December classes in Beaverton and Portland

Tango Beaverton: Tango Toning & Technique

We are changing up the format of the Beaverton class. As everyone who has come to class so far is advanced beginner to advanced intermediate so far, this class will be a Tango, Toning and Technique class. Although the class is weighted towards follower technique, those of you who want to become advanced leaders will find that the same work applies to you! Everyone is welcome, even total beginners. Everyone is working at their level, and I can adapt what we are doing to make it more basic—or more advanced—for each dancer.

The class has a brief warmup. After that, we do drills focusing on balance, alignment and building strength for your dance. Depending on who comes to class, we might work on: walking, adornos, pivoting, free leg work (boleos, ganchos, etc.). Most of class is dedicated to improving YOUR dance, so that when you dance with someone, you bring the most that you can to your half of the couple.

If you have 1 lb. leg weights, please bring them along. Wear layers, as we are the first people in the room for the day, and it’s not always warm at first. Bring your dancing shoes: practice shoes are also ok.

  • Noon on Wednesdays

  • Global Art of Dance

  • 12570 SW Farmington Rd, Beaverton, OR 97005

  • $15 drop in, or 10-class punchcard for $120

Portland FUNdamentals: Holiday goodies

FUNdamentals class is designed to work on tango basics for beginners and anyone else who wants to polish their dance. As people have difficult schedules over the holidays, each class will be a stand-alone class. I will design one basic combination for each week so that we can practice all the things, but also walk out with usable content.

This is a great time to get a head start on tango for the New Year, or for coming to polish up your basics in a small group setting.

  • 7 PM Thursdays

  • Om Studio

  • 14 NE 10th Ave. Portland

  • $14 drop in, 10-class punchcard for $120

Continuing Tango: Sacadas & other combinations

Like FUNdamentals, December will be a month of working on one combination (and variations, you know me) per week. By popular demand, we will keep working on sacadas, but integrate them into the dance musically, combining them with other elements to make a fun addition to your dance each week. Don’t worry if you haven’t been in class before: this is a friendly group!

Continuing Tango class is aimed at intermediate and advanced intermediate dancers. You may bring a partner, or switch partners. I encourage you to work both roles of the dance to understand the moves more holistically.

  • 8 PM Thursdays

  • Om Studio

  • 14 NE 10th Ave. Portland

  • $14 drop in, 10-class punchcard for $120

Turn technique for followers: practice drills

Here is a short video on turn drills to help improve your tango turns. My FUNdamentals class asked me to video some of the exercises that I do, so that they can remember them outside of class :-) Sorry about the sound: I was fighting a cold and sounded horrible the day I shot the footage for the drills, so I gave up talking and just typed the information on the video.

It is much harder to practice by yourself than with a partner. First, it's easier to practice when someone else says, "OK, put on your shoes now and let's go!" Also, when you have a partner, you can hold onto them, and that makes getting around the corners easier than on your own. Lastly, I tend to practice longer when I have someone to talk to; it's hard to make yourself do more than a few songs.

Making the video made me do a lot more practice that day! I kept shooting video, looking at it, and then going back to do it again. I think I did turn drills for almost an hour before I got interrupted by my family! So maybe we should all just turn on the camera and go for it! It never looks good, by the way. I can see every one of the mistakes I made here. I hope that, by leaving them in, you can see that it's not about perfect, it's about practice.

A month of vals: Tete, Ricardo, Pepito et al.

This month, my classes will focus on the vals.

I have studied with many people, but I spent the most time on vals with Tete Rusconi. He was not the best teacher; I don't think swearing at your students is a real motivator. However, if you could withstand the teasing, ridicule and boisterousness, you would come out the other end of classes with new ideas to try on the dance floor. His ability to swirl right and left, spin on a dime, and keep the fluidity of vals going, were all inspiring.

Pepito was reknowned for his mastery of milonga, but his moves work very nicely for vals as well. His students, who taught me, emphasized the ease of his movement; the way he played with syncopation; and his groundedness. We'll pick a few of his moves to add into Tete's.

Although I have studied very little with him, Ricardo Viqueira gave me some lessons a few years ago when I was shopping for a new teacher. We will work on some of the moves he taught me as well. "If you don't teach anything else to your students, you MUST teach them to use contrabody!!" he told me. It will come as no surprise that the secret to these moves is good contrabody. What's funny, is that I learned these from Tete as well, but had forgotten them!

So, groove, spin, syncopate and swirl over to the Om Studio, 14 NE 10h, PDX, for classes on Thursdays this November! The drawing for a free private lesson for this month will happen at 8 PM.

Inspired by Pepito: a month of milonga classes

It's time for more Pepito infusions into our milonga here in Portland! Three years ago when I first taught a Pepito milonga class, I really enjoyed getting back to my milonga roots. I didn't get to study with the maestro directly, as he died in early 1996 and I started tango in late 1995. However, I studied milonga with students of Pepito, and danced with other former students of his--and shamelessly stole their moves. Ah, the joy of leading and following!

For me, what I see in Pepito's dancing--and felt in his students--was a groove, an organic flow of energy. It felt very in control, but never wooden or artificial. I end up talking about "VROOM" when I teach his steps. When you watch him, his body and feet are very precise, but the dance is not about that: they only serve his purpose of playing with the music and his partner. He zips around the dance floor at top speed, looking calm, collected and in control of his dance.

So, MORE Pepito moves! And more technique work, so that YOU can leave your technique at the table when you step out on the dance floor, and experience joy and VROOM!

Classes will be at 8 PM at the Om Studio, 14 NE 10th in PDX. $14 drop in or $45 for the month.

For inspiration, skip through this video and watch Pepito. If you also speak Spanish, there are some nice parts where dancers talk about Pepito and how he was special and what he contributed to the Buenos Aires tango community.

You can also read an interview conducted with him (although I'd have to say the translation seems to be done by a machine, not a human).

Come dance!

Performance anxiety and a good partner

Scared but still performing

I have been performing since the age of five. Until college, that involved singing in choirs and attending a capella singing competitions. I started performing dance three months after I began to dance in college. I performed dance throughout my master's degree in dance. I also continued performing as a singer.

I have been terrified of performing most of that time. I know all of the tricks to calm the body: deep breathing, pretending that everyone not on stage is in their underwear, ignoring the audience, etc. None of them work for me. I get through performing, and then I retreat to a corner and shake for a while.

I try to avoid performing.

Peak experience

I recently performed twice in one week: five dances. That is the first time I have performed in several years, and I was even more nervous than before.

AND...

It was a peak experience. I danced the best I have ever danced in my life one of those nights. Even in video, which takes away something from the real experience, it looks pretty good. Even to me, the perfectionist. It was better than perfect: it was fun.

What made it work for me?

Jose Garofalo

What made me survive performing? A good partner. A partner who said, "Look at me, you are dancing for ME!" and didn't give me time to think about whether people were watching.

I have know Jose for almost 20 years. He was one of my first teachers. When I visit Buenos Aires, we always have a coffee together and chat for a few hours. I trust him. I knew he would not sacrifice me to looking good, to showing off, or to showboating for himself. He took care of me, just as a good leader does on the social dance floor.

100% improvisation

Jose was so busy before we performed that we didn't practice. I didn't get a private lesson fitted in or anything. In other words, I had to wing it 100%.

On the way to the performance, Jose played a song on his phone and asked if I liked it. I asked to perform to it the next performance, as I had never heard that version before. He played a few more, and we agreed on a tango. Three blocks from the venue, he said, "What about this milonga?" and played Azabache. "Fine," I said. That was it except for one tanda to warm up.

Not having a plan and not having practiced (and not having danced together for about ten years at all) meant that I needed to pay attention. I didn't have extra brain space to really freak out about performing.

Twenty-one years of tango training kicked in and. . . it was wonderful.

Tango Berretin, Portland, OR on 1 April 2017
Milonga performance at Tango Berretin, Portland, OR on 1 April 2017

Tango musicality and inspiration

TED Talks do it again!

I watch TED talks while spinning wool and knitting (some of my other non-tango interests). You know how you type something in, and a few TED Talks later, you are down some interesting rabbit hole of thought? Well, I ended up watching a talk with Benjamin Zander, the pianist and conductor, and realized:

HEY! This is one of the things I've been trying to say about musicality in tango! Phrasing and HOW you use the music, makes all the difference in how that dance feels! What do you think? Watch it and tell me!

Take Jose's workshops!

The Oregon connection

I first met Jose in 1999 when I went to Buenos Aires for the first time. My friend, Alejandro Tosi, had mentioned that he studied with Jose, and it turned out Jose's classes were close to my hostel. I took group and private lessons from him AND I interviewed him for my thesis on gender roles in tango. I hosted him in the USA a year or two later, but he has not had a visa since then. We are lucky to have him back!

Jose Garofalo's bio

José Garófalo was born in 1964. Between 1979 and 1983, he studied art with Guillermo Kuitca. At the same time, he participated in plays, speeches and street actions where dance and theater were integral parts of his creations. In 1987, he started taking tango classes in Centro Cultural Rojas and in the same year he joined the Tango Ballet of the University of Buenos Aires.

He has studied with: Milongueros like Miguel Balmaceda and Nelly, Pupi Castello, Tete Rubin and Maria, Carlos Gavito, Gustavo Naveira, Rodolfo Dinzel. He has trained in choreography with Pedro Calveyra, Graciela Gonzalez, Marcela Trappe and in stage arts with Emilio Garcia Wehbi .

He is currently President of the Civil Cambalache Association (since 2007). He directs the annual Cambalache Festival in Buenos Aires (since 2004). He works as a Tango teacher at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires (since 1998). He participates in Troesmas research group dedicated to transmitting knowledge of teachers who are no longer dancing in the milongas. He directs the Companía Tragicomica Tanguera (since 2011). He is an artist of Vasari Gallery (since 2007). 

He lives and works in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Jose's class schedule

All the details are here! I have scheduled workshops at different price points and different levels of tango, in the hopes that everyone gets a chance to at least try Jose out. I think he's great, and I think a lot of your will think the same thing after a lesson or two or ten!

Build your base for ongoing work!

For those of you who (rightly) feel that an hour of a workshop without review or followup is useless, take heart! First, I plan to bring Jose for the next two years, so you can continue to study with him and build on what you learn this year. Second, I will be teaching classes during the year specifically exploring the material from these classes and building on them, so that you come into next year's workshops at a higher level, ready to absorb more!

Savoring tango

If you are eating a great meal, do you shovel your food into your mouth? NO! The cook at music and dance camp saw my son (a favorite allowed into the kitchen to help) shoving his food in, and told him, "Jamie! Respect the food!"

If you were drinking an expensive glass of wine, would you gulp it down? No, you would slowly sip it, rolling it around your mouth to enjoy the flavor, taking your time to experience each taste; to savor it.

If you are experiencing a wonderful tango song, let each step roll off your feet, pause between movements, enjoy being in your body, in this embrace, in this tango. Don't shove moves into your dance! Respect it! Savor it, like a fine meal.

Using games to find organic movement to build your tango repertoire

Don't just stick moves together!

I often find newer, younger dancers who lead, obsessed by making "hard" combinations of moves, either to showcase their technical vocabulary, or to show off how they can use the music. Sorry, guys, I agree your dance is interesting, but I'm not looking for interesting. I am on the search for sheer pleasure. I want to walk off that dance floor FEELING good, not thinking about the moves you know.

My main criterion for choosing new movement for my leading is organicity. The combination must feel good to the follower and the leader for me to incorporate it into my dancing. What do I mean by organicity? It has to flow, to make sense to my body, and to feel sensually enjoyable.

Harder than it sounds

Your brain is wired to repeat the things you have practiced the most. How hard can it be to break out of the ruts you have created in your dance? Speaking from my own experience, it's not easy.

