Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Selective Hearing

Song: Poema by Francisco Canaro
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
December 29, 2008, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

Maestros had an information sheet on the topic of the evening:

1. Rhythm
a. Find Strong & Weak Beats
b. Hear & sometimes accent Weak Beats, Syncopations, & special rhythms
c. Selectively choose and construct individual Rhythmic flow / interpretation

2. Melody
a. Hear & react to general flow of main melody
b. Hear & move to counter melody and layering of instruments
c. Creative Interpretation of Melody through movement

3. Transitions – incl. Fills/Pauses/Breaks
a. Hear & React to Strong Transitions
b. Hear & React to Subtle Transitions
c. Capture/Predict/Create transitions and communicate to partner

4. Lyrics
a. Tell the difference between singer & no singer
b. Feel and React to Emotion behind singer
c. Interpret Poetry or meaning of song


My notes:

There are four categories/parts to every song:
(1) Rhythm
(2) Melody
(3) Transitions
(4) Lyrics

Depending on the level of dancer, he and she will interpret these elements in different ways.

A beginner will hear the pulse or traspie.

An intermediate dancer will interpret in a freer way, hearing syncopas and be more aware of changes in the music.

A more sophisticated or advanced dancer will have more sophisticated interpretations. He might hear different things and play in different ways, such as to the melody, with the "breath" of the music, with starts and stops or changes, or with the countermelody.

All of our classwork was done to Troilo's Malena.

First we danced to the Rhythm of Malena.

Then we danced to the Melody of Malena.

Then we danced to the Transitions in Malena, focusing on the fills, the runs in the middle of the tango sentences, the stops, the pauses, and the outright pauses. In Malena, there are five lines in the top section, and we were to stop at the pause and stretch the note out in our dancing, and we were supposed to also stop moving at the end of each sentence.

Then we danced to the Lyrics in Malena. It is most difficult to dance to the lyrics because lyrics are poems. Maestro read us three translations of Malena, and noted that there were subtle differences in the verbiage of the translations. This is because tango lyrics are in Castellano, with ample sprinklings of Lunfardo, a type of street gangsta slang of the 1920's/30's/40's spoken in Buenos Aires. And like all languages, it is a living, evolving thing, and subject to the interpretation of the reader and his sociocultural background (many tango lyrics are translated by non-Argentine, non-native Spanish speakers).

The translations were by Jake Spatz http://www.tangodc.com/lyrics/malena.htm, Derrick Del Pilar, and one from Planet Tango

The translations and maestro's handwritten commentary are located in the Jam Book download link: http://www.project-tango.org/TangoJamBook08.zip.

Next, we were to try to sense the emotional context of the song, whether it is sweeping, sad, angry, happy or joyful. We can associate our movements to the emotions behind the words, and try to really interpret the meaning of the poetry and try to communicate that to our partner. Words often heard in tango lyrics include "tears", "love", "hate", and "heart." Tango song structure typically follows (1) the whole song plays first, then (2) the lyrics come afterward, and finally (3) the finale.

For Followers, when you hear the lyrics, think about what you feel. You can use all of your body when you sense the swell in the lyrics. For example, you can tighten your hand around the Leader's back to pull him closer in the embrace. You can interpret/reflect what you are hearing to create tension, not just in your feet and legs, though that is good, but in your entire body.

Both Leaders and Followers can use their breath to interpret, to lift and carry our partner into the idea in the song. We can use our breath to align to the lines of the poem or to divide the phrase or sentence.

In dancing tango, what we tend to attach our movements to (whether it is the rhythm, melody, transitions, or lyrics) depends on what grabs us about the song.

Our homework is to dance to the same song, focusing on a different category in the song (rhythm or melody or transition or lyrics). To dance well, we need to know our music well. The Follower follows the Leader, but she can find ways to interpret different parts of the song that are different from the Leader's interpretation. The Leader can feel her interpretations, and respond to and accommodate them. That is how different Followers inspire Leaders differently (and also how different Leaders inspire Followers differently).

