Tuesday, September 20, 2011

September 7-20

Saturday, September 10, 2011
Practilonga-939 @ RG Studios.
The walk to this practilonga from Grand Central, though a bit long, is very eye-candy rich, going through the Diamond District (thank God all the stores were closed, otherwise it might have taken me hours to get to the studio, if I ever made it at all), Times Square and the half-price ticket booth, up Broadway through the theatre and music district, all the while passing by many historic buildings (or buildings that housed historic companies).

I got there early enough to take the special premilonga lesson, taught by Juan Marchetti y Natalia Manca from Buenos Aires on turns with sacadas and ganchos ($20). The lesson prior to that was on close embrace volcadas ($35 if you took both lessons). Since I am comfortable with where I am with volcadas, I decided to take just the lesson on sacadas, figuring it would (should!) have more Leaders than Followers, and since I wanted to keep working on my turns, lest they go to pot. When I got to class (a little late as the walk took longer than expected), there was only one other couple and one single leader, happily one of my favorites.

I don't believe Maestros spoke any English, so if you did not speak Spanish, it probably wouldn't have been the most enlightening of lessons. They taught in BsAs style, where they demonstrated a step, and then expected the students to do it. They then added to the step, turning it into an interesting, challenging sequence. Our sequence involved many technically difficult things for the Leader: his lapice while still leading the Follower molinete, to a weight change, to a right foot gancho the Follower on her open step, a front cross for him into a quick weight change to a left foot sacada of the Follower’s trailing leg, a right foot gancho into his own right foot bolero, to lead Follower to do a back ocho, and then left foot back boleo to a left foot forward boleo, out to close. So there was a lot for our bodies and brains to work on.

It was an OK, but not great class. I had an OK time because I was able to partner with a Leader I know and like to dance with, so we got along well (still politely). But the room was on the warm side, and quite humid, despite the fans and window air conditioning unit. Plus I wore a dress so had to go back and forth to get my notebook to take notes (that was my fault, certainly not the Maestros’ or organizer's). Since the class was so small, it was more like a group private. Maestros had lots of instruction and tips for my leader, whereas I got no commentary or instruction (basically for the sequence, the Follower’s part was molinetes, back ochos, and back steps). That was OK though, I just really wanted to work on my molinete technique, and I was really focusing on how Luciana Valle taught me to do them.

The milonga started out pretty slowly after that, and I had my doubts on whether I should stay or go to the Manhattan Ballroom Dance party ballroom dance party instead. I decided to stay for a while to see how things worked out, and luckily for me I was able to dance with an amazing leader – the best one I’ve experienced yet in NYC! Though I didn’t quite catch all that he threw at me, I think we danced well together overall. Because of the humidity, we had to stop and dry off after our first tanda. Then we danced again, and again it was amazing. Then he had to go. :o(

After that, more people arrived for the milonga. While the overall technical skill level turned out to be mostly high, the friendly warm and fuzzy quotient was lacking. Maybe that comes with the territory…when you get better and better, you want to dance with fewer and fewer people. I never noticed that in San Francisco since I had been part of that community for years, but being the new girl in town, I can see how NYC is not the warmest, most open place for newcomers (maybe I should qualify that with newcomer Followers since newcomer Leaders, as long as they don’t truly suck, are usually welcomed with open arms everywhere). Or maybe it's a NY cultural thing, where folks are a little more reserved and suspicious and avoid eye contact with strangers.

And oddly, even though the overall technical skill level was high, the floor crafting was lacking. It’s not that there were huge crashes, but there were many times when couples would get backed up and bunched up on one side of the room when there was ample space to utilize all four sides of the room. It was surprising and bizarre how often this happened and extremely unexpected from a group with high technical skills.

Tete had a very interesting comment about which communities he thought were the best in the U.S. when I asked him a few years ago. He did not mention New York City or San Francisco, and I got the impression that both places were far down on his list (though I think San Francisco has improved a lot since then). He mentioned several cities, and he considered them “best” based on their musicality and floor crafting (basically how well they connected to the music and to each other), not the level of their technical skills. Very specifically, he mentioned the "lack of maturity” of several communities that lots of folks (but not him) considered “the best”. He did not mean the relative age of the dancers or how long the community had been around, but of the overall mindset of the dancers (me versus us, performing and doing showy things on the milonga dance floor versus dancing elegantly and simply so that everyone on the pista had a good time and so that the tracks would flow evenly and rhythmically). I am finding that he is right. After all, isn’t the whole point of community to be able to dance with everyone and get along on the dance floor?

I danced a reasonable amount, but the room was very humid, despite the window air conditioner. After the three-song performance by Maestros, which was fantastic (but which left them dripping as well), I had my last tanda. During that dance, I found the floor to be very difficult to pivot on compared to my earlier dances, and I speculate it was because of the humidity (environmental and maybe because we were all hot sweaty messes and dripped on the floor).

Foodwise, it seemed to be a potluck of sorts with folks contributing bottles of wine (with price stickers still on), and random food (cherry tomatoes, butter-flavored corn puffs, apples, and home-made cookies (oatmeal walnut? They were delicious.).

Sunday, September 11, 2011
Milonga RoKo @ Dance Manhattan Ballroom.
I got there early as I was looking forward to taking the lesson. Unfortunately, the sign on the door said the lesson was cancelled. So instead, I scoped out the neighborhood a little, wandering into H&M and Duane Reade to pass the time.

