Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December 2-15

Friday, December 3, 2010
California Tango Film Screening at the Roxie.
I did not get there early enough for the "music and dancing", but as I waited the 5-10 minutes or so before the film started, I didn't see anyone dancing. I don't recall the music, but assume it was Carlos Gardelish in nature.The movie was not my cup of tea at all. I kept checking the time to see when it would be over. The tango sequences were short and few and far between. In my totally biased opinion, the best dancers were Chelsea and Count. I did like the Che Guevara character, thinking that he looked quite like the real deal, only with much better teeth. The popcorn had real butter on it, and had Brewer's Yeast as a self-serve sprinkling (gotta love San Francisco), and was reasonably priced compared to the usual big screen, big theatre names. I did not stay for the 90 minutes of music and dancing afterward (music also Carlos Gardelish), as I saw the first song was Cecilia and Igor on stage, and a song or two later they were joined by some beginner dancers in the floorspace below the stage. In short, I found the entire experience a bit of a letdown.

Saturday, December 4, 2010
Leonardo and Olga Suarez-Paz with Tango Revolution at aMuse Gallery.
It had been forever and a day since I had been to aMuse here for a tango event (I do so miss the milongas Glenn used to organize here, although I do note that the parking is a lot more difficult now with all the buildings around the gallery completely built up with residential units). The lesson was great. It was a technical/conceptual one done in the context of a simple step. I didn't take notes, but I thought it was excellent. Maestros spent ample time giving each couple individual attention. The evening, overall, was great. The concert by Tango Revolution was wonderful, especially the solo by one violinist. Allison Lovejoy did a wonderful piano solo, played with amazing feeling and nuance. Leonardo sang two songs, played the violin to one, and he and Olga also did a fantastic performance of two songs. It wasn't super crowded, but had an interesting mix of many very seasoned dancers and some beginners, all from near and afar. Sonja mentioned several times what a wonderful treat it is that Leonardo is taking an interest in the local tango musicians and is mentoring/coaching them and giving them guidance/instruction about tango music since he is a descendant of tango royalty. I totally agree. DJ Mix Mistress Z did a find job spinning the tunes, as usual. I passed along the Momo Smitt CD I snagged in Ashland (so maybe we will hear more of him at milongas). It was a wonderful night. ::::happy smile::::

Sunday, December 5, 2010
Korey and Adeline Ireland workshop at La Pista: Single Axis Turns (Advanced) - The Art and Science of Whoosh and Wheeeee!
Even though this lesson was clearly noted as "Advanced", I was extremely surprised to see some very beginner dancers at this workshop, dancers who have been dancing less than six months and by no means dance prodigies or otherwise gifted by any stretch of the imagination (despite what some of the more opportunistic leaders and teachers might be telling them). Luckily for me, I didn't have to work on the class material with them. The lesson itself was good. We began with some individual exercises of stepping around in an arc, and then pivoting on the arriving foot. Our arms were round, like holding a big beach ball.

The Leader does a rock step with his left foot, Follower with her right foot, Follower does right foot side step, pushing and pivoting at the same time to be curved and around the Leader, not floating away. The Follower's arrival point in her step makes her the center of the circle. The Follower keeps her hips level, and slides with her big toe on the floor. The Leader steps with his right foot behind her heel as he moves around the circle, stepping around her axis after she steps right. The Leader needs to keep his sounders equal distance with the Follower as he steps around her.

Shared axis turns are about centrifugal force and the balance of the couple. Balance is about mobility. The goal is to end more or less frontally with each other.

Next, we worked on a Shared-Axis Turn with more potential for "Wheeeee!", in both directions where the Leader on his left foot, and where the Leader was on his right foot.

For the timing, it is
Rock step
(small delay here)
Me (Leader)

How do you get the Follower to take a big step? Use a chest lead with your whole frame. Follower should keep her knees flexible. Leader should use his body below the ribs without chest/arms (which could knock the Follower off balance). How close and around the Follower steps toward Leader is key. Follower should not lock her knees. She should keep them soft and push into the floor. For her footwork, she arrives on her right foot. She needs to have quality in her body, mobility in the joints (do not be locked), so that she can keep the couple balanced.

