Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 11-17

Friday, November 12, 2010
SF Tango Marathon. Volunteer meeting
. I found the organizer, Ayano, to be very organized, thoughtful and gracious (right-hand gal Rina also). I found the other volunteers to be very generous in time and spirit. I was dog-tired from the drive up in bad traffic and wasn't too keen on having to drive back home to change into my milonga clothes. The meeting went a bit later than usual, so I couldn't go to Grumpy's for one of their divine hamburgers (among the best in San Francisco). Too bad, I was looking forward to it. And that made ME a little grumpy. :o( One really great instruction that Ayano gave us is that we were all to be ambassadors of sorts for the milonga, so that even when we weren't technically "on shift", we were still to help out and step in whenever the need arose. Basically, it gave us all the responsibility for helping to make this event as smooth and successful as possible. That so much care and consideration went into making this event a fun and happy experience for everyone was clearly evident, even in the premarathon email sent out to all attendees, which had the following "Rules of the Road":

"We're very well aware that you all know the drill but for the few percent of you who don't know what the rules on the dance floor are…. here we put together some guidelines. Please read before the marathon and prepare yourself.

Rules for the Road (courtesy of M&A!)

We want to encourage great navigation and some of the fun and unique aspects of tango etiquette at the marathon milongas.
The following are some suggestions for the road that we hope will make everyone's experience of the milongas more pleasurable:

Invitation: We encourage the use of cabeceo. Please communicate invitations with your eyes when possible.
Entrance: Please catch the eye of the passing leader and receive acknowledgement before entering the floor. Merge into the flow of the dance when you enter.
Lanes: Please stay in your dancing lane; on the outside lane or the inside lane. If you are really amazing or just crazy, you can dance in the middle.
Flow: Please dance with the flow - do not hold up traffic and do not overtake. There are no prizes for finishing first.
Accidents: If you bump into anyone or someone bumps into you, apologize (verbally, or visually, during or after the song), even if it is not your fault.
Teaching: Not on the floor please.
Exit: Leaders, please accompany the follows to their seats. Clearing the floor after tandas allows dancers to use cabeceo to invite a partner for the next dance.
General: Please treat each other with courtesy and respect. We may have different styles, opinions, values in tango (and elsewhere), but we all share the same passion.


SF Tango Marathon. Broadway Studios Milonga "Una Noche Elegante". Luckily, my days as a cover band groupie came in handy as I easily found rockstar street parking. The men were instructed to wear jackets, and most of them cut rather dashing figures in their Sunday best. The ladies looked great as usual. (A female visitor from Florida commented to me on how many beautiful women were at this milonga. I smiled and agreed.) The floor was a bit sticky in the beginning, which slowed us all down a little and made us look even more elegant. As the night progressed, it got to be quite crowded and the floor less sticky. So dancers got more excited, danced a little faster, and floorcrafting got to be a bit hairy at times. There were lots of folks who came in for this specifically from way out of town (some from the other side of the continent), balanced with a lot of locals. The lovely Julianna and Brian from L.A. were here, and it was great seeing them again. I didn't dance a huge amount since I wanted to rest my foot in between tandas, but it was fun just people watching the many skilled dancers. The food was ample and delicious and the water never ran out (at least not while I was there). Broadway Studios is much like I remembered (though we are talking about a decade ago), only cleaner and freshened up a bit. It really did turn out to be Una Noche Elegante.

Saturday, November 13, 2010
SF Tango Marathon. Matinee Milonga @ Regency Center.
I had an amazingly good time at this matinee milonga, which I honestly wasn't expecting. The turnout was good, it had a very nice vibe to it, and it was very nice to be able to dance among the other dancers, and yet not have it be obnoxiously crowded. I danced in my dance sneakers (the color of which matched my dress perfectly), and stayed longer than I expected. I got to dance with the gorgeous leader Rochelle (from Buenos Aires half the time), who I had danced with previously at the San Diego New Years Festival. She is an amazingly strong leader (and kind person), and how lucky for us followers that her husband lets her dance the way she wants to dance (whether it is as a leader or a follower). The room is spacious and elegant, the floor hardwood, and the ventilation great. There is also a separate seating area with ample leather sofas and ottomans to put up our feet.

