Thursday, August 27, 2009

August 20-26

Friday, August 21, 2009
Monte Cristo Milonga.
I missed the lesson by Claudio y Agustina. I suspect it was a good one though, as I've taken their workshops before and found them to be excellent teachers. The milonga as usual was fun. It was more crowded than last week, but floorcraft was not an issue, so I was happy.

Monday, August 24, 2009
Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas: Low versus High Wrap.
See the video at The topic was to wrap low or to wrap high. Like last week, communication, positioning, and energy are key. The Follower can create the shape depending on what energy she feels and what position she is in. Keep high wraps compact so that they don’t take too much space and are more socially based (as opposed to performance based where no other couples are on the floor so there is no risk of kicking anyone).

We first began with the Leader walking the Follower to the cross. Then he would try to get a low wrap from the Follower, of either his left or his right leg. After the wrap, the Leader’s feet are crossed behind. Mind the transition. This can be done from close or open embrace. The Leader leads a wrap of either his left or right foot by placing his foot next to her crossed foot where her arch is. Then the Leader takes the Follower off axis a little, letting her out while he goes back out simultaneously, and gives her a little circular energy, and then he takes her back in as he comes forward simultaneously to return her to axis and receive the wrap. Basically, his center moves out and around. The Leader bends his knee a little to get the Follower off axis. His heel is off the ground and he pushes his knee and thigh forward. If Leader’s knee is too deep, the Follower will gouge herself with her heel.

Leader needs to take care of Follower axis.

Follower should not assume/anticipate the wrap, even if she feels the contact in the leg. She needs to wait for the Leader’s lead energy. The Follower’s wrap is almost automatic when the Leader’s thigh touches hers, but she still must wait for the energy. When she does feel the energy, she needs to REALLY WRAP: that is, go with full intention of the full leg; wait for the contact (which should be mostly in the upper part of the thigh), and then let the whip bend the knee, but don’t bend by itself. Follower needs to pay attention to how she articulates the free leg for different shapes. Have good commitment, good intention, and a strong supporting standing leg when doing a wrap.

Next, we attempted to do high wraps. We started with subtle energy first for the low wraps, so that we could increase the energy to get high wraps. We also attempted to do double wraps. Positioning is key. There is a sweet spot in the relative positioning of the Leader’s knee to the Follower’s thigh and knee, to be in a safe position so she feels free to wrap with abandon. We spent a lot of time drilling this to get the positioning of our knees and thighs right, and the wrap energy right.

Next, we went from the basic wrap of Follower’s right leg of Leader’s left or right leg, into the Follower’s left leg volcada-like leg-to-leg wrap of the Leader’s right leg. The Leader pivots the Follower a little, then sends Follower back out in a colgada volcada energy to do a volcada wrap. The Follower is on axis at the point of the volcada wrap. The Leader bends his right knee to wrap his leg simultaneously while she is wrapping it with her left leg.

Next, we worked on the change of energy to get a low or high wrap. If the Leader gives more energy, he will get a higher wrap. Also, the Leader bends down with his body to reinforce the idea of high energy to get the Follower’s leg to go around his body and so that his back is in a good position to receive her wrap. We started this with the Follower’s right leg wrapping to the outside of the Leader’s left leg, first low, and then high, to the outside of the left side Leader’s waist around his back.

Maestros reiterated that in the context of social dancing and being respectful of other couples on the social dance floor, the Follower always controls the wrapping leg shape. She can keep it close. She should not let her leg fly out with heel pointed up if there are other couples on the dance floor. Both Leaders and Followers are responsible for floorcraft, and Followers need to be responsible with their free wrapping leg (and potentially dangerous, pointy heel).

The Leader’s footwork/position for the high wrap is such that the figure begins in close embrace. Then he walks the Follower to the cross. Then he does a sneak attack with his left foot to plant it in position. Then he sends the Follower off axis to lead the low wrap. Here they are in open embrace with the Follower on axis. On the rebound, the Leader gives her more energy to get a high wrap. Leader’s feet are open and wide apart to be stable. His right leg is the kickstand leg, providing rock solid support so that he is not toppled over as he gives her more energy to do a high wrap around the left side of his waist.

