Thursday, December 3, 2009

November 26 - December 2

Thursday, November 26, 2009 - Fandango de Tango workshops
Diego di Falco y Carolina Zokalski on Vals.
We did the cadena, on both sides. For the Leader, it is important for him to relax his right arm when he steps near the Follower on her pivot. The question came up of how to improve the link if you don’t turn enough. The answer is (1) we can cheat with a calesita, OR (2) turn the first step. The first back cross is a back cross to the right side with left foot so she is out of the Leader’s way and he can turn. It was a good class. Or (3) the Leader opens up his left shoulder a lot to lead her to step to this left. In cadenas, the intention of the turn is always in the same direction, and the Leader should always keep opening up the left shoulder. For turn is always counterclockwise for left side cadenas, and for right side cadenas it’s always clockwise. The link is in the first step, from outside to inside or inside to outside to link directional changes. We can add a 1 step so it is 1-1-2-3-4-1-1-2-3-4

Pablo Pugliese y Noel Strazza on Back Sacadas.
We began with dancing to two songs, really thinking about our footwork, trying to be precise, and being where we need to be, having good contact, and with Leader having relation to where the Follower’s shoulder is to know where her foot is. The first back sacada we worked on was the Leader’s back sacada of his left foot of the Follower’s left foot. She steps back quite far with her right leg. Leader pivots a lot to get around enough since it’s a straight back step for him. He should place his foot, and his front leg should be bent with the weight on it. The Follower’s weight should already been on her back right leg so her left leg is free to be sacada’d. Note that in the Leader back sacada there are two arm options for the embrace of the Leader’s right arm and the Follower’s left arm: close or sliding. For the Follower to receive the Leader’s back sacada, she needs to reorganize her movment. As soon as she can, she should try to bring her left leg to collect in, bringing her feet together, and not let her left sacada’d leg go flying out widely and wildly. Next, we did the Leader’s forward sacada of is left leg of Follower’s trailing right leg of the counterclockwise molinete on her left foot forward cross step. Maestro noted that in molinetes, it is more of an oval than circular shape, where the Front and Side steps are closer to the Leader and the Back and Side steps are farther away from the Leader. Because of this oval shape, the Leader should send her a little farther away from him to get her in the correct position for the sacada. Leader’s left foot back sacada of Follower’s right trailing foot on her left foot forward step of the counterclockwise molinete. We went back to an exercise of Follower pivots premised with maestros showing us moving like a block versus disassociating and moving like a spiral. Then we did partnered exercises with Follower ochos (using disassociation and spiral movement) with Leader doing open (side) steps, and then leader doing front cross steps with the Follower pivot. The Follower needs to pivot a lot in her feet, and then step back with heel down in the back sacada. Do not be careless about the movements. Apply pivots. Be exact with our feet. Use what we know to go back and review all that we need to do to do this kind of work. One great comment from Maestro was that we should not take tango so seriously. It is not the end of our life if we don’t get it.

Nito y Elba Garcia on Tango. It was nice seeing Maestros. Since this was a short class, only and hour long, Nito decided we would skip his usual walking and embellishment exercises and went directly into the sequence. Leader right foot forward sacada to Follower’s left leg back boleo. Leader stops her boleo with his left leg, then pivots her to Leader right leg parada to counterclockwise molinete footwork for her (back, side, forward) to two forward ochos. Next, we did an ocho cortado variation. Maestros are big fans of using the spiral cross and they frown highly upon schlumping crosses. Next, we did another small sequence of the 8CB to 5 (cross), to pivot around, into a cadena step, then walk Follower out to resolution on her left foot. It was, as usual, an excellent class.

