Wednesday, December 1, 2010

November 18 - December 1 (with thoughts from Anne and JSE's Excellent Ashland Adventure)

Thursday, November 18, 2010
Verdi Club.
The lesson by Facundo and Christy was good, and involved a couple of sequential sandwiches with changes of direction so that it continued in the line of dance. The milonga was crowded, but DJ Emilio helped keep the floorcrafting in line by playing generally slow songs.

Friday, November 19, 2010
MUSE milonga with lesson beforehand by Howard.
Eva was ill, so I stood in for her. We taught a brand-spankin' new-to-tango couple, from square one. So the first lesson was all about walking, leading and following, and connection. It was good, but very challenging for them. Hats off to Howard for having such heart with teaching newbies. The milonga was lightly attended, but I had a good time regardless.

Ashland Turkey Tango 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The drive up to Ashland was not bad. It took me just under 6 hours with a half-hour lunch break. I stayed at Bill & Julie’s thanks to the Festival’s organizer trying to connect housing providers with housing seekers by providing a blog for Ashland Lodging Offers. I decided to give it a go, since I had heard of such things but had not yet personally experienced it.

Bill & Julie’s house is very nice and just a couple of miles from the Turkey Tango venues. It’s in a residential area, and the room they provided was the master suite, complete with queen bed, sitting area and small entertainment center with TV and stereo. There is a master bath with separate two-person tub, shower, and two separate sink basins. In short, it was perfect. It is in a convenient location because Subway and Safeway are on the way to the Turkey Tango Venues, so it is easy to pick up supplies and such, to make it easy on the waistline and pocketbook, and to optimize fueling for training, since the room comes with kitchen privileges and its own separate mini fridge. The cost was more than the hostel, but less than a motel. Since Jr. Scout Extraordinaire decided to room with me, it helped make the trip reasonably affordable. The hosts are as nice as can be, and Bill is a custom shoemaker who offers classes in how to make shoes. You can see his web site at

The Turkey Tango Thanksgiving dinner was nice. About 65 of us descended onto the community center to partake in turkey, yams, stuffing, green beans, salad, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin squares, as much as we wanted. It was all very yummy, and a really nice way for us to begin the festival together and also enjoy the holiday dinner that many of us missed with our own families. After we had our fill, the tables were cleared, the floor swept, and the milonga begun. What struck me initially was how tall so many people were! It was nice to see some familiar faces from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. I even ran into several people who I usually see at Austin’s Fandango de Tango this time of year. So it was kind of funny that we decided on Ashland this year instead.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Homer and Cristina Ladas lesson on Milonga Fundamentals with Francisco Canaro.

Homer and Cristina Ladas lesson on Milonga: Cristina’s favorite Milonga Moves with D’Arienzo.

Korey Ireland and Adeline Schieferstein lesson on: Learning Tools: Optimizing the Workshop Experience. This was a truly amazing class.

Ribbon Milonga

This milonga started with a mixer, where a song was played, and after 20 seconds or so, it was stopped and we all got new partners. Then the song would play for another 20 seconds, stop again, and we got new partners again, etc. It really “broke the ice” for lots of us so that we could get some type of idea what we all danced like, and so that we could figure out who we wanted to ask to dance at the ribbon milonga. At the ribbon milonga, you could voluntarily wear a ribbon, which signified that you were willing to dance with anyone (including beginners), and that it is OK for you to be asked to dance/cabaceo’d, even if you are a Leader. Followers were encouraged to ask ribbon-wearing Leaders to dance. So it really got a lot of us out there and dancing with people we wouldn’t normally have danced with. The food was ample, fresh and delicious (especially the jicama). The coffee and tea bar was assorted and ample.

Friday Late-Night Milonga

Afterward, I went to the late night milonga at Tease, but only stayed a little while and only stayed to watch since I didn’t want to be late for the next morning’s classes.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Homer and Cristina Ladas lesson on Part I: Half Turn in Close Embrace.

Homer and Cristina Ladas lesson on Part II: Close Embrace Alteration and Turn with D’Sarli and Rufino on vocals.

Varo & Naomi on Milonga with Yum and Spice.

La Gran Milonga

This was a good milonga night.

The lesson before the milonga was taught by Varo & Naomi and was an all-levels lesson on the Ocho Cortado.

The performance was good, with each teaching couple, except Korey and Adeline, performing. Momo Smitt was also in the house, and performed two rap songs, one new and to which all the instructors danced. Then there was a snowball dance, where the festival instructors, staff and volunteers danced with each other, and then the song was stopped and those folks were instructed to get people in to dance who were not dancing, etc., until finally, we were all on the dance floor, dancing with each other. I got pulled in kind of late, and by that time, the only leaders left were the beginners or non-dancers. Still, it was great fun and I appreciated the effort to make the milonga inclusive.

I bought Momo Smitt’s 6-song CD, which I think is good. I’d be happy to share it with anyone interested. You can check him out at

The food was amazing with cocktail wieners and pineapple, chips and dip, veggies, and Dagoba dark chocolate fondue with accompaniments of graham crackers, marshmallows, sponge cake, mandarin oranges, and pears. There was also a whole turkey at the self-serve carving station. The coffee and tea bar was assorted and ample.

Post Gran Milonga

I went to the late night milonga at the Cultural Center, and had a nice enough time, though I was quite tired.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Homer and Cristina Ladas lesson on Part I: Colgada Basics with Miguel Calo.

Homer and Cristina Ladas lesson on Part II: Exploration of Styles within Colgadas with mixed music (including Alt).

Varo & Naomi lesson on Volcadas She Will Fall For. This was a basic volcada lesson.

Milonga de la Busqueda

We played a busqueda card game, where we all had dance cards, and had to fill it with the names of people who:

(1) were from a different state

(2) had different color eyes from ours

(3) someone we had never danced with before

(4) had the same astrological sign

It really broke the ice and got us all interacting with each other a lot more (not just dancing). When our cards were filled, we could drop them into the bowl for the drawing, the prizes of which were:

(1) Dagoba Chocolate and yummy coffee

(2) Turkey Tango 2010 All Milonga Pass

(3) Turkey Tango 2011 Full Pass

Even though baby needs new shoes, I did not win any of the prizes. :o(

Food was cheese, crackers, grapes, and wine, as well as a whole turkey at the self-serve carving station.

Monday, November 29, 2010

We left bright and early, after letting the car warm up for 20 minutes since there was so much ice on it. Jr. Scout Extraordinaire was a good sport in driving the whole way back, after she saw my look of fright as Bill explained that I should leave their home and drive down the hill slowly and carefully using a low gear. That was enough for me to hand the keys over to JSE. On the way home, we listed to the Momo Smitt 6-song CD I picked up during the festival and had him autograph. It was good. We stopped at Granzella’s in Williams since Julie recommended it, and had some gut-busting Italian sandwiches and lots of different olives at their free olive tasting bar. We made it home, safe and sound.


Initially, I had not intended to go to this festival at all. I thought, why would I go all the way to Ashland to take workshops from primarily San Francisco Bay Area tango teachers (Christopher & Caroline, Santiago y Amy, and Homer and Cristina)? But then I got inspired by the momentum of the tangostudent blog, and how maestros were structuring their course offering during Turkey Tango. Since I wanted more 2010 tangostudent content, I bit the bullet and decided to go, very late in the game, and with my foot being a little tender and recovering from injury. I was very careful during the workshops, heeding El Russo’s advice to wear shoes with as much cushioning as possible, only wearing my Sansha helium (feels like dancing on bubbles) dance sneakers during the lessons, and only wearing my bullet-proof low-heeled Artisanal shoes during the milongas. I was also very religious about putting Freeze It on my feet every night, which I also shared with JSE. Combined with my Yoga Toes, I had no problems with pain whatsoever during this festival. I was also happy to sit out the Homer and Cristina workshops where there was a gender imbalance on the side of too many followers.

It was really wonderful, amazing and shocking how genuinely nice everyone was, at the festival and in Ashland. I totally LOVE LOVE LOVE full service gas stations!!!

