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.

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