Thursday, November 26, 2009

November 19-25

Saturday and Sunday, November 21 and 22, 2009
Carolina Del Rivero and Donato Juarez workshops @ Nirmala’s studio.
This was my first time taking classes at Nirmala’s studio. The space is what is now a combined living room, dining room and open kitchen. It’s a nice space, with a divine floor. There is a mirror on half of one side of the room, across from the full-size kitchen. Street parking within a couple of blocks is OK on the weekend during the day.

I was hesitant about taking this series of workshops since it conflicted with those taught by Enriqueta Kleinman, who I like a lot. I’ve taken half a dozen or so classes with both Carolina Del Rivero (at Fandango de Tango and CITA 2008), and another half dozen with Donato Juarez (when he was here in January teaching with Cecilia Gonzalez, la famosa), but during those classes, they were both the supporting teacher, not “the star”, and not in my opinion “the equal”, and so had lesser voices during the lessons. When I saw them teach with their former partners, Carolina did not say much, usually deferring to her more vocal world-famous teacher counterpart. With Donato, since he is not fluent in English, he had to rely on his former teacher partner to translate (as was the case with Carolina). Since Donato’s former teacher partner was so famous, and was well qualified to teach the Leader and Follower parts, I felt he didn’t say as much back then as he did in this series of workshops. So it was Pablo’s job on the Friday prior to evaluate how they taught at Monte Cristo to see if he wanted to take this series of workshops, since I would have been just as happy with Enriqueta Kleinman.

Pablo’s verdict was that he thought they taught well at Monte Cristo (variations on the ocho cortado), “profoundly impressed” are the words he used. He also thought their performance was fantastic, one of the best he’s ever seen.

Workshop 1: Connection exercises.

Workshop 2: Barridas.

Workshop 3: Barrida and Volcada combinations.

Workshop 4: Wonderful Walking with Turns – Intermediate

Workshop 5: Back Sacadas – Int/Adv

Workshop 6: Colgada-Sacada Combinations – Int/Adv

All of the workshops included key exercises to get us to understand some fundamental tango concepts in our minds and in our bodies. Maestra’s point was that to first learn how to understand and do something physically, we need to know it in our brains, our heads first. Then after it is in our heads, it travels down and goes into our bodies as we do our homework. Sometimes this takes days, weeks, or months. She commanded us many times to “Pay attention!”

Their style of teaching was to show us a simple sequence three times, during which we were to really pay attention to what they were doing, and then to try to recreate it. Depending on how we did, they would stop us and then go over the fine points of technique of executing the step. They also asked us numerous times if we understood. When we looked particularly bad or like we weren’t getting it, they would back up the class back down to a more fundamental exercises to get our bodies to move in the correct ways.

I found these workshops to be challenging, and yet rewarding and positively reinforcing to our self esteem since Maestros taught us short, simple, easy to understand steps, and yet they were also difficult to execute, but not onerously so. They did not try to string into a long sequence the various things we already knew reasonably well to illustrate how much astoundingly creative they are in their dance.

They were also incredibly good sports, and both maestros danced with all the students, regardless of their skill levels. I’ve been to workshops in the past with some substantially lesser teachers refused to dance with their class students for fear of hurting themselves (and I totally understand that, many of them being the famous performers that they are), which just goes to show how humble and interested in their students’ development Carolina and Donato are. The classes were on the small side, so we got ample individual attention. I felt very cared for as a student, which often times I do not feel at all (especially in some of the larger classes).

The classes had many exercises, especially the back sacada one, where we first started with overturned back ocho exercises for the Follower, followed by regular ocho exercises for the Leader. The sequences taught included Follower back sacadas and Leader back sacadas.

In the colgada and volcada classes, we started at a very basic level, and just did a regular colgada (or volcada) going counterclockwise on the Follower’s right supporting standing leg. To this, we spent a lot of time on technique, and then added more circularity for increased dynamics. Then they strung this into a sequence (such as using a Leader’s back sacada directly into a Follower colgada).

I am glad Pablo decided that we should take these workshops. It was a very rewarding, happy experience. They will be teaching at Austin in Fandango de Tango, and my other motive for taking these workshops was so that it would free up our time there to take lessons of other maestros. However, now it seems we will have a problem, because those teachers at Fandango are all so darn good and now I want to take all of Carolina and Donato’s classes there. There are just some days when I wish I could clone myself so I could take all the workshops taught by all the fantastic maestros (visiting or residing here in SF or at festivals where they have 5 rooms going at the same time, four times a day, like at Fandango).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas: “The Art of Surprise”

Surprises are little jokes, little surprises, to make things fun. They are easy, and the number is endless.

We began with games/warm-up exercises to get us in the mood.

Game 1: The D’Arienzo Surprise.

