Thursday, April 2, 2009

March 26-April 1

Friday, March 27, 2009
Homer and Cristina Ladas Advanced Seminario on Volcadas.
See the video on This was truly an advanced seminar, with maestros introducing the idea/figure, and then giving the students two songs to work on it to figure it out. Maestros expected us to have knowledge and fundamentals of volcadas.

(1) Standard Forward and Back Volcada, with Follower working on how to embellish/play with them, and Leader leading them so she has time to play. Maestra demo'd rulo embellishments in the volcadas. Play can be done as long as the music dictates it. For the Follower, she should treat her embellishment like the ocho parada/pasada, doing it within the time of the lead/movement. The Follower has choice; sometimes the Leader will feel the Follower doing something more and will let her do the embellishment by giving her time. If the Leader leads one straight smooth volcada, the Follower will find a place to do the embellishment within the time of the lead. Follower can do play as soon as the Leader starts the lead for the volcada so that the embellishment is in the beginning; otherwise, she imposes the embellishment, which changes the timing of the leader. Our goal in embellishing is to stay within the music/movement.

(2) The Funny Volcada -- from the open back ocho. Here the dancers are perpendicular to each other, and Leader gives Follower lots of time to play. We only attempted this on the easy side. The Volcada has a different feel when the foot is articulated with the heel on the floor, so be careful about how you hold your body. Be playful. Since many people did not know the Funny Volcada, we reviewed it. The analogy was the Follower as the moon orbiting around the Leader, or earth, so she can spin on her own. It is important that Follower use good volcada technique and be strong in her left arm with the digging down to get lift like coming out of a swimming pool, and that her standing weighted leg be strong and supporting of her own weight. The Leader's foot work is left foot back, right back step, left back step, big side step. The Follower traces the path that the leader leads, but stays behind him. Follower should know where leader is the whole time. (See the Funny Volcada September 11, 2008 video and notes.)

(3) Chicho Compression Volcada. The Leader uses out/colgada energy, then breaks the normal volcada rules (normal rules: (1) never collapse; (2) never go down) -- sending her out, then pulling her in so she collapses a little. The Leader also collapses his frame too, but his back is still engaged and his core is still engaged. We did this in open embrace, and tried small ones since this was new to many students and is a "special effect" volcada, since the Leader sends her out, then back in by using compression to collapse her. For the Follower, in her frame collapse, her shoulder blades come closer together, touching. When doing volcadas in open embrace, they should be done small. The Follower really needs to engage to compress/collapse in, which is why the Leader leads the colgada energy first. If she is too stiff, she will block the energy. This requires trust and should not be done large.

(4) Multiple Volcadas / Hard Side Volcadas. We tried the more "dangerous" versions of what we already worked on -- linking the standard forward and back volcadas with the Leader doing windshield wiper technique to do multiple ones, and also the Leader using the right foot block to do multiple ones.

(5) Traveling Forward Volcadas where Leader walks back. Here, the Follower knows where to land her foot because the Leader sets her down mid-Volcada. Compression and release are used here so that the Leader can give the Follower the feeling of both compression and release. With respect to walking, the Leader does this as if he is trying to lead sacadas in a funny way, but his body is swerving from side to side. It looks a little weird. For Follower, she does a series of progressive forward volcadas, and you don't have to do too many of them since the Leader's back will be to the line of dance as she progresses forward. Floorcraftwise, this works well approaching corners of the dance floor.

(6) Volcada Plus. Here we practiced our sustained volcadas, trying to do them in the context of social dancing. The Volcada Plus is where the Follower's side legs go out and is sustained, like an ocho cortado of volcadas. The Leader leads a forward volcada, then uncrosses it after she settles on her weight. Follower needs to use the same technique as for regular volcadas, but her free leg is straightened out very linearly. For the Leader it is important that his feet are together so that his hips are under his axis. The Leader's spine stays straight to take care of his axis, with the weight split between two legs so he can keep her back on axis. We also attempted to do more difficult Volcada Pluses: with a Follower forward split, going really underneath and beneath/between Leader's leg. (See the Back Volcada Explored February 20, 2009 video and notes.)

(7) Volcada Plus with two different exits. Maestros only showed us this as it was beyond what the students could do. Starting from Promenade position,
(A) The Bounce Exit, where the Leader kind of crosses her, then he steps back and so does she. There is an up, bouncing energy to this.
(B) The Helicopter / Spinny Thing. This is tricky. The Leader turns to his left to pivot her around to the maximum point of support where Leader has to unwind her.

Maestros demo'd all that they taught to Di Sarli's Nido Gaucho with Alberto Podesta on vocals.