Friday, November 27, 2009 - Fandango de Tango workshops
Diego Di Falco and Carolina Zokalski on Chacarera.
Carolina started out as a folk dancer, so this topic was near and dear to her heart, and I personally was very glad to see it offered. Tango was born in Buenos Aires, and belongs to everyone since it was created by all the immigrants in the city. Chacarera belongs to Argentina and it is a native folk dance, danced at the Penas (folk dance milongas). Footwork is 1-2-3 with first step long, and next two steps short, and it always starts with the left foot. It uses a 1-2-3 rhythm, like vals. Maestro commented about the body and arm movements with the body being like a tree trunk and the arms being like tree branches. So the arms should sway away from the direction the body is moving, as a branch would do in wind or tree movement. Then we worked on the Chacarera choreography: avanzo-regresso (steps forward and back), hiro (small circle), vueltantera (big full loop to other side and back, done in 6 or 8 counts), the zapateo and sarendeo (Leader fancy horse footwork, with Follower diamond skirt flourish), the mediavuelta (go to the other side in 4 beats), the hiro y coranacion (small circle concluding with dancers in the middle crowing each other). This would be a first part of the song, and dancers will end up on the opposite side of where they started. Then this is repeated a second time, and ends with the song with dancers on the same sides where they started. Since our class did so well, we had time to ask about the culture of the chacarera and the music. THE group for Chacarera music is the Carabajal family. A new group is called Los Chalchaleros. For the group (4-6 person) chacarera, only the “vuelta” moves are done in group (media vuelta, vueltantera). This was a great class.

Guillermo Merlo y Fernanda Ghi on Expansion & Compression Techniques in Ganchos.
Since they were heavy on Followers in this class, I ditched it and went to Nito y Elba Garcia’s Tango class instead, which was, as usual, a great class. It was fun.

Pablo Pugliese y Noel Strazza class on Ganchos and Voleos Combination.
We began with dancing to one sing, doing boleos and ganchos, any ones that we knew, to get us warmed up to incorporate that type of movement into our bodies. Two reminders: (1) For boleos and ganchos, the movement comes from the floor (like a match strike), and returns to the floor. (2) Have clean movement, reorganize the movement by collecting to check our balance and be on our axis before taking the next step. Then we began with the Follower forward ocho with Leader open steps to the side/leg she is leaving, to lead the Follower boleo. Follower should not sacrifice body posture for boleo height (how high she can get her leg up). Next, we did the Follower front cross boleo of her right leg, then Leader sneaks in with his right leg in front of her supporting left leg, to cause her to back gancho his right leg as her right leg returns from her front cross boleo. Note here that on the Leader’s right leg sneak in his toe tip is what touches the floor while his heel remains off the ground. Both dancers should rotate their chests toward each other. It;s a contra boleo so the Leader’s right leg is free to position in to go in front of the Follower’s left foot to receive her right leg gancho of the back of his right leg. Follower should keep her knee soft and leg springy, which will help keep her body level constant. Next, we did a Follower front boleo to back external gancho of Leader’s on the left and right side to the left and right leg. Nuggets of wisdom: We should approach dancing in a playful way, to make it fun, easy, and uplifted.

George y Jairelbhi Furlong on Boleos & Their Timing.
I was particularly excited to go to this class since it was their first time teaching at Fandango de Tango, and I had seen their summary teaching videos on YouTube and was favorably impressed. We began with dancing to a song trying to do all the boleos we knew so that maestros had an idea of where we were as a class. We began with an exercise with the Follower’s weigh on the left, then pivot as if for a forward ocho with our hips while torsos remained forward. For Follower’s technique on the boleo, she should keep one knee behind the other, and to get a high boleo, her standing supporting leg bends. Follower should try to do the boleo underneath her other elbow (i.e. left boleoing leg should reach for her right elbow). The Follower should not anticipate, and should always be a little behind so that Leader can lead her. For the social dance floor, we should do low floor boleos. Only do high boleos if the social dance floor is not crowded, and only if it’s safe. Otherwise, you risk injuring other unsuspecting, innocent dancers.

The milonga was good. It was punctuated by a series of performances by the three members of Tango Con*Fusion who are attending Fandango de Tango this year (Christy teaching with Facundo Posadas, Chelsea, and Debbie). The milonga itself was quite fun. Floorcraft was quite good, the best I’ve ever experienced here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009 - Fandango de Tango workshops

Fabian Salas and Lola Diaz on Combined Colgadas. It was a good class. We began with an exercise just doing the basic colgada body work of Follower’s left leg being her weighted standing leg, and her right leg being the free colgada leg. Leader starts by sending her right leg back in a regular colgada, and then bringing her in and pivoting her counterclockwise, so her right leg goes up and over to front cross against her left leg as he lets her back out in colgada by releasing her and holding on to the other side of her (near her the left side of her waist/stomach). The Leader uses his shoulder/arms/the embrace to initiate the Follower pivot, with his arms being in position as if shooting with a bow and arrow. Her left foot pivots away from him (Leader’s feet and Follower one supporting standing foot are all pointed forward and away from the Leader). She should face that way too, not toward the Leader since the head is a 10 pound weight. Here we modified the Leader footwork by adding in a forward right foot cross step toward the side of the embrace. Then the Leader pivots around with his left leg clockwise so that it lands on the other side of the Follower’s left foot resulting in a triangular frame of reference of his two feet and her standing left leg. The Follower’s left supporting leg is the center of the circle that he wants to side step around while her body is still off axis in colgada and his body is back as well to counterbalance her’s. The toughest part of this is the transition from the regular Follower right foot back colgada out back in and over to the turn so that her right leg comes up and over to the other side of the left leg. The Follower has to release her left hand in this change. The exit is to bring the Follower back up to axis, forcing her to cross forward step with her formerly right free leg clockwise. An interesting initiation of this involves the Leader’s right foot entry between her legs to lead Follower gancho of her right leg of Leader’s right leg to send her out to a regular colgada. Leader steps forward cross right leg to make her do a big figure 4 colgada. This was a very challenging, but obviously excellent class. This was my first class with Lola, and I found her to be a very articulate teacher.

George y Jairelbhi Furlong on Vals - Molinetes with Sacadas.
We began with exercises to work on shifting our weight completely from our left foot to our right foot, first by reaching, then transferring the weight, to arrive completely. Next, we worked on walking forward and back, having the weight on the balls of our feet. Next, we worked on pivoting on our left foot and our right foot, while keeping our chest toward the front, where the Leader would be, working these concepts in as we did ochos. Then we worked in partnership on the molinete footwork of back-side-forward-side, where we worked from counterclockwise to clockwise. Then we added Leader Sacadas. Maestros have a philosophy of a moderately energetic sacada, not a forceful sacada. The sequence was the 8CB to 5 (cross) to Follower clockwise molinete with leader left leg sacada of Follower’s trailing left foot, a Leader right foot sacada of the Follower’s right foot on her left foot side step, to walk Follower back out to resolution, Leader walks forward right cross. Ever step is a possible sacada. Maestros emphasized the spiral top down concept of starting the movement in the shoulders/chest first, then hips follow, hen feet follow, so that we do not move in blocks. We did another sacada sequence of the Leader’s right foot sacada on the Follower’s right foot forward ocho trailing left foot, to another Leader sacada of his left foot on the Follower’s left foot side step of her trailing right foot, to forward Follower step to the outside of Leader’s right.

Fabian Salas y Lola Diaz on Sequences with Alternative Embraces.
This was a very good, very challenging class. It began with Maestros working on her different embraces:
(1) regular embrace
(2) embrace with hand to hand contact, going into embrace
(3) begun by Leader putting his left thumb on top of her right knuckles, to hold onto it and take it with him while he takes their hands behind his back to end with the Leader’s left arm in L shape behind him, and his right arm being loose and open to allow Follower to stand next to him as they both face forward, going into
(4) embrace where Leader pivots Follower counterclockwise into the hammerlock embrace (Leader raises left arm Follower pivots clockwise), going into
(5) repeat No. 3 embrace

After we spent several minutes going from one embrace to the next sequentially, with the Follower always standing and pivoting on her left leg, we worked on adding the footwork, which included Leader and Follower back sacadas, pivots, and other interesting footwork.

Nito y Elba Garcia.
The class was listed as Milonga Traspie, but we just worked on some interesting steps. The first was a walking step where the Leader weaves in and out of the Follower as he walks forward and she walks back, with a back cross for Leader and simultaneous front cross for Follower at every 5th step. The next sequence involved the Follower molinete with Leader sacadas into a spiral cross out to resolution. The next sequence was a series 3-4 sandwiches of the Follower’s left leg.

