Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May 21 - 27 in BsAs (Intensivo Notes)

Sabado, 23 Mayo 2009
Dante´s Car Service, Buenos Aires.
It was good. Dante met us right where he said he would, and he took us straight away to our apartment. Very friendly guy. It was $30 per car (3 person maximum), which was steeper for 2 people than the usual remise service you can get from the airport (apparently $11 per person according to Pablo).

The apartment at Jean Juares 467 is nice. It is new, and there is super friendly, ample attentive security. It´s also extremely convenient -- just a couple of blocks away from my favorite supermarket (the Hiper COTO in Abasto with Banelco atm machine and foot\chair massage place in the lobby), and just a couple of blocks away from the Carlos Gardel subte stop. I think I am going to really enjoy living here for two weeks.

Banking. Surprisingly, I was able to withdraw way more than the 300 pesos per day of the past. In two transactions on the same card insertion, I withdrew 400 and 600 pesos = 1000 pesos.

Martha Anton & "El Gallego" Manolo´s Canyengue lesson at Escuela Argentina de Tango (centro), en Galerias Pacifico (25 pesos per class, 4 class card = 92 pesos, 8 class card = 180 pesos, 12 class card = 264 pesos). The class, as usual, was great. There were many more dancers than I had experienced previously, and most of them seemed to have some canyengue knowledge. So it was more like a guided practica since we were all of various skill levels. Maestros remembered us from the last time we were here, and promoted their new Monday milonga at Viejo Correo, which we planned on going to anyway (skipping Luciana´s El Motivo lesson and practica). I really like them as teachers, and consider it an honor to learn with them. There was a lot I had forgotten since my last lessons with them -- like the embrace coming from the belly. I did remember how to correctly place my arm though, and I remembered a lot of the footwork. At the end, maestros did a tango demo (not canyengue) with some pretty slick moves.

Visit to Taconeando shoe store. (Arenales 1606) This is a new shoe store, just opened 5 months. The owner herself was there to serve us. What piqued my curiosity about this store, causing me to go over there on the very first day I arrived in BsAs, was their ads in the local tango magazines. It is clear that the slim stiletto heel is what Taconeando is all about. And indeed, all of their shoes have slim stiletto heels. One great thing that is unique about Taconeando is that they offer many shoes with 7 cm stiletto heels (8 and 9 cm are much more common, it´s probably easier to find 10 cm stilettos than to find 7 cm heels). I didn´t end up buying any of their shoes because they were out of my size in many of the 7 cm heel, and I believe their fit is more suitable for someone with slimmer feet than mine (many of the size 36 shoes were too narrow for my foot, and when I tried the same shoe in size 37, the width was OK, but the length was too long), and who is a more delicate dancer (I dance hard and aggressively). Still, the owner said she would be getting another shipment of 7 cm heel shoes in the next week or two, so I will likely return before my flight back. Shoes range from 250-320 pesos (about US$67-85 when exchange rate is US$1 = 3.75 pesos).

Lesson with Olga Besio (Peron 2450, 7 pesos, includes practica afterwards). The space is in an open terra cotta tile courtyard, that you go through by walking up some stairs in a building owned by the Catholic Church, and through a salsa restaurant. It was warm, about 75 degrees, and quite humid. What an experience! The dancers were of quite good skill level, but unfortunately followers outnumbered leaders by 3:1. There were also some students from her children´s class. Since we all danced with each other, we got a very wide range of heights and skill levels to dance with. First, we began with walking/connection exercises, and everyone took turns at leading and following, even if it meant you had some very short leaders (like me and the children) partnered with very tall followers that they couldn´t see around (like Pablo and the other men). Next, we did a freedom of body exercise where we were split up into groups of four. One person was in the middle, and his goal was to have one side very strong like a column, and be free and heavy in his other nonweighted limbs (nonstanding foot, both arms). The three other people would move his nonweighted limbs slowly and deliberately to the music, and the person in the middle was to remain balanced while his limbs were being manipulated. Next, we did a technique exercise where we worked on our pivots, by ourselves, making them as smooth and as elegant as possible, and doing them simply or with embellishments or however fancily we knew how. Next, there was a very strange exercise where the Leader went into groups with 3 followers, and would dance with them one by one, returning them to a different part of the dance floor mid-song. I didn´t really get why we were doing this (the instructions were given to the men in a cloistered group away from the Followers), but Pablo later said that it was an exercise to see how the Followers interacted with each other and how they responded to being taken out of a group setting, and then placed in a new-to-them setting with another new group of followers. The Leaders didn´t do their part very well, so I don´t believe the exercise/experiment was a success or what the point of what we were trying to do was. Next, we did a free dance individually to a di Sarli song, doing any move and dancing in any way we want. Next, the Leaders and Followers were separated to opposite sides of the dance floor, and then the Leaders danced to the same side the Followers were on, then took each Follower and danced her to the other side. After that, he went back and did the same to the next batch of followers until all dancers were on the other side of the dance floor. We did this in a series of dances of different types of tango music (tango, milonga, rhythmic, romantic, nuevo, etc.), so the Leaders led all the Followers to all different types of music. It was a good lesson, and I felt this was a more "authentic" BsAs experience of how a porteno/portena would learn how to dance, like Silvana Anfossi (likely maestra´s former student), who came by later on and did a performance during the practica. We didn´t stay for the practica because we wanted to rest before going to Sunderland. But unfortunately, our spirits were willing, but our flesh was weak (particularly in our feet and ankles), so we were too tired to make it to Sunderland after such a full day.