The milonga was fun. I had danced with many new Leaders. The catered food by Cristina was fantastic as always: tortilla and pita chips, guacamole, cheese platter, bread, fresh fruit, grapes, crackers, sliced veggies, hummus, baba ganoush, spinach quiche/muffin things, prosciutto wrapped grilled pears with Gorgonzola, and two yummy desserts of flan and deconstructed ginger bread triffle. Pablo y Jaime thought it was the best food Cristina had ever done for a Seminario. Tangonero played live, and they sound better and better (from an excellent base to begin with).

Saturday and Sunday, March 28 and 29, 2009
Workshops with Ruben Harymbat & Enriqueta Kleinman.
(1) Different Ochos.
(2) Musicality.
(3) Boleos in Rhythmic sequences; backward corridas for Leaders, forward corridas for Followers simple and double.
(4) Milonga
(5) Dancing to Pugliese; Introduction of Renga with flexion and forward.
(6) Review

We began the workshops with walking, weight changes, having intention and passion (not sensual passion, but being alive passion), embrace/connection. In the milonguero style, the heart and head are connected (touching). Be present when dancing (do no talk about the weather). In the milonguero style, the intention is only in the chest. We worked on the ocho cortado (Ruben is famous for using the ocho cortado to transition between different steps).

Posture: Chest forward. Weight on the balls of your feet (no heels). The Follower should have really high energy up toward the sky, so that her sternum/rib cage is as high as she can get it. To get this posture, you breathe in, let your chest go up as high as it can, breathe out and still keep the chest up high; don't let it sink. This will engage her core naturally and will make the top of her body more disassociated from her hips. She is to try to stretch her body as much as possible so that knees are fairly straight. Body should be stiff from ribcage to hips. Legs should be straight. Follower's weight is always on one leg. If the Follower does not have her axis, the Leader will not be able to manage it. The Leader's energy should be solid and in the ground, into the earth with roots, so Leader has to be with all energy in their legs -- strong and powerful. Leader should think of his body as having two columns -- starting from his feet going up, so each foot / side of the body is one column. Leader stands up straight.

Embrace: For the Leader, his right arm should be solid and circular/enveloping to protect the Follower. The contact is from chest to chest, and head to head, with Leader looking forward so he can navigate the dance floor. The energy should be very even in the chest -- no bouncing.

We worked on corridas (runs forward and backward), whereby the Follower follows the Leader's cadence; in the corrida, the steps are not equal, one is longer because it's not just walking; there is soul. The weight changes should be elegant and not rushed.

We began with walking, first going with our chest, with intention.

When we worked on the ocho cortado, we were to focus on being clean and neat in our changes of weight.

When we worked on back ochos, the Follower changed weight each time the knees passed each other, and pivoted each time. For the Leaders, he was to just do weight changes. We added a Leader embellishment while he led Follower back ochos: taps of his right foot, and back crosses of his left foot.

IN TANGO, EVERYTHING IS ABOUT WEIGHT CHANGES. So try to manage perfect weight changes. Think of doing it in the same way that you would walk in the street; it's natural.

Musicality. We began with a discussion about cadence, rhythm, and compas, with focus on cadence. Cadence/cadencia is the way the interpreter gives his own way of playing with rhythm. He does not change the notes, but gives his own interpretation. We all know the same letters, but we all write differently.

The compas is the key tempo. The Follower should step on the perfect beat rather than have Leader pull her through the music. Tango is not about pushing or pulling. If she does this, then she is just following, not dancing. Tango is about leading: with connection, intention, and changes of weight.

We danced to two different orchestras: Di Sarli (Bahia Blanca) and D'Arienzo, dancing using the steps we worked on in the prior workshops, but with entirely different flavor since the energy of the songs/orchestras were different.

Maestra commented on Tanturi (with Campos on vocals): when you dance, you need to choose either the orchestra or the singer in those songs because they are both going in different directions.

We also discussed the contrapiano and waiting and pausing (not being still, but brushing the floor during the pause).

To dance, you should listen to the music. FEEL! YOU ARE ALIVE! DANCE!

Di Sarli is very romantic; so you should dance like you are in love.

Next, we worked on turns and contraturns. Amague -- a way to turn easily; go and come back. We can do these in small spaces. Do the weight changes strongly, and it will look like a great step. The foot points in the direction you want it to go (QQS tempo).

Leader does series of back crosses with his left leg, then unwinds as Follower does molinete around him.

Corrida -- make it a dream. Leader walks on a line, not with feet outturned or like John Wayne. It's a straight walk forward with speed according to music. Double Corrida: Forward and Backwards with transition like a spring. The steps are small and you don't have to do too many of them in a row. The first and last steps are longer so that Follower knows it is beginning and ending.

Then we did side steps from the ocho cortado to Follower's right side, and Leader's left side. Then we did the side steps to Follower's left side and Leader's right side, from the first half of the ocho cortado (eliminating the return to the cross in the ocho cortado).

