leg. Leader should try to collect before he goes backward. Next, we did forward boleos: Follower does forward ochos. Then Leader and Follower steps right with right, with weight on the same leg, or left with left, with weight on the same leg. On the close side of the embrace, Leader turns follower clockwise, Follower does front boleo with her left leg. For Follower options: (1) The left leg goes down to the floor on right side of right foot to collect to other side (left) of right foot, or (2) just return (collect) to the left side of right foot. Next, we tried the other side: On the open side of the embrace, the Leader turns counterclockwise, the Follower's right leg does boleo as the left leg is supporting standing leg. Our homework is to try to be in front of each other and to practice these movements to the left and to the right. The Leader's hips face the Follower (don't overturn his torso); Torsos should mostly be facing each other; the Leader produces the boleo.

January 13, 2009
TangoVida: Beginner Technique.
The studio at TangoVida has been rearranged, so now there is even more dance space. Maestros decided to do a Beginner Technique class since the levels in their other classes started to spread out and they decided a return to the basics were in order. Maestros noted to be a good dancer, you need three things: Rhythm 50% (can be learned); Technique 25% (can be learned), and Elegance 25% (which can't be learned [ed. note: I disagree]). Elegance is the way you carry yourself. We began with maestro's usual musicality clapping exercise, working on strong beats (1), the syncopas (1-2, 4-1), tiempo, doble tiempo, contra tiempo. Next, we practiced walking on the beat. Maestra noted that the head and hips are the heaviest parts of the body, and that the goal in walking is to get the thighs behind the butt. Next, we walked in the shopping cart hold, then in the embrace. Then we did the 6-step box (from the Leader's perspective since I led): (1) side left outside, (2) Forward right outside, (3) forward left inside, (4) side right inside, (5) change weight, (6) back right inside. We also practiced adjusting the step doing side changes to the Leader's right side.

TangoVida: Dramatic Tango. We did a very basic Leader parada, Follower pasada step. I attempted to lead. Leader steps side left, does weight change, Leader does another side left step while he turns the right side of his body counterclockwise (to wind her up and free her back left leg), then he steps with his right foot in a curved in manner to stop her right foot. She sandwiches his right foot, then steps over with her left feet. She has options for embellishments in her pasada: the half moon on the floor before stepping over, the raise up of her knee as she steps over, the caracia on outside of her right leg. This was much trickier to lead than I realized. I had trouble cranking her up to free her left leg, and getting her to stay on her right supporting standing leg.

January 14, 2009
CCSF Classes: In Follower's Technique,
we didn't do any floor exercises since it was the first day of class and many students weren't dressed properly to get down on the floor. We did our walking exercises, worked at the barre, and did a new connection/sensitivity exercise with rubber bands. It's great to be back. In Advanced, we learned a new sequence, based on the topic of the night: bodies turning, swirling around each other. 8CB to 5 (cross), Leader's legs are crossed in the back (right leg behind left). Then Leader simultaneously unlocks himself and the Follower from her cross. Follower steps forward with her right leg, Leader does sacada of his right leg to Follower's trailing left leg. Then Leader pivots Follower around, so she steps forward with her right leg as Leader steps back with his right, then they pivot around again to resolution into line of dance. Follower optional embellishment: Tuck front after the cross but before stepping forward with right leg before Leader's sacada of her trailing left leg. Then, maestra changed this figure to incorporate more sacadas: In the Follower's forward step, she sacadas Leader's right leg as he goes to the left side (clockwise). Th Leader crosses behind (weight change), pivots as she steps forward with her right leg, and goes in to do a sacada with his left leg of her trailing left leg, pivots, and spirals back out to resolution (Follower steps back with her right leg). After this maestra changed the figure again, specifically the ending, and this is where my brain melted in terms of trying to write down and describe what I saw. No worries though, I am sure we will review it next week.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009
Monte Cristo Milonga with lesson by Cecilia Gonzalez and Donato Juarez

Saturday, January 17, 2009
Cecilia Gonzalez and Donato Juarez workshops (bring your own skilled partner).
The Late Shift with lesson by Ney Melo and Jennifer Brattt

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Cecilia Gonzalez and Donato Juarez workshops (bring your own skilled partner).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

