Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 15-21

Thursday, July 15, 2010
Verdi Club Milonga.
I skipped the lesson beforehand. The milonga was nicely attended but not overly packed. There were substantially more Followers than Leaders, but that was OK though. It was a warm evening, and I think the gals appreciated the breaks between dances to cool off and dry out. A lot of the dancers who usually come as couples came as singletons, so it made for a very social evening.

Friday, July 16, 2010
MUSE at City Dance Annex milonga.
I skipped the lesson, which was on walking. The milonga had more people than a couple of weeks ago, so it was nice to see the milonga ramping up and gaining momentum. Like last time, there were several excellent Leaders who were all of the social bent, so I believe everyone had a nice time, like I did. I had a chance to peek at the dance floor space upstairs. It was supposed to be open for alt, but it wasn't necessary since demand didn't support it on this particular night. It's a very nice space with soft wood floor, mirrors on one side of the room, and ballet barres on the other side. There's also an industrial sink and a bathroom on that same level. I think the upstairs space would be a great place to hold a Followers' or Leaders' Technique class.

Saturday, July 17, 2010
Late Shift Milonga with lesson beforehand by David and Mariana.
I skipped the lesson, which was just as well since there were substantially more Followers than Leaders. The milonga itself was a little bittersweet. It was packed, with significantly more Followers than Leaders. Though I sat out more than usual, I still had a good time since I got to dance with a lot of Leaders I hadn't danced with in quite a long time, and some fantastic ones that I had the blessing of dancing with just the other night. Floorcraft was surprisingly not horrible, probably as good as it could be, considering the extremely crowded conditions. Most dancers were respectful, and the vibe was generally quite calm, unfrenzied and unaggressive.

It was sad that this was the last day of the Late Shift at the Cheryl Burke Dance Center. It's always been among my favorite milongas. Maestros did a two-song performance, which was excellent. The food was more abundant than usual, as they planned well in anticipating that everyone and their cousin would be here on this night. For any swing dancers reading this, there will be a free swing dance here on Thursday night, and all are welcome to attend. There's also a RED Wrap Up party on Friday night for just $5, or free if you are a monthly student at Cheryl Burke. Regarding other Saturday night milonga options, a new milonga hosted by Tom at La Pista in San Francisco starts up next Saturday.

Sunday, July 18, 2010
Men's Technique Workshop with Rachel Greenberg on Turns: All Secrets About Turns
, was what the listing said. However, her email, which I got later, said "All secrets about smooth turns (giros) - enrosques, lapiz & others (balance , pivot, dissociation)" -- which was a more accurate and more exciting description of the class.

Originally, I had planned to go to Pampa Cortes's Balance workshop, but I admit I was completely charmed by Maestra at the milonga the night before when she said some entirely unsolicited, extremely kind words to me. Needless to say, I was truly shocked. It was kismet that the subject matter for her workshops the next day was a topic that Pablo wanted to work on, and so I twisted his rubber arm and we went. Maestra has generously allowed me to publish the Men's Technique workshop notes even though I did not physically participate nor pay for the workshop.

The lesson began with some simple physiokinetic/muscle memory exercises.

Exercise 1: Quarter turn with lapice footwork. First, the Leader turns his torso, and then draws a circle with his foot/leg. This quarter turn was done four times to get all the way around in one revolution. For this exercise, it was OK to do a really big movement with the leg, sending it out far and straight, until pulling it back in at the point of collection. (At a milonga or social dance floor, obviously a smaller lapice would be more appropriate.) Leader should keep his solar plexus / torso up and not compromise his upper body because of the movement that occurs in his lower body. He should not tilt his body forward as his leg is behind him, nor his body back as his leg is forward. He should not look down, otherwise he might fall forward. The movement is initiated in his torso, and then the leg goes around. Then he completes the movement as he collects. The goal was to be fluid and smooth. The students did each leg, and in both directions.

