Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 17-23

Friday, February 18, 2011

MUSE milonga with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas: "From Single Axis Turn to Hurricane Spin in Lomuto Valses”

I got there a little late, but saw that the room was packed with students for the H&C Intermediate lesson and brand spankin' newbies for Howard's "Like a Virgin" class.


We began with an exercise in partnership face to face, imagining that we were back in elementary school, giving the person a nice hug. We got into this by stepping to the side, and the hugging person (usually the Leader) doing waddle footwork around the hugged person (usually the Follower), slightly lifting while whirling the hugged person around.

What is the biggest problem that prevents the colgada from happening? The Fear Factor. This exercise is an attempt to help us get over our fear factor of the whirling feeling. Other things are that the belly button of Follower and Leader come in, or the Follower’s knees come in, or the Follower clamps down on the Leader.

We worked to refine things.

Leader tries to step into the Follower’s space.

Follower pivots on one foot.

Leader waddles around quickly.

Leader and Follower belly buttons should not touch.

Stepping to the Leader’s left is easier, with Follower on her right foot.

As the Leader starts to turn, have belly button go away from each other.

The Follower posture is the same as the Leader steps to the side. She should keep her regular posture. The Leader should find where he can do it, and have a graceful exit when he stops. In stopping, he should pause and then walk out of it backwards into the line of dance. He should not cause the Follower to fall. Follower needs to keep her knees soft but not overly bend them.

We did a lot of drilling of this exercise, with many different partner changes in class.


Next, we did a fundamental, static exercise.

The Leader walks into the Follower, knocking her body off axis, and she falls back into the Leader’s hands. Follower’s feet remain in the same spot. There are three levels to this exercise:

(1) Follower and Leader catch each other.

(2) Leader catches Follower (Follower’s arms and hands do nothing, they do not hang onto or catch the Leader).

(3) Follower catches Leader (Leader’s arms and hands do nothing, they do not hang onto or catch the Follower).

In this exercise, the Leader needs to physically knock the Follower off axis with his whole center, displacing the Follower’s space. She needs to wait for the Leader to do this, not anticipate and not go back too soon automatically with no initial contact from the Leader.


In the Hip Under Colgada Posture:

Spine is straight.

Hips go back.

We were to engage our cores, and our hips were to be under our rib cages.

The Leader sandwiches (his feet are in a “V” shape) the Follower’s feet (which are in parallel).

Leader and Follower hang onto each other’s wrists, and then move their cores/centers back, counterbalancing each other, using the power of their back and core muscles (not their arm/shoulder muscles).

We worked on this by going out a little first, and then more farther out, working on the posture in an extreme position.

We drilled this for a while, practicing with many different partners (tall, short, fat, thin), to work on being able to counterbalance all sorts of body shapes, weights, and muscle compositions.


Next, we worked on a Magic Trick.

In the Leader’s parada position, he has his leg out and outturned, and pivots around by kicking his heel around (lifting it). This is the same position as the Colgada position, only instead of weight being on the back foot, it’s on the Leader’s forward foot.

Then we went back to the first exercise, only with the Leader sending the Follower out in colgada posture, and then spinning the Follower around. We drilled this for quite a while with many different partners.


Belly in.

Back arches and upper body goes back like a banana.

Follower bends knees too much.

Follower clamps onto the Leader’s leg, exerting tension. The free leg should be controlled, but free.


Next, one simple pattern to pull all the exercises and concepts together:

Leader does rock step with his left foot. Right foot hooks behind, so feet are in a perpendicular angles to each other, Follower right foot forward step (front cross step) around Leader clockwise, pivoting and getting 180 degrees around.

Follower should step long and around Leader to make her step compact.

This is like the ocho cortado, except it’s more circular and doesn’t interfere with the people dancing behind you. This is our set-up step.

The Leader unweights his left foot, and starts to walk around the Follower clockwise, after her right foot forward (front cross) step.

Follower should keep her belly back.

Leader should be aware of how he is holding the Follower. He needs to figure out where the sweet spot is. It is usually under her shoulder blades, and since Followers are all different heights, with different shoulder blade levels, he needs to adjust accordingly depending on the Follower height.

Leader releases his right shoulder a little bit, while Follower maintains contact with her back against the Leader’s forearm during the Colgada.

The Hurricane aspect of the Colgada we learned involved going around really fast. To go around REALLY fast, as the Leader steps around the Follower, his left foot sickles, and his right foot turns out and collects to help the Follower spin in axis. So his feet look like /\ < , etc, as he steps around and around on axis.

Both dancers should keep their elbows in so that it doesn’t take a lot of space.

After a class question and answer review, Maestros demonstrated the class exercises and concepts to Lomuto’s Jugando Jugando vals.

