Thursday, January 13, 2011

January 6-12

Thursday, January 6, 2011
Verdi Club Milonga. The place was somewhat full when I got there early on (watching the tail end of the lesson), and got more crowded as the night went on. It got so crowded that at one point, a friend who arrived later told me that he had to park three blocks away -- unheard of! Seth Asarnow Sexteto Tipco played two excellent sets. Floorcrafting was difficult, but kudos to all the leaders who did a reasonable job of keeping things safe and sane on the dance floor.

One wacky thing that happened was that it started out with me being asked to dance by a person I refuse to dance with. We have known each other for years and have taken many of the same classes and workshops, more than I care to count. I was specifically attentively fussing with my shoe as I saw him approach. For whatever strange, truly bizarre reason, he came bounding up to me and enthusiastically asked me to dance (no cabaceo, it was more like a dive bomb invitation). This was the first time he had ever asked me to dance. I politely declined, saying "No, thank you." Then he had the audacity to ask "Why not?". I was taken aback with having to explain my reasoning, since no one has ever asked it of me, so I said whatever first came to my mind, "I'm too cold right now." Now, those of y'all who actually know me know that temperatures have to be near glacial for me to be even slightly chilled, so even though it was quite cold outside and I was still covered in my wrap, this was basically a baldfaced lie and counter intuitive to warming up.

Afterwards, I had truly wished I had told him the real reason why I won't dance with him: "Because I find your behavior exceedingly rude during all classes and workshops where you talk and teach on top of the teacher while he/she is speaking, and I also find your behavior exceedingly rude to other dancers on the milonga dance floor the way you take the poor helpless beginners and proceed to "teach" them on the social dance floor. Never mind that most of what you "teach" is blatantly WRONG." It's pretty obvious that he never googled "dance class etiquette" or "milonga etiquette" and found the following articles (among many, many others) and , which has an entire section dedicated to warning against "Teaching on the Dance Floor."

The milonga itself was fun, and I stayed until nearly the end. I danced a lot, but started to bonk around midnight. A trip to the food table yielded only a few cubes of cheese and some baby carrots, as everything else was snarffled up by those more sensible to fuel throughout the night, long before midnight. My last several tandas were not so hot, and by the time I called it a night, my feet felt like raw, bloody stumps. Still, it was hard for me to stop dancing because I had so many excellent tandas, what with all the great dancers in town (CJ from Chicago is a dream to dance with! How I wish he would extend his vacation so that the San Francisco Bay Area tangueras can be further blessed to dance with him! And of course there were my usual favorites, ever faithfully in attendance as well).

Saturday, January 8, 2011
Nora's Milonga at Allegro. I skipped the lesson. The milonga was fun. It was colder than normal outside, which made them a little hesitant to turn on the a/c early on. When they finally did, when the room was obviously quite warm and stuffy, the arctic blast from the ceiling made some dancers and spectators quite chilled. I hope that their ventilation system doesn't only function on two modes: completely on (high) or completely off (none). The entire cast of Forever Tango made an appearance after their San Francisco show. Three individual couples performed. Then the entire cast sans Cheryl Burke performed. No song solo by Martin de Leon. It was nice to get such a huge taste of their show, which had two additional dates added. Afterwards, it was great fun seeing the cast social dance with each other and not their usual partners, and with those brave and bold enough from the local tango community to ask them to dance. I had a very good time at the milonga, finally getting the chance to dance with some tango dancers I met outside of the tango community, whose dance paths I hadn't yet crossed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011
CellSpace Alt Milonga with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas: Beginning Class: Novice Material and Introduction to Turns.

The music for our class was elegant and easy dancing DiSarli.

We began the class with partnering up, and then giving each other a hug. The first social barrier in tango to get over is hugging. So during the class, we did a lot of hugging in between partner changes.

Human Metronome Game
Next, we played the Human Metronome Game. Leader and Follower stand face to face, with knees soft and feet together. Ankles should be together like Dorothy's in the Wizard of Oz. The Follower puts her index finger on the Leader's body in an appropriate spot, such as on his chest. The Leader shifts weight and the Follower stays with him with her finger, feeling the weight shift and matching it with her own weight shift. The Leader should imagine waving like a tree and swaying gently side to side, so the movement is small and subtle, but grounded. Leader does not need to move a lot. Next, the Follower changes the spot where her finger is to another appropriate point on the Leader's body, such as his belly. Again, she should follow the Leader's weight shifts with weight shifts of her own. The Leader's goal is to communicate the weight shift, and he can vary his speed, slow and fast. Next, the Follower again changes the spot where her finger is (maybe to the Leader's hip), using her other hand. Wherever her finger is, or whatever hand she uses, it should feel the same. The Leader can go fast or slow, but his movement should be narrow, as if he is moving in a coffin. Next, the Leader changes tempo. We tried this while Maestro snapped his fingers on the strong beat to Di Sarli's Don Juan. The goal was for the Leader to try to tune into the music, and translate that into his body movements.

After the song, we hugged and then rotated partners.

