Thursday, September 25, 2008

Close Embrace Turns

Song: Jueves by Juan D'Arienzo
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
September 24, 2008, Cellspace, San Francisco

Our class music was entirely D'Arienzo, the King of the Downbeat, and our goal was to be tight with the rhythm and be comfortable in the close embrace and still turn.

We began with an exercise in body connection by dancing together without using our hands at all, doing basic steps like walking, weight changes, forward and back ochos, and turns to the left. The goal was to maintain consistency, connection and forward energy, with no air bubbles in the embrace, to think about our breathing and lift our chests at the correct angles. Follower's technical point: Be strong in the legs on the floor; take your time; get good reach; transfer weight as smoothly as possible. Leader technical point: Start the turn off with a rock step to prepare Follower for it.

We did another exercise where we walked, with the Leader turning in even tighter circles, with just our chest connection.

The Sequence: First turn to the left and do the Vanilla Bean back Ocho (no pivoting in hips); Leader plants foot then turns 180 degrees to left (which is a half turn) when Follower does left foot ocho, then Follower takes side step with her right foot, pivots it, then left foot steps into tight front cross. When Leader starts the turn, he must keep his body and intention forward, and not peel off unnecessarily from the Follower.

We did another exercise/training technique of the Leader's Paddling Feet, whereby the Leader plants his left foot, and his right foot paddles around his axis and does not pass or get in front of his hips. Here it is important for the Leader to have one center and be on his axis, so that Follower will go around him. We incorporated the Leader's paddling feet to the turn so that there was more than a half turn (full turn, several turns). We also did the sequence going in the other direction.

Follower's technical point: In this tight turn, the forward and back steps end up being front and back crosses, short and truncated, because it's in close embrace when there is no space on the dance floor. The side steps can be long, but still need to be around (and not away from) the Leader. The goal of the Follower is to place her feet around Leader in a comfortable way, and to do this she should be utilitarian and practical. The Follower's process of stepping around Leader is getting smart feet, and all steps in the molinete are important, including the side step (not just the back step where we try to get a lot of rotation around near leader).

Technical point for both: There is slight forward tilt in both the Leader and Follower. To really practice this, you can try the figure in the close embrace hug (both arms around each other hugging).

We then played a game, with all the dancers in one big circle, the goal of which was to walk forward by using back crosses. The flip side was to try to walk backward while doing front crosses.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Boleo & The Embrace

Song: Cara Sucia by Carlos Di Sarli
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
September 22, 2008, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

First, we began with our ocho technique for regular forward and back ochos, straight ochos in a slot, and overturned ochos. Follower technique is important in the ocho since she will execute the dynamics to develop the boleo; she must create counterspiral energy after pivoting and reaching, but her upper body still faces the Leader (hips face other direction while top of body faces the Leader). This creates good energy in the hips. Hips should be close to the Leader, chest should be back, and nose should not be down. The goal is to have Follower's head lined up over chest, over hips so that she is on top of all of her major joints (with no lean forward); weight is in the middle of her foot, not forward on the balls. Follower heels still touch the floor, but gets released/relieved at the point of pivot. For the Leader, we practiced with three embraces (most difficult kettle with both his arms behind him; easier teapot with his right arm behind him, left arm regular; and easiest regular open embrace). For the Leader's footwork, he can do the (1) regular straight side step, (2) the ocho mirror, or (3) contra ocho.

The embrace: The communication during the embrace is also key. We began with the "sticky hands" exercise: face to face, hand to hand, giving the same amount of push or neutral energy. Then we embraced, with the focus of the Follower's right hand in the Leader's left hand, the goal of the Follower to give resistance in the correct direction during the ocho. It's a little bit of push/pull, more like give/resist. In the ocho, Follower pushes forward against Leader's palm when Leader pushes forward, and Follower pulls back against back of Leader's left hand when Leader pulls back. Follower needs to do this on her own initiative; Leader does not actively engage the push/pull, and does not pump his left hand/arm to get her to do it. The proper amount of push/pull will enable the Follower to get 20% more power in her hips for the ocho, which is particularly helpful during the overturned ones.

For the boleo, the Follower must maintain her axis because she is on one leg and twisting at the point of executing the boleo. The Leader compresses a little, and he stops the energy into the floor, so it's important that he follow the rhythm of the music. For the Leader, the block occurs in the Leader's left hand; he rotates his right shoulder and then immediately steps on in the opposite side with his left foot (and the opposite sides if he wants to lead a boleo of her other leg). At the height of the boleo, the Follower's embrace gets a little more compressed or compact (but about 10%) to stabilize her core. It is important that her core be strong, and her embrace will help with this (noodle bodies will have a more difficult time). During the boleo, it is a quick core engagement, and then back to default when it's complete. Follower should let hip open first, and then let the leg fly after the knee is behind the knee of the other standing leg (not parallel -- BEHIND). The height of the free leg doing the boleo is irrelevant; it's the quick rotation in the hips that makes the boleo (not the height of the foot). Follower must keep foot on the floor in crowded milonga conditions. For the Leader, when Follower is doing the boleo, his right hand should hinge so that Follower can remain on her axis; do not push her, otherwise she may fall out of axis. Resolution was to forward promenade.

