Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Body Spiral Explored with a CELLspace Inspired Music Mix

Song: White Flag by Dido
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
January 16, 2011, Stanford University

Since this was an exploration class, Maestros asked what we wanted to work on, and it was decided that we continue our work on the Overturned Gancho.

Pendulum Exercise
We began with the Pendulum Exercise with the Follower swinging her leg, being really big and strong in her swing, really opening up and toes pointed forward, and the knee only bends when it has to.

At the right moment, the Leader puts his leg behind the Follower's supporting standing foot/leg, with his heel lifted from the floor, and his thigh opening up, exposing the soft part of his leg to receive the Follower's swinging pendulum leg in a gancho. This is called the "Captain Morgan" (of rum fame) position. Again, the Follower's bend in the knee happens at the maximum height of her back leg swing, and she should have good flesh contact with the Leader's thigh.

On the Pendulum Exercise, the Follower should be tall, lengthen the leg, point her toe.
The Leader's foot goes behind the Follower's far away foot, unweighted, with just a little bit of pressure to keep it steady, so perhaps 10% of his weight is on it.
If the Follower is much shorter, the Leader's knee needs to bend, so that he goes down like an elevator.

For the Pendulum Exercise, we had three levels:
(1) Both dancers with both eyes open
(2) Follower's eyes closed.
(3) Leader's and Follower's eyes closed.

If the Follower can do the exercise well, they are almost there.

The Overturned Gancho
The Leader plants his foot, but keeps rotating the Follower so that she pivots a lot and to the point where she can't rotate at all anymore. As he stops and plants, her free leg will go flying. The Leader's right hand needs to let her go so she can go. The Follower will still be hanging on with her left and right hands. The Leader's right hand just provides support on the Follower's left side rib cage/waist. The Follower can drop her left hand, completely letting go of the joint, to get 4 more inches of spiral so she can turn more. If she keeps hanging on, it will be more difficult for her to get around. The Leader's left shoulder joint needs to be relaxed too, to provide space.

Double overturned ganchos can also be done.

Again, as for ochos, the Follower should stay close to the Leader while doing her ochos (including her back ochos). If she needs to lean, she should hang back, not forward. She should not do knee ganchos.

Variation with Leader Back Ocho:
One easy adaptation is with the Leader doing a pivoting back ocho, while leading the Follower to do her overturned ocho so that the Follower ganchos through the back of the Leader's leg, so that her foot ends up at the front of the Leader when she ganchos.

To maintain the connection, the Follower should keep looking at the Leader.

Back Gancho Versus Follower's Back Sacada
The rule of the Follower's forward ocho is that the Leader does nothing at the point of no return, does not do any blocking or any rebounding.

How does the Leader lead a gancho/boleo? You stop turning at the right time to create a wall for the Follower. There is a block energy versus a continuous smooth energy. The Block energy has a suddenness, strong send energy to it.

For the Follower's back sacada, the Leader needs to be able to keep turning smoothly and keep the energy continuous and smooth with no block energy.

For either the Back Gancho or the Follower's Back Sacada, she needs to pivot a lot on the back ocho step, otherwise she will be too far away and hit his foot. She needs to pivot enough to walk around the Leader on the back ocho.

Since this was an exploration class, we drilled a lot to try to figure things out, mixing up Back Ganchos or Follower's Back Sacadas, both on the left and right sides.

Next, Maestros showed us a simple sequence, which we were to replicate in our bodies.

From the idea of the Leader's back ocho Follower overturned gancho through his legs from the back of his thighs to his front, he does a right leg parada. Follower does a reverse pasada, stepping back with her right foot, to a Follower left leg barrida of the Leader's right leg counterclockwise, to a Follower right leg gancho of the Leader's right leg. Our goal in recreating this sequence was the apply all the concepts we learned in all 5 workshops. Leader should drop his knee and keep turning the Follower at the point of his parada/her pasada. At the point of the barrida, the Leader has a soft knee and his weight is on his back left foot so that his right leg is free enough for the Follower to sweep easily and he doesn't block or resist her.

The class concluded with a summary review of Q&A.

Maestros did a demo to White Flag by Dido.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

The Boleo vs Overturned Gancho Connection with Roberto Rufino on Vocals to Di Sarli

Song: Corazon by Carlos Di Sarli with Robert Rufino on Vocals
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
January 16, 2011, Stanford University

We began with a review of yesterday's material to warm up our bodies. Today, our focus was to explore the benefits of having good body spiral, which enables us to have better connection, better communication, more technique and more fulfillment in our dancing.

Ocho Exercise
We began in partnership with no Leader or Follower, and we both did forward ochos, stepping around and toward our partner's trailing foot. We tried this doing back ochos as well, which required even more torsion on our partners. In doing these ochos, the hand that goes to the forward foot will use a little bit of the pull energy to help give lots of pivot in the hips and feet. Again, it was emphasized that we should use our back muscles to keep us up, and our elbows should be pointed down.