January 1-7

Thursday, January 1, 2009
New Year's Day Milonga @ Lake Merritt Dance Center with lesson by Gigi and Warren Jensen: Simple Sacadas.
Maestros notes that the word "sacada" comes from the Spanish verb "sacar" - to take, and in terms of technique, is the way a chisel works, with the wood peeling away as a consequence of the chisel's action. We began with the 8CB, but on the 4: Leader's left foot meets Follower's left foot to sacada it as he twists her away and lifts her so she pivots. This prevents her from going to the cross. Then she does a back ocho, while Leader does a side step. Leader displaces with his right leg, stepping obliquely (toward and behind without knee cap) to sacada of Follower's right leg to send it out and to the left side of her left leg (in a quatro/boleo). Follower's technical point on this boleo/quatro: make sure foot points down to look prettiest. The resolution is to a back ocho, to the cross, to a forward ocho, and then another sacada with Leader's right leg of Follower's trailing left leg to Follower forward ocho to rock step resolution. This move originated from Pampa Cortez, who is known for sacadas, among other things. The secret about sacadas, and making sure they do not become amagues, is that the Leader needs to touch Follower's foot in the sacada. If you are in control of your legs, you will be in control of hers. Take your time. Make firm but gentle contact. The Leader's side step is toward the Follower, which is how he remains in balance and on axis (Leader moves closer to Follower). The milonga was not as well attended as last year, which suited me just fine. There was a nice amount of space to dance on the pergo-floored ballroom. The food was quite good -- sliced roast beef, sliced ham, rolls, several different vegetable and pasta salads, a hot pasta dish, desserts, wine, and punch. DJ Emilio did a fine job rockin' the house into the new year.

Friday, January 2, 2009
Beginning Senior Tango @ Emeryville Senior Center taught by Ivan Shvarts.
The lesson was good, but was pretty much the same as what maestro taught last week. Leader steps side left as Follower steps side right, Leader stops Follower's right foot with his right foot to cause her to sandwich his right foot with her left foot. Follower pasadas with left foot to right side. We repeated this four times to go around in a circle. Leader option: Play with Follower pasada to lead her over and back and over again. Other option: Leader sacada using his right leg after Follower pasada to force boleo (quatro) of her left leg diagonally across against her right leg. Other option after this boleo (quatro): Follower gancho of Leader's right leg with the her same left leg that just did the boleo. Leader's technical point: Leader turns her out a bit more so she knows to gancho (instead of boleo/quatro) This gives her hips room to do the back gancho and it also pivots her foot so that the toes are aimed in the correct angle to do a back gancho. Since I am now a member of the Emeryville Senior Center, I was welcome to partake in the unlimited soup and salad lunch beforehand for $3. It was good. The soup was homemade, hot and hearty, and the salad, while simple, had a decent variety of vegetables and dressings. There was also a huge amount of baked goods (bagels, breads, donuts) and snacks (gardettos, tortilla chips, guacamole), fruit, and drinks (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, punch, apple juice). There were a few non-seniors at this lesson, members of the SF Bay Area tango community.