Before or during milongas, there were many games that we played to get us all dancing with each other and out of our usual comfort zone of just dancing with the people we are familiar with. Even the teachers danced with a lot of the students at the festival milongas. The organizer also had out flyers at the registration table regarding the Rules of Floorcafting, which I appreciated.

Bill & Julie were awesome. JSE and I felt so cared for and welcome as we stayed in their home. They even shared their Thanksgiving leftovers with us one night, so the hospitality we received seemed to go largely above and beyond what we expected as room renters. The shoe making side of Bill’s life is fascinating, and you could imagine how JSE and I found the topic tantalizing with respect to tango shoes. One great tip that Bill gave me, since I was complaining about blowing out of some of my shoes so quickly and needing a leather that had as little give as possible, and that I wanted the leather to remain the same as the day I try on the shoe, he recommended Kangaroo Leather, saying it was the leather with the least amount of stretch. I think I need to surf the next to stock up before my next trip to P.H. (Grito de Ascensio 3602 xCachi en Pompeya) in Buenos Aires.

The weather while I was there was unseasonably cold, with snow on one day, and rain on a couple of others, and extreme cold on the last day. So one has to be careful and make sure the car is in decent shape before coming up here, with a decent battery, decent antifreeze, and decent breaks.

It was very nice of Jr. Scout Extraordinaire to join me again on a tango jaunt, and super fun to catch up with Graham and Jimena (from the August 2010 LV Al Cuadrado Intensivo). I didn’t dance with Graham in August, but was totally blown away by his skill at the Turkey Tango Festival. It was great seeing such a strong Mendocino contingent organized by Raquel and Walter, who are both fantastic leaders and dancers. It was also amusing to run into all of the San Francisco Bay Area folks (many of whom I usually run into at Austin this time of year). I had some pretty amazing tandas during the festival, and have a new appreciation for the Sacramento dancers and Oregon dancers (GO Brookings!!!).

I wasn’t blessed to dance with Momo Smitt, but was at least able to watch him. He is an amazing dancer with fantastic musicality (no surprise there), and has accomplished an absolutely extraordinary amount in the 14 months he’s been dancing. I was pea-green with envy because Jr. Scout Extraordinaire got SEVERAL tandas with him over the course of SEVERAL nights, whereas I got none. :o( JSE seems to still be in some kind of a slightly disoriented tango fog state and has not fully returned from those fantastic Momo Smitt tandas. :oP~ In one class I took that Momo was in, I was very impressed by the intelligent questions he asked, and the keen awareness of his partner and their dancing together, and of tango that he conveyed. He is no dummy. He is one sharp tanguero. That he has already shown such amazing awareness and understanding of tango just after 14 months of hacking away at it is truly mind-boggling. He really does have awesome potential, and it will be fascinating to see how he develops on so many different levels (as a rapper, as a dancer, and as a teacher) in the tango world. I’ve tried to think of other adjectives to use to describe him and his development, but all I can come up with is amazing, awesome, and extraordinary. I am dumbstruck by my own lack of not being able to come up with more diverse vocabulary to describe him, but honestly in my opinion, those are the most accurate ones.

The Oregonians I met all seemed to be extraordinarily nice, and it seemed to be contagious, thankfully. Many were also quite tall. (I wish that was contagious to me, too, but I think I’m a few decades and a few ancestral generations too late for that.)

It was very touching and humbling to meet, be thanked by, and dance with some of the folks who read or subscribe to the My tangostudent other half really should join me next time to share in the kudos!

And man, I had so many great conversations many folks with ideas that inspire me to write something about… I couldn’t fit it all in here on this one posting…but maybe I will just let those nuggets roll around in my head for a while…and I’ll put it down on paper (or pixel) on a week when lesson/milonga content is lighter. But I feel as though I am just bursting with content right now!!!

And if any of y’all are wondering why my class notes are not on this blog, it is because I also have my goober moments. I left my notebook at the festival. It is being shipped as we speak. I will have the notes done this weekend, and might just do a separate (non-Wednesday, non-Thursday) posting since the notes will be quite lengthy. My tangostudent other half is on the other side of the pond right now, so we are also dealing with technical production issues.

