Friday, January 30, 2009

The Decarean School of Music

Song: Anibal Troilo by Julio de Caro
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
January 26, 2009, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

We began dancing with two songs by Julio de Caro: Tierra Negra and Anibal Troilo, to introduce us to the Julio de Caro sound.

Next, we danced to segments of four songs: D'Arienzo's El Flete, de Caro's El Monito, Canaro's La Melodia de Nuestro Adios, and de Caro's Mi Dolor. We then discussed the comparisons and contrasts among the different orchestras (staccato, a way of straining instruments, more soloists and when they happen, the wobble, the variaciĆ³n -- de Caro created the formula for solo improvs -- "variaciones").

The first element of de Caro's music that we explored was Pausing and Breathing. We attempted to stretch our dance movement though the shimmy or two-foot ideas (with our weight on two feet and legs open). Here, we attempted to work on articulation of the hips in an unconventional way, where the hips are more separate from the torso, playing with the concept of different ways to articulate our hips, and the flexion in our knees, in both linear and side articulation. It was noted that this move was somewhat bluesy. We did this to de Caro's Mala Junta.

We continued our discussion of de Caro's music: how there were shifts, that it was rich in variaciĆ³n with lots of unaccompanied solos, the element of "whistling", how de Caro's music was known more for innovations than playing virtuosity, the use of his specially made violin-coronet, the music's playfulness, sometimes the strong beat is missing, during which you can switch into pitter-patter mode.

The second element we explored in our dance was the planted two-foot pivot. Here, the Leader takes two steps forward, plants the Follower while her left foot is back and right foot is forward, then the Leader walks around her clockwise; her upper body follows his, maintaining connection, until all of the weight transfers fully to her forward right foot, at which point his continual motion around her causes her left leg to free so she pivots all the way around on her right leg. One option to this is that the Leader can change direction both ways clockwise and counterclockwise, forward and back, to unwind the Follower the other way.

Followers should take their time coming to their axis on this move (go ahead and hang out). She can easily practice this by herself, transferring weight as she rotates around one side to another. For a more advanced Follower technique, she can play with the way her body moves as the Leader walks around her, letting her knees go so that they open up the hips, where there's a delay of movement from one joint to another. Generally, the hips turn first, then the knees follow. However, sometimes there is a movement where both knees are turned out.

For the Leader' technique, it is important that he lets his right hand go (just like for all big pivots or big ochos), still providing a frame in which the Follower can move, but not restricting her body rotation, as her rib cage has to be free to have maximum torsion without any hand pressure from him. At the point of where the Leader plants the Follower, he actually stops short of the middle as the Follower's foot starts to put the weight down. For the Leader, it is important that he walks around close to the Follower, and that he attempts to walk around the standing, pivoting leg of the Follower. The Leader should envision an invisible circle that he has to walk around the Follower, using her right leg as the center of the circle as his goal. If he walks too far away, he will pull her and she will fall.

Next, we attempted to focus the energy on the release to try to lead a boleo at the end.

Next, we changed the ending into a volcada instead of boleo. The trick was that the release of energy is farther away when the volcada is led.

We then tried it in close embrace, and also changed the ending to a shared single axis turn, or the two foot shimmy out to resolution.

The concept of strechiness can be found in many orchestras (Troilo, Pugliese, Donato, Laurenz). About 80% of de Caro's music is instrumental, with only about 20% having vocals.

To conclude, we danced to two de Caro songs: Derecho Viejo, and a milonga, Saca Chispas.

It was noted that de Caro was so interconnected with the musicians of the time, that Piazzolla wrote a tribute to de Caro. Pugliese was such an admiring student of de Caro that he dedicated a whole album to him.

Maestros did a demo of what we learned to de Caro's Anibal Troilo.

Shared class materials were from:
* "History of Tango Music" masters thesis by Pablo Aslan
* A page from the coffee table book called Tango (picture of de Caro's orchestra, and he with his violin-coronet)
* A tango diagram of orchestras and composers "Cuadro Relacionador de estilos orquestales"
* Maestro's handwritten class outline

Notes courtesy of Anne at

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Hard Side

Song: Viviani by Carlos DiSarli
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas co-taught with Felipe Martinez & Rosa Corsico
January 23 & 24, 2009, Emeryville, CA

Advanced Seminario on January 23, 2009

The purpose of this seminario was to explore doing things on both the open and close side of the embrace, and how they felt differently in terms of easy and difficulty, and to work on what types of adjustments we need to make in our bodies to execute the moves well on both sides.

We began with an exercise where the Leader stays planted in place, and leads Follower to do three steps around him in the molinete, then pivot her around to change direction, to do three steps around him in the other direction. For the pivoting change of direction, the Follower does a back ocho on the closed side of the embrace, and a forward ocho on the open side of the embrace. The Follower needs to be cognizant of how she has to hold her body and legs in pivoting. Followers often have trouble pivoting on the right leg on the closed side. It is important for the Follower to engage and work the supporting, standing leg. The Leader changes his left and right arm on whether he leads forward or back ochos on the open or close side, and there are different challenges of each -- it is important for the leader to not be static, and not block the movement. Leader needs to be open in the shoulders and grounded on the floor to minimize tension and potential for liming the space. As usual in the molinete, the Follower should try to keep her hips close to the Leader and not float away. Sometimes the arm relationship will feel funny. It is important for the Follower to maintain her spiral and not collapse on her right side, which would cause her to tilt.

Next, we did the same exercise, but added a more dynamic Leader pivot energy during the Follower ochos to lead her to do either (1) boleos or (2) rebound/switch step/rebote. Here, the Leader can let go of the contact with his right hand when she pivots/boleos/rebounds, but still use his arm and forearm for connection and contact. The Follower still holds onto the Leader to maintain contact and connection to the lead coming from his body, but she must not use him to keep herself in balance. For the Leader, he uses compression energy to get the rebound on the closed side. Our work showed that for the leader, this is easier to lead on the open side. To distinguish between the boleo or the rebound step, the leader must make sure the Follower's hips do not pass in rotation out, otherwise it will certainly be a boleo rather than a rebound. Follower needs to be fully on her axis on the supporting leg with knee slightly bent to get a nice boleo.

We tried doing these steps (rebound/switch step or boleo) in all of the ways and locations -- forward and back, open and close side. We found the back switch step to be the most challenging. Follower has a tendency to collapse in the right side of her body in the embrace; she needs to really engage her right lat to not do this.

We then danced to another song, working on boleos, rebounds and ochos, playing with getting more send energy and more rotation. It was noted that the Leader brings the Follower closer for the back ocho, and lets her out father away for the forward ocho. Felipe said the Leader has to anticipate the move (boleo or rebound) so he can lead it and know what's coming. If he doesn't think about it and she's already there, it's too late to lead a boleo or rebound/switch. The goal is to blend one step with the next so energy is maximized and there is flow to the dance. The Follower should let her hips amplify the energy she gets from the lead. Rosa reiterated that the Follower's upper and lower body needs to be connected through the center, which means that the core must be actively engaged.

Next, we worked on sacadas, both on the open side and closed side: Leader's back sacada on Follower's forward cross or back cross. For these Leader back sacadas, he needs to release his arms on the more open side. For the Follower, the embrace is movable. She needs to rely on her legs, not on her arms. Her arms are sliding in the embrace to make room for the Leader to get around. For the Follower's overturned forward ocho, she needs to keep her shoulders on top of her hips and ankles, because if they are ahead, she will fall into the step. Felipe noted that on the open side for the Leader's back sacada, the Leader can put his left hand and her right hand behind his back like in an L shape to get the dancers in the correct position so that their arms do not block each other, enabling the Leader to do a back sacada with his right leg.

Homer and Cristina showed us a step on both sides: Follower's forward ocho with Leader's back sacada. Here, while Follower does one forward ocho after another, the Leader simultaneously does one overturned back sacada after another. The Leader must do this over his axis, and it requires a lot of pivoting and precision on his part. There was discussion of back sacada technique. Felipe and Rosa do this differently (using a less physically challenging technique). Felipe recommends "looking for the triangle" -- whereby the Leader sets up the triangle so he knows where to step out to enter between the Follower's legs. Thus, there is no pivot, but a series of steps.