Domingo, 24 Mayo 2009
Tango (Intermedio-Avanzado) with Rosalia y Alejandro Barrientos
at EAT Centro. This was a good class. Los Barrientos are gifted teachers, and because the class was small, we got lots of individual attention. They are of the school of thought that the Follower should be as up as possible (like a fountain). They also believe her shoulders should remain down and perfectly straight across, even if the leader is much taller, because if her left shoulder is up, more of her weight will be on her right leg and she will never be in balance. They also believe that the Follower should really stretch back her leg as far as she can from her rib cage when stepping back. The sequence was the cadena, resolved by a Leader right leg gancho of Follower´s right leg as she steps back with her left leg, into a parada fake-out where instead of stepping over, he stops her and leads her to do the first step right leg back in a clockwise molinete instead, then her left leg sweeps his parada foot on her side step to the left. It was a good class, enjoyably not too crowded since it was a Sunday night IA class. It is amazing how much EAT has expended its offerings, with two fully scheduled rooms and many regular weekend classes in addition to their special seminars. It looks like they got rid of the Rodriguez Pena facility, and have a new one instead close by at Talcahuano (y Av Santa Fe y MT de Alvear). It also seems like more of their classes are PIA (Principiante-Intermedio-Avanzado), and they´ve also added a lot more technique classes (especially women´s) classes.

Lunes, 25 Mayo 2009
Luciana Valle Intensivo: Day One: pivots, propelling, keeping our bra line to Leader and core engagement.
In the morning session, we began with walking, paying attention to keep our axis forward. Then we worked on ochos, paying attention to keep our axis fully vertical, and pivoting with our feet first (instead of hips), and Followers keeping their bra line to the Leaders. Next, we worked on molinetes, with the Followers keeping their axis slightly back (but not from the shoulders), and the Leaders keeping their axis fully vertical (if they are forward, they will push the Follower away, if they are back, they will pull the Follower in). Followers were also supposed to propel themselves in their steps, and check their axis at each step. The molinete is a curve, so all the steps need to curve. We worked on molinetes clockwise and counterclockwise, with the code being Q-Q time on the back and side step of fwd-side-BACK-SIDE-fwd. The Follower is supposed to propel herself into the open space opened up by the Leader, and to really manage the weight change by really arriving to the forward foot. To be successful in the back cross, there has to be enough pivot. In the afternoon session, we continued our work with the turns, working with the concept of the Leader being the center of the circle and moving the center through the space (dance floor). Leader sacada was added to the Follower molinete. Next, we were to change the center of the circle through space. Follower should use the pivot in the molinete, to commit to the step and not fall into it. For Followers, they needed to slow down, and step with power in between the steps (this does not mean to step fast). Lastly, we concluded with planeos from the molinete, both left side and right side, forward and back.

So what did I think of the first day? It was amazing how fun it could be doing ochos, molientes, and planeos with the student assistants. They are all amazing dancers, and with different sizes, heights, and styles. Some had more feedback than others. All were a pleasure to dance with. Interestingly, there was a very strong showing by the San Francisco Bay Area tango community (6 of us out of 20).

