Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Exploration of Height Change

Song: Como dos Estranos by Francisco Canaro (vocals by Ernesto Fama)
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
March 30, 2009, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

Height change is the up and down movement of dancers. Are height changes deliberate or do we do them unaware as a result of bad habits? Every movement we make in tango can have an element of height or height change. If our height change is deliberate, is it styled? Does it come from communication? Is it an expression of the music? Everything we do has an impact on our partner.

We began with an exercise attempting to use height change to communicate. We did this by doing a touch step or multiple touch steps, first to the left and right sides, then forward and back. The lead is more of the energy of the Leader pushing into the ground and not transferring weight. The Leader's axis remains where it is; his center does not move. The Follower should be prepared to go down, and to do this she must have flexion in the knee of her standing supporting leg and just reach with the other leg, but not change weight. This is especially important/apparent on the Follower's forward step. The dancers' centers don't move; they stay back, but flexion in the knees give the dancers range (especially the Follower). We then tried the touch step exercise with our eyes closed.

The question came up of whether or not we knocked knees when we did this, especially on the forward and back touch steps. Many people did. To remedy this, the Leader can use our upper bodies to create space on the bottom where the legs are by going outside or inside (using a little bit of contrabody movement) because someone has to move to get out of the way.

Next subject: weight changing. Here, we were to either change our weight in place, or make a side step. We were to really work on our posture, thinking about how up we could be, and still have our feet on the ground, and keeping the backs of our neck long and letting our head float (like in Alexander Technique). If you are over your center, you will be very grounded and balanced.

Next, we did a series of side steps, as many as three, four or five, then come back up to center and do a few weight changes in place. Here, the Leader was to have flexion in his knees going down before he actually goes. There is a "U" energy when doing the side step, and when there is a series of linked side steps, the energy becomes more like a series of "O"s.

Next, we worked on forward and back steps with weight changes. Here, we stepped forward and back with the same foot with a weight change (or several weight changes) in between. This was to let us practice the concept of rising up to change weight, and to have down compression in our leg to help us move.

Next, we used height change to communicate. The Follower can help the Leader to go up, giving him a lifting energy with slight push to increase the chest connection. The Follower's supporting standing leg can create a nicer quality of the side step by staying longer on the supporting, standing leg, but pushing off and lifting and transferring the weight slowly, delayed, staying as long as she can on her supporting, standing leg so that she massages the step. Here, there is a very apparent oppositional pull of up and down in the posture, really pulling horizontally to create density of movement (like molasses). Follower should really reach when doing the side step, and to get maximum range of motion, her supporting, standing leg must have flexion in the knee. The goal was for the Follower to be really up, maximally stretching from sternum to pelvis/hip.

Next, we worked on the concept of keeping the weight transfer in the middle. Here, the Leaders used a little bit of down energy and settling. When the Leader plays with the weight in the middle, both Leader and Follower's legs are open/separate.

From this idea of the weight in the middle, the Leader stops the Follower when she is in the middle of her weight (she is at the point of split weight), he then walks around her axis. As Leader walks around Follower, she pivots around on both feet without changing weight; her body eventually unwinds as a consequence of maintaining connection and remaining in front of the Leader. The Leader uses a bit of down energy, and as he walks around and she unwinds/spirals out, both dancers' heights go up. We tried this first on the Follower's back step and Leader walking around her clockwise. This can be done on the other side as well.

From this split weight walk around, we can conclude this to unwind directly into a volcada. Here, the Leader drops the Follower in her energy to lead the volcada. For Follower's technique, it is very important to really stretch from sternum to pelvis/hip, and to maintain this stretch/reach and core engagement at all times, especially when it transitions into the volcada.

Maestros concluded with a demo to Canaro's Como Dos Extranos with Ernesto Fama on vocals.

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

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Advanced Volcadas

Song: Nido Gaucho by Carlos DiSarli (vocals by Alberto Podesta)
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
March 27, 2009, Emeryville, CA

This was truly an advanced seminar, with maestros introducing the idea/figure, and then giving the students two songs to work on it to figure it out. Maestros expected us to have knowledge and fundamentals of volcadas.

