Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 20-26

Friday, May 21, 2010
Monte Cristo Milonga with lesson beforehand by Carolina del Rivero y Donato Juarez on barridas, paradas, and pasadas.
The lesson began with a simple exercise beginning with a cross system walk, where the Leader stopped on his right foot and the Follower stopped on her left foot. Then she does an open step and then a forward step of the counterclockwise molinete, then a back cross step and side step in the clockwise molinete. The Leader changes weight to his left foot on the Follower open step of the molinete (there is no back step for the Leader). The Leader opens his chest to lead this. The Follower goes around the Leader, but not too close or too far, and always collects at each point of the molinete. The leaders don't pivot. They just disassociate with their bodies and keep their hips forward.

Next, in the open embrace, we did the same walk, with the Leader leading the Follower to step side, forward, back, side in the molinete. The Follower needs to feel the lead from the Leader, and the Leader needs to send the Follower. We were to feel and follow the lead. The Leader relaxes the embrace a little. The Follower's left hand slides down his right arm, which permits her to easily walk on the open side of the embrace. We were to come back close on the close side.

The Leader changes weight.

The Leader does a right foot stop of the Follower's left foot on her open step, accompanying/matching it as her left foot goes forward cross. Also, he can step around with the same foot. The Leader needs to pivot to turn on his supporting standing foot/leg. He should send the Follower around on her open step after the barrida. Follower does right foot side step, pivots on right foot, to step out to resolution.

Next figure involved doing the 8CB to 5 (the cross). The Leader meets the Follower's left foot with his right foot to the Follower's right foot side step, accompanying her left foot forward cross step in a barrida. Then the Leader steps around the Follower as she pivots on her right foot.

Since the class was extremely crowded, and tensions were rising because of the crowded conditions and the need for dance floor space for this particular sequence, Maestros spoke about dance lesson and milonga courtesy. Basically, always work in the line of dance because it is really crowded. To generate a good atmosphere, when you bump into each other, apologize to the other couple, even if you do not believe it was your fault or you believe it was their fault. The goal is to make milongas and tango lessons good, happy places. If we can dance happily, then everyone is happy. We all want to enjoy the dance.

The Leaders always need to lead all the time. Be present, and do not dance alone and leave her behind.

Barridas are optical illusions.

Followers need to think about the turn. Do not try to drag the Leader's foot, otherwise it looks like you are fighting.

The Leader can switch these Follower barridas into Leader barridas by simply changing his foot to the outside position, enabling him to drag her foot. This is our homework, to figure out how to do this at home.

Next figure, on the open side of the embrace, the Leader sends the Follower into a counterclockwise molinete. The left foot back cross step curves it to the open side. Then he turns and grabs her right foot on her side step, and accompanies it with his right foot in a barrida.

To conclude, we combined them all: the 8CB to 5 (cross) barrida of the Follower's left foot with Leader's right foot, to Follower's back cross step, to catch the Leader's right foot with her right foot. The Leader has to relax the embrace so that the Follower can take a good back cross step.

El Russo was there, and I was lucky enough to be partnered with him at that point. Since the conditions were so crowded, he decided to try to make these barridas small and tight for crowded conditions. I thought they looked and worked spectacularly well in these close conditions, as they didn't look so slow and exaggerated, but more spontaneous.

It was a great lesson. I really like them as teachers.

The milonga was also quite fun. It was very crowded, but floorcraft was OK despite the challenges. The dancers were all of a social bent, so even though there were a few extra followers, I think most people had a good time. I danced almost every tanda, just stopping long enough to talk to Handsome about the dinner going on that night, which piqued my curiosity. It was men's dinner night. The food portion usually lasts from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., but the fellas usually start arriving at 5 p.m. to have cocktails. In a couple of weeks they are going to have another dinner with risotto and osso bucco. Lucky men of the Monte Cristo!!!! Grrrr...

The performance was, in one word, spectacular. It had lots of complicated soltada/colgada sequences, and even had a couple of lifts. Maestra had on the most tasteful, well-cut dress, and Maestro looked delightfully dapper in his tails. They cut a truly elegant, sophisticated profile. I don't recall ever seeing a performance of this caliber ever, and apparently neither did most people. Their three-song performance was rewarded with a standing ovation in an overflowing room.

All in all, it was a great night.

Saturday, May 22, 2010
Carolina del Rivero and Donato Juarez workshops:
(1) Sacadas
(2) Volacadas
(3) Colgadas

In the Sacada class, we worked on Leader and Follower back sacadas. The weird thing is that I hardly took any notes during this class. We worked on the whole sacada family, not just one sacada. We were to use the floor, not the leg, and to push more into the floor. The Follower needs to project into the floor. The Leader's contact is outside the leg, outside the thighs, and the Leader also projects into the floor. The sacada movement is exactly when the Follower is transferring her weight back, so it's just a touch. The dancers should not compromise their upper bodies by leaning forward or leaning back because of what their feet are doing. They should always remain on axis. Collect your feet before extending it in a step back in the sacada.

In the Volcada class, we worked on three volcadas:
(1) Regular linear straight forward and straight back volcada. We did this to work on the technique, trust building, and to get the feel of the weight of the Follower. There was to be no torsion or rotation; we were just looking for the Leader to control the Follower's tilt. The movement and intention is in a line.
(2) The regular volcada initiated from the Follower left foot floor boleo. The goal of this volcada was to get more momentum, with the left foot winding up in the back floor boleo beforehand, so that it has more natural circularity as it comes around in the volcada. The Leader changes weight and steps diagonally around and toward the Follower.
(3) This last one was a bit strange with the Leader and Follower perpendicular to each other. It began with freeing up of the Follower right foot, as if doing a linear boleo straight out in front. However, she keeps her foot on the floor, and he drives it back to front cross to the left side of her left foot.
For the (3) volcada, the Follower does forward ochos. Then the Leader steps side left foot, as he sends her forward in colgada energy, and then back into a diagonal cross for the Follower volcada. The Leader blocks the step of the Follower by being a little bit on front of her (it's not just a side step). He has to position his body in front of the Follower. His step is diagonally forward to put the Follower back on axis.

Adding it all together, we can do this last volcada (3), which puts the Follower's feet in perfect position for the Leader to lead her directly into volcada #2 since her left foot is already crossed behind her right foot.

For Leader's technique, the Leader collects with his right foot to his left back stepping foot. He should not cross his feet because the figure turns. He should go back, and then toward the Follower. He should move with his whole body, not just with his feet. Don't step too far back, otherwise she will step.

For Follower's technique, she should be like a board and not break her body in any way. If she breaks in her body, she will either fall or the Volcada will not work.

With respect to the embrace, the point of connection depends on the relative height of the dancers. It will be at the shoulders if the Leader is taller. It will be at the chest or top of the shoulder if the Leader is shorter. In any case, find a good point of contact. Be comfortable, be relaxed.
For the Follower, don't be too heavy, and don't push with your right hand, you should be without tension and without pushing the arms.

In the Colgada class, we worked on .....
an exercise first, of Follower back ochos while Leader does side steps. On the close side of the embrace, when the Follower is perpendicular to the Leader, the Leader steps closer to incline the Follower's axis away , sending her outside, holding her position, and then bringing her back in back to axis. Then the Follower does forward ochos. The idea when the leader comes in close embrace, he needs to have an open position of his legs.

For Follower's technique, she should go out from her center, not backward or forward, but out to the side. To get the Follower back to axis, the Leader needs to counterbalance the Follower. He sends her out by going back himself at the same time. He should not push her out from his arms. He needs to move his body so she understands that she needs to go out.

As the Leader sends her to a right foot back cross step toward the close side of the embrace, he meets her right foot with his out turned right foot. Then he sends the Follower to axis as she steps back through with her left foot in a reverse pasada to sandwich his right foot. As she is collected with her right foot, he inclines/sends her out in colgada into a shared axis turn clockwise. The Leader steps around with his left foot. At the point of the Leader right foot with Follower's right foot, his weight should be back on his left leg, because he needs to be able to step with his left foot, but transfer weight to his right. The Follower back cross should be out turned so that the dancers remain closer so that it's easier for the Leader to send the Follower out.

For the Follower, her hips are back and out, but her upper body is upright, not leaning away or back. At the point of the shared axis turn, she should give the Leader all her weight. The Leader's hand moves from the right side of her back to the center of her back as she goes around in the shared axis turn.

Next exercise: From the Follower back ocho, the Leader should lead her with more impulse of the right foot on the close side of her back cross step so that it generates a Follower left foot boleo against the right side of the right leg. It is a true, strong circular cross body boleo. The goal is to generate some tension. The Leader should keep his weight on the right, without any change of weight.

Finally, we put it all together, the cross body boleo of Follower's left foot against her right leg, out to a colgada, and then back in to a Follower shared axis turn.

Sunday, May 23, 2010
(1) Off-Axis Ganchos
(2) Boleos with Changes of Direction
(3) Musicality -- Fitting Advanced Combinations to the Music

We began the Off-Axis Ganchos
with a series of exercises that we eventually combined to get a very interesting off-axis gancho.

Exercise 1: In cross foot system, the Follower does forward ochos while the Leader makes side steps. On the open side of the embrace, the Follower steps with her left foot forward. The Leader sends her out diagonally away in a colgada, so her right foot will go out to approximately the 2:00 o'clock position. The Leader needs to come closer to the Follower, but not too close. He should not touch her feet. He also needs to turn her a little bit, about a 50-60% angle. When he sends her out, he sends her as if he wants her to step, but he needs to hold his position and go a bit back with his body. The Leader's weight is on his left foot. He collects with his right foot, but the heel is up and the foot is weightless. The Follower should go out from the center / hips. The hip has to go out. She should not hold onto the Leader; the Leader should hold on to her. The Leader should always bring the Follower back to axis before going into another move. The Follower should keep her shoulders down and feel her back to be relaxed. The Leader compensates for the weight of the Follower's body by going backward. He sends her outside first, and then returns her back to axis. For the Follower, this is not a pose (otherwise you would be on axis the whole time). The Leader should not open up the arm or twist it up, otherwise he will break the position of the arm. He should be relaxed, but forward, not back.

Exercise 2: We did a gancho from the Follower left foot back cross step of the counterclockwise molinete to a gancho using the Follower's right foot against the Leader's left leg. The Leader sends the Follower close to his body on the Follower left foot back cross step to get his leg into position easier. The Follower should feel the contact first in the thighs and hips before going into the gancho. The gancho does not go from the knee down. It is a whole leg movement that starts in the hip joint.

Exercise 3: The Follower does forward ochos while the Leader does side steps. Then he leads her to do a overturned forward ocho.

Then we combined these three exercises in reverse order to get a really cool, complicated off-axis gancho.

The Leader leads the Follower to do an overturned forward ocho. On her left foot forward step, he steps simultaneously with her, parallel to her foot. Then he straddles around behind her on her right side with his right foot in a triangle frame of reference (point on the bottom) to her left foot. The feet should not be too close. 6 inches is good. Then he turns her chest and sends her upper body out in colgada, which causes her right leg to back gancho his right leg. The Follower's left foot of her standing supporting leg pivots a little as he sends her out. Her right leg is the ganchoing leg. The Leader keeps weight on his left foot, just like in exercise (1), and his right heel remains up. He pivots her a little, and then he sends her out in colgada. Then her right leg goes up in a gancho. She continues to pivot on her left foot as her right leg ganchos. The Leader turns his left heel a little at the point of colgada to accommodate the situation.

The exit is a Follower left foot back step, to pivot, out to resolution.

In the Boleos with Changes of Direction Class, it was exactly that, which was kind of weird. Like the previous class, we started with some simple exercises and then combined it to be a boleo with a change of direction.

Exercise 1: In practice embrace, Follower does back ochos while Leader does side steps. The Leader leads the Follower to pivot, then stops her on axis, practicing on both sides. This is so that Followers get used to turning on axis. Then in regular embrace, the Leader gave the Follower more impulse to the open side during her left foot back cross step, leading her to pivot, to get a boleo of her right foot.

Exercise 2: We then changed the exercise, getting rid of the change of direction. This way, the Follower does a linear back boleo of her right foot. The Leader takes the step there, and uses the impulse and cuts the impulse by keeping his position. The Follower should keep her hips level and not open them up. She should keep the leg direction straight back (not up and rounded). She should feel the tension, with the movement starting at the hip fold, and then the whole leg moves all the way up so the knee will bend, even at least a little. We tried these with both legs in the two directions.

Follower's boleo technique: When you are walking normally, you have some space between the two knees as you move forward. Boleos are based on the same idea, so there will be some opening between the legs. Some movements will be easier for some people than others. You should work with your own time and body mechanics, and be relaxed. Do not try to copy the teacher in terms of leg height. Don't force it around. Don't lose your axis. Don't tilt forward. It doesn't matter if your boleo is big or small. What matters is that it has good quality.