Exercise 2: Next, we combined the lapice with an enrosque. Here, the Leaders take one step forward with their right foot, lift the heel up, rotate the torso so the foot/body pivots around, and the left leg tight hooks behind the right leg in an enrosque, and then both heels are put back down. The goal was to get a 180 degree rotation from one side to the other (i.e., like from noon to 6 p.m., or north to south, east to west). Then there is a weight change to the left foot.

Exercise 3: To the above, since the left leg is now the weighted, supporting, standing leg, the right foot is free to do a lapice, to conclude to hook behind the left foot. This right foot lapice is with a pivoted left foot, so that the Leader turns another 180 degrees to make one complete full turn, 360 degree rotation. This was also tried on the other side, using the opposite feet.

Leaders' technical points: The students tried to do an enrosque to get all the way around: 360 degree complete rotation. Wrap the back leg around the front leg. At the point of pivots, keep the heels up, squeeze the adductors (inside thigh muscles, as if you were trying to hold on to a $100 bill there), and set the heels down when the rotation is complete. Always remember to keep the chest/torso up. At the end of the tight crosses, squeeze the heels together. Also, control the finish of the enrosques and lapices. Momentum is key. Take a step, and then turn the torso to get good momentum.

Work on Momentum
To understand this concept of momentum in the context of trying to get around 360 degrees, the above exercises were then done with Leaders' arms outstretched wide like an airplane.

Also with respect to momentum, the Follower defines the speed of the molinete. She needs to catch the Leaders hips and be in front of him at all times.

Work on Lapices
Next, the students did full lapices, broken down 1/2 and 1/2, to collect, and then to a parada. The supporting, standing leg is always pivoting on each move. In the exercise, the left leg was the supporting standing leg (left foot the pivoting foot), and the right leg was the lapicing one. For the first half, the leg would move in a lapice until it is straight back behind the leader. The second half is with the leg extended back the entire time until the point of collection. Keep the body upright, solar plexus/chest up. Do not compromise the upper body by focusing on what the legs and feet are doing. Exhale on the down to be more grounded.

In the turn to the Leader's right (clockwise), the lapice is with the right foot. In the turn to the Leader's left (counter clockwise), the lapice is with the left foot. For the Leader to initiate his lapice at the correct moment, his leg anticipates where her body is.

Work on Enrosques
The students worked on enrosques, initiating them in their torsos, and then following with their hips. They should not move in a block, but in a spiral. They need to squeeze their adductors (inside thigh muscles). At the point of pivot, the heel needs to be lifted. When the pivot is complete, the heel goes down. The knee of the standing, supporting leg needs to be bent so that it is as strong and stable as possible. The students drilled pivoting back and forth, trying to get around 180 degrees, their feet facing the opposite direction from where they started.

Adding Ochitos to Enrosques
The students worked on drawing a little ocho with the leg/foot in front of the opposite leg. For example, drawing a small ocho using their left foot with the place in front of the center of their right foot being the midpoint of the ocho. The goal was to achieve fluidity in opening the knee and closing the knee together with the pivot, synchronizing the pivot with the leg movement.

To the Enrosque movement, the lapice/rulo was added.

Work on Momentum
Leaders need to take the impulse from the right side of his chest, but keep his right arm engaged/connected to the Follower's body. However, this should just be skin contact. He should not use his right hand to push her around or pull her in to compensate for his lack of balance. When he pivots around, he needs to feel the momentum. Otherwise, he will hesitate.

A discussion followed about the Follower molinete and whether or not the back-side steps of forward-side-back-side-forward-etc. was in quick quick/contra tiempo, or whether it was regular time (slow slow). Maestra's belief is that the QQ/contra tiempo in the molinete has to be led, UNLESS (1) the leader is doing a fast turn. Then it's QQ contra tiempo, or (2) it's vals and milonga, where there's a lot of QQ rhythm.

Maestra pointed out, since there were many students who went to Nora's Tango Week the week prior, that Nito Garcia (of the famous golden couple of tango Nito y Elba) has the most amazing, smooth, perfectly balanced turns with fancy footwork of lapices, enrosques, and ganchos, and that we as students should pay attention to how much balance, elegance and control he has during the turn. YouTube can help visualize Nito's movements.