On Sunday, we began with reviewing all that we learned from the day prior: walking; back and forward ochos, ocho cortado, side steps, back and forward corridas in simple and double time, amague, amague with change of direction, posture, embrace, intention, attitude, musicality, embellishments, sacadas.

For the milonga portion of the class, we began with the quadrado, or basic milonga square. Steps should be small because we have little space. Cadence is great if you do it soft. Legs are instruments. It is important to keep the axes of both dancers together, so Follower needs to be in front of Leader's chest, In milonga, there is NO JUMPING, and you should be very still on top. It is very tempting to be jumpy in an attempt to move to the music since milonga music is so lively, but there is NO JUMPING when you dance to milonga. Move the legs only; keep the chest very still and energy up top very still.

Next, we tried to incorporate the qaudrado and link them to all the steps we learned yesterday, dancing to milonga rhythm. The steps are not different. The difference is how you dance it.

Next workshop: Dancing to Pugliese. Using the same steps from the last class, we danced to Pugliese. The pause is really important in dancing to Pugliese. Also in Pugliese, the Follower's role becomes more important, and to really listen to the music. We all have the same tools as to where to start. Be present to the music. Pugliese, because there are so many waves, pauses, and dramatic passages in the music, shows everything in our dancing. Wait with the music. Go with the music in slow motion. Flow with the music.

Maestros then proceeded to dance with each student individually for an entire song while the other students watched to see how to dance to Pugliese. I went last. This would never happen in real life (a milonguero dancing to Pugliese with me). It was probably one of the best dances of my life. Afterwards, the entire class clapped for us. It was the kind of dance that all tango dancers hope for, wait for, live for. It left me breathless.

Next, we played a game to really focus on managing our weight changes, specifically while doing the ocho cortado during Pugliese, with the focus on the Follower being gently sweet, feminine, gracious and gorgeous. The Leader should always know where the Follower's feet are so that he will know how/when/where to change weight.

Next, we started to learn the Renga, a step that Ruben created and is famous for. It's a tricky turn of the Leader around the Follower using the back ocho and ocho cortado. The Leader's footwork is right step diagonally forward, left collect, right side small open, left collect. It's a small movement to be subtle, and as the Leader steps around the Follower, his feet should curve out like to 1 o'clock as he walks around the Follower (similar to what she her curving footwork would be on the forward step of the molinete). The Follower's footwork is back ocho of right leg (so left foot pivot), and back step of left leg (so right foot does not pivot). To this, we added the ocho cortado with Leader's sacada of his left leg of Follower's right leg.

These workshops were progressive, and thanks to Pablo's enthusiastic support, I felt truly blessed to be able to learn from Enriqueta Kleinman and Ruben Harymbat. This series of workshops was truly amazing. Maestra is a profoundly gifted, passionate teacher. Maestro is a master, a national icon of tango; what a treat to be able to learn from and dance with this legendary milonguero. They were both really wonderful people, and spent a lot of time giving each couple personal instruction, and each individual personal instruction. They also danced with all of us during the class so that we could feel what the correct lead felt like. The Leaders danced with Enriqueta, and she gave them all individual instruction on the lead technique.

We had plenty of time to drill the moves, over and over, with different leaders and followers. Maestros did not rush us through to get to the next subject. If anything, they held us back a little to make sure as many people as possible really *got* the concept they were trying to teach. And on Sunday, we spent plenty of time reviewing the steps learned the day prior, only really working on different musical interpretations of the steps.

Maestra was very fervent in her instruction that we needed to keep good posture (engage our core muscles and be really up high in our chest/rib cages), and that that was the key for Leaders being able to lead the Followers. If Followers do not have good posture, they are difficult to lead correctly. She also made the point numerous times of being able to correctly manage weight changes for both Leaders and Followers. Maestra's parting advice was that hopefully we will work on our posture and learn to stand up straight before she visits us again next year.

Monday, March 30, 2009
Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas on "Exploration of Height Change in Tango"
See the video on

Height change is the up and down movement of dancers. Are height changes deliberate or do we do them unaware as a result of bad habits? Every movement we make in tango can have an element of height or height change. If our height change is deliberate, is it styled? Does it come from communication? Is it an expression of the music? Everything we do has an impact on our partner.

We began with an exercise attempting to use height change to communicate. We did this by doing a touch step or multiple touch steps, first to the left and right sides, then forward and back. The lead is more of the energy of the Leader pushing into the ground and not transferring weight. The Leader's axis remains where it is; his center does not move. The Follower should be prepared to go down, and to do this she must have flexion in the knee of her standing supporting leg and just reach with the other leg, but not change weight. This is especially important/apparent on the Follower's forward step. The dancers' centers don't move; they stay back, but flexion in the knees gives the dancers range (especially the Follower). We then tried the touch step exercise with our eyes closed.

