Walking in tango: a look at the possibilities

I spend a LOT of time in my classes trying to explain how to walk naturally. I teach what my tango teachers in Buenos Aires call "normal" tango embrace/walk (follower slightly offset, each person on their own axis, with each person walking their own straight line) that is foreign to students of other teachers in my town (who teach open embrace, leaning-styles of close embrace, and various other things).

When I go to Buenos Aires, I almost never have to argue about "how" I am going to dance with another person. We agree by cabeceo, we adjust to each other's styles, and it works most of the time. What part of this system is not working in the United States?

The right way?

I think that most people here think there is only one right way to dance tango. They listen to their first teacher, and then argue with anyone who suggests alterations to their dance. In Buenos Aires, everyone knows that there are tons of different styles, and there is more of an attempt to find your own dance, rather than "the right dance."

I have chosen the style that I teach because I believe it is the easiest style of tango in terms of body wear and tear. I want to dance tango until I die, not until I need back surgery. I want to dance all night, not until my feet hurt. As a student of anatomy, I constantly try to find the best ways to help people find their own body, feel how it works, and then use that knowledge to make their own dance. It's about ease of movement and body health; if you want to then go do a style that is hard on the body, that is an educated decision that you are free to make.

What village are you from?

As a folk dancer, we have a joke when we learn a new variation of a dance: "What village are you from?!?" We all know that there are tons of variation in the folk tradition, and we accept that for the most part.

In tango, it's a question of what neighborhood your teacher came from; or what teacher formed their dance. I have danced all over Buenos Aires and studied with people from a lot of different neighborhoods. According to reactions from elderly men in Buenos Aires, I appear to have learned styling that places me anywhere from Villa Devoto to Belgrano to Villa Urquiza.

For most of us who did not grow up in Buenos Aires, we have taken what we know of Argentine Tango from whatever sources we could. I am lucky that I spent a lot of time dancing with the old guys twenty years ago, and got the feeling of their dance into my body. What village am I from? From the one where you get a master's in dance and study anatomy and kinesiology AND hang out with old guys in milongas.

My maestros

Here are some of the people I have studied with to give YOU inspiration and help you see how I have built my own dance.

Omar Vega--milonga

Omar was one of my main milonga teachers in Buenos Aires. He was never one to follow the rules, so you will see some crazy things on his videos, but getting to be his assistant in milonga class formed my milonga. I would follow him as he showed moves, and then switch to leading in the class. The guys in class were very open to me leading, and provided a lot of encouragement. The women were willing to dance with another woman and the chance to study weekly gave me homework for going dancing.

 

Jose Garofalo--milonga

I learned a lot about milonga from Jose Garofalo. His classes were relaxed and enjoyable. Private lessons with him were the best: because he is such a fabulous follower, he would take what I did wrong and expand upon it in a hilarious manner--until I fixed it. Because he is an inventive leader, I have to be super-focused when dancing with him: he doesn't just follow a fixed pattern, and I never know what will come out of that incredible 30-year-tango memory! I couldn't find a video of him doing milonga except with me, so here it is:

Tete Rusconi--vals and tango

Tete was my main vals teacher. He gave me a lot of flack for leading in his classes, but I learned a lot from him. Skip the first 1:30 or so of this video where they introduce him if you don't speak Spanish. I like this dance because it is very sweet and balanced, with a lot of poetry in the musicality--and because it shows his tango, not his vals. I enjoyed dancing with him.

Oscar Mandagaran--milonga, tango and vals

Oscar was the teacher of my Argentine boyfriend, who dragged me to a class in an apartment where I was the only foreigner. I studied with him on and off for many years. Watch this video of us dancing on a crowded plywood stage out on the street in Buenos Aires. You can see a lot of what I try to teach people to do! Just skip ahead past all the stuff about the photographer!

