Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 25-31

Friday, March 26, 2010
Free Last Friday of the Month Movie Night at La Pista: “Si Sos Brujos”

We began with viewing two dance clips suggested by students. The first one, suggested by Frank, was of Chicho Frumboli y Milena Plebs

The second one, suggested by Tom, was of Gavito

The movie summary was pretty accurate. “Si Sos Brujo is a heartfelt, inspiring film that could do for Argentine Tango what the Buena Vista Social Club did for the music and musicians of Cuba illuminating an evolving culture, a way of life and the triumph of preserving one of the most intricate musical traditions of the world, following nearly 50 years of relative obscurity. This beautifully shot documentary brings the compelling story of a group of young Argentine musicians racing against time to learn and preserve the elegant and nuanced music played by the legendary Golden Age tango orchestras of Buenos Aires in the 40s and 50s. If you are familiar with the names of Pugliese, Troilo and Piazzolla, this film is essential viewing. Yet it has broad appeal, and anyone interested in the creative, musical process will love this film."

The movie itself was great, very inspiring.

Santiago and Amy were witty, fun hosts. There were passed communal bowls of popcorn, and some people brought wine to share. The seats were the same covered metal and plastic ones from the milonga upstairs. If I ever go in the future and can remember beforehand, I’d bring a cushion. Santiago and Amy won’t be here for the next or subsequent ones for a while since they will be on the road, but they have promised to send a movie every month. It’s nice that there are events such as these that are related to tango culture, but don’t involve actual dance participation. It makes our tango education all the more rich. It was hugely generous of Tom to donate his space, equipment, and time to make this event a success, and I am sure he and Mila will be fantastic regular co-hosts.

This was one of Santiago & Amy’s last Bay Area events before they take their show on the road. Their Goodbye Milonga is this Sunday, April 4, at Café Cocomo. The lesson is free, and if you are one of the first 20 of their regular students at the lesson/milonga, the milonga is free as well. This is hugely generous of them, and a wonderful gesture of thanks to the San Francisco Bay Area tango community.

Saturday, March 27, 2010
The Late Shift Milonga.
I did not go to the lesson beforehand. The milonga itself was OK. It was only lightly attended, but had more leaders than followers, so I danced quite a bit. Actually, I think we all did since the dancers who were there were of the social, community building, skill improving bent (more than the couples who dance exclusively with themselves or the tango ambushers who pick off the same few substantially superior-to-them dancers, over and over and over). I got to dance with several new-to-me leaders, who came up from the South Bay. I guess they did not want to make the additional drive over to the East Bay for the other milongas that night. Floorcraft was generally not a problem since it wasn’t crowded, though at times there were some gentle bumps since dancers took the opportunity to enjoy the freedom of having the space to do more real estate-intensive moves.

Interestingly enough, I realized there was a strategy some folks employ of looking into the milonga before they actually commit their $ to attending it. This comes to mind since JSE mentioned doing it last week. Since I got to this milonga late (I usually attend the lesson), I never noticed that a certain number of people who are part of the tango community take the time to look in first, to check out who is dancing inside, and then decide whether or not they want to go in. I have never done this personally, since I can’t be bothered with turning around to go back home (or to a different milonga) when I’ve already showered, dressed, and driven to the place, and made up my mind that this was the particular milonga I wanted to go to (as opposed to one in a different county or across town). But I can certainly appreciate the logic and the luxury of having an “out” before committing, and this would have saved me from going to the few milongas where I’ve regretted going and thought it was a complete waste of time and $.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March 18-24

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Verdi Club Milonga with lesson beforehand by Alicia Pons.
It was an excellent lesson, as usual. It’s funny, I picked up so much more the second time around, and after the ideas she introduced to me had a bit of time to ferment in my brain since she was here last year.

We began with our bodies, because tango is about connection, but first we must connect with our bodies. Our connection with ourselves works within our bodies. Our chest is in, not forward or pushing out. We need to sustain our bodies, but not with our shoulders. We need to think about the centers of our bodies as being a diamond, starting at our breastbone, down through our core and out to the edge of our hips, and ending in a point at our pelvic bone. We should stretch our torsos, and think of having our weight in the middle of the diamond.

Next, we also need to be on our axis, or 100% on one leg, being really “home” on one leg. We need to find the axis in our body when we stand on one strong stable place, on one leg, so that our other leg is 100% totally free.

There are two axes in our bodies: One vertical one as we stand on one leg or the other, and a horizontal axis, like a table top, which are our hip bones being level as a table top is level.

We began with a walking exercise, reaching with our toes, stepping with our heels, and then traveling with our bodies, passing through the heel. Our knees find home, and we sustain our bodies, arriving at home, finding our own home. We walked solo to Canaro’s Poema, focusing on being at home, projecting the step, and then going.

Next, we did an exercise in partnership where the Follower’s hands were on the Leader’s chest, and we walked. The Leader walks forward, but doesn’t collect. His trailing leg is left back as he is 100% on the one standing, supporting leg. His chest is not forward or pushing the Follower forward. For the Leader to walk with elegance, he puts his energy into the leg, going down with energy into the floor and moving the leg.

We do not separate with the chest. The Follower receives the lead from the walk in the pelvis. She should have long legs and short torso, where the Leader should have the opposite, a long torso and short legs. There is no need for the Leader to push with his chest and he should not push with his chest. In tango, the Leader invites to go, but it is not a Follower obligation to go. The Follower, on the other hand, should not put up resistance.

For the next exercise, we worked on how we connect in the embrace. The embrace is a circle, starting at the shoulder blades. First in getting into the embrace, we should separate the shoulder blades and really embrace. Nothing is out—not our chest nor our breast bone. The Leader has arms in a circle, and the Follower snuggles in underneath.

With respect to floor craft, we should not pass each other or zig zag in and out. We need to respect the dance floor. If there is room in front of us, we need to take it. If we do not, we become a space hog and end up backing up all the other dancers behind us, causing a traffic jam and pileup behind us. This is extremely rude behavior. When walking together in the embrace, the energy is down into the floor, not up. We need to have space to express something. The energy is like breathing, or like an egg breaking, where the egg spreads on the floor, around. We need to breathe. We also can play with weight.