We did a lot of drilling.

We also changed the entrance, with a Leader side step left foot, weight change, to step left foot forward (during these steps the trajectory is around the Follower), then the Leader comes around with his right foot to the usual Follower side step right shared-axis turn. If the Follower loses balance, do not use the arms to maintain it. Use your legs, core, etc., but not your arms.

Advice: Location, location, location. Where you put the weight is key. Just behind her heel is the sweet spot of where the Leader should step. More "whooosh" does not mean more "Wheeee!" The exact moment/timing is a little inaccurate.

Maestros concluded with a demo of different types of shared-axis turns, illustrating that by sharing space and keeping the Follower on balance, shared-axis turns can be done socially.

I had a nice time.

Entry into the practica afterward was free to those attending the lesson beforehand, so it was nice to see it reasonably attended. I always have a terrific time at this practica when there are a decent number of people.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Gustavo & Jessica Hornos Intermediate Lesson at La Pista.
On a whim, I attended this lesson. Santiago de Argentina's partner Ana (la otra) didn't arrive, so lucky for me, I got to partner with him in class. The step taught was a simple one, with Follower back ochos, to a Leader right foot displacement of the Follower's left foot after her right foot back ocho, to unwind her, and then lead her to do more back ochos. Then this was changed to the same Follower left foot displacement using Leader's right foot, to unwind her, and then lead her to do a clockwise molinete/hiro/turn. After we drilled this for a while, we added a Leader right foot sacada of Follower's trailing right foot on her left foot side step after her forward step. The step was simple, and we spent ample time drilling and discussing some finer points of Leader and Follower technique (like direction of Leader's torso and Follower being on balance and her quality of foot movement and also an embellishment: a quick and elegant small beat back on the displacement). Maestros showed each couple lots of individual attention. I had more than enough dancing in the 45-minute practica afterward, but clearly there were some others who wanted to stay much longer (even though they apparently had already mastered the class material).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
CellSpace ALT Milonga with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas on: An Introduction to An Effective Use of Body Weight in Tango

This was a brand new, experimental class.

We began with an exercise. In teakettle open embrace (with both the Leader's hands at the small of his back, and Follower hanging on to his biceps), the Leader was to lead the Follower in a dance. The following things were things we should think about:
Leader: How do I use weight to lead?
Follower: How do I use the weight to respond appropriately to the lead?
We were to be slow and elastic, dynamic, and in control in our dance (in teakettle open embrace).

How do we use our standing leg? We should connect with the floor with our standing leg.
We should really spend time and effort to really settle in to our standing leg, settling first, and then reaching with our free foot for our next step.
Try to use the connection to the floor.
The Follower's embrace is elastic: each arm can bend and flex.
In the Follower's steps and dancing, she should not be flighty and try to get away from the Leader.
She should use her whole body when she starts moving.

We then danced a song, again in teakettle open embrace, where the Leaders were encouraged to change it up more by:
Changing weight
Being subtle at times
Being energetic at times
Changing from one direction to another
Followers were instructed to be grounded, and show a bit of resistance.

The question came up: "What is resistance?"
Does the Follower slow down the Leader?
The Follower's purpose is to connect with the Leader.
The kind of resistance we hope to achieve is horizontal in energy, not vertical.
It is the Follower choosing to actively stay longer on the standing leg before reacting to the lead.
This is the Follower's way of letting the Leader know how she moves through space using her weight.

The question came up of how to handle males who follow since they have higher centers of mass.
How do you (the Leader) compensate?
Cristina's answer: You connect with the floor more.
Homer's answer: (1) You play with the tilt of the bodies/axes and (2) Make the Follower learn to connect with the floor more.


