Monday, June 10, 2013

Milonga Rhythm Homer + Cristina Style (Intermediate and Above)

Song: Milonga De Los Fortines by Francisco Canaro
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
June 1, 2013, Homer & Cristina Workshops in Hove at Ralli Hall, Denmark Villas

Video Courtesy of Tim Sharp

Our milonga class consisted of four chapters.

Chapter 1: The Strong Beat and How We Play with the Strong Beat
We began with an individual exercise randomly walking around the room and imagining puddles on the floor.  We would walk around the room randomly and try to splash the other dancers, trying to step on the strong beat.  We would try to make little splashes or medium splashes, but not big splashes (so no hard stomping).  In milonga there are two beats that are fundamental walking beats.  The purpose of this exercise is that when we do the splash, we can be a little more down, and have a little bit of height change.  We were to walk in a more grounded manner, and to create emphasis in our dance.  We were to try to show level changes and quality of walking differences in our dance. 

In partnership, we danced to a milonga, just walking on the strong beat, with no syncopation, no double time.  Our goal was to practice our walking on the walking beat, with puddle emphasis in our steps when appropriate.  We did this to Canaro’s Milonga Sentimental for half a song (a slow milonga), and then to Canaro’s La Milonga De Mis Tiempos for half a song (a medium fast milonga).

Chapter 2: Being Grounded
In partnership, we did an exercise where the Follower takes holds of the Leader’s hips and pulls down, but she keeps a straight spine. The Leader leads the Follower to dance while he feels the heaviness in his hips, stepping on the strong beat and creating little splashes or medium splashes with his steps.  The Leader can tell the Follower to press down more on his hips if he feels she is not doing enough.  The Follower should push more than she thinks she should, all the while keeping her torso straight and long.

The Leader and Follower change their holds on each others’ hips, but the Leader still leads.  Both dancers do not compromise the length and straightness of their spines.  The Follower pushes down on the Leader’s hips.  Then the Leader pushes down on the Follower’s hips.  The Leader leads the whole time. The Followers should use the energy of the floor into her legs, into her body.  Dancers still dance on the strong beat.  We drilled this to Canaro’s Milonga Sentimental.

Then still in partnership, we alternated from holding down the hips into the normal embrace, back to holding down the hips, etc., with the Leader focusing on just walking. The Follower pushes on the Leader’s hips, and then they go into the embrace.  This helped us explore the sensation changes and qualities we should get comfortable with: qualities of groundedness coming from our cores into the floor and to be “up” but into the ground.  We should put our energy into the floor.  With hands pushing down on the other person’s hips, we dance more slowly, and everything is more deliberate.  Just because it’s milonga music doesn’t mean you have to dance fast.

What does being grounded mean?  Grounded is the act of not falling.  We need to be over our selves, over our support leg.  We should not dance milonga by falling into the movement.  Grounded means stable, not falling, whether you are up, tilted, or on two feet.

Chapter 3: Phrasing
To understand phrasing, we did the Tango Chacarera. In Chacarera formation, with the Leaders all in one line and the Followers facing them all in one line, we made eye contact with each other, and raised our arms in the air, as if we were doing the Chacarera. We then took four steps forward, where we met in the middle, and then took four steps back, signifying one phrase in the music.  Our goal was to always be back where we started at the end of a phrase.   We did this to D’Arienzo’s Milonga Vieja Milonga because it is a very regular song, phrasewise.

We started the Tango Chacarera just walking to the beat to get our ears used to finding the beginning of the phrase, which would help us to achieve our goal of getting back to our starting place at the end of the phrase.  Building on this, we then danced more freely, still doing four steps forward and four steps back so we could end up at the same place where we started at the end of the phrase.

Next, we danced to D’Arienzo’s Milonga Vieja Milonga doing no syncopation, just doing walking, weight changes and rock steps; no ochos or sacadas. For the Follower, it is important to really hear the music and have control over her body so that she is more responsible for the musicality and musical interpretation of the dance and has better control/expression over how she steps.

Maestros demo’d dancing to the phrase by doing one thing per phrase, such as walking for the 8 counts of the phrase, doing weight changes for the 8 counts, doing rock steps for the 8 counts, etc.  The idea was to not change the idea too much while we dance. We were to be grounded when we make our steps.

Every song has a melody, sometimes lyrics too.  You can still hear the phrasing inside the lyrics.

Next, we tried dancing to a different song, Emilio Pelejero’s Mi Mieja Linda.  We were to walk on the strong beat and pause at the end of a phrase using either a splash or by being emphatically up.

Chapter 4: Rhythmic Syncopation
The Butterfly Effect is when we want to syncopate everywhere, and we fly everywhere in our dance, like butterflies.  This is also called Schmeddling.

We went back to our first song, Canaro’s Milonga Sentimental, where we were to examine/train our ears to hear the words “San Francisco” (“San” “Fran” “Cis” “Co”) in the beats, and to step on the strong beats, the “San” and “Cis” beats of San Francisco.  “San” stands alone, but “Cis” has neighbors “Co” and “Fran”.  How do we define the rhythmic syncopation?  We practiced by doing a regular box step of forward, side, together, weight change, back, side, together, weight change.  We do our initial step, the forward step or the back step, on the “San” and “Cis” beats.

For the Leader’s technique, he can use a little bit of rocking the baby, almost imperceptibly to help lead the weight change. The Follower always copies the Leader’s level.

Finally, in our dancing, we were to integrate all 4 chapters: making medium splashes and small splashes, having groundedness in our dance with heavy hips, and doing the box step with rhythmic syncopation of doing the forward or back step on the “San” or “Cis” all within the musical phrases of the song.

What happens if we want to syncopate around “Cis”? That’s where the rhythmic change of weight (double time) goes.  But “San” is the home/anchor.  Underneath it, the rhythmic syncopation, if you can lock onto it, your milonga will be stronger.  While butterflying is OK, if you do rhythmic syncopation around “Cis” it is better. 

Maestros showed us what they meant by dancing to Canaro’s Silueta Portena. 

For our dancing exercise, we were to:
Go on walking steps. 
Take smaller steps. 
The faster the music, the quieter our upper bodies have to be.
How to get into and out of the box step just by knowing where the “San” is (Leader’s left foot forward step)

We tried drilling to a different song: Donato’s Ella Es Asi.

Maestros concluded with a class quiz and a demo’ to Canaro’s Milonga De Los Fortines.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

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