Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Embrace and Its Variations

Racing Club by Rodolfo Biagi
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
September 25, 2009, ODC, San Francisco

This was Maestros’ handout:

Homer & Cristina’s Advanced Seminario
“The Embrace + Variations”
September 25th, 2009
8:30pm to 10pm, ODC, SF

Class Mechanics:
This will be a fast paced 1.5 hr advanced seminar. We will present several patterns to illustrate specific concepts and encourage you to explore deeper ideas and variations. Less experienced dancers with the right attitude can take the class and hang in there. A partner is highly recommended. You may also choose to work in a small group of 3 or more to enhance the learning process. We will not rotate. After the seminar, we will be available for roughly the first hour of the practica to answer questions.

Class Overview:
We will begin the seminar by exploring transitions from various forward facing embrace concepts from close to open. Then we will explore changes of embrace to obtain other kinds of useful, fun, and/or interesting tango embraces. Finally, we will work on the technique of letting completely go of the embrace and reconnecting.

Basic Embrace Terminology:
Standard forward facing embraces can be either close or open. Close embrace assumes a body connection and communication point. It usually (but not always) requires a forward tilted axis. It can range from very close or Apilado embrace (apilado is the past participle of the Spanish verb ‘apilar’ meaning to pile) to a more or less vee’d embrace often associated with a close Salon style. The close embrace can often employ hinged, sliding, and rolling points of contact. Open embrace assumes no body connection and can range from an open Salon embrace to a very spacious and often elastic embrace. The axis can also vary from forward titled to centered to tilted away. There are various arm and hand positions associated with each embrace for both the leader and follower. Sometimes they add functionality to the connection. Other times they are just for stylistic reasons.

Advanced Embrace Concepts:
The embrace is used to develop partner balance and communication. Both the creation of space and use of energy are important lead/follow factors. Energy in either a push or pull fashion often times exists through various connection points (on the body, via the embrace, or both). Most experienced dancers understand and employ variations of the standard forward facing embrace from open to close. They allow for and use transitions to accomplish both functional and stylistic ideas. Some experienced dancers also explore changes of embrace as well as completely letting go of the embrace and reconnecting.

CLASS SYLLABUS (Note that all the material presented can be attempted on both the easy and hard sides of the embrace):

Close to Open Transitions
1. Follower’s forward ocho from leader’s rock-step, cross-behind.
2. Follower’s close to open back ocho to back sacada.

Sweetheart Embrace
3. Sweetheart wrap from back ocho.
4. Sweetheart colgada spin
5. Forward promenade into colgada, wrap, unwind, back sacada.

Reverse Sweetheart Embrace
6. With follower’s sacada
7. With elbow grab colgada

Behind the Back Embraces (Be careful & remember that usually one side is the primary lead/follow relationship!)
8. Hammer lock colgada, boleo, follower’s sacada
9. Drag-and-spin
10. Arm-pit volcada

Soltada (Spanish - A bout between fighting-Roosters; to release them for the fight.)
11. Jaimes Friedgen back sacada spin
12. Chicho line variations with back sacada

Funky Embrace Transition
13. Jean Sebastian Rampazzi trap and step thru parada/pasada

Additional Embrace Notes:
There are a several schools of thought when it comes to partner balance and communication!
- Creating space vs. energy flow for linear and circular movements and pivots?
- Push-pull energy and other concepts for pivots, ochos, boleos, and turns?
- Projection of body/floor energy thru embrace.
- Bottom Line: Good vs. bad use of arms and hands!


These are my notes as a class student participant:

Close to Open Transitions

First, we worked on embrace transitions from close to open and back to close. We began with a simple figure, just rock step with the Leader back cross of his left foot, to lead Follower to do forward ocho, transitioning here to open embrace, to do a parada, back to close embrace as the Follower steps over and forward around the Leader with her left foot. Here, the Follower should take big steps, but keep her hips close to the Leader, even in the open embrace. The Leader tilts toward the Follower on her forward step to invite the Follower back into close embrace.

Our next transition was from close embrace back ochos to open embrace back ochos, with the Leader leading an overturned back ocho in the open embrace so that he can receive the Follower’s right leg back sacada of the Leader’s trailing left leg. Here, the embrace opens up at the point of the sacada to accommodate room for the Follower. We can do this on either side, and can also do back ochos to close embrace forward ochos.

