Tuesday, August 9, 2011

August 1-8

Thursday, August 4, 2011
Corazon Milonga at Pierre DuLaine.
One of the nice things about tango in NYC is that there are lots of milongas during the week that start very early, around 7:00 p.m. This one intrigued me because it was at the Pierre DuLaine studio, made famous by the Antonio Banderas movie Take the Lead.

It was easy enough to hop on a train to Grand Central, but I nearly got run over when I arrived in NYC by all the people rushing around, intent to catch their trains. It reminded me of when I first visited NYC and was told to "look mean, walk fast", because those folks at Grand Central at 6:30 p.m. on a weekday sure did look mean and walk fast, and with lots of intention.

The Pierre DuLaine studio is at the south part of Koreatown, so I got a chance to walk along 32nd St. (the heart of it) and check out the purveyors of all things Korean. I was not disappointed on the food end of things, as there were Korean restaurants galore, filled with folks of the Asian persuasion, having dinner at an earliesh hour. There was also a Korean market that looked pretty good, not as good as Kukje in Daly City, but good enough for Korean food fixin's, and open until midnight every night of the week.

The milonga itself is in a very nicely air conditioned studio, and there were ample snacks (chips, pretzels, the saltiest peanuts I had ever eaten in my life, sugar wafers, chocolate chip cookies, scones, water and ample wine). Since this was an early evening milonga that was from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., it never got super crowded, but was reasonably full. Dancers were mostly improvers and those seriously addicted. I had an OK time. Left around 9:30 p.m. since it was a school night.

They had two raffles and prizes were (1) free entry into the next Corazon milonga on Tuesday, and (2) free entry into the Saturday milonga hosted by the same organizer, which should be great since Veronica Palacios (Luna's sister) is teaching. I was hoping to win, but didn't. That won't stop me from going to the Saturday milonga though since I adore all things Luna.

Friday, August 5, 2011
Purple Orchid Milonga at Dance Times Square.
I wanted to go to this milonga the week before, when it was the opening night but I missed it. So I tried this week since it was so close to Grand Central. It also started early (8:30 p.m.) with a lesson beforehand (7:30 p.m.), so it was easy to just take the train in directly after work.

When I got there, I saw that there were only a few beginner-looking students for the lesson, so I decided to sit it out and just observe and take notes. Host Marco Leal taught the lesson, and since the class was so small, he decided to focus on the basics. So they worked a bit on walking with connection, and Marco talked about how the Leader takes the Follower in the embrace, and a little bit about the technique of Leading. He emphasized for the ladies that they needed to work on their molinetes, and he demonstrated the technique by going around one of the very small stool/chairs in four steps. He emphasized that the Leaders needed to be upright, straight and tall in their dance, not hunched over the Follower at all. He also said that the Leaders had to work on being able to pivot on one foot also so they could do interesting elegant things like enrosques. He also spoke a little bit about dance party etiquette, and that people should not interrupt other people in conversation to ask them to dance, but to use eye contact instead. He did not use the word cabaceo. He also demonstrated the different types of tango dance music, including canyengue, milonga, and vals, to captivate these beginner students' imaginations for what their dance possibilities are. So the lesson was heavy on the verbiage, but a little light on the student physicality.

The milonga itself started out a little slow, with just the students, me, and the organizer and his two volunteers for about the first hour. We often amused ourselves by going over to the snack table, which was absolutely the most gorgeous one I had ever seen. I thought certainly this was either composed by a professional caterer or a socialite wife, and I was not wrong. It turns out one of the volunteers was indeed a professional caterer. The food was fruits (blueberrie$, strawberries, red and green seedless grapes), baby carrots, blue potato chips, flax seed chips, pretzel bites, pesto dip, green and black olives, and three different types of cubed gourmet cheeses. Instead of plates, there were small sheets of brown butcher paper rolled up into cones with the bottoms folded over to secure them, similar to how street vendors sell roasted nuts. These brown cones were stacked inside each other and laid on the side, and were a very simple, elegant, earth-friendly alternative to cocktail plates or napkins.

The room itself is gorgeous, with a wonderful ceiling, and mirrors on some sides/sections of the room (one where you can see into infinity, which is a trip). The atmosphere was made warm and elegant by the purple orchids all around, including in the luminaries and in the color of dress of the hostess volunteers. The vibe reminded me of MUSE, only prewar and with a lot more patina, but still the same careful attention to detail and desire for excellence and elegance. The floor is a very nice hardwood. The bathroom, along with the usual vessels, had a shower in it. So it was typical of what you'd find in someone's apartment. Thankfully, this night was sparse enough so there was never a line.

Dancewise, I had a good time. The milonga became fuller and fuller, so we eventually gained enough mass with many good Leaders in attendance to make things fun for the Followers. I had many good tandas, and everyone was very nice and friendly. I found the host and his volunteer hostesses to be incredibly warm, charming people. They were all super-friendly to me throughout the night, and one gal gave me some purple orchids to take home as I was leaving.

It was a very nice night.

Saturday, August 6, 2011
Amarras Milonga @ Dancesport with lesson beforehand by Veronica Palacios and Omar Quiroga.
The lesson was one that started with a simple three-step walk forward, and three quick weight changes in place. Our goal here was to do this to the music (our orchestra for the lesson was DiSarli). Then, the step was changed where instead of three small quick weight changes in place, the Leader would lead three slight small steps back and bring the Follower toward him, but not too much (it's a very small movement). The Leader transmits the lead with his embrace. Then the movement was changed, curving it, so that when the Follower does her three quick weight changes, she does left foot back ocho (back cross) step, right foot side step, left foot tight front cross, led by the Leader turning his body, and pivoting on both his feet with his weight on his left foot, and then he steps with his right foot to unwind as the Follower does her left foot tight front cross step as she goes around in a counterclockwise molinete. This movement has to be small to dance in the often crowded social dance floor.

To this, the Follower adorno was added as the Leader leads her to do another forward ocho (front cross) step with her right foot. Before she steps, the Leader can lead Follower to add an accent to her pivot. The adorno on the pivot showed was the air tap and also the quick sharp pivot (dynamic forward ocho). Someone asked if adornos were led and if the Leader should wait for the Follower to do them. Maestra said that Follower adornos are the musical interpretation of the music. In our simple step, the Leader leads the accent as the Follower comes back around in her right foot forward ocho (front cross) step, but whether the adorno is an air tap or a dynamic sharp pivot depends on what the music dictates and how the Follower interprets it.

It was a good lesson, but Follower heavy, so I sat it out a good bit of time as I found I got more out of it by taking detailed notes and watching Maestra's footwork. Regarding Maestra's footwork, it is truly amazing, a sight to behold. It's incredibly precise and expressive, extremely articulate, with beautifully flowy undulation. Her feet have an extraordinarily clear, commanding voice, and they have such presence and so much to say about the music. I got so much out of the class, not just from her verbal instruction or working through the physicality of the step, but by watching her footwork and body movement. There was a point in class where she did the forward, side, and back steps of the molinete, and she did it with such effortless balance and precision. She made it look so easy and like it is the most natural thing in the world, even though it's not.

The milonga itself got even more crowded with Followers, so it began a bit slow for me. That was OK though since I got to watch Maestra social dance. Eventually, though, I got bored, and rather than stare down the Leaders for a tanda, I decided to have a drink at the bar. There, I saw that this milonga had some freebie snacks (Pringles, pretzels, and cookies-- chocolate chip cookies, chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookies. There were empanadas for sale ($7 for three, with choices of beef, chicken, and spinach); I tried them, and they were pretty good. The dough was on the dense, chewy, bready side (not light, airy, flaky, pastry side). Sizewise they were comparable to those in BsAs, and flavorwise they were fine. The beef had no egg in it, but had olives. For libations, there is a full bar in addition to beer and wine, so I had a Manhattan, which was made just right, a bit pricey at $10, but relatively cheap compared to the wine ($6-8) or beer ($7).

The midnight hour soon rolled around, and Maestros did a three-song performance, which was fantastic. They really went all out, with Omar in a tux and Veronica in a lovely formal dress. Afterwards, they came by the bar for a post-performance celebratory drink. There, we got to chat a little, and I told Maestra that she, Luna, and Alejandra were the absolute best and that no other Followers came even close to their level. She smiled and accepted my compliment graciously. We talked about their schedule, and lucky for me and NYC, they are going to be around for another six weeks. So I will be sure to catch as many of their premilonga lessons as I can, as I get a huge amount out of time just watching her dance (so different from YouTube, where in real life I can truly experience first hand all the subtle nuances).