Introduction to the Embrace
We began with the open embrace.
The Follower should put her right hand on the top of the Leader's left hand. The contact is soft, and her right elbow points down to the floor, relaxed.
The Leader should have his left hand not too high or too low; it should be somewhere between the Follower's shoulders and eyes.
The Follower's left hand can be on the Leader's shoulder, around his triceps, or around his bicep. It should be floating, not pushing down on the Leader.
The Leader's right hand scoops the Follower.

Junior High Sweetheart Dance
In the open embrace, we tried to change weight as we did at our dances in Junior High School, like young sweethearts, where we separate our feet by a few centimeters or inches, and both dancers take little steps, going around in a circle. It could take 20 steps to get around in one revolution. We did this clockwise and counterclockwise. The Junior High Sweetheart Dance is used as a tool to stall/wait, or to navigate.

Walking in the Line of Dance
The Line of Dance is the way the dance floor's order is maintained, with the Leaders facing counterclockwise (and walking forward) and the Follower's facing clockwise (and walking backward). With Maestro calling out "step" "step" on the strong beat of the song, the Leader would step forward, doing little steps. He could also do weight changes in place, or do the Junior High Sweetheart Dance to the left or to the right. We should not cut corners, otherwise we could wind up in the middle of the dance floor, which is a scary place. We should also not bog down the dance floor, but keep it moving.

Next, we changed partners and hugged our new partner. To a new Di Sarli song we again just practiced dancing, doing just:
Weight Changes
Junior High Sweetheart Dancing
Walking to the music, stepping on the strong beat.

The added instruction was to put this all together and do it all in the Line of Dance, and use all of the space by walking into the corners. Beginner dancers often cut corners to get around the dance floor. We were specifically instructed to not cut corners, but to walk into them, so that we all have more space to dance. We were to stop dancing when the music stops.

Social Etiquette, Part I
: Thank You
Besides the Line of Dance, there are two other things that we should know about Argentine Tango social dancing.
The first thing is: "Thank You"
What does it mean when you say "Thank You" to someone you've been dancing with?
It means, "That's It."
It can be used many ways. If you enjoy dancing with someone, you can say it at the end of the tanda (a set of 3-5 songs) with sincerity and enthusiasm. You can also say it after the first song or in the middle of a song if are not comfortable, and don't want to continue dancing with the person.

Next, we changed partners and hugged our new partner. To a new Di Sarli song, we again just practiced dancing, doing just:
Weight Changes
Junior High Sweetheart Dancing
Walking to the music, stepping on the strong beat
In the Line of Dance.

The added instruction was to work on our floorcrafting a little more with the specific instruction on Not to Pass Anyone.

Also, if the embrace didn't feel comfortable to the Follower, she should ask the Leader to change it. Here in class, this is OK to do.

After the song ended, we thanked our partner, gave him a hug, and then changed partners.

Introduction on the Side Step
We all got into one big circle, holding hands. We began with a weight change, stopping with our weight on our right foot, compressing our knees, stretching our left foot, going over and transferring weight to the left side, and then coming up completely onto the left foot and the right leg pulling in to fully collect as a consequence. We also did this to the other side, changing our weight, settling on our left foot, compressing our knees, stretching our right foot, going over and transferring weight to the right side, and then coming up and collecting. Energywise and feelingwise, we mimicked the letter "U" of the alphabet.

In partnership of Leader and Follower, we went from the Metronome Game to the Side Step. In open embrace, the Leader settles on his left, compresses his knees, stretches his free foot, transfers the weight, comes back up and pulls the free leg in. It is important that when the Leader arrives to his new weighted/standing foot/leg, that he draw up in his body. The Leader should try to match the Follower, and not out step her, especially if he has longer legs than she does. Leader should keep his ankles together even while just changing weight in place.

A: On the side step, the footwork for both Leader and Follower should be more like a dental squeegee (non-dog owners should Google Image that), with the focus on the inside of the foot, rather than like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, with the whole foot moving flatly across the floor.
B: Leader: Don't go too far down, otherwise you will knock knees with the Follower. The Leader can control his knee so that it cuts to the inside or the outside of the Follower's knee to avoid contact with her knees. Thus, he should be aware of where the Follower's knees are likely to be.
C: Leader: Do not out step the Follower.
D: Follower: Stay with the Leader.

Next, we did a partner change, hugging our new partner.
To a new Di Sarli song we again just practiced dancing, doing just:
Weight Changes
Junior High Sweetheart Dancing
Walking to the music, stepping on the strong beat
In the Line of Dance
Using the Corners of the dance floor.

To this we added: The Side Step.
When doing the side step, the Leader needs to be aware of his/their orientation. If he is doing the side step across the line of dance, he should be sure he has room because he will be changing lanes. If he does it perpendicular to the line of dance, he should know whether his side step goes forward in the Line of Dance, or backward. If he chooses to go backward, he should be sure he has enough room and time to do so, and that he doesn't crash into or disturb the other dancers moving forward in the Line of Dance, possibly right into him.

The Leaders were also instructed to step forward more confidently, taking bigger steps. They could also vary the size of the steps, big and small, to practice their intention. It is important that the Leaders not compress the embrace unconsciously, but that they should be sure to keep it open.

