Monday, August 22, 2011

August 15-21

Monday, August 15, 2011
Casa de Tango @ Central Bar.
This is a milonga that is on the early side, 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and takes place in what must be among the cleanest bars in NYC. Literally, the bathroom was spotless and smelled mildly of bleach, so even if you were blind, you would get the impression that it was squeaky clean. The milonga happens upstairs away from the main bar, but you can still order from the food menu (typical bar fare) and drinks menu. The floor is wide-plank oak, is comfortable and smooth with none of the usual bar-floor stickiness, scrapes and gouges. I was encouraged to go to this milonga by a local NY tanguero. Still channeling JSE, I decided that this was the night to come, since I had to be in midtown later for a milonga workshop. I got there around 7:00 p.m. and danced pretty much nonstop, having a great time, until about 9:00 p.m., the absolute latest before I had to leave for the Oliver Kolker workshop.

Oliver Kolker Milonga Workshop at Dardo Galletto Studios ($35 for 1.5 hour workshop). I got there just in time for the workshop at 9:30 p.m. The room was full with about 25 people, 10 couples (half of which did not switch) and 5 extra followers. I had wanted to take lessons with Maestro for years, but just could never work it out schedulewise to make it to Seattle or Portland when he taught at Clay's festivals. When I saw this workshop pop up a couple of weeks ago, I signed up right away and looked forward to it since.

Maestro said we would work a lot, and his teaching style, though simple, is a way to make his students think.

Maestro's dance rule, his method, is that he picks one leg of the Follower and is focused on that one leg, so he always knows what happens next. In his case, he always focuses on what the Follower's right leg is doing. He is always thinking of it, always obsessed with her right leg. Maestro picks the Follower's right leg, so that he knows when it's busy (has weight on it) or when it's free (doesn't have weight on it). He doesn't see what her right leg is doing, he feels it. Bottom line: The Leader always has to know where the Follower's weight is.

Most of the time, the Follower shifts her weight because she feels the Leader shift his weight. This is a mistake. The Follower should never shift her weight on her own. She should wait for the Leader to shift her weight. And the Leader always has to know where the Follower's weight is so that he knows where and when to shift it.

The Leader mastering the Follower's weight change is the base of what we do in tango, milonga and vals.

We began with trying to understand and implement this concept with a simple weight shift exercise:
We did side steps, either
(1) transferring the weight (stepping)
(2) changing the weight (in place)
(3) rebounding (an incomplete transfer or shift of weight)
Whichever one the Leader picked, he needed to be clear, 1, 2, or 3, in how the Leader shifted the Follower's weight, depending on what he wanted her to do.

The Leader needs to know how to do the above three things and be able to do them in three directions:
forward, back, and side.
He needs to manage it like oil, "be greasy"

Maestro did a demo where he took a Follower and led her to shift her weight, make her rebound (extend leg out and back), or transfer the weight (step)

The Leader needs to always know where the weight of the Follower is.
With respect to the rebound/tap, the Leader can shift the Follower's weight in two ways:
Milonguero style: Try to put the Follower on her other leg without moving her.
Kolker style: Bring her system up and then let her go where he wants her to be.

We worked on this concept of doing these weight changes/transfers with the Leader just leading them while staying in place footwise and the Follower doing the movements (so her feet would move, but his would not).

Our music for the evening were Canaro milongas (mostly the slow ones).

Next, we worked on traspie, or QQS, using Oliver's Method.
"traspie" means to stumble, or missed step, in Spanish, and Maestro demonstrated it.

Milonga always has a four-count beat pattern. The QQS fits inside the milonga music.

We began with the six-count milonga basic box step.
1: Left Foot forward
2: Right foot side
3: Left foot back
4: Right foot back
5: Left foot side
6: Right foot close

Leader does opposite.

From the six-count milonga basic box, we played with different weight shifts to cut out some of the counts, like going from 5 directly to 2 with no weight shift, or doing 1 and with a weight shift, or 2 and 4 with no weight shift.

Then we added the QQS rhythm on the 4, 5, and 6.
Then we did the QQS on the 5, 6, 1
Then we did the QQS on the 5, 6, 3 (cutting out the 1, 2, and only going forward)
Then we did the QQS on the 2, 3, 4
Then we did the QQS on the 5, 6, 3.