Saturday, January 3, 2009
Late Shift 1st Anniversary Milonga with lesson beforehand by David Orly-Thompson and Mariana Ancarola: Volcadas.
We began with exercises, similar to the ones on NYE, but including front and back crosses with feet in line with each other, getting used to the weight changes and having the toes in the same line. The forward knee bends a little but the back leg is straight. We also did the pivot, forward and back ocho, and step forward and back exercises. We added pivots with the forward and back steps which resulted in 1/4 turns. For the sequence: In close embrace, we are to maintain connection with weight over the balls of our feet. Follower steps back with her left foot (Leader forward with his right), does quick collect with her right foot (pivots 1/4 turn), steps forward with her left, steps forward with her right, steps side left with her left foot. Here, the leader does a sacada with his right foot to almost meet Follower's left foot (but is more in the middle, so they don't actually touch feet). This forward force of energy drives the Follower's right leg out and back and then in to back cross of left leg, sending left leg forward in a back volcada, while leader does weight change, stepping forward with his left leg to resolution. Then we changed the ending, where the leader steps forward with his right leg to close, then does 8CB to 2, then does a parada sandwich of Leader's right leg, then Leader turns to send out the energy of Follower's left leg as he steps back to lead a regular volcada of her left leg forward, and then drives it back diagonally to the right of her right leg. For those students who were already familiar with volcadas, we added the Leader option of the fake out, where the Leader can lead a back volcada, and then mid-energy, mid-motion as the Follower's left leg pops forward, he steps back to lead it into a regular forward volcada. For Follower's technique in the volcada, her head placement should be in the same plane as her body (so head turns to her right) so that dancers remain in a V (not chest to chest). The milonga was fun, well attended but not obnoxiously so. The food could have been more ample and festive for a 1st Anniversary. Maybe they were having us stick to our New Year's resolution to watch what we eat.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Cellspace Alt Milonga with lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas: Hurracaine Colgada.
See the video at For the technique of the colgada, it has a feel similar to a turn (molinete) in terms of outwards (centrifugal) force/intention. We began with a partnered exercise where Leader and Follower faced each other toe to toe; Leader gave Follower energy to push her out while still holding on to her; both Leader and Follower were to hang on to each other with equal balance. For the posture, dancers should have hips back but under rib cage so body and spine are fairly vertical, while Leader and Follower legs are more in a V line away from each other, with knees soft. This is a small movement, with just a little bit of hanging away (not a huge amount). The Leader and Follower counterbalance each other with their body mass, engaging their core muscles, not just arm strength. It is important that the shoulders do not roll forward, and you should not plank, or stick your belly in, and that you should send your hips out, but don't stick your butt out.

For the figure, we began with a rock step. Then Leader walks around to right, collecting each time he steps, or stepping continually. The goal here is to suspend the Follower on her axis as she is on her right leg. The Follower is in a colgada even though it doesn't look like it. This is a somewhat subtle, smaller colgada, without a lot of hang away from each other. The Follower bends her supporting right knee a little, and her hips go back to sit a little, and her back goes into Leader's right arm, while her free left leg goes back as a result of her hips being in alignment with each other and going back. The Leader gets outside of Follower's right foot with his left foot, then his right foot steps in the middle of her two feet. He steps around in a counterclockwise manner, going R - L - R- L , etc. As the Leader's right foot steps around, the left foot has to draw in; otherwise, the Follower's foot will tangle in his. So for the Leader, it is not a planting or jamming, but a true stepping around.

Because colgadas are a circular movement, in every moment your body needs to make adjustments to maintain the proper posture and connection. The Follower needs to use both arms in the embrace, and has to pull to make it feel equal in her arms and energywise with the Leader to maintain the hanging action. In tango music, the "Hurricane" Colgada can be done at the climax of the song or during the 1/8 note runs. It is called "Hurricane" because it is a very fast, spinning colgada. Our goal at the end of this and all colgadas is to slow it down, collect, and exit gracefully. For the Follower, she needs to focus on one spot on the leader and stay on it. For the Leader, the walk around the Follower is like penguin sashay as he spins around fast around the Follower.

For the more experienced students, we did a variation that was basically a backward one done in sweetheart embrace. Here, the relationship between dancers changes, and dancers do not face each other, but forward in the same direction, with the Leader behind and to the left of the Follower. The Follower is on her left leg, and her right leg is forward and out as the Leader walks around behind her.

For the less experienced students, we did an exercise to get us used to the colgada energy intention. Here, the Follower stood with her legs about 2 feet apart, and Leader stood with his feet inside and touching hers. Then the Leader sent Follower out and around while still hanging on to her. Here, we experienced the semicircular energy, playing in a half circular motion. This is also called the Batman & Robyn exercise. We were to go back and forth, side to side, with bodies slightly bent (upper bodies out and away from each other while we slightly sat as our legs were in a V with each other since our feet were touching), then step through. This exercise was to help us get used to hanging from each other in this position. To lead Follower to step through, Leader plants his weight on his right leg, and step left, which leads Follower to step left simultaneously as she feels the energy intention.

For both groups of students: We did a rock step of Leader rocking forward (Follower back), then step side left (Follower right), to do a regular colgada (like a step over pasada with more outward, centrifugal energy). Then, we did a colgada where the Leader's left foot steps outside of Follower's right foot, to send her left foot out and around Leader to step. Or, Leader can step around quickly so she remains suspended in the colgada (step over pasada).


Thursday, January 8, 2009
Milonga Roja @ La Pista with lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas: The Organic Leader's Back Sacada.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Scouting Tour (December 18-31)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Orange Practica @ The Beat with Lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas: "What a Catch"
See the video at This was a holiday class, and the point was to have fun and be playful and musical in our catches. The foundation of our catch work is the turn (molinete), and in our work we utilized the pull technique for Leader, with Follower making sure her nose does not pass the Leader's and that she is really connected to the leader with her left hand so that she feels the pulling sensation and follows it. The goal of the class was to create an illusion of stop action in rhythmic, playful ways in our catches. We explored many different types of catches.

We began with very simple catches, which began with the Leader doing a rock step, and then catching the Follower as he leads her to a full forward step that curves. In the teapot embrace (with Leader's right hand behind his back while Follower's left hand is on his bicep or behind his shoulder, and his left hand holds Follower's right hand normally in the open side of the embrace), we practiced to the Donato's El Acomodo, where the Leader catches with his foot on the Follower's right leg forward step during a clockwise molinete. Here, the Follower has to have good molinete technique, and really be connected to the Leader with her left hand, to really follow and feel the pull of the Leader's torso as he leads her to step around.

We also worked on the same figure in a counterclockwise molinete. Then we practiced different other places to catch, as the Leader can trap any foot on any step, and can do it with a front catch or back catch.

We then practiced the exit on the Leader's back catch, which can be a colgada.

Next, we did a silly catch, like a little Evil Knievel, where Leader walks forward, Follower walks back, Leader does a very quick weight change, then his left foot catches Follower's right foot, and then he sandwiches her right foot with his right foot. It is almost like a jump (and can turn into a jump) because it's very fast. One variation of this is the shimmy step or pitter patter step, and resolution can be a Follower colgada.

The Leader can also do a more complicated Evil Knievel, by doing a jump with crossed feet. Here, he can lead this by doing it with a super deep back cross to catch Follower's foot. Here, it's important that the Leader does not clamp Follower's feet -- he should give her lots of room when doing this Leader crossed jump step.

Next, the Leader can do the Windshield Wiper catch, where his left foot moves like a windshield wiper on the floor from her left foot to right foot (and back to left foot), as both her feet are planted on the ground, but her weight changes from left to right to left. He can also bring in his right foot to trap her left foot so her legs are kept apart. Here the resolution can be a counterweight movement like a colgada.

Next, Maestro showed us the Mountain Climber, whereby the Leader does a series of soltadas as he steps around Follower, trapping her feet as he steps around her (and sometimes he traps her feet with crossed feet).

Next, Leader leads Follower to do forward boleos and tries to catch her foot/leg as it is in the air.

Next, during ganchos, Leader can squeeze his thighs while Follower ganchos. Doing this during overturned back ganchos looks better, but is more difficult to lead/execute. For all the ganchos with catches, it is very important that the Leader not knock the Follower off her standing leg. For the Follower, the gancho technique is that the leg really needs to wrap from the hip (not just the knee).

Next, we did a breaking of embrace belly catch, as Follower rocks forward and back, facing away from the Leader (almost like the Leader is leading a soltada, but then changes his mind and puts her back in place).

Friday, December 26, 2008

Beginning Argentine Tango For Seniors @ Emeryville Senior Center
, taught by Ivan Shvarts (a former student of Pupy Castello). Why am I taking a beginning senior tango class? Well, I had the day off (obviously), and need more exposure to seniors, as I prepare for my new job (yay me!!). Plus I figured the class would be heavily female and I could try my hand at leading some more. The Emeryville Senior Center ballroom has a beautiful maple floor and OK street parking. The lesson was free for members, and membership is free and open to people of all ages.

We began with the embrace. Maestro said that in our face, we should show melancholy, suffering, seriousness, but in our body, we should show happiness and liveliness when dancing tango.

Follower does right side step, sandwich of Leader's right foot with Follower's left foot, then Follower's left foot pasadas over his right foot to right side. Before her foot lands on the floor, she can do some embellishments (kicks, rulos). It is important to listen to the melody and singing of the song, not just the beat, in order to understand musical phrasing and appropriate places to embellish or pause.

