Thursday, December 24, 2009

December 3-23

Thursday, December 3, 2009
Verdi Club Milonga with lesson beforehand by Santiago Croce and Amy Lincoln.
The topic was "old fashioned sequences from the 50's." The sequence taught was a simple one, the most important aspect of which was the Follower falling back cross. Basically, she falls into the back cross, it is not a pretty, technical movement. The lesson and milonga were very crowded, so floorcaft was challenging at times. Still, it was nice to see so many people at the farewell party.

Saturday, December 5, 2009
Santiago Croce and Amy Lincoln advanced lesson for partners at La Pista.
This was a small lesson with only four couples, and we did not rotate. Maestros began with first asking each individual what aspect we wanted to work on (Leader's planeo, colgada, volcada, etc.), and they created a sequence that included all of these elements. Then we worked on these elements, really delving into the finer points. The most challenging aspect was for the Leader's enrosque/planeo, there is a point where he is at the mercy of the Follower to keep going with her counterclockwise molinete. Here, she must have tone in her right shoulder and not have it collapse, otherwise he will not get the energy he needs from her to maintain his axis on his stable, standing leg while his leg is out in a planeo. She cannot also wait for him to lead her around in the molinete while he is doing his planeo. The sequence also included a small colgada and small volcada. It is maestro's opinion that we all need to learn how to dance small, as they believe tango is returning to more milonguero style moves (as opposed to fantasia/performance/nuevo) since the milongas in general are getting more crowded and there is less room to dance big showy moves like huge volcadas.

Mat MaMoody and Shasha lesson at the Allegro.
We began with a very quick review of some fundamentals (ochos, 8CB). Some interesting performance moves were taught, such as the Follower right leg raise to the outside of the Leader's left hip. He can step back to keep her hooked on for a more dramatic flourish. We also worked on Follower back boleos. Since this is a performance class, Shasha taught the boleo as a leg up all-the-way around boleo, not returning back down to the floor until after she finishes her pivot on the other side (as opposed to the more social dancing type boleo where it is up and back down, as close to the dancing couple as possible, before the pivot, to avoid kicking the other dancers). It was a fun lesson, as usual.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009
CCSF classes with Chelsea Eng.
In Follower's Technique we began with a reading from the "On Following" section from Sally Potter's book "The Tango Lesson." Then we reviewed our floor, barre, and connection exercises. In Advanced, since it was review night, we worked on volcadas, which is what we began the semester with. I think we improved since then, and I found it helpful to hear again all the technical/physical aspects of following the volcada.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009
CELLSpace milonga with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas "Linear and Circular Impulsive Movements"

Our goal for the lesson was to work developing communication with our partners, focusing on the energy in communication to lead the Follower's leg to make certain shapes, linear or circular.

Exercise 1: Follower Small Circles

Done in open or close embrace, the Leader communicates a Follower small circle. The Leader leads the circle of the Follower's left or right leg, and he guides the direction of the circle, clockwise or counterclockwise. This exercise requires that dancers are able to do small circles by themselves. For Follower's technique, there are two different articulations of her feet on the floor: (1) the toe making the circle, or (2) the heel making the circle. The circle should be made from the hip bone and using the whole leg (not just below the knee). The freeness of the free circling leg depends on the stability of the standing leg. For Leader's technique, it is important that he pays attention to how he puts the Follower on one leg before starting to lead the circle so that he does not knock her off axis. The Leader communicates with the center of his body, not just his arms, when he communicates the circle. Leader tilts forward, then the Follower's leg goes back. Then he swings her leg around by swinging his body around a little, with the movement concentrated in his belly button.

Exercise 2: Linear or Circular Free Leg Exercise
Leader frees the Follower's leg so that it moves either in line or circular. Note that it takes time for the Follower to complete the movement, so the Leader needs to wait for her to collect before leading something else. The Leaders attempted to communicate the energy outward to do a counterclockwise circle of the Follower's right leg, or a clockwise circle of the Follower's left leg. Then the Leaders attempted to communicate the energy inward to do a clockwise circle of the Follower's right leg and a counterclockwise circle of the left leg. We recognized that in this exercise, being subtle is difficult. So our homework is to master the subtle feeling before going big.

Exercise 3: Follower Linear Side Extension
The Leader leads the Follower's leg out to the side as if for a side step while he remains in the same spot. There was no verbal instruction on how to do this; Leaders had to figure it out themselves. For the Follower there was no step or weight transfer, it was just a leg extension out to the side as the standing supporting leg grounds down into the floor.

Exercise 4: Pendulum Leg Exercise
We were to do this exercise with care and caution, and be responsible with our bodies and legs so that we do not cause harm to our fellow students. For the exercise, individually, we swung our whole leg back and forth like a pendulum, remaining strong and stable on our supporting standing leg, and with our rib cages up and upper bodies stable. Our arms were such that they looked like we were holding large imaginary beach balls. The Follower needs to be centered on her whole foot, not pushed forward on the ball of her foot because of her high heels, so that she will be maximally stable and not prone to being knocked over or imbalanced. The knees should be bent, not locked.

Exercise 5: Developing the Linear Boleo from the Pendulum Leg Exercise

Same as the Pendulum Leg exercise, only done with more energy and in partnership. The goal here was to get the Follower leg to go really high back behind her. The Leader takes one step forward to lead her to step back, but stops abruptly, preventing her body from continuing to go back (though it may continue to go back by one centimeter), but her back leg goes free and up behind her. This is a timing exercise. Then he steps back with her forward step as her back free leg returns forward. Leaders technique: Do not be afraid to lead her back. Prepare with your whole body. Use your breath, exhaling as he sends her back. Follower's technique: Go back with the whole body, just just the shoulders or butt.

Exercise 6: Colgada Counterbalancing

In partnership holding each other at the wrists, with our toes straight in line and touching each other at the tips, the Leader sends the energy back and goes back at the same time with his body so that both dancers counterbalance each other. The bodies are not bent or sitting. We were to maintain our rib cages up, cores engaged, and our bodies straight. We hung back a while counterbalanced, then came back to axis, then hung back again, then back to axis, several times. Maestro noted that the Follower going out and up with the leg is a consequence of the Leader counterbalancing her.

Exercise 7: Back Linear Boleo
The Leader takes one or two steps to have Follower's leg go back really high. Maestra emphatically pointed out this is just an exercise, and that on the social dance floor, the Follower should keep her leg down so that she does not kick or gouge anyone with her heel.

Exercise 8: Forward Linear Boleo
We were to build on the back linear boleo to a forward linear boleo between the Leader's legs. Here, we were to focus on the use of axis and energy, using it carefully otherwise you or your partner can get hurt. The Leader leads the forward linear boleo through his legs by creating a wall with his embrace after the Follower's leg goes back in the back linear boleo. He needs to make sure his legs are apart when leading the Forward linear boleo (otherwise she will kick him).

Comments about Linear Boleos on the Social Dance Floor:

Leaders need to be mindful when leading the back linear boleo (as well as all boleos). Ideally, the Follower's boleoing leg should be pointed out and away from the dance floor so that she will not kick anyone with her back linear boleoing leg. The Follower always has the option to do boleos low on the floor, not high, especially if conditions are crowded and it is dangerous to do on the social dance floor. In keeping the boleos low on the floor, she still responds to the energy and lead, but is also considerate toward other dancers on the social dance floor. The Follower is in control of her leg to answer big or small, no matter what the Leader's intentions are.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Fresedo's Cordobesita, which can be seen at

The milonga itself was quite fun. I don't go to CELLSpace very often, but I had a good time. Maestro reiterated many times to mind the line of dance. This particular night was special because it was a cancer benefit for a famous tango teacher originally from Buenos Aires and now based in U.S.; Project Tango raised more than $600 for her.

Saturday, December 19, 2009
Holiday Milonga at the Masonic in Mountain View.
I did not go to the lesson beforehand since I was at another party. The space has a very nice hardwood floor, high ceilings, and seemingly good natural ventilation (at least in the winter). There is ample, easy parking. Since this was a holiday milonga, the food was amped up a notch, and much better than I expected. The sandwich bar included pulled park, jerk pork, and tri tip on dinner rolls. Other than sauces and condiments there were no other sandwich fixin's (tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, that type of thing). The food was self-serve buffet style onto small paper boats, which slowed down the heavy eaters. I did not try any of the pork, but found the tri tip to be utterly delicious. The potato salad and coleslaw were on the extremely saucy side. There was ample wine, water, mulled wine, sangria, and punch. There was a selection of 4 desserts (lemon bar, Greek walnut cake, and two types of cakes). Overall, the food was extremely ample, and there were opportunities to take home leftovers if so inclined. As for the milonga itself, Sheldon the DJ did a very good, inspired, refreshing job, and played many songs that I had never heard before. The floorcrafting wasn't the greatest, but thankfully improved over the course of the night. I regret that it took me so long to make a trip down to this milonga, as I had eyed it for years. There was talk about decreasing the frequency of this milonga going forward, which would be kind of a shame.