Martha Anton & "El Gallego" Manolo´s milonga at Viejo Correo, preceded by a Canyengue lesson by Laura Collavini, and a tango salon lesson by maestros (20 pesos for both lessons and milonga). The canyengue lesson was very basic, and I was surprised Laura taught it (not Martha y Manolo). I had taken a lesson from her before last September at EAT Centro, when she subbed for Martha y Manolo. She is a very nice, enthusiastic teacher, and it was interesting to see how their teaching styles were quite different, but maestros did not interfere with Laura´s teaching, but were quite supportive of it. For the Tango Salon lesson, maestros taught a very interesting play on the sandwich, where the Follower does two back ochos, then when she is back on her right foot, the Leader sandwiches her left foot with his right and then left foot, and then pulls her back in to do a pasada, then sandwiches her right foot, and then can do a number of sequential sandwiches by sliding his foot along the floor, and making her stop so she doesn´t step around or over his feet. It was an excellent, very fun lesson. Viejo Correo means "old post office" but there is nothing about the interior that suggested that it once was it´s namesake. Now there´s a disco ball in the center, and it looks like a typical milonga space with black and white baldosa (stone composite tiles), and tables lined along the walls. For the milonga, seating is traditional style with women on one side of the room, men on the other side across from them, and couples on the side in between. This was only the second week for this new milonga. What was nice about it was that there were canyengue tandas, and many dancers who danced it reasonably well. There is a full bar and limited menu (empanadas).

We were starving, so we gave Ugi pizza next door a try (12 pesos for a cheese pizza), which actually was pretty good. The chef-server was extremely nice, and was thrilled at the 2 peso tip we left. They do not have water there, only cola or lemon lime soda, but they will let you fill your water bottle from the tap, which we appreciated, hence the tip.)

Martes, 26 Mayo 2009
Luciana Valle Intensivo - Day Two: Boleos.
We began with a review of yesterday´s material, focusing on the concept of the spiral, and moving from top down (from chest to feet), and from down to up (pivoting in our feet, and our bodies up above spiraling as a consequence). A boleo is a cut, an interruption to change the direction of the previous move, such as to back from forward. We began with boleos fro the back cross, interrupting the motion of the hips by going in the same direction "with" boleos. If the Follower absorbs the lead in her arm or opens out in the chest, she will not feel the lead for the boleo. That is why it is important for her top\bra line to stay with the Leader (this is the same as for the ocho), and to pivot A LOT to really work the down to up spiral of the body. The free leg being truly free is a consequence of the standing leg being very strong and supportive. The bra line is where the body separates top to bottom, not in the arms -- that´s cheating (using the arms to keep the chest toward the Leader). The key to boleos is the pivot of the standing leg -- Follower needs to keep the bra line with the Leader, and keep her standing leg strong with LOTS of PIVOT at the foot. For the with boleos, we did the front and back, left and right. We also did contra boleos, front and back, left and right. Regarding Maestra´s thoughts on boleo Follower technique, she believes the free leg need to be really free, so it is OK that the legs open up a little bit (as opposed to the school of thought where the thighs need to be together and/or one knee has to be behind the other). She also believes a true boleo (not a lying cheating one) will have a more circular shape as a consequence of the energy going down into the floor first and then the foot coming back up as a consequence of the spiral coming from her foot up the body and the freeness of the leg coming entirely from the hip down (as opposed to a linear up V shaped type of boleo where only the part of the leg below the knee comes up). It was a good class, though exhausting. I now know the wisdom of Maestra´s suggestion that we really take it easy after class and not go to the milongas. But then again, that didn´t stop me...

