Thursday, October 29, 2009

October 22-28

Saturday, October 24, 2009
Ben Bogart workshops on Musicality: Musicality for Dancers Parts I & II

Asymmetrical Rhythm, and Asymmetrical Drama:
This two-part workshop focus is on asymmetry in tango music. The First class looks at common asymmetric rhythmic structures, exploring their regularities and irregularities. The Second class explores a topic dancers seldom consider, the "fraseo". Tango melodies are uneven between the beats, what does that mean for us as dancers? What does it mean at all?

The topic of the workshops was to explore two opposing ideas:
(1) Differentiating things in our body
(2) Differentiating between the rhythmic and the legato (expressive/dramatic) aspect of tango.

We began with an exercise. We were to imagine that Di Sarli and his orchestra came back from the dead and had a gig in the San Francisco Bay Area. The current band’s name is the “Di Sarli Zombies”. Last night the band had a wonderful time at the local bars drinking Fernet Branca, but one unfortunate consequence was that the violinists didn’t show up for rehearsal today because they were too wasted. Since Di Sarli is now in a bind, he asked us to step up to the plate and rehearse with them. So, we whipped out our air violins (a la Guitar Hero 5) and improvised playing violin to Di Sarli’s Bahia Blanca, trying to get the size and expression of the music. So for the louder parts of the song, we were to play with our bows having long, full strokes, and for the quieter parts of the song, our bows would have smaller strokes, and for short notes, even smaller strokes. These same movements of long strokes or short strokes apply to the bandoneon.

The hope for orchestras is that dancers become part of the band, and have the sensation that the dancers are interacting in real time with the band. So, as dancers, at the beginning of the song, we were to have large, smoothly, flowy steps. As the tempo changes, we can have more dramatic, legato movement.

Di Sarli plays the same rhythm all the time. It is “dancer’s music”. With respect to the tempo, the size gets bigger, making it feel as if we are going faster.

We did an exercise of just walking alone, forward, walking small, or big, or staccato when the parts of the song were extremely rhythmic and small. We were not to do anything in double time or stop/pause.

Next song we explored the rhythmic, asymmetrical aspects of tango music, trying to find the asymmetrical parts. We were to make the rhythm more precise by stepping forward with the heel first (not the toe or ball of foot).

Next, to Piazzolla’s Michelangelo 70, we noted that there were two rhythms:
(1) The underlying bass rhythm.
(2) The S-S-S-S-Q-Q rhythm
To this song we attempted to walk on that second type of beat, really accenting it with our feet on the floor. Next, we danced it in partnership, trying to be calm and remove the momentum in our dance. This song should not feel fast.

Next, we discussed the irregularity of the Piazzolla rhythm, that the notes are not 50% of the note before or after it.

Earlier songs had this similar rhythm, only not as much of it. So you hear a lot of Q-Q-S, similar to the clave salsa rhythm. We attempted to clap out this rhythm, and then add our feet to it.

Next, we attempted to walk the rhythm.

Then we attempted to dance with or without stepping on those quick beats. We were not to feel obligated to step on every single quick beat, but were free to do so as the music dictated. We attempted this to only a partial song, where a piece that had many irregular Q beats was continuously looped so we could become familiar with that part of the song and so we had time to drill the Q movement in our dance in that particular moment of the song.

After we danced with accents in the looped piece of the song reasonably well, we attempted to dance to the complete, whole song (without the loop), trying to really catch the portion of the song where it deviates from its regular rhythm into this irregular rhythm with many Q’s and to accent them in our dance. For this particular song, this rhythm happens in other places, but it is displaced.

It is fine to hold the beat prior to be ready to really catch the Q beat. Holding or not stepping on the beat is OK. We practiced this concept to Di Sarli’s Milonguero Viejo and Organito de la Tarde.

Next, we switched to a new rhythm, the one that is the beginning part of Rodriguez’s Son Cosas del Bandoneon before the singing. Here, we danced to a loop of the beginning.

Next, we switched to a different rhythm, that of Biagi’s La Marca del Fuego.

This was the end of the first workshop, after which there was a 15-minute practica before the next workshop, during which the following songs were played:
Biagi’s Calla Corazon; Piazzolla’s Oblivion; Mederos’s El Flete; Pugliese’s Nochero Soy.

For the second workshop, we were to focus on the drama in tango music. We began with the question: What gives tango so much drama? It depends how each orchestra plays the notes, using volume and the time frame, basically all the resources musicians use to play legato.