Again, Felipe reiterated on the Leader's back sacada technique, he needs to manage the embrace much more on the open side, to get Follower close enough, he needs to do an L with his left hand and her right hand. To get the hands in the correct position, he needs to change the hold of her hand, where the fingers go underneath, and he holds her hand from the top of it. In addition, he needs to release the close side of the embrace, so his right hands slides down her arm and looks for the connection, maybe in her left hand. For the back sacada, the Leader needs to get a lot of pivot, but if he is not physically capable of it, or does not have really long legs to step through, he can cheat on his back step by doing a back cross step. Still, the Leader must try to look at the Follower during the back sacada to maintain connection and a sense of where she is, and try to create his own spiral in his body.

Next, we attempted to combine what we learned to the Follower forward boleo using her left leg on the closed side, immediately into a Follower overturned left leg back sacada of Leader's right leg. If Leader's left arm does not have a lot of control, he will send (knock) her off her axis. If Leader is receiving a Follower back sacada, he must not jam her. He has to create space by going a little away from her. Felipe said Leader should try to create space for Follower on the step before, when she is doing the boleo. Homer and Cristina said you can create space by stepping away at the end. Either way, both said Leader should not jam the Follower and must create space.

Next, we did the Follower overturned back sacada. Felipe clarified his "looking for the triangle" technique for the Leader to set this up. The Follower's standing foot is one corner of the triangle. The Leader's two other feet make the other two corners to give her a place to go into with her overturned back sacada as Leader steps around her in a circle.

The final concept of the class involved doing a different type of sacada after the boleo -- the "fourth sacada." Here, the Follower does a back sacada, then immediately Leader does a back sacada, they continue to do this, on both sides.

The final, final concept of the class involved the Follower forward boleo, directly into a Follower back sacada using the same boleoing leg, to cause Leader to do an enrosque (pivoted forward cross), directly into a leader back sacada.

Our conclusions: What's difficult or easy for the Follower may not be difficult or easy for the Leader with respect to the sides they are dancing on. For some moves, the open side is easier, for others, the closed side. For some moves, the Leader might think the open side is easier, others the closed side. The Leader really needs to manage the embrace and what he's doing with his left and right hands and arms when he does back sacadas. Our experiment in co-teaching was to give instruction differently from each other, sharing our perspectives, and saying it in a different way from each other that might resonate better with the students and give them a different, more complete viewpoint.

To Canaro's Organito de la Tarde, Homer & Cristina did a partial demo with some movements, focusing on the initial setup for the framework for the class concept of executing different moves on both the close and open side of the embrace for both the Leaders and Followers.

The milonga was fun; it wasn't super crowded since there were six other milongas that night (we are very blessed in the Bay Area) so there were no floorcraft issues. Cristina, as usual, did a fabulous job catering. There was a veggie platter, a cheese platter, crackers, sliced fruit, blackberries and pomegranate seeds in a ginger sauce, a hot artichoke and spinach quiche-like dip, a roasted pepper and eggplant dip, and yummy Indian rice pudding.

Intermediate Intensivo on January 24, 2009

Homer & Cristina Ladas Intermediate Intensivo on "The Hard Side."
We began with the same exercise as yesterday, with the leader standing and leading the Follower to do three steps of the molinete in front of him, then pivot her around using a forward ocho or back ocho to do the molinete the other way. We discussed which side was easier or more difficult, and some potential reasons why (see yesterday's notes).

We worked on the Leader's technique, an exercise where he avoids using his right hand in leading ochos (though it is OK for him to use his arm). Here, the Follower still maintains connection and contact with the Leader with her left hand on his bicep. Like yesterday, maestros reiterated repeatedly that the Follower should keep her hips close to the Leader, and actively try to maintain her spiral by facing the Leader as much as possible. The Follower needs to be on her axis, with no lean forward, chest up, nose back, and joints stacked on top of each other.