The question came up: How does the Follower avoid kicking the Leader? She should have the contact with the upper thigh, the upper part of her leg, so that her whole leg is in the move, and her heel clears both the Leader’s and Follower’s legs. The Leader needs to have good contact with the Follower’s leg and be in good position. The Leader needs to be in the right position, at the right time, with the right energy.

We drilled doing single, double, and triple wraps, or double low to single high wraps, or double high wraps. The key was that these were all in the Leader’s chest lead/pivot.

Key points:
Position and energy are key.
Thigh has to be in the right place.
Follower controls the wrapping leg to be able to articulate and shape, how we get in or out.
Follower should have intention to make full contact with the leg, whether it’s a low or high warp.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Adolfo Carabelli’s Porque?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009
CCSF classes with Chelsea Eng.
In Follower's Technique, we began with a discussion of the questionnaire from last week regarding what we wanted out of class and how we defined leading and following. Next, Maestra discussed the concept of the heels off or on the floor (off for agility, on for stability), per Rebecca Shulman. Foot strength is key to being versatile with the heels being on or off the floor, and we will work on that during the semester. We began with our usual walking, floor, and barre exercises (barre exercises focused on surging and walking, and embellishing the walk on the "and three"). Next, we did some paired side-by-side walking exercises, stepping very strong on one and pushing off from the back foot. We also did this to a rhythmic song trying to vary how we step during the song by inserting some QQ. We concluded with some paired connection exercises using a rubber band, feeling the subtlety in lead of side, forward, and back steps. In Advanced, we continued our work on Volcadas, because from the opening day questionnaire a few people were interested in learning those. We learned two different volcadas. The first one involved walking the Follower to the cross, then leading her to take a forward step with her right leg, and then do a regular left leg forward volcada. The next volcada involved ocho cortado like timing of QQS, which was trickier to lead to fit into the music. We had plenty of time to drill. Maestra advocates a more V embrace than a flat, chest-to-chest embrace. Leader should not squeeze into Follower. The Leader's legs/hips/lower body goes away from the Follower, but his chest/body is still with the Follower so she doesn't feel abandoned and afraid of falling. For Follower's posture, Maestra reiterated that she should be long and strong in the back, as if reaching for something behind the top of the head of the Leader. She reiterated Gary Weinberg's concept of "Falling Up." It was a good class, and we concluded with reviewing the volcadas we learned last week: regular volcada, the fake-out volcada, and the volcada with Leader's molinete (back-side-forward) footwork.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

August 13-19

Friday, August 14, 2009
Monte Cristo Club Milonga with volcada lesson beforehand by Chelsea Eng and Gary Weinberg.
The lesson was good. We did basic volcadas, and fakeout ones into the cross and then immediately back out, and ones with molinete footwork of back-side-forward for the Leader. For Follower’s technique, she should disassociate, turning at the upper body/torso, and her free leg following around as a consequence. She should keep her core engaged with belly button to the spine, but as Gary said, not too much otherwise she will get the dried shrimp effect (personally, I’d prefer a dried shrimp over a noodle body in volcadas). Also, Gary emphasized the Follower “Falling up” and having her energy and posture to the forward sky when she is taken off axis. Chelsea added the imagery of reaching for a jar of chocolate chip cookies on a shelf above and behind the Leader’s head. For the Leader, his is a back step, side step, and then forward step. On his forward step, he should have his toes pointed toward her, but his leg should not invade her space, so that she has enough room for her leg to cross. Chelsea emphasized the importance of not having sickled feet in the volcada for both the Follower and Leader for maximum beauty. It was a good class. The milonga was super fun. It was neither overly crowded nor sparsely attended. It had a nice number of people, with a good balance of gender and nice range of skills. So everybody got a chance to dance with everybody, including Maestros—which is the perfect milonga experience, in my opinion.

