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).

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