To D’Arienzo’s Nada Mas, we worked on the concept of surprise. Nada Mas is a song with lots of rhythmic accents, and every strong beat can be a moment of surprise. Everyone was to walk around the room, in all directions, and at the moments of the strong beats in the song, we were to touch someone (appropriately) with both our hands on the outside of their shoulders to surprise them on the strong beat.

Game 2: Flowing versus Freezing.

To develop the idea of Flowing versus Freezing, we were to dance. During the song, Maestro would periodically call out “stop”, at which point we were to freeze. Then he would call out “go”, and we would continue to dance. We were not to pause during the flowing parts of the music. We were to try to step on every strong beat.

After we did this, Maestra asked how it was. Some leaders found it disconcerting when someone commands you to stop. Was it manageable? Could you prepare yourself and your follower? The leaders said it takes half a beat. The goal is to be prepared. It helps if you know the music so you can anticipate when to freeze.

Exercise 1: The Statue.

This was an exercise to get us to be really connected to the floor and our own bodies. One person, the statue, stands with two feet on the floor, with arms up a bit. The other person, by touching or gently pushing (appropriately), tries to move parts of the statue, first one part in one direction, and then another part in a different or same direction. The body parts are random and could include shoulder, fingertip, thigh, forehead, back of head, elbow, etc. The goal of the Statue was to maintain a solid state, be balanced and attached to his whole body, to breathe normally and resist the push and be stiff like a statue, regardless of what body part was being pushed.

Level 2 of the Statue Exercise:

The statue stands on one foot and tries to remain stable and solid with no moving body parts while the other one touches/pushes on his body parts.

Chapter 1 of the lesson:
Freeze the Follower in the middle of the rock or side step. The Leader freezes the Follower after her reach, but not necessarily when her weight has transferred. The key point is for the Leader to know where the Follower is, so that he can play with the timing. Leader should not hold the Follower with tension. On the rock step, the Leader should not put all of his weight on the forward step. Instead, he should reach in his step, ground into the floor and bend his knee, exhale and be like a statue. For the exit, the Leader’s body goes up a little, his body loosens up a little, and the energy goes forward.

The Follower needs to match the Leader’s energy, whether it is a little soft energy or a lot of big or powerful energy (they can practice Tai Chi Tango arm and arm circular energy exercises for this). She also needs to match his qualities and feel the release to be able to move freely after the freeze. We attempted to dance with Freezes on the rock step or side step to D'Arienzo's Nada Mas.

Next exercise: We practiced dancing to a different, less rhythmic song, continuing to do our walking and freezing during the rock step or side step. Through this exercise we realized we could incorporate the concept of freezing into other movements, like the boleo. For the freeze, it is important for the Leader to present one voice of lead to the Follower, where all factors reinforce that there’s something different going on. So he needs to (1) find the moment and ground, (2) exhale and be like a statue, (3) compress the embrace.

Chapter 2: Leader tries to trap Follower’s foot in a quick sandwich without stepping on her foot. It is easier to trap the Follower’s right foot, by the Leader approaching with his right foot first, and then completing the quick sandwich with his left foot. For this, the Leader needs to be snappy to catch the surprise to stop the Follower in the middle of her weight so that she doesn’t collect. We also tried capturing the other foot, or capture the feet in different ways. This is a surprise for the Follower; it’s a sneak attack.

Next, maestros demonstrated some other surprises: The Jump, The Cross Jump (Follower’s right foot is easier than her left foot), and the Pitter Patter. For the Pitter Patter, the Leader should wait for the Follower’s right foot to go back, then he will wind up on her right foot as they finish. The Follower can also do surprises like at the end, by sneaking her foot in between the Leader’s feet as he attempts to collect.

Chapter 3: This final chapter is sophisticated, elegant, and can be a little dangerous. First maestros demo’d the Follower forward ochos with Leader paradas, both on the open and close side. The “surprise” was when the Leader stops the Follower as her leg goes up to pasada over his parada leg. To surprise the Follower, the Leader leads a series of (2 or 3) Follower ochos with Leader regular paradas with her regular pasada several times before he surprises her with his stop. He leads the surprise stop this by lifting his heel and bringing his knee/shin closer toward the Follower to catch her leg. The sweet spot of the Follower’s leg is at the shin/ankle/instep. For the exercise, the Follower needs to be honest and not anticipate the surprise.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Calo’s Al Compas Del Corazon. See the video at

Someone let the cat out of the bag that I had recently completed a trip around the sun, and so we celebrated at the Practica with a vals. I had a good time, but I found it very nerve-wracking to dance with a lot of leaders who I had never danced with before. It was fun though.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Workshops at Fandango de Tango in Austin.
Guillermo Merlo y Fernanda Ghi workshp on “Understanding the Axis and Its Dynamics”.
We worked on the concept, and so began with exercises to focus on axis, and keeping it in the middle between the two dancers. The connection between the two is always there. Our goal was to feel the center. We began with simply doing Follower forward and back ochos while the Leader steps side to side. The goal was for both dancers to keep their torsos facing each other, and for the Follower go have good ocho technique (reach, transfer weight, pivot). Weight should be forward at the ball of the foot for balance, pivot, and good rotation. We did another exercise where the Leader uses lift to stop he Follower, to do a sacada of his left foot of Follower’s left foot, to walk around. We were to focus on shifting the balance. It was a challenging workshop.