Saturday, August 15, 2009
Late Shift Milonga with lesson by Mariana Mazzola on Chacarera doble and Chacarera en cuarto (where four people dance together).
This was an excellent lesson, albeit fast-paced (which might have caused those who were brand new to Chacarera a bit of trouble). It was also extremely well attended, which I thought was great. Maestra had a handout, which I found super useful. We began with going through each of the figures used in Chacarera double. Then we danced it in cuarto, where four people dance in a square, and with men and women opposite and diagonal to each other. So the four points of the square are L – F – L – F, with the Leader following his Follower, and the rotation going counterclockwise during the two parts of the dance where we do a big circle or big half circle. The milonga itself was a lot of fun. It was crowded, but the floorcraft was reasonable. The food is as it usually is, and there was ample water. Later on in the night, they played two chacareras. The first one we did the regular Chacarera, and the dancers seemed to do pretty well with that. On the second one, we attempted to do Chacarera doble/Chacarera en cuarto. Many dancers seemed more confused by that, and the lines/squares broke down. It might have also been complicated by the song being artificially and intentionally slowed down, which I found annoying. Tangential rant: I also feel this way when this is done to milongas – why not just pick a slow milonga, rather than intentionally and obviously slow down a fast one? It’s an insult to the orchestra/conductor/composer and a disservice to dancers when the songs are not played as they were originally meant to be because someone thinks the song is too fast for dancers to dance to. Slowing down a song distorts and muddies the intended energy, rhythm, and cadence of the dance, and is a very jarring and disturbing experience to those dancers who know tango music or have spent a long time listing to tango recordings in an effort to improve their musicality. End of rant.

Monday, August 17, 2009
Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas on the Close to Open Transition via the Back Boleo.
See the video at This topic focused on communication in the context of a dynamic idea. How do we communicate this idea clearly? How does the Follower receive this idea?

In close embrace, we were to transition enough to lead a back boleo. The goal was to lead and follow comfortably, and to transition smoothly into the open embrace. The most important aspect is communication. We began in close embrace with chests touching, and then lead Follower to do back ochos, and then back boleos. The point between the back ocho and back boleo is where the transition to open embrace happens, and is where the Leader asks the Follower to do a back boleo. At the point of the back boleo, the Follower should take her axis, and not fall forward.

We practiced this lead in the kettle embrace for the Leader (both his hands are at the base of his back, with both arms to the side, and elbows bent), with the Leader leading back boleos on both sides/legs. Follower has the responsibility of receiving his communication through the embrace. She should actively hang on to his arms with horizontal energy, but not push down on the Leader at all. In the teakettle embrace, we are all symmetrical; so it will show our unevenness -- our strong or weak side, our better or worse side.

In the teakettle embrace, the Leader’s shoulders turn 30-45 degrees to lead a good back ocho. Follower needs to do much more active pivoting, as she needs to be able to amplify the Leader’s spinal energy by about 50%, and not be lazy about doing an ocho. Leader collects his feet at the ankles as part of the lead of back ochos. For both, it is important not to fall into each other.

Discussion of potential errors: If the Follower’s nose either falls in, or is too close, then she is too forward on her axis. In the open embrace, such as at the point of doing a boleo, the Follower needs to be perfectly on axis where everything (ribs, hips, ankles) is aligned, and the weight is in the middle of the foot between the ball and heel (on the arch of the foot). She only needs to release her heel to pivot, her weight does not need to be forward. Her heel can skim the floor and she will still be able to pivot (i.e., her heel does not have to be way off the floor to be able to pivot).

Leaders: pay attention to the timing of leading the ocho and leading the back boleo.

In the transition, when the Leader lets the Follower out, he does not let her out very far. He just lets go of her to give her enough space so that she is able to take her axis to be maximally stable (if she is leaning forward she is not maximally stable).

The energy in the boleo is back energy, so the Follower hangs back a little, somewhat like a little colgada energy. The Leader must also keep his axis too the whole time. The Leader can use his breath to help with the back boleo lead, as the natural movement of his spine/core twisting in the lead of the back boleo will cause air to come out of his lungs, like wringing water out of a wash cloth.

It was noted that in the boleo, the free leg is not completely free. There must be some control so that you can give shape to it. There are four different boleo shapes:
(1) on the floor
(2) razor – where knees are together
(3) circular – where one thigh is behind the other
(4) in line / linear

If the Leader leads the boleo circularly, the Follower’s answer should also reflect circularity, either high in the air (space permitting) or on the floor (if the social dance floor is crowded).

Boleos do not need to be high, and should be kept on the floor if there is no room to do them high on the social dance floor and doing so might cause injury or irritation to your fellow dancers.

