Alberto Dassiau and Paulina Spinosa Workshop at Studio de Akari.
Mamborich had always raved about Maestro, but I admit, the kicker for me going to the this workshop was the line at the end of the description: "After Class Pot Luck Argentine Style BBQ" I was intrigued by that since Akari was hosting, and I had heard that her Two Left Feet milongas had THE BEST food. I was kicking myself that I had missed them! Since the workshop required preregistration, I emailed Akari beforehand, signed up for the workshop, and asked what I should bring to the BBQ. She suggested a salad. Well, that afternoon I attempted to make a salad using some picked peppers I had. It was a disaster. Complete FAIL, to use the YouTube vernacular. I had never made a salad so bad in my life. I had pulled out every culinary trick up my sleeve to try to fix it. But every addition/attempt yielded an impossibly worse result. So the whole thing, which turned out to be overwrought and completely inedible, eventually went into the trash (compost bin...it is San Francisco, you know, home of the extremely militant refuse police). Oh well. These types of complete, colossal failures are what keep us (me!) humble in the kitchen (and elsewhere in life). Seeing that I was already almost late, I jumped in the car and made my way over to Danville, thinking that I could always circle back to a Trader Joe's or Safeway near her house and get salad fixin's if need be.
The traffic gods must have been smiling on me, because I made it to Danville from San Francisco in record time (~35 minutes). There was shockingly little traffic for a Saturday afternoon. Studio de Akari is the social room in her home, right off a patio that is perfect for outdoor entertaining. It is spacious for a social room, but not so spacious for a dance class. Still, it is beautifully appointed and has a nice hardwood floor and mirrors on one side of the room.
There were 6 couples in class, and luckily for me I got to partner with Mamborich for the whole thing. We were split into two groups of three couples since there were space limitations. We began with dancing two songs. After each group danced their two songs, Maestro gave comments to the group. Maestros spoke only in Spanish (Castellano), but we fortunately had the lovely Rachel translating, which was great since she is a tango dancer and could explain the subtle nuances of what Maestro was saying (I've been in other classes where the translator was not a tango dancer, and thus, the translations were a little off).
(1) Regarding the embrace, in close embrace, the Leader should hold the Follower close, as if she were his wife. She is there to dance. In close embrace, she feels protected and will go wherever you put her.
(2) There was one woman who danced with both her legs bent (like she is getting ready to sit). Maestro emphasized that when dancing and walking and doing everything in life, we do it with one leg straight, but the other leg bent, not both legs bent or both legs straight (which would look really strange and robotic).
(3) Follow the line of dance, which is always counterclockwise. Do not cross across the floor, otherwise you create an ugly situation. Dance spaced out appropriately between couples, not bunched up together. Do not pass anyone. It is not a race. Maintain your distance. Continue at the same rhythm, even if you need to dance in place.
(4) Don't dance too fast.
Next, we all got into a circle and walked with maestro showing us the rhythm to a D'Arienzo song from the 1930's.
The step he showed us was a simple one:
Follower check step right foot back and right foot forward, outside Leader, followed by a diagonal box step.
We worked on this for a while, each group going two songs at a time.
Next, Maestro changed the song to a Pugliese song. The music is different, so you should dance slow, with different velocity in your step, respecting the pauses in the music.
We worked on dancing these concepts for a while, one group at a time.
Since there were many beginners (first timers) in the class, Maestro showed the Leaders footwork for the 8CB. Maestra showed the finer points of the ocho technique and pivoting just hanging onto the banister, demonstrating that Followers don't need a big space to practice and work on their technique alone.
Next, Maestro changed the music to Vals.
He commented that the Leader's right hand needs to be under the Follower's right shoulder blade. The Leader needs to lead the opening and closing of her ocho. The Leader uses his right arm to transmit the opening.
When dancing to Vals, walk in the vals. Do not do "steps" all the time during the vals. If you do, one day you will run out of tricks in your step bag. The ideal is to walk, do one or two steps, go back to walking, do one or two steps, go back to walking, etc.
Use your whole body when you dance so that you look engaged to the music. Some dancers dance with their upper bodies completely still and lifeless with their lower bodies doing everything. There should be some movement up top, to illustrate the life in the music.
For the final last three valses, we changed partners and danced with someone totally new since we had no partner rotations in this class prior to this.
It was a good class.
After our lesson, we went outside and fired up the barbie, using an electric starter. Some folks chose to baby sit the grill, while others decided to dance, and still more decided to go upstairs to the kitchen/dining area to start on the appetizers. When we got upstairs, we found everything layed out. The appetizers were:
steamed pencil-thin Asparagus
roasted brussel sprouts
steamed artichoke hearts with horseradish sauce and mayonnaise
flax seed chips, plantain/yucca chips, salsa and guacamole
candied apple salad
gluten-free zucchini bread
In short, a feast had been prepared.