 

Julio Balmaceda and Corina de la Rosa--tango and vals

Julio and Corina taught classes in La Galeria where I went to take classes. They are no longer together, but Corina is a powerhouse of a follower who I hope to emulate someday. Check out their vals here, which is one of my favorites to watch and rewatch. Notice they almost never walk in front of each other: when he does step in front of her, he does not invade her space, but is using it to prepare for another movement.

 

OK, there are a BUNCH more people who have inspired and taught me, but that's enough for this week!

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.

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!

New Monday class sessions start April 9th at the Om

Body Dynamics, 7 PM Mondays

Body Dynamics is my hardcore tango technique class. We do stretches that I learned from Georgina Vargas that are specific to tango. Then, we do drills to improve footwork, balance, pivoting, contrabody use, adornos, etc. After that, we work on a particular step, picking it apart and finding all the pertinent details--and then we work some more! The first session I offered this class, it was almost completely female in attendance, but last week, we reached a new record: more men than women! After all, everyone wants to dance a dynamic tango, don't they?

The most rewarding part of teaching this class, is to see my students rapidly improve in both flexibility and technique. One student told me that he had recently danced for two hours without pain. Before taking the class for the past five weeks, he had considered stopping dancing because of pain levels. Another student told me that, suddenly, much more advanced dancers have been inviting her to dance. Another student, on his second six-week session, is now able to do almost all the stretches without modifications; he no longer needs to sit on pillows to make up for lack of hamstring stretch. Each week, I look around and feel amazed at the quick progress I see around me.

Why am I teaching a tango class where people lie on the floor and stretch? When I went to Buenos Aires in November, Georgina Vargas convinced me to try her stretches. I was skeptical, and I wanted to get on with my tango lessons, but I have found that Georgina's ideas are usually right, so I got down to work. On the nights that I stretched before dancing, I had about 1.5 hours more of good technique out on the dance floor, compared to the nights I didn't stretch. That was too much of a different to ignore; as usual, Georgie was right! When I stretched before my private lesson, I got a lot more work done in less time because my body was ready for it. I decided to teach her stretches and drills in a separate class, incorporating my anatomy studies and other dance training in as well.

Topics for the next session

This next session, we will work on dancing at various speeds, as well as dancing different sizes of steps. Milonga requires you to move very efficiently in small spaces, with very little time to make those steps look elegant. How you you ornament in milonga? How do you dance well in small steps, without losing your style? Come find out.

I often find that by studying opposites, we arrive at a better understanding of both things. Therefore, the other focus this session will be on taking BIG steps. How do you dance in close embrace (or open) in a lithe, sensual, elastic manner? Training your body to dance well with big steps also allows you to have better technique with regular steps, while encouraging your to develop better muscular strength and control.

I promise, promise, promise that we will include adornos, large and small; for leaders and followers. This past session, I had hoped to get to them, but all the great work we did on off- and on-axis moves/preparation took up all the time.

Om Movement Studio is located at 14 NE 10th Ave., between Burnside and Couch. It is one block from Norse Hall, and right off the bus line. There is limited bike parking. Class is $60/6 weeks, or $12 drop in. If taken in conjunction with the 8 PM Advanced class, the price is both classes for $90.

 

Take it to the next level: Advanced class at 8 PM

I started this class in order to share the technique of Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas with the Portland community, but it has expanded to include other bits of technique I've studied as well since 1995 when I started dancing tango.

After you've danced tango for a while, you are ready to really dig in and deepen your understanding of the dance. You want all that hard work to show in an elastic, powerful, panther-like way. In this class, I encourage you to bite off chunks of new vocabulary, new technique, new ways of moving--and meld it into your own style. I hope that, when class is over, each week you will have something new to take to the dance floor with you; something that makes your dance have an edge.

The main focus definitely is body-based technique. My motto is, "No pain, no pain." Tango is not supposed to be painful! The technique I teach works on finding balance and movement efficiently, so that energy is available for moving dynamically. Feet shouldn't hurt; backs should not feel tight; the body should feel balanced and supple to dance your best. There are many styles of tango, but I have chosen the one that I believe is best for the body AND the most elegant because of that.