The milonga was fun. Despite the extremely cold, extremely rainy weather, it was a packed house, with very experienced dancers and virgin dancers having a ball together. I had a chance to dance more than I usually do since we had more volunteers, and one very happy to man the front desk all night. It was the most crowded its ever been, which was great. Still, there was plenty of dance space with none of the crushing crowds, bumps and jostles. It was great to see everyone so supportive of this milonga, and I hope the momentum and good wishes continue. The food was ample. My chicken and phyllo thingies got snarffled up first thing. Rochelle made some lovely desserts. Fresh fruits, veggies, chips and pretzels rounded out the snacks.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Workshop Series Theme: "The Colgada/Volcada Experience: Foundation to the Limits!"


11:30 - 1:00 Colgada Foundations with Carlos Di Sarli (beg/int)

2:00 - 3:30 Volcada Foundations with Miguel Calo (beg/int)

4:00 - 5:30 Functional vs Aesthetic Colgada Explorations with Mixed Music (int/adv)

2:00 - 3:30 Melodic and Rhythmic Volcada Explorations with Enrique Rodriguez (int/adv)
4:00 - 6:00 The Colgada/Volcada Connection with Mixed Music (adv)

Please go to for detailed notes and dance demos.

Overall, I had an excellent time at this workshop series. It was the most well-attended Stanford weekend I had experienced, with about 50 people on both days. Past weekends typically had more people on one day than the other, but this time both days were about even, with a few extra leaders both days. Many folks came for all five workshops, and many stayed around for the Saturday Toyon Hall Milonga and Sunday Music Jam afterwards. Saturday's workshops were held at The Graduate Community Center, which was great since it's a little larger than the Black Center, our usual venue. Sunday's workshops were held at Koret Center, which is a little smaller than the Black Center.

The Toyon Hall Milonga on Saturday night was not as well attended as the one in January, but there were still plenty of people so that it was full but not overly so, and there was ample opportunity to get in some excellent tandas. The food, similar to what was served last time, was generous and well presented. There was enough for me to take a to-go plate of broccoli, tomatoes and cheese, which made for an excellent omlette that Jr. Scout and I shared the next morning. The talk of the milonga was the extremely excellent Tolga's Techie Tango Tanda program (it's unnamed, but how about "Tolgatron" ??) which he wrote over the course of a couple of nights. Basically, it’s a computer program that shows on a graphical display the name of band and singer, pictures of their orchestra leaders and singer, and the songs that are in the tanda, with the current one highlighted. Tolga's computer was hooked up to the large screen TV on the corner wall, so we could could clearly see what type of tanda was coming up next, as well as how many and which songs would be played in that tanda. That made for a more active, engaged course of planning who to dance with next, and also reaffirmed the song titles for our memory and musical education. It also had the unfortunate effect of causing us to be painfully aware of how excruciatingly long a tanda might be if we were stuck with someone we weren’t having a great time dancing with (not that there were many of those). Clever technology tricks were also used elsewhere to increase the enjoyment and ambiance: A computer hooked up to a projector projected the image of a fire burning in a fireplace onto the enormous fireplace in Toyon Hall. The normally empty fireplace’s massive screen was smartly and thoughtfully dressed and draped in a white sheet, which made for a very clever, easy, portable and well-fitting projection screen. Maestros did an excellent two-song performance. The second one was particularly fantastic.

I wasn't able to stay for the Sunday Music Jam, but Jr. Scout Extraordinaire wrote this:

The musician's jam at Stanford was fantastic! Homer on bandoneon, violin (forgot her name), Nicholas on cello, Mario on keyboard, Jay on keyboard. Don't forget all three singers: Sasha Alex, Bendrew, and Cristina. What a nice surprise to hear Cristina sing with her rich, deep, voice. Really beautiful. The musicians were all sight reading, they hadn't played together before, and most hadn't played tango music before, but had listened and/or danced to it. Homer led naturally and gracefully. There were about 16 dancers in a small room at Stanford, we loved dancing to this dynamic live music and hope it continues. Calling all musicians!

February 21, 2011
Monday Night Practica at The Beat with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas: "Phrasing to the Transitions & Fills"

Our class consisted of many games and exercises.

Game: Vals Chacarera.

We got into Chacarera formation of Leaders all in one line facing Followers all in one line, making eye contact with the person across from you, and keeping hands in the air, and turning our torso a little diagonally since the room was quite crowded. Then we took four steps forward and four steps back, similar to the Avanzado and Regreso initial steps of the Chacarera. The 4 forward steps were done in 4 beats, and the 4 back steps were done in 4 beats. We were to play in between the sentences of the song, doing pitter-patter or some fancy or playful footwork or bodywork. Our goal was to get back to our original spot at the end of the sentence.

During this game, maestro played a very regular vals, A Magaldi by Alfredo de Angelis, which has some very nice fills and some run-ons in the song.

Next, we tried to dance in partnership, dancing to the fill. Our constraints were that we were to just walk to the end of a sentence, to get ready to dance to the fill. During the fills we were to do playful things like taps, pitter-patters, or shimmies. Our song was still A Magaldi by Alfredo de Angelis. We were to be as creative or as simple as we want to be during the fill. We were to give ourselves room to play.

