Friday, September 7, 2012

August 1-31

Saturday, August 4, 11, 18, 25, 2012
Mariella’s practica @ Dance Manhattan.  I’ve been having a great time at this practica, thanks to Cristobal y Susana.  We are having a blast working on our homework!  I feel myself inspired and refreshed with dancing with them, which is great since it started at a time when I was feeling increasing ennui. The fun more than compensates the extreme humidity in the city these summer afternoons (and subsequently at the ballroom as well, even though the AC is on).  There haven’t been any 15-minute ideas taught recently, as Maestra looks ready to pop with mini-me numero dos.

Saturday, August 18, 2012
Nocturne Milonga @ Dancesport. The lesson was taught by Ciko and Adam, and it was excellent. It focused on the ocho cortado, specifically adding some fun musical variations to it.  NYC is very lucky to have them as regular local teachers here as they are fun and enlightening.  The milonga was just OK for me.  I was exhausted and my feet were sore from dancing up a storm earlier in the day at Mariella’s. So I had to decline a dance with someone I dance regularly with, which didn’t make him too happy.

Sunday, August 5, 12, 19, and 26, 2012
Roko Milonga @ Manhattan Ballroom Dance.  The lessons have been taught by Robin and rotating female teacher. One weekend was Maria Elena Ybarra, who I thought was fantastic.  That lesson focused on musicality, specifically dancing SS QQ SS, etc. It was an excellent lesson, and Maestra is great.  I wish I had come across her sooner.  Apparently she travels quite a bit and teaches at festivals.  The other rotating teacher has been Tova Moreno.  She’s good, very enthusiastic and lots of good tips on Follower’s technique.

Thursday, August 30 to Sunday, September 2
Denver Tango Festival

I decided to go to this festival as a treat to myself after spending the better part of the last three months studying, and then passing my three exams at breakneck speed. So I really needed a break from all the intensity. Lucky for me, flights were cheap from La Guardia, the Festival was reasonably priced, and I found a roommate for the hotel: Linda from Idaho! So the stars seemed to be in alignment for a short holiday weekend getaway…

Thursday, August 30, 2012

DTF: How to be Grounded by Tova and Carlos Moreno
We began with a question with what it means to be grounded. We can be grounded mechanically by using our legs in a particular way. To understand this concept in our bodies, we began with a game of “Red light, Green light”. So we were to use our joints in a controlled fashion, anticipate, and turn on our leg muscles. We were to try to do this in a tango way. Notice that on our Red Light positions, we stopped in athletic poses, mid run. We were to look for stability. We were also to try to relax, and don’t hold tension. We were to use our muscles, but to try to have the grace of ballet dancers. We were to explore our muscles, feeling our butt, legs, ankles, and abs. We were to try to be like cruise ships, with our muscles below deck on, and above deck off. We worked on strengthening our ankle joints, by going up using 8 counts, and going down using 8 counts. Our weight should be centered on our metatarsals. We also did toe pushups, digging the tip of our big toe to the ball of foot. We also did ankle and knee exercises. Then we practiced walking, doing side steps, back and forth, with the hope of getting our leg to unfurl. In walking forward and back, we worked on resistance training whereby in partnership, one person walks forward while the other person holds her at her hips and resists while walking backward. Here we were to practice taking big steps and small steps. We would vary the size of our steps based on milonga conditions: if it’s crowded, we take small steps. If we have more room and it is a larger space, we can be more expansive in our walk. In doing resistance training, it turns up the heat in the engine room. Next, we did Exercise 47, where we were light and fluffy up top with our moving arms, and then we were to walk forward using weird footwork, silly footwork, but to control the bounce and landing of our foot. Then we played the game Copy Tova, where at the front of the class in front of the mirror, and all of us behind her, we copied whatever she did with her footwork/bodywork. She did steps where we would balance forward and back, do pivots, front boleos, etc., to a song. We should try to feel our joints roll and our focus should be on our lower body for this exercise. Next, in partnership, we were to do side steps, with up or down energy, forward steps and back steps, also with up or down energy, as our goal was to practice controlled descent, so we were to do no kerplunking. For the Followers, our legs go first, and then our body. We did this in parallel system. At the point of low is where the energy is like a crescent, and at the point of high, the energy is like a bridge. It was a good, entertaining, fun, class. Carlos has a deep understanding (degree?) of Animal Locomotion, so it was interesting hearing his descriptions and instructions from a very anatomical standpoint.

DTF: Turning in Tiny Spaces by Tova and Carlos Moreno
In this class we were to work on turns that don’t take too much space. We began with a class demo dance to show maestros what kinds of turns we knew. In close embrace, there is less room for the Follower’s hips to pivot. The turn taught by maestros had the back cross tuck/hook behind. It’s the Leader’s choice of what kind of cross the Follower does. He leads the front cross or the back cross tuck/hook behind. He can also lead her to do slightly different footwork of back cross tuck, forward, forward, collect, side as he does pacman footwork in the molinete clockwise or counterclockwise. He can also lead the Follower to do a really tiny front cross tuck as if doing a regular 8CB. The Leader’s left arm decides how the Follower does her front cross, perpendicular or normal, keeping it in the same place. Instead of the Leader’s body turning, his arm stays. Carlos’s verbiage was the “auto cross” and Tova’s verbiage was the “back in” cross. We also tried to get more of a wooshy feeling in our ocho cortado, with maestros demonstrating the concept in a linear ocho cortado and also a more circular one. The get out from the wooshy ocho cortado, the Leader does a front step curved and a side step curved. This doesn’t take a lot of space. Since some folks had difficulty with the concept of a curved forward step, we were told to imagine that we had graph paper attached to our hips (maestros used to teach a lot at MIT, so this is where the idea of the graph paper came from), so it was a forward step, but curved, turning. We could also add the Leader’s left foot sacada of the Follower’s left trailing foot on her right foot side step during the counterclockwise molinete, into a normal walk. Next, we added these all together for a sequence: the turn with tiny crosses, the curved forward walk out, to do a Leader’s sacada, etc. It was a good class.

DTF: Opening Milonga at Denver Turnverein with DJ Ana Belen.
This place was about a $20 cab ride away from the hotel, but I found a person friendly person waiting in the hotel lobby to split the ride with. I had an excellent time at this milonga. The dancers and DJ were great, the floorcrafting generally respectful, and folks were friendly and asked new folks like me to dance. I was happy to see a few folks from the SF Bay Area, as well as people I met at other tango festivals in Austin and Ashland. I found the dance level of the Denver locals to be surprisingly quite high. I had heard about this festival for years, and was kicking myself that I hadn’t made it over earlier. I had the best Pugliese tanda of my life with one of the locals. I was able to finally dance Pugliese the way I wanted to dance it, with all the barely restrained passion, drama and intensity that the music communicates to me. Happily, my leader felt the same way, and we completely simpatico in our belief that ALL tango drama belongs on the dance floor within the music and nowhere else in our lives! It was a fantastic night!

Friday, August 31, 2012

DTF: Turns with Enrosques, Sacadas, and Barridas by Maria Ybarra assisted by Momo Smitt.
Maestra announced that this would be an intermediate/advanced class possibly beyond some students’ capabilities, and that we don’t need to achieve everything today. We were going to focus on the Follower technique of turns/pasadas/adornos and the Leader technique of enrosques, barridas, and sacadas, which are all advanced topics. The Leaders in particular may have a lot of problems to work through in terms of technique. This was going to be a hard class that required our brain association, and it was good for us to keep practicing on our own time after class at home, etc. For example, we could work on our ocho technique at home while cooking, in the kitchen, bathroom, whatever. We were to look at ourselves in the mirror, and look at our posture. In this class, everyone would do both Leaders’ and Followers’ technique. We began in partnership in practice hold, doing turns around each other. We were to be grounded and hold our own balance (i.e., not lean on our partner). So our footwork was the usual forward ocho, side, back ocho, side step. We were to do it to the music, and don’t go too far away or use our partner to hold us up. Technique is about being able to do it yourself, be able to deal with your own body and balance. Our upper body is what connects the Follower to the partner. The movement starts in the chest center. So there is collection in the untwisting. It’s a circle that circles, or a square that gets circled. For our collection, we can just relax the lower body. Our heels touching our heels makes our knees stay together. We were to focus on twisting and untwisting of our upper back. The back ocho (back cross) step should be beautiful. Our upper body is more important. For Followers’ technique, the work is very hard. Men often complain about Followers’ molinetes/turns, so the Followers need to work on them. Tango depends a lot on the Followers’ technique for molinetes/turns and how well she does them. So we practiced doing just forward ochos in partnership with Leader and Follower, where the Leader does pacman footwork and Follower does the forward ocho in front of. She should be grounded and balanced, using her weight and trying not to be light. Then we did this without touching, so the Follower does ochos while the Leader follows her with his chest.

Someone asked the question of Light versus Heavy. Maestra said maybe Followers were too light because they held their own weight as a consequence of her trying not to bother the Leader, or trying not to make noise, or because she is too nervous or her muscles are working too hard in an incorrect way. She noted that as Followers, we need to put our weight down into the floor, like cats. Our centers are what connect us to the earth. The Leader needs to know where the Follower is stepping and if she is light, this will make it more difficult. (Her comments were consistent with what I have heard in Buenos Aires, regarding heavy/lightness, where groundedness is taught and praised and lightness is not.)

Next, we worked on building the Leader’s enrosque footwork. We each took a square on the portable floor, starting at the center of the bottom of the square, pivoting with our chest to the diagonal side, taking a left foot forward step, pivoting a lot with a right foot tuck behind, then stepping right foot forward out the other side of the square concluding with a left foot back tuck pivot. After drilling this, we added the hook behind weight change. Our spines were to be as natural as in our everyday life. For the Leader’s enrosque, he needs to be on balance, using the natural bend of his knees/joints. In dancing, we were to listen to the music, our embrace should be real, and we need to be precise in our footwork.

