Thursday, October 6, 2011

September 29-October 5

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Today was the best tango day of my East Coast life.

I signed up earlier this week for Oliver Kolker’s workshops at Dardo Galleto. The first workshop was on Saturday, 3-5 p.m. With that in mind, it gave me the impetus to get up early enough to go to Mariella Franganillo’s La Practica at Dance Manhattan, which I had been curious about since meeting her in San Francisco a few years ago. Though I had made several trips to New York since then, I could never fit it in schedulewise (impetuswise?) to go. Since I had to be in NY early anyway, I figured it was finally time.

I didn’t want to get to the practica the minute the doors opened in case it was going to be sparsely attended. Instead, I had planned to arrive around noon. I picked up a footlong at Subway, and had the gal cut my sammie into three so that I could have lunch (in case the practica food was nonexistent or sucked) and something to eat before and after my workshop.

Emerging from the 23rd Street subway station, I marveled at all the wonderful stores that were open on the walk to the dance studio, and it occurred to me that when I come into NYC for tango, it’s usually at night, and the only stores open at that time are places like Duane Reade, tourist t-shirt shops, or places found in most any mall. Here on a Saturday afternoon it was different and amazing: all the local, artisanal, unique non-chain places were open. NYC sure is a super-fun shopping town (like duh?!).

On Broadway, there was a street fair with wonderful purveyors of food, scarves, computer and phone cases and skins, artisan crafts, jewelry, etc. Walking along further, I was very excited when I saw Muji, and made a mental note to stop in after the practica.

When I finally arrived at Dance Manhattan, I was surprised the practica was so crowded. When the gal at the door took my entrance fee, she wrote down my name, and I saw that I was guest no. 68.

The room is spacious and the floor is oak, even and nicely finished. There is air conditioning (although not the greatest/most powerful or even), supplemented by fans all around. However, since it was quite crowded, it was still on the warm and humid side. Since this is an early Saturday practica, the food provided was quintessentially New York: bagels, cream cheese, and jam and coffee. I noticed that a lot of folks brought their own water or non-alcoholic beverage, and I made a mental note that I need to do that too since there was no water provided in the practica room, and I didn’t notice a fountain outside in the lobby either (though I just might not have seen it).

I danced with many new people, nearly all of them very good or excellent dancers. One in particular was among the best dancers I have danced with yet in NYC. When I asked him why I haven’t seen him at any milongas, even though he lives in NYC, he said he never goes to them because they are a mess. So I guess I am not the only one who thinks the floorcrafting could and should be better here, considering NYC’s reputation of having high-level dancers. I was happy that the floorcrafting at La Practica was far better than I experienced at most NYC milongas. And it was also much friendlier, with lots of folks happy to dance with strangers. The tandas were on the short side (3-4 songs), and divided by cortinas.

Interestingly, around 1:00 p.m., Maestra gave a mini-lesson that lasted about 10-15 minutes. It was a simple step, done in the line of dance (that was emphasized so that we could gauge where we started and where we should end). I sat out the lesson, even though I could have just grabbed the nearest available leader, and didn’t take any notes as it totally caught me off guard and I didn’t have my student hat on or mind frame. I was happy to just sit it out and watch. Maestra is an excellent teacher of the Leader side of things with clear instruction on torsion rotation, foot placement, etc. She did the leader’s part, perfectly strong, stable and balanced in her sky-high platform stilettos.

After the short lesson, we all got back to dancing. Much too soon, the 2:00 p.m. hour rolled around and it was time for the practica to end, marked with the traditional concluding song La Cumparsita. I had a fantastic time, and will be sure to work this into my schedule of events. It’s a bargain afternoon, only $10 for 3 hours of quality dancing, a 15-minute mini lesson taught by the amazing Mariella Franganillo, and bagels to nosh on. Who could ask for anything more? La Practica has inspired me to add more practicas to my NYC scouting tour.

Since I had an hour before the Oliver Kolker workshop, I was able to drop by Muji. I was not disappointed. It’s a beautiful store, and the items sold are wonderfully, minimally but effectively designed, and the space fiercely curated. Interestingly, there was even a book about Muji, published by Rizzoli (high-end art/design publisher).

The street fair was also fun, but the only thing I got was a very sensible, very cheap $5 black umbrella because it suddenly started to rain really hard. After that, I booked it to the subway station and made it just in time for the workshop.

Oliver Kolker Workshop on The Basics – Structure of Milonga (open level).
This workshop covered much of the same material as his workshop I attended last month. However, it was 2 hours instead of 90 minutes, and we spent a lot more time on musicality, specifically working on defining all the notes/beats, working with a single beat, then half, then quarter, and then the habanera rhythm of milonga. The musicality portion was excellent.

As usual, the orchestra for our workshop was Canaro.

Then he went on to teach the basic six-step milonga box, breaking it down so that we could play with the 1 and the 3 (cutting out the 1-2 altogether and just doing 3-4-5-6 followed by another 3-4-5-6), and also playing with the QQS in various places in the six-step milonga box (at the 1-2-3, 2-3-4, 3-4-5, 4-5-6, 5-6-1, or 6-1-2). One interesting thing Maestro taught, also congruent with his goal to get us to think beyond just doing the step, with an interesting variation on the step, was that on the 1 to the 2, the Leader can actually change his footwork to do a forward cross (forward ocho) or back cross (back ocho step) (I think he needs to sneak in some quick weight changes for him only, so that he uses the correct foot/leg on the 3 while keeping her on her usual footwork).

We also added the Follower's forced connected cross on the open side of the embrace (the Follower’s left leg/foot crossing against her supporting, standing leg). The prior workshop taught the Follower’s forced connected cross on the close side of the embrace. The foundational concept of these forced crosses is that two parallel lines never meet, never intersect. When we dance in parallel, which we often do in tango, the two lines will never meet. So in the forced cross, the Leader changes the angle of the Follower by rotating her, so that she pivots, setting it up so that his line and her line will intersect, forcing her to cross as he walks toward her.

Maestro also taught a Follower embellishment of the beat back on the 6 of the basic milonga box, which I found a little weird timingwise and wasn’t able to do well or prettily. Then he switched it so that the beat back happens after the 3, which was a lot easier.

Maestro concluded with a very good, thorough summary that he allowed to be videoed.

It was a fantastic class as usual, although I was pretty exhausted afterwards (and I was a little mad at myself for getting overtired as I really wanted to give this workshop all my best). There were twice as many Leaders as Followers, so all Followers worked with two leaders and danced 100% of the time. I also wore heels during the entire class, and they were on the high side as they were the same ones I wore to the practica earlier. I wanted to travel very lightly as I had planned to go shopping after the workshop, and then onto another milonga.

But though the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak. After the workshop, I was way too pooped to do much more than grab a soda from Mickey D’s (and a large one at that!, which I don’t think I’ve ever done in my entire life!), and catch the next train home. It was such a wonderful afternoon that I didn’t want to press my luck. I thought it would be better to just end things there, dancewise, on a nice, happy positive note.

Sunday, October 2, 2011
I arrived early to Dardo Galletto for the practica. It was an open house day, so it was free to get in. When I got there for the last hour, there were about 30 people there, apparently mostly improvers. I helped myself to some wine and peanuts (in shells) and popcorn, as I was starving. After I had my fill, I danced a few tandas.

One Leader asked me to dance, and I swear I had no idea if he was asking me to dance, or the gal next to us, since he never looked at me directly in the eyes when he asked. When they both made it clear that it was ME he wanted to dance with, I accepted. (I admit I am miffed about the whole NYC eye contact aversion thing, which isn’t just limited to uncabaceoing, it also happens in floor crafting, that is, not only do folks not apologize when bumping into each other, they also don’t even LOOK at each other or acknowledge that a bump occurred.)

As we made our way to the dance floor, I said that if he wanted to ask me to dance properly, he needed to look me in the eye and not away and around. Then he apologized and told me he was blind.

Of course at that point, I just about died from embarrassment and my own idiotic rudeness. The Leader, however, was the epitome of charity and kindness. He said he asked me to dance because I was a good dancer. I asked how did he know, if he were blind? Then he explained that he was legally blind with macular degeneration. (For those of you who don’t know what that is, or what a person who has it “sees”, go here: So I guess my blurry whirly figure looked good whirling. I guess the bright colors I was wearing prevented me from fading into the walls. Anyway, we were probably way too chatty during the tanda, but I was fascinated about how he learned to dance with the condition (challenging, of course, but the teachers have all been wonderful). Honestly, in dancing with him, I could not tell at all that he was legally blind.

During the rest of the practica I had a couple of really amazing tandas, which was totally unexpected and delightful.

