Thursday, February 10, 2011

February 3-9

Thursday, February 3, 2011
Verdi Club Milonga with lesson beforehand by Brigitta Winkler.
The lesson was brilliant. I paid for, but did not participate in it, choosing instead to just take notes. The class was follower-heavy and I did not want to be forced into a position to lead, so sitting it out worked out great for me. That way, I could really watch and take detailed notes. This was the first time I had experienced Maestra teach since taking her "Teacher's Workshop" at the San Diego Tango Festival in January 2010. From what I had learned from that workshop, I could appreciate her teaching technique a little better, where I could really see how she employed her philosophy of not "the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing", but rather, "we all know a lot about a lot of things".

I arrived a little late, and saw that the class was doing the random actors walk exercise. Then they were to focus on their weight changes, with focusing on their spine being the center of their standing leg. We should not just move through space, but focus on how we move through space. We use our breath. We have good, smooth weight changes. We should be beautiful. We should be connected with our body and have awareness of the people around us. Our knees are important.

Being at ease with musicality was our theme for the evening. Our first music was with Piazzolla, and their driving boom boom of the bandoneon. First, we set our intention as there are many ways to work it. We need to make space for it. Our goal is to have more attention to the music.

With Leader and Follower together, we were to listen for a moment to the music (this time, a DiSarli song). What is it that you hear? Sweet, rhythmic, instrument, melody, beat, regular, lyrics, voice. We exchanged with our partner what we heard, and asked each other "How do you like the music the best?" "What would the tango be if it were your musicality?" The goal was to be engaged and speak to each other.

Next, we were to focus on our 3-4 musicality ideas: beat, rhythm, melody, and maybe pauses (the most difficult).

To a DiSarli song, in partnership with Leader and Follower not moving anywhere but just doing weight changes, we were to step only on the hard beat, and going to the rhythm, all in place. Then we shared with each other: "What did you think about that?" "Did you like it?" Next, we added the walking to the hard beat, and doing a little rhythmic game (weight change) in place. Then we shared with each other, "How was that?" Then we changed partners to practice with someone else.

Our next work was on Melody. "What are we doing when we dance the melody?" A: Turning. Listening to the Singer. Having more circular dynamics in our dance. swaying, Spiraling. Gliding (like ironing something.). Using space. Here, we practiced the gliding concept by doing side-to-side footwork. To Malena, we were to practice this gliding side step with weight changes, really stretching and squeezing and using slow motion. Then we did it to a DiSarli song. We should take a long time to arrive, because when we do arrive, there's not much we can do after that. We should bend our knees and use our whole bodies when we dance. Again, we were to use the hard beat to walk and do the rhythmic weight changes in a small space, dancing on the spot for musicality. Then we shared with each other: "Was there enough melody?" "Did I do enough melody?" Maestro demo'd in a different system (since I am not a Leader, I have no clue whether we began in cross or parallel or if we switched to parallel or cross). She asked the Follower, "How did it feel?" The answer: "Weird". It s a simple but complex concept, and needs trust on the Follower side. We spoke to each other to exchange the experience: "How was that?"

Our next work was on Pause. "Why is it so hard?" "Or is it not?" "Does it make us nervous?" The Followers told the Leaders what she likes and doesn't like about pauses: They're dramatic. They give us a moment to gather ourselves, feel, breathe, think. To enjoy the moment. It's tantric. Suspense. Carlos Gavito said, "Tango lives in the pauses." Then we danced one tango, dancing the pauses using the parada.

Where in the music would pauses be good? At the end of a phrase. Use the pauses and the phrases. Dance with lots of pauses. Maintain the line of dance. Enjoy. Enjoy the beat, rhythm, melody, and the pauses. "How was that experience?" It's hard to slow down. "What did you learn?" "Anything you want to say?" Followers would like to see pauses a little more. Listen to the music. Choose the phrases. Pause more than you think.

It was a brilliant lesson.