Technical points:

(1) Follower’s overturned back ocho: she needs to have good posture and maintain her axis vertically.
(2) Leader: If you are leading an overturned ochos, be mindful of your left arm. Do not push her because it will mess up her axis.
(3) Follower: Use both sides of your embrace too to hang onto Leader, as there is a continuous turning energy.
(4) Leader: Your right hand can release because you are making a transition and the Follower is holding on to you with her left hand. If you put pressure on her back when she is trying to do an overturned back ocho, you will stop her from pivoting as much as she needs to. The Leader, through his chest lead and opening up his shoulder, will give her circular energy.

Next, we went from transitions of the embrace to actual changes of the embrace.

Sweetheart Embrace

From the open side of the embrace, Leader leads Follower into sweetheart hold by doing a loop turn (inside turn) of Follower with her right hand with his left hand. We attempted to do this from the forward ocho, but we could also do it from the walk. From this, we could add the leg wrap of the Follower’s left leg to the inside of the Leader’s “sacadaing” right leg as he is behind her. Here, timing and how to position the Follower is key. Follower needs to really stretch the side steps and step around the Leader. Both the Leader and Follower take big steps to accommodate/shadow each other so they don’t crowd each other. The Leader can orient the Follower’s hips, and when he accommodates her wrap, he needs to keep his knee flexed and heel off the ground.

In the same sweetheart hold, we attempted other figures, such as stepping forward together. Some students were inspired to try other figures al reves or doble frente like ochos.

Next, continuing with the sweetheart embrace, we did a small shared-axis colgada like spin to exit back out, both dancers facing forward. We did this from cross system walking forward so both dancers are on the same feet at the same time, and then Leader traps the Follower’s right foot at the center of her foot or toward the back of her heel to do a the shared-axis colgada, to step forward on the Follower’s left foot.

Next, we went on to:

Reverse Sweetheart Hold

The Reverse Sweetheart hold is where the Follower is on the outside right and behind the Leader (instead of the Leader being behind the Follower). To get into it, the Leader takes a side step left, then loop turns himself so that he faces the opposite direction from where he started. Here, we have to options of (1) the Leader stepping left to lead a Follower back sacada of her left leg to his right leg, or (2) the Leader stepping left to lead Follower right leg back sacada of Leader’s left leg.

There are many possibilities of things to do with the reverse sweetheart embrace, such as the Elbow Grab Colgada, which maestros demonstrated but the students did not attempt. In this figure, the Leader knocks the Follower off axis in a colgada, then sticks his elbows out and the Follower has to hang on (it’s her only choice, and it’s instinctive), out to step forward.

Behind the Back Embraces

We attempted the Hammerlock embrace. Maestros demonstrated but students did not attempt the Drag and Spin or the Armpit Volcada.


We also worked a bit on soltadas, where the Leader completely lets go and spins around. Here it’s important for the Leader to have good posture and balance and be able to pivot well. He also needs to KEEP HIS ELBOWS IN. The best place for the Leader to attempt to do the soltada is on the Follower’s counterclockwise molinete on the side step after her back step.

Our last Soltada was the Chicho line variation, where dancers let go of the embrace in a linear fashion. This can be done with beginning from the side step, the back step, or the forward step. In our class, we chose the easiest option, the side step. Leader and Follower start with side step (Leader left, Follower right), to forward steps (Leader right, Follower left) to give the Follower a sense of rhythm and direction, and then both dancers turn (Follower clockwise, Leader counterclockwise), to resolve into Leader’s left leg back sacada of Follower’s right leg. For this figure, there is lots of pivot and rotation.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Biagi’s Racing Club.

It was an extremely challenging class, and certainly was advanced, despite the deceptively simple name. Most people did OK up until Figures 5-6. After that, we attempted many figures, and got our appetites wet about the endless possibilities of how we could create material using the many different embraces (some of which are common in ballroom or Latin partnered dancing) and dancing al reves or doble frente beyond walking, doing things like ochos, sacadas, colgadas, and volcadas.

After all our hard work, people could not resist the delicious gourmet fare, catered by Cristina: fruit salad, cheese & crackers, zucchini patties, tzatziki (cucumber yogurt), heirloom tomato and yellow cucumber salad with mozzas (baby fresh mozzarella balls), and ginger and berry panna cotta, all of which was complemented by the fancy bubbly citrus flavored water.

The guided practica was good, with Maestros giving lots of individual attention to the students who chose to work on the material taught in class.

There was doubt whether or not this Advanced Seminario would go on, and it was initially cancelled because of the issues related to the Allegro space. Fortunately for all of us, Julian Miller Ramil stepped up to the plate and graciously offered the ODC space for use. Without Julian’s generosity, this Advanced Seminario would not have taken place (or at least not until 2010).

Notes courtesy of Anne at

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