After their performance, the floor thinned out, and I decided I had warmed the bar stool long enough. I had several good tandas, and one excellent milonga tanda. So even though I didn't put in much floortime, I still had a great evening.

Sunday, August 7, 2011
Milonga RoKo@Manhattan Ballroom Dance.
The lesson was a good one, that focused on cleaning up the technique for some simple moves. Robin Thomas was the teacher, and he had a Follower assistant teacher whose name I did not get. I got there a little late, and the class had already begun.

The question in the Leader leading the 8CB to 5 (cross), why does the Follower not cross sometimes? It's because she feels disconnected from the Leader's chest. The Leader turns his chest toward the Follower. After the 5 (cross), the Leader steps left foot forward straight toward the Follower, matching the Follower's left foot. Before the cross, the Follower should take a big right foot step back so that the cross feels natural. After the Follower cross, the Leader does a rick step on his left foot straight toward the Follower. The Leader should keep his back back on the heel that's behind him so it's a true rock step. Follower does a right foot back step to a side step. She should always keep her distance from the Leader the same and from hips to shoulders the same. Sometimes the Leader leads the cross so that the Follower changes direction (which is wrong). The Leader should turn his chest into the line of dance in a straight line, turning towards the Follower first and then into the line of dance straight (not a "J" movement).

Next, we switched things up some more with the Leader turning counterclockwise, stepping around the Follower while she does back ocho steps. His steps are such that left foot steps front cross a little bit under himself (so his feet are in an "L" position to each other with left heel perpendicular to right big toe), and then pivoting out to a right foot side step. During this step, his right foot steps with her right foot back ocho and his left foot steps with her left foot back ocho. She pivots a lot on her left foot back ocho (more like 180 degrees versus 90 degrees for her right foot back ocho). The Follower waits for the Leader's upper body to turn and that's how she knows how much to pivot. She does not do the pivot from her hips on her own. Since the Follower's ochos are uneven, the Leader needs to give her more time on one side. Follower should not have a stiff embrace; she should keep it soft so that she can pivot. Leader should not use his right hand on the Follower's spine to move her around; it's manipulative and uncomfortable.

In tango, we are always bending and straightening our legs, one or the other. In the Follower's big pivot, both knees need to be bent. The Follower should pivot a lot to get clean back steps, and always collect in between. The Leaders goal is to make a tight circle with his right foot side step and left foot front cross step.

Follower should not be too easy to move. She should try to corkscrew into the ground to make the pivot, and then step. The Follower's hips are perpendicular to the Leader as she makes her back step.

Then we linked all the steps together, fitting it into the line of dance: 8CB to 5 (cross), rock step, side step, 180 degree turn of Follower back ochos while Leader steps around her, etc. In practicing this in the line of dance, the Leader needs to always be in control of where he's going and what they're doing, and always do it in the line of dance. It was a very good class.

Afterwards at the milonga while we were dancing, someone remarked about my note taking, asking about how long I've been dancing, and surprised that after all this time I still take notes. He also asked if I take the notes from the Leader or Follower perspective, and I told him both, although my emphasis has typically been on the Follower side of thing. He wondered out loud what things I wrote down about Followers' technique. And I got to thinking about it, a lot of times I write down what I've already heard before about FT, but for some reason haven't incorporated it into how I dance. Other times, like when I see someone truly brilliant dance, I write down some nugget that I got just by watching them. Or in the case of lessons, sometimes I do get pointers that are real doozies and that change the way I dance *forever*. Right now I keep taking notes because it keeps me mentally focused and alert, and in shape for when Homer & Cristina visit the East Coast later this year and we throw a few chapters down on the tangostudent.blogspot.

The milonga was OK. It was crowded, but not obnoxiously so. Same crowd as the previous weeks. For some reason, I got really tired after the first few tandas, and then it occurred to me that the Leaders in NYC are a bit taller as a group than what I am used to in San Francisco. So my teres majors started to hurt, which they never had before. I try to keep my shoulders level and shoulder blades down, but there is still an element of lift when dancing with someone significantly taller. Multiply that by many tandas, several days in a row, and well, it starts to make itself known. After I danced with one of my favorite leaders, I called it a night.

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