8 PM Eugene tango class review

This class has a wide range of dance levels. There are folks who have danced tango for seven or eight years, as well as people who have only danced one to two years. In addition, there is no agreement among participants as to what the class should accomplish. Here is the list of goals:

  • close embrace
  • wild and crazy open embrace
  • consistent giros; Oscar & Georgina exercises
  • walk really nicely, feel beautiful
  • back sacadas; switching embraces
  • musicality, especially paradas
  • relaxing, building confidence
  • leg wraps and ganchos
  • new moves
  • frame and new moves
  • contra movement in the body

Whew! I've spent two weeks trying to touch on a little of everything, but I am taking back some of the decision-making in order to have the class work better . Week III went much more smoothly because of this, so hopefully, we can all get something useful out of the class, despite varied expectations.

Follower technique (lots of Oscar & Georgina, with other influences mixed in)

  • axis work: We did pair work and trio work, getting the body ground, heels on floor, etc., while stretchinggggggggggggg our bodies up to free the hips and spine for more movement.
  • breath work: in order to maintain this super-stretchy position without holding and gripping, we worked on breathing from our second chakra (OK, I lived in Eugene for 17 years, I know), opening the solar plexus and breathing from the sides and back of the lungs for deep breathes.
  • walking: forward, side and back steps. We worked solo, with peer coaching and one-on-one to develop more elastic, balanced, sensuous movement in all directions. This is really helped by the idea of elasticity-density from Oscar & Georgina's workshops, as well as their image of the bandoneon-like energy of the body, building energy/breath and then compressing to make a dynamic dance.
  • ochos: Mainly, we have worked on front ochos so far, with the emphasis on collecting the ankles before projecting the leg into space; pushing off the back toes, but without tensing, so that the movement is cat-like; and using the hips to quickly flip around with ease so that the leader does not have to drag the ochos out of the follower (what Luciana Valle calls "golden hips").
  • turns: We have not yet spent a lot of time on turns, but this coming week, we will. The focus in turns is finding the right amount of foot and hip pivot, maintaining an elegant foot placement/style and working on the energy of each step.
  • boleos: Again, we started on front boleos Week III. We'll add back boleos this coming week. The same issues pertain here: foot placement/turnout, hip pivot, energy, balance, etc. I find that the stretch up and down the body for the basic posture is key to boleos: if you are not stretched and balanced, the "free" leg is not actually free to release for a boleo.
  • ganchos: In ganchos, like boleos, the support leg is doing 80% of the work, keeping the body balanced, stretched and grounded. The "free" leg is elastic, relaxed and touching the floor (you cannot gancho if you are preparing for the move by picking up your foot to kick!). The gancho is led by the leader's chest and torsion, not by the follower as an adorno.

Leader technique:

  • posture: Like the followers, the leaders have been working on keeping an elegant, lifted posture, balanced over the feet to allow weight and direction changes as the movement and music dictate.
  • open solar plexus: By standing up straighter, the leader can open the solar plexus more easily, letting energy and intention reach the follower more easily. As part of the class has been learning new moves, I've noticed that a lot of leaders are looking down at their feet, thus blocked an open solar plexus. The aim is to feel the step, not see it, thus helping the couple execute the move more easily. Trust me, it works!
  • foot placement: We've been working on keeping the ball of the foot, or the big toe, in contact with the ground, rather than rolling out so that the edge of the little toe is the surface meeting the ground. This is looking much better in just three weeks, folks!
  • Oscar's quebrada and enrosque drills: Ooooh, these are hard! The main issue has been to find out how to switch weight from 30/70 to 70/30 (switching which foot is the main balance point) without falling over. Remember that the feet, knees and hips are providing a spring system for the movement, so that there is torsion that loads the spring, as well as a density/elasticity factor, resembling a coiled spring ready to release. The main point of this drill, and of the steps in the dance that require this position, are energizers, points where the couple can really use energy to project to the next step (Oscar's bandoneon squeeze; he also calls this squeeze a way of making "tango juice").
  • Oscar's bandoneon idea: Last week (Week III) we spent a lot of time figuring out how to stretch/squeeze the energy so that each move had a lot of oomph. Also, we experimented with leading different moves from the same place in the dance, requiring the leader to alter HOW the bandoneon squeezed to initiate different steps and HOW MUCH to get either a pause, a slow movement, a sharp movement, etc., from the follower's body.
  • Using contra-body movement: We are just starting to get this idea into our bodies in this class. The contra-body focus really helps with balance and with the amount of energy that the follower feels from the leader. For folks who have led mostly as a "block" of body, this is proving to be challenging.

Patterns to drive you/us crazy:

  • Ganchos vs. amagues vs. reverse pasadas: Very tiny differences in a movement create different outcomes. We worked on being able to lead a gancho; block a gancho (thus leading an amague, or fake, of the follower's leg crossing her/his body instead of hooking the leader; or lead the follower to lift the leg up and over the leader's leg in a reverse pasada (a reverse stepover), via "flamingo leg" position. For a gancho, the leader must create an open space for the gancho, ensure that the follower can balance on-axis (for most ganchos) while doing the gancho, lead the step through torso torsion and foot/leg placement and direct the rebound appropriately. To lead the follower to amague, the leader needs to do all of the above, but create a blocked space where the gancho would go, thus requiring the follower to do an amague. For the reverse pasada, the leader needs to combine moving the follower with the correct amount/timing of lift to get the follower's leg free of gancho opportunities SAFELY.
  • How many variations can you do at the cross? We worked on several "simple" movements here: front ochos around the leader vs. starting a right turn; with a sacada; leading the follower to do a strong adorno and creating a parada and stepover at the point of the cross; and leading a front boleo out of the the cross. All of these turned out to be harder to do well than folks expected. Also, each variation requires a subtle shift of intention, balance and energy use. I think these all looked really good by the end of class! The "tango juice" and the "bandoneon" concept seemed to really help the dancers understand what we were trying to accomplish.
  • How many variations can you do from other moves that you do "automatically?" 
  • How far can you twist in a quebrada position and have it work? How can you use the enrosque exercise to create combinations with lots of cat-like energy in them?

I think that's all we've covered so far. Please remind me if I have forgotten anything. This week, P's request for working on giros (turns) and C's request for working on back sacadas will be tackled. See you there!