We began with an exercise to a song where we attempted to ignore the base, the foundation of the rhythm, and just dance to the bandoneon. This we did in partnership dancing to Piazzolla’s Oblivion.

After dancing, we discussed the huge contrast in how the bandoneon is played during the song, with slow, airy parts, or fast, short parts, and everything in between. There is a huge, dynamic range, from quiet to loud, and with many points of suspension and release. At times in Oblivion, the bandoneon sounds like it is barreling down a hill, or moving slowly up a hill, or cresting at the peak of a hill.

From this comes the idea of the ball. Maestro took out a small, hard purple rubber ball, and dropped it. We noticed that the first bounces were large and the time between contact with the floor were slow, but as the ball kept bouncing, the bounces got shorter and faster, until they were very low to the ground and very fast. He also illustrated this same concept with a different ball, a larger pink squishy ball that bounced more softly and flatly than the sharp bounces of the hard purple ball.

To understand this concept, we were to walk with the tempo of the bouncing ball, staring slow and large, and then move toward faster and smaller steps as the ball bounced faster and shorter.

Next, to a song we attempted to walk in uneven rhythm, picking just three places to step (though there were many different options where it would be correct to step).

Next, we danced to a Pugliese song.

It was noted that other orchestras arranged the bouncing ball idea, but in smaller sections so the song still had the beat.

Maestro took out his bandoneon and started to play the beginning notes of El Flete.

Then we switched to Medero’s version of El Flete, doing a walking exercise of walking on the 1-2 for a minute of the song. Then we played the song again, with our goal of walking on the 1-3.

Then we did more walking exercises to different songs.

Maestro noted that dance bands needed to make things easy to get paid, so tango songs are generally very regular so that the dancers could dance to them easily and thus be happy with the band.

Our goal was to play with the spaces between the beats, where we could step on any note.

Next, we practiced just stepping only on the “2” in our walks.

Then, we danced with just stepping on “2” during a section of the song where that was possible. We drilled to several other different songs, one of which was Di Sarli’s Bahia Blanca.

Finally, we put everything together while we danced to Di Sarli’s Bahia Blanca:
(1) dancing to the bandoneon
(2) dancing with slow, airy movements, or faster, short movements
(3) using suspension and release
(4) dancing with steps that start big and with lots of time in between, but them stringing them sequentially with smaller shorter steps
(5) stepping on the 1-2 or the 1-3
(6) stepping on only the two and letting the other downbeats go by (not feeling obligated to step on every beat or down beat)

These were excellent workshops, with ample time to fine tune our listening skills, and incorporate these concepts into our body with lots of rhythmic drilling to different types/styles of songs.

Here is the play list of songs we used for the workshops:
Di Sarli – Organito de la Tarde
Piazzolla – Michelangelo 70
Pugliese – Derecho Viejo
Tanturi – Decile que Vuelva
Rodriguez – Son Cosas del Bandoneon
Biagi – La Marca del Fuego
Biagi – Calla Corazon
Piazzolla – Oblivion
Rodolfo Mederos – El Flete
Pugliese – Nochero Soy
Lomuto - Muñequita
Calo – Al Compas del Corazon
Pugliese – Mala Junta
Di Sarli – Bahia Blanca
Pugliese – Recuerdo
Laurenz – Arrabal
Di Sarli – Milonguero Viejo

Sunday, October 25, 2009
Facundo Posadas workshops on Milonga Candombe de Salon, assisted by Christy Cote.
Cristy did a find job translating, the best I've ever seen.

The workshops were somewhat similar the ones he held in March 2009 when he last visited, so you can see that video at

Sorry my notes are a little disjointed. The best parts of the workshops weren't actually the steps themselves, but the knowledge Facundo imparted about tango, milonga, Candombe, canyengue, Africa, Robert Thompson, etc., etc.

In the first workshop we worked on syncopas. The pattern taught was linear, there is a cross, but no weight change to the back leg. The contact is in the high part of the thighs as the point of the cross. If the contact is at the lower part of the leg, it will cause a pivot.

We did an exercise to get our footwork down: side step, collect, leader steps right foot forward, collect, left foot diagonal forward, collect. Leader’s right foot, touch. Follower’s right foot to front cross of left foot.

Leader steps with his right foot to sacada Follower’s right foot to front cross ahead of her left foot. The Leader does left foot back cross of his right foot, then right foot step forward to make Follower’s back left foot step back.