Nito y Elba Garcia workshop on “Tango”.
We began with a series of walking with embellishment exercises (with ochos, rulos, amagues, pivots, weight changes). Next, we applied these exercises to a sequence that included a right leg Leader rulo to back cross, immediately into a left leg Leader rulo to a back cross as Follower does a counterclockise molinete around him, into a change of direction, and various other interesting little steps. The class was on the small size, so it was like having a group private. It was an excellent class.

Carolina del Rivero and Donato Juarez workshop on “Paradas and Pasadas”.
This was another excellent workshop where we they showed us a simple step three or four times, and we were to reproduce it. Depending on how well we did, we discussed and delved into the technique of it to make it as clean and natural as possible. Unfortunately, there was a Follower’s Technique workshop at the same time, so this class was unbalanced with too many Leaders.

The milonga was OK. Since it was the first night of the festival, it was not packed. However, it was fun as floor craft was generally pretty good and it wasn’t crowded. Interestingly, there is a pretty good representation from San Francisco, with Christy (of course), Chelsea, Debbie, John, Darrel, Amy, Jenkin, Pablo, and El Greco, with Junior Scout Extraodinaire expected Thursday.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

November 12-18 (no notes, Studio TangoVida comments)

I haven't been dancing in the last week because I've had a cold and want to be 100% well before I dance.

In the meantime, I received an email announcing that Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt's Studio TangoVida is moving to Miami Beach, Florida.

The annoucement filled me with sadness, and got me to thinking about my own very positive experience with Studio TangoVida:

It was a huge, tremendous blessing for the San Francisco Bay Area to have them while they were here.

I consider Jennifer Bratt to be one of the best Ladies’ Technique teachers in the country, heck the world! My assertion doesn't come from a lack of exposure (my Ladies’ Technique teachers include Graciela Gonzalez [my first!], Chelsea Eng, Cristina Ladas, Carolina Rozenstroch, Alicia Pons, Luz Castineiras, Negracha Lanau, Arona Primalani, Rosa Corsico, Alejandra Gutty, Gachi Fernandez, Maria Eugenia De La Latta, Patricia Gomez, with special mention of Laura Tate, who only taught me two pre-milonga group lessons with Orlando Paiva, Jr., but who in one sentence, gave me a huge, profound nugget of wisdom regarding Ladies’ Technique).

When Studio TangoVida first opened, I felt exceedingly lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from Jennifer Bratt, whose BewitchingBlackLotus YouTube videos I had been captivated by. When the studio opened, they offered three Ladies’ Technique classes every week, and were running a special of an 8-class pass for $100 per month. So I pounced on that, and went to as many of their Ladies’ Technique classes as I could possibly fit into my schedule (which was easy at the time since I was unemployed). When the studio first opened, the very first Ladies’ Technique classes were topically focused: one day walking, one day ochos, one day molinetes, etc. How we drilled, and drilled and drilled, and left lots of fingerprints on the mirror! But oh how much we learned! Jennifer taught us many Ladies’ Technique exercises and things we could do to improve at home (or anywhere) without any equipment or another person to help us or hang on to. I swear, learning and practicing to do molinetes on my own (first in low shoes and then in high heels), without a partner or column to hang onto, and without a chair to do it around, but absolutely on my own as Jennifer taught us to, was one of the toughest, and yet one of the most profoundly effective exercises for molinete balance and weight transfer I had ever experienced.

From a student perspective, those first Ladies’ Technique classes were small enough so we got lots of individual attention. From a business standpoint, I speculate that it was not sustaintable to have less than a dozen students at these classes, so eventually the schedule switched to fewer Ladies’ Technique classes and more group classes (vals, milonga, dramatic tango, rhthymic tango), which had greater attendance. As TangoVida adjusted its schedule, they renamed the class simply "Ladies’ Technique" with no specific topic of ochos, molinetes, etc., and cut it back to only twice a week. I still went to those classes as well.

Those classes had very regular structure, beginning with foot strengtening, posture, weight transfer and disassociation exercises, followed by much time spent on walking (sometimes the whole class), and a small amount of time working on other aspects of Ladies’ Technique (ochos, molinetes, embellishments, things that would relate to the subsequent tango partnered dancing class). Pablo couldn't understand why I went to TangoVida so often for Ladies’ Technique. I told him what we worked on, and it always sounded the same to him. He thought Ladies’ Technique was all about adornos, and he believed that I already knew how to walk pretty. Ha! I came to realize I actually knew very little about walking until Jennifer taught me about weight transfer and the subtle nuances and variations of how to walk well, and we had the chance to drill them over, and over, and over, day in and day out, several times a week.