Next, we played a game.
In teakettle open embrace, in partnership we were to walk forward and walk backward.
In our forward walk, our bodies are slightly toward each other /\.
In our backward walk, our bodies are slightly away from each other \/.
Our goal in this game was to feel the weight of our bodies.
The Follower should take long forward steps, but not plank in her body. She should also not fall into her steps, especially the forward step.
Both dancers should create a natural resistance and communication in the embrace.
The Leader changes the embrace compression at the point when the direction changes forward to back, or back to forward. He does this by taking a moment to create the resistance by settling into the floor.
The Leader and Follower should both should collect first, and then work through the neutral zone, then change the direction before the next step is made.
For the exercise, it is OK to exaggerate it, to feel and understand the concept.
The Leader tilts his axis by flexing his ankles as he changes direction forward to back or back to forward. If his or her toes are crunching, he/she is too far forward. The toes should always be able to wiggle.
The change from forward to back feels like a slow vacuum.
The Follower feels the intention to change direction in the change in the tilt of the Leader's body before the change in direction, so she knows where to go.
It is up to both the Leader and Follower to build the relationship before you step/change the direction.
This game gave us a concept that will help us add elasticity to the embrace. Shifting weight has great leverage potential.

Next, we worked on the concept of Dynamics, that is going from a linear to a circular move using the above concept.
The Follower should have an al dente embrace (not too soft and not too hard, but firm and responsive), using her back and core muscles.
The step, still done in teakettle embrace, was a simple one:
Leader's side step left (Follower's side step right) to step forward with his right foot, change weight, and then back with his right foot, as he leads the Follower counterclockwise molinete/hiro/turn around him.
This was a very simple sequence, and our goal was to work on quality of movement.
The dancers are close to begin with, and then the Leader changes his axis back as he leads the molinete/hiro/turn. The Follower's embrace has flexibility (compression and extension). The Leader works through a forward tilt and back tilt during the Follower molinete/hiro/turn, and the Follower feels a "slingshot" type of energy as she comes around.
To get out of it, the Leader captures her with another side step left.
The movement is soft and quiet, and then explodes, and then quiets down again.
The Follower should not take short steps, and not fall into her steps. Otherwise she will kill the dynamics of the molinete/hiro/turn. She should also make a good reach effort.
The Follower should really arrive on her step before reaching for the next step, and use everything in her body as she moves through space. She should not rush, and not be afraid of being left behind by the Leader.

Next, we added the teapot embrace with the Leader having a right hand handle and left hand spout to have more control.
The Follower must really hold onto the Leader.
Again, we tried the side step to molinete/hiro/turn on one side (counterclockwise) and then the other (clockwise).
The Leader should not move his body in a block when he leads the molinete/hiro/turn. Otherwise, he will be inefficient in his molinete/hiro turn lead. Instead, the Leader should use disassociation to make the movement easy and with finesse. Leaders tend to use their arms too much when leading the molinete/hiro/turn, so our work using the teapot embrace should alleviate that, and to also work on the secret agenda: that is, for the Leader to develop more pull energy with his left hand (as opposed to overusing and misusing his right hand by pushing the Follower to do the molinete/hiro/turn).
The teapot embrace also causes the Leader to engage his arms to his back to the floor.
The Follower works through many different types of strength in her embrace in this simple sequence in teapot embrace: soft, al dente, and firm, but she should always have elasticity, with each arm expanding and compressing as she goes around the Leader.

Maestros concluded with a demo to DiSarli's Comme Il Faut, which you can see at

This was one of the rare nights that I also stayed to dance until the end of the milonga. I had a great time (even though the music was 50% alt, which is not really my cup of tea)! I had several truly excellent tandas (one with a dancer from Oregon), so it was enough to keep my attention and presence there for the whole thing. A nice couple from Norway said some kind words to me about my tangostudent note taking, so that was a little treat. There was a birthday dance for Aneta, and she brought in lots of chocolate for us to partake in (and I am kicking myself for forgetting to get a to-go plate!). And at home later on, the notes came easily ... so no burning the midnight (er...2:00 a.m.) oil for me. It was a very nice night.