At the moment of the Follower boleo, the Leader is still as it’s a big pivot the Follower has to do on one leg (he needs to wait for her to finish the boleo). Here, the Leader just provides support for her, with his left hand strong and solid like a wall for her to hang on to. He does not throw his arm out when leading the boleo; the lead comes from his spine/chest.

We then again attempted to do this in close embrace for several songs.

This lesson was important in that being able to do good boleos (and good back ochos as a foundation for them) is a simple tool to build into something even bigger. If you can communicate a boleo, you can lead almost anything. The goal is to be more dynamic.

The next two Mondays will build on this material.

Several followers asked about exercises they could do to improve while they are alone at home. Since the back ocho is the foundation for nice boleos, Maestra recommended perfecting ocho technique:
Behind a chair, practice the back ochos to work on posture, balance and weight transfer.
After a while, don’t hold on to the back of the chair all the time.
Then add the low boleo to these back ochos.
Then try them higher, in increments.
Also work on leg pendulum exercises to see how high the leg can go.

To work on the response to the lead in the Leader’s upper body, Maestra recommended thinking about/perfecting the arm push-pull energy at the barre, pulling with the right or left and pushing with the opposite left or right while doing ochos. In the beginning, this will be a coordination exercise, but after a while it will come naturally.

Maestros concluded with a nice demo to Adolfo Carabelli’s El Pensamiento.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009
CCSF classes with Chelsea Eng.
In Follower’s Technique, we reviewed our walking and barre exercises. We did not work on the floor since it was the first day of class and people weren’t dressed for it and they didn’t have their mats and towels. At the barre, we focused on surging (focusing on energy, fluidity and control) and walking (focusing on weight changes, really arriving to our step, and freeing the back leg), adding some small, simple adornos. We also did some connection exercises where everyone led and followed. In Advanced, Maestra basically did an abbreviated version of the Verdi Club lesson on Volcadas the Friday before (August 14). Again the emphasis was on the torsion in the upper body of the Follower, and her leg coming around as a consequence. To make this happen, the Leader has to position his right foot between the Follower’s two feet, and then turn her to wind up. For Follower’s technique, her body should not break, and she should not thrust her chi chi forward. To get the Follower posture right, we did a falling exercise, with the Leader catching the Follower at the front of her shoulders while she tried falling four different ways: (1) chi chi forward; (2) butt back; (3) abs extremely engaged like a dried shrimp, (4) a happy medium of tone in the core but not to the dried shrimp level. Maestra emphasized Gary’s concept of “falling up” and her concept of reaching for something on a shelf behind and above the Leader’s head to really lengthen the spine and have the core engaged. We covered the regular volcada, the fake-out / change-my-mind colgada, and the volcada with Leader’s molinete footwork (back-side-forward). They were excellent classes, and it was so nice to see everyone again, and new people too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

August 6-12

Thursday, August 6, 2009
Verdi Club milonga with lesson beforehand by Jon and Judy.
The class had too many Followers, so I sat it out. Mila, the hostess for the evening, was very gracious and wanted to know if I wanted to be in on the lesson. I told her no, since I didn’t pay for it. So I just watched and took notes. The lesson focused on weight changes, and the Leader leading them. It was a good lesson. Maestra said that Followers need to keep their thighs together when doing the amague and cruzada. Maestro said that the only time Followers make mistakes is when they do a weight change that is not led. Other than that, it’s always the Leader’s fault if things go wrong because that is where he puts her/changes her weight. Maestros also emphasized a milonga codigo: courtesy. That when a man asks a woman to dance, and she is sitting with another man, he asks the man’s permission to ask the woman to dance. Also, when dancing in the line of dance, it is the Leaders’ job to acknowledge other leaders with eye contact, so that everyone is more aware of each other and can navigate properly, since on the dance floor, we are all dancing together, with each other not just our partner. I thought their emphasis on the codigos was great. The milonga itself was fun. Perhaps because of maestro’s codigo emphasis, there were no floorcraft issues. Maestros did a nice demo later on in the evening, which was followed by a raffle (prize: admission to a future Verdi Club milonga).