Switch Step Exercise
Next, we did the switch step exercise in partnership, which is similar to the Ocho exercise, except we added the switch step pivot forward and snap back. Here, our work focused on how we rely on each other in a positive tango way, as we rebound off of each other and are the other person's wall. So we needed to focus on how we engaged, when we engaged, using our back, core, and connection to our floor. We were not to use our arms and shoulders to lead as if steering a bus.

Next, in Tea Kettle Open Embrace, the Leader's were to do the switch step lead. Leader should have symmetrical (30-45 degree) rotation in his chest/torso.

Building The Forward ("With") Boleo

Foot Trace and Caress the Floor Exercise
We began with an exercise to loosen up our hip. We were to caress the floor with our big toe, tracing the shape of the front of our opposite, supporting standing foot. We were to see how much we can rotate the hip, one foot around the other foot. Our feet began in a "V" position with a little turnout. At the end of our caress with our foot on the other side of our standing foot, our feet will look like the top of an arrow "/\".

“Thwack” (Front Boleo Legwork) Exercise
Then we did the "Thwack" Exercise, with our leg going all the way up and hitting the outside of our opposite hip in a whip action. The goal was to get a good thwack so that you can hear the snap of the pants. The Follower controls the shape of the boleo leg, even though it's the free leg. The quality of the boleo is in how well her leg does the whip action. Keep the knee as low as possible, as long as you clear the other thigh. Knee can lift a little at the end. Follower should keep her hips even, with an even pelvic floor. The Follower needs to have a solid standing, supporting leg for the boleo to work.

Leading the Boleo
With the Leader in Tea Kettle Open Embrace, the Leader was to lead this by doing a side step to the left, attacking the floor, changing weight, and then stepping again in a counter step without transferring the weight completely, but keeping it in the middle while sending her past the point Point of No Return.

The most important thing is timing to stabilize the step and the stop energy. Leader should not be too early or too late. The goal of this class was for the Leader to figure out where that point is and how to lead the boleo at that exact moment.

The Follower needs to be able to pivot on her standing leg, and the Leader needs to keep the Follower on her axis and not pull her off as she does her boleo by rushing her through her completion as her leg returns to exit. Thus, he must be patient and wait for the Follower to finish and he must wait for her hips to get back around after her boleo before he leads the next step, which could be a back ocho or regular back step after her normal collection. Leader must not rush the exit, otherwise he will knock her off axis.

Send Energy and Rebound Energy
Every Boleo has a send energy and a rebound energy to varying degrees. It could be 50/50, or 90/10 or anything in between. Maestro commented that Fabian Salas once demonstrated this by throwing a tennis ball at a wall.
Throwing the ball = send energy
Ball Hitting Wall and bouncing back = boleo
Ball Hitting No wall = ocho

The most obvious way to block the energy is through the embrace. The Leader's counter step reinforces the wall. The counter step can be a little away from the Follower.

Timing is key. The place where the Follower is ready to hit the wall is when you want to give her the block energy.

Our music was DiSarli with Rufino on vocals because the music is obvious with a good strong beat where we could employ the send energy, and also a good strong beat where we can feel the rebound energy.

(1) Regular exit is a collection and foot returns back down to the floor.
(2) Knee goes up and around, then back down. Do not knee the Leader. This is for slower, more melodic and flowy music.

We could also do double or triple boleos before exiting.

Maestros showed us the overturned gancho, which is like the idea of the Follower kicking through the Leader's legs from the forward ocho, only it is done on the back ocho instead. The Leader gives the Follower a lot of send energy and also over rotates her so that she does an overturned back ocho and pivots a lot on her supporting, standing leg, such that her toes are pointed completely away from the Leader. Then he creates the wall energy to change it from circular to linear, compressing the energy and being like a wall or statue, as her boleo goes through his legs.

The class concluded with a summary review of Q&A.

Maestros did a demo to Corazon by DiSarli with Rufino on vocals.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

Rebotes (switch steps) for Tango, Vals and Milonga with Juan D'Arienzo

Song: Nada Mas by Juan D'Arienzo
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
January 15, 2011, Stanford University

The goal of this workshop was to continue our work on spiral energy, applying it to our vals and milonga. Thus, the introduction of the switch step, or "rebote".

In partnership with no Leader or Follower, we did forward ochos, pivoting as much as possible, but not breaking the embrace. We were to step toward our partner's trailing leg and really work the spiral in our bodies. Our shoulders should be relaxed and down. Our lats are engaged and support our back. We should stretch and reach our foot, and then go in our step forward. We could also practice this on our own.

Rebote Footwork and Bodywork
Next, we did a solo exercise, where we stepped forward, pivoted 90 degrees, snapped back, and stepped back. So we did it with right foot forward, pivot forward (clockwise), snap back (counterclockwise), step left foot back. Left foot forward, pivot forward (counterclockwise), snap back (clockwise), right foot back.

Tai Chi Tango Exercise
Next, we did the Tai Chi Tango exercise, which is an exercise to help us work on our connection, really mirror and match our partner’s energy, and feeling compression.

Leader and Follower face each other and are hand to hand (or palm to palm). The Leader does a circular motion with each of his hands, and at some point, he stops and gives compression. The Follower's job is to mirror and match the circular motion and to give resistance when she feels the Leader compress.

Next, the Leader's tea pot embrace (with his right hand behind him at his lower back like the handle of a tea pot, and his left arm and hand up like the spout of a tea pot, for the Follower to hang onto) was introduced. Leader should be sure that his left arm/hand (spout) is solid and stiffer. His left arm/hand (spout) should not telescope forward into the Follower.

The Point of No Return
When Leader’s and Follower’s hips face each other, that is called the "Point of No Return." In leading rebotes, the Leader starts compressing before the Follower reaches the Point of No Return. He compresses at the right moment so that the Follower has a wall from which to bounce back off. The Leader should bring his legs together at the point of the rebote to be a more solid wall and have better connection with the floor.

The rebound/rebote can be smooth or snappy/violent.

Adding the Weight Transfer to the Rebote
What happens when we add a weight transfer? The rebote travels linearly. Here, we travel, rebounding forward, linearly. Our hips are turn the same way.
The Leader leads the weight change by simply dropping the weight onto the foot.

This can be done circularly too, with either the Leader or Follower as the axis / center of the circle.

There are four possible variations:
If you can make the linked rebotes with weight transfer go in a line, you can also turn it, with either the Follower as the center, or the Leader as the center. But first, you should start it as a line. The Follower follows the Leader's direction and energy. Usually the Follower walks around the Leader, but the Follower can be the center and do her rebote steps. Maestros demonstrated, but the students did not attempt, doing rebotes using back ochos.

We were to work on getting the first, simple rebote down into our bodies before we attempted the other variations. Again, it was emphasized that the Leader keeps his left arm solid. We also did this in single time and double time. The Leader needs to be able to lead the weight change.

Push and Pull Aspects of the Embrace
In the embrace, there are two sides, or left hand and our right hand. For both Leader and Follower there is push and pull, using the palm of our hands or our fingers, both in our left hand and our right hand. To understand this concept, Maestra demonstrated what the push/pull would look like on a ballet barre. There is push/pull resistance/compression energy. If the Follower pulls the Leader off axis, she is doing the push/pull too strong or at the wrong timing.

"Surprise" Step
The Follower does ochos, and the Leader leads it such that the Follower kicks her leg through the Leaders open legs.

The Rules for the Follower:
The "Surprise Step" has the same feeling as the rebote, with the Leader giving you the wall, but he stops the rebound energy of his hips with the Leader compressing into the floor. This frees up the Follower's free leg to kick through.

Pendulum Leg Exercise
We backed up with an exercise, the Pendulum Leg. Here, the Follower's leg swings from the hip, large and full, not from the knees. Her knees should stay low, but be a part of the entire leg during the swing. It's a controlled leg swing, not a floppy one. Thus, it is a Tai Chi moment where you need to have freedom and also control.

After the exercise, we attempted to drill some more of rebotes with the surprise step kick through.

The class concluded with a summary review of Q&A.

Maestros did a demo to Nada Mas by D'Arienzo.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

Get Your 'Pivot' vs No 'Pivot' Ochos Defined with Edgardo Donato

Song: Se Va La Vida by Edgardo Donato
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
January 15, 2011, Stanford University

Our music for the second workshop was Donato: rhythmic, playful and sweet.

We began with a review of the simple sequence learned in the Workshop 1, focusing on applying the concepts we learned to be as twisty as possible:

8CB to 5 (cross)
Follower forward ochos
Leader parada, with his hips turning 45 degrees.

Follower should keep her chest turned toward the Leader, even though her hips face away (she can pivot away as much as she can manage it)

Follower’s embellishments to the Leader parada (done on either side):
(1) Syncopated stepover.
(2) Rulo

Syncopated Stepover
The syncopated stepover is used to accent the strong rhythm. The Follower steps a little back, then a little to the side, and then around in front and over the Leader’s parada foot like a little boat. It’s a little like tricking him.

On the close side of the embrace, it’s left foot back, right foot side, left foot around in front and over.

On the open side of the embrace, it’s right foot back, left foot side, right foot around in front and over.

Maestra demonstrated the rulo, where her hip opens out and away from the Leader, and then she draws a circle on the floor with her foot, while she pivots on her opposite foot, so that when she is done with her rulo, her body is oriented toward the Leader at a right angle so she is ready to step over his parada foot.

Parada Pointers:
Leader: Touch the Follower’s foot in the parada. If there is no foot contact, you will trip her. Have contact in the feet, but do not jam her pivoting foot.

The “Rule of the Knee” was introduced. The “Rule of the Knee” is that the Leader’s knee needs to be lower than the Follower’s knee, otherwise she can’t pass.

The “Rule of the Embrace” was introduced. It says that the Follower wants to hold on. She can pivot as much as possible within the constraints of the embrace. Our goal was to have the Follower pivot as much as possible.

The Follower's pasada step over is a forward step, long and around the Leader.