Sunday, December 20, 2009
Cafe Cocomo milonga with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas: "Close to Open Transition to Promenade Plus One Alteration"

Close to Open Transition
We began with dancing with a transition from close embrace to open embrace and back to close embrace, seeing what we do, and how we do it. The music we used for the entire lesson was Di Sarli musicals from the 1950s.

Next, we worked on a specific transition close to open embrace, beginning with a side step, up, change weight, settling, and reaching with the other foot to make a side step one side to the other and back. Leader be clear with your intention and movement in your body. There is a "U" shaped energy in this side step action.

We continued to practice the side step and "U" energy intention.

Next, in practice hold and open embrace, from the side step, the Leader steps down in the "U" part to pivot into the Promenade (Americana) on the open side of the embrace. For the two dancers, it is like gears meshing, with the Leader right hip counterclockwise turn to face forward, and the Follower left hip clockwise turn to face forward.

Next, we added the arms to close embrace. Our bodies rolled together and opened up. The movement to lead the promenade (Americana) comes from the Leader's hips. The Leader steps to the left and then pivots with his right hip. It should have a whipping, surprise sensation to the energy.

We danced to one song in the line of dance, incorporating this step.

To end this step, the Leader's chest is up and open. The Leader stops after her step on the outside (right) leg, then he leads the Follower to step forward on her left leg inside and return to be in front of the Leader, back into close embrace.

Next, we did the human magnet exercise in open embrace with our feet 6-8 inches away from each other. Our bodies were straight up and down and we were on axis. Then we were to meet each other in the middle with our chests, matching each other's energy.

Then we did the same pattern going from open to close embrace and then back to open. The Leader at some points lets go of his right hand, while the Follower's left hand slides up as her body tilts forward in response to his lead to invite her to come back to close embrace.

The Follower's forward step to return in front of the Leader should be long and around (curved) into the Leader to transition to close embrace. The Leader opens up his left shoulder, and his axis tilts forward a little. The Follower should be able to sense this forward Leader tilt, and answer with a forward tilt of her own to meet the Leader.

From the promenade position, the Leader out steps the Follower with his right foot on her left foot forward step and turns clockwise so that after Follower gets back in front of Leader, she pivots on her left foot, to do a back step with her right foot and side step with her left foot in a half of a clockwise molinete. Here, it is important for the Follower to collect on her left foot with her right foot before she steps back with her right foot.

Next, we worked on the musicality of the sequence, doing it on all single beats. Then we added double beats (QQ time) on the Follower's back and side step, accelerating into the alteration.

We continued with dancing this simple sequence in the line of dance, and with the music, to make it feel good and to have the hip twist surprise element in our step into the promenade (Americana).

Maestros concluded with a demo to DiSarli's Una Fija , which can be seen at

Monday, December 21, 2009
Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas "Anatomy of the Contra Back Boleo"

We began with the Pendulum Exercise, making sure there was at least 3 feet of clear space behind us. We were to plant our weight on one foot (either left or right), and let the other foot swing freely. Our arms were in beach ball pose, being calm in our upper body with our rib cage up and core engaged so that there was no movement in our upper body. Both knees were bent. The Follower needs to find the sweet spot on her foot to distribute the weight on four corners of her foot to be stable and strong.

Tonight, we were to work on four categorical shapes of boleos. In all of these four categories, the Follower should always have control of her body. So she might not do a big boleo, even if the Leader asks her to do it that way.

(1) Keep foot to the floor
(2) Blade of Zorro
(3) Circular
(4) Circular but bigger

(1) Open up with hips, but foot stays on the ground. We can do this on either foot. Our goal was to find balance, make it tight, and imagine dancing on a crowded dance floor. We can add a little bit of pivot to it. The Follower heel points down on the floor so that she does not stab anyone with her heel.