Then we worked on the rebound/switch step/rebote. Here, the Leader uses stop compression in the embrace, using both his hands. Follower's arm connection to Leader is equally distributed among both her arms (50% each arm). When does the Leader lead the Follower to do the switch? Before the point of no return. If the Follower's hips go past a certain point, it will be a boleo, not a switch step.

We did one dance changing between ochos and switch steps to feel and to understand the change of embrace from open to close, and to understand the different physical demands of the open side versus the close side, and the energy intention of the soft switch versus a quick switch, with the Leader's experimenting with the amount and speed of compression in the arms and the energy in his spine.

Next, we did a series of linear switch steps to the easy (open) side (Leader goes left while Follower goes right). (The hard side is for the Follower to go left, Leader to go right.) Basically, it was a series of short forward step, pivot to face each other, short forward step, pivot to face each other, etc., with Leader snapping his hips to get good rebound energy to stop Follower. We experimented here with tight weight changes with feet together or looser weight changes with more open steps. One creative idea: Anything done in a line can be done in a curve or circle, counterclockwise or clockwise. So then we played with this step, with Leader doing small, tight pivoting in place while Follower steps around him in tight switch steps, and then the Follower doing small, tight pivoting in place, while the Leader steps around her in tight switch steps. The difficult thing about this is that sometimes the Leader's left hand pumps the Follower's right hand or he may use his right hand as he attempts to force her to pivot. If he does this, the Follower cannot feel any rebound energy. To remedy this, the Leader can practice this by himself, holding his left hand up as if it is sliding across a wall while he does a series of tight pivots linearly. This "wall", this plane between the Leader and Follower, is important since that is where the rebound comes from. So here, the Leader's left arm and Follower's right hand need to be on a straight line, with no push or pull.

Next, we worked on the ocho and blocking the ocho to rebound her back, in addition to working the boleo. Again, if the rebound energy is too late, you will get a boleo. The Leader's right arm and forearm are used to lead, but not the right hand.

Since our boleos didn't look very good, we all did some exercises to work on the technique so that we could get high energy for snappy boleos. The dancer plants his left foot, while trying to whack his butt with his right foot (thigh is lifted). Here we were to rotate our hips to do this, but not pivot, so we could get a whipping motion, striking the floor like a match to get the whacking sound on our left butt cheek. For the feet, point them and turn them out when it leaves the floor, and be sure foot doesn't sickle. As always, soften the knee of the supporting standing leg. Follower needs to be ready to take the rebound.

Next, the Leaders attempted to lead a back ocho after the Follower's front boleo on both the open and close side.

Next, we did Leader and Follower back sacadas, working on the hard side and easy side. For the Leader, it's a stretch on the back sacada of his right leg of Follower's trailing left foot on the open side of the embrace. On the close side, Leader does back sacada of his left leg of Follower's trailing right foot. In doing sacadas, chest needs to remain up, and there is a breaking of the embrace on the close side. Importantly, we quickly practiced changing the embrace with respect to the Leader's left hand and Follower's right hand, whereby his thumb goes on top of the back of the Follower's hand, and then he reaches his other fingers underneath. This type of hold is common in ballroom, and this change in hand embrace is necessary for the Leader to get her hand behind the left side of his back as his left arm does an L behind his back to do his back sacada of his right leg of Follower's trailing left leg on the open side of the embrace. When changing the hand embrace, the Leader leads her to pivot, and should try to do the hand transition in the middle of her step.

When doing the Leader's back sacada on the close (easy) side of the embrace, there is a transition of the Leader's right hand down Follower's back. Here, the Follower's arm must not be underneath the Leader's arm; it can be over or on top of/ on the outside of Leader's arm.

We discussed but did not have the time to do any rebounding off boleos into back sacadas.

Maestros did a demo of what was taught to Di Sarli's Viviani.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Organic Leader's Back Sacada

Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
January 8, 2009, La Pista, San Francisco

Note: The videos below are from a previous class courtesy of Miles.