Again, Follower should not resist. We have water inside of us, therefore we should not move like cement blocks. With the water inside of us, we should relax.

During our walking together, Maestra noticed that we bunched up a lot, and she encouraged the couples to go, to fill the space, and not get bunched up (and be space hogs).

We first practiced walking to Di Sarli, and then we practiced walking to Biagi, which is a stronger, faster, sharper beat. However, we were not to push. Maestra wanted to she see Biagi in our bodies when we walked to Biagi, and stated that we should not look like we were walking to Di Sarli when we were walking to Biagi. Again, we were to not have any pushing or any lean or pushing forward in our bodies (both Leaders and Followers).

Maestra noted that we always need to respect the line of dance, and that we should not dance the step (thus, she does not teach steps or sequences), but that we should dance the music.

In my opinion, Alicia Pons is one of the best tango teachers in the world. She does not blow smoke up your… body part where smoke shouldn’t be blown up. She does not tell you lies to boost your self esteem so that you will go to and pay for more of her lessons. She is passionately honest, which doesn’t sit well with lesser dancers who do not take correction well. She does not teach you steps or sequences or embellishments. She teaches you HOW TO DANCE. She is amazing. She is one of the best in the world.

The milonga itself was super fun, really perfect in its own way. It got quite crowded toward the end, likely because there aren’t any other milongas on Thursday nights. Floorcraft was difficult at times, but generally respectful. I feel as though the community is maturing in that area. “Who’s J?” was there, so we got to dance milonga again, which was great since the usual “J” was snapped up by the usual culprit. I got to dance the one-song salsa tanda with Mark, who is an amazing salsa dancer, so that was a wonderful treat.

Maestra and Adolfo did a demo to one song later on that night, which was beautiful. She had the most amazing strapless shoes on. No worries about slipping out of that shoe anywhere or any way; the heel was solidly enclosed, with the leather continuing, wrapping around the inside of the foot, and over and across the top of the front of the open toe shoe with lots of support around the ball of the foot and metatarsal joints, so no chance of any bunion slipouts or pain from straps cutting in on the outside of the foot. Delicate looking, it was not, but it had some very couture detailing and extremely thoughtful design. I speculate it was custom made to her specifications, because the design elements were genius for tango dancers who maximally articulate their taluses and who are especially particular about with how their ankle straps feel.

La Portena made beef empanadas, which were for sale on the honor system for $1 each (a bargain; it is the approximate equivalent price you would pay for an empanada at a Buenos Aires milonga). I took mine to go, and reheated some up the next morning for breakfast, and they definitely hit the spot. They had a very high filling to dough ratio, the beef was extremely flavorful, and spotted with delicate bits of diced egg.

Jorge Nel and the beautiful Milena were there selling their shoes, either off the rack ($98) or custom order. The styles were different, more hip and modern, more light and airy, from the last time I saw his shoes in Austin at Fandango de Tango 2009. He had many styles with 6 or 7 cm stiletto or kitten heels in fun colors other than black or red, which I found sorely tempting... On my last trip to BsAs, I was in search of such shoes, and only found one vendor – Taconeando – who had stiletto heels in less than 8 cm. And even then, if I recall correctly, 7 cm was the shortest, and sold out in a lot of the models. Though I personally don’t own any Jorge Nel shoes, I’ve looked at and tried them on over the past several years and have heard good things about them. I am especially impressed with how responsive Jorge Nel is to the current fashion trends and the whimsical and sometimes finicky desires and feet of tango dancers at milongas. Super nice guy; he might be open to giving you a discuenta if you ask nicely for it when buying multiple pairs.

Friday, March 19, 2009

Los Altos Milonga organized by Gato Valdez and Andrea Monti.
We began with the lessons with some technique exercises on walking forward and walking backward. Walking, seemingly easy, is the most difficult thing to do with style and elegance. It is important in walking not to abandon the upper body. Collect feet and knees. Relax knees. Keep the abs inside (core engaged). Chest is over the toes; keep your balance. Send one foot forward to the floor, brush the floor, brush the knees, and push with the back leg. In walking backwards, we also send the leg first, brushing the floor. Do not walk weird and do strange things with your feet like show the sole of your shoe. Keep your chest up. We walked together in partnership, man forward and woman back, and then woman forward and man back. The man’s hand is on the woman’s back, not in the air or “sort of” on her back. I really like how Maestra teaches technique first and foremost at every lesson, and how she really emphasizes core engagement.

The first sequence was the 8CB to 3, followed by the side and forward steps of the counterclockwise molinete, into a forward ocho to the closed side, to a forward ocho to the open side, back out to resolution. The second sequence, which involved the Leader having a lot of torsion and the footwork a lot of pivot, began in a similar way to the first sequence. 8CB to 3, to Follower’s clockwise molinete with Leader right foot sacada of Follower’s front left foot as she steps right foot back cross, to the Leader pivoting 180% and takes a long side step with his left foot as the Follower continues around him with her clockwise molinete. Follower forward ocho out to resolution. For the Follower, it is important to stay a little longer on the pivot before reaching back in the back cross step with her right foot. These were both simple sequences, and we had ample time to drill them, with lots of individual feedback to clean it up and get it right. There were a few extra followers, so I was able to have Maestra lead me in several of the rotations. She is a fantastic leader! (as opposed to some female halves of teaching couples who can lead so-so, just enough to illustrate the concept).

The milonga itself was OK. The fun part for me was dancing with many leaders that I had never danced with before. It got more crowded as the night progressed, and so floorcraft wasn’t the greatest, and really should have been better. But thankfully, it wasn’t overly aggressive. Gato did a fine job as DJ, with crowd-pleasing tandas. The finger food was diverse in offering, but not excessively abundant. This food strategy kept us fueled but slim (since there were no plates to load up). There were plain potato chips (yummy Hawaiian style chips), plain tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole, cheese presliced and pre-toothpicked, brie, sliced bread, an egg tart, pound cake, strawberries, cantaloupe, and grapes, water and soda, all high quality and thoughtfully prepared. Folks were welcome to, and did bring their own wine, which they kept at their own tables.

