Thursday, December 31, 2009

December 24-31

Friday, December 25, 2009
Marcelo Solis's milonga at the Lafayette Dance Center.
No lesson on this night, it was just all milonga. This milonga occurred because Maestro's regular students asked for it, and he graciously complied. This was my first time here. It was easy to get to and there is ample parking. The facility is a storefront dance studio (dance floor is 20 x 50 feet perhaps?), with a small seating area at the front desk, which got quite cluttered with shoes and coats. The floor is rolled linoleum (not linoleum square tile), with two seams and some sticky spots, over something quite hard, not sprung. Needless to say, dancing on such a texture was a bit physically demanding (at least to my fifth decade bones) and pivotally challenging (no matter how hard I tried to channel Luciana Valle). However, it also slowed us down a little bit, and we all looked a lot more elegant and musical because of it; floorcraft was the best I have ever experienced at any milonga in the SF Bay Area. Many of the attendees were Maestro's regular students, and the rest were tango die hards, some of whom came from as far as Sacramento just for the event! Thought it wasn't a very large crowd, the skill level was good, and the gender balanced. It was an extremely friendly crowd, and everyone respected the milonga codigos of leaving the dance floor during the cortina and not dancing or standing through it, and not dancing more than one tanda at a time with anyone (including the couples who came together). So everyone got to dance with everyone else, including Maestro, which made for a very social, welcoming, inclusive environment. The food was ample as several of the regulars made it a potluck event, and snacky in nature (trail mix, baby satsumas, grapes, gourmet chocolate, baklava, veggie stix, home baked cookies). Several people also brought wine and champagne to supplement the water (from an excellent, large, sturdy, non-leaking water cooler) and apple juice. All in all, it was a very fun, excellent night.

Saturday, December 26, 2009
Late Shift Milonga at Cheryl Burke Dance.
I didn't make it for the lesson, taught by David and Mariana, but was told it was on side volcadas (linked). The milonga was lightly attended, likely because of the competing milongas (the very popular All-Nighter at the Beat, and Gustavo & Jesica's Sausalito Milonga) and the holiday weekend. Still, like yesterday, I had a good time. Skill level was good, gender was reasonably balanced, though skewed on the Leader side. I got to dance with several local maestros, so that was a nerve-wracking surprise, but definitely a treat. Floorcraft was pretty good and generally not an issue, though oddly we did get bunched up on the dance floor at times. Pretty much every follower danced the entire time, with only a few rotating leaders and the spectator non-dancers sitting things out. It was a very pleasant evening.

Sunday, December 27, 2009
Muscality class with Glenn Corteza at Bollyhood Cafe.
I decided to pop in to the Musicality class and skip the first fundamentals class since I am keeping an eye on the budget. The class on this day was follower-heavy, and since followers also had to lead as well as follow, I decided to sit the class out. Also, the Musicality part of the class never started, it just continued with fundamentals, with a focus on the cross system walk and ochos. Maestro had some good commentary on Follower's technique, with specifics on how the Follower's (erroneous) technique can knock a leader off balance, or how she can be better balanced by having good technique. One of the best things Maestro said that all that we learn about technique, we should use and apply it immediately in our dance, since these nuggets are like food. We do not go shopping and buy food to put in the fridge for six weeks and take it out six weeks later to cook and eat. We use it right away. That's the way tango technique nuggets should be, used and applied right away (not six weeks later). Maestro didn't charge me at all for the lesson since I sat it out and didn't physically participate in it, and hence I won't convey the detailed specifics of what he taught. The facility has a nice wood floor, though it is a space where it is two rooms made into one, and where the two rooms meet, there is a threshold in the floor where the structural support beams are, which made for some challenging spatial awareness/footwork issues. The Bollyhood Cafe is a beer and wine place, though they also serve Soju-based cocktails ($7). The bartender was super nice, and after he realized he made my Soju Margarita wrong (he added cranberry, so turned it into a Soju Margarita Cosmo), he offered to make me another, gratis, the way it should have been made. I thanked him but declined since I wanted to dance. I also ordered the Chicken Sandwich, and I was favorably impressed by the down-home spin using gourmet ingredients. My chicken sandwich came with real chopped chicken meat on whole wheat bread, with avocado, capers, and cucumber, with a side of baby lettuce, all lightly dressed, for a bargain $6. Parking is not super easy, so allow for some time to hunt for a street spot, which on Sundays are free and without time limits. It was a very relaxing way to while away a Sunday afternoon, and a fun place to go if you need to get more mileage on the milonga dance floor or want to work things out at the practica. The practica is guided with Maestro going around and helping students improve whatever they are working on.