I know tons of moves. One day when I tried to write down how many moves I know, I got past 100 before giving up. That wasn't even counting combinations of moves! And yet, I find myself doing the same few things, over and over if I tired. "You just did the same ending for that dance as you've done most of the evening!" I scold myself. "Find something new to do!"

I'm not the only one. I danced with one of my students at practica last week, and he kept accidentally trying a move that we had already established doesn't work well for him. He repeatedly tried to vary it, and we laughed about how difficult it is to change one little detail of his usual routine.

When I'm stuck in my habits like that, I know it's time to bring out the tool that I use to construct new movement, find new combos, and shake up my tango: a piece of paper!

Looking for organic movement

BTW, if you are coming to the advanced class tomorrow night, here's your advance notice of what we are doing! We will be playing a game that I stole directly from Merce Cunningham and John Cage's work (thanks, grad school!) that I use to create new material for my tango.

Cut a piece of paper into strips. One each piece, write one move you want to work on. The more precise you can make the description, the more you will get out of this exercise. Then, dump the papers into a hat. Draw three strips out at a time. You must find a way to do the moves, in the order you drew them, with as few steps in between as possible.

If the combination feels good after a few rounds, write it down to work on later. If it feels REALLY good, highlight it or put it at the top of the list. If it feels "eh" or plain old awkward, either forget it, or make a "don't try this" list. Remember that a move might feel bad because one of the partners can't execute that move well; but usually you can tell the difference between "needs more work" and "don't do that" or even "try with another partner later" lists.

Remember, the only criterion for this list of new vocabulary should be: does it feel good?

And the winner is...

Last week in class, I asked people to choose moves to try out in the next hour of class. Some of these are nice and detailed, while others will probably be too open-ended. I found it interesting that the women mostly wanted to do front boleos, while the men chose drags, sacadas, etc. A few of the women in class do some leading, and several of the men follow, but mostly the moves were voted on with a male-female divide! Hmmmmm.

The list we will work with

  • linear drag (barrida/arrastre) between the leader and follower (not necessarily with a weight change at the end)
  • forced cross drag (barrida/arrastre)
  • barrida/arrastre where it looks like the follower is dragging the leader's foot
  • forward parada on leader's right side (either foot)
  • back parada with leader's left leg/foot
  • forward circular boleo with left leg
  • forward circular boleo with right leg
  • forward linear boleo

Come play!

Usually, I ask everyone to switch partners during the class, but this would be a very useful exercise to work on with one specific partner, so if you bring a partner to class this week (we will probably do this for more than one week), you can stay with that person.

 

 

 

Notes from Gustavo and Giselle Anne's Portland workshop

It's been a long time

I have always respected Gustavo (La computadora) and his amazing ability to break movement down, reverse it, turn it inside out, and find new permutations. However, it has been a LONG time since I studied with him. The last time I studied with Gustavo was back in 2000 or 2001 in Buenos Aires. At the time, I was heavily into "open embrace" and the universe of tango that Gustavo and his group of compatriots were exploring. The feeling in the class was that this was the most extensive system of tango available. This was THE way to dance.

As I have transitioned into preferring close embrace, I left behind the open embrace teachers and moved on. From performance videos, it didn't look like Gustavo and Giselle Anne had changed their style, although they were really, really good at it. Dancing open just didn't excite me anymore.

Why would I return to the fold?

I would not have taken the workshop usually. I get a lot more out of private lessons than group lessons, and I didn't expect to enjoy myself. I took the workshop as a favor to the organizer, who is a friend of mine. I agreed to dance with someone who needed a partner, but not someone I usually dance with. I deeply questioned the expenditure: what would make a weekend worth almost $400?

Not just sitting on their laurels

What I liked best about the workshop, was that Gustavo and Giselle Anne looked at the embrace in a way they would never have done fifteen years ago. They looked at ALL the possibilities available. There was no "one" way to do the dance anymore.

Listening to them, I was impressed at how much their teaching had expanded and improved. As a teacher who constantly tries to get better at what I do, I often feel disappointed when I watch teachers repeat exactly the same lesson, year after year. I was excited to hear how they worked together as a dialogue (not the case back in the day). Here is a world-famous couple who deserve their position at the top.

We looked at open embrace, "regular" embrace (so nice to hear that what I teach would be considered regular!) and close embrace that does not allow the follower's hips to pivot: three kinds of embrace! We looked at how the embrace affects movement that we use in the dance: ochos, turns, sacadas, boleos, etc.

We also explored the other side of the embrace: what happens when you break the embrace? What goes away, but also, what moves are now possible? What if we reverse the embrace? How does that affect both steps and how you lead and follow? Gustavo is not if not exhaustive in his explorations, but that is my way too, so I enjoyed it.

Humor and history teach lessons

It felt great to have world-famous people say, "If you want to win the Mundial, don't take our workshop! The current fad of tango says you should do x, and we have looked at the dance and don't agree that this works best." Full disclosure of disagreement in the community, but with humor, felt really good.

Instead of the politics of Buenos Aires tango, I felt that Gustavo and Giselle Anne were offering 30 years of tango experience, backed up by what Gustavo saw and experienced as a young dancer in the 80's. I loved his stories of the development of tango and its moves, and how it has changed. That is much more valid to me than what one group of people think about "perfect" tango in 2015. The longer view works better, and is better for tango and the community in the long run. I can see how Gustavo and Giselle Anne have relinquished the "right now is best" and has grown into the fabric of the tradition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Access more of your tango knowledge on the dance floor!

Typical tango nightmare

The music begins. Joe Tango asks someone to dance. The floor is a bit crowded, which makes Joe a bit tense. The song is unfamiliar, which makes him more tense. The partner is someone he would like to impress with his tango skills: more pressure! Suddenly, Joe can only remember three moves. His brain freezes, and for a moment, he can't remember even a single move. Freak out time!

If you lead tango, I am sure this has happened to you before. For some dancers, this is how it feels at the beginning. For others, this is how it always feels when the room is crowded. People say to me, "I went to [x] milonga, and it was too crowded to dance, but YOU looked like you were having fun and doing cool moves!" (in an accusing tone of voice). "How did you do that?!"

How I deal with lack of space

The reason I don't freak out in crowded spaces, is that I had the equivalent of learning to drive in Boston as my training for learning to lead tango. Three years into tango, I spent four months over the space of two years, dancing in Buenos Aires. I led a lot at Torquato Tasso, La Viruta, even at El Beso.

My Spanish was eight weeks old when I first visited Bs As, so I had no idea how much negative attention I was attracting by leading. Some of the guys said rude things about "women drivers" and some women refused to dance with me. However, many guys simply tried to get me to run into them so that they could point out how badly I lead. Others just tried to run me off the dance floor.

I learned to protect my partner from other couples and from the tables at the edge of the floor. I saw that everyone else seemed to be leading just fine in small spaces, and copied their moves. I learned that a well-planted axis (an ample butt helps) keeps other leaders from taking your space. I experienced following good leaders with no space to maneuver, and alternated that with leading in the same spaces.

If you can't make it to Buenos Aires, go to crowded practicas. Or, set up chairs in your practice space, and dance around them. Attend classes focused on dancing well in small spaces. Practice is the only way to learn to do this.

How I remember moves easily

I have discussed how I arrange my vocabulary of tango moves in a way that makes it easier to remember more moves than my short-term memory has slots for recall. Here is an example of some moves from a student's lesson:


Apart from that, I practice moves in different combinations. I practice them to the right and left. I practice them as a leader and as a follower. This gives me more ease in recall, as I don't have to follow the same brain path to find a move; there are lots of connections between each move and at least several other moves.

How I deal with unfamiliar songs

At this point, I only hear a new song a few times each year. Very few of the tangos, valses and milongas that DJs play are strange to me, so I rarely have this problem anymore. So, the easy answer is: listen to tango all the time :-)

A more useful answer when you are already on the dance floor: tune into the "flavor" of the music. Explore the music with your partner. The next time you hear that tango, you will dance it better. Approach it as a new adventure, not a roadblock to good dancing!

One outstanding problem: shyness

I don't know the answer to how to deal with the nervousness that accompanies dancing with someone who you are nervous about leading. I get nervous when I dance with someone new who is above my level, even though I have danced tango for twenty years! Being a shy person, I think I will always struggle with this part of couple dancing. I just try to remember that they would like to enjoy themselves, and I try to give them a sensitive, connected, energized dance.

OK, I'm on the wild side! What do I do?

I think of move possibilities like a drop-down menu on the computer, or perhaps a flowchart. My brain makes one decision at a time, and I dance a combination of moves that I often have not set up before-hand. Instead, at each "level" I make a decision, and that affects what happens next.

Level one: things that start on the outside

If I decide to move to the outside track, I often don't have a plan. I am just moving over/out there to see what might strike my fancy. Making my decision about what move to do is based on:

  1. My follower: Whatever my follower does, right or wrong, in response to my move, helps decide what happens next. If they have good balance and alignment, I can do anything I want. If they tend to tip over right or left, that limits my choices.
  2. Space: Do I have a lot of room in front of me? What about to my left? How close are the tables to my right? Where am I in my slot? How dangerous is the leader/couple in front of me?
  3. Music: If I have plenty of space, I can let the music decide my movement choice.

Level two: right, left or straight ahead?

In the drop-down menu, this is my next level. I am on the outside, and need to pick. For my most recent session in my intermediates and up class (Portland, Oregon for those of you outside the area), we first learned several ways to get to the "outside" of the follower (to the follower's right when facing line-of-dance). Then, we explored different uses of the the space and how they work with tango, vals and milonga music.

I learned most of these moves dancing in Buenos Aires. For many of them, I first had someone use them on the dance floor, and then I took them to my teachers and asked how to lead it more clearly.

Back ocho across line-of-dance, then walk to the cross (zigzag to right)

  1. Get to the outside track.
  2. Take one step line-of-dance in crossed system (Leader's left, Follower's left).
  3. Leader puts both feet down for balance, and turns Follower about 90 degrees.
  4. Lead back ocho across line-of-dance: Leader steps side with right; Follower does back ocho with right.
  5. Leader puts both feet down for stability, and turns Follower, ready to walk line-of-dance.
  6. Exit in either crossed or parallel system: the Leader had both feet down, so it is easy to just push off whatever foot you want.

Variation with room for fun, big adornos (1 step straight, one right, one to return)

Same up to #3, then a change.

  1. Get to the outside track.
  2. Take one step line-of-dance in crossed system (Leader's left, Follower's left).
  3. Leader puts both feet down for balance.
  4. Turn the follower MORE THAN 90 degrees for the back ocho.
  5. Lead the back ocho in this direction (slightly right back diagonal to line-of-dance).
  6. Suspend the follower and let them adorn. Because the line of sight is clear, the Follower can decide to do something elegant, or something wild and crazy in the space.
  7. Exit with FORWARD step for Follower and side step for Leader.
  8. Turn follower in to regular embrace angle.
  9. Exit line-of-dance.

Two kinds of circulos

I love circulos. I have been doing them since I first went to Buenos Aires in 1999 and learned them. I like how many walking steps can be fit into a small space by bending them into a pentagon or square, or whatever shape is made by that many steps. It FEELS like a circle, nice and smooth, but the straight lines of the steps make it crisp.

"Regular" circulo

This circulo is probably the one that I use the most. It is very compact, so it takes very little room. Because the follower is on the inside of the circle, it's easier to control the size of the move. I am fond of using it in the corners when other people forget to use them.

