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).

No comments: