Thursday, October 11, 2012

September 1-30

Denver Tango Festival – August 30 to September 2

Saturday, September 1, 2012
DTF: Posture and Technique for Elegance and Ease by Avik Basu and Shorey Myers. We began with warm-up exercises led by Shorey. Then we split up into groups of three to discuss our biggest issues/problems in tango with respect to posture, after which we shared them with the entire class. We did a lot of leg/ankle/foot exercises to strengthen and expand our range of motion, and to improve our solidity and groundedness. We also worked on our upper body/arm posture. Maestra recommended we keep our whole foot on the floor for better balance (ie, we should not be dancing on our tip toes). We also did an exercise where we jumped and landed on one foot side to side so that we could work on our dynamic balance: balance that is able to move, to be able to travel in a dynamic way and be in balance when we arrive. We also worked on our side steps and forward steps, stretching, reaching, and then reaching a few inches more, and then pushing off with our standing foot, and arriving to our other foot in balance. We did this forward and backward and to each side in partnership. We also worked on a walking exercise from Luciana where one person walks while the other person pulls up on their partner’s rib cage while the walker makes their hips heavy (as if their hips are full of sand), and alternatively pushes down on the hips while the walker tries to be very tall. This is to help the spatial expansion in our cores, which we use for pivots. So hips should be heavy and down and chest should be up and light. Individually, we practiced pivoting, reaching, arriving, and then pivoting, both forward and backward facing an imaginary leader. For a balance exercise, the Follower is the center on one foot, while the Leader walks around her and tries to keep the Follower on balance. We tried this from the forward ocho step, so Follower takes left foot front cross step forward, then bends knee, leaving her right foot trailing leg down. The Leader walks behind her as he is perpendicular to her. The Follower should leave her hip/leg behind. So the Follower is actively trying to maintain balance. Maestra gave an excellent nugget of advice regarding our work at Practicas. She said we should practice intentionally, and focus by choosing 3 things to work on at once. We also need to always take care of our back, feet, and body. It was a fantastic lesson.

DTF: The Art of Improvisational Composition by Tova and Carlos Moreno. The class began with maestros demonstrating dancing to a tango in two uncomposed ways: whereby the music doesn’t affect the way we move. In the first dance, they walked, did some moves, then walked. In the second dance, they did move after move after move. So while both dances were done on the beat, they had nothing to do with the musical structure or phrasing of the song: it was all about doing the moves, moves, moves. Moves don’t listen.

There are several tiers to musicality:
1) The Beat. Step on the beat.
2) Reacting to what changes in the song. Predicting what can happen. Move to what’s coming next. Learn to vary things.
3) Combine all of that, movements, quality, all combined in a pleasing way.

What Elements can you vary?

- Rhythmic Choices (When to go. When to do it. How to do it.)
a. In terms of rhythmic options, there are five speeds in tango:
    i. Lots of pausing.
    ii. Stepping on every other beat.
    iii. Stepping on every beat.
    iv. QQ
    v. Double QQ. Here the Follower needs to be on her game. Front and front and front check step or         weight change.

b. In an interesting tango, you have all of these speeds.

To drill this concept, we played Square Dance Tango, where Maestros called out the timing we were supposed to do during a song (Una Vez Mas). We could also work on pausing, with swirls inside us.

With our exploration of Smooth versus Pulsing, it was noted that the Follower has equal or more say in terms of who controls the motion, as she can “suggest” the energy in terms of how she does it/responds to the Leader’s lead. Basically, she can go with it and/or transform it.

- Quality

1) Staccato versus Stretchy
2) Playful versus Serious (sometimes Leaders never try to be playful)
3) Pulsing versus Smooth. (In pulsing, there is horizontal acceleration. We should not do either at the same time.)
4) Torso: Still versus Mobile (still versus roll versus contrabody rotation).

We danced in our exploration with trying to drill these concepts.

We worked on staccato using sharp movements, going out fast and collecting fast, and also on stretching, doing things in slow motion. In stretching, we use our whole leg, foot and toes. It’s like a pregnant pause in dance. Our legs are working hard. We drilled this to DiSarli’s Don Juan.

In our Playful versus Serious exploration, to add playful/funny, you have to have previously established that you can dance seriously. :o) You can achieve funny/playful by doing repeats or something quirky. A Follower can be playful in her shoulders or in the way she collects. She should establish a solid baseline (serious) first, and she shouldn’t do playful all the time.

Caution: If your partner laughs, it might mean they might not like it (ie, we often laugh when things go wrong). If the funny/playful thing is really noticeable, you can’t repeat it (Maestro did a shoulder shimmy example). In terms of doing funny/playful things, the first time is the intro, the second time is the peak, and the third time you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. So show restraint with repetition. In doing funny things, it helps if you know your partner. If you know them, you can do more/risk more. If you don’t know them, don’t go overboard with being playful.