SF Tango Marathon. Evening / Sparkle & Shine Milonga @ Regency Center. This milonga was also super fun. Some people thought the lighting was a bit bright. I didn't agree, I thought the lighting was fine and on par with what you'd find at a Buenos Aires milonga, where it is light enough to cabaceo each other without difficulty. Happily, a few of my buddies that I chatted up about the Marathon showed up as drop-ins, even though they previously expressed doubt about dancing for 15 hours straight. The milonga wasn't crushingly crowded, so it was actually great fun dancing. The DJs were excellent. The food was ample and thoughtful. In addition to what we had during the day (red and green grapes, chips, salsa and guacamole, cherry tomatoes, brie and bread, satsuma oranges), throughout the night other yummies were provided: empanadas (chicken, beef and vegetarian) and dim sum (egg rolls, pork buns, some other type of bun (custard, perhaps?), siu mai, potstickers, fried won tons, fried won ton skins), nutella and bread, bananas, walnuts and almonds, and poundcake/bananbread/walnut bread. It was a super fun night for me since I was able to dance many excellent tandas (and several especially outstanding milonga tandas), interspersed with extensive volunteering in the kitchen. So I had the best of both worlds. Working registration, it was nice to match the names with faces, both local and visiting tango glitterati. I also came to the rescue of one gal looking for a safety pin. When I asked why she needed a safety pin (since it didn't look like she was having any wardrobe malfunctions), she said it was to add another hole to her stiletto shoe strap. So of course I whipped out my tango emergency kit and the handy dandy hole punch that I raved about a couple of weeks ago (link also posted again below). Should this issue come up again in the future for any one, I recommend asking any of the tango shoe vendors if they have a stiletto strap punch that can be used.

Sunday, November 14, 2010
SF Tango Marathon. Matinee Milonga and Evening Milonga @ Regency Center.
I got there very late for the matinee milonga since I only wanted to wear one outfit and not go back home or to 24 Hour Fitness to change. Gosh, even as I write that, it sounds so lame. I should have just bitten the bullet, packed two outfits, and got there earlier. The matinee looked super fun when I got there, so I was kicking myself for not showing up sooner. A few of my buddies were leaving since they had gotten there much earlier, and had spent much of the afternoon dancing. They told me they had a blast. It was slightly less attended than yesterday, but it was still a good crowd.

The evening milonga, for me, was just OK, as I was working through my own star-struck angst and insecurity. The Emerging Up and Coming Tango Star was there. I've been very impressed with his dancing for the last two years, and even saw him live and in person in real flesh and blood at New Year's in San Diego. I knew he would be in attendance, since he was on the list, but he hadn't shown up on Friday or Saturday. So what a surprise it was to me to see him at Sunday matinee milonga. Of course I chatted him up, just gushed about how impressed I was with his dancing, which of course caused him to extend an invitation to dance later on that night (but not right now since he was hot and sweaty since he had danced all afternoon at the matinee). He was very sweet though, letting me know that he was leaving for dinner, saying that he'd be back in an hour. And so I waited. And danced. And waited. And danced. And waited. And danced. 3 hours later The Emerging Up and Coming Tango Star finally shows up. And it seems everyone was waiting for him too, as he certainly was very popular with many admiring fantastic and gorgeous followers. Well, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. I could not outlast all those other followers, waiting for my chance to dance with Him. My feet already hurt, my body sloshy, and my brain tired from dancing more than I should have as I waited for Him to return, so I threw in the towel and left the milonga around up my chance to dance with The Emerging Up and Coming Tango Star. Oh well, maybe it will give me something to look forward to at the next SF Tango Marathon. Obviously, I didn't make it to Mighty for the late night/early morning milonga as I was just too pooped.

Final thoughts on the SF Tango Marathon:
It was a great event, with a lot of heart that went into the organizing. The ventilation was great, so the men were able to keep their jackets on while they danced, if that is what they wished. Overall, the dancers were very skilled, so it was a pleasure to dance with them (though sometimes intimidating).

Monday, November 15, 2010
Orange Practica at the Beat with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas: "How to Cure the Follower's Forward Walking Phobia"

The music for our class was Miguel Calo with Podesta on vocals.

Q: Why do Followers hesitate when asked to step forward?
It could be because Followers are trained to walk backward all the time, so they are not used to walking forward.
They feel insecure.
They are afraid they might step on their partner's foot.
Maybe they do not feel comfortable getting into the Leader's space.