Now, the meat of the class material:

Follower Ochos with Leader Side Step
In partnership, we did Follower ochos, working in a slot, with the Leader doing a side step (versus the earlier ocho with Leader standing in place but rotating his upper body).

Follower: She does a 180 degree pivot, so that she does the ochos linearly, in a slot. She should rotate as much as possible without breaking the embrace. She can adjust her hip so that she is in the line of the Leader. She should amplify the Leader's energy 2-3 times with her hips so that she can get a good pivot. Be good in your embrace, have elasticity and tone, to take the lead energy and transport it into the hip.

Leader: Don't be asymmetrical in your torso rotation. Most beginner Leaders do uneven torso rotations, turning more on one side than the other when leading ochos. Our goal was to have the amount of rotation the same, at 30-45 degrees. The Leader should not compensate for the asymmetry in his torso rotation by cheating and fixing it by using the embrace (his arms). Timing is key with respect to torso rotation. The Leader's energy into the floor helps the Follower pivot. Along with trying to be even in the 30-45 degree torso rotation, he should also keep his axis up (not tilted forward), when leading the Follower ocho. Otherwise he will pull her in.

For the leader, the side step is like a martial arts chop, adding impulse to the ocho lead to make the ocho more exciting. The Leader should attack the floor at the right time, to release the pivot from the Follower's ocho factory (hips).

"No Pivot" Ocho
Leader: Pretend you are rollerblading down the boardwalk in your feet, but have NO shoulder rotation in your upper body.

Follower: Back cross steps with no hip pivot. Open the hips without pivoting the supporting, standing leg so that your shoulders do not rotate.

Vanilla Bean Ocho
In tea kettle open embrace, the Leader does the roller blade footwork while the Follower does no-pivot ochos. The idea for both is that neither should have any torso or shoulder rotation. In the tea kettle embrace, it's easier to be symmetrical. When you add the normal embrace, it's more difficult to be symmetrical. In class, we were to work on the ideal of being symmetrical. At the milonga, you should do what fits in the space.

The Leader's footwork is in cross system. He gets into it with a side step left, holds the Follower's weight in place while he does a quick weight change, and then he roller blades forward.

We also tried this in double time, as it is very fun to do musically. In single time, the Leader collects at the ankles in between the strong beats as he would normally, but in double time he does not since there is not enough time. Instead, his legs are open and it might look more like a waddle-- admittedly not very elegant, but all eyes will be on the Follower anyway. Since all eyes are on the Follower, she should always collect in between her steps.

Pivoted Ocho: Baby Back Ocho
In this ocho, the Follower has a lot of torsion in her core.
Leader releases his right arm so that the Follower's hips have room to rotate. The Leader transitions to open embrace with both Leader and Follower at vertical axis.
We tried doing this in partnership, doing it in normal time and double time.

The class concluded with a summary review of Q&A.

Maestros did a demo to Se Va La Vida by Edgardo Donato.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

Fundamentals of Body Spiral for Leaders and Followers

Song: Sinsobar by Edgardo Donato
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
January 15, 2011, Stanford University

We began with Cristina leading several warm-up exercises to help us do twisty moves to the best of our ability.

Exercise 1:
We all stood in a circle, with feet hip width apart (6-8 inches), with feet parallel, trying to look like the letter H.
Keep knees soft, don’t lock them.
Be nice and tall.
Inhale four counts, raise shoulders, swing arms from side to side like a monkey or May pole.
Exhale, drop shoulders.
Do this twice
Begin again, swing arms, exhale, drop shoulders

Exercise 2:
Turn head to the right.
Keep shoulders parallel.
Turn head a little more, trying to look behind you.
Turn head to the left.
Keep shoulders parallel.
Turn head a little more, trying to look behind you.
Bring your chin to your chest.
Roll shoulders back.
Lean head back.
Roll shoulders forward.

Exercise 3:
In partnership, with one persons back facing the other person’s front, the person behind has his hands on the front person’s hips. The front person twists to the right to see if he can turn his head to face the other person. Then he twists to the left to see if he can turn his head to face the other person.

Next, the back person’s hands were changed to the front person’s shoulders, and again the front person tried to turn his head all the say way around so that he could see the other person behind him. Again, we did this both ways.

Next, the back person holds the front person’s head up by the ears, so that the front person’s head was more floaty. The front person tries to twist his whole body around, including his feet, to see how far he can go. We did this on both sides.

The freer the joints, the more twisty the body, and the larger the range of motion one is able to achieve.

Exercise 4: Introduction of One-Legged Concepts
It’s hard to be just on one leg.
We began with being 100% on one leg, our left leg. Do not sit on the leg, keep the knee soft. Be upright. Keep shoulders even, ribcage open, and spine long. Be rooted into the floor. We held this for several counts, and tried it on the left foot and the right foot.

Exercise 5:
Next, we stepped forward with our right leg, raised our left leg, and then take our right arm/shoulder and twist to the right, while standing on one leg (our right leg). We held this pose/position for four counts. Keep shoulders level. Try to raise the arms higher. Hold for 8 counts.