Torso motion can be playful, but not necessarily. Can be still or do a roll where torso comes alive. Adding more motion can help you find a more comfortable place. While exploring the concept of our torso mobility, we had permission to be ludicrous and then bring it back. We were to play with our shoulder motion, mute it in our arms and spine, and have the motion just in our shoulder blades.

- What you can do. There are four categories of things you can do:
   A. Turning things such as the ocho cortado.
   B. Walking (and the linear ocho cortado).
   C. Leg things like boleos, ganchos, and volcadas where basically the leg is the concern.
   D. Bling (piernazos, all bling should be used sparingly). Bling is relative, and they are things that really stand out.

We drilled this to another Square Dance Tango with Maestros calling out when the music changes, denoting a pause, an 8-count phrase. Walking we can do for a longer period of time. So we were to do walking things, turning things and leggy things.

Putting things together. Suggestions/Rules:

- Build a phrase.
   o 2, 4, 8, 16ths
- Play with repetition
- Create contrast with different qualities
- Phrase creation: build up a pattern/motif.
   o Can be simple or complex
   o Let it build each time.
- Do it on the other side
- Do variations on it
- End it differently.
- Quality
- Types of movement.

Now to focus on this concept, we danced to a metronome, taking something very simple and varying it. The Followers should make the dance with the Leader by using quality changes. She is involved in the assembly and creation of the dance. Leaders could play with their feet. Follower adds quality. Can do 3 of something, then 3 of something else, then 3 of something else, etc. Dancing to the metronome gave us more focus since music normally tells us what to do. So our job in dancing to the metronome was to create something on our own.

Next, we danced to an alt song. Like the metronome, dancing to an alt song forces us to create a structure, be more interesting, and more intentional about mixing things up.

In a song, when the phrases change, you have to change what you are doing in terms of beat, reaction, and intrinsic variation. The Follower helps the Leader find the end of a phrase by changing something. If you follow the melody of the music, you will win because it’s well composed and in phrase. Do what the song is doing in terms of phrasing, repetition and contrast. Two songs demonstrated the change in phrasing: Bahia Blanca and Comme Il Faut.

Maestra reminded us at the end to not forget the power of doing nothing. Being calm and quiet can be very beautiful and elegant. There is beauty in just communicating and doing nothing.

It was a brilliant lesson.

DTF: Alt Milonga at DoubleTree. This milonga was OK. Someone asked me to dance blues tango, which I hadn’t in years. So that was fun. I didn’t get a huge amount of dance time on the floor, which was OK with me since I was a bit tired and my feet were sore, so I ended up leaving early.

DTF: Tango Jam. This Jam was great. I went to it to show support for my buddy Linda from Idaho, who has taken up the bandoneon in the last couple of years. The leader of the Jam was the bandoneonist/singer for Q Tango, Erskine Maytorena, and he brought their violist, Olga Home, as well. The Q Tango folks were truly fantastic! There were 4 bandeonists (including Carlos Moreno) and 3 violinists, a guitarist, one person on trumpet and one on keys. The tango jam was very educational and interesting. Honestly, these tango jams should be required attendance since they are so helpful with all things musicality, and they truly are the best bargains of any tango festival since the jams are free!

Some notable comments: Tango is very predictable. Every four measures generally repeats its rhythm (Pugliese does not follow this). A question came up of orchestras playing down to the dancers. While it is recognized that musicians want to be paid, playing down to dancers was frowned upon. Dancers should be coming up, dancing up to the level of the orchestras. In orchestras, there is a hierarchy (and in tango too, IMHO). Never tell anyone better than you how to do something. It’s a respect thing. The senior person has the most say. And you don’t talk when they are talking/playing. Improvising is great as long as there are multiple rhythm players. Is it possible to play Legato on one hand of the bandoneon while playing Mercato on the other? In the US, the bandoneonists play all mercato. Whereas in the rest of the world, the bandoneonists play either all mercato or all melody. Orchestras need contrast. They can’t all play at the same time. It was an excellent jam.