We began with an exercise, where we lined up so that we could see our spines in the mirror as we looked sideways.
We were to stand as straight as we could.
Then we started to shift our weight, from left to right and back again, really feeling connected to the floor.
We were to try to feel where the weight is distributed on the foot from side to side and forward to back.
Then we put our weight on our left foot, pushing our left foot into the floor more than usual (about 5-10% more), without bending our knee but keeping it soft, and keeping our spines straight.
Then we reached forward with our right foot.
We also tried this on our opposite feet (putting the weight on the right foot pressing into the floor and reaching with the left foot).
In this exercise, our legs and backs are really working.
Left foot is grounded.
Right foot reaches forward.
Transfer the weight by moving the spine forward.
The goal as we take these forward steps is to not change the articulation of the spine as we transfer weight.
That is, we should not plank back, lean forward, or fall into our step when we take our forward steps.
Our spines move through the space in a vertical position to make the weight transfer nice and smooth.
Also, we were not to go down too much as we take our forward step.
The length or strength of the forward step depends on how you connect with the floor with the standing leg.

Phase 1: In partnership with Leader and Follower facing each other, hand in hand in open embrace, the Leader steps back, the Follower lets the embrace open up but still has tone in her arms, and then she steps forward AFTER she feels the lead and AFTER the Leader begins to step back (she does NOT step simultaneously with the Leader).
Phase 2: Similar to Phase 1, only the embrace opens up less, and the Follower does not take as much time before she goes (but she still waits for the lead and does NOT step simultaneously with the leader).
In the Follower's forward step, she reaches first, pushes with her standing leg, and then goes. She should not pre-empt the Leader's lead by matching him step for step. She is supposed to lag behind, really waiting for and feeling his lead as he steps back, leading her to take a forward step.
To begin this exercise, the Leader shifts weight a few times to be really clear regarding what leg he wants the Follower to be on.
The Follower should try not to change height when she takes her steps, and not plank back or lock her arms. Her arms need to be flexible to allow the embrace to open up, and yet she must also still have some tone in them.

Most forward steps are curved, walking steps around the Leader. Our next exercise focused on the Follower taking curving steps around the Leader with a long forward step.
With Leader in teakettle hold (both his arms behind him at the small of his back, elbows out to the side), he was to lead the Follower to do forward ochos, really taking big side steps and reaching as far as he can. This will force the Follower to take big, strong forward steps in response.
The Leader should be even in his chest rotation as he leads her forward ochos, as the Leader's tendency is to be uneven, with one side being more open than the other. We were to try to correct this by being as even in the Leader's chest rotation as possible.
The Follower's goal is to try amplify the Leader's chest rotation in her hip rotation to really pivot. Also, she should make her forward step nice and smooth.
In this exercise, the embrace was not to be too hard or stiff or too loose. It should be al dente.

In partnership, we did forward ochos together, with our forward step reaching for our partner's trailing foot.
Our goal was to keep our spines nice and stable, and use the pushing energy of the standing leg as we did our ochos. We were to add pressure with our whole foot as we reach and transfer weight.


Leader and Follower are in open embrace, hand-to-hand hold, and we did continuous right foot forward ochos and left foot sacadas around each other.
Follower does her right foot forward ocho clockwise, stepping around the Leader, and then the Leader does his left foot sacada of her trailing left foot.
Leader does right foot forward ocho clockwise, during which Follower steps forward into the Leader in her left foot sacada. Here, the Leader steps a little away from her, not around her, so that she has room to do her sacada and so that he does not block her from walking into him.
It is important that the Follower have an elastic embrace, as one arm extends as the other arm flexes.
Both Leader and Follower should have long forward steps, and have good quality of their sacada.
The Leader needs to continually rotate his chest and open his right shoulder so that the Follower knows where to step and he doesn't get in her way. So the fundamental lead is for the Leader to turn to his right.

In this exercise we are working on two kinds of forward steps:
(1) curving and around the Leader
(2) pivoting a lot, and then doing a direct step forward. This is not a cross step. You just have to go for it, pushing into the floor and then going.

To make this exercise more challenging, we could do it with the Leader in teakettle embrace (both hands at the small of his back, elbows out to the side), which would compel the Follower to have elasticity in her embrace, really demanding that the Follower be responsible for the extension and flexion in her arms.

In close embrace, the Leader leads the Follower in forward ochos. The Follower should take big long steps and not truncate the steps and jamming the Leader. She should make the Leader rotate around to meet her.

We are to practice these exercises at home. That is our homework. As we work on our technique, these concepts can be applicable to other areas of our dance.

The Follower's default steps should be LONG as long as it goes with the music and she stays with the Leader. The Follower often takes too short of a step or truncates the step, which kills energy and/or the next movement.

After our class review, maestros did a demo to Calo's Si Tu Quisieras, which you can see at


FYI, here is Homer & Cristina Ladas's upcoming SF Bay Area teaching schedule:
Dec. 8th (INT class) - CELLspace
Jan. 12th (Beg class) - CELLspace
Jan. 17th - The Beat
Feb. 21st - The Beat
March. 28th - The Beat


Here's the info for the stiletto strap hole punch. What makes this punch so great is that the hole it punches is quite tiny, the perfect size for our stiletto straps.