Next step: Leader sends Follower's left foot back in a small back step so that her right foot is weightless but forward, then he does a barrida (sweep) of Follower's right forward foot to back diagonal right with his right foot. She can sweep his foot back as a form of play.

Next we did a close embrace gancho. Follower steps side right. Leader sacadas with his right foot to lead Follower in her pasada to do outside boleo to the right of her right leg with her left leg/foot. Her foot should return to the floor after the boleo and not flail in the air. Adding an option after this: Follower left foot gancho (leg wrap) of Leader's right leg.

The lesson was long, 90 minutes, and some of the students tired before the end of the class. So the last bit of it was more of a supervised practica where we had a chance to do the moves, over and over, and dance to tango music. It was a very pleasant afternoon. The senior center provided snacks (donuts and danishes) and water and punch. If you are a center member, you can partake in the $3 unlimited homemade soup and salad lunch before the lesson.

Advanced Seminario on Leg Wraps with Homer & Cristina Ladas @ Allegro's "El Garaje" Space.
See the video at

Maestros passed out their information sheet on the topic of the evening:

Intro: Leg Wraps in social tango dancing are one of the most versatile and fun tools of the advanced dancer. They require a high level of communication, awareness, timing, and musicality between partners. They can be sticky (aka Pulpo-esque), dynamic, bouncy, slow, and otherwise form an articulate means of expression. For the Leader (and Follower) they represent a good sense of partner awareness (axis, etc.) as well as timing and placement of movement. For the Follower, the complete execution of a wrap from beginning to end (your exit answer/shape) is a skill that requires a highly developed knowledge and confidence in yourself and the music.

Vocabulary Notes (according to Homer & Cristina):
1. "Ganchos" are in the family of Low Wraps
2. " Piernazos" are equivalent to High Wraps

Most wraps can be done (among other places) from:
1. The Cross - whether follower crosses in front or behind
2. Turns - Open and Close Embrace after each step (Forward, Backward, Side)
3. Ochos - Regular and Overturned
4. Sacadas - Leader/Follower regular and Quatro (4th) sacadas
5. Back Step-Overs - Either Side (Left or Right)
6. Colgadas - Side or Circular
7. Volcadas - before or after cross
8. Soltadas - Sweetheart, Reverse Sweetheart, Other Embraces

Other Qualities of Wraps:
1. Usually you can lead multiple ones from the same leg (bounces) or alternating.
2. Warps can be caught/trapped with hand or thighs.
3. Social Lifts are easy to execute after a wrap.

Example of Warp Combinations for Advanced Class (F=Follower, L=Leader):
1. From Ocho in forward promenade position - F low rap of L (single & double leg)
2. From open Turn to L right - left then right 'Intermittent' F low wrap
3. From open Turn to L right - F gancho on her back step, the overturned F gancho to L fwd cross step
4. From open Turn to L right - L sacadas F fwd cross step, F wraps
5. Overturned F back gancho to F high wrap to F step over gancho
6. F overturned gancho to L fwd cross step - Trap & Lift
7. Colgada/Volacada F mutli-wraps
8. Ocho-Soltada-Turn F wrap
9. Reverse Sweetheart, F sacada, turn and wrap on F fwd step.


Seminario Notes:

We began from the ocho, going into forward promenade position, and doing a single leg wrap of Follower's right leg around Leader's right leg. The options for the Follower after this is to (1) caress the Leader's leg, or (2) have her foot remain low on the floor as it returns, or (3) have her leg go up higher off the floor as it returns. Technique: Leader lefts his heel during the wrap. It is a full ocho lead, but his leg is in between hers, which causes the wrap. There is a different Leader's option whereby he can get both of his legs into the wrap, so Follower warps around his whole body and wraps higher up on his body (somewhat like a front or forward piernazo of Follower's leg wrap of Leader's hip). Follower needs to remain on her axis since she will be on one standing leg and needs to be solidly on it, otherwise she will fall/tip over/wobble.