Social Etiquette, Part II
: Eye Contact
Q: How do you ask someone to dance?
A: You use eye contact. Be as subtle as possible.
This is called the "Cabaceo".

For the Follower, if she does NOT want to dance with a Leader who is trying to catch her eye, it is not enough to just not look at the Leader. She should look at him, acknowledge the eye contact, and then purposefully look away.
If she DOES want to dance with the Leader, she should look at the Leader, acknowledge the eye contact, and slightly nod a little bit (not hugely with head bobbing frantically up and down). Here, after he sees the Follower nod at him, the Leader should walk to the Follower and verbally ask, verifying that she does indeed want to dance.

More on Eye Contact:
How to get into the Line of Dance.
Leaders: Do not run into the Line of Dance.
Followers: Do not let the Leaders run into the Line of Dance.
Leaders: Establish eye contact with the couple you plan to cut in front of into the Line of Dance. If they don't acknowledge you, don't go in. Wait for them to go by, and then try with the next couple.

The class was split in two, with Leaders on one side and Followers on the other, and we tried to cabaceo each other, and then the Leaders walked over and verbally confirmed that the Follower wanted to dance.
Then we danced one song using all that we learned so far in class, again paying attention to dance in the Line of Dance, using the corners of the dance floor space, and not passing anyone.

Introduction to the Turn/Hiro/Molinete
The tango Turn is just as vital as walking. The Turn allows us to do everything else.
In one big circle, we all held hands. Then we took a side step right, forward cross step left, side step right, back cross step left so that we went around in one big counterclockwise circle.
We also tried this in the opposite direction: Side step left, forward cross step right, side step left, back cross step right so that we all went around in one big clockwise circle.

To put this in the context of social dancing, in partnership, the Leader does Pac Man with his feet, where his ankles are together and his feet are in a V, opening and going around like Pac Man (the 1980s video game), while the Follower does the Turn/Hiro/Molinete footwork of side, forward, side, back.

Usually, the first step is a side step. The Leader was to practice "capturing the Moon" -- with the Leader being the Earth and the Follower being the Moon. The Leader "captures" the Follower side step with a side step of his own, getting out of Pac Man footwork. For the Leader's Pac Man footwork, he should keep his ankles close together, taking care to not let the jaws of Pac Man open up too much.

Next, we did a partner change, and hugged our new partner.
To a new Di Sarli song we again just practiced dancing, doing just:
Weight Changes
Junior High Sweetheart Dancing
Walking to the music, stepping on the strong beat
In the Line of Dance
Using the Corners of the dance floor.

To this we added:
Leader Pac Man footwork, opening to his left while Follower did grapevine/Turn/Hiro/Molinete footwork of side, forward, side, back
Leader was also to capture the Follower's side step.
And then repeat.

The class concluded with a filmed question and answer review. No demo dance was done.

The milonga itself was fine. It was quite cold at CellSpace on this particular night, and I danced the first of several tandas still in my fleece jacket (which for me, is unheard of). Lots of folks looked like they were ready for Alpine excursions rather than tango dancing. It was nicely, but not hugely crowded, and floorcraft was generally OK. Energywise, things were pretty mellow and relaxed, which was really just groovy.

Why I Haven't Been Taking As Many Lessons
During the milonga, someone asked me about my lesson taking dropping off a bit, and if I am only taking Homer's lessons at this point. I am being much more selective about which lessons I take since my financial situation is much leaner than in years past. In addition, I am also still going through all the homework from the hundreds (thousands?) of lessons I've already taken. Generally I take all of Homer & Cristina's local lessons since I am comp'd into them because of the tangostudent project. Anything above and beyond that has to be truly compelling. And "Truly Compelling" is a tough nut to crack after several hundred (thousands?) of lessons. I am scrutinizing all the expenses, and questioning the value-added proposition of even the additional premilonga $5 lessons toward improving my tango development.

One thing I questioned recently in some classes I took was whether I was really the best follower to be partnered with. I found myself doing my part as perfectly as I could do it, based on what the teachers did/showed, rather than what the Leader actually led. Thus, I was not being a completely honest follower. Was I helping that leader student by dancing better than he led? Should I have just followed his lead exactly as he led it, even though it was hesitant, imprecise and not totally correct (which is completely understandable and acceptable since we are all students in a class and there to learn and figure things out)? Certainly, he could feel in my body where and how he should have led me based on where I went and the way my body torqued, but would he have learned better, more solidly, deeply, and confidently, if he had figured it out on his own how to lead me to go where and do what I was supposed to? So I just wonder ... and question my own value to others in a group class...

That being said, if there are any teachers/organizers reading this who want me to take notes of their classes and publish them for all the current and future tango students to see, or if they have a need for a follower assistant volunteer in their leader-heavy, imbalanced classes, they should definitely contact me. ;o) Same goes for any leader students who want me to partner with them (on their dime). ;o)


Frances R said...

Nice post.
How is your leading? There are better chances for an assistant position in a group class if you can do both leading and following.

Ana de San Francisco said...

Hi Frances,

My leading beyond walking truly sucks. Gernally, I don't like to lead. But yes, you are right, being able to lead and follow would mean better chances at assisting in class...