Topics for this session

This past session, we have worked on shared-axis turns, colgadas and volcadas. Although we will come back to that work, this next session will have a different focus: advanced work in milonga and vals. I have been teaching milonga and vals classes in my lower-level classes, but it's been a while since we've tackled them in the advanced class.

Each week, we'll work on a combination that challenges technique and musicality; we will make sure we can do it in the line-of-dance, and then we'll pick it apart and modify it with each dancer's own dance vocabulary and style. In other words, I'd like everyone to walk out of this class with a better understanding of both dances, but with their own way of dancing.

This class will build on the technique work of the 7 PM class, and I urge you to consider taking both classes to get the most out of your own technique. However, it is not a prerequisite, and I know some of you are adverse to stretching :-)

Class is $60/6 weeks, or $90/both 7 and 8 PM classes. Drop in is $12/class. Om Movement Studio is located at 14 NE 10th Ave., between Burnside and Couch. It is one block from Norse Hall, and right off the bus line. There is limited bike parking.

 

 

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!

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!

New classes start this week! Argentine tango and more . . .

All classes are six weeks long. All start THIS week, but are drop-in.

Couple Dance 101

Would you like to ease into couple dancing? This class will teach you how to: lead/follow, identify the music, move with a partner, and help you "survive" on the dance floor.  It will give you a taste of several dances--salsa, swing, rumba, waltz, tango, etc.--to help you decide what dance(s) are for you. Come learn to feel comfortable dancing with partners!

  • Tuesdays 7:30-8:30
  • Krakow Cafe, 3990 N. Interstate (they have coffee, food and beer!)
  • No experience needed, no partner necessary
  • $60/6 wks, $12 drop-in (summer special: $100/couple)

Milonga traspie and Tango vals: musicality, flow and improvisation

This class is designed for intermediate and advanced dancers who want to improve their milonga and vals. We will do new patterns each week, but the main focus of the class is to make your dances feel magical to your partners through improved musicality, technique and style.

  • Wednesdays 8:15-9:15 (and then let's walk over to Norse Hall to practice!)
  • Om Studio, 14 NE 10th (between Burnside and Couch)
  • No partner needed
  • $60/6 wks or $12 drop-in
  • Warm up for Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas' visit the last week in August! They will be teaching vals and milonga classes, so get ready!

Tango Fundamentals: connection, energy and play

This class is designed for beginning students and for continuing students who want to focus on the fundamentals of Argentine tango. We will do new patterns each week, but the main focus of the class is to make your body into a tango-dancing piece of poetry! Breath, posture, balance, axis--attention to the fundamentals brings a connection to the music and to your partner that raise your dance above the ordinary. We'll play tango games to make your dance fun and improvisatory, right from the first hour.

  • Thursdays, 6-7 PM
  • Om Studio, 14 NE 10th (between Burnside and Couch)
  • No partner needed
  • $60/6 wks or $12 drop-in
  • Warm up for Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas' visit the last week in August! They will be teaching classes for all levels, including the basics; get ready!

Continuing Tango: creating magic through dance

This class is designed for continuing intermediate and advanced intermediate students who want to build a powerful, sensuous and elegant Argentine tango. We will do new patterns each week, but the main focus of the class is to find the magic of YOUR dance. Each week, you'll walk out of class with more confidence and beauty in your tango, ready to spread YOUR magic on the dance floor.

  • Thursdays, 7-8 PM
  • Om Studio, 14 NE 10th (between Burnside and Couch)
  • No partner needed
  • $60/6 wks or $12 drop-in
  • Warm up for Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas' visit the last week in August! They will be teaching classes on lead and follow technique for intermediate and advanced dancers, so get ready!

Questions?  Call me at 541.914.4812 and I'll see you in class!

Media vuelta and salida del 40 (tango vals review 2)

Vals timing for steps

1 . . 1 . . 1 . . 1 . . (step on the first beat of each measure, leaving beats 2 & 3 alone)

1 . 3 1 . 3 1 . 3 1 . 3 (step on the first and last beat of each measure, leaving beat 2 alone)

1 2 . 1 2 . 1 2 . 1 2 . (step on the first and second beat of each measure, leaving beat 3 alone)

1 2 3  (step on all three beats): I'd never do this more than once in a row!