The milonga was OK, not great. It quickly became super crowded, with difficult floorcrafting. This milonga is so popular! Which is why it is so fun! And why it is so NOT fun at times! I left early since I just wanted to sleep more than I wanted to dance in such conditions, shortly after Maestra and Felipe Martinez did a two-song demo ( and ), which garnered some hoots and hollers from a very enthusiastic tanguero (and who himself garnered some amused glances and smirks from the audience for his hooting and hollering).

Friday, February 4, 2011
Dinner at South Sea Seafood Village Restaurant in SF. About a dozen local tangueros descended on the restaurant to celebrate Chinese New Year's, organized by Howard. Ethnicities were not limited to those of Chinese decent; there were American mutts of Euro and Afro descent, as well as Asians of ethnicities that do not celebrate Chinese/Lunar New Year, so basically we were like a United Nations table, in a sea of tables filled with Chinese folks celebrating the New Year. To make ordering easy, we had one of their set menus, but swapped out a dish and added an additional one. The main dinner food was all very delicious: shark fin soup; appetizer cold plate with jellyfish, chicken, and pressed meat; Chinese broccoli with shitake mushrooms; braised lettuce with pork, oysters [so NOT Kosher!], and black moss [so very New Year!]; Peking duck with meat made into duck lettuce cups; steamed whole fish; deep fried crab; shrimp with peas and macadamia nuts; stir-fried pea shoots. I could have passed on dessert though: purple sand soup (whoops...I mean red bean soup with rice balls and tapioca), and these weird cookie things that were hard and crunchy when you bit into them but which looked deceptively like light and fluffy cakes. Conversation was easy, light and breezy, and didn't touch on tango at all that I can recall. Still, it crossed my mind that the milonga organizers might have been none too pleased that here a near dozen of us were, all of whom they would have been happy to have at their milongas instead. Ah well. Balance, balance, balance. There is more to life than tango!

Saturday, February 5, 2011
The Late Shift with lesson beforehand by Jenny and Tatum Nolan.
I got there a little late, thanks to my temperamental garage door (which probably needs to be serviced, but that's another story). The lesson, which was being conducted in the upstairs ballroom, had already started. The Leaders and Followers were separated into their own respective groups: the Followers were working on walking forward and walking backward, doing ocho steps; I don't recall what the Leaders were working on since I was trying to keep an eye on the action while at the same time change into my dance shoes while standing up since there were no chairs in the room and I was wearing a dress. Then we partnered up with the Leader doing a side step while the Follower did a forward ocho (forward cross step), as we built toward the subject of the evening: the molinete. There were a lot of technical tips offered up for the moinete: The Leader's footwork has to be tight as the Follower goes around him. The Leader needs to open his left shoulder on the Follower back step to accommodate her need for space. The Follower has to pivot a lot on her own, otherwise the Leader will have to turn her a lot with his right hand. The Follower should keep her knees together at the point of the pivot. The Follower's forward step should be curved and snakey so she can get around the Leader. We drilled a lot, and really tried to employ the many technical concepts related to the lead and follow in our balance and posture, and in our footwork.

I found both Maestros to be excellent teachers of technique, with very clear and precise explanations, lots of individual attention, including dancing with everyone so that we could feel in their bodies what we should be doing in ours, and much skill at being able to evaluate the dancers' respective levels and giving them more challenging or more basic material, depending on where they were in their development. It was very nice to go back to the basics and work on ocho and molinete technique, and obviously, even several years into this, there are still some important things related to ochos and molinetes that I need to work to improve.

Warning: Rant Ahead
Since there were two extra Followers, when I was rotated out, I immediately went to the barre to continue working on my ocho technique. Maestra looked on approvingly, and came by to give me instruction on what I needed to work on. During the next rotation, she specifically instructed the out Followers to work at the barre, but sadly, they looked reluctant to do so, and only worked there half-heartedly or not at all. Ironically, but not surprisingly, it seemed to me that those Followers most reluctant to work at the barre were the ones who needed to be there, working on the barre on their ocho technique, the most.

