Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ben Bogart Workshops on Musicality

Musicality for Dancers - Parts I & II

With permission from

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

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