Our next concept was to take what we learned and apply it to milonga. Here, maestro played Donato's Ella Es Asi. In this song, as in all tango songs, for the Follower there is lots of opportunity to be respectful of the lead and yet still be able to work within the lead to express what she is hearing/feeling in the song. Followers should be active in their hearing, and not just wait for the lead.

Next, we did two exercises to help us get more control over our bodies, since as we danced to milonga, it was clear that our minds wanted to do certain moves, but our bodies wouldn't cooperate (either it was too sluggish or too fast, missing the beat or whatever spot in the music we were trying to dance to or emphasize).

(1) We were to stop dancing when we hear the countermelody, and then continue dancing when the countermelody goes away. Yes, this is possible to do in milonga (accommodating the countermelody). In tango songs, sometimes there are many different elements that happen at the same time (rhythm, melody, lyrics). Thus, there are many layers to tango music, and all layers and elements affect the overall phrasing. Slowing down makes us more creative.

(2) Our second exercise was to use the volcada to draw out, stretch, and accentuate any drawn out elements in the tango song. We were to do a volcada at the point where appropriate, and then continue dancing as we normally would.

Depending on whether the dancer is beginner, intermediate, or advanced, it will change what he/she hears in the music, and how it is expressed in their dance.

Even in milonga, we do not have to be stuck to the rhythm, we can focus on the melody or other elements.

Notes courtesy of Anne at http://scoutingtour.blogspot.com

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Leg Wraps

Song: Solitude by Astor Piazzolla
Album: Piazzollissimo (1974-75)
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
December 26, 2008, Allegro Ballroom, Emeryville, CA

Advanced Seminario on Leg Wraps with Homer & Cristina Ladas @ Allegro's "El Garaje" Space.

Maestros passed out their information sheet on the topic of the evening:

Intro: Leg Wraps in social tango dancing are one of the most versatile and fun tools of the advanced dancer. They require a high level of communication, awareness, timing, and musicality between partners. They can be sticky (aka Pulpo-esque), dynamic, bouncy, slow, and otherwise form an articulate means of expression. For the Leader (and Follower) they represent a good sense of partner awareness (axis, etc.) as well as timing and placement of movement. For the Follower, the complete execution of a wrap from beginning to end (your exit answer/shape) is a skill that requires a highly developed knowledge and confidence in yourself and the music.

Vocabulary Notes (according to Homer & Cristina):
1. "Ganchos" are in the family of Low Wraps
2. " Piernazos" are equivalent to High Wraps

Most wraps can be done (among other places) from:
1. The Cross - whether follower crosses in front or behind
2. Turns - Open and Close Embrace after each step (Forward, Backward, Side)
3. Ochos - Regular and Overturned
4. Sacadas - Leader/Follower regular and Quatro (4th) sacadas
5. Back Step-Overs - Either Side (Left or Right)
6. Colgadas - Side or Circular
7. Volcadas - before or after cross
8. Soltadas - Sweetheart, Reverse Sweetheart, Other Embraces

Other Qualities of Wraps:
1. Usually you can lead multiple ones from the same leg (bounces) or alternating.
2. Warps can be caught/trapped with hand or thighs.
3. Social Lifts are easy to execute after a wrap.

Example of Warp Combinations for Advanced Class (F=Follower, L=Leader):
1. From Ocho in forward promenade position - F low rap of L (single & double leg)
2. From open Turn to L right - left then right 'Intermittent' F low wrap
3. From open Turn to L right - F gancho on her back step, the overturned F gancho to L fwd cross step
4. From open Turn to L right - L sacadas F fwd cross step, F wraps
5. Overturned F back gancho to F high wrap to F step over gancho
6. F overturned gancho to L fwd cross step - Trap & Lift
7. Colgada/Volacada F mutli-wraps
8. Ocho-Soltada-Turn F wrap
9. Reverse Sweetheart, F sacada, turn and wrap on F fwd step.