Monday, December 28, 2009
Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas on "Why We Love D'Arienzo"

This is an intuitive movement class, as well as a class where we explore phrasing and rhythm, and how they are connected, focusing on the music of D'Arienzo.

Exercise 1:
We were to dance using only:
(1) weight change movement
(2) rock steps
(3) walking
as the building blocks for class. We were not to use any ochos or molinetes (turns).

Exercise 2:
The song for the exercise was Pensalo Bien.
The class was divided into two groups: (A) and (B).
Large phrase = paragraph.
During the first paragraph of the song, the first group (A), was to move around by themselves, using only (1) weight changes, (2) rock steps, or (3) walking.
During the second paragraph of the song, the second group (B), was to move around by themselves, using only (1) weight changes, (2) rock steps, or (3) walking.
During the next paragraph, group (A) would move around by themselves.
During the next paragraph, group (B) would move around by themselves.
The song Pensalo Bien was chosen because it has good structure and tight phrasing, as is typical with D'Arienzo, and on an overall paragraph level, he tells a good story.

Exercise 3:
The song for this exercise was also Pensalo Bien.
In the same group divisions, (A) and (B), each group would dance just the sentences.
Here, the point was not to count the beats. The goal was to intuitively feel where the sentence begins and ends.

Exercise 4:
Continuing our work with Pensalo Bien, we worked on microphrasing. Here, we broke up the sentence structure even further. Leaders would use one tool (weight change, rock steps, walking) for the whole sentence, working with the strong beat. That is, he would lead 1 sentence of walking only, 1 sentence of weight changes only, and 1 sentence of rock steps only. We attempted to dance this only on single time during the whole song, and noticed that for some moves, such as the rock step, it was very difficult to do in single time. The natural inclination is to do the rock step in double time. However, if we do it in single time, it enables us to pivot more.

Exercise 5:
Subdividing the Rhythm:
(1) Minimalism
(2) Maximalism

The idea behind Maximalism is to throw everything in there, and do it on the beat, including all the beats, if possible.
The idea behind Minimalism is to be restrained and let some beats go by without stepping on them.

To help us understand this difference, we danced to Pensalo Bien doing double time in most of our steps.

Exercise 6:
The song for this exercise was El Flete.
The class was divided into three groups: (A), (B), and (C).
During the first paragraph of the song, the first group (A), was to move around by themselves, using only (1) weight changes, (2) rock step, or (3) walking.
During the second paragraph of the song, the second group (B), was to move around by themselves, using only (1) weight changes, (2) rock step, or (3) walking.
During the third paragraph, the third group (C), was to move around by themselves, using only (1) weight changes, (2) rock step, or (3) walking.
During the next paragraph, group (A) would move around by themselves, etc.
For this song, it was noted that at the end, sometimes the sections overlap, so groups (A) and (C) could both be moving at the same time.

The Variacion:
A discussion followed on the "Variacion", which is the crazy part of the song at the end where typically the bandoneons do their solo in double time or double-double time or double-double-double time -- "almost" 1/16 time. Here is where the concept of Minimalism can be applied in our dancing, where the dancers can do something the exact opposite of what the music is doing. For example in this case during the variacion, the dancers can step emphasizing only the strong beat or step on every other beat, as opposed to Maximalism, where they would try to step on every beat during the variacion, in "almost" 1/16 time.