(2) Blade of Zorro. The leg and foot movement is a flick, like a razor, a little out to the side across the back of her body, and then back down. The boleoing leg goes a little behind the standing knee so that the legs do not open up. There is no light between the thighs. Be sure not to sickle the foot. Turn the foot out a little and point the toes before the leg flicks and leaves the floor. The energy of the movement is similar to a match strike.

(3) Circular. This boleo shape begins with the Flick of Zorro, but the hips open more, and there is a semicircular movement to the leg before it drops back down. We can also add a little pivot to make it sweeter.

(4) Circular but bigger. Recalling the Pendulum exercise with our leg going straight back, we were to send the Follower's leg out in a line, but bring it back in with adding circular energy. For the Follower, she is more open in the knees. This is a more rare articulation.

We began with an exercise in tea kettle embrace with both arms of Leader behind him with his hands at the small of his back. Follower's holds on to Leader's biceps. The goal was for the Leader to lead the Follower to pivot her hips, either slow or fast, with Follower maintaining particularly strong connection with her embrace when the Leader led a faster pivot.

For the Leader, two things:
(1) The rotation comes from his spine, regardless of how slow or fast he is moving. He needs to contract his core muscles for faster rotation.
(2) There is a slight delay of the Follower's movements, so he needs to take time for the energy to travel from the Follower's embrace to her spine, and then to her hips.

For the Follower:
(1) Don't anticipate so that the Leader can calibrate his lead to your movements.

Leader: Observe how long it takes Follower to complete her movement. Wait. Do it slowly. Observe.

Follower: Engage your core so that there is no reverberation in your arms/embrace. Have resistance in your arms.

For the first contra boleo, Maestros noted that all boleos have both "send" and "rebound" energy to more or less degrees, even if they are called "with" boleos or "contra" boleos. The difference is in the way the Leader steps that makes the boleo "with" or "contra"/against the Follower's rotation in the hips.

Again in tea kettle embrace, the Leader steps against the Follower with a bit of send energy and a lot of rebound energy. The Leader would start with the slow shimmy, and then try to figure out how to step into / against the Follower to get the hip rotation to boleo.

Next, we added the open embrace, working on doing boleos on the easy side (the open side). Leader would walk in parallel system, making a very dynamic step with left foot. We were to focus on the contra energy. It is all about the Leader's left foot making a long step that is fully engaged and attacking like a karate chop into the floor. He needs to keep his embrace firm and totally engaged and compressed. He should be solid like a statue so that the Follower can hang on to him for that one moment in the boleo.

Boleos usually happen on the strong beat, so to lead it the Leader has to lead it a little ahead of the strong beat. However, he is limited by how well the Follower hears the music. Leader should not push with his right hand, otherwise the Follower will step (he will change her weight).

Next, we attempted to do this on the hard side (the close side). Here, the Leader's right hand has to detach, but be strong from the shoulder up (similar to the teapot embrace).

The next boleo step, which Maestros only demonstrated and we did not try as students, included a step with the Leader's right foot, to pivot on his right foot (collecting with his left), to rebound back with a left foot back cross step, really working his hips.

Next, we practiced linking two boleos as if dancing in a small space, in the line of dance. The sequence went something like step, boleo, promenade, step back, boleo, etc.

Concluding comments on boleos: The Follower decides how big or small, how high in the air or low on the floor, and the shape (linear or circular) of the boleo, depending on the music and space availability. She does, however, need to react when the boleo is led, and exercise discretion and common sense when doing boleos on the social dance floor.

Maestro concluded with a demo to Rodriguez's El Encopao, which can be seen at

Come spend New Year's Eve weekend with me in San Diego. Flights are cheap (check Virgin America and Southwest), and if you get a room with two queen beds, and find a roommate, you can cut down on the expenses. Pablo, Jr. Scout Extraordinaire, and TangoStudent will be there, along with Homer and Cristina, who are teaching. Other teachers include the fabulous Brigitta Winkler, and Jaimes Friedgen (who Homer raves about).


1 comment:

Paul said...

Welcome back. Missed your posts. I look forward to dancing with you in San Diego.