Leader rises to get Follower to unwind from her cross.

There is a very small pause after the cross. Don’t rush it. Arrive, then pivot with a little pause. This is all done in open embrace.

We worked this entire workshop to Canaro’s Milonga Sentimental.

Next, we worked on the barrida part of the figure. The Leader steps side step left (Follower side step right), Leader’s right foot contacts Follower’s right foot, and sweeps it back in the barrida. On the barrida, the Leader can contain the pause by putting pressure on her back with his right hand. The barrida goes directly into a Leader sandwich, and then directly to a clockwise pivot while he sandwiches. He can continually link these to his back step with his right foot, then side step, then barrida, so it looks like 1-2-3-barrida, 1-2-3-back step, etc. On the sandwich pivot, the Follower’s left foot stays off the floor as her right foot is sandwiched between the Leader’s feet, because the Leader lifts her so she can’t put her left foot down.

It is more elegant to uncross the Follower’s back crossed right foot by lifting her first before leading her to do a forward step with her right foot.

There are lots of little details to make things more elegant.

Finally, we practiced all the three steps we learned today. The problem came up of how to connect them, and to be musical when we danced them, really feeling the rhythm. What is important is to know how to begin each step. Then you can step when you want to do them.

Again, when the Leader touches low on the Leader sacada, he will initiate a Follower cross.

In Milonga, there is lots of variation. The tempo can be slow, as in lise, where everything is on the floor and very elegant (like for Di Sarli). Or it can be slow with lots of syncopas (like for Canaro), or faster and with lots of syncopas (like for D’Arienzo). There is lots of variation in spirit, even though they can be slow (or fast).

In Candombe, the African rhythm is clearly marked. We listened to how different it was from other milongas. For this second workshop, we worked the entire time to Azabache. The body can be very free to put movement that you can control. The same thing that we’ve done. You need to have freedom, but also control so that you don’t bump into people on the milonga dance floor.

In Candombe, the walk is very important. So we practiced walking, outside, in line, back to outside. Your feet should be like you are sneaking home into your partner’s bedroom and she is sleeping and you don’t want to wake her – i.e., silent, quiet, controlled and precise and direct in stepping).

We practiced the Leader’s back touch step (done three times, and on the forth touch it is a full step/weight change). We did this with the Leader’s back right foot, going a little counterclockwise through the movement, and Follower’s left foot going forward at the same time (no directional change, just straight forward into Leader).

We talked a bit about floor crafting:
There should be no passing/weaving.
There should be no Leader taking multiple back steps (otherwise you will crash into the couple behind you because you didn’t see them).
Always dance in the line of dance.
Respect the couples in front of and behind you.
Don’t dance too close to the couple in front of you.
Maintain an even distance with other couples so you will have room to dance.

What is Candombe? People understand the African Rhythm. It is natural. There are different rhythms for different parts of Africa. This rhythm is like the father of all of the dancing in Europe and the United States and North America (except ballet). All the dances have all bases of rhythm from Africa. The beat is born in Africa, has African Roots.

Robert Farris Thompson, a Yale Anthropologist, wrote the book Tango: The Art History of Love ( The first man in the world came from Africa. Those first men didn’t speak verbally, so they communicated using movement and rhythm. There in Africa began the rhythm of life, music. We copy this rhythm, without knowing the feeling and pulse in the heart. This rhythm is genetic in the world. Babies are exposed to this rhythm before they are born. They hear and listen when they are in their mother, as their mothers work and sing. Life in Africa is very concentrated in rhythm. Thus the genetic roots of African rhythm.
Maestro asserts that he learned more about Tango from Robert Farris Thompson than he did from the old milongueros in Buenos Aires.

There is a game in Africa played by children on the riverbanks. The game is they put their feet into the water, deeper and deeper, to see how far they can put their feet into the water before they fall into the river. If you fall into the river, you are out of the game. This game is called “Mazasay” (my phonetic spelling).

The rhythm of Candombe, when mixed with the Havana rhythm for Cuba, formed the basis of milonga music as we know it today. Tango in general is a mix of various cultures that were in Buenos Aires during the turn of the century , so there are elements of the melancholy feeling that the immigrants had, Italian elements, Portuguese elements, even Swedish elements (they have a 300 year old folk dance that has a boleo-like move in it), or ochos coming from somewhere else. All of these immigrant elements are a part of tango.