Chaos Factor:
A discussion followed on the Chaos Factor, where we could dance in single time, and throw in a double time when you feel like it, and it will likely work if you are dancing to D'Arienzo. This is because there is always the double time undertone of "chaka chaka chaka" in D'Arienzo's songs. That is why he is called "El Rey del Compas" -- the King of Rhythm. The train is always rolling underneath.

Switching from Single Time to Double Time
The question came up of how can/do Leaders prepare to switch from single to double time.
The answer was that they need to prepare a step before the switch actually occurs.
Sometimes they can lift, and take shorter steps, especially for double-double-double time ("almost" 1/16 time).
There is a very distinctive change of flavor, change of embrace to have more elasticity or breathing.
It helps if the Leader stays on the same flavor for a little bit (at least two steps) before changing.
It can be like a calm before the storm, with a pause or slowing down to build up, then an accelerating, then a stop, then a pause.
It also helps if the Leader knows the song well. The same goes for the Follower.

Exercise 7:
We were to dance the last song with no restrictions, but make clean phrasing. So we could do ochos, ganchos, boleos, etc., or keep the same movement if we choose.

Maestros concluded with a demo to D'Arienzo's Pensalo Bien, which can be seen at

The lesson and practica both were very crowded; skill level was good to excellent. Overall, it was a fun night.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Lesson at Cheryl Burke Dance taught by Pier Voulkos and Daniel Peters on Barridas and Colgadas.
I dropped in on the last class of a four-week class on Barridas and Colgadas. The sequence taught was from the molinete, where the Leader does a right foot barrida of Follower's right foot. Then he lets her out in colgada, and she steps over with her left foot counterclockwise. For the Colgada technique of the Leader, he needs to let the Follower out with his right arm; it is fully extended, his arm is straight but his wrist is bent and still provides support and connection with the Follower. The Follower's right arm should be straight also. The Leader needs to invade the Follower's space forward so that she has reason to go back in colgada. Follower should also not make the Leader pull her back in onto vertical axis. She should come back to axis naturally as a consequence of the circular impulse of the colgada coming to completion. Next sequence was a Leader right leg barrida of Follower's right leg, to reverse sweep of Follower's right leg barrida to Leader's right leg, back to another sweep of Leader's right leg to Follower's right leg. This was done with weight changes. Next, we did the 8CB to 5 (cross) to Follower right foot forward cross step clockwise, to Leader's right foot stop, to Leader's right foot barrida of Follower's right foot. Next, he could turn his right foot, and the bring her around clockwise to sandwich his right foot to Colgada around in a shared axis turn. Note that there is a Leader change of embrace where his fingers go from pointing toward 9 o'clock to 11 o'clock. The Follower steps out of this colgada shared axis turn with her left foot forward (Leader right step back). Notice that any colgada shared axis turn can be done on any forward cross / forward ocho step. We backed up a little so Leader's and Follower's could work on the colgada feeling/body technique with Leader stepping forward with his left leg and letting the Follower out in colgada, and then stepping back with his same left leg and then bringing Follower back to axis. Then we went onto link things in a Leader right leg barrida of Follower's right leg, to her colgada stepover of her left leg to a forward ocho to a right leg sandwich to a colgada shared axis turn. Then the class reviewed a colgada learned last week of Follower reverse barrida to Follower colgada. Overall, I thought the lesson was pretty good. It was held in the ballroom above World Gym, which can be a bit stuffy, and which has a peculiar tasting water fountain, so I would strongly recommend bringing your own water bottle. That said, it was still fun to dance with some of the leaders that I haven't danced with in over a year (why aren't y'all at milongas???!)

Scouting tour continues in the next few days from the San Diego Tango Festival.



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