Valeria Carmel and Daniel Rodriguez, who arrived to social dance, also did a demo to two songs. Their first demo had a lot of Double Frente / Al Reves in it, so that was loads of fun to watch since we see that so rarely here. There were two raffles (I love this Buenos Aires milonga tradition that we are seeing more of in the SF Bay Area); the prizes were music CDs made by Gato. A two-song salsa tanda was played, and Maestra showed herself to be an excellent salsera. Her partner was Frank, who I had heard was an excellent salsero, but I had not previously seen him burn the floor with my own eyes.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Late Shift Milonga with lesson before by Tony Fan and Ilana Rubin on Fun Soltadas.
I was curious about this teaching couple, since their flyer seemed to rave particularly about their special gift of excellent teaching. So I had to check them out. First, they began with a dance demo to show us what it was that they were going to teach us. What they showed was not the usual simplistic soltada of a Follower rotation in front of the Leader with a broken embrace, but rather, a soltada where she walks around him in her molinete of back – side – forward.

To begin, we take a side step (Leader’s left, Follower’s right), then he leads her to do a back boleo of her left leg as she is weighted on her right leg, then the Leader steps diagonally forward away from her with his left foot (she steps forward diagonally away with her left foot), Leader does a right foot sacada of her trailing right foot, rotates her back around to do a second boleo (front cross boleo of her right foot across her standing supporting left leg)—this is a big front boleo with a lot of hip rotation away and out, to rebound the energy into to substantial back cross step of her right foot to begin the clockwise molinete around him. Here, at the Follower’s back cross step of her right foot, with his right foot he meets and hooks her trailing forward left foot. Then with his same right foot, he sweeps her left foot behind him, causing her to continue to take the side step of the molinete, and then to step over his trailing right foot with her right foot on her forward cross step of the molinete. Then he meets her out to resolution, which they recommended as cross steps for both in the Americana (Follower’s left foot, Leader’s right foot), back to step out together.

We drilled this, with ample individual attention, and periodically coming back together to discuss finer points of the lead and the follow.

Before the second Follower front cross boleo, it is important that he leads her away, and then back in in a little bit of colgada energy, to make her “up” on her second boleo before her right foot back cross step. His right foot curls in front her trailing left leg, then he lets go of his right arm embrace to sweep her foot back.

Every step we take, and how we point our toes, prepares our body’s direction for the next step.

As the Follower steps around the Leader, their hands are flat and palm to palm in a horizontal plane, much like swing dancers.

For the Follower, she should have a lot of energy in that second boleo, really overturning the hips to come back around and really be able to take a good back cross step.

For the Leader’s sweep, first he sends his right foot to hook in front of the Follower’s left foot, then he lowers his body at his knee, grounding into the floor, to be able to get freeness into his right foot as it sweeps back toward his left shoulder as she does her side step with her left foot. She then steps over with her right foot back in front of him, and they step together in the Americana (Follower’s left foot front cross, Leader’s right foot front cross.

So, after all this, believe it or not most of the class got it. I think Maestros were terrific teachers, and what a great treat that they made a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area. It is definitely true that they have a very clear teaching style, and their flyer was right …. “with superb analysis and breakdown of individual movements… fun, informative, well thought out and presented.”

The milonga itself was fun. It was a little slow in the beginning and it never got to be super crowded. That was fine though, since the dancer quality was pretty good overall, and everyone was being quite social. Floorcraft was OK, though at times the dancers seemed to dance faster than the music called for. Surprisingly, “Who’s J” was there, and we got to dance two milonga tandas. There was another milonga tanda, and a stranger asked me to dance. Again, like last time, I was a little leery, since I had never danced with him before. But it was OK, he was a fine milonga dancer, so I was relieved. But I wish that these new, unfamiliar-to-me Leaders who ask me to dance milonga would ask me to dance tango or vals first since I’d like to know what I am in for before I say yes. It would just be a nicer place for me to be, mentally. Maestros did a demo to two songs, which was fine. Ilana graciously danced socially with the leaders who asked her. Shorey did a great job spinning the tunes. The food was as it always is. I didn’t bonk at all; I danced a lot and stayed much later than I ever have (5 hours total including lesson). The whey protein shakes must be working for me at these long gigs.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. I had planned on going to Café Cocomo since I really wanted to take a class with Jorge Nel and Melina. I even got ready for it. But after my shower, I realized how utterly and completely exhausted I was, so I stayed home instead.

Jr. Scout Extraordinaire ventured out though, taking a peek inside Studio Gracia, where it was lightly attended despite having the fantastic Negracha and Diego Lanau teaching and Tangonero playing. Making her way over to Café Cocomo, she said the story was the same over there as well. Maybe it’s the economy, and maybe it’s that Sunday has tango events going on all day long, some of them free, and it’s cannibalizing the attendance at night events… She’s trying to get me to go to a very exclusive tango event that is by special invitation only later on this year… I don’t know if my pocketbook can actually withstand such pressure though (it involves tuition, housing costs, air plane tickets, cabs, shoe temptations, etc.)…and it’s not clear to me whether or not I am entirely welcome at the event, although I do have an invitation from the organizer…sort of…

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas: “Cristina’s Favorite Moves”

The idea for this class was compact and playful musical ideas focused on the Follower.

We began with a posture exercise, which would apply to how we moved for most of the class. We lifted off our heels, but did not crunch our toes. We should be able to wiggle our toes. When we lift off our heels and with our chest/sternum up, we should not lift our shoulders. The lift is from the heel and ribcage, but we should try to pull our shoulder blades down. Our weight is up front, but not to the toes.

To this lifted posture, we added a little bit of movement, little tiny quick side steps to the left and to the right, the Follower’s tiny pitter patter, which was called “The Typewriter Pitter Patter” (those who don’t know what a typewriter is can Google Image it or visit a museum). When this movement goes forward and back (instead of left and right), we called it “The Bandoneon Pitter Patter” – because the movement is similar to the Bandoneon bellows compressing and expanding.

In doing these Follower pitter patter steps, the steps are tiny, the thighs are together, and the knees are soft.