We also tried this on the other side, stepping with our left foot, raising our right leg, and twisting to the left.

Exercise 6: Disassociation Exercises Led by Homer
Walking in a line, turn our body toward our forward walking foot with our arms stretched wide like in exercise 5. Try to look all the way behind you. Keep chest up. Stay tall. Be balanced, elegant and controlled. The idea is to do this smoothly and with flow. At the time of collection, you should be looking back.

We also tried this walking backward.

We drilled this for 1-2 minutes. Practice this at home to improve your tango spiral.

Applying the above Exercises to our Walk:
In partnership, we walked, in line or outside partner in open embrace. We should keep facing each other, but the Leader should try to exaggerate his twisting toward the Follower as he walked and changed from inside to outside partner. We should feel the twist in our core and spine.

Building our Simple Walking Pattern to Leader’s Grapevine Footwork:
Next, in partnership, open embrace, the Leader does grapevine footwork, in and out. Here again, the Follower and Leader should keep their chests toward each other, and try not to move just their shoulders, but their entire bodies, with disassociation. The Leader was to hyper exaggerate leading with his spine.

In kettle embrace (leader’s hands at the small of his back, Follower hanging on to Leader’s arms), we did the Leader’s grapevine footwork, and the Follower needed to mirror the Leader’s body. The Leader should focus on the smoothness in between the transitions. He needs to know when to twist his spine, and coordinate the turn with when he steps on the floor. He should keep the size of his steps consistent, so that the timing is also consistent.

The Follower should mirror the twist in the Leader’s spine when she feels it, and keep consistency and good reaction in her own steps. She must not fall into her steps. In walking back, Follower should take care to walk back straight, with one foot behind the other in one straight line (track). Follow the direction of the Leader’s hips, even though your chest faces the Leader.

The point of this class is to maximize the torsion in our body, but still be balanced in our walk.

It is not just a twist in our front. The core has to soften a little to allow range. The back has to be soft enough to accommodate the twist and to allow separation from what the lower half is doing from where the upper half is.

Leader: Do not tilt and let your shoulders become uneven when you twist back.

Part I: Going to the Follower’s Cross
In tea kettle open embrace, the Leader tries to lead the Follower into the cross. He does the spiral in his back/body to lead it. Here in class, we were to exaggerate this.

Leader: Keep upright, do not lean forward.

Follower: Do not do automatic crosses for this exercise. Make sure you follow the lead. Be with the Leader. Follower’s cross should reflect how the Leader spirals and how his back twists. The cross should be tight. The cross, shallow or wide, depends on how much your right hip opens out and how well the left foot comes back (it should mirror the Leader’s torsion).

The Leader and Follower should be well connected to make this a very sophisticated, elegant move.

Leader: If you can make this feel good, you are on the right road.

Leader: Keep thigh close to the Follower’s. It might even touch. This is so you line up with Follower at the point of her cross.

Part II: Follower Forward Ochos While Leader Stands in Place
In tea kettle open embrace, the Follower does forward ochos while the Leader stands in place. The Follower should stay close, but don’t bump into the Leader. She should take long, snaky steps around him. The Leader really spirals in place. The Follower should have a good, engaged embrace.

Leader parada on either foot.

Follower can embellish before she steps over with a fan or rulo, but she should always step over long and snaky.

Putting It All Together In A Simple Sequence:
8CB to 5 (cross) to Follower forward ochos, to Leader parada on either side.

Followers: Because Leader is in tea kettle embrace, he can’t hold you up or twist you. The Follower has to amplify what the Leader is doing. She needs to be very smart about where she steps. It is very important. She should have tiger hips and snaky steps. Do not knock the Leader over or off his axis. Be near the Leader. The Follower’s whole body is involved in snaking around. Use your curves.

The Follower’s right thigh should brush the Leader’s pants. That’s how close she should be to the Leader.

The class concluded with a summary review of Q&A.

Maestros did a demo dance to Donato’s Sinsobar.

Bonus Material given during the break:

Leader’s Parada Exercise:
We worked on the Leader’s footwork.
Stretch the right foot forward with no body spiral.
Stretch the left foot forward with no body spiral.

Start in one direction, pivot 90 degrees. The twist is in the abdomen, and is like ringing a towel.

Release it to kick heel around.

The foot is out and curving 90 degrees around. Shoulders are twisted even more, about 105 degrees.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How Foot Work Effects Lead & Follow in Turns

Song: Noches de Colon by Ricardo Tanturi with Albert Castillo on Vocals
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
January 17, 2011, The Beat, Berkeley, CA

We began with defining vocabulary of the Absolute Turn versus the Relative Turn.

Absolute Turn:
Turns where there is only one axis, usually the Leader.

Relative Turn:
Turns where the axis is changing with almost every step. An example of this is dancing with sacadas. Follower still wants to go around the axis (walk around the Leader).

To understand these different types of Turns, we danced one dance, turning as we usually do, either absolute or relative, but we were to try to be more aware of how we were turning, either relatively or absolutely.