Next wrap: From the clockwise molinete, on the Follower side step, the Leader sacadas with his right foot of Follower's right foot, forcing her right leg to wrap his right leg. For the Leader, a little bit of his weight is forward in the sacada, and then more of the weight shifts forward as she moves around him as she wraps. Here also the Leader's thigh is open. We practiced this wrap in the counterclockwise molinete as well, with Leader's left leg sacada of Follower's left leg on her side step, forcing her left leg to wrap around his left leg. On these wraps, the Leader needs to be in just the right place, the sweet spot. If the Leader's sacada is too deep, the Follower has the potential to knee herself (right heel to left knee). If the sacada is too shallow, Follower won't be able to have full range of motion in her wrap, wrapping at the wrong spot on Leader's leg. Leader should be off his heel to maneuver more. This is a continuous motion of the turn/rotation for Leader as he moves around the Follower to get a smooth wrap effect as he remains on his axis.

Next wrap: Also, from the molinete Follower side step, the Double Intermittent Wrap. Here, the Follower does two wraps immediately, one after the other, never collecting in between wraps. Follower's right leg wraps around Leader's outside leg (left hip), then immediately gets led to wrap his right leg, all with her right leg as he steps forward. She cannot collect in this move, and Leader needs to slow her down to get good quality of movement and control in this move. This can be done in open or close embrace. There is an element of softness to this double wrap, and the second wrap is not gotten off of impulse energy; it is more a continuation of his turn energy.

Next wrap: From the overturned back ocho, the Follower's right leg warps (does linear boleo) back in between Leader's legs. This can be done on both sides. Here the energy is linear, and it is up to the Leader to position his body in the right place. The Follower needs to feel a definite stop so that she does a linear (in-line) boleo and not a circular one. Leader's right knee is up, heel off the floor, so that his hips open up; Leader uses femur (thigh bone) to get in correct location. The Follower needs to have lots of torsion and counter spiral to feel the stop energy, but should not over rotate.

Next wrap: From the counterclockwise molinete, the Leader sacadas during Follower's forward crossing leg. As they pass side by side, she does gancho across her body of her right leg of his left leg. Or on the other side, of Leader's right leg of Follower's Left leg while doing clockwise molinete.

Next wrap: With dancers side by side, Leader uses Colgada energy to lead Follower's left leg out to the right side of her right standing leg, then lead Follower to come back in, doing a low rap using her free Left leg of Leader's right leg or high wrap (piernazo) of Leader's left hip. The difference in leading a low or high wrap is in the energy intention employed by the Leader. If using low energy, the effect would be a wrap of Follower's left leg of Leader's right leg. If using high energy, the effect is a Piernazo of Leader's left hip/waist around his back (Follower should aim for the bottom of his lat muscle). We also tried this on the other side, which was trickier.

Next wrap: Maestros only showed us this, we did not try it. From the Follower's forward sacada, Follower wraps outside Leader's body of her right leg.

Next wrap: A combination of colgada/volcada. We began with a regular straight back colgada to send her out a little bit, and get her more on her axis and to prevent too much lean. Then Leader leads Follower to do regular volcada of her free left leg, but at the finish as he drives her left leg forward and across her body, he catches and wraps it with his right leg, and then leads her to do another wrap of his right leg using Follower's right leg.

We then practiced some more, just trying to free up our minds, discover the possibilities, and to work on etching our muscle memory. Here we worked on multiwraps with the same foot, or with alternating feet, or doing single, double or triple wraps, or with trapping her leg during the wraps.

Next wrap: Maestros only showed us this, we did not try it. From the 4th sacada, Follower's left leg wraps outside of Leader's body as he walks away from her. This looked like a very twisty piernazo.

Final wrap: From the embrace. We did back ochos, then a molinete to right (back, side, forward), to soltada, then wrap of Follower's left leg of Leader's right leg as she faces away

Practica Notes: For the supervised practica, we attempted to execute all that we learned, just trying to free up our minds, discover the possibilities, and to work on etching our muscle memory. Here we worked on multiwraps with the same foot, or with alternating feet, or doing single, double or triple wraps, or with trapping her leg during the wraps.

Milonga Notes: The food, catered by Cristina, was delicious as usual: grilled veggies, sliced fresh red/yellow bell pepper, steamed asparagus, dried figs soaked in cognac, bread and grilled mushrooms, gingerbread trifle with mango, apple pie, homemade apple cider. Daniel Peters premiered and did the sound mixing on the spot for his movie, Dance (Tango) Your Own Way. It was a very inspiration piece, filled with shots of many local tangueros/maestros, Tango Con*Fusion and their male dance partners, SFTX, among others. Daniel co-DJ'd using vinyl, alternating with Homer's DJing from computer. There is now a full bamboo floor in the garage, and from the looks of it, plans on finishing the rest of the walls with sheetrock. So Allegro is transforming the garage into a large dancefloor/ballroom; the bathrooms have been remodeled/expanded. It was an excellent night.