We worked on these Follower Pitter Patter steps using the same song for the entire class: Adolfo Carabelli’s “Felicia” so that we could really lock into the parts of the music where the Follower’s Typewriter Pitter Patter or Bandoneon Pitter Patter could be led.

Typewriter Pitter Patter

In partnership, we danced with the Follower’s typewriter pitter patter side steps to the Leader’s right. To lead this, the Leader’s lift comes from his chest, with a little bit of compression, at the point in the music where it would make logical sense for her to accent the music with these small, quick side steps. The leader rotates her to his right, and then back to his left. In the song “Felicia” the most logical places for this to occur would be in the piano or bandoneon fills in between the phrases of the music.

For the Follower, she needs to be in tune to the music. The move is compact and the Follower has equal responsibility for the musical interpretation of the song. The Leader can lead the general direction of the movement when he rotates her to his right and back in to the left, but the Follower’s steps are up to her in terms of the timing of each left – right – left –right pitter patter step.

The question came up of how the Follower knew to do pitter patter, quick tiny side steps, rather than regular molinete grapevine footwork. The answer was that there is a definite lead from the Leader for the Follower Pitter Patter. There is more lift and compression than a regular molinete.

Next, we drilled the Typewriter Pitter Patter to the left and to the right on the open side of the embrace.

Next, we drilled the Typewriter Pitter Patter with the Follower and Leader doing it alternately. Here again, there are the lift, hold, and compression ideas, depending on the music. The question came up of how the Leader holds the Follower and ask her not to move or step when he does his Typewriter Pitter Patter steps. The answer is that the Leader needs to isolate the embrace, holding her out there, and the bring his body when he wants her to move. Both dancers here should keep their shoulders down, as it is easy to accumulate tension during the alternate Typewriter Pitter Patter. That is why in between the Pitter Patters, we need to walk it out or do other things, before we start again with more Pitter Patter. The Leader can lift the Follower, and then let her down, and then do his pitter patter. Or, he can just keep lifting her, holding her up as he does his pitter patter.

The Bandoneon Pitter Patter

The next idea we explored was the Bandoneon Pitter Patter. In “V” embrace, we went to the forward promenade (Americana) walk. This is a move from close, to more open in promenade, back to slightly more in, in “V” while the Leader leads the Follower to walk around him with forward steps. To lead the Bandoneon Pitter Patter, again he would give her lift and compression at a place in the music where it made sense for her to do the Pitter Patter. The lift is like a little scoop as the Leader compresses. The Leader should take care that the Follower is comfortable in the lift, and that her left shoulder is not overly lifted or uneven with her right shoulder.

From this promenade Follower walk in a circle, the Leader can lead her to do the Bandoneon Pitter patter forward and back, or right and left, which would be away and back near to him since they are at right angles to each other. For the Follower, her left arm is caged in because of the compressive energy, so the forearm is what expands and shortens when she is sent out to her right and then back in to her left.

The Follower has a lot of choice in terms of how she interprets the music with her hips and body movement. The Follower needs to own her own movement.

Some Followers had trouble following the lead for the Bandoneon Pitter Patter out to the right and back in to the left from the Follower promenade walk in a circle. It was noted that this might be because the Leader had to catch the Follower on her correct foot, to enable the free foot to correctly step out to the right. The Leader also needs to ground himself a bit more to lead the Follower Bandoneon Pitter Patter out to the right and left from the Promenade Walk.

Some Followers responded with Colgada body movement. Maestro noted that there is a different send energy in the Bandoneon Pitter Patter than the Colgada. In the Bandoneon Pitter Patter, there is lift and compression and height change. In the Colgada there is no height change, not a big compression, and the send energy is much larger. There is also a definite sense of planting in the Colgada.

It was noted that there is a Physical Lead to these pitter patter moves, as well as a Psychological Lead (if he starts to do it, she might mimic him at some point, understanding what he is hearing and how he is interpreting the song and inviting her to do the same with her movements). The more you do these Pitter Patter moves, the more natural they becomes. When social dancing with someone who is unfamiliar with this concept, it is best to try The Typewriter Pitter Patter before attempting the Bandoneon Pitter Patter.

Since the class was struggling a bit with the Bandoneon Pitter Patter, maestros decided to back things up a bit, and we tried it in partnership facing each other. Yes, our butts stuck out a little bit. In this embrace, we could do the Bandoneon Pitter Patter with just the Follower, or alternating with the leader, or simultaneously.

She Steps, He Steps

Our last idea was She Steps, He Steps idea. Again, working with lift and compression, the Leader leads the Follower to do two steps, and then he takes one step, eventually leading her into the cross. First, he steps side left, changes weight, and then steps left foot forward in a sneak attack. He leads her to walk using horizontal energy in the lead, to get the Follower to take two steps. Then he takes one, and then she takes two into the cross as he takes one.

Concluding remarks:

The Follower has the freedom and responsibility to be in tune with the music.

The Leader’s lift comes from his chest, and combined with compression, is a scooping idea. He can send her alone on either side, or send the Follower and then go himself. He needs to choose the moments wisely of when to lead these Follower Pitter Patter steps.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Carabelli’s Felicia, which you can see at

It was kind of a sad but sweet night since Maestros are going to be away for the summer, teaching in Europe. They will be sorely missed in the San Francisco Bay Area, and hugely blessed on the other side of the pond.

The practica was fun. I only stayed for three tandas, but they were truly excellent ones.


It’s way early…but my eyes are on July / August:

Seattle Tango Magic
– so many fantastic maestros are teaching there!! So many difficult choices!! Julio y Corina or Oliver y Silvia?! Ugh.

Antipanico 2010 in San Francisco.
Could it truly be that I am the last person in the Bay Area to hear about this? When I took classes at CITA 2008 taught by Chicho Frumboli y Juana Sepulveda, and Sebastian Arce y Mariana Montes, I had absolutely no clue who they were. And if I recall correctly, instruction at CITA 2008 was in Castellano. So hopefully they will be teaching in English in San Francisco, which should be fantastic.