I am toying with the idea of going to Ashland Thanksgiving Turkey Tango Festival. Anyone want to join me? I am looking for a roommate/carpool buddy. Ladies preferred as roommates. :o)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 4-10 (long and rambly)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Verdi Club Milonga with lecture beforehand by Robert Farris Thompson, Yale Professor and Author of Tango: The Art History of Love.

The room was packed, with not an empty chair and plenty of people standing around the perimeter of the room. It seemed nearly everyone (and their cousin) in the San Francisco Bay Area tango community was there. I got there late. The room was hot and stuffy. This lecture reminded me of one given by someone who has a PhD in music history, art history, and anthropology (and that's pretty much who Robert Farris Thompson is), because all three aspects were interwoven into the presentation. During the slide show, Professor went through some details of the history of black people in Argentina. He also spoke about the candombe rhythm impact, combined with the Moorish beats, as well as the arrastre drum rolls (a la John Santos). The slide presentation included many pictures of early (1920s-1930s) tango bands, clearly show black musicians, playing alongside white musicians and people of mixed race heritage. There were also pictures of dancers in poses that strongly suggest African and Cuban influence, and clips of the architecture showing Italian and Moorish influences. He would also play some musical clips during the slide presentation, illustrating the cowboy influences in tango music, as well as the conga drum influence from Africa, and the biggest influence of all: the Habanera beat from Havana, Cuba. He said that Puerto Rican Raggaeton has the same Habanera beat. It is the Habanera beat that we hear strongly in milonga.

He strongly suggested that if we ever come across the following CD, we should snap it up. Anibal Troilo on Bandoneon with Roberta Grela on guitar. He said it was the best milonga album ever. Facundo Posadas and Christy Cote did a brief demo to a song from the album.

Milonga is derived from the candombe beat. In Candombe, there is a lot of cross over in the footwork, and in milonga, this is also the case. When done quickly, it can be a mystic test with your life. The Follower has to be like an oscillograph to the Leader’s movements.

From milonga, tango was born.

Canyengue is a type of tango that is done down, close, and you fall into each other. In Canyengue, you fall, melt into each other, with bodies more in inverted v shape /\. Knees are bent, the butt is out, and the torso is forward. You can also make an ugly face. This profile also reemerges in the quebrada move in tango, with legs bent and torso up. So there is a touch of blackness, but the rest is European. In Canyengue, the steps are very short, and to each syllable, and with short bursts of energy.

In tango lisa, both bodies are parallel and upright with dancers having straight backs. It is smooth. The Italian women made it smooth.

Whatever you learn about tango, double check it.

He spoke a little about two black composers, Horacio Salgan and Julio De Caro. He especially said to listen to Horacio Salgan to hear the influences of black (music that sounds more black than, say, Canaro or di Sarli).

He also recommended that we read the book “Back Then” by Bernays. I didn’t write down the reason. Perhaps because it is a vivid sensual depiction of urban cultural life in the 1950s (albeit New York, not Buenos Aires), if the reviews can be believed.

The slide show concluded with some discussion of Osvaldo Pugliese. He highly recommended the album Ausencia (which means Absence).

He noted that Pugliese’s music, as well as his personal story, is all about power and luck. Pugliese was a lefty, so always had trouble with the Fascists. Peron jailed him 9 times, and the person in power after Peron (from the other party) ALSO jailed him multiple times. So it seemed he couldn’t win. Still, his band played on, even when he was incarcerated. They would put a red rose on the keyboard of the piano to signify that Maestro would not be playing that night, but that he WOULD be back.

He pointed out the influences of Stravinsky, African rhythm, and Blues, as well as suggesting the sounds of Chicago and Louisiana in the music of Pugliese.

--------------------END OF LECTURE NOTES -----------------

I thought the lecture was good. Some people complained that they couldn't hear or see it clearly (mic not loud enough, slides not big enough). I didn't have a problem with any of that, and I was in the back of the room off to the side. I did have trouble seeing the footwork of the short demos that Christy and Facundo did. Some people were also distracted or uncomfortable by the crowded conditions, so they left (which was fine with me since I was able to snag one of their vacated seats). I was really happy to see it so crowded since it meant that everyone there was interested in exploring and learning about a different facet of all that is "Tango".