DTF: Elegante Night Milonga at DoubleTree. I was looking forward to this milonga since it was the big one of the festival, with performances. But I totally blew it because I fell completely asleep, despite being briefly woken by Linda after she returned from the Jam Session.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

DTF: Subtle Embrace Changes for Axis Exploration by Tova and Carlos Moreno. The work of our class would focus on getting on and off axis in smaller, close embrace movements, such as getting in and out of colgadas and volcadas, and the changes of embrace that allow that to happen. We began with a warm-up dance to show how many colgadas and volcadas we knew. Regarding the embrace, when our feet do something differently, our embrace needs to adjust (open up) to allow each dancer to maintain their own axis (we can use a slidey frame, sliding into open and close embrace). The Leader can drop his arm to signal that they should reconfigure the embrace. The Follower can also do this. The arms are not fixed, but fluid. We drilled dancing to ¾ song with the idea of slidey frame, open to close and change of embrace, and the point of this was to have a fluid embrace. We were to focus on walking and side steps, with the Leader being stealthy in his changes and the Follower needing to be ready for anything. Afterwards, we shared how it worked. Some of our knees banged. To create change, send the Follower more, and send the self (Leader) less. The Follower stays where the Leader puts her, so if the Leader opens up his arm, she stays there. The Leader should explore different ways of sending the Follower out, or just do something. The Follower needs to identify if the Leader was sending or just doing something with his arm.

In the Volcada, something is happening, but not really happening yet. The embrace has to change as things happen in tango. In Volcadas, we maintain connection with the Follower’s armpit and the Leader’s big deltoid muscle. This is a very stable position. For the Volcada, we began with the Leader’s left foot side step, and then a right foot circular side step (around 45%). Then he creates the space. Then he takes a left foot diagonally (circularly) back step while facing the Follower at the same time. Then he takes a right step forward to drive the Follower’s left foot into a front cross in front of her right foot. The Leader’s scapula goes forward and back to open and close embrace.

Next, we worked on little Colgadas and the associated change of embrace. We began with a hanging back exercise where the Leader’s body goes back and the Follower’s body goes back, both dancers in hips under position. The Leader was to focus on launching out and then hitting it (maintaining it in the correct position), so there should be a feeling of hanging off each other. The Followers should think of going out and up. In the mini Colgada, the Leader does a left foot front check step immediately into a left foot side step. The Leader keeps close embrace using a deltoid frame. This would be our baseline—the scaffolding to build on top of it. The skills we were to work on: (1) have a good circular side step; (2) find the hang; (3) front and side hang; (4) have a good Leader right foot circular side step after the hang. The most important thing is for the Leaders to get comfortable sending themselves back (like swing dancers) so that they are comfortable with counterbalancing the Follower.

Next, we worked on perpendicular mini Colgadas. Here, the Follower goes out in the direction of her hip. The Leader does a side step, but his foot is pointing perpendicularly as he goes. The Follower sends her hips out. The Leader steps around the Follower with his right foot behind her.

It was an excellent class, very fun and full of interesting content to explore with skilled partners.

DTF: Springiness and Resonance: Shaping the Follower’s Free Leg by Tova and Carlos Moreno. Our work would focus on treating the Follower like a mechanically resonating system whereby we transfer energy from the floor, using the variable of input and output energy, so that the Leader can cause the Follower’s free leg to swoop around. We began with a game, which was attributed to Homer Ladas and James Fridgen, where the Leaders stand in one line, facing the Followers standing in another line. They are a few feet apart. The Leader’s hands lead the Follower’s one foot/leg to do whatever – raise, lower, move to the side, etc. It’s as if the Leader has hypnotic control over the Follower’s free foot/leg. We did this on both sides. Then we switched roles so the Followers had control over the Leaders’ feet/legs, and tried it on both sides as well. Then we played a second game with the Follower’s right hand in the Leader’s right hand, where when the Leader pushes the Follower’s right hand, her left arm goes up in response. We did this on both sides (left hands or right hands) and with different types of movements (pushes, circles, etc.) to help us understand the concepts of inertia, resistance, height (degree), magnification, frequency, direction and timing. Next, we did an intention/extension exercise, where the Leader pretended to take a step to send the Follower’s leg back. The Leader’s change in elevation moves the weight forward, and the Follower responds with her free leg. So Leader’s intention should be met by the Follower’s extension. We tried to work this concept through the Leader having a pulse or accelerating quality to his step, and then to delay it, with his movement coming from the floor, not from his arms. We were to make the pulse horizontal, not vertical. Then we practiced this idea doing the Follower’s hook ocho where the Follower’s foot hooks behind.

To work this concept even more, we worked on the closed side parada, where the Follower’s left foot goes forward to step over in her pasada, and the Leader controls the Follower’s forward step timing using intention and extension. We also played with the direction with the Leader trying to lead the Follower to take it airborne. So he played with leading the four corners, up and down, down and out, down and up (like horse feet). Follower should use her brain to tell the leg how to shape. Think of the movement from the hips first, then knees, then ankles. Don’t let the foot lose its tango look.

Next, we worked this concept in Boleos. Followers should be consistent in her system (100%, 50% or 25% of energy). Do slow motion boleos. The Leader’s weight lands at the apex of the Follower’s boleo. In slow motion boleos, the Followers foot goes all the way back down before doing a forward boleo. In the pivots, it was noted that during slow boleos, there is more pivot friction of the foot against the floor and during faster boleos there is less pivot friction. Next, the Leader was to try to freeze the boleo at the apex, and then release it. So the Leader freezes at the moment right before he wants the Follower to freeze. He could also try doing doubles or triples, and he alternated these with freezing.

Next, we worked on this concept in ganchos, whereby the Follower’s right leg front ganchos the Leader’s right leg. The Leader sends the Follower’s right foot back and then back into a back hook behind her left foot. The Leader’s exploration involved stretching out, and then controlling when the gancho happens. Having a counterbody feel is an option.

It was an excellent class, very fun and full of interesting content to explore with skilled partners.

DTF: Tango Colorado BBQ Milonga at Cheesman Park Pavilion. Cheesman Park is about a $20 cab ride away from the hotel, but I split the ride with Linda again. The BBQ portion wasn’t a BBQ at all, but an outdoor meal consisting of a green salad, empanadas (chicken, beef, veggie, and bananas & nutella) with chimmichurrie sauce, watermelon, cantaloupe, and strawberries, cheeses and chips, and sodas/water. Suggested donation for the meal was $15, and milonga without the meal was $5. The Pavilion is a beautiful open air outdoors facility, and thankfully, after a brief period of heavy rain, the weather cooperated nicely. The Pavilion is a lovely, modestly grand neoclassical structure with multiple massive pairs of Doric columns at its perimeter and excellent lighting. The floor is stone, and while it was easy to glide and pivot on, I chose to sit out the entire milonga, as the only place in the world I will dance on any type of stone or concrete is in Buenos Aires and no where else. And that’s what I said when asked to dance. Some folks were a little surprised (taken aback?) by that, but after dancing relentlessly the last several days at the milongas and in classes, and being in my fifth decade, I am definitely becoming much more aware of the wear and tear to my body and the need to preserve what cartilage I still have. Though I was a spectator all night, I still had an excellent time as lots of folks sat down at my table for dinner, so there were plenty of folks to chat with. One especially nice touch to the evening was the Labor Day fireworks -- absolutely stunning on this clear night!

DTF: All Nighter Milonga at DoubleTree with DJ Shorey Myers. The music was great. I danced a little bit, but not a huge amount as I was tired. Also I was a little stressed as I had to watch the clock to catch the 4:30 am shuttle.

DTF: Overall thoughts on the Denver Tango Festival: I had an excellent time at this festival, and am truly kicking myself that I hadn’t made it out here sooner as I had heard that it was a good festival for years. The hotel is conveniently situated right next to a huge mall with all sorts of different, reasonably priced places to eat and shop (including Walmart with groceries, Ross and Goodwill, so most dietary or wardrobing issues could be dealt with frugally and efficiently), and the hotel rooms had fridges in them. The hotel staff was also very friendly, with free cookies upon arrival, free wifi, and a pool/Jacuzzi open until 1 am and a gym that’s open 24 hours. The hotel restaurant was good ($15 for a buffet breakfast, which I tried once but will likely skip in the future; and a truly divine salmon salad $16, which I will enjoy regularly if I am ever back there), a Starbucks that is open lateish and that has sandwiches ($6) and fruit platters ($6), and a bar that serves the exact same menu as the restaurant. Plus there is a free shuttle from the airport to and from the hotel, which is about 25 minutes away (so not a cheap cab ride).

While initially I was a little miffed about dealing with the hassle and extra expense of getting to the offsite venues/events, I came to realize that the experience would not have been as rich had I stayed the entire time at the hotel. So it was really nice to be able to see other parts of the Denver other than the DoubleTree, especially the Turnverein, which is partially owned by the Tango Colorado club, as well as the lovely Cheesman Park Pavilion, as its presence, proportion and patina just made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Plus the whole effort of coordinating to find someone to share a ride with was actually a good thing – for me at least! – to get us all interacting more off the milonga dance floor.

I also liked that there were only two classes a day, so I didn’t feel as mentally and physically dog tired before the milongas (well, except for Saturday anyway). The teachers and teaching quality were extremely high, as were the material content and student quality. So educationally, things went swiftly and the class experience was rich and productive. Two of the underlying concepts that stood out in my mind and that were taught/repeated by all of the Maestros I took classes from were: (1) groundedness (not airiness) and (2) the importance of having a straight spine for balance (so shoulders are level at all times, regardless of the height differences between dancers; none of that posture of Follower’s left shoulder being way up as her arm wraps around the Leader’s upper back, an embrace which I personally dislike because if its extremely awkward feel and obvious imbalance, not to mention I just don’t think it’s the most elegant position to have my face that near my armpit… but hey, that’s just me…).

The Denver tango community is really wonderful – friendly, welcoming and warm, and skilled. It’s one of the nicest communities I’ve encountered. For the festival, it seems that folks came from all over the US. Of course the SF Bay Area was represented, as was the East Coast and seemingly, all other communities in between.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Walking as One class @ Dance Manhattan, taught by Jessie Roach and Xavier Vanier, subbing for Ney Melo. This was a little remedial for me, in my not-so-humble opinion, as the class was with Pre-Intermediates. So while I didn’t have a blast in the class, I wanted to show support to Jesse and Ney.

Common Movements Made Complex and Spicy @ Dance Manhattan, taught by Jesse Roach and Xavier Vanier. This was a truly excellent class. The focus was on ganchos, and we drilled various different ones. The class level was quite high, with many good leaders.

Saturday, September 8, 2012
Mariela Franganillo’s Practica @ Dance Manhattan. I had a good time here, as usual. It was a good crowd, very evenly balanced with leaders and followers, and it seemed like most people spent a lot of time dancing. Maestra gave an easy birth to a girl, and said she planned on being at the next practica(!).

Sunday, September 9, 2012
RoKo milonga @ Manhattan Ballroom Dance with lesson beforehand taught by Ney Melo and Amanda Archuleta. The lesson began with Ney’s musicality exercise using chairs, which brought back fond memories as it’s been such a long time since I did that exercise, which we did all the time at Ney’s lessons in San Francisco. The lesson was Follower-focused, as it covered the typical 6-count basic box step, with various Follower adornos. So we drilled together, with the Leaders focusing on being on rhythm, and the Followers drilling the muscle memory of the adornos taught: taps in between each step, the right foot beat back against the left foot, the right foot beat forward in front of the left foot. We also added the cha cha cha on the Follower’s foot forward step, and from here added the ocho cortado, so added another cha cha cha at the cross. Maestro said there were four places a Follower can add adornos, in the air, on the floor, on herself, or on him. I had never thought of that before, but it makes total sense. It was a great lesson, as usual. I had an enormously fun time.

September 15, 2012
Mariela Franganillo’s Practica @ Dance Manhattan. I had a good time here, as usual.

September 16, 2012
RoKo milonga @ Manhattan Ballroom Dance. I had a good time here, as usual.

Saturday, September 22, 2012
Mariela Franganillo’s Practica @ Dance Manhattan. I had a good time here, as usual.

Saturday Workshops with Claudia Codega y Esteban Moreno @ Ripley Grier.

First Workshop: Milonga, pisibilidades ritmicas & traspies

Since the class was on the small side, maestros gave us ample individual and couple attention. The lesson focused on the traspie (double step) movement, not in the context of a step but just fitting it in in a general way on forward steps, side steps and back steps, big steps and small steps. We were given a few very simple sequences/steps to work on (including Nito’s step of his alternating front cross step and back cross step with an in-place weight change in between), which also helped us with our disassociation/opposition. Our bodies should be up and forward, and the Follower’s right arm should be free—so she should not lock it, push it, or resist from it.

Second workshop: Enrosques, agujas, lapiz, paradas using the pause & adornments for both roles

The focus was on the Leader’s needle, so it began with a simple sequence from the closed side parada, with the Follower’s adorned pasada after which she does a molinete/hiro/turn. Regarding her molinete technique, her hips are perpendicular at certain points, like at the right front cross step to the close side of the embrace); for the back cross and front cross step, prepare the pivot at the step before. On the closed side parada, the Follower should have top-down spiral energy/movement so that it’s easier to move and the hips have more reaction. Upon seeing many of the Followers in flat dance sneakers, Maestra commented that we should always practice in heels. So basically the class was the Leaders getting the Followers into the correct position, and then the Follower’s working on doing their molinetes while the Leaders did their needles. Maestro gave some technical pointers on the needles and how to get into them, the pivoting required, etc., but I didn’t take any notes on those. It was a very good class, and I can see how Maestra is very well known for her renowned teaching skills and ideas, especially those related to molinetes.

Otra Milonga with lesson beforehand by Claudia Codega y Esteban Moreno. The lesson was the Leader walking around the Follower clockwise and the Follower doing pivoted back steps with the left foot beat back against the right foot adorno. Then Leader does left foot barrida of the Follower’s left foot. From here we added a parada change of direction as the Leader steps to his right foot. The Follower’s movement starts in her upper body first and her legs come around as a consequence. The Leader needs to be precise and tight in Leading the Follower’s cross and she should be tight and precise in her crossing. To this, we added the Leader’s sacada.

Since it looked like couples were generally not switching, and the leader I was paired with had a very army-pushy way of leading, which was hurting my already-tired back, and a very chatty manner throughout the time we were supposed to be drilling the material, I said “Thank you” after a couple of songs and chose to sit the lesson out. It was unfortunate for him since he was short and I towered over him (a very difficult thing for me to do since I am not an Amazon by any stretch of the imagination) so while there were extra Followers in class, they declined to dance with him due to the excessive height difference. I felt bad about that, but I was very tired, my back was tender, and I was not interested in chatting. And my whole reason for being there was to experience Maestros’ teaching.

Apparently, another clueless leader did not get this memo, as soon he came by and sat down next to me and started chatting incessantly away (while I was yawning), at times insulting the teachers (after I told him I was very excited to be taking their workshops this weekend). He made it very clear that he wanted to dance with me at the milonga, and I made it equally clear (that’s putting it very mildly) that I did not intend to dance and that I was tired. Still, he kept yammering on with his opinion of maestros, of which I did not ask for nor did I care to hear. And then he had the nerve to call them by the names of a different teaching couple altogether! Can you say rude?! Can you say clueless?! At that point I just got up without saying a word, and went to change into my street shoes, intending to go, even though the lesson wasn’t over. My evening was spoiled. This leader had the audacity to follow me (even though I could very well have been going to the restroom)! And even then he kept whining about how much he wanted to dance with me! And then I reiterated, quite loudly, quite forcefully, that I had told him REPEATEDLY that I was tired and that I did not intend to dance and that I did not understand why he did not understand my communication, because everyone around (including one of the milonga organziers) sure did. I pointed out that the milonga was full of followers, and then he said there were many followers, but no one was like me, blah blah blah. Then I just shook my head, rolled my eyes, and headed out of there out of sheer frustration. And it was at that point I decided that I will NEVER dance with this particular leader again. Because obviously he does not understand communication or respect and is completely self-absorbed with satisfying his own desires. (I am sure that even if my feet were raw, bloody stumps and he would still pester me for a dance.) In fact, this experience left such a bad taste in my mouth that it is extremely unlikely that I will ever go to a Saturday night NYC milonga. For me, the few pleasant, somewhat good Saturday night dances that I get don’t compensate for having to deal with people who I don’t want to dance with badgering me to death to dance with them. I just don’t need the hassle, on top of the time and expense and physical exertion that going to a Saturday night event entails for me.

Sunday, September 23, 2012
Sunday Workshops with Claudia Codega y Esteban Moreno @ Ripley Grier.

First workshop: Improvisation & spontaneity, turns and both role sacadas in turns.

We began with just exploring the mechanics of the sacada with the Leader doing Sacadas on the Follower’s front cross step and side steps, on both sides, and with each of his legs. He should also attempt to do side sacadas in addition to the usual forward sacadas. Then Maestros gave us a specific sequence to work on. We drilled it, with the Leader’s trying to figure out what they needed to do in terms of body torsion and leading the Follower to step one way while he stepped into her space. The Followers work had to deal with having good pivots and making spiral turns from the top down. So she shouldn’t close her frame, and use too much effort in the hips. To be more connected, she needed to pay attention to her upper body. Our goal as Followers is to dance more circularly and not to be so flat, and to just let our hips react, and to let our free leg come around as a consequence of the rotation in our upper body. So we were to exaggerated the spirals as if you were wringing out a towel. For our drilling, we should almost make it like a joke to really work the movement into our muscle memory, to be more active and to be more alive.

Sacadas are a visual effect, not a physical effect, so you don’t have to have contact/touch, and the Leader should NOT focus on pushing the Follower’s leg. The Follower’s leg does not go because the Leader pushes her leg, but because he goes inside the Follower’s space. We worked on the concept of bending and pushing, where the Follower pushes and the Leader bends. Then we were given a different sequence that had Follower sacadas, which were even trickier for the Leader to lead as it involved even more torsion and a strong lead so that the Follower would walk into the Leader’s space, often using a forward step, which many Followers, particularly beginners, do not like to do (it feels physically odd to them so they have a mental aversion with doing it). The Leader leads the Follower sacada on her forward step on his forward step and his side step to combine with his forward sacada. The Follower will feel weird, but the footwork is the same, forward step, side step. She should try to relax her legs. When the Follower is doing the sacada, the Leader is doing the molinete footwork, so in the Follower sacada, the Leader needs to be clear in leading her to move into the free space, because she will want to follow his upper body. We should practice doing sacadas in practicas so that we understand the system of sacadas and to get out of just doing the sequences, and to be deeper inside the improvisation.

Second workshop: Nice and small combinations for dancing in a crowded milonga.

We began the class by dancing in partnership with the room made smaller, to about ¼ it’s size. Then maestros showed us three things they like to do in small spaces which would help us administer the space.

1. The Follower’s stutter step adorno at the front cross (so it’s a front and front weight shift for the Follower).

2. Follower’s tiny pitter patter in place

3. Straight salida to send Follower to do back, side, forward with the Follower’s cha cha cha step in the cross (the cross will go where the Leader leads it to go).

