Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Why We Love D'Arienzo

Song: Pensalo Bien by Juan D'Arienzo
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
December 28, 2009, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

This is an intuitive movement class, as well as a class where we explore phrasing and rhythm, and how they are connected, focusing on the music of D'Arienzo.

Exercise 1:
We were to dance using only:
(1) weight change movement
(2) rock steps
(3) walking
as the building blocks for class. We were not to use any ochos or molinetes (turns).

Exercise 2:
The song for the exercise was Pensalo Bien.
The class was divided into two groups: (A) and (B).
Large phrase = paragraph.
During the first paragraph of the song, the first group (A), was to move around by themselves, using only (1) weight changes, (2) rock steps, or (3) walking.
During the second paragraph of the song, the second group (B), was to move around by themselves, using only (1) weight changes, (2) rock steps, or (3) walking.
During the next paragraph, group (A) would move around by themselves.
During the next paragraph, group (B) would move around by themselves.
The song Pensalo Bien was chosen because it has good structure and tight phrasing, as is typical with D'Arienzo, and on an overall paragraph level, he tells a good story.

Exercise 3:
The song for this exercise was also Pensalo Bien.
In the same group divisions, (A) and (B), each group would dance just the sentences.
Here, the point was not to count the beats. The goal was to intuitively feel where the sentence begins and ends.

Exercise 4:
Continuing our work with Pensalo Bien, we worked on microphrasing. Here, we broke up the sentence structure even further. Leaders would use one tool (weight change, rock steps, walking) for the whole sentence, working with the strong beat. That is, he would lead 1 sentence of walking only, 1 sentence of weight changes only, and 1 sentence of rock steps only. We attempted to dance this only on single time during the whole song, and noticed that for some moves, such as the rock step, it was very difficult to do in single time. The natural inclination is to do the rock step in double time. However, if we do it in single time, it enables us to pivot more.

Exercise 5:
Subdividing the Rhythm:
(1) Minimalism
(2) Maximalism

The idea behind Maximalism is to throw everything in there, and do it on the beat, including all the beats, if possible.
The idea behind Minimalism is to be restrained and let some beats go by without stepping on them.

To help us understand this difference, we danced to Pensalo Bien doing double time in most of our steps.

Exercise 6:
The song for this exercise was El Flete.
The class was divided into three groups: (A), (B), and (C).
During the first paragraph of the song, the first group (A), was to move around by themselves, using only (1) weight changes, (2) rock step, or (3) walking.
During the second paragraph of the song, the second group (B), was to move around by themselves, using only (1) weight changes, (2) rock step, or (3) walking.
During the third paragraph, the third group (C), was to move around by themselves, using only (1) weight changes, (2) rock step, or (3) walking.
During the next paragraph, group (A) would move around by themselves, etc.
For this song, it was noted that at the end, sometimes the sections overlap, so groups (A) and (C) could both be moving at the same time.

The Variacion:
A discussion followed on the "Variacion", which is the crazy part of the song at the end where typically the bandoneons do their solo in double time or double-double time or double-double-double time -- "almost" 1/16 time. Here is where the concept of Minimalism can be applied in our dancing, where the dancers can do something the exact opposite of what the music is doing. For example in this case during the variacion, the dancers can step emphasizing only the strong beat or step on every other beat, as opposed to Maximalism, where they would try to step on every beat during the variacion, in "almost" 1/16 time.

Chaos Factor:
A discussion followed on the Chaos Factor, where we could dance in single time, and throw in a double time when you feel like it, and it will likely work if you are dancing to D'Arienzo. This is because there is always the double time undertone of "chaka chaka chaka" in D'Arienzo's songs. That is why he is called "El Rey del Compas" -- the King of Rhythm. The train is always rolling underneath.

Switching from Single Time to Double Time
The question came up of how can/do Leaders prepare to switch from single to double time.
The answer was that they need to prepare a step before the switch actually occurs.
Sometimes they can lift, and take shorter steps, especially for double-double-double time ("almost" 1/16 time).
There is a very distinctive change of flavor, change of embrace to have more elasticity or breathing.
It helps if the Leader stays on the same flavor for a little bit (at least two steps) before changing.
It can be like a calm before the storm, with a pause or slowing down to build up, then an accelerating, then a stop, then a pause.
It also helps if the Leader knows the song well. The same goes for the Follower.

Exercise 7:
We were to dance the last song with no restrictions, but make clean phrasing. So we could do ochos, ganchos, boleos, etc., or keep the same movement if we choose.

Maestros concluded with a demo to D'Arienzo's Pensalo Bien.

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Close to Open Transition to Promenade Plus One Alteration

Song: Una Fija by Carlos DiSarli
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
December 20, 2009, Cafe Cocomo, San Francisco

Video courtesy of Jodel

Close to Open Transition
We began with dancing with a transition from close embrace to open embrace and back to close embrace, seeing what we do, and how we do it. The music we used for the entire lesson was Di Sarli musicals from the 1950s.

Next, we worked on a specific transition close to open embrace, beginning with a side step, up, change weight, settling, and reaching with the other foot to make a side step one side to the other and back. Leader be clear with your intention and movement in your body. There is a "U" shaped energy in this side step action.

We continued to practice the side step and "U" energy intention.

Next, in practice hold and open embrace, from the side step, the Leader steps down in the "U" part to pivot into the Promenade (Americana) on the open side of the embrace. For the two dancers, it is like gears meshing, with the Leader right hip counterclockwise turn to face forward, and the Follower left hip clockwise turn to face forward.

Next, we added the arms to close embrace. Our bodies rolled together and opened up. The movement to lead the promenade (Americana) comes from the Leader's hips. The Leader steps to the left and then pivots with his right hip. It should have a whipping, surprise sensation to the energy.

We danced to one song in the line of dance, incorporating this step.

To end this step, the Leader's chest is up and open. The Leader stops after her step on the outside (right) leg, then he leads the Follower to step forward on her left leg inside and return to be in front of the Leader, back into close embrace.

Next, we did the human magnet exercise in open embrace with our feet 6-8 inches away from each other. Our bodies were straight up and down and we were on axis. Then we were to meet each other in the middle with our chests, matching each other's energy.

Then we did the same pattern going from open to close embrace and then back to open. The Leader at some points lets go of his right hand, while the Follower's left hand slides up as her body tilts forward in response to his lead to invite her to come back to close embrace.

The Follower's forward step to return in front of the Leader should be long and around (curved) into the Leader to transition to close embrace. The Leader opens up his left shoulder, and his axis tilts forward a little. The Follower should be able to sense this forward Leader tilt, and answer with a forward tilt of her own to meet the Leader.

From the promenade position, the Leader out steps the Follower with his right foot on her left foot forward step and turns clockwise so that after Follower gets back in front of Leader, she pivots on her left foot, to do a back step with her right foot and side step with her left foot in a half of a clockwise molinete. Here, it is important for the Follower to collect on her left foot with her right foot before she steps back with her right foot.

Next, we worked on the musicality of the sequence, doing it on all single beats. Then we added double beats (QQ time) on the Follower's back and side step, accelerating into the alteration.

We continued with dancing this simple sequence in the line of dance, and with the music, to make it feel good and to have the hip twist surprise element in our step into the promenade (Americana).

Maestros concluded with a demo to DiSarli's Una Fija

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Anatomy of the Contra Back Boleo

Song: El Encopao by Enrique Rodriguez
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
December 21, 2009, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

We began with the Pendulum Exercise, making sure there was at least 3 feet of clear space behind us. We were to plant our weight on one foot (either left or right), and let the other foot swing freely. Our arms were in beach ball pose, being calm in our upper body with our rib cage up and core engaged so that there was no movement in our upper body. Both knees were bent. The Follower needs to find the sweet spot on her foot to distribute the weight on four corners of her foot to be stable and strong.

Tonight, we were to work on four categorical shapes of boleos. In all of these four categories, the Follower should always have control of her body. So she might not do a big boleo, even if the Leader asks her to do it that way.

(1) Keep foot to the floor
(2) Blade of Zorro
(3) Circular
(4) Circular but bigger

(1) Open up with hips, but foot stays on the ground. We can do this on either foot. Our goal was to find balance, make it tight, and imagine dancing on a crowded dance floor. We can add a little bit of pivot to it. The Follower heel points down on the floor so that she does not stab anyone with her heel.

(2) Blade of Zorro. The leg and foot movement is a flick, like a razor, a little out to the side across the back of her body, and then back down. The boleoing leg goes a little behind the standing knee so that the legs do not open up. There is no light between the thighs. Be sure not to sickle the foot. Turn the foot out a little and point the toes before the leg flicks and leaves the floor. The energy of the movement is similar to a match strike.

(3) Circular. This boleo shape begins with the Flick of Zorro, but the hips open more, and there is a semicircular movement to the leg before it drops back down. We can also add a little pivot to make it sweeter.

(4) Circular but bigger. Recalling the Pendulum exercise with our leg going straight back, we were to send the Follower's leg out in a line, but bring it back in with adding circular energy. For the Follower, she is more open in the knees. This is a more rare articulation.

We began with an exercise in tea kettle embrace with both arms of Leader behind him with his hands at the small of his back. Follower's holds on to Leader's biceps. The goal was for the Leader to lead the Follower to pivot her hips, either slow or fast, with Follower maintaining particularly strong connection with her embrace when the Leader led a faster pivot.

For the Leader, two things:
(1) The rotation comes from his spine, regardless of how slow or fast he is moving. He needs to contract his core muscles for faster rotation.
(2) There is a slight delay of the Follower's movements, so he needs to take time for the energy to travel from the Follower's embrace to her spine, and then to her hips.

For the Follower:
(1) Don't anticipate so that the Leader can calibrate his lead to your movements.

Leader: Observe how long it takes Follower to complete her movement. Wait. Do it slowly. Observe.

Follower: Engage your core so that there is no reverberation in your arms/embrace. Have resistance in your arms.

For the first contra boleo, Maestros noted that all boleos have both "send" and "rebound" energy to more or less degrees, even if they are called "with" boleos or "contra" boleos. The difference is in the way the Leader steps that makes the boleo "with" or "contra"/against the Follower's rotation in the hips.

Again in tea kettle embrace, the Leader steps against the Follower with a bit of send energy and a lot of rebound energy. The Leader would start with the slow shimmy, and then try to figure out how to step into / against the Follower to get the hip rotation to boleo.

Next, we added the open embrace, working on doing boleos on the easy side (the open side). Leader would walk in parallel system, making a very dynamic step with left foot. We were to focus on the contra energy. It is all about the Leader's left foot making a long step that is fully engaged and attacking like a karate chop into the floor. He needs to keep his embrace firm and totally engaged and compressed. He should be solid like a statue so that the Follower can hang on to him for that one moment in the boleo.

Boleos usually happen on the strong beat, so to lead it the Leader has to lead it a little ahead of the strong beat. However, he is limited by how well the Follower hears the music. Leader should not push with his right hand, otherwise the Follower will step (he will change her weight).

Next, we attempted to do this on the hard side (the close side). Here, the Leader's right hand has to detach, but be strong from the shoulder up (similar to the teapot embrace).

The next boleo step, which Maestros only demonstrated and we did not try as students, included a step with the Leader's right foot, to pivot on his right foot (collecting with his left), to rebound back with a left foot back cross step, really working his hips.

Next, we practiced linking two boleos as if dancing in a small space, in the line of dance. The sequence went something like step, boleo, promenade, step back, boleo, etc.

Concluding comments on boleos: The Follower decides how big or small, how high in the air or low on the floor, and the shape (linear or circular) of the boleo, depending on the music and space availability. She does, however, need to react when the boleo is led, and exercise discretion and common sense when doing boleos on the social dance floor.

Maestro concluded with a demo to Rodriguez's El Encopao

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Linear & Circular Impulsive Movements

Song: Cordobesita by Osvaldo Fresedo
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
December 16, 2009, Cellspace, San Francisco

Our goal for the lesson was to work developing communication with our partners, focusing on the energy in communication to lead the Follower's leg to make certain shapes, linear or circular.

Exercise 1: Follower Small Circles
Done in open or close embrace, the Leader communicates a Follower small circle. The Leader leads the circle of the Follower's left or right leg, and he guides the direction of the circle, clockwise or counterclockwise. This exercise requires that dancers are able to do small circles by themselves. For Follower's technique, there are two different articulations of her feet on the floor: (1) the toe making the circle, or (2) the heel making the circle. The circle should be made from the hip bone and using the whole leg (not just below the knee). The freeness of the free circling leg depends on the stability of the standing leg. For Leader's technique, it is important that he pays attention to how he puts the Follower on one leg before starting to lead the circle so that he does not knock her off axis. The Leader communicates with the center of his body, not just his arms, when he communicates the circle. Leader tilts forward, then the Follower's leg goes back. Then he swings her leg around by swinging his body around a little, with the movement concentrated in his belly button.

Exercise 2: Linear or Circular Free Leg Exercise
Leader frees the Follower's leg so that it moves either in line or circular. Note that it takes time for the Follower to complete the movement, so the Leader needs to wait for her to collect before leading something else. The Leaders attempted to communicate the energy outward to do a counterclockwise circle of the Follower's right leg, or a clockwise circle of the Follower's left leg. Then the Leaders attempted to communicate the energy inward to do a clockwise circle of the Follower's right leg and a counterclockwise circle of the left leg. We recognized that in this exercise, being subtle is difficult. So our homework is to master the subtle feeling before going big.

Exercise 3: Follower Linear Side Extension
The Leader leads the Follower's leg out to the side as if for a side step while he remains in the same spot. There was no verbal instruction on how to do this; Leaders had to figure it out themselves. For the Follower there was no step or weight transfer, it was just a leg extension out to the side as the standing supporting leg grounds down into the floor.

Exercise 4: Pendulum Leg Exercise
We were to do this exercise with care and caution, and be responsible with our bodies and legs so that we do not cause harm to our fellow students. For the exercise, individually, we swung our whole leg back and forth like a pendulum, remaining strong and stable on our supporting standing leg, and with our rib cages up and upper bodies stable. Our arms were such that they looked like we were holding large imaginary beach balls. The Follower needs to be centered on her whole foot, not pushed forward on the ball of her foot because of her high heels, so that she will be maximally stable and not prone to being knocked over or imbalanced. The knees should be bent, not locked.

Exercise 5: Developing the Linear Boleo from the Pendulum Leg Exercise
Same as the Pendulum Leg exercise, only done with more energy and in partnership. The goal here was to get the Follower leg to go really high back behind her. The Leader takes one step forward to lead her to step back, but stops abruptly, preventing her body from continuing to go back (though it may continue to go back by one centimeter), but her back leg goes free and up behind her. This is a timing exercise. Then he steps back with her forward step as her back free leg returns forward. Leaders technique: Do not be afraid to lead her back. Prepare with your whole body. Use your breath, exhaling as he sends her back. Follower's technique: Go back with the whole body, just just the shoulders or butt.

Exercise 6: Colgada Counterbalancing
In partnership holding each other at the wrists, with our toes straight in line and touching each other at the tips, the Leader sends the energy back and goes back at the same time with his body so that both dancers counterbalance each other. The bodies are not bent or sitting. We were to maintain our rib cages up, cores engaged, and our bodies straight. We hung back a while counterbalanced, then came back to axis, then hung back again, then back to axis, several times. Maestro noted that the Follower going out and up with the leg is a consequence of the Leader counterbalancing her.

Exercise 7: Back Linear Boleo
The Leader takes one or two steps to have Follower's leg go back really high. Maestra emphatically pointed out this is just an exercise, and that on the social dance floor, the Follower should keep her leg down so that she does not kick or gouge anyone with her heel.