Thursday, December 9, 2010
Verdi Club Milonga with lesson beforehand by Oscar Mandangaran and Georgina Vargas.
I missed the lesson. When I got there a little after 9:00 p.m., the place was already packed. It seemed everyone and their cousin got the memo that this was the place to be there or be square. Seth Asarnow y su Sexteto Tipico played some lives sets, and I was amazed at how good they are. I am kicking myself that I hadn't made the effort to see them perform earlier, though I had met the Bassist and thought he was a wonderful dancer (so assumed he would be a brilliant musician as well). Julian was the other bandoneonist, and Peter the pianist. Can't say I know the names of the two violinists, but the woman especially played with great precision and energy. Anyway, they were all fantastic, and shame on me for not seeing and hearing them earlier. I especially liked the tunes they did in the style of D'Arienzo. The dancing was a bit not magic, not tragic. It was super crowded, and floorcraft wasn't the greatest, so I can't say I had a thrillingly good time, dancewise. The socializing, however, was great fun since everyone was in the house. The performance by Tango Con*Fusion was excellent, even though it was still a work in progress.

Saturday, December 11, 2010
Nora's Milonga at Allegro with lesson beforehand by Fabian Salas and Lola Diaz.
The lesson was good, and focused on the space between the Leader and Follower where they connect, that is between her left arm and side of chest to the Leader's right arm and side of his chest. We did many exercises and small simple sequences to play with the idea of moving together by moving the space, or moving the Leader separately from the space or moving the Follower separately from the space. The Follower responds with her legs to what the Leader does with his chest.

We began with a simple Leader walk forward in partnership with Follower walk back, always going through the center. Next, Maestro noted that there were many types of embrace, but for this class we were going to use the following one: The Leader puts his right hand on top of his left chest, with his elbow away from his back. His left hand goes on top of his right hand, his elbow also away from his back. Then the Leader brings his left arm up. He pulls his right hand away from his chest, but still keeps it in front of his body, opening up the space. The Follower walks into the embrace, taking the Leader's left hand. For the Follower to answer the Leader's chest lead by moving her legs, she must always be in contact with the Leader to hear his lead. The contact between the dancers is in the area of the Follower's left arm and chest to the area of the Leader's right hand and chest. This can be in full contact or in more open embrace, with the space in between them still the area of contact. If the Leader moves that space, the Follower fills it up. The Leader can move this space three ways: (1) move himself and the space, (2) move the space only (while he remains in the same spot), or (3) move himself only (keeping the space in the same spot). We tried to understand this concept by doing a simple sequence of Leader side step left (Follower side step right), Leader changes weight to walk Follower to the cross, so Leader and Follower are now on the same feet (left and left), to another step (right and right), to Follower cross.

Next exercise: Maestro drew a line on the floor. We were to do the same step but on the Follower left foot back step, the Leader makes the Follower rotate a lot to cross over the line in her left foot back cross step, using the Leader's embrace and without the Leader travelling. This goes against the line of dance, but that is OK since it is just an exercise. The Leader needs to move the space so that the Follower moves. Next, to fix the line of dance problem, we changed the step. Instead of a side step (Leader's left, Follower's right), the first step was changed to a Leader slightly diagonal back step (Follower right foot forward step), so that this move pivots a lot. As the Follower goes around the Leader, he sneaks in his right foot in between her steps as he pivots her counterclockwise on her left foot back cross step. Here, the Follower is going through the embrace ahead of the Leader. Maestra noted that the Follower should always try to close her legs. The point of this simple step is to make the Follower step without the Leader actually travelling. Next exercise, in walking in the line of dance, Leader forward left foot (Follower's back right foot), to a rock step to a Follower forward right foot (Leader back left foot), the Leader turns around and walks out while Follower does left foot open step, right foot back step (like the first half of the ocho cortado). Next, we tried to make this travel more in the line of dance.