Exercise 3: Very simple exercise of walking forward, perpendicular to each other. Follower does forward cross step to open side of the embrace, and then a back step pivot out to resolution.

Exercise 4: Alteration/change of direction. We worked on the change of direction with the Leader overstepping the Follower, meeting her forward cross step, to pivot both, to change direction so she steps back. The Leader sends her out first, then steps by crossing the line of the Follower.

Next, we combined all these three of: A change of direction with a boleo at the point of the Follower's back step of the change of direction. The Follower's supporting foot needs to pivot before the boleo. This was a weird feeling boleo.

To finish this, our goal was to keep it in the line of dance. We did the 8CB to 5 (cross), with Follower right foot forward cross step to the close side of the embrace, then a Follower forward cross step with her left foot. The Leader oversteps and pivots around the Follower to pivot to get in front of the Follower. She does a right foot back boleo.

A comment about boleos: Boleos should always be pointed at the outside of the dance floor because it's safer for other dancers. If you do a boleo to the outside, if you do kick something, it will be a table or wall and not other dancers.

In the Musicality class,
we learned some simple sequences, and worked on fitting them to the music, only on the 1, on the 1-4-1, on the 1-3-1, and the 1-2-1. The musicality instruction was very similar to how Ney Melo teaches it. For me, this was not a challenging class, but I thought it was very good, nonetheless. I wonder if they taught us this because they think the SF Bay Area tango musicality generally sucks (my conjecture), since it seemed to me to be a very basic lesson. One kind of weird thing they showed us was on the 1-4-1 one syncopation with both the Leader and Follower legs open on the side step. That's not really my favorite position, but I can see how it would be an interesting stylistic syncopation.

Follower should collect at each step. For quality of movement, the Leader needs to remain calm. You have to feel each movement.

They've definitely changed their teaching style from the last time they were here. They had a lot of very simple exercises on technique which broke down to minute components, which they then combined in the end, to show us that we could do these rather complicated moves that require a lot of technique related to several different aspects. They were great workshops; maestros are wonderful, excellent, caring teachers.

Line of Dance at the milonga and in the classroom.
One of the great things about them as teachers was they made it a point to talk about the importance of keeping these figures in the line of dance, and illustrated to us exactly how to do that with respect to the amount of pivoting and turning. In addition, when the class got a bit unruly trying out some of the more space-demanding figures, with couples weaving in and out on the dance floor to places where they perceived there was more space, Donato took time out to show us a visual depiction of what the milonga dance floor should look like. Basically, it should look like a race track with three or four lanes. Each couple should remain in their own lane and continue to dance in position with the same couple in front of and behind them. When we weave in and out of the tracks, we risk kicking each other, crashing into each other or getting into other accidents, which is disruptive to the entire dance floor and upsets the couples we crash into. It also ruins the circular motion of the dance floor when couples weave in and out. We are not just dancing with the partner we are embracing; we are dancing together with all the couples on the dance floor at that particular moment.

Do Not Step Backwards
Maestros also reiterated that there is no need or functional purpose for Leaders to step back when initiating a step or sequence. That is something bizarrely local (portenos do not walk backwards in milongas in Buenos Aires)... perhaps it is a throwback from when we learned to dance Argentine Tango at the ballroom with the 8CB beginning with a back step. It was noted that Leaders should not step backwards because they cannot see the couple behind them, and more often than not, there is someone behind them, which they will walk right into when that couple is dancing forward and not expecting it. This situation is made even worse if the couple behind them has led the Follower to do a high boleo. A Leader walking backward would walk directly into that and risks getting pierced/scraped with a stiletto, possibly in a very unfortunate spot on his body.

Monday, May 24, 2010
La Cumparsita Milonga with lesson beforehand by Rachel Greenberg "Surprise Variations on the Cross"
This lesson was similar to what was taught at the Late Shift premilonga lesson on May 1, 2010, but the surprising thing for me was that Maestra remembered me. I think I made the sartorial faux pas of wearing the same outfit that I wore to the Late Shift, although my notebook and pen were different colors at least. ;o)

We began the lesson with doing the 8CB to 5 (cross), into a sudden pivot while the Leader keeps the Follower on her left foot of her crossed position, to do a right foot back cross step to the close side of the embrace while the Leader makes a side step with his right foot. It is important on these simultaneous right foot steps of the Leader and Follower that they both be accurate. The lead has to be precise. For the Follower, her heels must be down at the point of the cross, truly meeting the floor. Then she pivots a little (obviously with heels now off the floor) before her right foot back cross step to the close side of the embrace. We were to exaggerate this with bigger steps, especially into the cross (5), and into the back cross step of the Follower. To make that Follower right foot back cross step big and exaggerated, her whole foot including the heel needs to be on the floor so that her left knee can bend and she can get good extension in her right leg. With respect to musicality, we use the breathing of the music to do the big moves, the slow moves. The Leader needs to make the Follower understand the pivot with his torsion and frame.