I came across a quote a while ago, and it has stuck with me: "The difference between a great player and an average player is the great players will do the mundane things when nobody is looking." I am not sure what below average players do... probably nothing (like not go to or work at the barre). As for me, I've always loved working at the barre, and sorely miss those many hours I used to spend at the very fancy dance studio in the very fancy corporate gym designed by and for former Olympians and competitive jersey wearers at one of the most hard-charging, aggressive firms in a white-shoe industry. What has never been part of my blog is all the hours I used to spend there, just walking back and forth, with ochos and without, looking at myself in the wall of mirrors to see how well I was managing my weight changes, how on axis/balanced (or not!) I was. The mirror is where we perfect the ideal versions of ourselves as well as come face to face with our own horrendous dance shortcomings.

My work at the barre was the most fun part of my workout. It was where I would do all the balance, foot and ankle strengthening and articulation exercises that Chelsea Eng and Jennifer Bratt taught me. At the barre was where I would just play and play and play and do all sorts of crazy embellishments and work on my boleo and ocho technique, again, doing all the homework that was given to me by all of my fantastic Maestras of Follower's Technique. It was a sad day when I was layed off and couldn't go to that gym anymore. :o( But I found suitable replacements for the barre at home: behind the sofa; in front of the kitchen range (the handle on my kitchen oven is quite high since the knobs are on the top of the range), in front of the dresser, against a 6 foot wall, etc. There were about a bazillion places in my own home where I could practice my work at the barre, without having an actual barre to hold onto (though I could have ordered a portable one off the Internet). My very first Follower's Technique teacher, the mother and creator of Follower's Technique, Graciela Gonzalez, teaches students to use just the back of a chair as a barre when practicing ocho technique. Foot and ankle strengthening exercises can be done anywhere: the train/bust station waiting for the next ride, at the microwave or waiting for the coffee machine, in line for the ladies' room (because no matter where you are the world over, there will ALWAYS be a line there).

Anyway, it frustrates me when Followers express the desire to be faster with their responsiveness, more creative and fluid in their embellishments, and more on balance and sure footed, with more spiral and disassocation, and yet they do nearly nothing on their own to make it happen. Instead, they are the ones who become like coats on the Leaders, who they seemingly blockily drape onto as if the Leaders were coat hangers. Lots of them are the notorious whack-a-moles who choose the path of improving their dancing by dancing with "the good leaders", not even noticing that the "good leaders" are cringing at having to dance with them.

I told the one gal in class who enthusiastically joined me at the barre that she will be a great dancer one day (she's already very good), because in working at the barre, we master our bodies, weight changes, pivots, and spirals, and when we can do these things perfectly on our own, in balance, then dancing with someone else becomes super easy, with everything coming naturally and quickly responsive. Adding tango music to the barre work accelerates improvement exponentially, in my opinion, as long as the Follower focuses on doing the exercises TO/WITH the music as her partner (and not just as something in the background like wallpaper). End of Rant.

I had a very nice time at the milonga. El Russo de Portland made an appearance, and he's obviously made plenty of friends among the local tangueras. Lucky for me, we danced two tandas together. I also danced a few tandas with some Leaders I hadn't danced with before. One tanda was absolute magic, and one tanda, closer to tragic. The near tragic one was technically OK, but it was just so UNmusical. I could just feel he was trying out every single thing he had in his tango bag of tricks on me, seemingly without regard to the music, and with his mind more on his feet and footwork, than on his chest and axis/balance or the other dancers and floorspace. This kind of leader makes me feel like we are pole dancing, with him the pole dancer, and me the pole (regardless of who is rotating around whom).