The sequence: Side step, to promenade of Leader's right foot forward to Follower's left foot forward, rock step back, Leader steps forward on his right foot, outstepping the Follower's left foot step, to pivot around the Follower to lead Follower back step, as he steps forward with his left foot. We tried this in QQ rhythm to give the move more dynamic. We could also do this move continually. The class ended with another small exercise of rock steps with the Leader's left foot only (Follower right foot only), with the Leader stopping before the Follower collects her feet. We also tried to do this in QQS rhythm, with the goal of leading it through the embrace. Next exercise, step followed by weight change to QQ rhythm. To sum up the class, the Leader could have done all these leads with just the embrace (moving the space).

The milonga was fun. Christian has finally moved to the Bay Area, so what a wonderful treat it will be for the Followers to have another good leader in our midst. And lucky for me (and other salseras), he is also an excellent salsa dancer. Lots of folks came up from the South Bay to support Nora and because of Fabian and Lola. DJ Emilio did a fine job keeping us in line, as floorcrafting was pretty decent, despite it being very crowded. Also, lots of folks were content to sit out some tandas instead of joining in on the milonga dance floor. The performance by Fabian and Lola were good. She has improved. For some reason, I was ravenous that night, and thought many times of going to Denny's for quick bite (but I didn't). The ventilation has improved at the Allegro. (At least I think it's an improvement. Those prone to be chilled might not like it as enthusiastically.) I believe they got a new A/C system (or fixed the one they had) because there were two extremely noticeable localized spots of blasting cold air from the ceiling. Thus, it never got hot or humid, despite the large number of bodies. I stayed later than I expected to, wanting to get that one last tanda in with one of my favorite leaders. I should have skipped it though, since I bonked and my feet were sloshy. Needless to say, I danced that last tanda quite poorly, and certainly wouldn't want to remembered by it. :o(

Monday, December 13, 2010
La Cumparsita Milonga with lesson beforehand by Korey and Adeline Ireland on: Gancho a Favor Forward
(also known as a gancho off of forward). Ganchos = enganches = wraps. Our goal in the class was to use a technique to work on something specific, a movement. We began with a warm up, hand to hand in mirror image, raised up near our shoulders. The follower was to do a rulo with either foot, and the Leader was to try to feel it in his hand that the Follower was doing the rulo. So it was up to the Follower to communicate through her hand that she was doing a movement with her foot (right foot to right hand, left foot to left hand). The goal of this exercise was to work on having an elastic connection. How do the hands affect the feet? The connection of our hands to our feet, and our feet to our hands, is through the body. To give us a picture of what the class topic is: for the A Favor Forward Gancho, dancers look for the same shape, when Leader and Follower are traveling in the same place and same direction. "with" = "a favor" = Leader traveling in the same direction as Follower.

Tool #1: Leader Controlling Follower's Foot
We did an exercise where the Leader was to lead the Follower in such a way so that he could move the Follower's foot into an ocho. Note that it is the Leader asking for a movement. The Follower should not change (collapse) her arms and hands as the Leader leads/asks her to make a shape with her foot, otherwise she will absorb the lead. Leader should use his left hand to communicate what he wants of the Follower. The distance of the free leg is key.

Tool #2: Leader Turns Axis of Follower While He Walks Around
We did an exercise where the Leader goes around the Follower, and also leads the Follower to rotate her hip clockwise and counterclockwise as he walks around her in one direction, and then the other. The Leader suggests the Follower movement with (1) his body, and (2) his embrace. We practiced this exercise with the Leader walking both ways, clockwise and counterclockwise, and Follower hips going both ways, clockwise and counterclockwise. The Follower takes the information from the Leader's body.

Tool #3: Combining the Two Tools, and Follower Communicating What Foot is Doing in Her Hand
Leader's walks around around the Follower's axis, and uses it to lead her to do other things with her hips and legs (boleos, etc.). The Follower tells the Leader where her foot is in the gancho with her hand.

The Sequence:
Follower forward cross step with her left foot, Leader's right foot steps around the Follower counterclockwise to bring her right leg to gancho the Leader's right leg and he rotates his torso counterclockwise. The Leader steps behind the Follower's left heel, and he also bends his right knee a lot to create the sensation.