  1. Get on the outside.
  2. For each step of the circulo, angle the step just a little bit more than the step before. In other words, you have tiny pivots at the end of each step, making a 4-, 5- or 6- sided figure before exiting.
  3. Don't forget your contrabody! It sounds counterintuitive, but I need to do regular walking, so I can't just have my chest face the follower and go around; that makes a messy circulo. Make each step a GOOD forward step, leaders!
  4. The follower needs to know that each step is a BACK step. If you lose that clarity, the follower will start to do a giro (which is OK, but not what you planned).
  5. If you walk correctly, it is pretty easy to finish the circulo, pivot your follower a bit, and walk out line-of-dance or to the cross, because you can return to the "inside" track at the end of any step of the circulo.

 

Jose's circulo

I am sure that Jose Garafolo did not invent this, but he is the one who taught me how to do this move well. There are only two differences between the regular circulo and this one:

  1. The leader steps forward and then SIDE; forward and side, etc., rather than all forward steps. This means that you need to use your contrabody well to help you pivot. The follower still steps back on each step.
  2. This is easiest to do by taking two steps (forward, PIVOT, side) and then turning the follower to face a new direction for the next chunk of the move. The follower often feels as if there is a six-step triangle or an 8-step square happening. I like the variation! Note: some people do this move in the same shape as the regular circulo.
  3. When you are almost facing line-of-dance, pivot the follower so that you are facing line-of-dance and the follower is facing you; walk to the cross.

Scoop turn

I learned this move from Daniel Trenner, probably in my first weekend of tango. We did it in open embrace, but when I went to Buenos Aires, I found that it worked even better in close embrace!

  1. Get to the outside.
  2. Two steps line-of-dance: Follower takes two back steps. The leader takes a front step, pivots, and then takes a side step (same setup as for Jose's circulo).
  3. Note: Leader must make sure to catch up with follower at this point, or the move won't work.
  4. Leader plants both feet, facing towards the inside of the dance space, and then rotates the follower in a deep ocho (overturned ocho) to do a medialuna around to the leader's left: back, side, front.
  5. Complete turn, pause (for adornos and balance), and then exit line-of-dance.

 

Marvin's favorite

My student Marvin came back from Buenos Aires completely in love with this move. It is a cross-system, counter-clockwise traveling turn on the outside, but I just call it Marvin's favorite. It has the same setup as Jose's circulo and the scoop turn, and is especially lovely in the vals.

  1. Get to the outside.
  2. Two steps line-of-dance: Follower takes two back steps. The leader takes a front step, pivots, and then takes a side step (same setup as for Jose's circulo).
  3. Note: Leader must make sure to catch up with follower at this point, or the move won't work.
  4. Leader tucks left leg behind into an enrosque, and pivots on BOTH feet around to face line-of-dance (or as close to that as works at the moment). Follower is led to step forward around leader, then side step (2 steps of a left turn).
  5. [Optional] If the pivot did not go very well, and the follower ends up on the outside track, the leader can just exit here.
  6. [Optional] If the pivot went OK, but not great, the leader will need to suspend the follower, and shift to the outside again before repeating the step.
  7. Do the same move a second time if you have room.
  8. Exit to the cross.

Calesita

There are many versions of calesita that work well on the outside. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Do a circulo (1/4, 1/2 or full), and then suspend the follower and do a calesita around them until you are facing line-of-dance. Exit.
  2. Do the scoop turn preparation, but instead of doing the turn, suspend the follower and do a calesita around them at this point.
  3. Do a circulo, then a calesita, then another circulo. This was a favorite for Tete during the time I studied tango vals with him in Buenos Aires in 2000. It flows as only Tete could.
  4. Do a calesita after one of "Marvin's favorite" turns as a fun ending if you have a partner who has good balance.

Boleo

You can add a boleo to either the zigzag back ocho, or at the point where you would have done a scoop turn/calesita/Marvin's favorite; and exit.

Level three: exit!

The drop-down menu on whatever move I am doing has one more level: getting out. I have a few tried and true basic things that I do here, again based on space, partner and music.

  1. Walk to the cross: get back on the follower's right (regular or inside, depending on your dance). It's in a straight line down the dance floor, and familiar to the follower. No complications.
  2. Move line-of-dance and worry about moves later. If I have space in front of me, I will do some walking variation to keep traffic flowing.
  3. Do another one! Especially in vals, if the flow of the dance is working well and I have room, I might do a second (for turns MAYBE a third) iteration of a move, as long as it moves a bit forward. I do that less in tango.

Truth be told, I rarely think this far ahead when I dance. I am happy to have reached the stage where my body often picks a move for me. I don't think very much while dancing. It took me a long time to get here, as I am the kind of geek who thinks about movement all the time. Do the rest of you try to analyze what muscles you are using while you weed your garden? Probably not. :-)

Your turn!

Now, use these ideas for practice, and then go out and dance and see what happens organically. Let me know what else YOU like to do when dancing on the wild [out]side!

Tango mindfulness II: games for exploration

Teaching mindfulness in tango

First, let's get our definitions straight: mind·ful·ness (mīndfəlnəs/) noun, 1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.

Over the years, I have developed a lot of games and exercises aimed at becoming aware of your own body, your partner's body, your surroundings, and the music. Some I have stolen from teachers; others I have created from a mixture of ideas from various people; and some have popped, fully formed into my head. I use one to three of the drills in a lesson, eventually covering all of them. Each group of students has slightly different needs, so I choose the activities that are most needed by that particular group of students. Here are short descriptions of each one.

Tuning into your body

1. Breath: With eyes closed, standing still on both feet, breathe slowly in and out 3-4 times, focusing on how the lungs and ribs expand and contract. Variation: while breathing, stretch arms out and up on intake; arms out and down on exhale, to encourage movement in the ribcage.

2. Energy: With eyes closed, stand on both feet. When you breathe in, imagine drawing the breath up out of the ground, through all four corners of the feet, up your legs, up your torso, and into your lungs. Exhale reversing the path, and imagine using your exhale to push a magnet away from under your feet/the floor.