Sunday, November 29, 2009 - Fandango de Tango workshops
George y Jairelbhi Furlong on Rebotadas with Boleos.
This was a good class. We began with some simple exercises, first walking forward in 4 steps, and then back in 4 steps. Then, we worked on forward ochos and back ochos with no pivot, focusing on keeping our torsos ahead where the Leader would be. Then we added the pivot to them and did them in a linear fashion (no travelling forward but staying in the same line), and then back ochos in a linear fashion. Then in partnership we worked on Follower back ochos while Leader does side steps. The Follower’s hips need to be relaxed completely and she should always complete her pivots. We practiced the rebotadas (switches), in exercise and in dance. To this, we added front contra boleos, with the Leader doing three steps to the side as Follower does side step, to left foot back ocho, to front contra boleo with her left foot. For the Follower, it is important that her right arm maintains tone and that she not absorb the lead in this arm as she receives the rebote action. From this, we worked on a different style of “boleo” -- one that look like just a raised knee (flamingo leg) boleo, where by there is a little bit of lowering and raising on the pivots as the lead. To this, we added the Leader accompaniment with his right leg to catch her right foot with his right foot. Here, the feet reach for each other, but the dancers’ knees and legs don’t change or open. After the catch, the Leader can drag their connected feet a little bit forward to the Follower’s right, after which she pasadas over it with her left foot. For Follower’s Technique, when bending the knee, it doesn’t mean the whole body goes down. If it does go down, it is just a little bit of movement, not a whole lot, otherwise she will look like she is sitting. When doing rebotadas and boleos, it is important to do them rhythmically, especially to D’Arienzo, Biagi, Rodriguez, etc.

Guillermo Merlo y Fernanda Ghi on Take It To The Next Level.
This class was shockingly full, so rather than fight for space, I decided that Pablo and I would do better mentally at a less competitive spatial environment. After peeking in to several other classrooms, we decided to join Carolina and Donato’s Changes of Direction Class.

Carolina del Rivero y Donato Juarez on Changes of Direction.
We began with molinete exercises for the Follower with the Leader doing open steps from side to side. Follower needed to step in a circle around the Leader, and not to get too close to him on her forward step, or too far away from him on her back step. She should collect her feet at every opportunity when they pass each other, and turn with her entire body. From the molinete, we did five different types of changes of direction: (1) open step to open step; (2) back cross step to back cross step; (3) front cross step to front cross step; (4) back cross step to front cross step; (5) front cross step to back cross step. Then we worked on the usual alteration where Follower does forward (front cross) step in the forward ocho to the open side of the embrace, Leader outsteps her, effectively blocking her, to step around her with his left foot diagonally forward, to pivot to face the other way and send her back on a back cross step in the other direction back to the close side of the embrace. Our homework is to work on the other side with this change of direction. We also were shown the Follower’s back cross with her left foot to front cross with right foot alternation.

Nito y Elba Garcia on Milonga Traspie.
Maestros taught several fun little steps: The basic box turned diagonally so follower steps outside Leader’s right. The < step that they taught at Fandango de Tango 2007, and the three step side step with lift lead. It was an excellent class, as usual. What a treat and blessing to learn from them.


This was my third time to Fandango de Tango, it’s become my personal Thanksgiving tradition. Ricardo, the organizer, does a fantastic job of picking top-notch TEACHERS (not just fantastic performers [but possibly lousy teachers]) from the US and Buenos Aires. Having done a fair share of event production in the past, I can honestly say that this is likely one of the smoothest, most well-organized tango festivals. Luckily for the gals, the numbers are pretty well balanced (except perhaps at the Friday and Saturday night milongas). It is such a treat to be able to pick from 6 different workshops at any given time slot on certain days, taught by excellent teachers, one and all. Honestly, I cannot say enough good things about this particular Tango festival, and when I look at the schedules of other ones, I am not swayed enough to go to them (except for CITA perhaps), since this is the festival I compare them to. Amazingly, year after year, Ricardo finds ways to make it even better than the last.