What is the purest Absolute Turn we can do?
Ones where the Leader is rotating on one axis. An early, sometimes considered a beginner example of this is with the Leader's paddle footwork, so he is on one axis (his standing, supporting leg), while the other foot paddles around. We tried this in open embrace with both Leader and Follower on axis (no lean). The Leader paddles around, really being on one axis (one column from his standing, supporting leg all the way up), while the Follower does a Turn around him.

Leader's Paddle Footwork Technique:
You don't need to have the heel up. Just let it be up at the point of pivot.

Follower's Turn Technique:
This class assumed that Follower knew the grapevine Turn footwork of forward - side - back - side - forward - side - etc.
Keep the steps constant in cadence, weight change, and size.
For the class exercise, we were not to do the automatic QQ of the back - side step if the Leader doesn't lead it. Thus, we were just to step on the strong beat only.
Be in control all the time.
Take equal size steps.
The back step needs to have more pivot to stay around Leader while turning around him.
The real litmus test of whether or not a turn is good is the quality of the side step. Because the back step is challenging, the side step usually suffers. The side step will eventually help the other steps (back cross and forward cross steps). Be clean in your side steps.
Another litmus test is how well the Follower stays close to the Leader. Thus, the Follower needs to figure out how much to pivot on the forward and back steps and how much she needs to step around the Leader to remain close to him.
The Follower needs to be good with all her steps in her turn because each step affects the next step.
Do not fall forward, and do not have small steps. Otherwise, you will kill the turn.

What can be problematic for the Follower to do a good Turn is if the Leader keeps changing his axis. He might inadvertently do this by having instability while he paddles around, or wobbling or partially changing weight from one axis (one column, one leg) to the other (other column, other leg) to maintain his balance as he paddles around. This makes the turn dirty or sloppy.

Cross Walking Forward and Backward Exercise
We did just a short, quick review of the Cross Walking Forward and Backward Exercise since many students were regulars and had done this before.
The goal is to walk forward by doing alternating, continuous back crosses. So you can cross back left foot, unhook and cross back right foot, unhook and cross back left foot, etc., continuously, and all the while attempting to go forward.
We also did the back walk by crossing forward. So you can cross front with your left foot, unhook and cross front with your right foot, unhook, and cross front with your left foot, etc., continuously, and all the while attempting to go backward.
We were to remain upright with chest up, balanced and elegant when we did this exercise.

Exploration Exercise:
The Leader needed to figure out if crossing in front or behind helped the Follower turn.
How does it affect your lead?
Where and at which Follower step is it best for the Leader to cross in front or cross behind?
When you cross, what foot is crossing? Crossed feet can work to your advantage or disadvantage.
The goal for the Leader was to think about what he is doing and why.

When the Leader crosses behind when the Follower does her back cross, it gives a "whoosh" feeling when they go around each other because the pivot helps each other get around. Both the Leader and Follower pivoting back supercharges the turn.

When the Leader steps with his right foot and crosses behind with his left foot, it feels like the turn is slowing down. To keep it going, the Leader needs to have even more spiral in his body.

Maestros demo'd the Leader's Turn with Back Crosses:
Leader turns to his left, enters with his left foot on her side step, doing a right foot back cross on the Follower counterclockwise Turn.
Leader turns to the right, enters with his right foot on her side step, doing a left foot back cross on the Follower clockwise Turn.

Solo Exercise: Leader Footwork
Working in slots, we were to take a:
left foot step forward
hook right foot behind left foot
change weight
unwind, and
left foot step back to our original beginning place

We also did it on the other foot:
right foot step forward
hook left foot behind right foot
change weight
unwind, and
right foot step back to our original beginning place

In partnership, the Leader uses pulling energy to open up his left side on the counterclockwise turn. On the clockwise turn, he opens up his right side. To this, we added the Leader's back cross hook footwork.

During the Turns, both Leader and Follower need to do their jobs.

Leader: Work on crossing behind tight and small so that you have absolute center and clean crosses (not dirty crosses).

Working on the Turn to the Right, in open embrace, we were to explore two ideas:
Starting with the Leader's sacada of his right foot of the Follower's trailing right foot on her left foot side step during the clockwise Turn, to:
(1) the Leader walking around the Follower.
(2) the Leader doing a left foot front cross to make the turn absolute again.

The Leader has a lot of work to perfect and master the Back Enrosque to the Left and the Forward Enrosque to the right. He needs to have tight and deep crossing ability and he needs to be able to pivot enough with energy. Thus, he should try to practice the crossing and pivoting exercises where ever and whenever he can (the bus stop, in the kitchen waiting for the microwave to finish, etc.). He needs to be able to pivot with energy to get his hips in front of the Follower's in order to get more power to get the Follower to keep turning.

Close Embrace Turns:
The close embrace Turn has forward energy, and the steps are truncated, shorter. The Follower truncates the back and forward step.
On the clockwise Turn, the Follower's back step is truncated (a tight back cross step).
On the counterclockwise Turn, the Follower's forward step is truncated (a tight front cross step).
The Leader crossing in front or behind is supposed to help the Turn keep going.