Turns are all about balance. We need to have balance and good pivoting technique.

The next "figure" the students worked on was:
Left foot step diagonally with no weight transfer. Left foot lapice to tight back cross of right foot to right foot sacada.
The next "figure" the students worked on was a simple one, but difficult to write down because it went so fast with lots of rotation (and I started to tire). It was also combined with rulos and enrosques.

Though the only other Men's Technique classes I've observed (I never physically participate) have been in Buenos Aires and were taught by men, I believe this was an excellent workshop. The subject matter was clearly and methodically broken down into bite-size pieces, and there was ample time to drill so that it wasn't completely overwhelming from an intellectual or physiokinetic/biomechanic/muscle memory perspective.

Rachel Greenberg Workshop #2: The turns: Rhythmic & Fun Combinations Playing with Different Endings & Nexus. This next workshop added the Follower molinete to the above Leader's footwork, which gave the Leaders good practice time to implement and employ all the fancy footwork and technique they learned in the Men's Technique turns workshop.

For Follower's Technique, the momentum of the turn comes from the Leader's torso and hips, and the Follower must adjust to the Leader.

First we did a counterclockwise turn
, with the Follower's footwork being two back ochos, to a big left foot back cross step with lots of pivot of her right foot, side right step, left foot forward cross, with a Leader right foot sacada of her trailing left foot on her right side step, to send it into a left foot back cross step, into an ocho cortado. This turn has a logical rhythm and structure, so the dancers need to pay attention the music.

Follower's technical comment: On the side step, she needs to keep her hips in front of the Leader and not step away from him. To help her with this, she needs to have a very big pivot on her back cross step immediately prior so that she doesn't turn away from him on the immediately following side step. She should also suspend the side step a little because the Leader is a little suspended.

Leader's technical comment: The Leader needs to lead the Follower to do a big pivot on her back cross step by having more torsion in his upper body.

At the point of the Leader's right foot sacada, the weight transfer is complete so that he can immediately do a left foot rulo.

For both dancers, it is important not to abandon the frame and establish the connection between dancers. We give resistance to each other from the shoulder blades. It is important to have skin contact between the Leader's right arm and the Follower's left arm. To improve connection, we should try to look for contact in the skin.

Next figure involved a turn to the right. The entrance is like an ocho cortado, with Follower doing molinete footwork and the Leader's footwork taught at the last part of the workshop (where my notes break down), to an ocho cortado with a Leader right foot sacada before her return to the cross in the ocho cortado.

Leaders should be precise in their sacada foot, really meeting her trailing foot.

The next figure was a Follower's forward ocho with the Leader sacadas: of his right foot of Follower's trailing left foot on her right foot front cross step, and then a Leader right foot sacada of the Follower's right leg, forcing her to gancho his right leg, on her left foot side step of the clockwise molinete. To lead this gancho, the Leader takes the Follower down a bit so she understands it's a gancho.

This set of workshops was truly amazing, fantastic, and generously timed at 90 minutes each, so an excellent bang for the buck. Maestra was supportive and encouraging of all the students' efforts, and gave ample individual attention. (Rumor has it that she got the memo about how sensitive we are in the San Francisco Bay Area [too sensitive?], and how well we respond to the warm and fuzzies (have a nice day, everyone!). So obviously, she is a good sport about our needs and desires as [anxiety-filled, insecure, mentally delicate] students, and flexible enough to accommodate them.) Maestra leaves for Nueva York on Thursday, and then South America after that. How blessed we are in the San Francisco Bay Area, because she returns with more workshops in October 2010.

The practilonga farewell party was fun, with two fancy cakes from Whole Foods. The dancers were great, especially Randy because he asked me to mention it :o) and Marshall, too, who seconded the desire. :o) I really enjoy this afternoon practilonga. Maestra and other local teachers were there to give guided feedback on various things that we were working on as students, and there were plenty of serious students who were there to improve their dancing, which was already pretty good or even great. It was truly one of the best afternoons I had ever had at a series of workshops/practilonga/milonga.