From the QQS on the 5, 6, 3 timing, we added the Leader's bump to the Follower's cross. Here, he pivots her on her right foot, then bumps her with his right leg as she steps back with her left foot, so that her right leg and foot is sent into a cross in front of her left foot. For the Leader, his back left knee is lands directly behind the knee of his right leg after he sends his right leg to bump the Follower's right leg. For the Follower, her cross should clean and small, with toes together. During this bump, the Leader should try to maintain the contact in their legs with the Leader's crossed footwork of his left knee behind his right knee as he bumps the Follower into the cross. He can do sequential successive bumps.

The Leader pivots her on 5, sifts the weight, and then steps in with his right leg. Pivoting her first makes her not perfectly square with him, but at a slight angle, so he can walk directly forward into her leg and make it cross as his right leg makes contact with her right leg.

The Follower's ankles should always caress each other.

The Follower can collect with her right foot behind or in front of her left foot, it's her choice, in the 5 to 6 step of the box.

There is no lean of the Follower or Leader. Each dancer should be on their own axis.

I rotated out most of the time as there were 5 extra followers, and half the couples did not rotate. So rather than hash out the material with folks who were not too familiar with milonga, I just waited for Maestro to rotate among us out Followers. It was an absolute joy to work this material with Maestro. What I did not get in terms of quantity in time and repetition with the student leaders, I got in spades in terms of quality with working directly with Maestro.

During class, I actually got to do the Follower's assistant part in demonstrating some of the concepts, so that was fun.

But the kicker was, after class, some students were quite insistent on a demo that they could film. So Maestro took me by the hand, and we gave it a whirl. My goodness, it was an amazing dance. I don't remember which Canaro milonga it was, but it seemed to be a longer one. And we just didn't do the class material, but Maestro really got inspired and did all sorts of fancy, wonderful, amazing things. After it was over, I was breathless with joy.

Some students came up to me after class and told me how good we looked, and I said it was all him, Maestro. But then they said, really, I looked good, too. So that made my evening. I think I floated out the door, all the way down the streets of NYC, and into Grand Central, on the train to the town where I live, to my apartment, and well, even at work the next day, I had a grin on my face all day long...

It was truly an amazing experience.

Classwise, Maestro is a brilliant teacher, with a very clear, methodical teaching style that transmits well to students and really does inspire them to think on their own, and to understand the concept more deeply than the usual sequence-of-the-day classes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011
The Tango Factory at DROM.
You know, there are just days when you don't want to go out, but you just HAVE to go out because an infrequent event seems so wonderful on paper. This event was one of those. Not only did Tango Factory occur at an uber hip bar in the East Village, it was also going to feature a band, a lesson, and a performance, and had an optional prix fix dinner. All for $15, or $12 if you RSVP'd in advance like I did (or $25 for the whole shebang including dinner). What a bargain! (at least on paper, so it seemed). So even though I was dog tired and lukewarm about going, I went anyway.

I had plenty of time to get there for the 8:00 p.m. lesson, and had a great time strolling from the Astor Place subway station, down along St. Mark's Place (8th Avenue), to Avenue A, peeking in to the many wonderful unique shops and artisan food purveyors. As I pondered whether or not I should have the DROM prix fix dinner of mostly Mediterranean fare for an additional $13 (which was a bargain), I stopped instead at the falafel place next door, and had a lamb pita sandwich for $5. It was good and right sized and more of a bargain.

DROM is a subterranean bar underneath a Japanese Restaurant. The space is clean and modern, and the floor was a black concrete (I believe). It was a bit sticky from the humidity, so Meastro asked if anyone had powder. Since this was one of those nights where I had my tango emergency kit, I had a small bottle. So after we sprinkled a little all over the floor, we began with our lesson.

The lesson was taught by Diego Blanco.

We began with a connection exercise, where the Leader closed his eyes, and the Follower took the Leader, and walked along side them, leading them. The Leader allows himself to be walked. She could walk, change directions, walk around in a circle, do rock steps, etc. This allowed the Follower to connect in a different way and to feel what it feels like to lead and the Leader to feel what it feels like to have no support.

Next, we did a role switching exercise where the Follower does the Leader's part in the embrace.

Then we switched back to the male leader being the Leader again. When this happened, we found that the Leaders ended up just doing the steps again, whereas Maestro was hoping to have us just connect.

Next, we worked on dancing the movement. Movement can be more pronounced, as in doing the side step. Here, we were to dance with a side step, and then staying in that spot. What can the Leader do to give the Follower a different feeling? He can pivot her, play with her weight change (not through), lower his body into the step, just play as she is on one foot.

Next, we tried this same concept doing the Leader's forward step. Here he can push, pull, rotate, change levels on purpose (not as a reflection of poor technique), and use these different things to create something.