The question came up of whether or not we knocked knees when we did this, especially on the forward and back touch steps. Many people did. To remedy this, the Leader can use our upper bodies to create space on the bottom where the legs are by going outside or inside (using a little bit of contrabody movement) because someone has to move to get out of the way.

Next subject: weight changing. Here, we were to either change our weight in place, or make a side step. We were to really work on our posture, thinking about how up we could be, and still have our feet on the ground, and keeping the backs of our neck long and letting our head float (like in Alexander Technique). If you are over your center, you will be very grounded and balanced.

Next, we did a series of side steps, as many as three, four or five, then come back up to center and do a few weight changes in place. Here, the Leader was to have flexion in his knees going down before he actually goes. There is a "U" energy when doing the side step, and when there is a series of linked side steps, the energy becomes more like a series of "O"s.

Next, we worked on forward and back steps with weight changes. Here, we stepped forward and back with the same foot with a weight change (or several weight changes) in between. This was to let us practice the concept of rising up to change weight, and to have down compression in our leg to help us move.

Next, we used height change to communicate. The Follower can help the Leader to go up, giving him a lifting energy with slight push to increase the chest connection. The Follower's supporting standing leg can create a nicer quality of the side step by staying longer on the supporting, standing leg, but pushing off and lifting and transferring the weight slowly, delayed, staying as long as she can on her supporting, standing leg so that she massages the step. Here, there is a very apparent oppositional pull of up and down in the posture, really pulling horizontally to create density of movement (like molasses). Follower should really reach when doing the side step, and to get maximum range of motion, her supporting, standing leg must have flexion in the knee. The goal was for the Follower to be really up, maximally stretching from sternum to pelvis/hip.

Next, we worked on the concept of keeping the weight transfer in the middle. Here, the Leaders used a little bit of down energy and settling. When the Leader plays with the weight in the middle, both Leader and Follower's legs are open/separate.

From this idea of the weight in the middle, the Leader stops the Follower when she is in the middle of her weight (she is at the point of split weight), he then walks around her axis. As Leader walks around Follower, she pivots around on both feet without changing weight; her body eventually unwinds as a consequence of maintaining connection and remaining in front of the Leader. The Leader uses a bit of down energy, and as he walks around and she unwinds/spirals out, both dancers' heights go up. We tried this first on the Follower's back step and Leader walking around her clockwise. This can be done on the other side as well.

From this split weight walk around, we can conclude this to unwind directly into a volcada. Here, the Leader drops the Follower in her energy to lead the volcada. For Follower's technique, it is very important to really stretch from sternum to pelvis/hip, and to maintain this stretch/reach and core engagement at all times, especially when it transitions into the volcada.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Canaro's Como Dos Extranos with Ernesto Fama on vocals.

Interestingly, this lesson dovetailed nicely with Enriqueta Kleinman's and Ruben Harymbat's workshops the last two days. Though each couple's dance styles are vastly different, conceptually in class, both profoundly emphasized the importance of good posture, specifically being very up and maximally stretching between the sternum and hips/pelvis (and engaging the core muscles) and the importance of understanding how to manage weight changes. Those were two really good nuggets.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

CCSF Followers' Technique and Advanced classes with Chelsea Eng. The subject of the evening was boleos, so after our usual warm-up, floor and barre exercises, we worked on forward boleos at the barre: the pivoted fake-out, on the floor, off the floor, and a new one: the flamingo, where the leg goes up on the side of the other leg (like what flamingos do). Core engagement is key in doing ochos by ourselves (and hence doing the boleos nicely at the barre). In Advanced, we worked on with and contra (against) boleos, from the Follower back ocho. For the with boleo, the Leader turns with his body/chest to turn her body and absorb her front cross (he should not use his arms). We tried the with boleo on the send and on the return. For the contra boleo, he sends her, then Leader changes to go forward and around with his left leg to go in opposition to Follower's leg, which creates the "contra" pat of the boleo, to resolve by stepping toward the Follower's trailing leg. For Follower's technique in boleos, she should have stretchy legs -- one bent knee, one straight leg, and take big steps if Leader leads them. We also tried the contra boleo on the open side. Boleos are all abut timing and balance. Next, maestra taught us something very popular from CITA 2009: the soltada. From the back oncho, the Follower goes onto her right foot, and the Leader is on his right foot. Here, he gives turns her for an outward turn counterclockwise (a loop turn in ballroom) while she is on her weighted, pivoting right foot. Her left foot is off the floor, but next to her right foot. As Follower turns away from Leader, her left arm comes into her body so she doesn't whack him in the face or body. One option is to have the dancers stay connected in sweetheart hold. From this, there can be enough momentum to have Follower do a contra or regular boleo with her left leg, to forward ocho or forward cross step of her left leg. It was an excellent night.

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