The Review Quiz yielded the conclusion that the effective placement of the feet for the Leader and Follower should result in more power, more energy, better timing and better communication between the dancers during the Turn.

Maestros demo'd the class concepts in open and close embrace to Noches de Colon by Tanturi with Castillo on vocals.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Beginning Class: Novice Material and Introduction to Turns

Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
January 12, 2011, Cellspace, San Francisco

The music for our class was elegant and easy dancing Di Sarli.

We began the class with partnering up, and then giving each other a hug. The first social barrier in tango to get over is hugging. So during the class, we did a lot of hugging in between partner changes.

Human Metronome Game
Next, we played the Human Metronome Game. Leader and Follower stand face to face, with knees soft and feet together. Ankles should be together like Dorothy's in the Wizard of Oz. The Follower puts her index finger on the Leader's body in an appropriate spot, such as on his chest. The Leader shifts weight and the Follower stays with him with her finger, feeling the weight shift and matching it with her own weight shift. The Leader should imagine waving like a tree and swaying gently side to side, so the movement is small and subtle, but grounded. Leader does not need to move a lot. Next, the Follower changes the spot where her finger is to another appropriate point on the Leader's body, such as his belly. Again, she should follow the Leader's weight shifts with weight shifts of her own. The Leader's goal is to communicate the weight shift, and he can vary his speed, slow and fast. Next, the Follower again changes the spot where her finger is (maybe to the Leader's hip), using her other hand. Wherever her finger is, or whatever hand she uses, it should feel the same. The Leader can go fast or slow, but his movement should be narrow, as if he is moving in a coffin. Next, the Leader changes tempo. We tried this while Maestro snapped his fingers on the strong beat to Di Sarli's Don Juan. The goal was for the Leader to try to tune into the music, and translate that into his body movements.

After the song, we hugged and then rotated partners.

Introduction to the Embrace
We began with the open embrace.
The Follower should put her right hand on the top of the Leader's left hand. The contact is soft, and her right elbow points down to the floor, relaxed.
The Leader should have his left hand not too high or too low; it should be somewhere between the Follower's shoulders and eyes.
The Follower's left hand can be on the Leader's shoulder, around his triceps, or around his bicep. It should be floating, not pushing down on the Leader.
The Leader's right hand scoops the Follower.

Junior High Sweetheart Dance
In the open embrace, we tried to change weight as we did at our dances in Junior High School, like young sweethearts, where we separate our feet by a few centimeters or inches, and both dancers take little steps, going around in a circle. It could take 20 steps to get around in one revolution. We did this clockwise and counterclockwise. The Junior High Sweetheart Dance is used as a tool to stall/wait, or to navigate.

Walking in the Line of Dance
The Line of Dance is the way the dance floor's order is maintained, with the Leaders facing counterclockwise (and walking forward) and the Follower's facing clockwise (and walking backward). With Maestro calling out "step" "step" on the strong beat of the song, the Leader would step forward, doing little steps. He could also do weight changes in place, or do the Junior High Sweetheart Dance to the left or to the right. We should not cut corners, otherwise we could wind up in the middle of the dance floor, which is a scary place. We should also not bog down the dance floor, but keep it moving.

Next, we changed partners and hugged our new partner. To a new Di Sarli song we again just practiced dancing, doing just:
Weight Changes
Junior High Sweetheart Dancing
Walking to the music, stepping on the strong beat.

The added instruction was to put this all together and do it all in the Line of Dance, and use all of the space by walking into the corners. Beginner dancers often cut corners to get around the dance floor. We were specifically instructed to not cut corners, but to walk into them, so that we all have more space to dance. We were to stop dancing when the music stops.

Social Etiquette, Part I: Thank You
Besides the Line of Dance, there are two other things that we should know about Argentine Tango social dancing.
The first thing is: "Thank You"
What does it mean when you say "Thank You" to someone you've been dancing with?
It means, "That's It."
It can be used many ways. If you enjoy dancing with someone, you can say it at the end of the tanda (a set of 3-5 songs) with sincerity and enthusiasm. You can also say it after the first song or in the middle of a song if are not comfortable, and don't want to continue dancing with the person.

Next, we changed partners and hugged our new partner. To a new Di Sarli song, we again just practiced dancing, doing just:
Weight Changes
Junior High Sweetheart Dancing
Walking to the music, stepping on the strong beat
In the Line of Dance.

The added instruction was to work on our floorcrafting a little more with the specific instruction on Not to Pass Anyone.

Also, if the embrace didn't feel comfortable to the Follower, she should ask the Leader to change it. Here in class, this is OK to do.

After the song ended, we thanked our partner, gave him a hug, and then changed partners.