3. Axis: Visualize how your body is stacked up, from the feet up. Depending on what we are working on, I will either work through the entire exercise, or just focus on one or two of these points, drawing a figure on the whiteboard for the visual learners to focus on:

  • arch of the foot is the base; 50-50 weight on ball of foot and heel
  • knees are soft, micro-bent (unlocked but not low); a bit forward of feet
  • hips are back compared to feet, using the hip joint to tip to a good angle for balance
  • pelvic floor lifts torso on top of legs, to stack pelvis over arches
  • back is in natural curves, long and stretchy
  • deep abdominal muscles have tone, allowing for fuller breaths
  • ribcage is balanced over hips, a bit further forward to counterbalance
  • head is floating, balanced over arches of feet

 

Tuning into your partner

1. Force fields: I always work on breath and axis solo before doing this exercise, as it takes the solo body and tunes it into the partnership:

  • Facing your partner, stand so that you are in each other's personal space, but not touching.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Breathe, pulling the breath up from the soles of your feet into your lungs, and exhaling back down through your feet (or up through the top of your head)
  • Imagine your favorite color, and as you exhale, send laser beams of that color straight out your feet, THROUGH your partner and to the opposite wall.
  • [Give time for 3-4 breaths before going to next body part]
  • Each time a new body part is added, make a longer rectangle of energy that goes through your partner, to the other wall:
  1. knees
  2. hips
  3. belly button (makes people laugh and breathe)
  4. pelvis
  5. solar plexus
  6. ribcage
  7. collar bones
  8. shoulder blades
  9. full body
  • Now, move in slowly until you are touching the front of your partner, and get into the embrace.
  • Breathe together.
  • On each exhale, step side.
  • On each inhale, find your balance.

2. Breathing together/Darth Vader breathing: I designed this exercise when I taught at the University of Oregon. The students had a lot of fun playing it ("Luke, use the boleo, hooooooo") but older adults will also play it. The point of the drill is to have the partners breathe audibly and at the same time, matching their breath. I prefer to do this in practice hold, as it is a bit too weird even for me to have someone do this right in my ear.

3. Slow motion: Slow motion dancing is difficult because it requires good balance and breathing, but dancing with your partner in slow motion is an exercise in helping each other breathe and balance, and helps the couple tune into each other. At first, I need to remind everyone to slow down every 20-30 seconds, but eventually, the whole group starts to dance slowly, experimenting with whatever moves they know at their level.

 

And there's more!

Next week, I'll go over how to tune into the group, the space and the music for even more tuned-in, mindful tango!

 

 

Leading different size steps for a saucy tango

Now that all the followers have learned to take uniformly sized steps, we are starting to learn to vary the size of steps during the dance. WHAT?!? What was the point of learning to keep them the same?

  • Safety: As the leader learns to lead, there are already so many variables that having a constant step size from the follower helps make tango danceable;
  • Control: You can't learn to vary your step size on purpose until you have learned to FEEL where your body normally exists in space (kinesthetic awareness).

Now that you have learned control over your steps, we can play with the dance to add flavor (what my teachers Oscar and Georgina call "picante") to your movement, based on musical promptings, other people's use of space, of just for fun.

Two of the combinations we have worked on in the Monday advanced class have dealt with leading the follower to use small steps interspersed with larger steps. In both, we changed the follower's "back-side-forward" steps of a giro into something a bit different.

The marca is the key to changing the follower's step size

One of my advanced students told my teachers that he didn't like using his hand as a part of the lead. He said he had been trained to NOT use his right hand and embrace to control movement. Oscar told him that he could continue to dance like that and "do your four or five moves" but in order to develop clear leads for more moves, he needed to learn to use the marca.

This is to head off all the comments from those of you who say to me, "But [x teacher] told me not to use my hands!" I believe that that person probably just didn't understand 100% how to make this dance easier and more elegant. Yes, it IS more work to learn to lead this way, but it means that your follower will go where you want, and do what you want them to do. I personally like to see that glazed, happy look on my follower's face after a tanda; don't you?

The point of the marca is not to signal the follower, but rather to be able to control the follower's movement gently and effectively. The follower does not need to "know" a signal because the follower's body is adjusted by the marca to make the move work.

The marca needed for step size is the suspension of the follower WHILE MOVING. When I suspend the follower:

  • If she is stationary, she will (hopefully) stay put on one leg;
  • If she is moving when you suspend, the follower's feet stay under her more, making her steps smaller: this is what we need!

 

Medialuna to the left (1st part of the combination)

Rather than getting three medium-sized steps for the medialuna, this combination asked the follower to step "big-big-tiny" in order to end in the cross: #4 is the key part:

  1. salida
  2. regresa (side step back towards original position)
  3. 1 step LOD (leader left foot, follower right foot)
  4. medialuna to the left, with the leader stepping forward diagonal on the first step with the right AND STAYING ON THAT FOOT, and then pivoting in place with the chest to twist the follower into the cross, rather than taking a forward step on the third step of the turn.
  5. Use the marca to pivot the follower into the cross with a light suspension. This limitls the size of step the follower can take.
  6. Collect and (if needed) pivot counterclockwise, then both move laterally facing left diagonal LOD, and collect again to pivot clockwise and step laterally, facing right diagonal.
  7. End ready to move LOD.

 A note: I teach followers to do uniform giro steps UNLESS led to do #4. Other teachers in the community teach to automatically do the cross, but then the leader has only one option for movement. This way, the leader has a choice of possible movements, one of which is to truncate the forward step into the cross.

Main object of doing this medialuna into the cross: use your new skills in step size to adjust spatially to position your next move on the crowded dance floor.

 

New Monday night sessions start 2/27

 

Both the Body Dynamics class and the Advanced class start new sessions the Monday after Valentango. There is NO CLASS 2/20: we are all too tired to learn after a festival :-)

7 PM: Body Dynamics

This class focuses on learning stellar technique to add more ENERGY and feeling into your dance. My style is body-based, working towards efficient use of the core to reduce wear and tear on the rest of the body. In each session, we look at how the body is built to move, and then work on using it the right way in tango.

This session, we will be preparing the body to move off-axis for colgadas, volcadas, etc. We will focus on using the core, the stretch of the body and leg strength (protecting the back), and also on freeing up a leg to combine boleos, etc., with these moves.

Also, we will work on being able to dance beautifully in small spaces.  Dancing small is hard to do with power and energy, but it is possible!

Designed for intermediate and advanced dancers, or beginners with dance background.

8 PM: Advanced class

Come challenge yourself!  Make your dance flow better; add sensuousness, balance, connection, musicality, adornos--take it to the next level! 

This session, the advanced class will focus on appropriate-for-the-social-dance-floor colgadas, volcadas, single axis turns, and playing with the axis. Each week, we will do a new combination, concentrating on dynamics, musicality and connection.

For dancers with at least three years tango experience, or instructor's permission. No partner necessary. You may work with a partner you bring to class, or trade partners.

$60/6 week session for one class. Special: sign up for both for $90! Drop in is $12/class.

Next classes start next week (and yes, there is class this week!)

Thursday classes start again on January 5th:

6 PM Beginner's Mind Practica:
Our practica is friendly, with no feedback unless you want it. If you are a beginner, I can introduce to other folks, answer questions, dance with you, etc. If you are not a beginner, I invite you to either come practice for yourself, or come and dance with beginners to give back to the community. Remember how nice some people were when you started? Be one of those nice I-dance-with-beginner types ;-) The practica is by donation.

7 PM Top Ten Moves:
Ten fundamental moves in ten weeks. In Argentina, many people only know this many (or fewer!) moves, but they do them REALLY well. This class is for beginners to learn the basics AND for more advanced dancers to polish those moves and build musicality and navigational skills (for the followers, this is the time to practice making each step exquisite). This is also a perfect opportunity if you already know one role, and want to learn the other. $80 for 10 weeks, or $12 drop in.

8 PM Musicality and the Next Ten Moves:
This session, we will focus moves that are sweet in both tango and vals (since we just did milonga last session). This class is for intermediates and advanced intermediate dancers. For each new move, we will put it into the dance, connect it to what you already know, and make it work on the dance floor. For followers, we will practice adornos (ornaments) and ways to make feet beautiful. Musically, we will work on putting moves together to make you partner drop at your feet with the beauty of your dance :-) $80 for 10 weeks, or $12 drop in.

There will also be Monday classes, which will be a six-week session; more to follow!

Video of last week's advanced class

OK, here it goes! This is Oscar and Georgina's "Milonguero turn with amague variation" that they taught me and that is also on their DVD set.

Follower technique for the amague variation:

Download MOV02768

 

Leader technique for the turn, and then for the amague variation:

Download MOV02769

 

And here is the noteboard for the combination:

Milonguero turn with amague 1

Thanks for being patient, everybody!  If the movies don't work, let me know (it let me play them).  I'll gussy up the process once I get used to doing this :-)   Thanks Rich for the camera work!

New classes starting!

The next session of classes starts 3/31 and 4/4 @ the Om Studio, 14 NE 10th Ave. in Portland:

  • Beginners: 6 PM Thursdays (3/31)
  • Intermediate: 7 PM Thursdays (3/31)
  • Advanced intermediate: 8 PM Thursdays (3/31)
  • Advanced: 8 PM Mondays (4/4)

The cost is $60/6 weeks, or $12 drop in per person.

Pland_tango_apr-may2011

Tango Fundamentals

The 6 PM class is a class for beginners, or anyone who would like their dance to look more like Buenos Aires style tango. We work on technique for walking, turning, changing directions, pausing (adornos, too), as well as a few other basic steps, depending on the speed the class works at. My classes are a bit different than run-of-the-mill tango classes: we play games with music, energy, balance, etc., that allow you to gain an understanding of tango very quickly. I encourage correct body alignment and use of the body structurally to find your tango. I also think that improvisation, energy and fun should be a part of every person's tango, right from the first class.  If you need survival skills for the dance floor, this is the right level for you!

 

Creating the Magic

The 7 PM class is a class for continuing to develop an elegant, strong dance. I introduce new figures gradually, focusing on traditional, close embrace movement that can immediately be transferred from class to the dance floor. Again, balance, breath, embrace and musicality are ways to approach new movement, not just "fancy parts" to add in after the step is memorized :-)  When you walk out of class, you will be able to use what you learn right away on the dance floor. 

 

Taking it to the next level

The 8 PM class is focuses on musicality, improvisation, elegance--making the dance your own.  Often, we work on similar moves to the 7 PM class, but add details that challenge a more advanced dancer.  Musically, I alternate six weeks of moves that work well in vals/tango with moves that work well in milonga/tango (yes, many are good for all three :-)). If you already know moves, but want to look/feel better on the dance floor, this would be a great class for you.

 

Tango Alchemy

The Monday night advanced class is for dancers who have either already taken my other three levels, or who have reached an advanced level already and would like to polish their technique, learn new figures to enhance the dance, and build musicality. If you are not sure that you have a high-enough level for this class, please bring a partner along so that you can work at a slower pace, if needed. :-) This is a "one-room-schoolhouse" kind of class, with a wide range of dancers.  You should have three years or more experience for this class.

 

Classes are NOT just for people learning to lead!

Dance classes are not just "for the guys" or for folks who want to lead. In every class, I devote part of the class to technique for following. As my teacher Georgina Vargas says, "You have no excuse for looking bad on the dance floor, no matter how poorly you are being led." Please come to the appropriate level of class for your skill level; if you have danced for a while, but have not worked on styling with me, I request that you attend a lower level for at least a few weeks and learn the basics of the technique, or take a few private lessons before jumping in to do advanced moves.

See you in class!

Improving musicality through contrast: Milonga/vals class notes

This session of my intermediate/advanced Wednesday night class, we are looking at musicality through contrast. First, we learn a figure. Then, we try it to either milonga or vals music. We explore how many ways the movement can go with the music, especially in terms of slowing it down for adornos :-)  Then, we try the figure to the other music, and make adaptations to make the musicality flow better.

Not every pattern works well in tango, milonga AND vals. There are some moves I prefer in just one dance, or in tango and vals, but not milonga (or vals and milonga, but not tango). I am not in the camp that believes these dances have different moves. Yes, there are some things I tend to do more in milonga than tango, etc., but for me, the deciding factor is: does this movement work to this music? If it does, then I use it. After all, this suite of dances are street dances! Who says we have to follow all the rules?

I'm using a lot of figures that I've learned from Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas because THEY WILL BE HERE IN A MONTH!!!!!! Hopefully, this preparation will help those of you who are new to Oscar and Georgina, so that you can get optimal levels of information in one short week.

Good for vals: Salida with a change of direction

This figure is on Oscar and Georgina's wonderful Rhythmic Tango DVD (#4).

  1. Lead a parallel, regular side step to the leader's left.
  2. Lightly lead the follower to remain on the right foot by suspending her/him ON AXIS in place, while the leader shifts onto the right (into crossed system). The follower will feel the leader's chest shift sideways, but no one else should see this; it's slight. The leader's hips and chest change to the side in order to avoid pushing the follower over. The leader is now ready to walk to the outside track (on the follower's left side).
  3. Release the suspension, and step. Leader steps forward with the left; follower steps back with the left.
  4. Leader arrives on axis on left, with the right remaining behind as a "kickstand" to help maintain balance (if this is not working, remember that you can also bring your right foot up to the left to make your axis work better). The hips need to stay mainly oriented line-of-dance, but the torso will twist from left to right. The follower lands on the left, is led to pivot the hips clockwise, ready to step with the right.
  5. Leader takes a side step to the right, follower does a back cross step in the same direction. Suggestion: make this a forward diagonal, leaders! This reduces the angle the follower needs to pivot, making it simpler for a more beginning dancer to succeed in maintaining balance and looking good.
  6. Leader can switch feet in place while suspending the follower to exit in parallel, or stay on the same foot to exit in crossed system. Follower is "unwound" to prepare for a back left step, line-of-dance.
  7. Exit to steps 6-7-8 of the basic, or to the cross.

Places to mess around to make the musicality work: This pattern takes a nice 8 measure phrase to complete, OR it can take longer if the music tells you to SLOW down: it depends on the song. I like to suspend the follower after #1 and at #6 so adornos can happen, but I try to make this music-dependent.  One of my peeves is to see leaders trying to be dramatic by introducing slow and quick elements into the dance, but without listening to the music!! Believe me, the person you are leading usually prefers the dance to fit the music.

Same beginning, with a simpler pattern to move faster for milonga

The pattern above is HARD to do in milonga unless you have a follower who stays on-axis, on-balance. If you or your follower tend to fall over, . . . change it to make it more milonga-friendly.

  1. Do the same salida and switch systems/tracks as above, and the first step (#1, 2, 3 above).
  2. Walk a counter-clockwise circle (to the left), either as a regular circle, or as a "back step, back 1/2 ocho"--what I showed as I learned it from Jose Garafolo--that has a less even feel, but is funkier and feels great in milonga.
  3. Exit into whatever, moving line-of-dance (end of basic, to the cross, parallel or crossed system).

Musicality variations: You can do little corridas (quick quick slow) in this circle, or walk it in even counts. This also makes an elegant step for vals, by the way, where it can be slowed down and/or adornos added.

Vary the ingredients a little, get another move: boleo milonguero (Rhythmic DVD #6)

This move I prefer in vals (and tango), but several students showed great prowess in making this a milonga move. As a rule, I don't lead boleos in the milonga because few followers can stay on axis while pivoting that quickly, BUT that doesn't mean you can't lead it; be judicious in your choices.

  1. Do #1, 2 & 3 from above.
  2. Instead of a pivot to the leader's right and an open step, the leader leads a boleo on the ground (boleo milonguero) with the follower's pivot, rebounding into:
  3. a back right diagonal step on the right for the leader and a forward step with the right for the follower, through to the leader's right side.
  4. Same #6 and 7 as above.

Some notes on leading boleos, as these were new to some of you:

Leader:

  • must be on axis to lead a boleo
  • use back leg, knees one behind the other, for balance and stability
  • knees are relaxed, providing shock absorption
  • there is a slight suspension of the axis before leading the boleo
  • the boleo feels like a corkscrew motion, down around the axis and back up, if it is working correctly
  • hips remain forward, torso rotates
  • careful on foot placement: keep your V, and don't let your back foot/ankle turn in

Follower:

  • must be on axis
  • hips do the pivot work; don't swing the leg
  • knees meet and rebound, with the free leg rebounding back the way it came
  • the leader's torso leads the hip pivot, which leads the leg release (because of this, the "whip" of the follower's leg does not end when the leader rebounds, but slightly behind, like the end of a whip vs. the handle)
  • keep the feet in their V, so that the shape of the boleo remains constant and looks good (remember how inelegant it looked when I showed you the toes in version I was seeing in class? ;-) )
  • ankles, knees and hips are slightly flexed at all times for shock absorption, but make sure you don't sink in the boleo: this is a rebound, not a collapse

Again, nice places to add adornos are at the first side step and after the rebound of the boleo (so, at original #1 and #6-7 of the first move. In essence, because all these steps are built off of the same main structural beginning and end, the best place for adornos remains the same. Also, boleos can be different speeds. In vals, I like folks to lead me in a slower, sweeter boleo, rather than a WHAM! movement, allowing me time to really pivot well with my hips, and giving the boleo a more swoopy, vals feeling.

Introducing the quebrada as an elegant, stabilizing element of the dance

As I hear my next lesson knocking on the door, I'll finish here, and go over this step in my next blog entry. Stay tuned!