For the workshop, we played with the touch step derived from the Mazasay children’s game It is important for the Follower to understand the lead. There are three touch steps (can be small or micro), and the fourth touch step is an actual step with weight change. This touch step is always done after the cross. There is disassociation in the lead. You can also do the same feet to go in opposite directions when facing each other (Leader goes to his right foot while Follower also goes to her right foot).

From this, we worked it into Chelsea’s waggle step of Follower’s back left foot step straight back, and then the same back left foot steps back cross to the right, and then back open to the left, etc., while Leader does forward step with his right, cross then open, etc.

Second workshop. Leader back cross of right foot, touch step of right foot three times (pause), a little counterclockwise, with Follower left foot forward touch steps three times.

For this step, we need chest contact. This is very much like samba rhythm, but the samba step is outside partner.

So our sequence went something like:

Ocho cortado, Follower right foot back touch step 1-2-3, then on 4 there is a weight change, directly into the Follower’s left foot back waggle (Leader’s right foot forward waggle). Conclusion is after the waggle ends, on Follower’s left side open step to step forward with the left foot. We worked on this to Alberto Castillo’s Charol.

Next, we worked on playing with the Mazasay step, stepping four touch steps out to the right, and then back in four touch steps of the left. Note that there is no weight shift. For the Leader, he uses his left foot to go out left and then in to the right (keeping his weight on his right foot) , and for the Follower, she goes out to the right with her right foot, and then back in with her right foot (keeping her weight on her left foot). This can also be done on the opposite feet/sides.

Next, we did a disassociation exercise of Leader stepping forward with his right foot, to collect, to do a side step to his left, and then collect. Follower does mirror image of back left foot, collect, side right foot, collect. For the disassociation piece, the Follower does continuously the same footwork in a reverse 7 position, while the Leader changes his footwork to step in between her legs sometimes as she side steps (using either his left or right foot), or he can also match her side step by doing side steps to the same or opposite sides. This was to help the Leaders in their disassociation of movement. For him, it is the same chest lead so that the Follower does the same footwork, but the Leader can do his footwork with or without weight changes, doing L, or R, or LL, or RR, or LR, or RL.

We discussed Candombe music, and it was noted that it was difficult to find Candombe CDs. Usually, when you have a milonga CD, IF there is a Candombe on there, it is usually just one. So you can make your own compilation, but would have to get many milonga CDs to do it.

Next, we followed with a discussion of Canyengue. Canyengue was derived from an old form of walking, that the gauchos / men from outside of Buenos Aires did with an attitude, a swagger. They put this in the dance. Their toes were turned out. Dances used to dance low, but rose up as the music became more elegant in the late 1930’s/1940s. When people danced more upright, they did not have the balance in their feet as the old, down low, toes turned out type of walking, and that is how the two tracks developed. Prior to 1937/1938, there were no molinete turns, and not many crosses either, no fancy things. Tango was mostly just walking. Maestros demonstrated dancing tango to Canaro’s Poema, as dancers did originally when it first came out. It was all walking.

There were three big changes in tango:
Dynamics (most important at current time)

Everything is for the current time (the era in which we live). Right now, things are fast. It’s natural. Changes: OK that’s great. No one says that when the changes are happening.

The people of the 1930’s asked “What is he doing?” Like how they ask now with Nuevo.

We change, and then go back.

Modern dancers don’t have the same soul/elegance of the people of the people of the 1930’s and 1940’s.

How do we see people dance now?
(1) Fast
(2) 1920’s style with just forward and back walk, ocho cortado, taps small, on floor, with soul.

Elegant walk.
You don’t need the steps.
Everything changes, but everything is fine.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
CCSF Classes with Chelsea Eng.
Our topic of the night was Women/Tango Culture and boloes (continued). Maestra had a handout of "Lunfardo Women in Tango" by Celia Merritt from B.A. Gotan newsletter, which was a handout of various lunfardo words for women. In Follower's Technique, after our usual essential walking, floor, and barre exercises to increase our strength, balance, disassociation, elegance, body control and freeness, we continued at the barres with boleos, this time focusing on front boleos (we did back boleos last week). We did front boleos on and off the floor, and some variations: the switch (with no boleo), and the flamingo where the leg goes up. In Advanced, we continued our work on boleos, focusing on contra boleos (we did with boleos last week). As usual, they were good classes, with ample time to drill so that the Leaders could get the timing right to lead boleos, and the Followers could practice their ocho technique, having a strong stable standing leg, and a truly free free boleoing leg (but slightly controlled to have a prettier shape).

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