When I arrived in Ashland on Thanksgiving Day, I felt as if my body was saturated in cortisol. :o(

When I left Ashland Monday morning, I felt as if my body was awash in DHEA. :o)

This might just turn out to be my new Thanksgiving tradition.


My Homer and Cristina workshop notes can be found at

Here are my other notes that are printworthy (I took one other workshop and one other premilonga class, but have chosen not to publish those notes).

Friday, November 26, 2010
Int: Learning Tools: Optimizing the Workshop experience by Korey and Adeline Ireland.
Maestros seemed to be pleased with the turnout in class, and asked us, "What did we imagine from such a class?" The answers:
Basic steps that you can use everywhere.

Maestros intention is that some people get more out of classes, while others seem to stay at the same place (i.e., show no or very little improvement).

Our first goal for the class is to think about how we approach our role as students.
University versus non-university
Optimized skills
Watch words for most classes.
The effective student's relaxed concentration

Next, we did several exercises to illustrate the different styles of learning (visual, verbal, kinetic). We formed a diagonal line, then a circle, then a square, then a zig zag, then a triangle. Our goal was to see how well we, as a class, could follow instructions that were verbal by doing something physical/kinetic and visual.

Then we partnered up to do a visual/verbal/kinetic sequence of
(1) wave
(2) uh huh (nodding our head up and down)
(3) wax on (raising our left or right hand and doing a circular movement in the air as if waxing a car or surf board)
(4) I don't know (with shoulder shrug).

One partner did a sequence (physical and verbal), and the the other partner had to do it as well).
Then we removed the verbal aspect of it, and the other partner had to say out loud what the doer was doing (wax on, uh huh, I don't know, uh huh, wax on, uh huh, etc.).

Next, we did more exercises to work on coordinating our visual and kinetic learning. The class was split into four different groups, and we lined up in four rows. The first person in the row was to do a choreography, with the person behind him doing the same thing four beats behind, and then the person behind that person doing the same thing, four beats behind.

Next, the class was split into groups of four people each: Leader, Follower and two observers. The Leader and Follower were to do a sequence/movement that involved 3-4 simple steps, and then demo it to the two observers 3 times. Then the observers were to see and reproduce what the original Leader and Follower did. One trick to do well at this was to focus on what the Follower did.

Next, maestros demonstrated a step in class, and asked us what we all saw.
Our first answer: Ocho Cortado
Maestro then asked us to be more descriptive, so we came up with:
rock step
forward ocho
check step to the cross
Follower moves in a line, and then circularly.
Parallel system
What's happening in space? Goes from linear to circular.

In partnership, we were then to try to reproduce the Ocho Cortado as Korey and Adeline did it.
Rock Step
Open step
To Cross

Follower hangs on to leader. Leader is just there for stability. Follower does ocho cortado on her own.

We were to work on quality of movement, really observing how Maestros did it. So Maestros demo'd it again, and Followers were to pick three points in Adeline's quality of movement that we want to have in our dance. Then do it in our own dance. We drilled this several times with our partner.

Then a partner change was called, and we used this as a seed moment for empathy. The Follower was to lead the move, and the Leader was to follow the move. This also put us more in listening mode as the person who is usually the Follower taught the person who was usually the Leader what his Follower footsteps were, and the person who is usually the Leader teach the person who is usually the Follower how to lead this movement.

Then we had an exercise to get us in a listening mode. Maestros told us a story about their drive up to Ashland from LA, what they spoke about on the the car ride, what they ate, etc. Then we were to repeat it back to them, noting what the key points are and building a list, with detail. Then they asked us specifically what they ate on their car ride up, and we were to answer it.

Back to the ocho cortado, the Leader creates suction on the Follower forward step. The Leaders footwork includes a right foot behind the left foot, and his mid-back opens out. His right foot toes are close to the heel of his left foot as he leads the ocho cortado, with more pelvis on top of hips as he opens up to his right.

List of points for the Follower's cross:
Go with the heel first into the cross.
The right foot pivots as Follower goes into the cross (as an exercise we can try to pivot this right foot maximally).

We repeated the act of going to the Follower's cross repeatedly as a way to work on our muscle memory.

So in this class we worked to sharpen the following learning tools:

Using bullet points
Doing it (muscle memory/kinetic).

Kinetic Tools:
Doing it slow (going to the cross, we take 6 seconds to do it).
(1) slow motion
(2) repetition (do it 5 times or 10,000 times)
(3) Find slight variations
- in dynamics
- in timing
- in the start (to stay alert to movement)
- vary the step size
- do a different entrance
- bit side step to pivot around the Leader
- close versus open embrace
- attitude

Relaxed and Trust
Attitude / emotions
Be cool and easy.

Those who cross over learning modalities can accelerate their learning.

We touched on the use of sound effects in our learning.

(1) Visual
Watch the Follower
Key thing to watch is the big picture spatial relationship: who is the center, and who goes around.
Buy a laser pointer.
Which part are you watching?

(2) Talking/Verbal
Filter what is important
Use bullet points
What is the intended message? (This is not always received correctly.)
Stay open minded and curious

(3) Movement

Find ways of crossing over.
Combine visual/auditory with verbal and physical

Tango can be purely abstract/conceptual.

With respect to learning strategies, sometimes it is better to do more and talk less.
Sometimes it is helpful during our classes/workshops to do it or try to do it three times before discussing what is working or what's not, what feels right, etc.

This was a truly excellent class.

Saturday, November 27, 2010
Int: Milonga with Yum and Spice by Varo Boyajyan & Naomi Hotta

We began with an exercise to get our bodies used to the milonga rhythm. What is different with milonga rhythm is that it is happier and faster. With respect to speed, it depends on much distance you travel in the amount of time. Since milonga is faster, we should take smaller steps. We explored this by dancing one milonga song, doing large steps and small steps, controlling the speed of the dance by how large we step.

Next, we did an individual exercise of just stepping forward and collecting, and then stepping back and collecting. We were to be fast, step small, and be on our toes. We should keep our knees aligned with our toes and keep our knees soft.

Next, we did another individual stepping exercise of right foot forward cross diagonal, left foot collect, side right, left foot collect. Again, we did this fast, step small, be on our toes.

Next, in partnership, we did the first exercise of forward step, collect, back step collect. When we did this reasonably well, we added the double time QQS timing.

The First Yum:
Rock step as Leader goes back with right foot, Follower rock step forward with her left foot outside.

The Second Yum:
Rock step can be bigger, and then finish with back step.

The Third Yum:
"The Penguin": a series of side steps, to the Leader's right, or to to the Leader's left. There is a little shift up top in the shoulders.

The Spice:
A dip and a jump.
The Follower's left foot dip to the side with a little hiccup jump onto the Follower's right foot as if a step, where her left foot then goes up freely. For the Leader, his footwork is merely a right leg bend, and then he goes up.
This is (surprisingly) easier in close embrace. The Leader just leads the Follower to jump. He does not jump himself. He also lifts her in his upper body.


MOCKBA said...

We are old fans of the tangostudent blog, and it was wonderful to meet you in Ashland! Just a quick Q about those Helium sneakers ... which model do you use? I looked some up at the NY Dance Store website but they have a couple of different model codes...

Ana de San Francisco said...

I have both the regular Helium H74M with Rubber Sole and the Helium H974 with Leather Sole.

Initially, I wanted to buy the Leather sole ones, but they were out of stock in my size so I had to get the Rubber sole.

Initially I didn't like the Rubber Sole ones because they were a bit sticky/dribbly (I do a lot of running of my toe tip across the floor). After a while though, they have broken in nicely and smoothly, so I am liking them quite well now (though they can be a bit clunky in terms of profile, so if you are working on *extreme* beauty or *extreme* finesse in your footsteps in classes/workshops, you might not be thrilled).

My leather sole ones are in my closet, and I haven't used them yet on the dance floor. The Leather portion isn't really all that big or thick, and is a wide strip that covers only the mid part of the shoe where the ball of foot is (not the entire sole). You almost can't feel any difference that it's there.

Thank you for your kind words about the tangostudent blog. It was a real kick to meet and be thanked by several readers!