Every time I went to a TangoVida Ladies’ Technique class, I got an additional or deeper insight into some aspect of Ladies’ Technique. And yes, some things Jennifer said, I had heard her say many times before. But maybe it wasn't until the 20th time she said it, that I actually understood it or could do it physically. Muscle memory often takes a while to develop...and intellectual understanding...well, sometimes that takes even longer.

It always surprised me that more people weren't at the TangoVida Ladies’ Technique classes in San Francisco. Maybe that's the thing about Ladies’ Technique... I believe you really have to go, every week (several times a week if you are lucky), and drill the same things over and over, build your body slowly but strongly and surely... To some dancers, that might seem boring or pointless. They dislike having to be told the same things over and over, or doing the same things over and over, and think that to improve their tango they need to have a “dance partner” to practice fancy, showy moves with. Some of these dancers continue to walk or dance in the same (unbalanced, unconnected, unimproved) way... Some dancers are in such a rush to learn all the pretty/fancy things they can do, but long before their bodies and minds understand that the beauty of tango is in the subtlety of movement... A lot of it boils down to how you walk, and how your limbs move (not only as they are embellishing) with grace, elegance and sensuality, which comes from balance, strength, understanding and control of your body to get the type of freeness, fluidity, precision, and expression that is aesthetically appealing.

Ney Melo is great, awesome, and wonderful as a teacher and as a person as well. Fantastic maestro of musicality, fun sense of humor, and excellent with conveying respect about milonga codigos and floor crafting.

Ney and Jennifer were incredibly generous toward the San Francisco tango community. When the economy turned horrendously sour, they offered a recession special, only $25 for unlimited classes for new students or unemployed people. This act of generosity not only brought a lot of new people into the community and improved their dancing (a good thing), but it also caused those who were unemployed to be less depressed and less isolated (a very good thing).

Anyway, sorry to ramble on...But I just feel so strongly about what a great Ladies’ Technique teacher Jennifer Bratt is, and what a tremendous blessing it was for the SF Bay Area to have her and Ney Melo and Studio TangoVida.

To South Beach Miami: You are SOOOOO lucky!!!!

To San Francisco: Condolences to us. :o(

To Jennifer Bratt & Ney Melo: Thank you SOOOOOO much! I hope I never forget all that you’ve taught me. Thank you for the generosity you showed me and the SF tango community. You have my sincere appreciation for all that you’ve done tangowise, and all that you are as human beings. Good luck with everything in South Beach Miami and beyond! XO

Announcement email from Studio TangoVida:

We are pleased to announce that we are moving TangoVida to South Beach Miami!

As for farewell parties, there will be 2 parties, one on Sunday and
one on Tuesday:

1) We are teaching our last class at Cafe Cocomo on Sunday Nov. 29,
7:30pm - 9pm, followed by a milonga

2) Ney will be the DJ at El Valenciano on Tuesday Nov. 24th, 9pm - ????

All the info is on the website or you become a fan of our Facebook

Thursday, November 12, 2009

November 5-11

Friday, November 6, 2009

Monte Cristo Milonga with lesson before by Cecilia Gonzalez and Somer Surgit: Playing with the Cross.
We began with shifting weight while the Follower is in the cross (8CB to 5). The goal here was for the Leader to be more sensitive to the Follower’s weight shift and how she responds. We were not to rush through the movement and just make her escape, we were to be slow and take our time to increase our sensitivity as both Leader and Follower. When we did this sufficiently, we could dance out to resolution. There are many ways to change the Follower’s weight. We can do this in parallel system or cross system (same or opposite feet), or with more rotation in the Leader’s chest/torso. Next, we worked on unwinding the cross, by getting the Follower’s left foot going ahead of the right foot toward the left side, while the Leader has a weight shift and rotation in his chest. This is a subtle move. Next, we did the cross “fake out” whereby the Follower has a front cross of the left foot, and then it comes immediately back out ahead of the right foot to the left, and then she steps back left. This is all one continuous move of going into the cross, and then back out. The key here is to not let the Follower change weight while the Leader takes two steps. In the cross, we were not to create distance, as these are all just weight shifts. The footwork for the Leader is right, back, change weight, forward step. The Leader arrives on the ball of his foot to make the step more responsive. If he arrives on his heel he will be to slow and sluggish. These we did all in cross system. We were not to be tense with our legs, but relax them so they go smoothly. We were to relax into the floor with our supporting leg. The idea is that the Leader makes the Follower do the fake out as if her leg were a piece of silk – light, fluid. This fake out is a little boleo, smooth and suspended (not sharp). To conclude our work on crosses, we were to dance doing all of these cross variations: with weight changes in normal and cross system, with the unwind, and with the fake out. Next, a small sequence: In the cross system, the Leader goes to the Follower’s left side. The Leader does front cross of his left leg to the right side, then rotates his torso to do a Leader’s enrosque. The Follower rotates on her right leg to change weight, and as the Leader rotates, she goes into a left leg ocho cortado front cross. Leader steps back with his right leg and Follower steps forward outside with her right foot. We were not to exaggerate the step, because nothing has changed. For the Follower, it is a complete weight change into the ocho cortado cross. It was a good lesson. I found the teaching to be much clearer than the last time (January 2009) I took a lesson with Cecilia Gonzalez (la famosa), perhaps because the maestro Somer was fluent in English. It seemed to me the teaching style was much more organized and methodical this time around. The milonga was fun, though I had to leave early and missed the performance.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cecilia Gonzales and Somer Surgit workshops:

1. Turns in Two Systems– Int

2. Changes of Direction – Int

3. Sacadas for Men & Women – Int/Adv

Turns: For this first workshop, we began with an exercise in parallel system. We began with the molinete counterclockwise to the Follower front cross step, to pivot to change direction, immediately into a clockwise molinete. For Follower’s technique, it should be a natural turning, to try to get into the energy of the turning, rather than just doing the step. There is twist in the upper body, so the release to the side step is natural. There should be no effort to make the pivot into the open step, it should just be a natural release. The back cross is a consequence of the front step and release of the side step. The Leader gives the direction, and the Follower needs to stay with him. The Leader should continue his chest rotation all the time. Follower should make the turn travel through her spine. For Leader’s technique, he needs to be clear from the beginning that after the side step, it is a forward step for the Follower. We attempted to do our molinetes on the strong beat, on beat (not double time), to practice this concept of the Leader making it more clear for the Follower and to rotate his torso and make the rotation continuous (there is no need to wait). The Follower should not feel any “cut” in the movement. For Follower’s technique, we were to adjust our body and embrace all the time, to take the shape that we need to be able to twist well and get around the Leader comfortably. Then we changed to doing the molinete in cross system, still using single time only (not double time). After that, we added the QQ double time Follower step on the back and subsequent side step, while Leader remains in double time. We did this counterclockwise and then immediately into clockwise. It was noted that here it changes system from cross system to normal system because the Follower takes an extra step in double time, while the Leader does not as he remains in single time as he is stepping on each beat. The Leader leads the Follower’s QQ double time step by stepping on her back step with his right foot, and then on her forward step with his left foot. Next, we did the cross system turn, starting with back ochos to molinete (B-S-F-S) while leader steps on his right foot on her back step, and on his left foot on her forward step. We did this doing counterclockwise molinete into clockwise molinete. Follower’s Technique: The back step of the molinete should be as close to the Leader as possible (it is an overturned back ocho step). To help her in this, she should try to get her leg to go to the opposite back shoulder blade. The idea is not in the hips, it’s in the whole spine, so she should open up that opposite shoulder blade as she does the back cross step. I thought this point was a huge nugget of wisdom. To lead the Follower step forward into the Leader after the molinete, he rotates his left shoulder back as he steps back with his right leg, so there is a lot of torsion and contra body rotation in his body. Then the Leader steps around her. Between the ochos, playing with one direction to the other, the Leader changes weight, moves his hips, the consequence is that he gets lots of power to turn her in the other direction without much effort on his part.

Changes of Directions (alterations):
Working from the idea of the molinete, the Leader meets the Follower’s back step, blocks her from pivoting, and turns to the other side. Leader and Follower are on the same leg. The open side is more difficult. The Leader should lead so that the Follower doesn’t take too large a step on the Leader’s left side. On the closed side, the Leader should be sure his right arm doesn’t block her. He needs to get behind her and change the embrace. We practiced the changes of direction from the Follower back cross step to a Follower front cross step while the Leader does regular open steps to the side. Here, we noticed that we were on the same legs (Leader and Follower on left leg or Leader and Follower on right leg). Next, we worked in parallel system, so the Leader receives the Follower’s back cross step with a front cross step of his own (not a side step). He needs torsion in his chest for this to work. There is a change of size of steps as Leader does small, shorter steps or longer steps as needed. For the Follower, she generally takes a small, short back cross step, and a longer front cross forward step to get around and in front of Leader. Finally, we linked them all: back to front, front to back, in parallel system and cross system, using an extra side step for the Follower to link them. There was ample time to drill during class. Pablo and I had an easier time at this workshop since our foundational knowledge from Chelsea was solid.