Exercise 8: Forward Linear Boleo
We were to build on the back linear boleo to a forward linear boleo between the Leader's legs. Here, we were to focus on the use of axis and energy, using it carefully otherwise you or your partner can get hurt. The Leader leads the forward linear boleo through his legs by creating a wall with his embrace after the Follower's leg goes back in the back linear boleo. He needs to make sure his legs are apart when leading the Forward linear boleo (otherwise she will kick him).

Comments about Linear Boleos on the Social Dance Floor:

Leaders need to be mindful when leading the back linear boleo (as well as all boleos). Ideally, the Follower's boleoing leg should be pointed out and away from the dance floor so that she will not kick anyone with her back linear boleoing leg. The Follower always has the option to do boleos low on the floor, not high, especially if conditions are crowded and it is dangerous to do on the social dance floor. In keeping the boleos low on the floor, she still responds to the energy and lead, but is also considerate toward other dancers on the social dance floor. The Follower is in control of her leg to answer big or small, no matter what the Leader's intentions are.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Fresedo's Cordobesita.

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

Friday, December 4, 2009

Teacher Training - Transitions

Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
December 2009, St. Louis, Missouri

This is the class outline prepared and distributed by Homer and Cristina at their teacher training workshop during the St. Louis Hot Winter Tango Fest 2009

In this teacher training session we will define and explore “transitions” in tango and the teaching concepts behind them. We will cover a few example transitions, games, and special cases. Several of our most useful teaching tips are included at the bottom.

What is a Transition?
In its basic form, a transition is moving from one embrace to another (i.e. open to close) and can include a change of each partner’s body position and/or axis tilt. A transition usually starts & ends at the same time. Many experienced dancers use transitions to move between variations of the standard embrace (open and close) to accomplish basic dance ideas. Transitions can be functional, dynamic, musical, fun, creative, and add flexibility.

Embrace Terminology
Standard Embrace – A forward facing embrace with each partner in a given body position and axis tilt.
Body Position – The angle between the open and close sides of the embrace (varies from ‘flat’ to a large ‘V’).
Axis Tilt – Line from the ankles thru the chest relative to the floor (can be tilted forward, neutral, or tilted backwards).
Open – No forward (chest/ribs/stomach) body connection (usually with engaged but elastic arms)
Close – A more or less forward facing body connection (can be fixed, hinged, or rolling) thru the chest/ribs/stomach.

Example Transitions
1. Side step (open-close-colgada options)
2. Back ochos (Vanilla Bean to Mocha Java)
3. Forward step in turn (open to close; difficult)
4. Forward ocho (open to close; very difficult)
5. Ocho cortado vs. ocho (To Cortado or Not?)
6. Transition at The Cross (fwd & back)
7. Side step to promenade (close to open)
8. Basic back volcada (very compact/useful)
9. Step-over colgada (with L.O.D. pattern)

Teaching Quotes
Cristina - “Focus on the middle of the step.”
Homer - “Transition during a transition.”

1. Human Magnet w/ & w/o embrace (develops the basic concept)
2. Falling Trust Game (mostly for volcadas)
3. Batman & Robin (for step-over colgadas)

Special Cases
1. Use wraps to transition (in turns & ochos)
2. Colgada to volcada (i.e. collapsible volcada)
3. Functional vs. expressive use of a colgada (for boleos, sacadas, wraps, etc)
4. Non-Standard Embrace Transitions (sweet-heart, etc)

Teaching basic transitions as early as possible broadens whom we can dance with! It allows a tango couple to easily dance in an open or close embrace with balance and stability. Further developing transitions to include more off-axis concepts (colgadas / volcadas) and non-standard embrace transitions add functionality, musicality, and creativity to the dance.

Homer & Cristina’s List of General Teaching Tips
1. Teach what you know & what you dance socially. Do your research not only by practicing but also by social dancing a lot.
2. Have an outline but be prepared to modify it (according the student level, time constraints, partner/gender balance, etc)
3. Make it fun or at least interesting (i.e. add a few games, exercises, drills, anecdotes, etc).
4. Make eye contact with students and speak clearly.
5. Have a system for partner rotation and be consistent.
6. With ‘talkers’ let them feel the move with you.
7. Demonstrate move or idea with a student from time to time not just your partner.
8. Use positive reinforcement if possible (reward vs. punishment).
9. Never contradict your teaching partner – use “and also”.
10. Try to always incorporate navigation (L.O.D. vs. middle) and musical integration (so it doesn’t sound like an after-thought).
11. For music choices have either a theme, orchestra, singer, or song. It’s ok to repeat the same song many times.
12. Balance group time vs. individual attention time.
13. If you must talk a lot keep students moving or doing something.
14. Encourage group to offer comments and ask questions (verbally participate).
15. End with a review quiz and demo.
16. Try to keep an open mind. Don’t consider yourself the last word... Learn from your students.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Vals Turns and Phrasing

Song: El Dia Que Te Fuiste by Francisco Canaro
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
November 30, 2009, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

Working in open and close embrace, the goal of this class was to make the molinete turn more dynamic, including working on the weak side (Leader’s right). The underlying theme of the class was for the dancers, but especially the Follower, to be really active in hearing the music and making a good effort of knowing the vals rhythm and cadence.

We began with an exercise of just walking by ourselves to the vals rhythm with two options:

(1) only on the boom (the strong beat, the 1)

(2) on the boom - chick - boom (the strong beat and a weak beat, in this case the 1-2-1), with the “chick” step a real step (not just a collection).

We built on this exercise, by then doing the grapevine pattern stepping only on the boom (stepping each step of forward, side, back, side, forward, on the strong beat, the 1, the boom), and then doing the grapevine pattern in the boom - chick - boom (1-2-1) rhythm. We first did this grapevine pattern to a slow vals, and then challenged ourselves more with a faster vals.

When the Follower feels the Leader accelerate the turn, he is probably looking for the rhythm. Since it’s integral, it’s important for the Follower to have control.


Next, maestro introduced the Leader’s footwork of the Paddle and Kickstand. This is a Leader footwork technique during the Follower molinete turn. This Leader technique accomplishes two things:

(1) It maintains the Leader’s axis either tilted forward in the close embrace, or more vertically straight up and down in the open embrace. Note that in the close embrace, there is less room for the Follower’s hips to pivot, and that in the open embrace, there is more room for the Follower’s hips to pivot.

(2) It gives the Leader extra power for the turn to get around on the boom-chick-boom (1-2-1) syncopation.

Our goal is to fit the molinete turn to the music.

In the Paddle and the Kickstand footwork, the Leader lifts his heel off the ground and kicks his heel around to turn. The kickstand foot is where the Leader pivots on the ball of his foot with his supporting, standing leg. The Leader’s paddling foot should be in line or slightly behind his hips as he paddles around. We first began with the left foot as the kickstand, and the right foot as the paddle.

The Leader’s right foot or left foot can be the supporting, standing, kickstand leg, while the left foot or right foot can be the paddling leg, depending on the direction of the molinete turn, clockwise or counterclockwise.

We drilled to many different valses, first slow ones, and then faster ones, with Leader’s Paddle footwork with Follower molinete turn, both clockwise and counterclockwise, using the boom-chick-boom (1-2-1) rhythm.

The boom can be difficult to lead after the chick syncopation because you have to slow your partner down.

Follower should lock herself to the music to know where the boom - chick - chick syncopation is, and to pay attention to the music and the lead. The more the Follower’s body locks into the music, the more she will be with the vals cadence.

Leading the boom - chick - boom (1-2-1) rhythm is easiest on the back step of the molinete turn, and in the Leader’s paddle footwork, he is doing exactly what he is asking the Follower to do.

We also played with doing the boom - chick - boom (1-2-1) at different points of the Follower footwork, such as the side, forward, side, and in open and close embrace, clockwise and counterclockwise.

Follower should not fall on the boom (generally the side step), but be controlled, and not transfer the weight too fast, otherwise she will arrive too early. She needs to really lock her body onto the music for better control.

It was noted that in the close embrace, it is more difficult to get the Follower to go all slow (boom) steps. In the open embrace, it is easier for the Follower to go all slow, though slightly more difficult to lead the boom - chick - boom (1-2-1) syncopation. In the close embrace, the Follower’s back steps can be very short and quick, rather than with substantial hip pivot and drag around.


Next, we worked on vals musical phrasing in the context of doing turns. Our goal was that within a musical phrase, we were to be consistent, fall into a groove, and when it feels like it’s time to turn, to connect the turn to the music.

First we backed up with a little game of Vals - Chacarera, where in Chacarera formation of Leaders all in one line facing Followers all in one line, we took four steps forward and four steps back similar, similar to the Avanzado and Regreso initial steps of the Chacarera. The 4 forward steps were done in 4 beats, and the 4 back steps were done in 4 beats. During this game, maestro played a very regular vals so we could clearly hear the musical phrasing and sentence. He noted that the lyrics/song poetry falls directly on top of the sentence/musical structure of this particular vals, as is the case with many valses. Mastro demo’d this concept by dancing by himself, walking forward and back with the musical phrasing, showing that we could hear the sighs, and take a pause to start the next phrase (like a comma). At the comma or the end of a sentence (phrase) is where the Leader should start the turn in the other direction.

Next, we attempted to dance with trying to change the direction of the molinete turn at the macro phrasing points. It was noted that it often took two turns [(1) forward, side, back, side, (2) forward, side, back, side] in the same direction before the appropriate phrasing point arrived, and that most times in our dance we do not even do one complete molinete (we usually do half or three quarters of a molinete turn). The Paddle keeps the Leader in one place, so it’s a good technique.

In the open embrace, the Follower whips her hips around on the chick, really pivoting a lot to get them around quickly. She should use the embrace of the Leader to get herself around and add whip / energy in her hips.

It was noted that there was asymmetry of the close embrace turn where the Follower’s back step is almost just a snappy short back cross with no pivot in the hips in order to maintain the integrity of the embrace. This is quite different from the open embrace turn with a lot of Follower hip pivot for an overturned full back cross step.

Maestros demo’d to Canaro’s El Dia Que Te Fuiste.

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Art of Surprise

Song: Al Compas Del Corazon by Miguel Calo
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
November 23, 2009, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

Surprises are little jokes, little surprises, to make things fun. They are easy, and the number is endless.

We began with games/warm-up exercises to get us in the mood.

Game 1: The D’Arienzo Surprise.
To D’Arienzo’s Nada Mas, we worked on the concept of surprise. Nada Mas is a song with lots of rhythmic accents, and every strong beat can be a moment of surprise. Everyone was to walk around the room, in all directions, and at the moments of the strong beats in the song, we were to touch someone (appropriately) with both our hands on the outside of their shoulders to surprise them on the strong beat.

Game 2: Flowing versus Freezing.
To develop the idea of Flowing versus Freezing, we were to dance. During the song, Maestro would periodically call out “stop”, at which point we were to freeze. Then he would call out “go”, and we would continue to dance. We were not to pause during the flowing parts of the music. We were to try to step on every strong beat.

After we did this, Maestra asked how it was. Some leaders found it disconcerting when someone commands you to stop. Was it manageable? Could you prepare yourself and your follower? The leaders said it takes half a beat. The goal is to be prepared. It helps if you know the music so you can anticipate when to freeze.

Exercise 1: The Statue.
This was an exercise to get us to be really connected to the floor and our own bodies. One person, the statue, stands with two feet on the floor, with arms up a bit. The other person, by touching or gently pushing (appropriately), tries to move parts of the statue, first one part in one direction, and then another part in a different or same direction. The body parts are random and could include shoulder, fingertip, thigh, forehead, back of head, elbow, etc. The goal of the Statue was to maintain a solid state, be balanced and attached to his whole body, to breathe normally and resist the push and be stiff like a statue, regardless of what body part was being pushed.

Level 2 of the Statue Exercise:
The statue stands on one foot and tries to remain stable and solid with no moving body parts while the other one touches/pushes on his body parts.

Chapter 1 of the lesson:
Freeze the Follower in the middle of the rock or side step. The Leader freezes the Follower after her reach, but not necessarily when her weight has transferred. The key point is for the Leader to know where the Follower is, so that he can play with the timing. Leader should not hold the Follower with tension. On the rock step, the Leader should not put all of his weight on the forward step. Instead, he should reach in his step, ground into the floor and bend his knee, exhale and be like a statue. For the exit, the Leader’s body goes up a little, his body loosens up a little, and the energy goes forward.

The Follower needs to match the Leader’s energy, whether it is a little soft energy or a lot of big or powerful energy (they can practice Tai Chi Tango arm and arm circular energy exercises for this). She also needs to match his qualities and feel the release to be able to move freely after the freeze. We attempted to dance with Freezes on the rock step or side step to D'Arienzo's Nada Mas.

Next exercise: We practiced dancing to a different, less rhythmic song, continuing to do our walking and freezing during the rock step or side step. Through this exercise we realized we could incorporate the concept of freezing into other movements, like the boleo. For the freeze, it is important for the Leader to present one voice of lead to the Follower, where all factors reinforce that there’s something different going on. So he needs to (1) find the moment and ground, (2) exhale and be like a statue, (3) compress the embrace.

Chapter 2: Leader tries to trap Follower’s foot in a quick sandwich without stepping on her foot. It is easier to trap the Follower’s right foot, by the Leader approaching with his right foot first, and then completing the quick sandwich with his left foot. For this, the Leader needs to be snappy to catch the surprise to stop the Follower in the middle of her weight so that she doesn’t collect. We also tried capturing the other foot, or capture the feet in different ways. This is a surprise for the Follower; it’s a sneak attack.

Next, maestros demonstrated some other surprises: The Jump, The Cross Jump (Follower’s right foot is easier than her left foot), and the Pitter Patter. For the Pitter Patter, the Leader should wait for the Follower’s right foot to go back, then he will wind up on her right foot as they finish. The Follower can also do surprises like at the end, by sneaking her foot in between the Leader’s feet as he attempts to collect.

Chapter 3: This final chapter is sophisticated, elegant, and can be a little dangerous. First maestros demo’d the Follower forward ochos with Leader paradas, both on the open and close side. The “surprise” was when the Leader stops the Follower as her leg goes up to pasada over his parada leg. To surprise the Follower, the Leader leads a series of (2 or 3) Follower ochos with Leader regular paradas with her regular pasada several times before he surprises her with his stop. He leads the surprise stop this by lifting his heel and bringing his knee/shin closer toward the Follower to catch her leg. The sweet spot of the Follower’s leg is at the shin/ankle/instep. For the exercise, the Follower needs to be honest and not anticipate the surprise.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Calo’s Al Compas Del Corazon.

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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ben Bogart Workshops on Musicality

Musicality for Dancers - Parts I & II

With permission from http://www.benbogart.com

Saturday, October 24, 2009
Berkeley, CA

Asymmetrical Rhythm, and Asymmetrical Drama:
This two-part workshop focus is on asymmetry in tango music. The First class looks at common asymmetric rhythmic structures, exploring their regularities and irregularities. The Second class explores a topic dancers seldom consider, the "fraseo". Tango melodies are uneven between the beats, what does that mean for us as dancers? What does it mean at all?

The topic of the workshops was to explore two opposing ideas:
(1) Differentiating things in our body
(2) Differentiating between the rhythmic and the legato (expressive/dramatic) aspect of tango.

We began with an exercise. We were to imagine that Di Sarli and his orchestra came back from the dead and had a gig in the San Francisco Bay Area. The current band’s name is the “Di Sarli Zombies”. Last night the band had a wonderful time at the local bars drinking Fernet Branca, but one unfortunate consequence was that the violinists didn’t show up for rehearsal today because they were too wasted. Since Di Sarli is now in a bind, he asked us to step up to the plate and rehearse with them. So, we whipped out our air violins (a la Guitar Hero 5) and improvised playing violin to Di Sarli’s Bahia Blanca, trying to get the size and expression of the music. So for the louder parts of the song, we were to play with our bows having long, full strokes, and for the quieter parts of the song, our bows would have smaller strokes, and for short notes, even smaller strokes. These same movements of long strokes or short strokes apply to the bandoneon.

The hope for orchestras is that dancers become part of the band, and have the sensation that the dancers are interacting in real time with the band. So, as dancers, at the beginning of the song, we were to have large, smoothly, flowy steps. As the tempo changes, we can have more dramatic, legato movement.

Di Sarli plays the same rhythm all the time. It is “dancer’s music”. With respect to the tempo, the size gets bigger, making it feel as if we are going faster.

We did an exercise of just walking alone, forward, walking small, or big, or staccato when the parts of the song were extremely rhythmic and small. We were not to do anything in double time or stop/pause.

Next song we explored the rhythmic, asymmetrical aspects of tango music, trying to find the asymmetrical parts. We were to make the rhythm more precise by stepping forward with the heel first (not the toe or ball of foot).

Next, to Piazzolla’s Michelangelo 70, we noted that there were two rhythms:
(1) The underlying bass rhythm.
(2) The S-S-S-S-Q-Q rhythm

To this song we attempted to walk on that second type of beat, really accenting it with our feet on the floor. Next, we danced it in partnership, trying to be calm and remove the momentum in our dance. This song should not feel fast.

Next, we discussed the irregularity of the Piazzolla rhythm, that the notes are not 50% of the note before or after it.

Earlier songs had this similar rhythm, only not as much of it. So you hear a lot of Q-Q-S, similar to the clave salsa rhythm. We attempted to clap out this rhythm, and then add our feet to it.

Next, we attempted to walk the rhythm.

Then we attempted to dance with or without stepping on those quick beats. We were not to feel obligated to step on every single quick beat, but were free to do so as the music dictated. We attempted this to only a partial song, where a piece that had many irregular Q beats was continuously looped so we could become familiar with that part of the song and so we had time to drill the Q movement in our dance in that particular moment of the song.

After we danced with accents in the looped piece of the song reasonably well, we attempted to dance to the complete, whole song (without the loop), trying to really catch the portion of the song where it deviates from its regular rhythm into this irregular rhythm with many Q’s and to accent them in our dance. For this particular song, this rhythm happens in other places, but it is displaced.

It is fine to hold the beat prior to be ready to really catch the Q beat. Holding or not stepping on the beat is OK. We practiced this concept to Di Sarli’s Milonguero Viejo and Organito de la Tarde.

Next, we switched to a new rhythm, the one that is the beginning part of Rodriguez’s Son Cosas del Bandoneon before the singing. Here, we danced to a loop of the beginning.

Next, we switched to a different rhythm, that of Biagi’s La Marca del Fuego.

This was the end of the first workshop, after which there was a 15-minute practica before the next workshop, during which the following songs were played: Biagi’s Calla Corazon; Piazzolla’s Oblivion; Mederos’s El Flete; Pugliese’s Nochero Soy.

For the second workshop, we were to focus on the drama in tango music. We began with the question: What gives tango so much drama? It depends how each orchestra plays the notes, using volume and the time frame, basically all the resources musicians use to play legato.

We began with an exercise to a song where we attempted to ignore the base, the foundation of the rhythm, and just dance to the bandoneon. This we did in partnership dancing to Piazzolla’s Oblivion.

After dancing, we discussed the huge contrast in how the bandoneon is played during the song, with slow, airy parts, or fast, short parts, and everything in between. There is a huge, dynamic range, from quiet to loud, and with many points of suspension and release. At times in Oblivion, the bandoneon sounds like it is barreling down a hill, or moving slowly up a hill, or cresting at the peak of a hill.

From this comes the idea of the ball. Maestro took out a small, hard purple rubber ball, and dropped it. We noticed that the first bounces were large and the time between contact with the floor were slow, but as the ball kept bouncing, the bounces got shorter and faster, until they were very low to the ground and very fast. He also illustrated this same concept with a different ball, a larger pink squishy ball that bounced more softly and flatly than the sharp bounces of the hard purple ball.

To understand this concept, we were to walk with the tempo of the bouncing ball, staring slow and large, and then move toward faster and smaller steps as the ball bounced faster and shorter.

Next, to a song we attempted to walk in uneven rhythm, picking just three places to step (though there were many different options where it would be correct to step).

Next, we danced to a Pugliese song.

It was noted that other orchestras arranged the bouncing ball idea, but in smaller sections so the song still had the beat.

Maestro took out his bandoneon and started to play the beginning notes of El Flete.

Then we switched to Medero’s version of El Flete, doing a walking exercise of walking on the 1-2 for a minute of the song. Then we played the song again, with our goal of walking on the 1-3.

Then we did more walking exercises to different songs.

Maestro noted that dance bands needed to make things easy to get paid, so tango songs are generally very regular so that the dancers could dance to them easily and thus be happy with the band.

Our goal was to play with the spaces between the beats, where we could step on any note.

Next, we practiced just stepping only on the “2” in our walks.

Then, we danced with just stepping on “2” during a section of the song where that was possible. We drilled to several other different songs, one of which was Di Sarli’s Bahia Blanca.

Finally, we put everything together while we danced to Di Sarli’s Bahia Blanca:
(1) dancing to the bandoneon
(2) dancing with slow, airy movements, or faster, short movements
(3) using suspension and release
(4) dancing with steps that start big and with lots of time in between, but them stringing them sequentially with smaller shorter steps
(5) stepping on the 1-2 or the 1-3
(6) stepping on only the two and letting the other downbeats go by (not feeling obligated to step on every beat or down beat)

These were excellent workshops, with ample time to fine tune our listening skills, and incorporate these concepts into our body with lots of rhythmic drilling to different types/styles of songs.

Here is the play list of songs we used for the workshops:
Di Sarli – Organito de la Tarde
Piazzolla – Michelangelo 70
Pugliese – Derecho Viejo
Tanturi – Decile que Vuelva
Rodriguez – Son Cosas del Bandoneon
Biagi – La Marca del Fuego
Biagi – Calla Corazon
Piazzolla – Oblivion

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Organic Gancho

Song: Milonguita by Francisco Canaro
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
October 19, 2009, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

We did both Leader and Follower’s organic ganchos.

When we first learn to do ganchos, we usually stop our partner first, and then lead her to do a gancho. The idea behind this class is to flow through it elegantly, using a different technique.


For the Leader’s gancho, we create circular movement with good timing. The Leader steps to the side, and then back to do a back cross step of his left foot behind his right (to lead the Follower to step forward); then his right foot crosses in front of his left foot tight so that his right hip faces the Follower’s right hip, and he changes weight to pivot counterclockwise. Here, there should be thigh contact with the Follower so that the Leader is able to feel where she is at all time, and so that both dancers have a sense of security and Leader knows what he is ganchoing.

For the Follower’s part, this step first begins with an alternation of a right foot forward step to the outside of the Leader on his right (her left), to a back cross step back on her left foot. As she does her left foot back cross step counterclockwise in the molinete, her right thigh is in contact with the Leader’s right thigh. This is where the Leader back ganchos the Follower’s unweighted right leg with his right leg (not just the bottom half below the knee). As she continues her counterclockwise molinete with a right foot side step, her right leg remains in contact with the Leader’s right thigh and sends it around out and forward against the opposite side of his body as she completes her side step and continues around in her counterclockwise molinete.

For Follower’s technique here, be close on the forward step of the alteration. Do not hesitate on this forward step, but take a good, generous step. For the back step, make it near the Leader, curving toward him, since good molinete technique must also be maintained (overturned back ocho step).

For Leader’s technique, the tight front cross of his right foot against his left foot causes his right hip to turn toward the Follower’s right hip in perfect position to enable his right thigh to have contact with Follower’s right thigh, and enables his leg to feel her leg as he comes out of the back gancho. As with all ganchos, the Leader needs to articulate with his whole leg (not just below the knee), as if for an in-line boleo.

More Leader’s Technique: Let go of your right hand so that you don’t push her to lead her around. IT IS VERY EASY FOR LEADERS TO OVERUSE THE RIGHT HAND IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS SUCH AS THIS. DO NOT DO THAT. Always keep your balance so that you do not fall before the gancho (or cause her to fall). Dancers need to really use their spines to remain upright.

Techniques for both Leader and Follower: There is a little hanging away from each other, not colgada energy, but a little more back energy so that the dancers balance each other.

Next, we next did an exercise to work on our gancho technique and articulating the whole leg.


The dancers stand side by side, thighs touching and one arm around the other’s back. One person swings his entire leg back and forth, as if it is a pendulum. The other person steps behind him to provide a leg for the pendulum person to back gancho. The dancers’ thighs are touching so that the other person can be sensitive by feel to work on timing and knowing when to step behind for the gancho. Everyone switched off (1) being the pendulum or (2) stepping behind in position to receive the gancho. The pendulum person needs to keep their hips even. The leg providing person should turn out his foot/leg that will be ganchoed.

LEADER’S GANCHO – THE OTHER SIDE (clockwise, left leg)

We went back to the Leader’s Gancho, attempting to do it on the other side with Leader doing a left leg gancho of Follower’s left leg on her back cross step of her right foot, as she does a molinete clockwise, which was a little more difficult to set up, but easier to execute. For this side, the Leader does not have to do a left foot cross in front of his right foot. Leader’s right arm MUST open up on this side.


For the Follower’s gancho, as the Follower goes around the Leader in the molinete, the Leader comes in and provides a little bit of twist, leading her to gancho his leg. From the Follower’s back cross step of the molinete, after she completely changes her weight to her back foot, the Leader does a side step, stepping outside behind the Follower’s back foot/heel, which stops her completely and abruptly, and he then twists his chest so that she does a gancho with her non-weighted foot.

Leader’s Technique: The Leader lifts his heel when he offers his gancho leg so that he has more movement and flexibility. This gancho space providing leg is usually uweighted, or can be slight weighted (possibly up to 50%). The Leader leads the Follower back gancho with the twist of his body, with a moderate amount of twist on the easy side, and less twist on the hard side. The Leader’s upper body twist shapes the Follower’s gancho and gives her more energy. The Leader steps outside the Follower to lead her to stop abruptly, which lets her free leg flow to gancho.

The keys to these Ganchos is getting the correct position of the Leader’s foot behind the Follower’s back cross step foot, and to get the Follower to stop before leading her back gancho. Our goal was to work on setting it up for a gancho that is flowy.


Leaders: Let go of your right hand. Go with the Follower’s side step. Have contact in the thighs. Set up the Alternation well. Set up the gancho position well with thigh contact. Practice on the easy side and the hard side.

Followers: Have good molinete technique. Have whole leg articulation (not just below the knee). Use the mechanics of the turn. The Leader steps outside the Follower to lead her to stop abruptly, which lets her free leg flow to gancho.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Canaro’s Milonguita, showing many more possible Leader and Follower Organic Ganchos than the two taught during class.

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Transition through the Cross

Song: Hotel Victoria by Francisco Canaro
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
September 25, 2009, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

The goal of this class was to work on the concept of transitioning from close embrace, to open embrace, back to close embrace, smoothly, naturally and elegantly. The goal is to go back and forth between open and close embrace 3, 4, or 5 times during every song we dance to.

We began with a simple sequence of a side step, into the Follower’s forward ocho, to Leader parada / Follower pasada, out to resolution. Here, we were to work on refinement and understand where our axis is. We practiced this to one or two songs.

Next, we did a connection / transition / mirror and matching exercise: The Human Magnet exercise. The Leader and Follower stand face to face, and Leader leans in and Follower leans in to match his lean. Follower needs to be on her whole foot the entire time (not just on balls of the feet), and she bends from the ankle. Then the Leader separates back from Follower, and Follower separates simultaneously from Leader. The Follower tries to match the energy/lean of the Leader. Then we switched with the Followers initiating the forward lean or pull away, and the Leader matching her.

Next, we worked on changing the embrace to open as we get to the cross. The Leader gives the Follower energy as she goes into the cross by letting go of his right hand a little, and coming back on his axis (staying back). The Follower senses before the cross that the Leader is taking his axis. This sensation is reinforced by the release of his right hand.

For the “Part A” sequence, we began with a side step (Leader’s left, Follower’s right) in open embrace. Then in close embrace, we walked to the cross, during which the embrace opens as noted in the prior paragraph. Then Follower steps forward with her right foot to the outside of the Leader’s right, to do forward ochos. Leader does right leg parada with Leader's and Follower’s hips close. Then the Leader opens up on his left for the Follower to step around and near him with her left foot, and they transition back into close embrace, by the Leader coming forward/ tilting toward the Follower in his upper body to meet her back in close embrace. The Follower should practice taking long steps around the Leader as she steps in front and around the Leader with her left foot in the pasada.

For the “Part B” sequence, which is more advanced, we continued our exploration of the transition, energy, and ochos. Again, we were to walk to the cross, during which the embrace opens as noted above. Then the Leader steps to his left slightly forward and around the Follower with his left foot, while also opening his right shoulder, to lead the Follower back sacada of her right foot, into a Follower clockwise molinete footwork of side, forward, at which point he paradas with his right foot, she pivots, and then steps over as usual for her pasada.

In the "Part B" sequence, for the Follower back sacada to work, she needs to maintain good molinete/ turns technique, especially as it relates to the back ocho and how she maintains her left hand hold on the Leader’s right bicep. We quickly refreshed this idea with the Follower holding onto the Leader in teapot hold (his right arm is behind his back, and only his left arm/hand is available to the Follower to hold on to). Followers need to get used to getting the information / lead from the Leader’s body (not his arms). Also, the Follower needs to hold on for her back sacada, especially with her left hand on the Leader’s right bicep, using the horizontal energy of pull/push to get lots of pivot in her hips to do the overturned ocho/back sacada. Also, for this to work, there is a Follower weight change at the cross to be completely on her left foot, so she can pivot completely on her left foot, with her right foot collected at the point of pivot, and then completely free to send out in the back sacada.

For the Leader’s technique in the Follower’s back sacada, the Leader needs to let go of his right hand, otherwise he will stop the Follower from turning. He needs to trust his left arm/side, and trust her left hand hold of his right bicep. When the Leader receives the Follower’s back sacada, his right hip opens up to receive it.

We also tried this on the other side, which was difficult to lead since it is uncommon for the Follower to cross with her right foot over her left foot. To lead this, the Leader needs to open up his chest, come up and lift her a little as he comes up, and twist his torso a little. The twist in his torso causes the Follower’s legs to cross. It is a combination of a mechanical lead with his body and arms.

Next, we talked about the actual lead for the back sacada. The lead for the Follower is a pivot first in the initiation of an overturned ocho, and then have continuous circular energy. The energy into the pivot is at the highest level.

Depending on the energy and how the Leader receives it, instead of leading the Follower back sacada, he can lead an overturned back ocho into a back linear gancho.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Canaro’s Hotel Victoria

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

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 http://scoutingtour.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tango Exercises with a Twisty Sacada Sequence

Instructors: Shorey Myers assisted by Soheil
September 21, 2009, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

We began with exercises on posture, balance, pivoting, and disassociation to help us improve our posture and how we hold ourselves while walking and in turning.

First Exercise: The class was broken up into two lines, back to back in the middle of the room, each line facing the mirrors on the two sides of the room. We were to walk forward to the mirror and walk backwards away from the mirror. For our posture when walking, we were to be tall and vertical and stretch through the back of the neck. We were to stretch our legs and take big steps. We were also to walk with engagement and practice the dancing, focusing on pushing from the opposite leg to step. When walking back, we were to push from the front leg, and have straight extension in our back leg, keeping our head steady and even. When walking forward, we were to push from our back leg to propel ourselves forward, and not be afraid to step big. When stepping backward, the weight is into the ball of the foot and rolls through to transfer to the heel. When stepping forward, the weight goes into the heel and then gets transferred to the ball.