Demo Only


From close embrace via shortened entrance

Slow motion

We began with one dance, trying to do lots of turns and Leader's back sacadas so maestros could see where we were skillwise.

For Leader's back sacadas, the molinete (turn) technique is very important. So we began with Followers doing counterclockwise molinetes, the goal of which was that the Follower take big smooth steps around the Leader, and employing good technique during her reach, collect, pivot, and weight transfers. Follower should always be behind Leader, and make steps as even and smooth as possible. For the Leader, there is a pull lead in his left hand (as opposed to a push lead). This Leader's left hand pull lead is important because for the organic back sacada, the lead is also from the pull of the Leader's left hand (as felt by Follower's right hand).


For the organic back sacada, we began with the Leader doing a linear grapevine pattern of FWD - SIDE - BACK (big pivot) (and here where it should be a SIDE step) BACK SACADA. The Follower takes big, equal steps, especially on her side step, where she receives the Leader's back sacada. For the Follower, her steps are BACK - SIDE - FORWARD - SIDE (on this side step is where the Leader does his back sacada through her legs). The Leader must really engage his left arm lead so that Follower feels his pull during his back sacada (this was emphasized repeatedly throughout the lesson). At the point of the Leader's back sacada, the Leader lets his right arm go to give Follower room to get around because he is coming into her space. The Leader's back sacada might not be directly on the line (but should be very close to being in line). You can also try this on the other side (pull would be from the opposite arm).

For Leader's technique, he can practice the grapevine pattern alone:
- Walking in a line.
- Practicing the pivot: for the pivot he should keep his spine very straight to keep his axis, and not tilt his head forward or back or in a strange way as it will throw his balance and posture off.
- Working on his upright posture and straight forward walking and solid foot placement by imagining he is on a balance beam in the Olympics.
- This grapevine pattern is more difficult to do alone because we give each other balance when we dance together.

For Follower's technique, she must keep her spine straight, chest up, have no forward lean in her posture to create space for each other, but not be too far away from each other.

Because we weren't getting enough torsion when we attempted to do the Leader's back sacada, we did some muscle memory EXERCISES to work on our pivots and hip rotation:

(1) The Turn Game: We were to do molinetes (turns) with each other, and on the BACK step (of FWD-SIDE-BACK-SIDE-REPEAT) we were to see who could pivot more (the goal was to get lots of pivot in our hips).
(2) The Walking Game: Followers did maximally overturned back ochos while Leaders did maximally overturned forward ochos; then we switched roles with Follower doing maximally overturned forward ochos and Leaders doing maximally overturned back ochos.

Then we went back to trying the original liner organic back sacada from the grapevine. We improved and went onto the next back sacada:

For the Leader:
(1) Leader steps side left (Follower steps side right) as if he is getting on the balance beam.
(2) Leader right foot steps straight forward.
(and) Leader pivots, with hips coming around 70% of the way, and right hand needs to let go and drop. At this point the Leader's left hand compresses in to stop Follower from stepping, because any pressure will make her step to the side too early.
(3) Leader's does back sacada with his left leg as his hips pivot around the rest of the way (30%).
(4) Collect.

For the Follower:
(1) Follower steps side right.
(2) Follower left foot steps straight back.
(and) right foot collects.
(3) Right foot steps side right, curving around Leader.
(4) As Leader does his organic back sacada, her left leg peels away as a consequence to exit.

We can do this in close embrace, but Leader must let Follower go to her axis by letting go. Leader lets go with right hand, while left hand stays fixed.

For the exit when Follower receives the sacada, there are options for her free left leg:
(1) She can do a floor fan, which opens out and away, fanning with the arch on the floor, and fan out with either the toe or heel on the floor.
(2) She can receive the sacada and have her leg peel away with her knee up, raised but keeping her leg close to the Leader's body. Her toes should be pointed down to the floor, and she should not open up her hips, but keep them close.
With both of these options, the Follower needs to be strong and supportive in her standing leg so that the free leg can be articulate (and she has more control over the movement and aesthetics of what the free leg is doing).