The milonga itself was hugely packed, since most everyone who came for the lecture also stayed for the miloga. It was also a warm night in San Francisco, so the place was sweltering, even during the first tanda. I'm glad I didn't make the sartorially idiotic decision of wearing a wool jumper, knit leggings, and knee-high combat boots. Dancewise, I had many excellent tandas, and though floorcafting was difficult, it was surprisingly not obnoxious, at least early on. I feel that we are improving as a community in that area, with more respectful dancers, less careless dancers, and more protective leaders. I had a good enough time, but decided to leave early because it was like dancing in a steam room or sauna. Plus I wanted to go easy on my feet, one of which is still a little tender at the ball of foot. I wore my bullet-proof Artisanal shoes -- one of my "perfect" shoes that is pretty yet sensible, always reliable, always comfortable, never sloshy even though there are probably hundreds of hours on them already, slightly lower heel so it feels like dancing in slippers. As always, they performed beautifully.

Friday, November 5, 2010
MUSE milonga at City Dance Annex with lesson beforehand by Mayumi Fujio.
Since the only paying customers who arrived for the lesson were men, this turned out to be a Men's Technique class. It began with exercises on disassociation, really getting the ribs up and off of sinking into the hips. Then there were more exercises on posture, with the goal of being really up in the spine, and then arching up and around down the shoulders. Then the men worked on their walk using these concepts of disassociation and uprightness in posture, all the while trying to be smooth and connected to the floor. The female volunteers present then worked with the Leaders as they worked on really controlling the pivot of the follower during ochos, and also being even in his torso rotation on both sides. Maestra said that some men tend to over-rotate the Follower on the close side of the embrace, forcing her to do more of an overturned back ocho than she is capable of or should do given the dance conditions. So we really worked on evening that out, having the same amount of Leader rotation on the close side and open side of the embrace when leading Follower ochos. Next, we worked on Leaders leading the hiro/molinete. It was an excellent class, and I think all leaders benefited from it. I was extremely surprised and very pleased with the high level of leaders who attended this class, and the enthusiasm and care with which they worked on the material. I am usually not too keen about teachers who normally follow teaching Leaders how to lead (and also not too keen on teachers who normally lead teaching Followers how to follow), but I was extremely impressed with the level of excellence in this Men's Technique class, taught by Mayumi. She gave a lot of candid, and yet precise and accurate commentary about what the Follower feels when the Leader does something wrong or strange in his lead, and clear, direct and respectful in her corrections of how to fix these things. It was truly an excellent class.

The milonga was fun. It was great to see that it is gaining momentum in terms of being more attended, both with new faces and the usual group of regulars (who, if I may say so myself, have excellent potential or are already very good or excellent dancers). Desserts were particularly fantastic. Howard the organizer made some delicious lavender creme brulee, complete with caramelized top, which he prepared right there with a blow torch. The lovely and talented Rochelle made luscious chocolate covered cream puffs (mini round eclairs??), and marbled cheesecake brownies. These desserts rounded out the usual fresh fruit, carrots and a splurge almond cookies coordinated by moi and iced tea and wine.

Saturday, November 6, 2010
Bowling at Serra Bowl.
What does bowling have to do with tango, you might wonder? Well... not much... but a lot. A lot of the physical and mental things that bowlers think about parallel the type of things tango dancers think about (though there are some who say we as dancers shouldn't be thinking at all). Going bowling reminded me of a lot of the things I used to do alone to get better. I used to spend hours practicing throwing my imaginary ball down the hallway. I used to watch Cyber Vision bowling tapes. Bowling is all about doing the same thing, thousands of times over, and making small, sometimes extremely minute adjustments to the things that aren't working, as we work to get closer to realizing the vision of the kind of bowler we want to be. Each time we don't hit the pocket or pick up a spare, we think about where our feet were in the approach, how straight we took our 5 or 7 steps, the length of our arm swing, how straight it was, and how straight our wrist was at the point of ball release. We think about the placement of our thumb and ring fingers, and how much we squeezed the ball on release to get a certain amount of hook. We think about how balanced our bodies were when we released the ball. Anyway, this stuff is not so different from thinking about the usual Follower tango fundamentals: having good posture, engaging our cores, keeping our thighs together, having our ankles meet whenever they pass near each other, having our steps around near the Leader and not floating away from the Leader during the molinete, being good, complete, and untruncated in our pivots, being smooth and precise in our weight shifts, and being able to balance and pivot on one foot, etc., etc., etc.. It's a different set of things we need to do to improve our muscle memory, but the process to get there is still the same.

I was also pleased to open my bowling bag after all these years, and see two pairs of my Linds shoes, the only ones I kept (I used to have many, many bowling shoes). My beautiful Linds shoes are blue body and gold tipped custom shoes which I unfortunately never got the metal name plates put on the back. The others are a pair of green and magenta special edition ones with power sole. In my opinion, both shoes should be in a museum. :o) But what really pleased me was opening the other pockets of my bowling bag to see that all of my usual accoutrements were still there-- bandaids, nail clippers, nail files, hair bands, napkins. This, too, isn't all that different from my closet full of tango shoes and my tango emergency kit that I bring to milongas, which include the stilletto strap hole puncher, band-aids, baby powder, shoe insoles, mints, asprin/tylenol/advil/aleve. There are some things a lot of bowlers use but which I never do, such as the wrist guard and resin bags. Quite the opposite, I needed to have skin lotion to counteract my hands from getting really dry. And this is just like why I don't have a shoe brush (actually, I did, but never used it so I gave it away), orthotics (although that might be a good idea) or some of the other things that tango dancers have in their shoe bags besides shoes.

I was thrilled to see all my pins still on my bag. My ABC league champion pin, my WIBC achievement pins. I am glad tango isn't that competitive, but I did think about those pins, and how pleased I was when I got them. How they were little pats on my back, little confirmations that I was a good bowler, at times better than the rest. Achievement pins don't exist in tango, but maybe they should. And maybe we should all get them, perhaps after the first two years that it sucks to be a Leader and after the first year that it sucks to be a Follower.

Back home later on, I looked in the garage for my old bowling balls, and was glad to see that I did keep the one that I absolutely could not part with, even though the technology is 25 years old at this point. I didn't mind that I had indeed gotten rid of the other half dozen or so of my old bowling balls. A regularly culling of the tango clothes and shoe closet is definitely a good thing, but take care not to get rid of those shoes/clothes that are truly "classic" and are "old favorites".

Going to the bowling alley was quite a new experience in that the screen even tells you how fast your ball travels down the lane. That is really cool... I wonder if we could get a measure of some sort regarding the amount of disassociation in our bodies, or uprightness of posture, and whether that number goes up or down, improving or getting worse.

Sunday, November 7, 2010
Studio Gracia Milonga. I skipped the lesson beforehand. It was a nicely attended, but not overly attended milonga. Dancers were pretty mellow and low key, with no frenzied dancing. Floorcrafting was reasonable, with just gentle bumps/stiletto skims, usually followed by apologies. The food was more ample than usual (yay pizza!), but other than that, nothing extraordinarily celebratory for this 8th anniversary. Facundo and Christy did a two-song demo, which was good. After the performance, Facundo had some words of advice for us (specifically, for the Leaders, and that is to just dance simply and not attempt to do so many poorly executed "fancy" steps), which caused many Followers to burst out in spontaneous applause, but his tone which made me feel a little ookie, since it bordered on being lectured and chastised at a celebration at which they had just performed, and during which floorcraftwise I didn't think was that bad. But that's just me being the wanna-be Emily Post/Martha Stewart party girl that I am. Speaking to El Russo a few days later confirmed that Facundo also said something similar at Verdi Club the Thursday before (the day I left early).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010
CellSpace Milonga. I did not participate in the lessons beforehand, but watched them a little bit. Pier and Dan's lesson focused on Leader back sacadas and Follower forward sacadas. It looked like a good lesson, with more Leaders than Followers. The milonga was fine. A lot of alt was played. It wasn't crowded at first, but got so later on. I got to catch up with El Russo, who was sitting things out, cast on his left foot. I asked him what had happened. He said he had a sesamoid fracture, the pain of which had been bothering him for months, but which was only recently detected via MRI, after visits to several different doctors. He'll be in a cast for a few weeks, unfortunately for the San Francisco Bay Area tango community. :o( Still, it's obvious that he has a lot of friends here, since we all stopped by to sit next to him and chat so he wouldn't get too lonely. He also said that since he was injured, a lot of other people have been opening up to him about their own injuries as well. That has also been my experience.

------ Random Thoughts -------

Someone mentioned to me the comment from one of our regular visiting maestro couples that in their opinion the San Francisco tango community seemed more fractionalized than when they were here previously earlier in the year. Her question was whether or not I agreed with that and why.

I don't think the community is more fractionalized than it was before. I think people are just not going out as much in general, or perhaps it appears that way since there are so many competing events on a given night. There was one Friday night recently (October 15) where there were 10 milongas in the SF Bay Area (SF+EB+SB only)! That is a huge number of competing events, especially if you generously assume that on a given night, perhaps 300 or so members of the tango community might go out dancing. Roughly speaking, that would equate to 30 people or 15 couples at each event. Again, that is a generous assumption.