Second Exercise: This was an exercise on disassociation. In pairs of similar height dancers, we were to walk with the Leader pushing down with his hands on the Follower’s hips while the Follower tries to keep her ribs up as high as possible and really raise the back of her head, keeping her neck straight. Then the Leader would change his hands to raise her up by her lower ribs while she would walk trying to keep as grounded and weighted/heavy in her hips as much as possible as if they were filled with sand and water. The purpose of this exercise was to stretch the area between the ribs and hips as much as possible. One thing we can do to remind ourselves to do this is to use our hands with fingers together at the side of our waist, and then stretch them apart away from each other up and down in the same direction that we want our ribs and hips to go. Everyone tried both roles of leader and follower.

Third Exercise: Separately, we went back to the mirrors and tried to walk forward and back by ourselves, remembering the concept of trying to be as up as possible in the ribs, and as grounded as possible in the hips, maximizing the space in between.

Fourth Exercise: According to Maestra, the fastest way to get better at tango is to work on walking and molinete technique. So we brought out the chairs (the standard metal folding kind). Standing behind the chair at the back left corner, we were to do counterclockwise molinetes (side, forward, side, back, etc.). We were to pivot all the way around and take large steps so that we could get all the way around the chair in the four steps at the four corners of the chair. Our chest orientation should always be toward the middle of the chair as if it were our dance partner; we could use our arms to help with this concept. Having a large chair is more challenging, as it forces you to take large steps, be fully committed in the weight transfers, and have lots of pivot. We spent several minutes on this. Ideally, you’d also work on doing clockwise molinetes around the chair as well.

Next, once our posture, balance, disassociation and pivoting had improved, we went on to the figure, which involved a series of twisty sacadas.

The Leader steps forward with his right cross step and does a series of rock steps while leading the Follower to do back ochos. He then takes an open step to the right to lead the Follower to do an overturned back ocho so that her left leg back sacadas the Leader’s left leg. To lead this, the Leader leaves his foot, but turns his upper body.

To this we added the Leader back sacada of his left leg of the Follower’s back trailing right leg on her left foot forward step of the counterclockwise molinete.

For Follower back sacada technique, she needs to pivot a lot to be able to step straight back on her back sacada (it is not a cross step). She should pivot with her feet completely together, and then send the foot straight out back in the back sacada. If she does not keep her feet together on the pivot and pivots and tries to sacada with one of her foot already out, she will not have enough room and end up kicking him or being outside his leg. The Leader can adjust his arm left arm to give her right arm and body more space when she does her left foot back sacada. For the related molinete technique for this figure, on the Follower’s forward step, she should go a little farther away from the Leader, but on the back step, she needs to have lots of pivot so that she can come a little closer to stay near. This will help maintain the same distance from the Leader.

There is the changeability of the embrace in this figure, especially if dancers are of extremely dissimilar heights.

Next, we added to the figure, a switch/rebound/pivot back to a clockwise molinete to Follower back sacada of her right leg of the Leader’s left leg as he steps forward with his right leg. At this point the dancers’ bodies are angled somewhat away from each other \ / to give space to their legs and bodies to accommodate the sacada, although both dancers still need to be on axis. Balance is key.

We worked some more on the switch/rebound/pivot since that seemed to be where many students could use improvement. We practiced by doing Follower forward ochos with the Leader stopping her periodically to send her back the other way, but either increasing or decreasing pressure. The Leader avoids leading a boleo by stopping the Follower when her hips are slightly before being exactly in front of him. If he’s too late and her hips pass that point, he will get a boleo instead. After we improved our switch/rebound/pivots, we attempted to add to the figure.

Next, we attempted to add the Leader’s forward sacada of his left leg to Follower’s trailing right leg, but we didn’t have time to drill it or figure it out since our time was up.

I liked this class immensely since it began with work on something nearly all dancers need to improve, and Maestra gave us much instruction on specific things to do when “walking”, and included exercises that we can practice alone at home or nearly anywhere else. Maestra is a gifted teacher in that she started with some basic, fundamental exercises which eventually built us up/improved our technique enough so that we had the tools to look somewhat OK in our back sacadas. Assistant Soheil also gave some very good perspectives and individual feedback on Leader’s technique when doing back sacadas.

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

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Milonga Basic Rhythm & Phrasing

Milonga Vieja Milonga by Juan D'Arienzo
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
August 31, 2009, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

In this lesson we had two concepts: (1) Focus on the two strong beats in milonga, and (2) work on sentence structure / phrasing.

We began with a simple pattern: Side step to Leader’s left (Follower’s right), rock step of Leader’s right foot forward (Follower’s left foot back cross), to come up with weight change, side step to Leader’s right (Follower’s left). Within this pattern, we were to work on the subtle use of the height change: with the Leader using height change to signal stepping (down) or weight change (up). For the Follower, her challenge is to be able to sense the subtle height changes and step appropriately. The quality of the height change directly affects the quality of movement.

Next, we did the same simple pattern, only really focusing on the quality of the rock step, as the quality of the rock step affects the quality of the movement. In the rock step, the weight is in between. The Follower’s upper thighs are closed, as are the Leader’s. The dancers should try to maintain contact in the outside thighs of the Follower’s right thigh to Leader’s right thigh. Also, in the rock step it is important for the dancers to keep the relation to each other in their chest, with contra rotation, which helps their thighs stay together.

In the rock step, the Leader can turn to his left, or turn to his right, or do a crab walk to the left, or a crab walk to his right. The Follower copies the Leader’s legs, so keep the weight in the middle.

Next, we played with the musical phrasing by having the Leader walk forward around the Follower clockwise, either after the rock step or directly following the pattern. While the Leader walks forward around the Follower, she walks backward, with her outside leg doing back cross steps as for ochos.

To improve our musical phrasing, we danced much of the night to D’Arienzo’s Milonga Vieja Milonga, our goal of which was to hear the phrasing in the song and put our movement in it. Historically, milonga used to be danced on the strong beats: the 1 and the 2. To this song we were to dance, and pause on the really up, or the really down, but not in the middle with split weight. We drilled the dancing and pausing several times to this same song.

Then we changed the song to D’Arienzo’s Silueta Portena, and our goal was to identify which was the 1 beat and which was the 2 beat in milonga. First, we did an exercise where we just stepped on the 1 with our left foot (and on 2 with our right foot), and then switched it to step on the 1 with our right foot (and on 2 with our left foot). The 1 beat is the ultimate home base, ground zero. Rhythmically, the 2 is where you’d do traspie (assuming no melody in the milonga). To this song, we continued to dance, trying to work on the phrasing, breaks, and pauses.

Homework assignment: When not dancing (such as when we are in the car or in the kitchen washing dishes), play milongas, lots of them, and just try to figure out where the 1 is and where the 2 is. In milonga, we often don’t think about phrasing.

Maestros concluded with a demo to D’Arienzo’s Milonga Vieja Milonga.

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Low versus High Leg Wraps

Song: Porque? by Adolfo Carabelli
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
August 24, 2009, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

The topic was to wrap low or to wrap high. Like last week, communication, positioning, and energy are key. The Follower can create the shape depending on what energy she feels and what position she is in. Keep high wraps compact so that they don’t take too much space and are more socially based (as opposed to performance based where no other couples are on the floor so there is no risk of kicking anyone).

We first began with the Leader walking the Follower to the cross. Then he would try to get a low wrap from the Follower, of either his left or his right leg. After the wrap, the Leader’s feet are crossed behind. Mind the transition. This can be done from close or open embrace. The Leader leads a wrap of either his left or right foot by placing his foot next to her crossed foot where her arch is. Then the Leader takes the Follower off axis a little, letting her out while he goes back out simultaneously, and gives her a little circular energy, and then he takes her back in as he comes forward simultaneously to return her to axis and receive the wrap. Basically, his center moves out and around. The Leader bends his knee a little to get the Follower off axis. His heel is off the ground and he pushes his knee and thigh forward. If Leader’s knee is too deep, the Follower will gouge herself with her heel.