“Fills” are often transitions between sentences, but they can also be Run-Ons. We should pay attention to the lyrics because they can help us with timing and anticipating when the fills will come. The lyrics don’t come into a song until the entire song does its thing. Vocals are in poetry form, so it gives you an idea of how the sentences will come. The lyrics/song poetry falls directly on top of the sentence/musical structure of this particular vals, as is the case with many valses. Maestro demo’d this concept by dancing by himself, walking forward and back with the musical phrasing, showing that we could hear the sighs, and take a pause to start the next phrase (like a comma). At the comma or the end of a sentence (phrase) is where the Leader should start the turn in the other direction.

Exercise: Follower Musically Educating the Leader

Our next exercise focused on the Follower educating the Leader about what she hears musically. The Leader pretends that he doesn't hear anything (including the beat). We were to only walk. We were not to do any weight changes, rock steps, turns, ochos, double time steps, or traspie. The Follower needs to actively hear the music, as she tries to gently educate the Leader in a subtle way, conveying what she hears in the music. The Follower is not to back lead or take the lead away, but to use subtle things to suggest to the Leader what she hears. This is so that the Follower can empower herself and be in tune with the music. This is an exercise for the process of Leader education. The Follower can use other parts besides her legs to express the fills in the music: She can do these subtle things:
hand signal (slight squeezes)
move hips
move shoulders
soft taps with hand

She should keep her subtle suggestions and signals in her upper body, and not use her legs and feet. Otherwise, she will be back leading. Without back leading, the Follower can add accents to the music.

The secret agenda of this exercise is to empower the Follower. The Follower adds a lot to the Leader’s education if she is in tune with the music. When we really know the music, we will know it, we will own it and it will come easier.

What is the difference between this and back leading? Do the little things with other parts of the body so that they are under the radar. Follower can initiate something independent of the lead to enhance the dance. Be active in creating the dance with the Leader.

To develop our musical awareness, we did four different exercises.


To Canaro’s Poema, we just listened to the song without dancing or doing anything (although at home we could do something mindless like wash dishes so that we can focus on the music). In listening, we were to sharpen our hearing and try to find and recognize the fills.


Here, we played a game. In partnership, with Leader and Follower face to face, fingertip to fingertip in mirror image to each other, our fingers and hands “danced” to Canaro’s Poema, with the Leader leading first, and then the Follower given the ability to impose herself if she chooses. This was a give-and-take exercise, with our hands and fingers mirroring and talking to each other. This exercise is to help the Leader to listen to the Follower better, and for the Follower to be more vocal in her body movement about what she hears.


To Canaro’s Poema, we danced simply, giving ourselves a set of constraints, which were to just walk during the song, but to catch the fills, during which we could do pitter patter or taps, but nothing much fancier than that.


At this level we danced with no constraints, being able to do anything, but still dancing to the music and to try to interpret the fills.

Note that fills can be at the middle or the end of a phrase. Maestro asked if we wanted the same song or a different song. The class wanted a different song, so we danced to Rodriguez’s No Se Porque Razon.

In sum, our 4 Levels of Awareness are:

1. Listen to the song and do as little as possible other than listen.

2. Play with a partner to develop listening interaction skills without physically dancing.

3. Dance with a partner with constraints to try to interpret the music. Use simple movements.

4. Dance with no constraints, but dance to the music and try to interpret the fills.

Maestra shared her experience as a learning Leader. She said she is currently stuck at Level 3. She said she tries to interpret the fills, but by the time the fills arrive, she is late in her lead to them and has missed them. For her to get to the next level, she is trying to simplify everything else, but save the “special” movements for the fill. The “special” movements are simple ones like rock steps or weight changes.

After a short question and answer class summary, Maestros demo’d the class concepts to Rodriguez’s No Se Porque Razon.

I didn't stay much longer after the lesson as I wanted to get home to do the notes. Plus I was generally dog tired.



At one milonga I recently attended (unnamed, but it was NOT MUSE), I got completely skeeved out by one tanguera(!) who took a large piece of cauliflower from the vegetable tray, broke a piece off of it, and put the rest of it back for others to eat. Yuck!! Like who would want to eat that after someone else touched it?! Honestly, who the heck raised this person? Obviously not someone who knew anything about communal eating etiquette, germs, hygiene or disease prevention. It also did not help that the tanguera who did this is one who shoves her hand in leaders' hair when she dances with them (yes -- "them" -- MULTIPLE leaders). And who the heck taught her that the embrace is with her left hand in the Leader's hair? And let's face it, lots of men use some type of product(s) in their hair. Yeesh. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go hurl at thinking about this wretched experience. (Anne walks away, shaking her head in absolute disgust.)


A few days of rest, actually. :o)

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