Luciana Valle Intensivos registration open

For those really wanting to work on and improve their physiokinetic understanding of tango and their body, I highly recommend Luciana Valle’s Intensivos in Buenos Aires. Hurry though, enrollment is limited to ~25 students (~15 followers) per session. You will rotate among Luciana’s hand picked assistants, who are all fantastic dancers and sometimes teachers/performers/tango professionals. Take both A and B sessions in one two-week trip, it's the most cost-effective way so that you don't have to fly back and forth, and the material is still fresh.

When I talk about this to folks locally, a lot of them say the same thing… “Luciana Valle? She’s coming in the fall. I will just wait to study here in SF with her at that time.” The Tango Intensivo experience is on an entirely different level from what you will learn at her regular group workshops in SF, where some of the students you are partnered with are often struggling, or holding back your own learning. This will generally never be the case at the Intensivo in Buenos Aires, since unless you are a truly advanced dancer (do people call you “maestro”?), the skill level of the hand-picked assistants as a group will exceed almost everyone’s. Some of the hand-picked assistants are better at some things more than others. But the beauty of the experience and how the Intensivos are structured are that you get to rotate among them all, so you can experience the wonderful variety of superior dancers. The Intensivo is like having a box of assorted Jacques Torres chocolates in Buenos Aires versus having a box of See’s nuts and chews in SF.

And hey, if you buy 10 or 20 pairs of tango shoes, you would break even financially on the trip. ;o) (and believe me, it is shamefully easy to buy 10 or 20 pairs of tango shoes on one trip to Buenos Aires).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

General PSA

Two really good articles from the NY Times:

Bottom line: Spoken words disappear. Written words get forwarded. Be careful, kiddies. It’s a cruel, cruel world out there… so don’t do anything stupid. Get rid of the bong/keg/nude pics of yourself, and for your own sake, never write anything blue unless you want to be viewed that way.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 11-17

P.S. From last week:

The rap song that Homer played at CellSpace was by Momo Smitt, called “Tango World.” You can see it on YouTube

Momo Smitt also has another song, “Dance with Pro”, inspired by a dance with Jennifer Olsen:

Personally, I am extremely impressed by his talent. His lyrics are hip and modern, and imminently relatable. It’s truly exciting to witness the evolution a new subgenre of tango music with U.S. roots. Apparently, plans are in the works for a CD release later this year, though a demo CD is available if you can beg, borrow, or steal one. Momo Smitt is relatively new to tango, so it will be interesting to hear his lyrics develop as his dance develops.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Friday, March 12, 2010

Palo Alto Milonga at All Saints Church with lesson beforehand by Valeria Carmel and Daniel Rodriguez.
I missed most of the lesson since I was having way too good of a time at Mango Caribbean, the restaurant next door, sucking down a ginger beer cocktail and snarffling up a beef patty (the Jamaican equivalent of an empanada). In watching the tail end of the lesson, I noticed it was a sequence similar to the one taught Monday at La Cumparsita, only with Maestro doing more Leader embellishments. Maestros have a very balanced presentation of Leader and Follower technique, had lots of good tango nuggets of wisdom, and showed lots of individual attention the couples.

The milonga was fine. It wasn’t hugely attended, but that was OK, since it made floorcraft nearly a non-issue. The Leader quality was good, and everyone danced with everyone else. Maestros were such good sports, dancing socially with us at the milonga. Their performance of two tangos was very nice, with Maestro having especially fast, precise feet, and excellent balance. It had been a while since I had gone to a milonga here, and I had forgotten how nice the floor was to dance on.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Café Cocomo milonga with lesson beforehand by Gato Valdéz y Andrea Monti on technique and a sequence.
We began with some fundamental exercises to work on our technique. For walking. For ochos and disassociation/balance. For speed and embellishments. This was an all levels class, and there were students for whom this was their very first tango lesson, and several regular students of Maestros who came up all the way from San Jose and beyond. It was a very good class. The first sequence taught included back and forward ochos (back and forward cross steps), a change of direction, a Leader sacada, and a Follower front cross boleo response to the sacada, and walking. The second sequence included the 8CB to 4, followed by a rock step, then a step back, so that the Leader’s right leg wrapped or displaced the Followers’ right leg, to send it into a tight back cross of her left leg. Here, she can either do a beat back with her left foot against her right foot, or have the left foot pop forward out or reverse spiral cross out and around the left side of her right foot. Maestros speak English, though their style of teaching was more Argentine in style: They showed the pattern, spoke about it briefly with respect to the lead and follow, and then let us drill it for quite a bit, going around providing lots of individual attention. At the end, each student couple demonstrated the sequence to show that they had learned it. Because there were a few extra followers in class, I got a chance to be an assistant, just following as Gato led me, while Andrea led other followers. It was nerve wracking, but I guess I did OK (I didn’t fall or step on him). I found Andrea to be an excellent teacher of Followers’ Technique, and would recommend her to anyone in the South Bay wanting to develop their dance in that area (which should be all Followers, in my opinion).

The milonga itself was OK. It wasn’t super crowded nor super empty. It had a reasonable number of people so that floor craft was generally not an issue. Actually, it had a very nice, relaxed, mellow feeling overall, certainly without the frenzied speed and aggressiveness that can sometimes be found at more crowded milongas. Maestros demo’d to two songs. Their dancing had a more performance-oriented bent, which I am sure inspires a lot of people to dream about the possibilities in their dance development. Later on, several visiting maestros popped in to social dance; what a pleasure they were to watch. There was no food at this milonga, just like last time, save for the pretzels and veggie stix. :o( I wonder if that is a new thing. I hope not...

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas on “The Leader’s Back Enrosque”

The video can be seen at (with 42,000+ hits and climbing!!!)

We went immediately into exercises.

Exercise 1:
Crossing behind while walking forward. With all of us together in one big circle, we were to try to get to the center of the circle by walking forward with tight back crosses.

Exercise 2:
Crossing forward while walking backward. From the center of the circle, we were to try to get to the perimeter by walking backward with tight forward crosses.

On both these exercises, our feet should be in tight crosses, with our two feet coming together to point in an arrow /\. We were to have no bounce, and we should lift our heels so that we can get in and move forward or back as we cross in the opposite manner. We were to try to get to the middle of the room (or the perimeter of the room) as quickly as possible, but with control, elegance, and grace.

Exercise 3:
In partnership, hand in hand, we were to do forward ochos together and back ochos together, stepping around each other so that we remain relatively close. Timing wise, we were to go together simultaneously. The Followers need to create spiral in their bodies, and the Leaders should try to be as elegant as the Followers in their ochos as well. Good ocho technique applied in this exercise: caress the floor with our feet, keep our knees, thighs, and ankles together at the point of collection/pivot.

Exercise 4:
Next, we were to compete with each other to see who could get the most energy in our forward pivot, pivoting as much as we could to see who has more hip energy. Here, it is very important to connect to the floor with our standing, supporting leg, so that we can pivot strongly and a lot. The energy in our hips depends on how we connect to the floor. We were to compete with each other, but have speed as well as control, but with grace and without falling. This exercise is important because most of the back enrosque is derived from the forward pivot.

Exercise 5: A drill of the Leader Enrosque footwork. The Leader walks in a line, starting with a forward step (forward ocho / front cross step) with his left foot, with his right foot hooking behind, then pivoting counterclockwise, then changing weight to be on his right foot, to a pivoted back step (back ocho/ back cross step) with his left foot. The Leader faces the same direction at the start on his first step forward, and at the finish with his last step back. His goal is to stay in a straight line for this drill.

We also did this exercise with the right foot, stepping out with our right foot first, tight back crossing with our left foot, to pivot clockwise, to change weight to our left foot, and then to pivoted back step with our right foot.

Exercise 6:
The ocho exercise transformed into the back enrosque exercise. Again, in partnership, both dancers did the same footwork as in Exercise 4, of forward step (forward ocho / front cross step), to tight back cross of other foot, to pivot, change weight, and then back step (back ocho / back cross step). If starting with the left foot, it also ends with the left foot. If starting with the right foot, it also ends with the right foot. Both dancers need to be responsible for their body, to be aligned and have good spiral, and hang a little back (do not lean forward). The dancers can lift the heel a little by bending the knee, to help them pivot. The idea to focus on in this exercise is to be very grounded over ourselves as we did this enrosque footwork. We need to be on the balls of our foot, and be solid. Our whole body works, not just our foot. There was less pivot in this exercise, so the dancers danced in a straight linear direction with the pivot in between steps, to arc around each other in a half circle.

Exercise 7: Leader back enrosque footwork during Follower molinete / turn. While the Leader does his forward step (forward ocho / front cross step), tight back cross, pivot, weight change, and back step (back ocho / back cross step), he simultaneously leads the Follower to do a molinete / turn of forward/front cross step, side step, back cross step. We did this with the Leader’s left foot first and last (during Follower counterclockwise molinete / turn), and then Leader’s right foot first and last (during Follower clockwise molinete / turn).

Follower should have long, consistent steps during their molinete, and she should not transfer the weight too fast, especially on the side step. She should have complete control of her reaching leg, and take equal size steps. She should also have a smooth transfer of weight. Even if the Follower feels the Leader changing weight, nothing in his upper body should do anything other than keep leading the Follower in her molinete. The point of this exercise is for the Leader to figure out when to transfer weight to maximize the energy in the turn.

Exercise 8: The introduction of a cheat: The Forward Sacada. The forward sacada can be used so that the Leader is around the Follower’s center more, in a tighter relationship. The forward sacada helps the Leader do his enrosque. The Leader’s forward sacada is a forward ocho step, on the Follower’s forward step at her trailing foot.

Note that the Leader’s back step afterwards is optional. He can do it continuously, link it with rulos, etc.

Finally, Maestros showed us conceptually that entering (doing the sacada) on the Follower’s side step is easier than entering (doing the sacada) on her forward / front cross step because it synchronizes the pivots of the Leader and Follower, thus adding power to the Leader’s pivot.

Note that the sacada can be done on any step of the Follower’s molinete: back step, side step, forward step. There are many possibilities.

Sometimes the Leader might inadvertently get confused with his feet, and then end up in the wrong crossed feet position. To get out of it, he can do another tight back cross to be on the correct foot again to get out of it.

Summary Comments:

Leader’s back cross / cross behind technique is key. So is his forward ocho and back ocho technique.

Follower’s molinete / turn technique is key. Take long steps. Have smooth weight transitions. Keep close. Be on axis with nose over hips.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Pugliese’s Cascabelito.

Polo mentioned that he is hosting a new milonga this Saturday at the Beat.

So what am I excited about these days?

Alicia Pons in town. One of the best teachers EVER.

Jorge Nel in town. Hopefully he will take our milonga dancing up a notch. His shoes are great, by the way.

Negracha and Diego Lanau back in town. One of my favorite dance teaching couples EVER.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

February 25-March 10

Saturday, March 6, 2010

As I was waiting for my dishwasher to be delivered, I decided to catch up on the stack of DVDs I have been meaning to watch. So I picked Take the Lead with Antonio Banderas. This was a fun flick. Not focused on Argentine Tango, but on ballroom dancing, and learning how to dance, and bridging the gap between high schoolers from the ‘hood and uptown folks. It was fun, with lots of great sayings about ballroom dancing, and why it’s a benefit to learn how to partner dance… learning how to be polite and trust each other, and learning how to touch/embrace each other with respect and in a non-sexual way, and bridging the gaps between color, class, and historical hard feelings. I especially liked the additional special features on this DVD, specifically the interview with Pierre Dulaine.