Since we didn't look so great doing this, we backed up to do an exercise to really free up the Follower's right leg. As the Follower is on her left foot, pivoting, her right foot is free and the Leader leads a kick through his axis (through his legs) from her forward ocho step. This was to get the Leaders used to managing the Follower's free leg.

Next, we simplified the movement even further. We did the Follower right foot back gancho of the Follower's left leg as he rotates in the same direction counterclockwise.

Another one we did was from the parada position. From cross system, as Follower does her back ochos, the Leader almost sandwiches, whereby the Leader's right foot steps around the Follower's trailing forward right foot on her left foot back cross step (left foot back ocho step, which should be small), to lead a Follower right leg gancho of the the Leader's right leg as they move counterclockwise. The left foot back cross/back ocho step should be small, so that the Leader's right foot forward step does not have to be so long.

Maestros demo'd a lot of different leg responses (boleos, different types of ganchos, etc.) in the context of the Leader moving his torso and using his hands and feet to move the Follower.

This was an awesome class, very high level, surprisingly so for a pre-milonga class.

One wacky thing that happened though was that it was belatedly attended (how rude!) by several rather aggressive followers, who threw the until-then perfectly balanced class off. Then these rather aggressive followers, who all have a certain anxiety and stink of desperation and frustration when it comes to being rotated out during class, came up to ME and asked very forcefully if I would lead them. My response to them is the same as it is to everyone who asks: "I do not lead." And if pressed about why, my answer is the same: "There is no upside for me to lead any follower (or leader, for that matter)." I am not a big gal, but I certainly don't lack muscle either. However, leading some of these aggressive followers feels to me like moving 25 cubic foot refrigerators. There are certainly a noticeable number of non-beginner leaders who enjoy working with (or ... ahem ... "teaching" ... cough cough) lesser followers, and for all I care, they can certainly go at it (and they certainly do, which is why some of those non-beginner leaders don't improve all that appreciably either). In the past, my experience in leading demanding, needy followers (except at Ney and Jennifer's classes, where everyone was super nice, wonderful, and polite) has been that they are rude and they are very quick to jump on me and tell me what I am doing wrong as a leader. When I tell them that if they know so well how to lead and what the Leader's part should be, then they should go ahead and BE THE LEADER and that when I take the Leader role I am doing THEM a favor. This is where these thankless aggressive (usually untalented and unskilled) followers get all huffy and pissed off (their eyes get a little bit smaller and they press their lips together) and then they thankfully shut up and work on their Follower's part like they are supposed to. For the most part, my upper body and back aches every time I try to be the Leader, and so does my head. After a lesson where I lead, I am much too tired and fried physically and mentally to enjoy the milonga afterward. So God bless those gals who actually do Lead, because they are true saints. I, for one, would much prefer to happily sit out the entire lesson as a Follower rather than attempt to lead. So there you have it. Any leaders and followers reading this, please don't bother to ask me to lead you. It's nothing's just that I've been burned way too much by past experience. And I, for one, am straight and have no interest in being a teacher, and therefore have no interest or ulterior motive about giving any followers any delusions about...anything.

The milonga itself was fun. It wasn't hugely attended, but dancer skill level and quality were good to excellent. Tangonero played well, as usual.

Here's a video or Nora's Mission Cultural Center Performance Class Performance on December 11, 2010 I wasn't there, but many of the dancers we enjoy dancing with (if we are so blessed) performed.


Anonymous said...

Hi Anne,

We danced at the Tangonelo milonga that you wrote about in this post (I was visiting from NH). Just wanted to say thanks again for the dances and for posting such good notes on Homer and Cristina's lessons online. It was nice to meet you after reading your blog for a few years.

Happy New Year,

Ana de San Francisco said...

Hi Brian!

Happy new year! It was great fun dancing with you. I hope we can do it again whenever you are in the SF Bay Area.

Nice stitches and sweater, BTW. Mr. Rogers ROCKS!