Sacadas: We began with a sequence of a side step (Leader’s left, Follower’s right), to Leader’s right leg forward sacada of Follower’s left foot side step, Leader changes weight, Follower does left leg forward sacada of Leader’s left foot, weight change to the right, to Leader’s left leg forward sacada of Follower’s left leg. Follower’s technique: Follower collects at every step/opportunity. Leader needs to control the axis at the point of the sacada (so there should not be any tilt forward or back, he needs to be on balance on axis). The Follower should go underneath the Leader at the point of the sacada, not fall into him or her legs. The energy is like an L shape (\_>). Next, we changed that third sacada of the sequence into the Leader’s back sacada of his left foot of Follower’s left foot. Leader’s technique: The idea of the back sacada works the same as for the forward sacada. The Leader has to reach the same point near the Follower’s left foot, stepping in the same place. His leg should be relaxed. It should not shoot out quickly like a bullet from a pistol to contact her left foot with force or deeply. It should be a gentle, little step. The Leader needs to relax his heel, but don’t let it go out, keep it in. He should reach his axis and arrive with his foot placement first, and then step back to complete the sacada, arriving on his foot with his entire weight as for a regular step, with no lean forward since he needs to maintain his axis. There is a change of embrace on the close side so that it is easier for the Leader to get in the correct position. The Leader can stop the Follower when her weight his on her right leg before he does is sacada. Do not run. The Follower should try to collect as naturally as possible after the sacada, not be fast and forced, but she shouldn’t leg her leg flail out wildly either. Next, we worked on the Follower’s back sacada of her right leg to Leader’s right leg open step to the side. Next, we did the Follower’s forward sacada of her left leg to Leader’s left leg. How the Leader leads the Follower Back Sacada: It is the same idea as the first class. The Leader uses forward and side steps as he gets around the Follower. There is rotation in his chest. The Leader leads it because he controls it. The Follower has to pivot first completely before entering with her back sacada. She has to wait for the Leader to lead her to step back. The Leader keeps no weight on his right foot (the one that will receive the sacada). The Leader opens his arm/chest to make her step back. Next, we did the Follower’s back sacada into the Follower left leg forward sacada into the Leader’s left leg. This was linked by a change of direction. Next, we did a Follower left back sacada to the back of the Leader’s right leg. This one was very tricky, and it is important that both dancers are not too close to each other. There is also Leader hip rotation out and away to present his right leg for the sacada. He also cannot try to look at her the entire time because then his body won’t be in the correct position. He could look at her as he sets it up, but after that, he has to turn his head away, otherwise his chest will be in a weird position and this won’t work. This last one was very challenging, too challenging for me and Pablo, so we just worked on the other sacadas, forward and back, Leader and Follower.

Sunday, 11/8: Monte Cristo Club, SF

4. Refreshingly New Combinations – Int

5. Musicality & Combinations– Int/Adv

6. Volcadas in Combinations – Int/Adv

New Combinations:
We began directly with a sequence of the Follower’s right leg gancho of the Leader’s outside left leg on the open side of the embrace. Here, we were to focus on becoming accustomed to the rebound energy. Next, we backed up a bit and just did the Follower’s forward ocho of the left leg, with no pivot to feel the freeness of movement of the Follower’s linear gancho. Then, the Leader turns his torso to lead the Follower to gancho her right leg to his outside left leg. The lead is with a little weight shift and a little rotation, but no push or pull. So the Follower does a forward ocho with her left foot, while the Leader steps to the side left with her. Leader moves closer and in front of her so she remains on axis as she ganchos his outside left leg with her right leg. Next, we worked on the Leader controlling the gancho, to unwind her. Leader should have soft hips. The question came up of sometimes the Follower kicking the Leader’s back of his right leg. This happens when the Leader brings his right leg too close to his left leg. The Leader should not change the position of his right leg. His weight is on his right leg to receive the gancho on his outside left leg. The Follower right leg gancho/rebound is led by the Leader being on his right leg, and having a little torso rotation. So it’s a shift, and come back movement. The Leader’s left foot does not have his heel down during her gancho. Follower should not fall into the Leader, as she should be remaining on her axis (and Leader should not pull or push her off axis either). Follower should let the leg be really free to understand the feeling. Next, we worked on trying to control the Follower’s right ganchoing leg, with the Leader keeping it, and then sending it out. Next, we built on that so that the gancho went directly into the Follower’s right leg front cross, into a left leg regular volcada. To get the Follower into the front cross, the Leader receives the gancho, and then he moves his left leg back and to the left side, out of the way of the Follower’s right leg, so that it automatically goes to a front cross as a consequence of the Leader moving a bit clockwise, and her leg being sent out and free. The Leader should remain close to the Follower’s axis. Next, we worked on challenging the Followers a bit by randomly alternating doing the gancho to the Leader’s outside left leg, or faking her out by going directly into a front cross to volcada (with no gancho before). Next, we worked on the gancho of the Follower’s right leg of the Leader’s right leg, while the dancers are more adjacent / parallel (but not quite) than facing each other. To this too, we added the Follower front cross into a volcada. Next combination: 8CB to 5, Leader does right foot forward unweighted step right next to the left foot of Follower’s crossed feet, to send Follower’s right leg out of the cross, and back into a Follower right leg gancho of the Leader’s right leg (his weight is on the back left leg). The tricky thing is for the Leader to get his right foot in forward next to the Follower’s crossed left foot WITHOUT weight. To unwind her cross, he sends both their weight forward. To get her right leg to gancho his right leg, he sends his weight back.