(warning: random rant follows)

I was at a milonga recently where there were many more Followers than Leaders, and unfortunately many insensitive Follower hog ambusher Whack-A-Moles who methodically picked off the "good" leaders for multiple tandas, even when they were in conversation with other Followers and on the verge of asking the person they were in conversation with to dance. This behavior was noticed by many people, and some folks complained to me about it (though I am not a milonga organizer). It was suggested that I should write something about how this behavior is damaging to community-building tango efforts and how it is extremely poor milonga etiquette to interrupt people in conversation to ask someone to dance, but I don't think I have enough time to do the subject matter justice as I have a rather full month ahead of me.

But the Cliffs Note version is that, as for me, the milonga codigos were drummed into me early on, so verbally asking a Leader to dance right up in his face, or to even be more bold and take his hand and lead him on to the dance floor, is something I generally don't do (with the exception of Jodel for milonga tandas, and even then, I haven't done that in a few months now). I personally do not do the Whack-A-Mole thing and pop up and ask/demand that a Leader dance with me because it usually means I am an inferior dancer to him. Frankly, I would rather leave a milonga than ask a leader to dance, and I have done this on more than one occasion. However, I do recognize that in the San Francisco Bay Area, gender differences are a little more blurred, and Followers of all persuasions feel more empowered and entitled and believe it is acceptable to ask or boldly insist that Leaders dance with them.

Honestly, the dynamic at this particular milonga did not excessively irritate me personally, though I mentally registered the behavior and found it mildly annoying but typical for the usual culprits. I am at a point where I no longer need or want to rack up the mileage at the milonga (even the milonga tandas) and I've certainly been to enough milongas by now so that this behavior is unfortunately not new to me. However, I just mention it because it was mentioned to me by several different people who were at this particular milonga. To put it bluntly, I am not any one's confidant or best girlfriend in the tango community-- I do not pat people's arms, I do not soothe ruffled feathers, I do not hand over Kleenex to wipe away tears... so obviously there are some extremely hurt / upset people for them to mention this to me (someone a rather vicious gossip has labeled "Ice Queen"--which I find amusing since he doesn't even know me).

Tango is a commitment, no doubt about that. And it's also a commitment to be a good citizen within the tango community... So it behooves all of us to not be jerks (especially the hog ambusher Whack-A-Moles and the gossips).

One thing that does give me comfort on those nights when I am skunked, is I think of some very famous portena tangueras/maestras who have said that they spent many a night at Buenos Aires milongas not getting a single dance...and they are and were much better dancers than I am, and far more beautiful/friendly/effervescent... so it pretty much happens to us all, no matter how skilled or otherwise appealing.

At the end of the day, the behavior of the hog ambusher Whack-A-Moles shouldn't be taken personally by any of us, since these folks are obviously clueless about how they are being perceived by their fellow dancers (and believe me, everyone watches in tango, and an unfortunate number of people gossip/complain). They have an agenda and no one will get in their way of improving their tango or having a good time at the milonga. It's all about them. Didn't you/we get the memo? And yeah, they probably will never be found at home/in the gym/studio doing the homework all Followers have been given -- to practice doing ochos, molinetes, and walking by ourselves so that when we do dance, it is easy and effortless. Because if they actually did do their homework, it just might be that they find the tables turn and the "good" Leaders are the ones asking them to dance (and not the other way around).

But none of us should be too disturbed by any of this. Because there will always be another milonga, and there will always be many more tandas. (Unless of course we get hit by a bus before then.)

And now, off my soapbox... (end of rant)

1 comment:

Frances R said...

What is more upsetting is that the guys seemingly started accepting that kind of female behavior as a norm. So, my not asking them (and I never ask men, I am very traditional) at the milongas where the majority of women do ask signifies to them that I don't want to dance, with them or at all. :(