Wednesday, January 13, 2010

December 31, 2009 - January 13, 2010

December 31, 2009-January 3, 2010

San Diego Tango Festival at the Kona Kai Hotel.

In a word, overall, for me, this festival lacked… and I will not be returning.

Homer and Cristina were great, as always. I went to their Pitter Patter workshop, and their workshop on Floorcrafting, both on Thursday, December 31, 2009. My notes on the Pitter Patter workshop are as follows:

Homer and Cristina Ladas workshop on “His and Her Pitter-Patter: Various techniques for playful interactions between leader and follower"

This workshop was for advanced dancers, but catered to everyone. The class would progressively become more complex.

Pitter-Patters are rhythmic syncopations, playful movements with the feet. First we focused on Leader’s Pitter-Patters and then Follower’s Pitter-Patters.

The music we used for the entire workshop was from Pedro Laurenz:
Amurado (tango)
De Puro Gaupo (tango)
Milonga Compadre (milonga)
Corazon de Artista (vals)


In our first exercise, we were to do a dance in open or close embrace. Leader would then throw in a surprise Pitter-Patter:

His first Pitter-Patter is a sneaky sandwich of the Follower’s right foot. The Pitter-Patter is the focus. The idea is to sandwich with Follower’s right foot, by quickly stepping next to it with his left foot, and then enclosing it in a sandwich with his right foot. Leader should keep his thighs together and try not to change height, and to accent the rhythm/melody of the music. The Leader starts the Pitter-Patter when the Follower’s right foot goes back, and when there is good synchronicity of movement. Though he is doing his Pitter-Patter, he must also still keep leading her to walk back. Don’t change the height; there is nothing going on in the Leader’s chest that encourages the Follower to do anything but walk back normally.

Key takeaways:
(1) The focus is on capturing the Follower’s foot.
(2) Lead her on the strong beat.
Doing this sneaky sandwich Pitter-Patter is more difficult in close embrace because there is no visual cue.

Next Exercise:
Try to capture the Follower’s left foot. Here, the Leader must tune in to how the Follower is moving and transferring weight. Follower needs to be on the music so that the catch is meaningful and accents the music.

Next Exercise:
We attempted to do this sneaky sandwich Pitter-Patter on double and double-double time during the bandoneon in one of Laurenz’s songs.

Truth: Not everyone likes to Pitter-Patter.

From this Truth, we discussed the concepts of minimalism and maximalism in tango, and extreme legato and extreme staccato movements. Bottom line: Take what you can.


Here, the Leader snakes between the Follower’s legs as she walks back. This can be done in open embrace (which is easier) or close embrace (trickier). Leader needs to close his thighs so he can sneak in there. This snake walk is done in parallel system.

The Leader must isolate his feet, doing double time during the snake walk, while the Follower steps in single time. Here, the Leader’s hips move independently of his upper body. His chest is straight ahead, which is what makes the Follower walk back, straight and linear.

Leader does double time once in a while to get into and out of the snake walk. For example, he would be in it for two counts, and then out for two counts. He can get out of it with a Leader’s left foot back cross step behind his right foot, then take two steps, and get out of it again with a right foot back cross step behind his left foot.

We started this on the Leader’s left foot on the open side of the embrace. This switches from parallel to cross system with the Leader’s back cross steps of his left foot behind his right foot, and of his right foot behind his left foot. The walk is in cross system and the snake is in parallel system. It is important to not let the top of the body get too far ahead.

Next, with everyone side by side in circle formation, we did an exercise of moving forward to get to the center of the room using a series of back cross steps, trying to the be most elegant and poised, lifting our heels, and not worrying about being fast.

Next, again in circle formation, we did an exercise of moving backwards to get to the outer perimeter of the room using front cross steps, again trying to be the most elegant and poised, not just fast.

NEXT STEP (i.e., homework)
Once we’ve mastered Chapter 1 (sneaky sandwich) and Chapter 2 (snake walk), we need to be random and free with the movement as it’s a bit chaotic and the movements can work on top of each other.

We got to promenade (Americana) of Follower’s left side to Leader’s right side. The Follower’s Pitter-Patter is a butterfly step: short, small, quick, and light. For the Follower, there is no need to match the Leader’s walking. Thus, her Pitter-Patter can be done in parallel or cross system. The Leader can turn it into a circle (not just having them walk straight). Follower needs to be in tune and on time with the music. We did this to a Laurenz’s “Milonga Compadre”.

The Follower needs to be on the balls of her feet, with bend/flex in the knees. The steps are small and quick, and she needs to keep her thighs together. The goal is to envision her steps as if she’s a butterfly, and thus not make any accenting noises (stomping) with her feet. In our class work, the Leader needed to be on milonga timing of the strong beat so that the Follower has to do her butterfly Pitter-Patter steps within the strong beats and be on the beats. The Follower can snake the Pitter-Patter around the Leader.

There are two ways to lead the Pitter-Patter: psychologically and with physical assist.
(1) Psychological:
The Leader can’t lead the Follower to do double-double time. But he can start to do a Pitter-Patter during the promenade (Americana) and the Follower will follow it and match it with her same Pitter-Patter movements because she knows it’s coming. She might not get it the first time he does it, but she will likely get it the second or third time.