Adding the sacada. When the Leader does the sacada, he does it to her unweighted leg. So the Leader leads her into her step, but he needs to let her go forward before he does his sacada. So he needs to lead her to go with his chest, using his upper body and not forcing her with his arms. We also added the barrida where the Leader’s right foot sweeps the Follower’s right foot. We did a small combination where Follower does side step right, to left foot super pivoted back ocho, to Leader right foot barrida of Follower’s right foot.

Maestra emphasized that the Leader should never step backwards, which is something oddly taught in this country but not in Buenos Aires. We should always dance in the line of dance. If the Leader must do a back step, he should do a back cross step underneath himself.

For the Follower’s pasada, she can caress the Leader’s legs, or do outside adornos, but not too big.

It was a good class. Since there were too many Followers, lucky for us Momo rotated among us. He only worked with me for a short time, as he said I felt good (!!!) and that there were others in the class who needed more help than I did. So that made me smile (that he said I felt good, not that my time with him was so short). :o)

DTF: Graceful Paradas and playful Paseos by Avik Basu and Shorey Myers
We began with an exercise where the Leader leads the Follower to do forward ochos in opposition. So the Leader goes one way while the Follower goes the other. How do we go in opposition? We need to find the circular motion and do a complete transfer of weight from the Leader and the Follower. Follower does side step right, Leader does weight change, Follower does left foot forward ocho to pivot on the open side of the embrace to a Leader’s left foot parada on Leader’s opposition. The Follower’s side step is pointed in the direction they are stepping and embrace opens up. The Leader needs to have a little bit of contact in the feet. The Leader needs to track the Follower to know where she is in her foot. The Leader’s foot turns with the Follower. The Follower’s knees should be together at the end of the pivot so her feet and knees are collected. When the Follower steps over, her foot should be pointed down. The Follower does her parada, and the Leader does opposition (transfers his weight). So the Leader dos alternating paradas and the Follower does continuous pasadas. The Follower should focus on the extension when she steps over. She should not fall into her step. The Leader waits for her. The Follower sends her foot without weight, and has a long reach. For an adorno technique of the Follower’s footwork in the pasada, she brings her foot up on the inside, and then down on the outside of the leg, extends, and then transfers. There are other Follower adornos that can be done during the pivot into the parada on the open side of the embrace: Let trailing free leg stay behind like a tail . Do free leg taps up rather than down, bouncing lightly off the floor, do circles on the floor. For other adornos done at the pause before she steps over, she can settle before stepping over, or do the caracia with toe pointed down (up down, around and down footwork). The Follower has to feel comfortable to do her embellishment, which means she has to be in balance. The Leader should not pus her over. He can help her maintain her balance. In doing the parada, the Leader needs to keep his knees together so he can be pretty too. For the Follower embellishments, it is a picture moment. The Follower does a crossed rest position so that the Leader has time to lead the Follower forward ocho/front cross step over when he wants to. Next, we spiced things up a bit with the Leader’s right foot side parada on the close side of the embrace, where the dancers are in salida or Americana position. Here the Follower’s left knee needs to come up to get over the Leader’s right paradaing leg. Here the dancers are still connected, even though they are side to side. The Leader bends his knee so that the Follower can stretch her leg to take a step down and out. At this point, the Leader can do a free sacada when the Follower passes over on the open side. He should take that opportunity. Next, we did another variation with a parada on the other side of the Follower’s foot, so it’s a sandwich, and the Follower can play footsie by squeezing the Leader’s foot. Next, we also tried an interesting variation after the Follower’s right foot forward step / front cross step, into a Leader’s left foot back cross parada on the close side of the embrace. The Follower pasadas with her left foot. We also tried to add breath to the movement by drilling to a slow Piazzolla song. It was an excellent lesson.

DTF: Welcome Milonga at the Doubletree with DJ Avik Basu. I had a nice time at this milonga. Like the milonga the night before, the dancers were friendly and very skilled.

DTF: Night Milonga at Mercury Café. This place was about a $20 cab ride away from the hotel, but I split the ride with my roommate, Linda from Idaho, who I met in 2007 on my first trip to BsAs! This milonga had a separate entry fee of $15, which a lot of folks, including me, grumbled about (why not just add this to the entire festival fee?). This place is an older, funky place with lots of character and a nice welcoming chocolate-covered strawberry on arrival and a full bar. That being said, it was quite hot and humid, and the wood floor was warped/undulated in some places. So the experience of dancing on an uneven floor was a little jarring, the place was packed so floorcrafting was problematic at times, and I decided not too far into the evening that it was just too much for me to bear to get a few OKish dances with folks I will dance with over the next several days. So I left early.


(rest of Denver Tango Festival notes will be published in the September entry)