You can do the boleo from overturned ochos or overturned sacadas.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Ocho / Parada Experience

Song: Cicatrices by Carlos Di Sarli Sexteto
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
September 18, 2008, La Pista, San Francisco

We began with open embrace forward ochos, with the emphasis on the Follower being over her axis, getting good spiral, her chest being up and open to maintain better axis. Follower should try to place feet close to Leader to keep her axis, and should keep her hips close to Leader during the ocho, since feet will follow what hips do. With Leader in teapot embrace (right hand behind back, left hand regular, done so that lead comes from chest), he proposes the parada on each side. Leader collects, changes weight back over on main axis, then extends foot (unweighted, with no transfer of axis), with the outside edge of foot (where the little toe is) to the floor. Leader should stay well below her knee when he extends his foot, since the "rule of the knee" is that if Leader's leg is at her knee or higher, she can't get over (he's led a block).

For the Follower, it is her job to be perfect in her spiral, pivot, and axis; if she is not, it will show obviously if there is something wrong with any one of those three things. Follower should try to keep her feet on the floor as much as possible; this will help her stay on axis; her heel is still on the floor during the pivot (but weight is forward on the foot so she doesn't break with it). Leader needs to stay over his own axis to give Follower a good idea of where she should be. For the lead, smoothness is key (no jerky surprises). Leader rotates his chest to the right, then right foot comes out; Leader rotates his chest to left, left foot comes out. The Leader foot extension comes in the middle of her step, with Leader making contact with his foot before her pivot. She needs to feel his foot so that she knows something is there. Her options at this point are to get over or around his foot.

Three Follower pasada options:
(1) Step over it regularly.
(2) Rhythmic Step: Follower takes a little 2" step back with the free leg, then a side step that clears the front of Leader's foot by an inch or two, opening up a channel for her to step through forward with her free leg (in this pasada, the Follower's step around lands in exactly the same place as if she passed over regularly -- i.e., close and around Leader). The timing of this pasada option is QQS.
(3) Big fan where Follower's foot fans out to touch the back of Leader's back foot.

All of these pasada options can be combined.

Though Leader usually waits for the Follower to do her pasada, he can lead her to step over if he needs to because of traffic or if she takes too long to get over.

We did a variation: with Leader and Follower ochos to parada so that the Follower pasadas outside leader (instead of the usual inside pass in front of). Leader does a half turn counterclockwise and snakes right foot out, starting the spiral in his chest to release the hips.

Finally, maestros showed us the most challenging variation, whereby Leader paradas with a back ocho sacada-like leg extension.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Funny Volcada

Song: Fumando Espero by Carlos DiSarli
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
September 10, 2008, Cellspace, San Francisco

It's called Funny because it's at a funny 90 degree angle of Leader and Follower. It's a very nice transitional step to go from open embrace to a closer embrace, capturing the partner in the end. The Funny Volcada is similar to the calesita, the main difference being the Follower taken off axis in the Funny Volcada. Typical Follower volcada posture rules apply: core strength is key so that hips and back do not break/collapse; the left arm digs down and pushes down to get upward lift as if getting out of a swimming pool, and to make a lengthening strong core, with support right down to the supporting (right) leg.

We began with a trust/support exercise: Follower falls forward, and lets her left leg go forward and back at the same time while keeping her right leg strong and straight. Leader has his hands on the tops/fronts her shoulders and prevents her from falling too far or stepping completely onto the floor with her foot. The purpose of this exercise is to practice supporting her weight on his part, and trust on her part. What kills the Volcada is (1) if the Leader goes down or (2) goes straight back over his axis. These actions have the effect of bending her back. We then did open embrace Follower back ochos while Leader had the teapot arm positioning (leading with his left hand only, his right hand behind his back; Follower has her left hand on his bicep with thumb in front at the indentation).

For the Funny Volcada, Leader leads back ochos, then catches her at the closed side of the embrace to step to right to transition closer to Follower so that they are at a right angle (perpendicular) to each other. Here Follower needs to change her embrace too to be closer. The Leader, beginning with his left foot, takes three steps backward while Follower, being taken off axis sideways, does a fanning action with her left foot going forward and out counterclockwise. For resolution, leader takes a side step to make her pivot out (unwind) of the volcada. Technical points: it is important for the Follower not to to unwind too quickly and straighten up too soon/early. It is important for both to consider how to use the embrace to give maximum support, and provide continuous support until Follower unwinds to resolution (with no air bubbles or hiccups in the embrace). Follower footwork on the fan: foot can be pointed, like for ballet, or with heel down and foot flexed, which is more sassy. To practice this at home, Follower can push against the wall with her left arm supporting her while she leans on it, with weight on her right foot, and practice the movement of her left foot fanning out.

Notes courtesy of Anne at