(2) Physical:
The Leader slightly lifts the Follower with his whole body, not just his arms, which is an extra physical lead to suggest a Pitter-Patter movement.

A didactic demo at this workshop was not filmed, but other YouTube videos illustrating this topic can be found at:

Snake Walk & Pitter-Patter

Syncopated Pitter-Patter, Snake Walk, & Sustained Volcada

Rhythmic Pitter-Patter in the milonga (lots of Follower’s Pitter-Patter in this video)


James Fridgen and Christa Rodriguez were good. I wished Christa had a stronger, louder voice to balance out the teaching aspects of their workshops. Which is surprising, since their united voice as teachers advocates that Followers have a stronger voice in shaping the tango dance with their leaders. I went to their Single Axis Turn workshop, and they had some very good exercises to strengthen our feet, ankles, and calves, and improve our balance. I also went to their Milonguero Groove workshop, which focused on the ocho cortado and doing it to the music. Though this topic sounds very mundane, the class was extremely challenging in that we spent a lot of time working on the lead and follow with no arms, only the Leader’s body lead. Thus, we had to be crystal clear with our weight changes, and neither could compensate/cheat with arms. Maestros had a very interesting opinion on videos. In short, they do not like them to be taken. Instead, they want their students to really focus and pay attention in class, and be physically and consciously engaged. Basically, they want their students to “Focus on it like you will never be in this class again.”

Fabienne Bongard is a very lovely person, but definitely played second fiddle in the workshops she co-taught with Brigitta Winkler. I took Fabienne’s workshop that she co-taught with Brigitta on Subtle Ochos and other Friends, where we first worked a little bit on ochos, and then they taught a sequence with the corresponding mantra “I will go wherever you go, wherever you go.”

Brigitta Winkler, as always, was fantastic. I took both of her teacher training seminars on January 2 and January 3. Not because I want to be a teacher, but because I was curious as to what the new / next generation of teachers is being taught.

In the first teacher training seminar, Maestra discussed the belief systems underlying teaching methodologies:

(1) I am an expert and you know nothing.

(2) I am an expert and you know something.

(3) We both are experts and we both know everything.

Then she proceeded to split the class into those three groups with underlying belief system, and to teach the forward ocho based on those belief systems.

I chose the first group, “I am an expert and you know nothing.” This group was the smallest, even though I thought it would be the easiest to do this exercise with since that seems to be the belief system from which we get most of our instruction.

There were two other people in my group, one of whom is a male teacher (and excellent dancer), and the other….well, I am not sure where or if she actually teaches (but you can bet I will never take a lesson from her because it was clear at the milonga that she was not a particularly good dancer – she had very wide open, uncontrolled, unfluid, imprecise legs).

These other two “teachers” in my group had the opinion that when teaching forward ochos, the Leader basically leads and tells the class what he is doing, and the Follower follows. “But wait!!” I said. I couldn’t believe that the woman, the Follower teacher, did not say a word. But clearly in this group, my opinion was the minority. Both other “teachers” in my group DID NOT believe the woman teacher should say anything about Follower’s technique since it wasn’t a Follower’s Technique class. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. At that rather heated moment, when the male teacher suggested that I was “extremely opinionated”, Brigitta came up and asked how it was going. We gave her the run down. She said that since I had the differing opinion on how the follower’s part of the forward ocho should be taught, I should role play the teacher roll and teach the class as if both students were Followers. So I did, and both of my “students” seem to like and approve of my teaching.

Then it came time to teach the entire class. Since I was outranked, I played the role of Follower teacher, but in the way that they originally thought it should be, that is, with the Leader teacher being very strong and vocal, and the Follower teacher being relatively silent and just following the leader’s lead and not saying much about what she was doing. I really had to bite my tongue, because my own personal urge was to describe in excruciating detail every movement I was doing in the forward ocho.

Then it was the next group’s turn, who showed us that “They were the experts and we know something.” That group was OK, but again, it was dominated by one teacher (the woman, surprisingly), with very little said by her teaching companion (I don’t even know who he was). Then the third group went, where “we are all experts”, and they instructed us to do a forward ocho at every point of the eight count basic. I thought that was a pretty good way to teach with that underlying belief system, but I don’t think both teachers said an equal amount. Then again, since it was the students’ turn to figure it all out for themselves, not much instruction was required.

Needless to say, it was an extremely interesting class, albeit uncomfortable and disturbing at times, in my non-teacher opinion. Maestra concluded with passing out a handout showing what learners retain – which noted that What they read is very low, only 10%, What they hear 20%, What they see 30%, What they see and hear 50%, What they say 70%, and What they say and do 90%.

The next day at the Part II of the teacher training seminar, the first thing we did was get into Study Circle (group therapy?) formation and share with a partner what happened yesterday at the prior workshop. Needless to say, I gave my partner an earful. He was very thoughtful and wise, and gave me some good feedback on his opinion on why things shook down the way they did. And then the kicker is we all shared with the group, what our partners said. So my partner, who had a very good memory, repeated pretty much what I had said to the entire group. The male teacher in my group from yesterday was there, and he did not meet my eye. The female teacher from my group yesterday was not at this workshop (even though it was strongly emphasized that the attendees of the first workshop also go to the second). When the male teacher’s turn came around (toward the end), he shared that his recall partner commented that the teaching from the “I know everything and you know nothing group” was not very instructive, and that she didn’t learn anything from it.