Oliver Kolker Workshop: A Step Beyond – Musicality & Enhanced Skills (Beg/Int)

In this class, which built on yesterday’s class, we would see more complicated stuff.

We began with a review of the Traspie Rhythm. The music of milonga is based on the Habanera pattern. When we dance to it, we do QQS because it fits perfectly within the Habanera rhythm, always in sync.

Another way to dance milonga, instead of QQS, is with quarter notes, that is, combining a counterbeat with two quarter notes, or 1+ QQS.

What is QQS? Picking three quarter notes from the 4. QQS (2, 3, 4).

We then worked on an exercise of the Leader shifting the Follower’s weight such that she steps with her left foot forward or back. This is so that the Leader can plan if he leads it correctly. The Leader can change weight, but not the Follower. It’s like playing the drums. The Leader has to shift the Follower’s weight all the time.

If the Leader lifts the Follower and keeps her up, it means side steps. We practiced this, with the Leader letting the Follower go just before 4, to do 3, 4, 5, 6 of the milonga box. The Leader needs to be sure to drop her back down to get out of the side steps.

The next thing we worked on was the Follower back steps while the Leader weaves in and out, so her footwork is a series of 4, 5, 4, 5, etc.

Then we changed this to a connected forced cross by the Leader pivoting her and then walks inside of her and keeps going. His leg needs to make contact with hers to make her cross.

Next, we did a free leg exercise of the Follower’s right leg, to send it out to it’s maximum, then pivoting the Follower so that it lands in a tight back cross against her left foot. Then we added to this with the Leader stepping backwards so that the Follower’s left foot steps forward and the right foot steps forward to another back cross against the left foot. To lead this correctly, the Leader needs to keep the angle the same, he needs to manage it so that he keeps her hips behind so he will lead her to do sequential back crosses to the side. Timingwise, we were to do it in QQS, and then pivot her out of it. To make this into an interesting sequence, we added the connected forced crosses on the close side.

The Follower’s embellishment on the 6-count milonga box was introduced whereby on the 6, the Follower does either a tight right foot back cross or a tight right foot front cross.

Then we worked on another Follower’s embellishment of the right foot tight back cross, with her left leg opening up, foot pivoting away counterclockwise (60 degrees maybe?). The Leader also had some interesting footwork that involved a pivot. For the Follower, it is important that the cost of the embellishment shouldn’t be a loss of axis (wow, is that profound and eloquently stated, or what?!).

Our main takeaways:
1. The Follower doesn’t change her weight unless he Leader shifts it.

2. Just because the Leader shifts weight, doesn’t mean the Follower shifts her weight.

3. The Leader makes the Follower move her left foot/leg all the time.

Maestro concluded with a very good, thorough summary that he allowed to be videoed.

After class, the usual chatter ensued, and Maestro mentioned that he was now living in Chicago and that they have a nice community there. I was a little disappointed by the news, but I guess I will have to just be happy with his regular visits to NYC.

One gal who was able to take a private with him this trip strongly encouraged me to do so as well. (We had spoken about it at the last Oliver Kolker workshop where we were both students.) She said it was wonderful and amazing and left her newly inspired about tango, at a point in time when she was strongly considering giving it up.

I really do want to take a private with him, but I fear that it will just leave me even more spoiled than I already am. There is this concept of diminishing returns in tango, where the better you get, the less satisfaction you get from dancing with average dancers (and let’s face it, most dancers are “average”). I’ve been very, very blessed to be able to dance with as many great dancers that I’ve danced with, and if I add Oliver Kolker to that stable, well, geeze, maybe after that, I might as well just stop dancing tango forever because it would probably be the best hour of dancing of my life, which would render everything else after that, comparatively a letdown. Gosh, don’t I sound like a silly schoolgirl? And shame on me for not just living in the moment in each and every tanda.

My problem with my taking privates with male teachers is that I just don’t feel that I’d be taking them for the right reasons. I just feel as though if I really wanted to improve my tango from here, I would take instruction from women Follower teachers (and even then, my desire at this point is limited to those named Luna, Alejandra, Veronica, or Carolina), not men Leader teachers who dance divinely and with whom I would love an hour-long dance massage. So I guess I would feel like a fake. It’s one of those things I am mentally wrestling with, and I guess I have another month or so to figure it out (or not) before Maestro visits again.

No comments: