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