Wednesday, April 21, 2010

April 15-21

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Late Shift Milonga. I missed the lesson beforehand by Adam Hoopengardner and Ciko Tanik. The milonga was well attended, but not excessively crowded; it was the perfect amount of people to make it feel friendly and social but not aggressive or competitive. The dance level was pretty good, as was the floor crafting. There were a few more leaders than followers, so I imagine that nearly all the followers had a good time. I certainly had a good time, despite feeling a bit rusty. Adam and Ciko did a two-song performance around midnight. The first one was of a bluesy flavored tango, and the second one was a more traditional tango. As is typical of their style, they did a lot of Nuevo, off-axis moves. It was a very pleasant evening, and the first time I stayed until the very end of the milonga.

So what am I excited about these days?

A brilliant blog I came across:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April 8-14

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Verdi Club Milonga with lesson beforehand by Orlando Paiva, Jr. and Emily. Emily was ill, so Andrea Fuchilieri assisted. We began the class with some technique exercises on walking. Maestro’s system begins with feet out turned in a V, not parallel, heels together and knees together. To walk forward, bend the knee, extend the foot out, and be on two tracks. Move the leg first so that you can be able to pick up the foot but not have any weight on it. The leg goes first (as opposed to the body) so that you go downward and get extension, and then extend the knee and ankle. The goal in walking is to move perfectly on axis. The leg goes first so that there is no limit in terms of how much speed you can achieve. Elegance is based on straight lines. We move our legs first because people only see what moves first, so you move your leg first, then the foot, then go. We should have our weight on the inside of the foot where the future bunion will be, so that our knees are always together. The foot gets flat as we arrive to axis and achieve height in our step. We practiced walking forward using this technical concept.

Next, we worked on forward ocho technique. First we step from side to side, then we added the hips and pivot. We transfer weight, bend the knee, put knees together, and then go out. Again, our legs move first, then our body. The secret to being balance is that you are always on one foot, and the back foot has the balance. The standing, supporting, unmoving leg is the important one for balance. In doing ochos, we should overspin the back foot (i.e., pivot it a lot) to get more balance (so foot is out turned a little). Pay attention to the foot that has the weight. Think about the foot during the pivot, with heel over spinning (the back foot) to get good balance.

We also need to pay attention to the upper body when we do forward ochos. When the left leg goes out, the left shoulder goes back, so your body should not spin. When your right leg goes out, the right shoulder goes back, so your body should not spin. If you still feel off balance, it could be because your head is forward (no one falls backward in tango, they only fall forward). Move your head back an inch, and only bend the knees, not at the waist.

In the ocho, the outside, free leg moves faster, to come around the standing supporting leg smoothly, like going around the corner of a racetrack.

For walking backward, we bend the knee, extend the leg back but keep the body forward. The Leader will take the Follower’s body wherever he wants, without stepping on the Follower. We also tried to walk backwards using this technique, only without our heels touching the ground. The back foot is the one that “grabs” the floor and propels the body back.

The Follower should always have the intention of motion so that the Leader does not catch her by surprise with his movement/lead.

The sequence taught was the 8CB to 2, then Leader steps forward outside Follower with his left leg, as Follower left leg steps back. He then leads her to do a counterclockwise molinete, as he bounces back to do a 180 degree turn, to a tight back cross of his left leg, transferring the weight to his left leg to do a right leg sacada of the Follower’s trailing left foot on her right foot side step of the molinete. Leader does another 180 degree pivot to step out to resolution to the Follower’s cross.

Leaders need to pay attention to how they do their tight back cross. The left foot extends out, then does a back cross as his right foot is pivoting 180 degrees. Then he changes weight so that the left foot is weighted, and the right foot can step forward in the sacada and he is able to pick up his knee and not fall. He needs to keep his head back when pivoting so that he does not fall forward.

In this sequence, the Follower should do the molinete on her own, without requiring the Leader to pull her around him. In the molinete, there is a little bit of separation between the dancers because the Follower needs to put her hips 90 degrees away from the Leader on her forward and back steps. So the Leader needs to let her out a little away when he wants the Follower do the molinete, and the Leader needs to be on balance in order to let the Follower go freely. He must not hang on to her or use her for his own balance if he does not have it.

Since this figure had two 180 degree turns in it = 360 degree turn to get all the way around, it should remain in the line of dance.

This figure can also be linked twice, with Leader immediately going out with his left foot forward outside the Follower.

In tango, it is not necessary for the Leader to do so much. He can do just simple things, but do them really well, to make the Follower feel good.

This was an excellent class. I was really happy to see it so well attended, with 40 enthusiastic students, since the last time Maestro was here, it was a very small class, almost like a group private. I sat out for most of it since the floor was so crowded. During class Maestro noticed that I was not physically participating but taking notes, came over and mimed it, and asked if he could have a copy when I was done. I said “Sure, they’ll be on the ‘net.” He smiled.

I found Meastro’s teaching to be very clearly delivered, and the subtle wherefores and whys logically explained. He is one of the best teachers of technique I’ve experienced, especially on the Leader side of the equation (though he is certainly no slouch on the Follower’s side).

The milonga itself was just so-so for me. It was crowded, there were more followers than leaders, and the floor crafting was difficult and irritating at times with a few aggressive leaders, a few thoughtless followers doing air boleos (often unled), a few performance-oriented couples who thought it was a practica, and more than a few weavers. I was happy to sit out a little bit, and just chat and be social with several buddies that I hadn’t seen in a long time. What a treat it was that several visiting maestros put in an appearance to social dance (Negracha y Diego, Alicia Monte).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Monte Cristo Milonga with lesson beforehand by Carolina Rozenstroch and Gary Weinberg on Interesting Volcadas. This class began with a demo of Maestros showing us what they were going to teach us, and a discussion of the word “volcada” meaning “pouring”. In our class, we were going to focus on close embrace, milonguero style back volcada, where the Leader leads the follower to go forward at the point of her back cross. In this type of volcada, there is not much lean /\ as for regular forward volcadas, but the technique is the same.

We began with an exercise of doing back ochos, first using the proper technique. Then we did back ochos milonguero style with no pivot in the hips. So we would step diagonally back (cross back) with one foot, gather, and then step diagonally back (cross back) with the other foot.

Next, in practice embrace, we were to walk in cross system and Leader was to lead this milonguero-style back ocho with a flat, straight chest, no shoulder turning, so that the Follower had no hip pivot. At some point, the Leader steps diagonally back, which causes the Follower to come forward. Since her leg is doing a back cross step, it hooks behind the other standing supporting foot, then the weight changes so that it becomes the standing supporting foot, and the forward leg is free to come forward, and then back out back to resolution. It is important that her forward leg is relaxed and that the knee is slightly bent so that when the other foot crosses back in tightly against the supporting standing foot, the toes on the foot crossing back lands more forward than the toes of the standing supporting foot. Also, in addition to the knee of the standing supporting foot being soft and bent, the heel comes off the floor at the point of the tight cross.

In tango, we need to have a long body, but legs relaxed from the hips down, melting into the floor, but from the hips up, being light and to the sky and being very long.

From this close embrace back volcada, we added more dynamics to the move with the Leader taking an extra step on his right foot, then pivoting her around (like a shared axis turn), to lead her to do the back volcada by stepping diagonally back. After the Follower’s back cross, her weight changes to that crossed foot so that the other foot is free to come out to resolution freely. However, if she for some reason does not have enough room or is too slow, she can do an embellishment of flexing the foot as it comes out so that it can be done close and fast.

The lesson was just OK. There were twice as many Followers, and not very many male Leaders. I sat out a bit voluntarily. I was OK with that since I could chat with Handsome. The milonga itself was saved from being a total loss by the pate I could nosh on as I sat out yet another tanda, and the one milonga tanda I danced with Maestra. She proved herself to be an excellent milonga leader! Other than that… I left very early since it was sparsely attended, half of the few leaders who were there were coupled, and since I was not on the dance card of the other half.

Saturday, April 11, 2010

La Milonga de Nora with lesson beforehand by Ariadna Naveira and Frederico Sanchez.

I got there a little early, and had a chance to chat with El Russo, who had attended Maestros’ Wednesday classes, one of which was on technique. He said it was good, and that he planned to go to the one next Wednesday as well. He, being his typical Russo self, put it bluntly and flatly, “As a Follower, you have to be able to balance on one foot.” I responded, “As a Leader, you have to be able to do the same.” He agreed. I asked if I could write his words on my hand to remember; he smiled and said he was OK with that. Then we gently debated whether the ability was a function of foot, ankle and calf strength or of core strength. We ultimately agreed that it was a combination of all of them. A quick Google search later that night revealed that there are nearly 20 individual muscles involved in being able to balance on one foot!