The numbers look pretty good on an individual level, finance wise, and if you find a roommate (the Omni has rooms with two queen beds so it’s easy to share the space), they look even better. So it IS possible to do this festival somewhat “on the cheap”, by bringing your own Tupperware, or asking for a to-go box for your breakfast or lunch leftovers, or by dining via the hotel snack shop, which sells box meals of their salads and sandwiches for less than $10, and being totally on the wagon while you are here. If your budget is even tighter than that, there is a huge mega Wal-Mart a half mile away. Still, no one ever said learning to dance the Argentine Tango was going to be an inexpensive endeavor, cash or time wise…

My best experience at Fandango de Tango 2009 was receiving a complement from Nito that my molinetes are pretty good, and they enable me to do many things that others with not so good molinete technique can’t. I was tickled pink, since Nito routinely says during his lessons that we should all (Followers and Leaders alike) do molinetes around a chair for 5 minutes every single day to improve our tango dancing…

My most challenging dance was with Jorge Nel, of the famous shoes. He was inspired by D'Arienzo to drive fast and hard but smooth. It was loads of fun. His shoes are great, by the way, with excellent cushioning, and a very forgiving fit for those with wider feet, though of course all sizes/widths are available, as well as custom shoes. He has a very interesting new shoe where the entire sole is changeable to all leather, all suede, or all rubber a la dance sneakers. So check them out when you see him at your next festival.

During the Saturday masters show, Ricardo pointed out that the teacher ages ranged from teens to seventies, with no particular style receiving more emphasis than others (milonguero, nuevo, salon, milonga, vals, candombe). It was a very well-rounded, teaching staff (and did I mention excellent?). The lessons were more conceptual and technical in nature, rather than sequence oriented, which I appreciated.

Finally, my Fandango de Tango experience would never be complete without my daily dip in the hot tub after all the hard work at the lessons during the day. Ah, so relaxing!!! And exactly the downtime to get myself geared up to dance the night away at the milongas, until the wee hours of the morning.

I was happy to see so many tangueros from the SF Bay Area attend this year, but found it amusing that we all go so far away to Austin to dance with each other. ;o)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson by Homer and Cristina Ladas on Vals Turns and Musical Phrasing

Working in open and close embrace, the goal of this class was to make the molinete turn more dynamic, including working on the weak side (Leader’s right). The underlying theme of the class was for the dancers, but especially the Follower, to be really active in hearing the music and making a good effort of knowing the vals rhythm and cadence.

We began with an exercise of just walking by ourselves to the vals rhythm with two options:

(1) only on the boom (the strong beat, the 1)

(2) on the boom - chick - boom (the strong beat and a weak beat, in this case the 1-2-1), with the “chick” step a real step (not just a collection).

We built on this exercise, by then doing the grapevine pattern stepping only on the boom (stepping each step of forward, side, back, side, forward, on the strong beat, the 1, the boom), and then doing the grapevine pattern in the boom - chick - boom (1-2-1) rhythm. We first did this grapevine pattern to a slow vals, and then challenged ourselves more with a faster vals.

When the Follower feels the Leader accelerate the turn, he is probably looking for the rhythm. Since it’s integral, it’s important for the Follower to have control.


Next, maestro introduced the Leader’s footwork of the Paddle and Kickstand. This is a Leader footwork technique during the Follower molinete turn. This Leader technique accomplishes two things:

(1) It maintains the Leader’s axis either tilted forward in the close embrace, or more vertically straight up and down in the open embrace. Note that in the close embrace, there is less room for the Follower’s hips to pivot, and that in the open embrace, there is more room for the Follower’s hips to pivot.

(2) It gives the Leader extra power for the turn to get around on the boom-chick-boom (1-2-1) syncopation.

Our goal is to fit the molinete turn to the music.

In the Paddle and the Kickstand footwork, the Leader lifts his heel off the ground and kicks his heel around to turn. The kickstand foot is where the Leader pivots on the ball of his foot with his supporting, standing leg. The Leader’s paddling foot should be in line or slightly behind his hips as he paddles around. We first began with the left foot as the kickstand, and the right foot as the paddle.