One of the students was kind enough to man the grill, cooking the beef that Akari provided. Akari also pulled out some salmon from her freezer in case there were some pescaterians in the mix.
Throughout the night, various guests arrived for just the BBQ. It was like a who's who of the Bay Area tango community, and they brought wine, other dishes for the potluck (DJ Emilio brought some precooked Safeway tri-tip, which turned out to be surprisingly very yummy), and then grillmaster Marcelo showed up. He quickly got to work, taking some accoutrements from the pantry and donning his very professional looking chef's hat and apron. When I went out later to watch him grill, I was amazed by his prowess -- bringing his own mesquite (now THAT is hard-core when you bring your own charcoal to a potluck BBQ!), and often times moving the meat (chorizo, pork, beef) around the grill with his bare hands (Ouch! Yikes! Were his hands made of asbestos?). I had been to many, many parrilla places in Bs As, but watching Marcelo take the slabs of pork right out of the brown butcher paper and slap them right onto the grill reminded me that it usually just was excellent quality meat, roasted over a charcoal grill -- with none of the usual marinades, sauces, and rubs that we in the U.S. tend to slather over our meats when we BBQ.
Needless to say, the evening turned out to be a feast for the stomach, the mind, and the eyes. It was super fun socializing with everyone, many of whom I had never met or seen (noticed?) before, and it was really nice just sitting down and chatting (and not having the pressure to dance with anyone). Glancing at the clock, I wanted to leave many times. But then more guests would arrive, food/drink in hand, along with another great conversation. So I ended up staying much later than planned (I had originally wanted to go home to shower and then to the Malleable Milonga benefit).
I told Akari that if she had always hosted lessons with these types of BBQs afterwards, that I would go to them all, regardless of who the teacher was. ;o) She laughed.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Natasha Birthday Celebration at Studio Gracia Milonga with lesson by Negracha and Diego Lanau. I did not attend the lesson beforehand, but saw that it was packed. The milonga, too, was packed. Many folks must have been lured by the enticing description: "For the birthday celebration, there will be Peruvian Chicken made by Hector, homemade Salvadorean Tamales, cakes, wine & champagne", and planned ahead to have dinner at the milonga, because by the second tanda, the usual food (croissant sandwiches, fresh fruit, etc.) was almost completely gone. The Peruvian Chicken was a chicken and rice dish in a green sauce. It was very tasty. Later on, the Salvadorean Tamales came, chef unknown. Three massive aluminum baking trays held the banana leaf and parchment paper-wrapped pork, chicken, and beef tamales, with enough to serve everyone at the milonga (and their cousins). I am no expert on the subtleties, nuances and differences among South American tamales, but these Salvadorean Tamales were very creamy in texture, almost gelatinous/custard-like. The beef one had cheese in it, so I think cheese was an ingredient in all the tamales (not sure if that is specific to El Salvador, or just the chef's preference). The food on this night was a big draw, in my opinion.
The dancing at the milonga wasn't the greatest. It was fun because there were so many people there, but the floor was very slick on this night for some strange reason. More than one person commented that it felt like dancing on ice (yes, it was that slick). Floorcraft was not great, on account of the heavy crowd, and also because the slick floor made us all dance a little faster (whether we wanted to or not). After each tanda, my legs ached since I had been unconsciously engaging every single muscle in my legs out of fear that my next step would slip and slide. I think a lot of us felt that way because it seemed after every tanda, half the dance floor made their way over to the food table. I am not sure if it was the lure of the tamales and cake and champagne, or if we were just looking for an excuse to rest a bit before dancing on that floor again.
Natasha had a birthday vals to two songs since there were so many leaders who wanted to dance with her. She was definitely the belle of the ball. Afterwards, Negracha and Diego did a two-song performance. They seemed to dance more joyfully and freer than they had the last time I saw them at Studio Gracia. DJ Emilio skipped the usual salsa tanda, much to the delight of the non-salsa dancers. I left shortly thereafter since I got stepped on HARD by someone. It seems to me that I had never gotten stepped on that hard before, and waking up the next morning, foot still aching after icing it before I went to bed, confirmed this suspicion.
WHAT AM I EXCITED ABOUT THESE DAYS?
Brigitta Winkler in town. She is awesome.
The return of MUSE! I'll be volunteering for it. Hope to see you there on February 18, 2011
The Late Shift back at the old, original, much larger ballroom.
Homer & Cristina @ Stanford February 19-20: Volcada/Colgada Lalapaloosa (my words, not theirs). Be there or be square.
Marcelo and Natasha highlighting etiquette as a class topic.