(1) Standard Forward and Back Volcada, with Follower working on how to embellish/play with them, and Leader leading them so she has time to play. Maestra demo'd rulo embellishments in the volcadas. Play can be done as long as the music dictates it. For the Follower, she should treat her embellishment like the ocho parada/pasada, doing it within the time of the lead/movement. The Follower has choice; sometimes the Leader will feel the Follower doing something more and will let her do the embellishment by giving her time. If the Leader leads one straight smooth volcada, the Follower will find a place to do the embellishment within the time of the lead. Follower can do play as soon as the Leader starts the lead for the volcada so that the embellishment is in the beginning; otherwise, she imposes the embellishment, which changes the timing of the leader. Our goal in embellishing is to stay within the music/movement.

(2) The Funny Volcada -- from the open back ocho. Here the dancers are perpendicular to each other, and Leader gives Follower lots of time to play. We only attempted this on the easy side. The Volcada has a different feel when the foot is articulated with the heel on the floor, so be careful about how you hold your body. Be playful. Since many people did not know the Funny Volcada, we reviewed it. The analogy was the Follower as the moon orbiting around the Leader, or earth, so she can spin on her own. It is important that Follower use good volcada technique and be strong in her left arm with the digging down to get lift like coming out of a swimming pool, and that her standing weighted leg be strong and supporting of her own weight. The Leader's foot work is left foot back, right back step, left back step, big side step. The Follower traces the path that the leader leads, but stays behind him. Follower should know where leader is the whole time. (See the Funny Volcada September 11, 2008 video and notes.)

(3) Chicho Compression Volcada. The Leader uses out/colgada energy, then breaks the normal volcada rules (normal rules: (1) never collapse; (2) never go down) -- sending her out, then pulling her in so she collapses a little. The Leader also collapses his frame too, but his back is still engaged and his core is still engaged. We did this in open embrace, and tried small ones since this was new to many students and is a "special effect" volcada, since the Leader sends her out, then back in by using compression to collapse her. For the Follower, in her frame collapse, her shoulder blades come closer together, touching. When doing volcadas in open embrace, they should be done small. The Follower really needs to engage to compress/collapse in, which is why the Leader leads the colgada energy first. If she is too stiff, she will block the energy. This requires trust and should not be done large.

(4) Multiple Volcadas / Hard Side Volcadas. We tried the more "dangerous" versions of what we already worked on -- linking the standard forward and back volcadas with the Leader doing windshield wiper technique to do multiple ones, and also the Leader using the right foot block to do multiple ones.

(5) Travelling Forward Volcadas where Leader walks back. Here, the Follower knows where to land her foot because the Leader sets her down mid-Volcada. Compression and release are used here so that the Leader can give the Follower the feeling of both compression and release. With respect to walking, the Leader does this as if he is trying to lead sacadas in a funny way, but his body is swerving from side to side. It looks a little weird. For Follower, she does a series of progressive forward volcadas, and you don't have to do too many of them since the Leader's back will be to the line of dance as she progresses forward. Floorcraftwise, this works well approaching corners of the dance floor.

(6) Volcada Plus. Here we practiced our sustained volcadas, trying to do them in the context of social dancing. The Volcada Plus is where the Follower's side legs go out and is sustained, like an ocho cortado of volcadas. The Leader leads a forward volcada, then uncrosses it after she settles on her weight. Follower needs to use the same technique as for regular volcadas, but her free leg is straightened out very linearly. For the Leader it is important that his feet are together so that his hips are under his axis. The Leader's spine stays straight to take care of his axis, with the weight split between two legs so he can keep her back on axis. We also attempted to do more difficult Volcada Pluses: with a Follower forward split, going really underneath and beneath/between Leader's leg. (See the Back Volcada Explored February 20, 2009 video and notes.)

(7) Volcada Plus with two different exits. Maestros only showed us this as it was beyond what the students could do. Starting from Promenade position,
(A) The Bounce Exit, where the Leader kind of crosses her, then he steps back and so does she. There is an up, bouncing energy to this.
(B) The Helicopter / Spinny Thing. This is tricky. The Leader turns to his left to pivot her around to the maximum point of support where Leader has to unwind her.

Maestros demo'd all that they taught to Di Sarli's Nido Gaucho with Alberto Podesta on vocals.

The milonga was fun. I had danced with many new Leaders. The catered food by Cristina was fantastic as always: tortilla and pita chips, guacamole, cheese platter, bread, fresh fruit, grapes, crackers, sliced veggies, hummus, baba ganoush, spinach quiche/muffin things, prosciutto wrapped grilled pears with Gorgonzola, and two yummy desserts of flan and deconstructed ginger bread triffle. Pablo y Jaime thought it was the best food Cristina had ever done for a Seminario. Tangonero played live, and they sound better and better (from an excellent base to begin with).

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