Sunday, August 9, 2009
La Pista afternoon milonga.
I arrived later than the milonga start time, so I did not participate in the lesson. The new space is on the ground floor, and has sprung laminate flooring. There is a small kitchen area with fridge off to the side, outfitted in Ikea, just like the light fixtures. There is a mirror on one side of the room, which will be very handy for workshops and classes, but during the milonga were properly covered. The bathroom was thoughtfully put together, with full-length mirror in it so the dancers could make sure there was not a hair out of place. Food was fruit (watermelon, cherries, strawberries), bread, macaroons, champagne, wine, and juices. The milonga itself was OK. It never got overly crowded, but had enough people, many filtering in and out throughout the day. The highlight for me, personally, was when visiting maestros Judy and Jon came by. We spent a good bit of time discussing milonga codigos, life in Buenos Aires (where they’ve lived for six years), how they met (in Arizona), and one of their recent tours (which Pablo and I witnessed but didn’t join). Maestros are very friendly folks, and even danced with the locals (including me and Pablo). Maestro Ivan Schvarts of the Emeryville Senior Center Friday dance lesson was there as well, and he mentioned that they are going to have a graduation celebration on Friday, August 21, complete with competition and judges. It sounds like a blast, Pablo agreed to be one of the judges, but since I am working now, I won’t be able to make it. Every one is welcome to attend. Maestro also mentioned that on Fridays from 5-9 p.m. there is free wine and cheese dance party. I will be sure to check that out one of these days (perhaps before a Friday East Bay milonga).

Monday, August 10, 2009
La Cumparsita Milonga with lesson beforehand by Jon and Judy
(topic: Artful placement of the feet for elegance, power, and stability and Giro combinations to different rhythms using sacadas and barridas). We began with some exercises to work on artful placement of the feet. Stepping forward, back, side, front cross, back cross, we were to place our foot to the floor with as little weight as possible, so it’s more of a pose than a natural step. When we point the toe, we should carry on the outside end of the foot to the floor (the third or forth toe), touch, then roll to the full ball of the foot as the weight transfers. The goal was to really work the floor, and not fall onto the foot, but place it beautifully and have weight over the foot. We were to be conscious of our centers, be tight, don’t lose it, and don’t kerplunk in our steps. We were to take quiet steps, transfer of weight, and our feet should go on the floor like velvet. So the foot touches the ground first, and then there is a weight transfer. On the back cross step, it is important to not sickle the foot. Next, we did some step pivots: step forward with left foot, transfer weight, turn upper body/torso 90 degrees (to 9 o’clock), then pivot in our lower body with our feet and hips. We did the same with the right foot, turning our torso/upper body 90 degrees (to 3 o’clock), pivot. Next, we practiced this step pivot by walking in a zigzag, then added to it, step, pivot, step, which had the effect of moving in a straight line, even though our bodies were not forward. We were to practice this daily as homework. The step taught was one that was a play on the Leader placing the Follower around his body on the open or close side, and the molinete (which is a step, pivot, step). Leader leads Follower to the cross, then does a clockwise molinete while he plants his right foot in a back cross with heel down. Leader does left leg sacada of the Follower’s trailing left foot on her right foot forward cross step, and another sacada on Follower’s left foot side step with his right foot. This is done in close embrace. The only time you need to open the embrace is to have the hips clear roomwise. Leader releases follower after the cross to allow her to find her balance. To this we added the Leader’s barrida of the Follower’s left foot with the Leader’s left foot. For the barrida, the Leader leads the Follower to do the molinete, and on her back – side step, the Follower moves her foot because the leader is leading the molinete with his chest. The Leader accompanies with his leg so that it looks like there is contact in the barrida, but it is an illusion. For her, it is a normal side step (led by the Leader’s chest), with Leader accompanying with his left foot sweep. The Leader needs to keep his shoulders open and rotating so that the Follower continues her side step of the molinete. The steps are nice, but it’s the embrace that counts. Maestro concluded the lesson with a reiteration of the milonga codigo of courtesy and respect for other people, and trying not to interfere with another’s pleasure on the dance floor. Our goal for the evening was to enter the dance floor in a way that doesn’t disturb other dancers. Followers should not walk onto the dance floor by themselves; let the Leader come to you; you must wait for the Leader.