Next, we worked on the Americana surprise similar to what was taught on May 1. From the 8CB to 4, the Leader leads the Follower to pivot, so as her feet go into the cross, they are in Americana position. The Follower needs to maintain connection with the Leader by looking at him, keeping her upper chest slightly oriented to him even though her hips are straight forward as they are in Americana position. The Follower should always try to step close to the Leader's body. The Leader sends the Follower to do a big step before the cross pivot to the Americana.

A general comment at the end: The most common Follower error is to fall into their steps, like after a parada. To prevent this from happening, she needs to extend her leg first, and then make the step. First move the leg, and then move the body. For the Leader, he needs to think about her first. First signal to her, then you go as a Leader. Always be a gentleman.

I went to this lesson because I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. While I thought Maestra was an excellent teacher based on my limited exposure to her at the Late Shift, I believe there are other equally excellent teachers who have visited or who live here, but who do not garner the same level of admiration. In watching the class dynamics, it is clear she has very strong opinions on the proper technique for everything (of course...she is a tango teacher!). I think we all got very specific corrections from her. These corrections were instantaneous, blunt, and direct. They were not sugar coated. Her teaching style is not designed to boost our self esteem or encourage us to take additional lessons with her since she does not stroke our egos or blow smoke up our @$$e$. And at the end of the day, I think it's wonderful that we have someone so refreshingly honest with us about the areas in which our dancing sucks we could improve.

The milonga was fun. It wasn't super crowded, but wasn't empty either. The gender was pretty well balanced, so we all got to dance with each other. Negracha and Diego came by later on, and it was fun seeing all the Maestros enjoy their own practilonga together. Rachel and Diego did a two-song performance which was good.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

CellSpace Milonga with lesson beforehand by Rachel Greenberg on Boleos. I got there late for the lesson. I jumped right in. The Leader was supposed to lead a back boleo and then a front cross boleo, really working on getting the timing right and the step and body rotation right. We did this on both sides with both legs. Then we linked them, doing a back boleo and front cross boleo twice on the same side, then a Follower back ocho, then a back boleo and front cross boleo on the other side. Leader steps outside Follower both times.

For Follower's technique, it is important when going from the back boleo immediately into the forward boleo that her foot go to the ground, collecting, and then afterwards pivot and do the front boleo. It is important to go to the ground first before pivoting (otherwise you might knee the Leader as your leg comes around as you pivot). Complete the pivot with your legs down. Follower should always be ready for changes and surprises. She should always be attentive to the dynamics and direction the Leader is leading her. Boleos are done because of a change of dynamics, and changing the weight.

Timing should be perfect on the Leader's part to give the Follower the lead for the Boleo. The Leader has lots of rotation/lead in his right hand on the left side of the Follower's ribs when leading boleos.

To build on our boleos, we did them from back ochos, leading a back boleo and then a forward boleo. The Leader steps around the Follower as if for a molinete, but just doing the forward cross step, and then a side step, followed by more forward and side steps (no back steps). The side step pivots around the Follower. He should turn the Follower first, and then step. Then we worked on this some more by doing them continuously from the Follower back ocho to back boleo and front cross boleo, while Leader does forward step and side step clockwise around the Follower. Here he should get used to the feeling of leading a constant change of direction. We can also do this using the same principals on the other side, with Leader walking counterclockwise.

It is important to do the boleos with the music. We worked with a slow but highly accented song, DiSarli's Don Juan.

It was a good lesson with Maestra giving lots of individual feedback, and dancing with many of the leaders to back-lead them to show them how the Follower's body should feel if he is leading her to do boleos properly. She also led many of the Followers to feel what they were doing wrong (lack of stability/balance or bad posture/legs).

The milonga was OK. It was very crowded, so floorcraft wasn't always the greatest, but thankfully it wasn't horrendous either. They played a lot more alt than I enjoy, and it took forever for the first milonga tanda to come on.

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