Sunday, December 28, 2008
Studio Gracia Milonga with lesson beforehand by visiting maestros Negracha y Diego Lanau: Vals Embellishments and Turns.
We began with dancing together, just doing walks and back ochos. In vals, there is a slightly delayed cadencia, and slight hip sway for the Follower -- not too much, this is not salsa. The sequence was a simple one that can be done continuously. It began with side step right for Follower (left for Leader), then she does two back ochos. After the second back ocho, the Follower does a tuck of her her left leg across her right foot, while Leader does a back touch of his left leg. Next, is a forward ocho with a three tap embellishment for Follower. Then Leader sacadas using his right leg of Follower's trailing left foot. After this, there are two options: (1) For the Follower, a forward ocho to bring her back in front o fthe leader, or (2) collect so that Leader and Follower are together facing each other, then send her to left side step, then Leader does sacada with his left leg of Follower's right foot (more toward the middle/center of her body). Here she can do a wrap of Follower's left leg with her right foot/leg. Leader raises her at the end, so that she can do an enrosque of her left leg while she is on her standing right leg, into the cross, and then back out to step back with her left leg. It was a great lesson. The milonga was fun, and the food more ample and festive than usual (Emilio's homemade empanadas are delicious). It was quite packed though, with not enough hanging space for coats and such, though floorcraft was not too bad. Los Hombres de Tango were there to share their guitar and bandoneon playing with us.

Monday, December 29, 2008
Orange Practica at the Beat with Lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas: "Selective Hearing"
See the video at

Maestros had an information sheet on the topic of the evening:

"Selective Hearing" by Homer & Cristina Ladas, The Beat 122908

1. Rhythm
a. Find Strong & Weak Beats
b. Hear & sometimes accent Weak Beats, Syncopations, & special rhythms
c. Selectively choose and construct individual Rhythmic flow/interpretation

2. Melody
a. Hear & react to general flow of main melody
b. Hear & move to counter melody and layering of instruments
c. Creative Interpretation of Melody through movement

3. Transitions – incl. Fills/Pauses/Breaks
a. Hear & React to Strong Transitions
b. Hear & React to Subtle Transitions
c. Capture/Predict/Create transitions and communicate to partner

4. Lyrics
a. Tell the difference between singer & no singer
b. Feel and React to Emotion behind singer
c. Interpret Poetry or meaning of song

My notes:

There are four categories/parts to every song:
(1) Rhythm
(2) Melody
(3) Transitions
(4) Lyrics

Depending on the level of dancer, he and she will interpret these elements in different ways.
A beginner will hear the pulse or traspie.
An intermediate dancer will interpret in a freer way, hearing syncopas and be more aware of changes in the music.
A more sophisticated or advanced dancer will have more sophisticated interpretations. He might hear different things and play in different ways, such as to the melody, with the "breath" of the music, with starts and stops or changes, or with the countermelody.

All of our classwork was done to Troilo's Malena.

First we danced to the Rhythm of Malena.

Then we danced to the Melody of Malena.

Then we danced to the Transitions in Malena, focusing on the fills, the runs in the middle of the tango sentences, the stops, the pauses, and the outright pauses. In Malena, there are five lines in the top section, and we were to stop at the pause and stretch the note out in our dancing, and we were supposed to also stop moving at the end of each sentence.

Then we danced to the Lyrics in Malena. It is most difficult to dance to the lyrics because lyrics are poems. Maestro read us three translation of Malena, and noted that there were subtle differences in the verbiage of the translations. This is because tango lyrics are in Castellano, with ample sprinklings of Lunfardo, a type of street gangsta slang of the 1920's/30's/40's spoken in Buenos Aires. And like all languages, it is a living, evolving thing, and subject to the interpretation of the reader and his sociocultural background (many tango lyrics are translated by non-Argentine, non-native Spanish speakers). The translations were by Jake Spatz, Derrick Del Pilar, and one from Planet Tango The translations and maestro's handwritten commentary are located in the Jam Book download link:

Next, we were to try to sense the emotional context of the song, whether it is sweeping, sad, angry, happy or joyful. We can associate our movements to the emotions behind the words, and try to really interpret the meaning of the poetry and try to communicate that to our partner. Words often heard in tango lyrics include "tears", "love", "hate", and "heart." Tango song structure typically follows (1) the whole song plays first, then (2) the lyrics come afterward, and finally (3) the finale.