Everything doesn’t have to be tiny, otherwise the dance will be stiff. Inside the couple, you can find the space to do interesting things.

Milonga Tips:

Maestro said that if you bump into someone, afterwards you need to look them in the eye to acknowledge that there was contact made, as if to say you are sorry. In tango, eye contact is essential. We use it to cabaceo, we use it to enter a crowded dance floor, etc. Eye contact is part of the culture of tango and a large part of how we communicate in tango.

Maestro noted that when he told us to dance at the beginning of class, all the couples faced directly into the line of dance. He instead recommended that the Leaders have a diagonally outward orientation instead, so that when he led turns, etc, he would remain at the outside of the lane, rather than float into one of the inner lanes, as that was more risky and it would be tougher to get back to the outside lane. He said the outside lane was a much better place to be than the inner lanes. Maestro also said that whichever couple you start dancing with ahead of you and behind you, those are the same couples that should be there when the tanda ends (so couples should not try to get ahead of each other or weave in and out).

Maestros mentioned that from their brief observation of the NYC tango scene, it seemed like the dancers here all dance too fast, meaning there is too much forward traveling on the dance floor, largely because of quick forward movements.

Then we put all three things together, just combining them in a random order with regular walking in between, after which we had a short discussion on milonga etiquette.

It was another fantastic afternoon of workshops, and I found both Claudia and Esteban to be superb teachers. They were very technical, very clear in their communication, very sharp in their observation of how each person could improve his or her dancing, and very generous in their feedback and the time they took explaining things. Of all the hundreds of maestros I’ve taken lessons with, Claudia y Esteban rank way up there. So what a tremendous blessing it was for the NY tango community that they taught these workshops. Rumor has it that if all goes well, they might be back in January. I hope that happens.

Maestros noticed my notetaking, and commented favorably on it, so that made me happy.

Dinner was at Blaggards, a bar on 38th Avenue, where it’s happy hour all day on Sundays. I had their tri-tip salad, which is what I usually have. It’s a bargain at $16, as it’s delicious, has a generous size overall and an ample amount of beef.

Then onto my way to Roko...

Roko Milonga @ Manhattan Ballroom Dance with lesson beforehand taught by Robin Thomas and Maria Elena Ybarra. During setup, I was called to get my shoes on and into the lesson as there were an unusually high number of Leaders. Robin was teaching with Maria Elena Ybarra again, so it was a real treat learning from her/them. While all of Robin’s teaching partners are very good, Maria Elena is excellent, in my opinion. It was a great lesson on the Follower’s small (tiny) boleo – almost, but not quite a left foot back tuck around the right foot. The purpose of this boleo is to do it on a crowded dance floor so it is socially acceptable and does not disturb the dancers nearby.

The milonga was fun. It wasn’t crushingly crowded, but certainly had enough dancers to make things fun and interesting for most people. Claudia y Esteban showed up later on, so it was a real treat to watch them social dance with themselves and other members of the community.

During the milonga, I had a chance to chat with someone about my Claudia y Esteban workshop experience, and I commented how it seemed to me that the NYC tango community doesn’t seem particularly oriented toward a culture of education. I commented that this was quite different from the SF Bay Area, where there are visiting maestros to the area all the time, and for the most part, their workshops are reasonably well attended and lots of excitement is generated around their visit. I don’t feel that that’s the case in NYC. I also feel NYC is a lot more discombobulated regarding workshop information, as you often have to go to a specific ballroom/organizer’s web site to get information.

Why they don’t all use, I don’t know, as tangomango is available nationwide, is free and can be updated by anyone, real time. There is already a page for NYC! In my opinion, the local organizers should use it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Tango with a Twist Pre-Advanced lesson with Evan Griffiths @ Dance Manhattan. I decided to sign up for this class since I peeked in a few weeks earlier when I came by for Jesse & Xavier’s 9 pm lesson and it looked interesting. Since I was going to be in NYC anyway for Jessie & Xavier’s class, I decided to take Evan’s group class as well as there is volume discount with each additional class series you take and I wanted to optimize my time and transportation costs. I also wanted to build up my stamina again, as dancing just Saturday afternoons and Sunday evenings aren’t really helping in that respect.

I got there a little late and the class had already started. The class began with walking and connection, with the Leader moving forward and down to get the Follower’s leg to extend, and then going to achieve a long step for both of them. We drilled this concept of connection, extension, and then going in both long steps and short steps, mixing them up. Then we worked on the transition from taking big steps to small steps, and also walking from inside and outside (snake walk), doing Leaders’ forward steps and the Leaders leading the Followers to do forward steps, inside and outside. The goal of these different ways and sizes of stepping was so that we could bring contrast to our dance, while staying connected and in balance with good posture. For an example of the big, long, reaching forward step punctuated with cute little steps is the YouTube video of Carlitos Espinoza y Noelia Hurtado dancing to Con Todo Mi Corazon. It was a good class, with ample individual attention to everyone, Leaders and Followers alike. I am glad I signed up for it.