Seminario Notes:

We began from the ocho, going into forward promenade position, and doing a single leg wrap of Follower's right leg around Leader's right leg. The options for the Follower after this is to (1) caress the Leader's leg, or (2) have her foot remain low on the floor as it returns, or (3) have her leg go up higher off the floor as it returns. Technique: Leader lefts his heel during the wrap. It is a full ocho lead, but his leg is in between hers, which causes the wrap. There is a different Leader's option whereby he can get both of his legs into the wrap, so Follower warps around his whole body and wraps higher up on his body (somewhat like a front or forward piernazo of Follower's leg wrap of Leader's hip). Follower needs to remain on her axis since she will be on one standing leg and needs to be solidly on it, otherwise she will fall/tip over/wobble.

Next wrap: From the clockwise molinete, on the Follower side step, the Leader sacadas with his right foot of Follower's right foot, forcing her right leg to wrap his right leg. For the Leader, a little bit of his weight is forward in the sacada, and then more of the weight shifts forward as she moves around him as she wraps. Here also the Leader's thigh is open. We practiced this wrap in the counterclockwise molinete as well, with Leader's left leg sacada of Follower's left leg on her side step, forcing her left leg to wrap around his left leg. On these wraps, the Leader needs to be in just the right place, the sweet spot. If the Leader's sacada is too deep, the Follower has the potential to knee herself (right heel to left knee). If the sacada is too shallow, Follower won't be able to have full range of motion in her wrap, wrapping at the wrong spot on Leader's leg. Leader should be off his heel to maneuver more. This is a continuous motion of the turn/rotation for Leader as he moves around the Follower to get a smooth wrap effect as he remains on his axis.

Next wrap: Also, from the molinete Follower side step, the Double Intermittent Wrap. Here, the Follower does two wraps immediately, one after the other, never collecting in between wraps. Follower's right leg wraps around Leader's outside leg (left hip), then immediately gets led to wrap his right leg, all with her right leg as he steps forward. She cannot collect in this move, and Leader needs to slow her down to get good quality of movement and control in this move. This can be done in open or close embrace. There is an element of softness to this double wrap, and the second wrap is not gotten off of impulse energy; it is more a continuation of his turn energy.

Next wrap: From the overturned back ocho, the Follower's right leg warps (does linear boleo) back in between Leader's legs. This can be done on both sides. Here the energy is linear, and it is up to the Leader to position his body in the right place. The Follower needs to feel a definite stop so that she does a linear (in-line) boleo and not a circular one. Leader's right knee is up, heel off the floor, so that his hips open up; Leader uses femur (thigh bone) to get in correct location. The Follower needs to have lots of torsion and counter spiral to feel the stop energy, but should not over rotate.

Next wrap: From the counterclockwise molinete, the Leader sacadas during Follower's forward crossing leg. As they pass side by side, she does gancho across her body of her right leg of his left leg. Or on the other side, of Leader's right leg of Follower's Left leg while doing clockwise molinete.

Next wrap: With dancers side by side, Leader uses Colgada energy to lead Follower's left leg out to the right side of her right standing leg, then lead Follower to come back in, doing a low rap using her free Left leg of Leader's right leg or high wrap (piernazo) of Leader's left hip. The difference in leading a low or high wrap is in the energy intention employed by the Leader. If using low energy, the effect would be a wrap of Follower's left leg of Leader's right leg. If using high energy, the effect is a Piernazo of Leader's left hip/waist around his back (Follower should aim for the bottom of his lat muscle). We also tried this on the other side, which was trickier.

Next wrap: Maestros only showed us this, we did not try it. From the Follower's forward sacada, Follower wraps outside Leader's body of her right leg.

Next wrap: A combination of colgada/volcada. We began with a regular straight back colgada to send her out a little bit, and get her more on her axis and to prevent too much lean. Then Leader leads Follower to do regular volcada of her free left leg, but at the finish as he drives her left leg forward and across her body, he catches and wraps it with his right leg, and then leads her to do another wrap of his right leg using Follower's right leg.

We then practiced some more, just trying to free up our minds, discover the possibilities, and to work on etching our muscle memory. Here we worked on multiwraps with the same foot, or with alternating feet, or doing single, double or triple wraps, or with trapping her leg during the wraps.

Next wrap: Maestros only showed us this, we did not try it. From the 4th sacada, Follower's left leg wraps outside of Leader's body as he walks away from her. This looked like a very twisty piernazo.

Final wrap: From the embrace. We did back ochos, then a molinete to right (back, side, forward), to soltada, then wrap of Follower's left leg of Leader's right leg as she faces away

Practica Notes: For the supervised practica, we attempted to execute all that we learned, just trying to free up our minds, discover the possibilities, and to work on etching our muscle memory. Here we worked on multiwraps with the same foot, or with alternating feet, or doing single, double or triple wraps, or with trapping her leg during the wraps.

Milonga Notes: The food, catered by Cristina, was delicious as usual: grilled veggies, sliced fresh red/yellow bell pepper, steamed asparagus, dried figs soaked in cognac, bread and grilled mushrooms, gingerbread trifle with mango, apple pie, homemade apple cider. Daniel Peters premiered and did the sound mixing on the spot for his movie, Dance (Tango) Your Own Way. It was a very inspiration piece, filled with shots of many local tangueros/maestros, Tango Con*Fusion and their male dance partners, SFTX, among others. Daniel co-DJ'd using vinyl, alternating with Homer's DJing from computer. There is now a full bamboo floor in the garage, and from the looks of it, plans on finishing the rest of the walls with sheetrock. So it is transforming itself from a garage to a large dancefloor/ballroom. It was an excellent night.

Notes courtesy of Anne at http://scoutingtour.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What a Catch

Song: Que Haces Que Haces by Edgardo Donato
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
December 22, 2008, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

This was a holiday class, and the point was to have fun and be playful and musical in our catches. The foundation of our catch work is the turn (molinete), and in our work we utilized the pull technique for Leader, with Follower making sure her nose does not pass the Leader's and that she is really connected to the leader with her left hand so that she feels the pulling sensation and follows it. The goal of the class was to create an illusion of stop action in rhythmic, playful ways in our catches. We explored many different types of catches.

We began with very simple catches, which began with the Leader doing a rock step, and then catching the Follower as he leads her to a full forward step that curves. In the teapot embrace (with Leader's right hand behind his back while Follower's left hand is on his bicep or behind his shoulder, and his left hand holds Follower's right hand normally in the open side of the embrace), we practiced to the Donato's El Acomodo, where the Leader catches with his foot on the Follower's right leg forward step during a clockwise molinete. Here, the Follower has to have good molinete technique, and really be connected to the Leader with her left hand, to really follow and feel the pull of the Leader's torso as he leads her to step around.

We also worked on the same figure in a counterclockwise molinete. Then we practiced different other places to catch, as the Leader can trap any foot on any step, and can do it with a front catch or back catch.

We then practiced the exit on the Leader's back catch, which can be a colgada.

Next, we did a silly catch, like a little Evil Knievel, where Leader walks forward, Follower walks back, Leader does a very quick weight change, then his left foot catches Follower's right foot, and then he sandwiches her right foot with his right foot. It is almost like a jump (and can turn into a jump) because it's very fast. One variation of this is the shimmy step or pitter patter step, and resolution can be a Follower colgada.

The Leader can also do a more complicated Evil Knievel, by doing a jump with crossed feet. Here, he can lead this by doing it with a super deep back cross to catch Follower's foot. Here, it's important that the Leader does not clamp Follower's feet -- he should give her lots of room when doing this Leader crossed jump step.

Next, the Leader can do the Windshield Wiper catch, where his left foot moves like a windshield wiper on the floor from her left foot to right foot (and back to left foot), as both her feet are planted on the ground, but her weight changes from left to right to left. He can also bring in his right foot to trap her left foot so her legs are kept apart. Here the resolution can be a counterweight movement like a colgada.

Next, Maestro showed us the Mountain Climber, whereby the Leader does a series of soltadas as he steps around Follower, trapping her feet as he steps around her (and sometimes he traps her feet with crossed feet).

Next, Leader leads Follower to do forward boleos and tries to catch her foot/leg as it is in the air.

Next, during ganchos, Leader can squeeze his thighs while Follower ganchos. Doing this during overturned back ganchos looks better, but is more difficult to lead/execute. For all the ganchos with catches, it is very important that the Leader not knock the Follower off her standing leg. For the Follower, the gancho technique is that the leg really needs to wrap from the hip (not just the knee).

Next, we did a breaking of embrace belly catch, as Follower rocks forward and back, facing away from the Leader (almost like the Leader is leading a soltada, but then changes his mind and puts her back in place).

Notes courtesy of Anne at http://scoutingtour.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kiss Me Good Night

Song: El Acomodo by Edgardo Donato
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
December 15, 2008, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

This was a musicality class, with the focus to hear the concept of Kiss Me Goodnight (syncopas, syncopations) in different orchestras. KMG syncopation is prevalent in many orchestras and you'd be surprised at what you can do with it. Our goal is to capture the interesting parts in the music, that are off the square of the music.

First, Maestro played D'Arienzo's La Payanca, and danced to it alone to demo the song. He captured the "Kiss Me" with emphasizing it in rock steps (somewhat similar to traspie) and other foot and body syncopations. The question came up, "how do you know Kiss Me Goodnight (KMG) is coming?" The answer: (1) When you know the song. (2) In many types of music, including tango, the melody repeats. So if you miss it the first time, you can get to it when it comes around the second or third time. Sometimes tango orchestras try to trick you, and they might put the KMG in a different place the next time around.

Next, we did a solo movement exercise, where dancers could go in any direction and do any step, with the emphasis on accenting the KMG (catching the beat), even if it's when they are walking in a straight line.

After this, we danced one dance together with Leaders and Followers partnered up. The challenges here were that sometimes we would hit the first KMG (syncopation), but miss the second or third set of KMG. Some Leaders had difficulty leading and hitting the rhythm without shaking the Follower. Solution: be gentle and have more control. Next, Maestro taught the subtleties of leading the double touch step (to the side, and forward) and emphasized that it was more like a whisper move. Follower should be able to feel how much the Leader's center is moving (it's really short), and how much he wants you to reach, so you can follow his lead appropriately.

Next, we played a game of He Goes, She Goes. First, the Leader emphasized KMG in the song (during which Follower does not move while Leader does his thing), then Follower emphasized KMG in the song (during which Leader does not move while Follower does her thing). We practiced different steps here -- the open straddle step out, the continual side step, the double touch to one side, the triple step to one side, or some combination of back/side steps. Basically, anything goes when you try to capture, emphasize, and play with the KMG to mark the syncopation.

After doing all this work to D'Arienzo's La Payanca, Maestro changed the song to Lucio Demare's Mañana Zarpa Un Barco. Maestro noted that it was interesting that the orchestra changed the place where you'd expect to hear the KMG section, illustrating that there was a complex rhythmic underbelly to the song. We danced solo to this song to just listen and to be in a safe place to express ourselves. This was to hone our listening skills, to focus on the KMG rhythm, and to be more aware of the song predictors (repeats, syncopas). We can accent just one beat of the KMG because at least it would show that we got some of it.

Next, Maestro played DiSarli's Shusheta, and pointed out that it had a KM KM KM KM rhythm at times.

Next, we listened to Donat's El Acomodo, where KMG is everywhere in the song.

We also listed to a bit of Pugliese's La Yumba, which had a derivative KMG syncopation in it.

Maestra noted that when dancers are aware of the nuances of the music, they have a different feel or distribution of energy in their dance, which adds an entirely different dimension to how they dance to different songs and orchestras.

Finally, we danced to the most challenging song of all, DeCaro's Derecho Viejo, which had a lot of nontraditional, abstract KMG. Maestro noted that it can be disturbing if there is a lot (too much?) KMG in one song/one tanda.