For the Leader during the sacada, his heel should be where it normally is when walking backward. Since many leaders do not walk backward at all, as a reminder he would use the same technique as Followers use when walking backward: Stretch the leg back, don't lift heel too high, and don't bop up and down, but try to have body remain on one constant level.

Maestros concluded with a demo to DiSarli's Nada with vocals by Alberto Podesta.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

Thursday, January 8, 2009

El Huracan Colgada

Song: No Vuelues Maria by Alfredo DeAngelis
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
January 7, 2009, Cellspace, San Francisco

For the technique of the colgada, it has a feel similar to a turn (molinete) in terms of outwards (centrifugal) force/intention. We began with a partnered exercise where Leader and Follower faced each other toe to toe; Leader gave Follower energy to push her out while still holding on to her; both Leader and Follower were to hang on to each other with equal balance. For the posture, dancers should have hips back but under rib cage so body and spine are fairly vertical, while Leader and Follower legs are more in a V line away from each other, with knees soft. This is a small movement, with just a little bit of hanging away (not a huge amount). The Leader and Follower counterbalance each other with their body mass, engaging their core muscles, not just arm strength. It is important that the shoulders do not roll forward, and you should not plank, or stick your belly in, and that you should send your hips out, but don't stick your butt out.

For the figure, we began with a rock step. Then Leader walks around to right, collecting each time he steps, or stepping continually. The goal here is to suspend the Follower on her axis as she is on her right leg. The Follower is in a colgada even though it doesn't look like it. This is a somewhat subtle, smaller colgada, without a lot of hang away from each other. The Follower bends her supporting right knee a little, and her hips go back to sit a little, and her back goes into Leader's right arm, while her free left leg goes back as a result of her hips being in alignment with each other and going back. The Leader gets outside of Follower's right foot with his left foot, then his right foot steps in the middle of her two feet. He steps around in a counterclockwise manner, going R - L - R- L , etc. As the Leader's right foot steps around, the left foot has to draw in; otherwise, the Follower's foot will tangle in his. So for the Leader, it is not a planting or jamming, but a true stepping around.

Because colgadas are a circular movement, in every moment your body needs to make adjustments to maintain the proper posture and connection. The Follower needs to use both arms in the embrace, and has to pull to make it feel equal in her arms and energywise with the Leader to maintain the hanging action. In tango music, the "Hurricane" Colgada can be done at the climax of the song or during the 1/8 note runs. It is called "Hurricane" because it is a very fast, spinning colgada. Our goal at the end of this and all colgadas is to slow it down, collect, and exit gracefully. For the Follower, she needs to focus on one spot on the leader and stay on it. For the Leader, the walk around the Follower is like penguin sashay as he spins around fast around the Follower.

For the more experienced students, we did a variation that was basically a backward one done in sweetheart embrace. Here, the relationship between dancers changes, and dancers do not face each other, but forward in the same direction, with the Leader behind and to the left of the Follower. The Follower is on her left leg, and her right leg is forward and out as the Leader walks around behind her.

For the less experienced students, we did an exercise to get us used to the colgada energy intention. Here, the Follower stood with her legs about 2 feet apart, and Leader stood with his feet inside and touching hers. Then the Leader sent Follower out and around while still hanging on to her. Here, we experienced the semicircular energy, playing in a half circular motion. This is also called the Batman & Robin exercise. We were to go back and forth, side to side, with bodies slightly bent (upper bodies out and away from each other while we slightly sat as our legs were in a V with each other since our feet were touching), then step through. This exercise was to help us get used to hanging from each other in this position. To lead Follower to step through, Leader plants his weight on his right leg, and step left, which leads Follower to step left simultaneously as she feels the energy intention.

For both groups of students: We did a rock step of Leader rocking forward (Follower back), then step side left (Follower right), to do a regular colgada (like a step over pasada with more outward, centrifugal energy). Then, we did a colgada where the Leader's left foot steps outside of Follower's right foot, to send her left foot out and around Leader to step. Or, Leader can step around quickly so she remains suspended in the colgada (step over pasada).

Notes courtesy of Anne at