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.

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