Notes courtesy of Anne at http://scoutingtour.blogspot.com

Capture the Moon

Instructor: Homer Ladas (Cristina was ill)
December 13, 2008, La Pista, San Francisco

Note: Video was not taken for this lesson.

In this class, we played a series of games to improve how we connect and our musicality in tango. The Follower is luna, or the moon, as the Leader is la tierra, or Earth.

Game 1: Capture the Moon. Leader and Follower don't touch. Leader does weight changes left to right, and right to left, and Follower follows. Leader walks forward, Follower follows by walking back. Make it easy, do not move too quickly or with large steps. Leader sends Follower (the moon) into orbit by the intention and movement in his shoulders/upper body. Follower does continual molinetes around Leader as Leader continues to walk forward slowly but without hesitation and in small steps. At some point, Leader captures Follower again. There are two phases to this game: (1) the orbit phase, and (2) the capture phase. The Leader needs to make short steps because it's more difficult for Follower to do molinetes around him if he is taking long or fast steps. The Follower must pay attention to the Leader to be successfully captured after being sent into orbit. Leader captures Follower with a combination of eye contact and intention in his body.

Game 2: Tango Tag. We began with the idea of stepping on the strong beat only during the song. Then we picked two people who are "it". Rules were that you can go anywhere, any direction, any step (forward, back, side, diagonal), but you can only step on the strong beat, not any faster or slower. If you get tagged twice, you need to tag two people. The goal of the game was not to be "it" in the end. We played this game to DiSarli's Don Juan. Next, we made the game more challenging by stepping on every other strong beat. We practiced this to a vals (Biagi's Paloma), then played the game for real to Biagi's vals, Mañana por la Mañana. This game was to help us get to know the song so that we can predict the end, and adjust our timing and movements accordingly.

Game 3: Tango Serenade. Here, the Leader and Follower "seranade" each other by humming and dancing freestyle, with both having their eyes closed. We were to hum what we heard in the song, and express the music in our body to each other. We did this game to Donato's Triqui-tra. Afterward, we shared what we discovered: There were times when one partner picked up on things that the other partner didn't hear in the music and interpreted in the dance. Some couples had a true lead/follow exchange. Some couples had one partner who was dancing/humming entirely off on his or her own. For most people, this exercise made us appreciate the music a lot more. For some others, it showed that we need to be aware/considerate/respectful of our partner's hearing/interpretation of the music a lot more. For the couples that had a true lead/follow exchange, this represents the essence of Tango, to communicate with each other and the music, and gave a glimpse of what tango would be like if you are harmonious with each other, and also illustrated how we influence each other.

Game 4: Blind Tango Game. This one was an exercise in floorcraft and awareness of surroundings and communication. We were to dance tango and navigate around the line of dance with our eyes closed. We were not to dance too fast, and any forward or side steps were to be taken with care. If we feel that we've bumped into another couple, we were to adjust accordingly. The music played was a slow country western tune. Most of us did OK with that. Then, the dance floor was made half the size, which proved trickier and more problematic. We can use certain cues/physical sensations to help us navigate besides our eyes-- for example, we can hear and know where the speakers are; we can smell (like when we know we are coming close to the kitchen/snack area), or by the brightness of the lights as we get nearer or farther away from them, or by heaters or open doorways to feel heat/coldness/breezes. Dancing in the line of dance develops an ability to move in a more circular or square way. Maestro discussed the concept of the "tango train" -- or the art of floorcraft and navigation. Some people are space hogs (those who stop the line of dance) or space jammers (those dancers who are tail gaiters and dance right up behind you). You need to create a buffer so that the couple in front of and behind you have a couple of steps to dance. At a minimum, two couples are needed to form a tango train to create a buffer and bring order to the dance floor.

Game 5: Here, we were to look at each other in the eyes for 20 seconds, trying not to laugh. It can be a little uncomfortable and we don't do this in tango, but the exercise was to give us empathy with someone and to reconnect with them. So try looking at your partner once per song (you might have to start once per tanda; looking at your partner 2-3x per song might be a bit much).

Notes courtesy of Anne at http://scoutingtour.blogspot.com