I think that overall people are being much more careful about their financial expenditures, really thinking twice about even taking the premilonga lessons to any milongas they go to. Bridge tolls, mileage, time on the road and gas are also factors that many folks, including me, are now considering in evaluating which events to go to. As a consequence, this generally means that I go to mostly San Francisco events on the weekend, or an occasional South Bay event after work on Fridays. This does not mean I prefer the San Francisco (city) and South Bay tango communities over the North Bay and East Bay ones. It just means that for me, it makes more sense to go to those events. Long gone are the earlier scouting tour days when I covered a huge geographic area, without much regard to mileage or time to get there.

Personally for me, I am taking fewer lessons from visiting maestros, from local teachers, and premilonga ones. There comes a time in every tango student's life where he or she realizes that they are hearing much of the same corrections/tips/instruction over and over from different teachers. Having many different teachers tell us the same things hundreds of times, without ever changing our dance in spite of being told what our shortcomings are, is an extremely inefficient way to learn tango. It's up to us to implement it in our bodies what they tell us as quickly as we can. Admittedly, for some of our shortcomings, sometimes that can take years.

A few years back, when I was a much lesser dancer (in my opinion), two different people told me that I was taking too many lessons and that I should stop taking lessons altogether and just go to milongas. I was really surprised by that since it seemed very odd to me that anyone would be interested or would have an opinion about my dance development (other than my teachers of course). I didn't listen to either of them at the time, and kept taking lessons, and kept taking the notes that went along with the lessons. But here I am, two years later, and I am finding that I get less and less out of the lessons...that much of what is being taught, I have already heard before. Sometimes it's even hard to get motivated to write the notes since I get less enthusiastic about writing down what I've already heard before. For me as a student, what I like to write down is the new information that I haven't heard before... I've never counted how many lessons I've taken, but I am sure they number in the high several hundreds, perhaps even 1,000+, from ~200 different maestros/teaching couples. And so now, on my own volition, I am doing what they told me to do years ago... that is, stop taking so many lessons and just go out dancing at milongas.

I do believe, however, that the class experience is very important. It is important for us to learn as followers and leaders how to cooperate with each other and work on a group endeavor with a goal. It's also important for the both of us to learn how our bodies work together. It's also where we work on patience toward each other and creating a pleasant environment/experience for one another, amid the often frustrating and sometimes daunting task of learning something new that's physically and mentally challenging. For many of us, the classroom is also the place where we will meet each other before cabaceoing at the milonga. Unfortunately for some, the classes and lessons are also where it becomes glaringly obvious who the most arrogant, untalented students are, or the ones who are rude or charm school flunkies, otherwise socially inept, mentally weak and emotionally unstable (those are the ones who have tantrums or meltdowns and cry because they can't do the class material) or who are clingy and needy. Fortunately for most of the rest of us, the lessons also make it completely obvious who we should stay away from at the milongas.

And finally, there is the whole concept of how well each of us feels "community" and how inspired we are to build it, participate in it, and cultivate it. There are obviously some saints in the tango community, doing their darnedest to inspire engagement to build community, when at times it seems a very Sisyphean, sometimes thankless task. But then that also brings into consideration that person's "vision" of what and how we should be as a community.

And I can sure as heck go on about what I think are community destroyers, but that would take another thousand or so words, which I am sure you don't want to read.

So there you have it. My $0.02, worth all that you paid for it. ;o)

Come Join Me!
San Francisco Tango Marathon this weekend.
Broadway Studios Friday Night: be there or be square.
I'll be volunteering on Saturday and Sunday as well.
Full Passes are still available (which will get you into Broadway Studios).

Monday, November 15
Homer and Cristina Ladas teach at The Beat in Berkeley on a subject I recommended. :o)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

October 28 - November 3

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Verdi Club Milonga with lesson beforehand by Santiago Croce and Amy Lincoln. I paid for the lesson but didn’t participate since I got there a little late, it was quite crowded, and there were already more followers than leaders. Still, it was a good lesson, with Maestro being his usually funny self with his tango witticisms. The topic was the back colgada (milonguero style). "Every movement in tango is like life...sensation...not just a sequence." One of the subjects of the lesson was the idea of releasing each other, and then melting back again. There was an exercise of the Leader's right arm in shopping cart position, and the Follower holding onto it, and the Leader feeling the sensation of moving her by it, with the focus on the Leader send and the return feeling of the Follower, with exaggeration/attitude. Leader needs to be precise in his lead so that he can tell the Follower what he expects of her. Leader also needs to make the Follower feel comfortable. The Leader should be dancing for the Follower, not showing off how many fancy steps he knows. He wants the Follower to go back to her table and tell her friends how great he is (so that they will all want to dance with him too) -- making her feel good -- not showing off how many steps he knows. The timing of the Follower collection or attitude of the leg can be exaggerated by the Follower. The focus of the lesson was the feeling/sensation and the send/coming back together. The Follower's hips need to be either parallel or perpendicular to the Leader's hips. The Follower should not push or pull on the Leader to maintain her axis. The Leader should not drag the Follower around. Here, we ran out of time so didn't get to do the inside volcada.

Maestros did a two-song demo later on that night, which was great.

The milonga itself was fun. It had the perfect amount of people, though there were more followers than leaders, and as it was pointed out to me by a couple of people, this is usually the case at Verdi (which I hadn’t really thought about or noticed, even though I've written it often). The place was all decked out in gory glory for the Zombie Prom (swing dance) the next night, so it made for an interesting environment to dance and socialize in. DJ Glenn did a fine job spinning the tunes. This was my first time dancing since the previous Sunday’s ball of foot sharp shooting pain, and I was happy to see that my feet seemed OK (knock on wood).

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Late Shift Halloween Costume Milonga. I missed the lesson beforehand by Christopher and Caroline because getting dressed took longer than I thought it would, as is usually the case on Halloween. The costume milongas are my favorites since they combine community, frivolity, creativity, and exploration, as well as being very equalizing and democratic. My own costume was as a tango dancer. I am kicking around the idea of going as a Tennis Player next year. ;o) There was a parachute jumper, a clown, Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, bunnies and bees, the game monopoly, Jesus (who looked more like Moses to me), a Giants baseball player sporting a not-quite-black beard, Gene Simmons of Kiss, static cling, a mechanic, 80s white trash, people in masks from gruesome to mysteriously elegant, people in renaissance era garb, and the usual gaggle of witches, cats, and vampires, among many other interesting characters. Since many costumes were pretty elaborate, it was a little tricky dancing in clothes we don’t usually wear, with flowing capes for Leaders and Followers alike, Follower head accoutrements and/or Leader dark glasses that decreased the Leader’s field of vision. The floor never got super crowded even though there were lots of folks there. It was fun just people watching at times, or cooling off in between tandas since wigs, capes, overcoats and such made for warm, sometimes sweaty dancers. All in all, it was a very satisfying evening.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Studio Gracia Halloween Costume Milonga. I skipped the lesson beforehand by Negracha and Diego Lanau. The milonga was nicely, but not overly crowded, so we all got to dance with each other. The costumes overall were a little tamer than the previous night at the Late Shift, mine included since I just wore the same costume that I wore last year-- a pirate, sans the fishnets and boots. This particular costume always seems a bit confused as a lot of people think that I am just some type of Eastern European medieval bar wench or ethnic dancer rather than a pirate. I think I need to wear and eye patch and carry around a dagger for the full effect, but I fear that both would compromise my balance, so I don’t use them. My ball of foot felt a little tender, so I am wondering if dancing two nights in a row is now going to be a thing of the past for me. I hope not… I was careful to dance more on my whole foot, and am working on skimming my heel on the floor during pivots rather than having the heel all the way up...yet one more thing among the million and one things to work on in tango… I had a lot of great dances at the milonga, and there were some super fun costumes: a couple of cowboys, the Queen of Hearts, Sarah Palin, an alien king of the universe with illuminating face on his chest that he used to cabaceo the lucky ladies, and a masked wrestler (female), a rock star (or drug dealer???) among others. Some folks also wore the same costume that they had on the previous night.

Final thoughts on Halloween…

Kudos to all the men who wore wigs and make-up of any kind. You guys ROCK!!! And for all of those who didn’t come in costume…Shame on you! You now have ~360 days to get ready for next year and there are big sales on right now…so there’s no excuse. Come on now, I KNOW y’all want to get dressed up / made up for it and get in touch with your inner Halloween imp!

Just for Fun:

And here’s a bit of fun from YouTube’s tangocynic (be sure to subscribe), which you might have seen since this will likely go viral in the tango community:


Thursday, November 4

Verdi Club milonga with Robert Farris Thompson, author of Tango: The Art History of Love

Friday, November 5

MUSE at City Dance Annex. Lovely space, lovely people. Come get your tango groove on!

Friday, November 12

SF Tango Marathon at Broadway Studios. It's been forever since I've danced there, and back in the day, that was for swing. So it will be a fun treat to burn the floor in my old stomping grounds.