Musicality: We began with a simple sequence done to eight beats. We were to dance to a song (Di Sarli), trying to always start this sequence on the “1”. Then we were to do the sequence, alternating with our own improvisation on the next 8 beats, and then back to the sequence, always starting on “1”. The idea was to be able to recognize where the phrase starts and end. We also practiced this idea to a D’Arienzo song. Then we learned another simple 8-step sequence that included a Follower left foot back ocho to the open side and back boleo on the closed side. Again, we were to dance this phrase, always starting on the “1”. We did this to Di Sarli. Then we were to dance using the first sequence, the second sequence, and then improvise for the 3rd eight beats. Next, we danced to La Cumparsita, really trying to catch where the music stops and to make a pause there. Next, we worked on double time steps. We were to do only walking steps (forward, back, in place), but do it in double time when we heard it in the music.

Volcadas: We began with falling / trust exercises. The Follower shifts her weight slowly forward to the balls of her feet, and falls forward while maintaining good posture (core engagement, no breaking in back either forward or backward). The Leader catches her in the shoulders to sustain her, taking a step back, and returns her back to axis. The Follower keeps the same line as when she is standing. The Leader’s should not create a lot of distance and not lean back. The Leader uses his back foot to puss off to get Follower back to axis. Follower projects the spine up, and the sensation for the Follower is for her to go above and over Leader’s head. Next, we did the same exercise, only we used the frame in our arms. The Leader needs to receive the Follower with his torso, not his tummy. The contact is on the closed side, arms/ torso only, NO contact in the chest. Next, we went on to the Leader’s left leg sacada of Follower’s right leg to cause her right leg to do a back cross, to unwind her left foot into a front volcada. The Follower needs to let the leg go in the direction of where she is falling. The Leader takes a back step with his left leg, but keeps his body forward to lead the Follower’s left foot forward volcada. His goal is to make the movement round. Next, we added more turn/circularity to this same movement, which caused us to get the side volcada (or funny/armpit volcada). Here, after the Leader’s left leg sacada of the Follower’s right leg, the energy and circularity of movement causes the Follower’s right leg to do a fuller back cross step, and the Leader taking her off axis and his simultaneous rotation around her causes her to do the side (funny / armpit) volcada. The last thing we did was play with the free volcadaing leg of the Follower, with the Follower relaxing the leg and the Leader playing with it by faking it out, back and forth.

My overall impressions of the Cecilia Gonzalez (la famosa) y Somer Surgit workshops:
I found the instruction to be very clear and organized. Like in January, I especially like Maestra’s communication energy – she is very calm, her voice melodic and soothing, with a very patient and encouraging cadence, sprinkled with humor. Maestro is very clear and extremely methodical in his delivery, so they make an excellent teaching team. Both provided ample individual feedback to the couples, and could see right away why something wasn’t working, and what the fix was. And FYI, Maestra Cecilia Gonzalez (la famosa) is encouraging of note taking. :o) And so is Gary Weinberg, for that matter. :o)

Just some Random Thoughts:
I’ve taken many workshops from visiting maestros organized by Gary Weinberg and Nirmala or Deirdre, and I really like how these are structured. They are usually 6 workshops that build on each other, given over a weekend, with usually a partner/volume discount (so the price goes to $20 per person per workshop if you take all 12 instead of the full price of $25 per person per workshop if you take 1, which is still quite reasonable), which makes for more gender balanced classes. These workshop series are wonderful in that they give students time to really study quite deeply with a visiting maestro, in a very structured, organized manner. I get the impression that a lot of thought goes into the workshop topics, and sometimes we are blessed to have the same visiting maestros come twice in the same year, so they and we can tell if we’ve done our homework since the last time they visited. These workshop series are almost like mini tango festivals in and of themselves, and the teachers are always superb. And even when the maestros come twice in one year, the workshop topics are entirely different from each other, so it’s always fresh and challenging.


Word on the madera is that the events not to be missed are the Blas Rivera musicality classes. They are supposed to be knock-your-socks-off fantastic: funny, witty, able to get your brain to a different place when it comes to musicality. “Like nothing you’ve ever seen before” “You don’t want to miss it” were some comments I heard.