Introduction on the Side Step
We all got into one big circle, holding hands. We began with a weight change, stopping with our weight on our right foot, compressing our knees, stretching our left foot, going over and transferring weight to the left side, and then coming up completely onto the left foot and the right leg pulling in to fully collect as a consequence. We also did this to the other side, changing our weight, settling on our left foot, compressing our knees, stretching our right foot, going over and transferring weight to the right side, and then coming up and collecting. Energywise and feelingwise, we mimicked the letter "U" of the alphabet.

In partnership of Leader and Follower, we went from the Metronome Game to the Side Step. In open embrace, the Leader settles on his left, compresses his knees, stretches his free foot, transfers the weight, comes back up and pulls the free leg in. It is important that when the Leader arrives to his new weighted/standing foot/leg, that he draw up in his body. The Leader should try to match the Follower, and not out step her, especially if he has longer legs than she does. Leader should keep his ankles together even while just changing weight in place.

A: On the side step, the footwork for both Leader and Follower should be more like a gentle squeegee, with the focus on the inside of the foot, rather than like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, with the whole foot moving flatly across the floor.
B: Leader: Don't go too far down, otherwise you will knock knees with the Follower. The Leader can control his knee so that it cuts to the inside or the outside of the Follower's knee to avoid contact with her knees. Thus, he should be aware of where the Follower's knees are likely to be.
C: Leader: Do not out step the Follower.
D: Follower: Stay with the Leader.

Next, we did a partner change, hugging our new partner.
To a new Di Sarli song we again just practiced dancing, doing just:
Weight Changes
Junior High Sweetheart Dancing
Walking to the music, stepping on the strong beat
In the Line of Dance
Using the Corners of the dance floor.

To this we added: The Side Step.
When doing the side step, the Leader needs to be aware of his/their orientation. If he is doing the side step across the line of dance, he should be sure he has room because he will be changing lanes. If he does it perpendicular to the line of dance, he should know whether his side step goes forward in the Line of Dance, or backward. If he chooses to go backward, he should be sure he has enough room and time to do so, and that he doesn't crash into or disturb the other dancers moving forward in the Line of Dance, possibly right into him.

The Leaders were also instructed to step forward more confidently, taking bigger steps. They could also vary the size of the steps, big and small, to practice their intention. It is important that the Leaders not compress the embrace unconsciously, but that they should be sure to keep it open.

Social Etiquette, Part II: Eye Contact
Q: How do you ask someone to dance?
A: You use eye contact. Be as subtle as possible.
This is called the "Cabaceo".

For the Follower, if she does NOT want to dance with a Leader who is trying to catch her eye, it is not enough to just not look at the Leader. She should look at him, acknowledge the eye contact, and then purposefully look away.
If she DOES want to dance with the Leader, she should look at the Leader, acknowledge the eye contact, and slightly nod a little bit (not hugely with head bobbing frantically up and down). Here, after he sees the Follower nod at him, the Leader should walk to the Follower and verbally ask, verifying that she does indeed want to dance.

More on Eye Contact:
How to get into the Line of Dance.
Leaders: Do not run into the Line of Dance.
Followers: Do not let the Leaders run into the Line of Dance.
Leaders: Establish eye contact with the couple you plan to cut in front of into the Line of Dance. If they don't acknowledge you, don't go in. Wait for them to go by, and then try with the next couple.

The class was split in two, with Leaders on one side and Followers on the other, and we tried to cabaceo each other, and then the Leaders walked over and verbally confirmed that the Follower wanted to dance.
Then we danced one song using all that we learned so far in class, again paying attention to dance in the Line of Dance, using the corners of the dance floor space, and not passing anyone.

Introduction to the Turn/Hiro/Molinete
The tango Turn is just as vital as walking. The Turn allows us to do everything else.
In one big circle, we all held hands. Then we took a side step right, forward cross step left, side step right, back cross step left so that we went around in one big counterclockwise circle.
We also tried this in the opposite direction: Side step left, forward cross step right, side step left, back cross step right so that we all went around in one big clockwise circle.

To put this in the context of social dancing, in partnership, the Leader does Pac Man with his feet, where his ankles are together and his feet are in a V, opening and going around like Pac Man (the 1980s video game), while the Follower does the Turn/Hiro/Molinete footwork of side, forward, side, back.

Usually, the first step is a side step. The Leader was to practice "capturing the Moon" -- with the Leader being the Earth and the Follower being the Moon. The Leader "captures" the Follower side step with a side step of his own, getting out of Pac Man footwork. For the Leader's Pac Man footwork, he should keep his ankles close together, taking care to not let the jaws of Pac Man open up too much.

Next, we did a partner change, and hugged our new partner.
To a new Di Sarli song we again just practiced dancing, doing just:
Weight Changes
Junior High Sweetheart Dancing
Walking to the music, stepping on the strong beat
In the Line of Dance
Using the Corners of the dance floor.

To this we added:
Leader Pac Man footwork, opening to his left while Follower did grapevine/Turn/Hiro/Molinete footwork of side, forward, side, back
Leader was also to capture the Follower's side step.
And then repeat.

The class concluded with a filmed question and answer review. No demo dance was done.

Notes courtesy of Anne at