Leader needs to take care of Follower axis.

Follower should not assume/anticipate the wrap, even if she feels the contact in the leg. She needs to wait for the Leader’s lead energy. The Follower’s wrap is almost automatic when the Leader’s thigh touches hers, but she still must wait for the energy. When she does feel the energy, she needs to REALLY WRAP: that is, go with full intention of the full leg; wait for the contact (which should be mostly in the upper part of the thigh), and then let the whip bend the knee, but don’t bend by itself.

Next, we attempted to do high wraps. We started with subtle energy first for the low wraps, so that we could increase the energy to get high wraps. We also attempted to do double wraps.

Follower needs to pay attention to how she articulates the free leg for different shapes. Have good commitment, good intention, and a strong supporting standing leg when doing a wrap.

Positioning is key. There is a sweet spot in the relative positioning of the Leader’s knee to the Follower’s thigh and knee, to be in a safe position so she feels free to wrap with abandon.

We spent a lot of time drilling this to get the positioning of our knees and thighs right, and the wrap energy right.

Next, we went from the basic wrap of Follower’s right leg of Leader’s left or right leg, into the Follower’s left leg volcada-like leg-to-leg wrap of the Leader’s right leg. The Leader pivots the Follower a little, then sends Follower back out in a colgada volcada energy to do a volcada wrap. The Follower is on axis at the point of the volcada wrap. The Leader bends his right knee to wrap his leg simultaneously while she is wrapping it with her left leg.

Next, we worked on the change of energy to get a low or high wrap. If the Leader gives more energy, he will get a higher wrap. Also, the Leader bends down with his body to reinforce the idea of high energy to get the Follower’s leg to go around his body and so that his back is in a good position to receive her wrap. We started this with the Follower’s right leg wrapping to the outside of the Leader’s left leg, first low, and then high, to the outside of the left side Leader’s waist around his back.

Maestros reiterated that in the context of social dancing and being respectful of other couples on the social dance floor, the Follower always controls the wrapping leg shape. She can keep it close. She should not let her leg fly out with heel pointed up if there are other couples on the dance floor. Both Leaders and Followers are responsible for floorcraft, and Followers need to be responsible with their free wrapping leg (and potentially dangerous, pointy heel).

The Leader’s footwork/position for the high wrap is such that the figure begins in close embrace. Then he walks the Follower to the cross. Then he does a sneak attack with his left foot to plant it in position. Then he sends the Follower off axis to lead the low wrap. Here they are in open embrace with the Follower on axis. On the rebound, the Leader gives her more energy to get a high wrap. Leader’s feet are open and wide apart to be stable. His right leg is the kickstand leg, providing rock solid support so that he is not toppled over as he gives her more energy to do a high wrap around the left side of his waist.

The question came up: How does the Follower avoid kicking the Leader? She should have the contact with the upper thigh, the upper part of her leg, so that her whole leg is in the move, and her heel clears both the Leader’s and Follower’s legs. The Leader needs to have good contact with the Follower’s leg and be in good position. The Leader needs to be in the right position, at the right time, with the right energy.

We drilled doing single, double, and triple wraps, or double low to single high wraps, or double high wraps. The key was that these were all in the Leader’s chest lead/pivot.

Key points:
Position and energy are key.
Thigh has to be in the right place.
Follower controls the wrapping leg to be able to articulate and shape, how we get in or out.
Follower should have intention to make full contact with the leg, whether it’s a low or high warp.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Adolfo Carabelli’s Porque?

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Close to Open Transition via the Back Boleo

Song: El Pensamiento by Adolfo Carabelli
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
August 17, 2009, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

This topic focused on communication in the context of a dynamic idea. How do we communicate this idea clearly? How does the Follower receive this idea?

In close embrace, we were to transition enough to lead a back boleo. The goal was to lead and follow comfortably, and to transition smoothly into the open embrace. The most important aspect is communication. We began in close embrace with chests touching, and then lead Follower to do back ochos, and then back boleos. The point between the back ocho and back boleo is where the transition to open embrace happens, and is where the Leader asks the Follower to do a back boleo. At the point of the back boleo, the Follower should take her axis, and not fall forward.

We practiced this lead in the kettle embrace for the Leader (both his hands are at the base of his back, with both arms to the side, and elbows bent), with the Leader leading back boleos on both sides/legs. Follower has the responsibility of receiving his communication through the embrace. She should actively hang on to his arms with horizontal energy, but not push down on the Leader at all. In the teakettle embrace, we are all symmetrical; so it will show our unevenness -- our strong or weak side, our better or worse side.

In the teakettle embrace, the Leader’s shoulders turn 30-45 degrees to lead a good back ocho. Follower needs to do much more active pivoting, as she needs to be able to amplify the Leader’s spinal energy by about 50%, and not be lazy about doing an ocho. Leader collects his feet at the ankles as part of the lead of back ochos. For both, it is important not to fall into each other.

Discussion of potential errors: If the Follower’s nose either falls in, or is too close, then she is too forward on her axis. In the open embrace, such as at the point of doing a boleo, the Follower needs to be perfectly on axis where everything (ribs, hips, ankles) is aligned, and the weight is in the middle of the foot between the ball and heel (on the arch of the foot). She only needs to release her heel to pivot, her weight does not need to be forward. Her heel can skim the floor and she will still be able to pivot (i.e., her heel does not have to be way off the floor to be able to pivot).

Leaders: pay attention to the timing of leading the ocho and leading the back boleo.

In the transition, when the Leader lets the Follower out, he does not let her out very far. He just lets go of her to give her enough space so that she is able to take her axis to be maximally stable (if she is leaning forward she is not maximally stable).

The energy in the boleo is back energy, so the Follower hangs back a little, somewhat like a little colgada energy. The Leader must also keep his axis too the whole time. The Leader can use his breath to help with the back boleo lead, as the natural movement of his spine/core twisting in the lead of the back boleo will cause air to come out of his lungs, like wringing water out of a wash cloth.

It was noted that in the boleo, the free leg is not completely free. There must be some control so that you can give shape to it. There are four different boleo shapes:
(1) on the floor
(2) razor – where knees are together
(3) circular – where one thigh is behind the other
(4) in line / linear

If the Leader leads the boleo circularly, the Follower’s answer should also reflect circularity, either high in the air (space permitting) or on the floor (if the social dance floor is crowded).

Boleos do not need to be high, and should be kept on the floor if there is no room to do them high on the social dance floor and doing so might cause injury or irritation to your fellow dancers.

At the moment of the Follower boleo, the Leader is still as it’s a big pivot the Follower has to do on one leg (he needs to wait for her to finish the boleo). Here, the Leader just provides support for her, with his left hand strong and solid like a wall for her to hang on to. He does not throw his arm out when leading the boleo; the lead comes from his spine/chest.

We then again attempted to do this in close embrace for several songs.

This lesson was important in that being able to do good boleos (and good back ochos as a foundation for them) is a simple tool to build into something even bigger. If you can communicate a boleo, you can lead almost anything. The goal is to be more dynamic.

The next two Mondays will build on this material.

Several followers asked about exercises they could do to improve while they are alone at home. Since the back ocho is the foundation for nice boleos, Maestra recommended perfecting ocho technique:
Behind a chair, practice the back ochos to work on posture, balance and weight transfer.
After a while, don’t hold on to the back of the chair all the time.
Then add the low boleo to these back ochos.
Then try them higher, in increments.
Also work on leg pendulum exercises to see how high the leg can go.

To work on the response to the lead in the Leader’s upper body, Maestra recommended thinking about/perfecting the arm push-pull energy at the barre, pulling with the right or left and pushing with the opposite left or right while doing ochos. In the beginning, this will be a coordination exercise, but after a while it will come naturally.

Maestros concluded with a nice demo to Adolfo Carabelli’s El Pensamiento.

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