Luna Palacios Milonga lesson at EAT Centro. I had been looking forward to this class immensely, and was sorely disappointed that I will have to miss her technique classes because of the Intensivo. I have been captivated by her dance style, musical virtuosity and crisp, creative technique. So despite my feet and body being very tired from the Intensivo that afternoon, I made my way over to EAT Centro for this lesson. Maestra ended up being 15 minutes late, and I was getting antsy. All was well though because it turned out to be a very small class -- just three students. This surprised me, as I personally think someone as skilled as a dancer as she is, and with as much International teaching experience, should have a lot of good information to convey, and I was right. Since it was such a small class, part of it was more like a guided practica where Pablo and I worked on some of our milonga issues, which Maestra said was our embrace (it has to be very solid and connected in the chest). Then we did a series of exercises to explore the concept of play in milonga (or embellishments for Leader and Follower). Maestra had us do a series of exercises: while walking back, the beat back of the left foot to the right side of the right foot, back to collection on the left side of the right foot, and then stepping back. While walking forward, the right foot tap back cross, back open, and step forward cross. Then we tried to dance together fitting in these embellishments where time and space in the milonga music allowed. We were to be free to play... It was a disaster... But the point was to feel free to experiment and not be afraid of the mistakes. Next, we worked on a series of exercises to improve our pivots, making us more quick, balanced, and precise. First, it was just walking backward and forward, really collecting at the knees. Then we did a series of grape vines, really focusing on the pivot in our feet. The pivot and the connection in the chest are the most important aspects in milonga to make us more connected to each other, and more agile and responsive in our footwork. Since women are in high heels, they are naturally on the balls of their feet in milonga. However, for men, who are taught many different ways of stepping (with their heel, on their toes, or with a flat, whole foot), Maestra emphasized that for milonga, the Leader should be slightly forwardly intended on the balls of their feet so that he can step with more precision and pivot better. Maestra noted that Followers have an 6th sense -- they can smell doubt. Therefore a Leader must not have any doubt when he steps or he will lose the Follower. He must step with definiteness of purpose and intention, hence the need for Leaders to step with precision. Maestra noted that the chests for both Leaders and Followers needed to be up and connected to each other so the line isn´t compromised by hunching over or sagging. The goal for embellishing in milonga is to work within the time and space provided by the music, and milonga music provides a lot of time and space to play (even though it seems very fast). We worked the entire class with the same song which had a lot of variation in the stretching of the notes. For the Follower, to embellish, to be able to play with the free leg in milonga, requires that she be very precise and controlled in her free leg. Maestra showed us an exercise to help us get stronger feet: rising up 4 different lengths on your toes to as high as possible (you can press against a wall to do this). It was an excellent class, and I wish I were able to take more of her classes in the future (she has Wednesday and Thursday technique classes at EAT), but the Intensivo schedule won´t allow it. :o(

Miercoles, 27 Mayo 2009
Since we were going to do review, go over Luciana´s terminology (open step versus cross step), and sacadas, Pablo allowed me to cut class and go to Luna Palacios´s technique class at EAT instead. So I made my way over to the new Talcahuano facility, and burst through the door into the classroom. Unfortunately, it was a technique class taught by Cecilia Gonzalez (la otra, no la famosa) -- not that she is a bad teacher (in fact, Cecilia Gonzalez is also an excellent teacher), but I wanted to go to Luna´s class and it entailed a bit of sacrifice for me to attend it (forgoing one Intensivo day). Since Luna wasn´t teaching, I went back outside and told the receptionist that I did not want to take that class, and he gave me my card back. Then I took a cab to Villa Malcolm to attend the half-Day Three of the Intensivo, making it just in time for the review portion. After that, we worked on Leader sacadas first (on Follower´s open steps and cross steps, and with Leader´s open steps and cross steps), then we worked on the Leader leading Follower sacadas into him. It was a good half-day.

Since we were pressed for time to fit in shoe shopping in the afternoon, we had lunch right there at Villa Malcolm, which was decent, quick, and reasonably priced.

A trip to Buenos Aires would not be complete (or really begin?) without a trip to P.H. (Grito de Ascencio 3602 x Cachi, en Pompeya). Their women´s shoe selection has gotten more fashion forward (way to go Lilliana on the design front!), and they have added the option of quick release buckles. In addition, they can add additional arch support or cushioning elsewhere if you ask for it, as my shopping buddy did, and since they do it on site, it can be done while you wait.

Next, we cabbed it over to the Abasto neighborhood, and after having an unremarkable but serviceable dinner at Percerutti (sp?) on the corner of Anchorena and Corrientes, we made our way to Artesanal (Anchorena 537). Nothing there suited our fancy, so we quickly made our way over to Lolo Gerard (Anchorena 607) down the street as it was quite close to closing time (8:00 p.m.). There, we had much better luck as their material selection and styling is exquisite. My shopping buddy remarked about the arch not fitting her foot quite right, and the shopgirls told us that they could add the same arch supporting she got at P.H. Needless to say, she was thrilled. And I was pleasantly shocked and delighted that such modifications could be made. Since Lolo Gerard is not a factory, it would take them 3 days to put the same arch support that it took Lilliana 10 minutes to do at P.H.

It was just 5 minutes to 8:00 p.m., and Pablo was trying to rush us across the street to Tango 8 (LaValle 3101) before it closed. We suggested he go over there, and tell them we were on our way if they could hold the store open for us just a few minutes. Happily, they complied. They had a wide selection of shoes on sale for 200 pesos (shoes are normally 320+ pesos), one of which I scored.

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