Sunday, February 6, 2011
Studio Gracia Milonga.
I missed the lesson beforehand, taught by Negracha and Diego Lanau. I got there later than I had planned to. The milonga was reasonably attended, not too crowded at all and not light. The mood was pretty mellow, almost too mellow for me (were they all Steelers fans?). I danced some tandas with the usual Leaders I dance with. A few ladies showed up dressed in cheongsam/qipao (maybe they missed the memo that last Sunday was the Chinese New Year's celebration at Studio Gracia), while I was dressed to celebrate the Packers' victory, sans the cheese head. I left early, for no particular reason other than suffering from a touch of ennui not attributed to any one or any thing in particular, although I did have a splendid time being a chatty cathy with Cheena, who is quite a hoot.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011
CellSpace ALT Milonga with lesson beforehand by Doruk Golcu.
I had been curious about Doruk's teaching, having been blessed early on with an introduction to him by Jr. Scout Extraordinaire when he first arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and having had a few dances with him in the months since then. I found his teaching to be clear and witty. He's very patient, funny and clever. The sequence taught was a simple one that included the Follower molinete and Leader sacadas: 8CB to the cross, followed by Follower's clockwise moliente with Leader Sacada of his left foot (after his right foot crosses behind and he shifts his full weight back on it to free his left leg) of her trailing left foot on her right foot front cross step, and another Leader sacada of his right foot on her left foot side step of her trailing right foot. This turn was done in the parallel system.

Next, we switched it to the cross system, whereby the molinete remains clockwise, but the Leader's first sacada is with his right foot, and the second sacada is with his left foot. The resolution is where the Leader steps forward outside partner with his right foot.

There was a lot of technical discussion on what the Leader and Follower needed to do properly, and what struck me the most was how well Doruk could illustrate the Follower's part, both good and what NOT to do, by using Followers from the class and Leaders from the class (while he became the Follower). One example was that the Follower should have a nice, pretty right foot as it goes around after the Leader's second sacada; it should not be up and wild, otherwise she might lose balance and pull the Leader off axis. Follower should also stay around the Leader, and her left side of the hip should be facing the Leader (they are in 90 degrees to each other) on her right foot back cross step.

To make the sequence more challenging, the Follower's right foot back cross step becomes overturned, into a Follower back sacada of the Leader's right foot (on the Leader's second sacada, he remains weighted on his left foot so that his right foot is free for the Follower to do her right foot back sacada. During her step back it is a straight step back, not a crossed step back or an open step back. To illustrate these different ways of stepping back, we felt it on our own bodies with our hands on our butts. We would do the slightly open step back going into the cross, we would do the crossed step back only when being led to do so by the Leader in a non-pivoted ocho, and we do our straight steps back while walking backward regularly. This straight step back is the same style of back step that should be done during the Follower's back sacada.

Then we tried to add the musicality to it with the Follower's molinete code of QQS on the back - side - forward step.

Our homework after the class at home was to write a five-page essay about sacadas and turns. Maestro was just kidding here!!!! The real homework was this: Every turn that happens to the right, can be done to the left. Our homework was to figure out how to do it on the other side.

It was an excellent class. Maestro was concerned that the topic might be a little too elementary for the class level, but I thought it was perfect, and we could always use more work on perfecting our ochos, molinetes, torso rotation and weight transfers.

The milonga was fun. It wasn't too crowded at all, and everyone was reasonably behaved. I actually got into the lesson and milonga for free. I signed up on a whim to volunteer since I saw Barry's friendly face at the door, and chatted him up about volunteering since it's something I wanted to do, but just hadn't found the courage before because I didn't know any of the other CellSpace volunteers well enough. (I know, how silly of me!) He explained to me what I needed to do as a volunteer to get in free that night, which was just sit at the door for 2-3 tandas and take in the entry fee and mark it in the book. Yup, it truly was easy peasy. I think I will become a regular volunteer on those non Homer & Cristina nights. That way I can experience a lot of other teachers, many of whom are new to teaching, or to the Bay Area, and many of whom have been around for years. Plus I think volunteering is a good social/community building thing to do and occupies me productively as I wait for the next traditional tanda ;o) .


H&C Stanford volcada/colgada weekend February 19-20 with milonga at Toyon Hall.
See for the full details. If you dislike all the driving back and forth and have a sleeping bag/blankets&sheets you don't mind schlepping around, you might want to see if a couch surfing buddy will accommodate you for Saturday night. Sorry, Jr. Scout Extraordinaire's couches are already taken!!!

And of course, H&C @ MUSE on February 18, arranged by yours truly. It should be a blast!!! Please do come, and save me a tanda!

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