The next part of the seminar we came up with words and ideas as to how we would teach if we came from the belief system of “we are all experts and we all know everything.” This touched on the type of words we would use, and the type of feelings/behaviors we would want to inspire in our students and have them actively engaged – physically and verbally -- in the learning process. Our goal was to get to the higher percentage of the “What Learners Retain” chart, utilizing the learners doing, hearing, saying, and seeing all at once. Some phrases we came up with: “I believe you can.” “Enjoy being in the moment.” “ What else?” “What do you want?” “Do with me.” “Illustrate the…” “ Let them show.” “Let them speak.” “Describe…” “Do” “Have questions rather than answers.” “Why are you here?”

Then we got together into three groups, and physically organized and addressed the groups in any way we saw fit as its teacher. Then each teaching couple in the group was to teach the forward ocho, based on the underlying belief of “If we tell them, they will fall asleep. If we make them do, they will build.” It was pretty interesting to see the vastly different teaching styles in every group.

We concluded the class with our own little graduation ceremony, which I thought was really cute.

The whole Study Circle / sharing and discussing with our partner is, I believe, a hallmark of the Brigitta Winkler teaching style, whereby we can feel comfortable that “we all know a lot and are experts” and can share what we know with each other so that we as are comfortable sharing in such a democratic environment and respectfully learn together as a group. This was a very fun class, and Maestra is very excited that she will be co-teaching a teachers festival in 2011 in Hawaii with Tomas Howlin. And just for the record, the brilliant Brigitta Winkler is in favor of note taking during class. :o)

The San Diego Tango Festival milongas were OK. The conditions were quite crowded with a high proportion of tables (arranged in classroom formation) to dance floor space, which ensured tight conditions, even though it didn’t have to be that way. Fortunately, there were two workshops on floor crafting, which served to keep everyone a little more in line. There weren’t too many flying stilettos, and the ones that occurred came from beginners (who thought they were advanced) or those obviously in dire need of attention.

The personal highlight for me was when Laura Tate showed up on Saturday night. Toward the end of the night, I got up the nerve to go over to her and personally thank her for the strong influence she had over my dance development. I explained that though I only took two lessons from her, and pre-milonga beginner and intermediate ones at that, she gave me, in one sentence, one extremely important nugget that completely changed how I danced up to that point, and really took things to the next level. I told her what that nugget was, and she smiled. She is a really classy person, super nice and approachable. I am sure she is also a fantastic wordsmith. :o)

It was great fun seeing the truly musically gifted, amazing Meng Wang live and in person. I really wanted to ask him to dance, but being pretena, that wouldn’t have been very proper. He had plenty of admirers and local friends there, so he certainly did not lack potential partners (many of whom were superlative dancers).

So why was the festival lacking for me? I don’t know. Maybe I am tainted by Austin (Fandango ROCKS!!). It wasn’t as well organized (with a huge backlog of people on the first day). Since this festival was advertised as for intermediate and advanced dancers, many people at the workshops did not switch, and dare I say thought they were much better than they actually were. The seating at the milongas (classroom table setup) did not make for a friendly, social cabaceoing environment. The hotel, while nice, is way the heck out there, and the hotel restaurant food was not the greatest. Upon checking into the hotel, we were handed a sheet that politely requested that “no outside food or beverages be brought into the ballrooms at any time—during workshops or milongas” – meaning no water bottles with electrolyte powder, no yogurt/bananas/cliff bars and the like, which was incongruent with my athletic sensibility of having continuous nutritious fuel for my brain and body to get through the day. Though I found the policy annoying, I complied with it. There was also an imbalance at the milongas of more Followers, and since I do not ask leaders to dance, I sat out a fair bit.



It was with great sadness that I learned last week that Tete Rusconi died. I had a chance to take several workshops (not enough!) with Tete y Silvia during CITA 2008, and also when they came to the SF Bay Area in August 2008 (organized by Dorcas). Actually, I had the supreme honor of accompanying them on the drive down to their workshops in Mountain View from San Francisco, and have dinner with them and Omar Vega afterwards (you can read about my experience in the blog from that time). I found them all to be extremely lovely, kind, fun people. There are no words I can say or write to express the tremendous loss to the worldwide tango community. Tete is a tango legend, a tango icon. I can still hear him admonish us in class, “Con la musica! La musica!”

During CITA 2008, I was extremely touched that he acknowledged me as I was leaving and he was entering one of the CITA night social milongas (he had way more energy than I did, despite being 30+ years older), and astounded that Silvia greeted me so warmly at the night they had the CITA milonga with performances by the milongueros at Confiteria Ideal. They made me feel special, recognized, even though I was just one of their hundreds of students at CITA 2008, and thousands of students worldwide.

Tete is in a class all by himself.

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