Thursday November 12 EL VALENCIANO

8:00-9:30pm Comparing the great orchestras: (Di Sarli, D’arienzo, Pugliese and Piazzolla)

$20 Workshop

Friday November 13 MONTE CRISTO

8:00-9:00 pm class w/Blas Rivera

9:00pm-midnight milonga w/live music

$20 milonga and class

Sunday, November 15, STUDIO GRACIA

7:30 pm- 8:30pm Musicality and Rhythm: Learn to distinguish their different rhythm, beats and phrases.

8:30 pm- 1:00am Milonga.

$20 milonga and class

And there is still time to join in on the Thanksgiving Weekend fun:

This will be my third year; I absolutely love it. :o)

What else am I excited about?? Well, lots…

Enriqueta Kleinman coming to town. November 18-24

Santiago and Amy Walking Classes

Outdoor Free milongas at Lands End

Registration begins for CCSF classes. Because of the state budget cuts, no printed class schedules will be mailed. So you will have to take a peek at for the dance class schedule

and registration info. Classes are $26 for all California residents. CCSF has a FANTASTIC dance program (including, ballroom Latin, swing, hip hop, modern, Afro-Haitian, ballet, etc., etc., etc., etc.). New to CCSF students need to apply NOW to be ready for the upcoming Spring 2010 registration period.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

October 29 - November 4

Saturday, October 31, 2009.

The Late Shift Milonga with lesson beforehand by Mariano Bielak & Paula Gurini.
The two patterns taught were simple ones. 8CB to 5 (to big Follower exaggerated cross), with Leader’s right foot back cross at point of Follower cross. To clockwise molinete of Follower right foot forward (Leader left foot sacada), and Follower side step (Leader right leg sacada), out to resolution. There was much technical detail. The second pattern was a counter clockwise molinete, and on her left foot back cross step, Leader leads her to do a right foot back boleo, to clockwise molinete, out to resolution. Maestra made a point of talking about the different types of boleos, and that for this pattern, it was a more of a sharp straight back boleo, but only after the point of pivot, so that the Follower’s boleoing leg remains near the dancers, on the close side of the embrace. It is important also for the Follower to let her foot return completely to the floor after the boleo before pivoting back around, rather than kept up as it goes around behind them and taking out the dancers in front of them. It was a good lesson. I found the teachers to be very effective, with a balanced presentation of Leader and Follower technique. Both Maestros are fluent in English. Their performance during the milonga was very pretty. The Costume Party was fun. Being in costume in my opinion equalizes everyone, and it seemed like we were all more lighthearted and happy. Kudos to the organizers for putting in a decorative spooky Halloween tree in the middle of the dance floor, as it improved floor crafting vastly. The food and water were more ample than usual. Chelsea won the costume contest with Wonder Woman, with Christy coming in close behind as Bat Girl. The other costumes ranged from ridiculous to sublime, with only a sprinkling of the truly bizarre. But I was happy that so many people made the effort. It was especially amusing to see people who are normally bald with hair. Some costumes were so good I could barely recognize the person and had to do a double take before my brain registered who they were. It has been many years since I’ve celebrated Halloween in the San Francisco Bay Area (I usually spend it in Yonkers at the Castle, but was unable to this year because of a freak tornado in the middle of summer…thank you global warming), but I was totally impressed how the tango community really went all out with their costumes. Kudos to you (us!) all!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

CCSF Classes with Chelsea Eng. In Follower’s Technique,
we began with our usual walking, floor (which was much more challenging this week, concentrating on our core muscles), and barre exercises to improve our balance, speed, coordination, disassociation, and strength, among other things. At the barre, we continued our work on boleos. Afterwards, we did exercises in trios on ganchos to get the shape of the foot right and engage our entire leg in the process. In Advanced, we linked boleos (front to back and back to front), on the close and open sides, with and contra. They were both very good classes, as usual, with ample time to drill, which we all needed.

Come Join Me!!!

A very belated invitation to join me this year at Fandango de Tango in Austin. It is an AWESOME festival! And truly a festival for the most single of singletons since it occurs over Thanksgiving weekend, at time when a lot of single folks are with the family. So if you don’t have family you want to hang out over roast turkey with, come to Austin!! I, Pablo, Jr. Scout Extraordinaire, Amy, Jenkin, and local maestra Christy Cote (teaching with Facundo Posadas) will also be there! In the past Darrel and Linda have joined me (dunno if they will this year; I speculate they will have a different roomies other than me this time around ;o) )… The Omni is an excellent venue, and you never have to leave the hotel if you don’t want to. There is a free shuttle to/from the airport, and Wal-Mart is within walking distance if you are extremely frugal and don’t want to partake in the hotel food (which is also quite reasonable, and some dishes – like the beef salad at the bar – quite delicious) or want to cut your teeth on Black Friday bargains. Flights are cheapest through Southwest, though you can use your miles too if you have enough of them. Bring a swimsuit to enjoy the hot tub after the workshops and a hearty appetite for the Texas-sized meals, including the Thanksgiving brunch buffet!!