We began the class with one warm-up dance. The topic of the class was Changes of Direction. We were to try to find our body, relaxing our arms and our legs when we dance. First, we stood, and with our weight on our toes. Then we tried to go as forward as possible, trying to find the limit of where we could tilt, going as forward as possible without falling. Next, we rotated our upper bodies, clockwise and counterclockwise, without moving or turning our hips. Next, we worked on getting torsion and rotation in our bodies, by turning our chest first, then our hips, while being on one foot (which pivoted as a consequence of the rotation in our chest working its way down). To this, we added a step. So first, we step back with our right leg, then begin the turn in our chest counterclockwise, then have the hips and feet come around as a consequence. We were to have soft knees, and be relaxed. We turned with our chest first, then hips. Next, in couples, we worked in practice hold doing this same movement, which turned out to be forward ochos and back ochos. Leaders and Followers did forward ocho and back ochos, with a switch off periodically to change the direction the other way. For the Leader, his arms must go with him when he rotates his chest so that the Follower knows to turn her chest, and he does not lose the lead. The movement starts from the top down, head to foot. The hips will come along, following the intention in the chest. To give a visual image of this idea, you can imagine Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother using her magic wand, tapping Cinderella on her head, and then Cinderella spinning around from top to bottom as she transforms from a soot-covered girl into a princess. We were not to force our rotations / pivots. We were to start the movement in our chests, and have everything come around as a consequence. Both feet signal the direction of where our bodies will go. In the pivot, we were to go, and then our feet come together in collection to keep balance. We spent several songs drilling these forward and back ochos for Leaders and Followers.

To build to the idea of changes of direction, the Leader takes two steps back (Follower two steps forward), does an ocho , and then takes one or two steps forward out to resolution. We drilled this for several songs. Then in the regular embrace, we did the same, with the goal of keeping the movement going. We did a Leader rock step forward (Follower rock step back), into a Leader back ocho (Follower forward ocho) to change direction, but keep moving in the same direction. Here, we were also to understand mentally and play with the concept of our body going forward or backward, in the line of dance. Tango is a dance of improvisation, so it is important to understand different ways to move. This is why Maestros don’t teach a sequence—because we as students should not dance from memory. The Follower needs to be ready to receive any movement, in any direction. The forward cross step can be mixed with everything. The Leader did forward ochos, and back ochos, and walks forward. He was to feel the movement of the turn in his own body, and he was to feel the movement of the pivot in his own body as well.

Regarding the embrace, the Leader leads everything with his chest. The Follower should follow what the Leader’s chest does, so it is not necessary to use his arms to lead. The Followers are not doors, so there is no need to pull and push them. The Leader’s arm movement are a consequence of what his chest does.

Close embrace does not mean chest-to-chest 100% of the time. There is changeability of the embrace. The embrace has to open up a little at the point of the ocho because of the hip swivel needing room. We need to make the space so that the dancers can keep their axes. The intention of the move is most important. The embrace adapts to us (not the other way around). We need to relax our arms, and adapt your arms to the movement you are doing.

Next, we changed the sequence to make it more interesting for the Leader: From his right leg back ocho, his left leg does a back cross behind, and then he steps forward with his right leg (this is the opposite foot as before since there was no cross back behind). Follower footwork is the same as prior sequence.

It was an excellent lesson. Maestro is very funny, and is fluent in English (his English is slightly better than Maestra’s). The lesson was very porteno in flavor, with most of the instruction coming from Maestro and directed at Leaders, with a lesser part of the instruction coming from Maestra and directed at Followers. There were also long periods of time to drill the seemingly simple mechanics of body movement, as Maestros went around separately to offer individual guidance. These long stretches of drilling (3 full songs) were much longer than what we were typically accustomed to, and which made some people feel uncomfortable. I got the impression that a lot of times we were waiting and looking to see and expecting Maestros to do more “teaching” rather than having us do as much “drilling” as we did, though it was clear that most all of us needed to improve our ochos, pivots and being ready to go in any direction, Leaders and Followers alike.

The milonga was quite crowded. DJ Emilio must have been feeling inspired that night, because he played a lot of unusual tangos (not the typical tango Top 40 hits), which made for some strange dance interpretations of the music and at times difficult floor crafting.

Maestros delivered a very generous performance of three tangos (tango, vals, milonga), and then an encore of one more tango in which they did lead-follow exchange, which I thought was really quite bold and innovative of them to do publicly. I wonder if they have ever done that in Buenos Aires. Maestra is a very accomplished leader herself (there are videos of her leading on YouTube). Maybe she was inspired by Tango Con*Fusion’s performance at CITA 2010 (my conjecture/speculation, of course). Maestra had a very elegant hairdo, which we later learned was done on the spot just minutes before by Keiko.

The three performances of tango, vals and milonga:

The encore with Lead-Follow Exchange:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

April 1-7

Friday, April 2, 2010

Verdi Club Milonga with lesson beforehand by Carolina Rozenstroch and Gary Weinberg on Linear Boleos. I had my doubts about going here, since I didn’t have a stellar time at this milonga the last time I went because of the excessive aggressive followers, and since there was the Palo Alto milonga that same night (and there is no shortage of leaders down that way near Man Jose … oops, I mean San Jose). But I have a deep and profound respect for Maestra and our friendship, and I wanted to support her efforts. And my linear boleos, while they no longer totally, completely, and utterly suck, they still do need more work.

