Thursday, October 1, 2009

September 24-30

Friday, September 25, 2009
Homer & Cristina Ladas Advanced Seminario: "The Embrace + Variations" at the ODC, SF.

This was Maestros’ handout:

Homer & Cristina’s Advanced Seminario
“The Embrace + Variations”
September 25th, 2009
8:30pm to 10pm, ODC, SF

Class Mechanics:
This will be a fast paced 1.5 hr advanced seminar. We will present several patterns to illustrate specific concepts and encourage you to explore deeper ideas and variations. Less experienced dancers with the right attitude can take the class and hang in there. A partner is highly recommended. You may also choose to work in a small group of 3 or more to enhance the learning process. We will not rotate. After the seminar, we will be available for roughly the first hour of the practica to answer questions.

Class Overview:
We will begin the seminar by exploring transitions from various forward facing embrace concepts from close to open. Then we will explore changes of embrace to obtain other kinds of useful, fun, and/or interesting tango embraces. Finally, we will work on the technique of letting completely go of the embrace and reconnecting.

Basic Embrace Terminology:
Standard forward facing embraces can be either close or open. Close embrace assumes a body connection and communication point. It usually (but not always) requires a forward tilted axis. It can range from very close or Apilado embrace (apilado is the past participle of the Spanish verb ‘apilar’ meaning to pile) to a more or less vee’d embrace often associated with a close Salon style. The close embrace can often employ hinged, sliding, and rolling points of contact. Open embrace assumes no body connection and can range from an open Salon embrace to a very spacious and often elastic embrace. The axis can also vary from forward titled to centered to tilted away. There are various arm and hand positions associated with each embrace for both the leader and follower. Sometimes they add functionality to the connection. Other times they are just for stylistic reasons.

Advanced Embrace Concepts:
The embrace is used to develop partner balance and communication. Both the creation of space and use of energy are important lead/follow factors. Energy in either a push or pull fashion often times exists through various connection points (on the body, via the embrace, or both). Most experienced dancers understand and employ variations of the standard forward facing embrace from open to close. They allow for and use transitions to accomplish both functional and stylistic ideas. Some experienced dancers also explore changes of embrace as well as completely letting go of the embrace and reconnecting.

CLASS SYLLABUS (Note that all the material presented can be attempted on both the easy and hard sides of the embrace):

Close to Open Transitions
1. Follower’s forward ocho from leader’s rock-step, cross-behind.
2. Follower’s close to open back ocho to back sacada.

Sweetheart Embrace
3. Sweetheart wrap from back ocho.
4. Sweetheart colgada spin
5. Forward promenade into colgada, wrap, unwind, back sacada.

Reverse Sweetheart Embrace
6. With follower’s sacada
7. With elbow grab colgada

Behind the Back Embraces (Be careful & remember that usually one side is the primary lead/follow relationship!)
8. Hammer lock colgada, boleo, follower’s sacada
9. Drag-and-spin
10. Arm-pit volcada

Soltada (Spanish - A bout between fighting-Roosters; to release them for the fight.)
11. Jaimes Friedgen back sacada spin
12. Chicho line variations with back sacada

Funky Embrace Transition
13. Jean Sebastian Rampazzi trap and step thru parada/pasada

Additional Embrace Notes:
There are a several schools of thought when it comes to partner balance and communication!
- Creating space vs. energy flow for linear and circular movements and pivots?
- Push-pull energy and other concepts for pivots, ochos, boleos, and turns?
- Projection of body/floor energy thru embrace.
- Bottom Line: Good vs. bad use of arms and hands!


These are my notes as a class student participant:

Close to Open Transitions

First, we worked on embrace transitions from close to open and back to close. We began with a simple figure, just rock step with the Leader back cross of his left foot, to lead Follower to do forward ocho, transitioning here to open embrace, to do a parada, back to close embrace as the Follower steps over and forward around the Leader with her left foot. Here, the Follower should take big steps, but keep her hips close to the Leader, even in the open embrace. The Leader tilts toward the Follower on her forward step to invite the Follower back into close embrace.

Our next transition was from close embrace back ochos to open embrace back ochos, with the Leader leading an overturned back ocho in the open embrace so that he can receive the Follower’s right leg back sacada of the Leader’s trailing left leg. Here, the embrace opens up at the point of the sacada to accommodate room for the Follower. We can do this on either side, and can also do back ochos to close embrace forward ochos.

Technical points:

(1) Follower’s overturned back ocho: she needs to have good posture and maintain her axis vertically.
(2) Leader: If you are leading an overturned ochos, be mindful of your left arm. Do not push her because it will mess up her axis.
(3) Follower: Use both sides of your embrace too to hang onto Leader, as there is a continuous turning energy.
(4) Leader: Your right hand can release because you are making a transition and the Follower is holding on to you with her left hand. If you put pressure on her back when she is trying to do an overturned back ocho, you will stop her from pivoting as much as she needs to. The Leader, through his chest lead and opening up his shoulder, will give her circular energy.

Next, we went from transitions of the embrace to actual changes of the embrace.

Sweetheart Embrace

From the open side of the embrace, Leader leads Follower into sweetheart hold by doing a loop turn (inside turn) of Follower with her right hand with his left hand. We attempted to do this from the forward ocho, but we could also do it from the walk. From this, we could add the leg wrap of the Follower’s left leg to the inside of the Leader’s “sacadaing” right leg as he is behind her. Here, timing and how to position the Follower is key. Follower needs to really stretch the side steps and step around the Leader. Both the Leader and Follower take big steps to accommodate/shadow each other so they don’t crowd each other. The Leader can orient the Follower’s hips, and when he accommodates her wrap, he needs to keep his knee flexed and heel off the ground.

In the same sweetheart hold, we attempted other figures, such as stepping forward together. Some students were inspired to try other figures al reves or doble frente like ochos.

Next, continuing with the sweetheart embrace, we did a small shared-axis colgada like spin to exit back out, both dancers facing forward. We did this from cross system walking forward so both dancers are on the same feet at the same time, and then Leader traps the Follower’s right foot at the center of her foot or toward the back of her heel to do a the shared-axis colgada, to step forward on the Follower’s left foot.

Next, we went on to:

Reverse Sweetheart Hold

The Reverse Sweetheart hold is where the Follower is on the outside right and behind the Leader (instead of the Leader being behind the Follower). To get into it, the Leader takes a side step left, then loop turns himself so that he faces the opposite direction from where he started. Here, we have to options of (1) the Leader stepping left to lead a Follower back sacada of her left leg to his right leg, or (2) the Leader stepping left to lead Follower right leg back sacada of Leader’s left leg.

There are many possibilities of things to do with the reverse sweetheart embrace, such as the Elbow Grab Colgada, which maestros demonstrated but the students did not attempt. In this figure, the Leader knocks the Follower off axis in a colgada, then sticks his elbows out and the Follower has to hang on (it’s her only choice, and it’s instinctive), out to step forward.

Behind the Back Embraces

We attempted the Hammerlock embrace. Maestros demonstrated but students did not attempt the Drag and Spin or the Armpit Volcada.


We also worked a bit on soltadas, where the Leader completely lets go and spins around. Here it’s important for the Leader to have good posture and balance and be able to pivot well. He also needs to KEEP HIS ELBOWS IN. The best place for the Leader to attempt to do the soltada is on the Follower’s counterclockwise molinete on the side step after her back step.

Our last Soltada was the Chicho line variation, where dancers let go of the embrace in a linear fashion. This can be done with beginning from the side step, the back step, or the forward step. In our class, we chose the easiest option, the side step. Leader and Follower start with side step (Leader left, Follower right), to forward steps (Leader right, Follower left) to give the Follower a sense of rhythm and direction, and then both dancers turn (Follower clockwise, Leader counterclockwise), to resolve into Leader’s left leg back sacada of Follower’s right leg. For this figure, there is lots of pivot and rotation.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Biagi’s Racing Club. See the video at

It was an extremely challenging class, and certainly was advanced, despite the deceptively simple name. Most people did OK up until Figures 5-6. After that, we attempted many figures, and got our appetites wet about the endless possibilities of how we could create material using the many different embraces (some of which are common in ballroom or Latin partnered dancing) and dancing al reves or doble frente beyond walking, doing things like ochos, sacadas, colgadas, and volcadas, or breaking the embrace and coming back together entirely with soltadas.

After all our hard work, people could not resist the delicious gourmet fare, catered by Cristina: fruit salad, cheese & crackers, zucchini patties, tzatziki (cucumber yogurt), heirloom tomato and yellow cucumber salad with mozzas (baby fresh mozzarella balls), and ginger and berry panna cotta, all of which was complemented by the fancy bubbly citrus flavored water.

The guided practica was good, with Maestros giving lots of individual attention to the students who chose to work on the material taught in class.

There was doubt whether or not this Advanced Seminario would go on, and it was initially cancelled because of the issues related to the Allegro space. Fortunately for all of us, Julian Miller Ramil stepped up to the plate and graciously offered the ODC space for use. Without Julian’s generosity, this Advanced Seminario would not have taken place (or at least not until 2010).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sausalito Milonga with lesson beforehand by Gustavo & Jesica Hornos.
Sometimes dancers dancing Vals can look like they are dancing tango at milongas. We were to explore what is the right way to dance vals by examining the structure, movement, and feeling to make it look like we are dancing to Vals. First, we connect with the Vals music, which is 3x4 timing (versus tango 4x4, and milonga 2x4). We need to be able to flow and make our own interpretations of vals to show the difference of dancing to vals, by using a different way of pacing the dance with difference accents. We began by doing a plain forward walk at the Vals pace to Pugliese’s Desde El Alma. Next, Maestro demonstrated walking, showing that the body needs to reflect the feeling of the music. How we hold our bodies and joints to be ready to step on the next strong beat (1). We must try to be gracefully and flowy. At the strong beat (1), our whole body is on top of our foot, so there’s a delay. With respect to foot placement, we arrive with the ball of our foot so that we are on time (we do not step with heel first, and then transfer the weight through the ball of our foot, this foot action would make us too slow). Next walking exercise: we were to walk and collect with or without a weight shift, so that we don’t step forward on every strong beat, we can let some strong beats go by. But we need to step on time, and always be on top of our foot on the strong beat (1). For our bodies, we need to always be expressive and dancing even when we are just shifting our weight. We need to keep the energy going the whole time, not just when we are propelling forward. Next walking exercise: we were to extend the pace of walking to step only on 1, taking a long step forward. Here, we were to hold our body and everything we have to slow down and accelerate to be on time. We were to step on 1, and then drag our feet through on 2-3, using all of the music. We were not to stop the momentum at 2-3, but keep the energy continuous and our whole body moving. Next exercise: we walked in partnership, walking with just stepping on the 1. Next, we changed the song and attempted to blend the forward step with a weight shift, but keep dancing even though at the weight shift we are not moving forward. Followers need to really reach back to make our step on the strong beat (1) very pronounced. We worked on the musical concept of vals trying to make it flowy and grounded through a simple sequence: side step (Leader’s left, Follower’s right), to Follower walk back 4 steps to the cross, to one back step, to side (opposite forward steps for Leader). To a new song, we danced the simple sequence on the 1-2-3 beat of Vals, trying to make the steps by really listening to the music, not by chance, and try to really relate to the music. Common problems: (1) Close embrace so that there is no pushing/puling or bubbles/reverberation in the embrace so she can take 100% of the Leader’s momentum. (2) Do not go out of her body (keeping her too far to the Leader’s right); if you do, then you are not 100% connected. Dancers’ centers need to be connected. Also, do not slide your bodies across/against each other. (3) Leader still dances when the Follower is pausing (in the simple sequence, he has 10 steps while the Follower only has 9 steps). (4) The challenging time is when the Follower enters and exits the cross. The problem is when the Follower stops the Leader’s rhythm; and she does this if she stops following. Follower should not be choppy, but always be with the Leader: follow! Follower should be ready to change weight at the cross, so she is ready to step back with her right foot immediately. Leader: do not rush her. It’s a sensation of holding, and then going. Follower: be on balls of your feet on the floor to roll into the cross, then extend back. Also, keep your knees bent. We added to the simple sequence, where instead of stepping back after the cross, the Follower steps forward with her right foot, to ocho cortado, with Leader step back on his left foot so he can parada with his right foot of her right foot before her return to the cross, to rock step, to counterclockwise turn out to resolution. Our goal was not to learn a tricky complicated sequence. It was to work on the musicality, timing and how we hold our bodies. Thus, we worked on the same simple sequence to many speeds of Vals songs: a slow one to work it out, then a faster one to be on the rhythm. It was a good class.

The milonga itself was fun. It was Jesica’s birthday celebration milonga, and Gustavo put on a great humorous, tongue-in-cheek skit for it, sharing with us his personal tango research experience. He found that Beethoven wrote the first tango, but had trouble with his first attempt. And his second attempt. And his third and fourth attempts. But he got it right with his fifth attempt. Then Gustavo & Jesica tango danced to the 5th of Beethoven. Next, he said he found a JS Bach Milomba (not typo), and they danced to that. Then his research brought him up to current times, where Jessica did a solo to a modern pop song that had the word “tango” in it (I am not sure what that song was). Anyway, it was fun little skit, and it kept us in stitches and in awe of their musicality and technical skills. After this, there was the usual birthday Vals to Desde El Alma, which was played twice to accommodate all the tangueros who a spin with Jesica. There was chocolate cake in addition to their usual generous and yummy milonga food.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Studio Gracia Milonga.
I missed the milonga lesson by Negracha and Diego, but I am sure it was excellent. The milonga was OK. It was gender imbalanced in the beginning with two many followers, but it evened out later on. Floorcraft could and should have been better. The farewell performance by Negracha and Diego was great, with both dancers showing their extreme professionalism, dignity, and sense of humor by effortlessly recovering from a wardrobe malfunction. Negracha and Diego might be back in December, but for sure sometime in the future, which makes the Bay Area very blessed to have such talented teachers and warm, friendly people visit regularly.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas: Transitions Through the Cross.
The goal of this class was to work on the concept of transitioning from close embrace, to open embrace, back to close embrace, smoothly, naturally and elegantly. The goal is to go back and forth between open and close embrace 3, 4, or 5 times during every song we dance to.

We began with a simple sequence of a side step, into the Follower’s forward ocho, to Leader parada / Follower pasada, out to resolution. Here, we were to work on refinement and understand where our axis is. We practiced this to one or two songs.

Next, we did a connection / transition / mirror and matching exercise: The Human Magnet exercise. The Leader and Follower stand face to face, and Leader leans in and Follower leans in to match his lean. Follower needs to be on her whole foot the entire time (not just on balls of the feet), and she bends from the ankle. Then the Leader separates back from Follower, and Follower separates simultaneously from Leader. The Follower tries to match the energy/lean of the Leader. Then we switched with the Followers initiating the forward lean or pull away, and the Leader matching her.

Next, we worked on changing the embrace to open as we get to the cross. The Leader gives the Follower energy as she goes into the cross by letting go of his right hand a little, and coming back on his axis (staying back). The Follower senses before the cross that the Leader is taking his axis. This sensation is reinforced by the release of his right hand.

For the “Part A” sequence, we began with a side step (Leader’s left, Follower’s right) in open embrace. Then in close embrace, we walked to the cross, during which the embrace opens as noted in the prior paragraph. Then Follower steps forward with her right foot to the outside of the Leader’s right, to do forward ochos. Leader does right leg parada with Leader's and Follower’s hips close. Then the Leader opens up on his left for the Follower to step around and near him with her left foot, and they transition back into close embrace, by the Leader coming forward/ tilting toward the Follower in his upper body to meet her back in close embrace. The Follower should practice taking long steps around the Leader as she steps in front and around the Leader with her left foot in the pasada.

For the “Part B” sequence, which is more advanced, we continued our exploration of the transition, energy, and ochos. Again, we were to walk to the cross, during which the embrace opens as noted above. Then the Leader steps to his left slightly forward and around the Follower with his left foot, while also opening his right shoulder, to lead the Follower back sacada of her right foot, into a Follower clockwise molinete footwork of side, forward, at which point he paradas with his right foot, she pivots, and then steps over as usual for her pasada.

In the "Part B" sequence, for the Follower back sacada to work, she needs to maintain good molinete/ turns technique, especially as it relates to the back ocho and how she maintains her left hand hold on the Leader’s right bicep. We quickly refreshed this idea with the Follower holding onto the Leader in teapot hold (his right arm is behind his back, and only his left arm/hand is available to the Follower to hold on to). Followers need to get used to getting the information / lead from the Leader’s body (not his arms). Also, the Follower needs to hold on for her back sacada, especially with her left hand on the Leader’s right bicep, using the horizontal energy of pull/push to get lots of pivot in her hips to do the overturned ocho/back sacada. Also, for this to work, there is a Follower weight change at the cross to be completely on her left foot, so she can pivot completely on her left foot, with her right foot collected at the point of pivot, and then completely free to send out in the back sacada.

For the Leader’s technique in the Follower’s back sacada, the Leader needs to let go of his right hand, otherwise he will stop the Follower from turning. He needs to trust his left arm/side, and trust her left hand hold of his right bicep. When the Leader receives the Follower’s back sacada, his right hip opens up to receive it.

We also tried this on the other side, which was difficult to lead since it is uncommon for the Follower to cross with her right foot over her left foot. To lead this, the Leader needs to open up his chest, come up and lift her a little as he comes up, and twist his torso a little. The twist in his torso causes the Follower’s legs to cross. It is a combination of a mechanical lead with his body and arms.

Next, we talked about the actual lead for the back sacada. The lead for the Follower is a pivot first in the initiation of an overturned ocho, and then have continuous circular energy. The energy into the pivot is at the highest level.

Depending on the energy and how the Leader receives it, instead of leading the Follower back sacada, he can lead an overturned back ocho into a back linear gancho.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Canaro’s Hotel Victoria. See the video at

What am I excited about these days?

Going to Fandango De Tango over Thanksgiving. The Early Bird deadline has been extended to October 25. So please come join me! You will have a blast! The Thanksgiving Brunch buffet is super yummy!

Tomas Howlin workshops October 3-4

Alex & Luz workshops October 11

Ben Borgart workshops October 24-25

I’ll be around for Halloween, so will be going to milongas in costume. I hope you do, too!

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