Common Movements made Complex and Spicy with Jesse Roach and Xavier Vanier @ Dance Manhattan. The class topic was “with” boleos (not contra boleos) from the Follower’s forward ocho. The Leader leads the Follower to do forward ochos. On her left foot forward ocho to the open side of the embrace, he really keeps his chest going around so that she makes a big pivot while on her right foot, starting from the top of her body downwards, so it’s more of a top-down spiral movement. We should continue to look at each other to stay connected. We also tried this on the close side of the embrace after the Follower’s right foot forward ocho. Because of the closer distance of our bodies on this side of the embrace, there needs to be more adjustment in the embrace to allow the Follower to remain on axis and not be knocked over by the Leader. We also tried to do the “with” boleo from the Follower’s sandwich of her left foot, with the Leader stepping around the Follower with his left foot to lead her with boleo. For these “with” boleos on either side, the Follower should pivot (spiral) maximally on her supporting foot and try to send her shoulder blade back to her spine. We also drilled the concept where the Leader can get into leading the Follower to do these with boleos from a sacada. It was an excellent class, with ample individual attention to everyone, Leaders and Followers alike.

Xangria Practica @ Dance Manhattan. I was torn between staying for the milonga or leaving straight after the lesson since I didn’t want to get home super late. But I had already made the effort to come all the way in, and was pleased that my green juice errand was done and that the classes went well and were fun. So I decided to stay a little bit. I had an excellent time. I danced mostly with students from the two classes I attended; one leader was someone I had seen regularly in the past year at milongas and premilonga lessons, and sometimes rotated through in class with, but someone I have not danced with socially. He turned out to be surprisingly good, much better than I realized, so it was fun and a good thing that our relationship had begun to thaw. (I admit I had never been too keen to dance with him as I think his floorcrafting was on the aggressive side, particularly how he carries his left arm.) Getting from Dance Manhattan to Grand Central took longer than I expected, which normally isn’t a problem on Saturday afternoon, but since it was Tuesday night and there was a more limited train schedule, I felt some pressure to get there on time. So I ended up walking part way since the station for the subway was closed and then cabbing it the rest of the way, which will likely be my usual thing. :o(

Saturday, September 29, 2012
Mariela Franganillo’s Practica @ Dance Manhattan. The practica started off a bit slow for me, and I was strongly thinking about leaving. But then Cristobal arrived, and we had a super fun time working on our homework. Then all the gals snatched him up to dance, and I danced the rest of the time away with others. So it turned out to be a nice afternoon. Low keyish but full and fun.

Sunday, September 30, 2012
Roko Milonga @ Manhattan Ballroom Dance with lesson beforehand by Robin Tomas and Amanda Archuleta. The lesson began with leading to the cross and blocking the cross. Then it built to leading the Follower to the left foot back cross tuck against the right ankle by the Leader stepping back with his left foot. From there, depending on how the Leader managed the send and receive, suspension and compression energy, he could walk out normally with right foot forward inside or he could lead a small, socially acceptable Follower right foot forward volcada. It was a good lesson. Although I think I might have given a couple of Leaders some unintentional Rolfing on their right bicep/tricep as they were very physically insistent on attempting to get into close embrace when it was obvious that they couldn’t maintain their axis or have the footwork down in open embrace, and I certainly didn’t want them falling all over me and have to prop them up so that they could be on balance while they fumbled through the footwork, stepping all over me in the meantime.

The milonga itself was OK. I didn’t dance a huge amount, but that’s OK because I didn’t really want to. I was just happy to watch all the dancers and chat with friends. A friend asked me who I thought was the best follower and who I thought was the best leader. I pointed out this one gal who I view as the best follower AND leader (she does both). He laughed. But as I thought about it some more, I think that the best follower, and the best leader, is the one who makes us feel beautiful and strong and confident in our own abilities, and who gives us the sensation of floating or soaring, and who dances us to the maximum of our abilities, and who hears us and is sensitive and respectful to how we hear the music and who is able to communicate to us how he/she hears the music as well. At the end of the day though, I think Tango is deceptive: many times what we feel isn’t what others see, and what others see isn’t always what we feel.

Phew. Sorry this was so long-winded and so late. There wasn’t much I could cut since it was such a full month. And regarding the lateness, I admit I’ve been having a bit of writer’s block or maybe just a plain old lack of impetus… which just might be a good thing as it’s reflective of me having a fuller life outside of tango!