There are many places where we connect with each other, and with the music. With respect to connecting with the music with each other, we need to move at the same time. Thus, we should keep thing simple in our dance.

We tried this to a song, just walking, and slowing down the whole thing, and then pick up the beat again. When the beat escapes, the Follower has to listen to the Leader's body to connect with his musicality. The Leader has to be clear in his musical interpretation so that the Follower doesn't move like she's having a seizure. We were just to move to the music slowly, with no particular need to step.

Then he changed the music complete and we tried to apply these concepts while dancing to Pugliese's La Yumba. The goal was to show that we were connected.

Next, Maestro allowed us to do our own favorite step, to do it repeatedly, but then to change the dynamics so that the Follower does not know or anticipate the movement. Maestro showed us one of his favorite steps, Leader left side step (Follower right) to Follower left foot back ocho. The goal of this exercise was so that the Follower would surrender her knowledge.

Next we worked on a sensitivity exercise to slow our dance. Here, the Leader does a parada on the close side of the embrace. Then he lets go. However, if the Follower is off balance at all, he should not let go. This exercise is to help Leader's know if the Follower is off balance, and for the Follower to be responsible for herself being on balance.

In response to the posture of one Leader, Maestro asked, "What happens when we are afraid?" A: We tense up. To not look afraid, we need to be relaxed, and be down to the feet, to feel the heaviness and be relaxed.

One thing Maestro does at the end of the song or tanda is he let's go, and then re-embraces the Follower. It is as if you are making your bed again. Do it fresh, with new energy. The Leader relaxes his right arm down, so the Follower does the same, and then he brings it back up to embrace her again.

The lesson was good.

Later on, Maestro remarked positively on my note-taking, saying that he used to take notes as well, and that it had been a long time since he saw anyone else take notes. I smiled.

The milonga then started, and about 5,000 Followers showed up to the 20 Leaders. Needless, to say, I decided to cool my heels at the bar rather than frantically cabaceo. It was fun reflection people-watching via the mirror above the bar. I could see everything that was going on behind me, and it seemed like the folks who came as couples danced with themselves, and all the Leaders, no matter their skill level, were in demand.

Prices at the full bar were a bit steep. It seemed nearly everything was $11 no matter what you ordered. I had a specialty vodka (cucumber flavored) and soda, and the folks near me had glasses of wine. We were all charged the same $11, which I thought was strange. Still, the bartenders were nice enough, and service was quick.

One interesting thing that some of the DJs here in NYC have, which I didn't mention before, is they have a spiral bound large book of tango tandas, so you always knew what orchestra and singer you were dancing to. I thought it was a very clever milonga tool, and said so to a NY milonguero. He remarked that the DJs go them from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest!

Throughout the first part of the milonga, it got very crowded, with people steadily streaming in.

Then the band, Octavio Brunetti's Orchestra, came on. Boy, where they good! Great, really! The band leader, Octavio Brunetti, was the pianist, and he had a special guest Cellist that night, whose name I didn't catch. There were 3 musicians on violin, 2 on viola, and 1 on bass and 1 on bandoneon to round out the 9-person band. The whole band, but especially the strings sounded wonderful, as NYC must have the most gifted musicians per capita since folks come here from all around just to study at the famous schools. The strings did a lot of pizzicato, which I never noticed tango had much of, but perhaps the were playing Brunetti compositions, rather than trying to be a Pugliese or Canaro cover band.

I danced only three tandas, as it was much too crowded for my liking (and floor crafting was challenging and not the greatest), and though the restaurant has AC, it was not enough to counteract the heat that all the dancers generated. So after the live band was done with their first set, I left, not staying for the dance performance by Maestro and Ana Padron, which was kind of a shame because he seemed to be a really nice guy and a good teacher.

So overall, for me the band was the best part of the evening by a long shot. The other parts weren't really my cuppa.

Sunday, August 21, 2011
Milonga Roko @ Manhattan Dance.
I got there late, and the lesson was already in progress. As I handed over my $12 admission, the gal at the counter was kind enough to ask if I REALLY wanted to take the lesson. Looking around, I saw the extra followers and late hour on the clock and said no. Then she only charged me $10. So that was nice of her to save me my $2 (amazing bargain, really, for a quality lesson wit Robin Thomas).

I had a nice time at the milonga, which I had skipped for the least week or two. It was crowded, but not obnoxiously so. It seems lots of folks were content to just sit things out or wait for the right music to come on before dancing. No desperation at trying to rack up mileage on the dance floor, no whack-a-moles, and no sulking because a person wasn't able to successfully cabaceo one of the *good* dancers.

I stayed longer than I intended.

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