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.

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