We began with an exercise to get the feeling of grounding into the floor with our leg, and then the other one coming through and being free. We were not to kick the free leg or lift the free leg unnaturally or exaggeratedly, but let it come forward naturally as a consequence of the energy of our other leg being ground into the floor, and our body arriving to axis and being stopped there, not going any more forward. Since our free leg should be free, it goes forward as a consequence of the energy stopping our body from going forward, not because we are forcing the free leg to go up or faking it. Then we practiced walking, and then stopping and grounding, causing our other leg to go free. Leader and Follower did this simultaneously in this exercise. Then we changed to exercise to the Leader leading it, and the Follower following it, but with the Leader not doing any free legwork with his legs. So his job was to be very clear in his stop energy, and the Follower needed to be responsive with stopping her body as well, and being honest in letting her free foot free, but not causing it to have more energy that it should. She needs to keep it honest.

We then worked on linear boleos to the side, where dancers are at a 90-degree angle to each other. For the side linear boleo to the open side of the embrace, it is important that the Follower’s right arm not collapse or absorb the energy as the Leader stops her body from going forward with his left hand. The Leader’s left hand must also not collapse. From here, he can lead her to do an ocho as her free right leg goes up, leading her to pivot in the ocho at almost the point of the apex of where her free leg will go, so that she does a pivoted air boleo, to step out back to the close side of the embrace. Since there were twice as many Followers in the class as Leaders, I sat out a fair bit voluntarily, since it seemed like my fellow follower classmates could probably use more experience working on the exercises with the Leaders.

The significant class gender imbalance had me worried about the milonga, and I questioned whether or not it would have been better to have gone to Palo Alto. My concerns were unfounded though, because the milonga soon became better balanced, and the leaders who were there were free to be their wonderful, charming and community-building selves since their efforts were not hampered by needy, demanding tanguera ambushers. So even though there were several more followers at the milonga, none of us had to sit out for more than a tanda. So all in all, I had a very nice time, and I think most folks did as well. I got a chance to dance with several of my favorite leaders, and some new ones, too.

On Friday, April 9, maestros teach Interesting Volcadas – not the usual regular forward or back volcada -- and the students who were there were all instructed to bring in two leaders each. So any of you leaders reading this, please come to the Monte Cristo Friday, April 9; I need a good volcada class partner (or three) since I absolutely love love love doing volcadas. :o)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Again, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. :::sigh::: I was eyeing the clock, planning on going to the Late Shift, but got waylaid into installing yet another dishwasher. By the time I was done, my body was quite tired from using different muscles and getting down on the floor and then back up multiple times.

Déjà vu? The new dishwasher that I installed a few weeks ago was just plain irritating. The rack design didn’t fit my exactly portion-controlled size Tupperware, and the button functions were downright weird, demanding, and high maintenance thanks to a team of overzealous engineers, and it was noisier than the dishwasher it replaced (a mid-range Bosch, at 52 db). So even though the particular dishwasher (the current entry level Bosch, 57 db) was rated a “Best Buy” by a famous consumer magazine (yes, it’s the one you are thinking of), I thought it was really, shockingly awful. So did the roommate, who insisted I get a new one. So, a few mouse clicks, 45 miles round trip, and half a C note later, I got a really sweet top-of-line Bosch, brand spankin’ new and never installed, but circa 2004, with a couple of dents on the door and obviously completely out of warranty, but which sang a sweet 48 db when running. And so yet another Saturday was spent fussing with dishwashers… removing a current generation low-end Bosch and then installing a previous generation top-of-the-line Bosch. My opinion so far? The older generation is vastly superior. I am shocked at myself at how irritating I found the sound levels of the current entry level one, even though most people wouldn’t notice much difference between 57 db and 52 db or 48 db for that matter. But I absolutely love my new 48 db dishwasher. The gentle swish of the water sloshing around is melodic and soothing, unlike the grinding, whining, gurgling, and clunking of my two other louder Bosch dishwashers. Some people (sound engineers, musicians, composers and the like) sometimes comment on the pitches of dishwasher noises. I am not that sensitive; I just want the darn thing to be as close to silent as possible. And so, for now at least, I am blissfully happy with my new six-year-old dishwasher (and if it misbehaves I will just rip it out and put yet another new-to-me one on in its place). And I am also very thankful that Sears takes appliance returns (less a 15% restocking fee and within 90 days of purchase). So what on earth does all this have to do with tango? Well, not much. But at least I can listen to tango music with nearly no background dishwasher noises. :o)