The Late Shift Milonga with lesson beforehand by David and Mariana.
We began with a partnered exercise with both Leader and Follower doing forward ochos, with really focusing on getting a lot of pivot in our hips and feet, and to not pigeon toe. There is turnout on the forward step for more stability, and this turnout happens from the femur down, not just at the foot. Next, we did a pre-figure step of just the Follower forward ocho while leader does front cross steps with his right foot, immediately into back cross steps with his left foot, so basically he is doing a rock step, while leading her to do continuous forward ochos. The figure taught was a simple one: Americana to Follower forward ocho to Leader left foot sacada of Follower’s trailing left leg as she steps forward cross with her right leg. For the embrace, the Follower should not bring her right hand inside. She needs to have clean arms. Leader can raise his left hand closer to his ear as he leads her from the Americana to the forward ocho. If you step too close, that means that for the Leader during the Americana, he needs to be cognizant of giving her enough space. Then we changed the figure. The Leader steps left foot side diagonal instead of his left leg sacada, to lead a Follower front boleo of her right leg as her left leg is the standing, supporting one. Here, the Follower needs to be at a right angle to the Leader. The hips turn first, all the way around, and then the leg goes up. It’s important to pivot a lot. The Follower needs to be able to distinguish between just pivoting a lot or being led to do a boleo. How can she do this? By the Leader taking a step against the rotation of the Follower hips. Next, we changed the figure again, with the Leader doing a left leg sacada, immediately into a Follower left leg front boleo as her right leg is the standing, supporting one. The Follower needs to take long front cross steps, and the Leader changes weight, left foot to right foot, at the point of the Follower boleo. Follower needs to collect at the pivot, and not raise the foot/leg in anticipation of the boleo. Then we tried the other side: Leader right leg sacada on Follower’s left foot front cross step to lead Follower right leg boleo as Leader steps to the left. Maestro emphasized that it wasn’t the steps that were the focus of the lesson. Rather, it was to teach us to be able to lead and follow the elements. The front boleo is the most socially acceptable boleo because it’s confined and you use your own space.

The milonga was fun. It started out a bit slow, but soon got crowded and lively. I danced quite a bit, and my knees definitely felt it (on top of being a bit bruised from installing a dishwasher that afternoon). Floorcraft was pretty good overall. Surprisingly, a dancer from Monterey made a beeline for me the second or third milonga tanda, which surprised me, since I had never seen or danced with him before. He was great, so much so that the next milonga tanda after that, I made a beeline for him. It’s impressive some of the talent they have tangowise south of the South Bay (Monterey/Santa Cruz), and how blessed we are in San Francisco when some of these amazing leaders venture up north…

Tango Con*Fusion performed two numbers (one with Pier, Debbie, and Mariana, and the second with Christy and Chelsea), which were both great. It was nice to be able to see them off before their trip to Buenos Aires to perform and teach at CITA 2010, which is a wonderful accomplishment.

All in all, it was a very good night.

Monday, March 8, 2010

La Cumparsita Milonga with lesson beforehand with Valeria Carmel and Daniel Rodriguez.
This was a good lesson, the topic of which was Adornos for Leaders and Followers. Valeria is fluent in English, while Daniel taught exclusively in Spanish (except for saying “left” and “right”). As some may remember, Valeria was Pampa’s former partner. I don’t think I ever took a lesson with both she and Pampa, so I can’t comment on how her teaching has changed, if at all. This was an excellent lesson, with some really good nuggets of information offered up for our brains to munch on.

We began with warming up with walking, first in single time, then in double time. After that, we did Follower back ochos and Follower forward ochos, with focus on getting our axis back. The sequence taught was to highlight the concept of contrabody disassociation and sustaining the movement. It was a simple pattern, with lots of subtleties. It began with a side step (Leaders left, Followers right), to walk out 5 steps into the cross, with the Leader also doing first a back cross of his right foot behind his left foot, and then a back cross of his left foot behind his right foot, to do a right leg sacada of the Follower’s trailing left leg as she takes a right leg front cross step in a clockwise molinete, to a Leader’s left leg sacada of her trailing right foot on her left foot open side step. Since some Leaders seemed to be having trouble with the two back cross steps simultaneously, the sequence was simplified with just one back cross step of his right foot behind his left foot, then into a left leg sacada (on Follower’s left trailing foot of her forward right foot step of clockwise molinete), and then a right leg sacada (on Follower’s trailing right foot of her left foot open side step). Maestros teaching was very organized and structured, following the organizational pattern of showing us the sequence, letting us work on it for a few songs, and then bringing us all back together for group corrections:

For the Follower: Go through her axis before stepping out. When going to the cross, keep her hips in front of the Leader. Wait for the Lead.

For the Leader: Lead everything. Keep chest parallel to Follower. Step together; use each other’s energy to step. For the Leader’s back cross, keep the feet tight together (don’t make the cross big or huge). In the Sacada, keep walking, and take her space. Don’t think of it as displacing to keep the movement more flowing.

For the embrace, the distance can be close or open, V or parallel, but connection is the most important thing. For both: Be responsible for your own weight. Slight lean is OK as long as you are responsible for your own weight. There is elasticity of the embrace in that it can be open or you can bring her close. Be present. Do not be forceful, but do not be vacant either.

Leader adornos: There are many possibilities for Leader adornos at the point of his back cross step. He can do taps, take his foot in the air, or point his toe to his left. For the Follower, she can do beats back across her right standing supporting foot with her free left foot, or do a back cross of her left foot behind her right foot.

We added to the sequence with a Leader back ocho / back cross step of his left foot.

We spent a good bit of time drilling the sequence with the Leaders trying to add the adornos and having good technique in their back cross / back ocho step.

Maestra noted that Followers should stay on the floor at all time to have better connection with our partner, and develop a little bit of resistance against/into the floor to help sustain the step.

The milonga was fun. Thought it was sparsely attended, the Leader quality was pretty good, and they properly rotated among all the Followers, and there were no female tango hog ambushers in attendance. So even though there were a few extra Followers that night, no one sat out for any extended length of time. In short, I think everyone had a good time.

Judy and Jon made an appearance later on, and danced socially.

Valeria and Daniel did a performance of two numbers. The first was a tango, and the second a milonga, which was one of the most happy, funny, witty, joyful milonga performances I had ever seen. There were flyers for a dinner and show they are doing at the Bellevue Club in Oakland on March 21 that looks really interesting.

It was the first time I had seen Carolina in many months, since before her new baby was born. It was good to see her. She is looking as slim and trim as ever. Unfortunately, she will not be with the rest of Tango Con*Fusion in Buenos Aires this time around.

Wednesday, March 9, 2010

CellSpace Milonga with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas on Floorcraft and Navigation.
After the dance floor was made smaller, to be somewhat tight, we began with some games:

Game 1: Molecule Game

Every person is a molecule that stands still, but there is one rogue molecule that stimulates random movement. When that rogue molecule touches you, you need to move away in a random pattern away from the spot you just occupied, and touch/invade the space of another person/molecule. Then that person moves, etc.

Game 2: Actors' Walk

Walk across the dance floor, in a random direction, either across or diagonally, but not in the line of dance, to get to the other side of the dance floor. Do not run. First, walk slow. Then go faster. Then faster. The point of this game is:

(1) to watch where you are going

(2) to make adjustments

(3) to increase your sense of awareness and vision

On the milonga dance floor, it is OK to dance in the middle or outside, but do not weave or zig zag between couples.

Game 3: Touch the Corner

In partnership, we danced doing just walking and weight changes, trying to go around the line of dance, but especially touching the four corners of the dance floor with one foot of the Follower, where chairs were set up to clearly delineate what the corners were, and the object we were to try to touch with our feet to make sure we actually went all the way to the four corners. The point of this game is:

(1) to be aware of how much space we have behind us and in front of us

(2) to keep the line of dance moving (do not slow it down or speed it up)

Game 4: Blind Tango

We built on Game 3, Touch the Corner, with the eyes of both the Leader and Follower closed. We were to dance with our eyes closed, line of dance, and touching the four corners with one foot of the Follower. We were to dance doing simple things, small movements, and nothing complicated. The point of this game is:

(1) to sense other people around us

(2) to keep the line of dance moving

What helped us? Lots of people, so that we could hear and feel them. No hard elbows, so no one got hurt even if there were little bumps. The bumps, if any, were soft. Soft bumps/taps are important.

Tool 1: The Switcheroo

Next, Maestros taught us a technique to help us in tight spaces: “The Switcheroo”

Here, the Leader and Follower are on the respective sides facing each other, and then they change to the opposite sides. It is similar to a cross-body lead in salsa. The Switcheroo takes a little space, and both dancers work in a little circle together. For the Leader, his footwork is a rock step on his left foot, and then a back cross step with his right foot (or the opposite side of a rock step with his right foot, and then a back cross step with his left foot) as he brings the Follower around. For the Follower, it is a rock step, where the weight remains in the middle, and then a front cross step to a pivoted collection in front of the Leader.

Game 5: The Tango Train

Our class, all couples in partnership, were formed into dance trains of 4-5 couples, each train having one couple as an engine, and one as a caboose, and the other couples in the middle the chewy, gooey center. The goal of the engine is to not let the line get jammed up into the train in front of them. The goal of the caboose is to keep the train moving, protecting the middle segment. Our goal was to keep the line of dance moving, but not move too fast or two slow. If we move too fast, we end up jamming the people in front of us. If we move too slow, we end up being a space hog.


Space Hog:
Leaving lots of space in front of you and backing up everyone else behind you.

Space Jammer: A tailgater, dancing right up to the couple in front of you.

Game 6: Rogue Molecule added to Tango Train

One couple was assigned the task of trying to enter the line of dance anywhere, in any way possible. The rogue couple in this case had a very strong leader, who was aggressive enough to try to get between the dance couples in these very tight conditions. It was discovered that it was possible for a rogue molecule to enter, but this was only accomplished between the trains, as each train was a pretty cohesive group in our class, making it difficult to get inside of one train. If the trains were not a cohesive group, the rogue couple would have been able to get between an engine and caboose in the middle of a train.

Concluding comments:

Ideally, the buffer between dancers at the milonga should be at least one step (but ideally two) in any direction in front of, behind, and to the side.

Be aware of what part of the dance floor you are occupying.

Know the line you are occupying.

Don’t zig zag on the milonga dance floor.

If you need to change lanes, make EYE CONTACT first.

With respect to passing: Don’t do it unless there is a major accident.

Sometimes there will be couples just standing there chatting away for much longer than the 20-30 seconds at the beginning of the song. In that case, it is OK to pass them as long as the intent is to keep the line of dance moving.

Beginners are often pushed into the center of the dance floor.

Intermediates are often like Porches on the Autobahn, zig zagging in and out because they are getting the hang of how to navigate.

Advanced dancers can pass, but don’t. They prefer to stay in their lane, dancing in the line of dance.


Do not cut corners. Dancing all the way out to the corners creates space for you and everyone else.

Don’t be a space jammer or space hog.

Followers: Be precise with where you are stepping (do not fan out far and wide or do high boleos if it means it will take out all of the couples around you). Followers are also responsible for the social dance milonga floorcafting with respect to how they answer with their dancing to the Leaders’ leads. Do not collect, or do any movements, in a thoughtless manner. These movements include reaching, collecting, and transferring weight, as they all matter. Keep the footwork close to the floor and close to the embrace/body, especially in crowded social dance milonga conditions. You are dancing with the whole room.

There was no didactic demo due to the nature of the class.

I stayed around for the milonga nearly until midnight as I was having such a good time. This was the latest I had ever stayed at a CellSpace milonga, and the best time I had ever had. I danced with a lot of people I had never danced with before, and with people I hadn’t danced with in years. “Who’s J?” of CITA 2008 was there, and we got to chatting away. Sure enough, he asked me for the next tanda. I agreed, but was a little hesitant since it turned out to be a milonga tanda, and I usually dance it with the other “J” of CITA 2008 (who got snapped up by someone else). “Who’s J?”’s dancing has improved astoundingly since CITA 2008, and his milonga is truly fantastic. I was blown away. Alt music doesn’t thrill me personally, but throughout the night I realized how it does improve one's musicality dancing to melodies and rhythms other than the very regular tango, milonga, and vals. Homer played that cutting-edge hip-hop rap tango, by Momo Smitt, "Welcome to the Tango World," which I thought had very clever beats and rhymes. You can check it out for yourself at (notice Alex Krebs and Homer in the band) Look for it on CD later this year...

Homer and Cristina’s next two Monday Beat gigs are the last ones for a while, because they are taking their show on the road for the summer in Europe. I’ll be there (at the Beat, not Europe -- I wish!) to knock out a couple of more chapters for the tangostudent site.


I’ll try to go back more to the roots of scoutingtour, and have more variety in the events I go to. No guarantees though, since the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. And I really dislike driving too far after a long day at work (and I also dislike staying down in the south bay).