The Leader’s right foot or left foot can be the supporting, standing, kickstand leg, while the left foot or right foot can be the paddling leg, depending on the direction of the molinete turn, clockwise or counterclockwise.

We drilled to many different valses, first slow ones, and then faster ones, with Leader’s Paddle footwork with Follower molinete turn, both clockwise and counterclockwise, using the boom-chick-boom (1-2-1) rhythm.

The boom can be difficult to lead after the chick syncopation because you have to slow your partner down.

Follower should lock herself to the music to know where the boom - chick - chick syncopation is, and to pay attention to the music and the lead. The more the Follower’s body locks into the music, the more she will be with the vals cadence.

Leading the boom - chick - boom (1-2-1) rhythm is easiest on the back step of the molinete turn, and in the Leader’s paddle footwork, he is doing exactly what he is asking the Follower to do.

We also played with doing the boom - chick - boom (1-2-1) at different points of the Follower footwork, such as the side, forward, side, and in open and close embrace, clockwise and counterclockwise.

Follower should not fall on the boom (generally the side step), but be controlled, and not transfer the weight too fast, otherwise she will arrive too early. She needs to really lock her body onto the music for better control.

It was noted that in the close embrace, it is more difficult to get the Follower to go all slow (boom) steps. In the open embrace, it is easier for the Follower to go all slow, though slightly more difficult to lead the boom - chick - boom (1-2-1) syncopation. In the close embrace, the Follower’s back steps can be very short and quick, rather than with substantial hip pivot and drag around.


Next, we worked on vals musical phrasing in the context of doing turns. Our goal was that within a musical phrase, we were to be consistent, fall into a groove, and when it feels like it’s time to turn, to connect the turn to the music.

First we backed up with a little game of Vals - Chacarera, where in Chacarera formation of Leaders all in one line facing Followers all in one line, we took four steps forward and four steps back similar, similar to the Avanzado and Regreso initial steps of the Chacarera. The 4 forward steps were done in 4 beats, and the 4 back steps were done in 4 beats. During this game, maestro played a very regular vals so we could clearly hear the musical phrasing and sentence. He noted that the lyrics/song poetry falls directly on top of the sentence/musical structure of this particular vals, as is the case with many valses. Mastro demo’d this concept by dancing by himself, walking forward and back with the musical phrasing, showing that we could hear the sighs, and take a pause to start the next phrase (like a comma). At the comma or the end of a sentence (phrase) is where the Leader should start the turn in the other direction.

Next, we attempted to dance with trying to change the direction of the molinete turn at the macro phrasing points. It was noted that it often took two turns [(1) forward, side, back, side, (2) forward, side, back, side] in the same direction before the appropriate phrasing point arrived, and that most times in our dance we do not even do one complete molinete (we usually do half or three quarters of a molinete turn). The Paddle keeps the Leader in one place, so it’s a good technique.

In the open embrace, the Follower whips her hips around on the chick, really pivoting a lot to get them around quickly. She should use the embrace of the Leader to get herself around and add whip / energy in her hips.

It was noted that there was asymmetry of the close embrace turn where the Follower’s back step is almost just a snappy short back cross with no pivot in the hips in order to maintain the integrity of the embrace. This is quite different from the open embrace turn with a lot of Follower hip pivot for an overturned full back cross step.

Maestros demo’d to Canaro’s El Dia Que Te Fuiste, which you can see at

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

CCSF Classes with Chelsea Eng.
In Follower's Technique, we began with a clip from CITA 2009 of Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes dancing milonga, the topic of the evening. Maestra pointed out that Montes has incredibly intentional footwork, with strength, articulation, and complete control. She also dances with confidence, spunkiness, and self assuredness. We went on to our floor exercises, but no barre exercises. Then we did a lot of walking exercises to work on catching the beat, focusing on quality of movement and having zesty, sharp, accented steps, being almost late, but not late, to spring at the last possible moment. The steps are more crisp staccato than sweeping. In Advanced, we vegan with a clip from CITA 2009 of Damian Rosenthal and Celine Ruiz on milonga. Then we worked on milonga footwork, simple steps forward and back, and changes of directions/turns. It was a good class. Maestra mentioned how much she enjoyed Fandango de Tango.

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