For Followers, when you hear the lyrics, think about what you feel. You can use all of your body when you sense the swell in the lyrics. For example, you can tighten your hand around the Leader's back to pull him closer in the embrace. You can interpret/reflect what you are hearing to create tension, not just in your feet and legs, though that is good, but in your entire body.

Both Leaders and Followers can use their breath to interpret, to lift and carry our partner into the idea in the song. We can use our breath to align to the lines of the poem or to divide the phrase or sentence.

In dancing tango, what we tend to attach our movements to (whether it is the rhythm, melody, transitions, or lyrics) depends on what grabs us about the song.

Our homework is to dance to the same song, focusing on a different category in the song (rhythm or melody or transition or lyrics). To dance well, we need to know our music well. The Follower follows the Leader, but she can find ways to interpret different parts of the song that are different from the Leader's interpretation. The Leader can feel her interpretations, and respond to and accommodate them. That is how different Followers inspire Leaders differently (and also how different Leaders inspire Followers differently).

Our next concept was to take what we learned and apply it to milonga. Here, maestro played Donato's Ella Es Asi. In this song, as in all tango songs, for the Follower there is lots of opportunity to be respectful of the lead and yet still be able to work within the lead to express what she is hearing/feeling in the song. Followers should be active in their hearing, and not just wait for the lead.

Next, we did two exercises to help us get more control over our bodies, since as we danced to milonga, it was clear that our minds wanted to do certain moves, but our bodies wouldn't cooperate (either it was too sluggish or too fast, missing the beat or whatever spot in the music we were trying to dance to or emphasize).

(1) We were to stop dancing when we hear the countermelody, and then continue dancing when the countermelody goes away. Yes, this is possible to do in milonga (accommodating the countermelody). In tango songs, sometimes there are many different elements that happen at the same time (rhythm, melody, lyrics). Thus, there are many layers to tango music, and all layers and elements affect the overall phrasing. Slowing down makes us more creative.

(2) Our second exercise was to use the volcada to draw out, stretch, and accentuate any drawn out elements in the tango song. We were to do a volcada at the point where appropriate, and then continue dancing as we normally would.

Depending on whether the dancer is beginner, intermediate, or advanced, it will change what he/she hears in the music, and how it is expressed in their dance.

Even in milonga, we do not have to be stuck to the rhythm, we can focus on the melody or other elements.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008
New Year's Eve Milonga @ Bay West in San Rafael with lesson beforehand by David Orly-Thompson & Mariana.
The lesson had a wide range of skill levels, so maestros decided to start with some very basic exercises related to pivoting, back ochos, and stepping forward and backward, single and double time, to get used to changing our weight. The sequence was an unusual one, but had many basic, simple elements. The more intermediate/advanced idea in the sequence involved the Leader leading Follower to do a secada with her left leg as she steps forward, catching the Leader's trailing left leg. After this, she steps forward with her right leg, and then Leader sacadas her trailing left leg with his forward advancing left leg. The lesson was very crowded, with a lot of beginners and couples who did not switch partners. The milonga was fun. There were performances from Debbie & John, Debbie & Mariana, and David & Mariana. In addition, there was a showing of Daniel Peter's Dance (Tango) Your Own Way. At midnight, we partook in the Spanish custom of eating one grape for each bell chime (there were twelve) in the 12 seconds before midnight. The food was from Costco: sushi, veggie platter, cold cuts (turkey, ham, salami), dip, bread, crouton chips, grapes, chocolate cake. Wine was mostly two-buck chuck. Bay West is easy to get to, it's just off of the freeway, with ample parking in the lot. The hardwood floor was nice, though for some odd reason very slick in some spots. Maybe they waxed it recently. It got quite hot and humid in the ballroom. Maybe they were hesitant about turning on the AC since it was below 50 degrees outside.