August 11, 2009
Tango Tuesday @ Le Colonial.
I hadn’t been to Le Colonial since the mid-1990s when martinis were all the rage. The space hasn’t changed much since then, it is still very much upscale Vietnamese French. The food and drinks looked and smelled delicious, but I didn’t try any. I remembered them as being expensive, and that hasn’t changed either. Thankfully for Bay Area tangueros, this free milonga can be easy on the pocketbook if you can find parking nearby as there is no drink requirement. Still, it is proper to buy a drink or three (and leave the Nalgene/Starbucks at home) as a way of thanking Le Colonial for supporting the tango community. The small dance floor is hardwood, but the environment in general is that of a bar and restaurant, complete with thermal (read: warm) and audio atmosphere of the dinny buzz of people chattering away, and servers rushing back and forth with dishes and trays of cocktails. This event looks well on its way to being a success if this second occurrence is any indication, as it was a very full house. With many dancers who were unaccustomed to dancing in such small, crowded quarters, but extremely excited to try their real estate intensive moves for the bar patrons who felt compelled to clap after every DJd song, floorcraft was a problem. The bumps and jostling galore were enough to make me prefer to sit out most of the milonga. That was OK though, as I vastly preferred just listening to the live playing of Tangonero Duo, and the lovely voice of Mariana Mazzola (she did a wonderful rendition of Malena, among many other songs she sang) than competing for space on the crowded dance floor. See for a nice lineup of future bands/DJs at this event.

So what am I excited about these days?

All the Chacarera lessons coming up! And all the men's technique classes, too! It seems that the San Francisco Bay Area tango scene is maturing...for the better!

Friday, August 7, 2009

July 23-August 5

Friday, July 24, 2009
Monte Cristo milonga.
I skipped Gary and Lisette’s lesson since I am comfortable with where my volcada is, and I am trying to watch the budget. It’s a pity, because it looked like they could have used a few more followers. The milonga itself was lightly attended, but I had a good time anyway since there were many good leaders, and floorcraft was not a problem. I danced with several good leaders who I have seen but never danced with previously.

Saturday, July 25, 2009
Sausalito Milonga with Gustavo and Jessica Hornos lesson on boleos and Tangonero live band.
The lesson itself was a pretty basic one. I feel as though I didn’t get that much value added out of it. The night was pricey at $30, albeit there was a live band. Still, when the $5 bridge toll is added, I find myself wondering if I have reached the point of diminishing returns with all these lessons, which was bound to happen after hundreds of lessons (then again, maybe I am just cranky with licensing fees, car insurance, house insurance, hauling fees, car repair bills, blah blah blah, all coming due at the same time). Tangonero, as usual, played well. What a treat for us in the Bay Area to be able to dance to live tango music with such regularity. And kudos to Maestros for providing hand sanitizer wipes at the food table -- it's so civilized!

Friday, July 31, 2009
Negracha and Diego’s milonga at the Lake Merritt Dance Center in Oakland.
I missed the lesson, but it appeared to be well attended and people seemed happy. The milonga and lesson occur in the upstairs ballroom with pergo floor. It was a very well attended milonga, and I can see why. It brought people from all parts of the Bay Area, so the dancers were more diverse in talent and geography and went beyond my typical Friday night haunt. This milonga had a strong porteno flavor, with tables and chairs on the perimeter of the room, empanadas, and free raffle tickets with outstanding prizes (private lessons with Maestros). The food and drinks were ample and designed to fuel for sustained energy to dance the night away. There was even the sweet (dulce de leche?) gelatinous dessert thing, which I obviously don’t know the name of. The tandas were on the short side (often just three songs), and the cortinas extremely obvious to prevent anyone from dancing to them. High-powered fans throughout the room improved the ventilation, but even in the cool Oakland night, it wasn’t enough to counteract the heat from the recessed canister lighting, which were kept on to have the environment light enough to cabaceo. Negracha sang some wonderful Argentinean folk sings – a zamba, a tango, and a Chacarera, which we danced to. Overall, this was a very nice milonga, and reminiscent of the Buenos Aires experience (including the excessive number of followers to leaders). It is clear that many people in the San Francisco Bay Area adore Negracha and Diego (myself included), as there were ample volunteers to make this a very smooth, well-run, well-attended milonga. This milonga is turning out to be so popular that it is happening all the Fridays of August. Then maestros are off to Nueva York, their first time there, and they are quite excited about it.