The milonga started out a bit slowly, and a friend speculated that maybe people were spooked by all the September 11 warnings and decided to stay home. The milonga soon filled up though, so it became quite packed. I was able to dance several fun tandas, but after things got too close for comfort, I decided to go.

Friday, September 16, 2011
Tango Lounge @ Dancesport.
I got there too late to take the lesson, taught by Tamara Bisceglia & Federico Paleo. The milonga for me was just OK, not great. I didn’t get any tandas that knocked my socks off and there were ample followers there. So I left on the early side, just after the performance, which was great. And I am glad I stayed for it, since I missed it at RoKo the Sunday prior (but thankfully YouTube captured the RoKo performance):




Saturday, September 17, 2011
Robin Thomas’s Nocturne @ Dancesport
with lesson beforehand by Jaimes Fridgen and Christa Rodriguez. The purpose of the class was to challenge us. We began with a warm-up dance. Then we were given the salida basica (8CB) to work on, doing it together without arms. We were to step in any way we want, timingwise, but we were to do only those steps of the 8CB in the line of dance. For both dancers, this would be an exercise in concentration and balance. This step would require many weight changes, and working the pattern without arms would illustrate our own default habits (sometimes bad). Our goal was to make our 8CB smoother, and keep the line of dance flowing and not pass each other. We were also to stand up straight and the leader should not lean/crouch over their partner, and neither dancer should curve their bodies weirdly. We drilled this some more, just working the 8CB with no arms, because apparently we looked pretty bad. Our goals were to have better posture (stand up straight), and make every step in sync together. There could be a slight favoring toward the of the open side of the embrace to make us more connected. We drilled this some more.

Then we added the embrace and drilled some more, just the 8CB.

Then, while in the embrace, at 2 we were to let our arms open up as if they were wings, and then after a few steps fold the arms back down and into the embrace. This was to help us dance with our entire bodies, having the whole dance in our bodies, all the way out to our fingertips.

Our next challenge was to focus on the musicality of the 8CB. Tango music is in quarter notes. We all counted out together to 8 over and over again so that we could all be on the same page, musically speaking. Then we added the break on 5, with 6, 7, and 8 being quiet or silent. For our exercise, we would do the 8CB with each beat, specifically not rushing to or out of the cross. We drilled this.

Then we were to dance the 8CB with the specific phrasing of the leader stepping back on 7, which would cause the Follower to land the cross on 7 as well if we were doing our crosses correctly for this exercise (i.e., in a controlled manner and not rushing to or out of it). The point of this was because lots of orchestras end their songs on the 7, so we were hoping to get that pretty ending with the leader’s back step (almost like a rock corte).

We had various orchestras for the evening. Among them, D’Agostino and Calo.

The lesson was good. I did not switch from my partner, a buddy of mine, even though there were more leaders in class. The reason was that, due to the subject matter, I just was not that comfortable dancing chest to chest with no arms with a couple of the leaders there, and several of the other leaders… well, honestly, they are not leaders who make newcomers (me!) feel welcome and accepted (meaning they have never asked me specifically to dance in any of the milongas I’ve been to, even though I’ve been around for weeks and have tried to make eye contact with them – many of the leaders here are excellent at uncabaceoing, and many just dance with the same few followers all night)… so, why would I want to work the class material with them? Granted, maybe I am reading them all wrong, maybe it’s just the culture here… but I was happy to leave them to work the class material with their “usual” follower partners, who were nowhere to be found at this class (guess they were just way too cool for school).

The milonga itself was very fun, the most fun I’ve had in a while. My buddy told me I HAD to go to it, because all the GOOD dancers went to it. I was skeptical in the beginning, but came around to agree that, technically speaking, as a whole the dancers were generally above average. I danced with several people I had never danced with before (turns out, all visitors from Europe, all excellent dancers) and the usual people I dance with (so no new locals).

I started to bonk around midnight, so planned to leave after Jaimes & Christa’s performance. But then Robin Thomas announced that there would be another special performance around 1:00 a.m., and another buddy of mine and I figured out it would be Veronica Palacios and Omar Quiroga. So of course I had to stay for that, and of course it was outstandingly brilliant.

Happily, Robin Thomas announced that next month’s Nocturne teachers will be Homer and Cristina Ladas. So any SF Bay Area folks needing an H&C fix should come on out for that. H&C mentioned that they are going to do a series of workshops in NYC (as part of their East Coast tour which will also include Northampton and Providence). I don’t have the exact details, but they mentioned the idea of two workshops each on both days the weekend of October 15. :o) I’m looking forward to the NYC, Providence, and Northampton classes, as it will be nice to get some more lessons into the tangostudent notebook.

But then I really, really had to go after that, as I didn’t want to miss the last train out of Dodge. It turned out to be an excellent bargain night: for $12, I got a quality lesson, several hours of good milonga dancing, and two top-notch performances.

Sunday, September 18, 2011
Milonga RoKo @ Dance Manhattan Ballroom.
I got there too late for the lesson so can't comment on it. The milonga itself was fun, the most fun I've had at a NYC milonga in a while. It was crowded, but not excessively so. Floorcrafting was reasonably OK, with at least the outer track somewhat mostly in line with no speeders/passers. (One of the things that bugs me about NYC floor crafting is that when there are bumps [even though they are gentle and small], no one ever apologizes, which just seem downright rude to me.) Anyway, back to the good parts... I danced with several new people (half visitors, half local), excellent dancers. Someone complimented me, and my "sensible" dancing. Not sure what that meant, but I accepted graciously.

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