Mix and match these timings as the music speaks to you. This session, we used valses from these three orchestras: Donato, D'Arienzo, and De Angelis because both Robert and I like nice medium-speed, well-marked rhythms for learning musicality (not because they began with 'D'!).

Media vuelta

Although there are many ways to begin a media vuelta, we did it in class from traveling back ochos.

The main idea is the the turn (media vuelta means "half turn") of the follower goes counterclockwise around the leader, using the follower's back, side, front steps. It truly IS a half turn (although I've been known to get all the way around on a particularly zippy one), and thus works really well to get back to line-of-dance (LOD) if you are facing the wrong way; or you can combine it with other elements to make a full turn more interesting. 

  • The trick for a zippy media vuelta: The leader uses a slight rebound step to initiate the turn and make it zippy: he steps slightly forward and slightly to the left diagonal, with the left foot; and then rebounds back to his right foot. I usually add another step as I turn in place for balance, but sometimes I stay on my right and spin; try both!
  • Timing: This makes a turn that works well for 1 . 3 1 for the follower (what I like usually), or 1 2 . 1 for the follower (what Robert likes usually). In either case, the follower steps left, right, left for the sequence.
  • Easy ending: After turn, follower has right foot free. The leader can either exit with the left for parallel, or with the right for crossed system, and contine dancing.
  • Continuous (linked) media vueltas: Continue turning so that the follower does a fourth step around to complete the turn (1 . . ) WHILE leader shifts weight (1 . 3 or 1 2 . ) and then initiates another media vuelta, again starting facing LOD. This makes the follower's and leader's steps both syncopate, but in series (ex. follower 1 2 . 1; leader 1 2 . 1; follower 1 2 . 1, with each person doing the quick quick staccato timing while the other person is executing a 1 . . count on their step.

Salida del 40 (1940s style salida)

I was taught this as a normal salida when in Buenos Aires, but I've noticed that most people call it a "salida del 40" so I'll continue that usage. There are many variations on this theme, but the one we taught was Robert's preferred version:

  • Leader faces out of the room (back to the center of the floor), and takes a side step with the left, LOD; follower takes a right side step, also LOD.
  • Leader steps together in place, onto the right foot (the couple are now in crossed system) and pivots the follower so that her/his next step will be backwards, down the LOD.
  • Optional adorno for the follower here: use the left (free leg), making a tiny U shape around the right foot--make sure the KNEES touch, with the left back of the knee touching the right front of the knee. This has to be small, fast, and on balance!
  • Optional adorno for the follower here: after being pivoted to move LOD, facing RLOD, you can tap your (still) free left foot next to your right before stepping backwards. Make is subtle--this is an adornment, not the main step :-)
  • Leader steps LOD with the left; follower steps LOD back with the left (some versions have only the follower step here). This is a smaller step.
  • Leader steps LOD with the right; follower steps LOD back with the right. This is an energized, strong step.
  • Leader leads the follower to cross without changing the leader's weight. Follower crosses, transferring weight to the left foot.
  • Exit in parallel.

Timing

1 . . 1 . . 1 . . 1 . . is the underlying pulse of this step. The leader's step to change to crossed system works well as 1 . 3 or 1 2 . so that the follower's step stays on the 1 . . 1 (and the same is true for the follower's cross, which works well as 1 . 3 or 1 2 .). Of course, other timings work well, too, but I'd say this is the most traditional version.

Ocho cortado and ocho cortado turn

I covered ocho cortado and ocho cortado turns on March 19, 2010 and April 5, 2010. You can either search by "ocho cortado" among my topics, or look for those dates to review those moves.

Vals timing

For ocho cortado, the two rebound steps can be any of the vals timings I listed at the beginning of this post. In the turn, the most traditional timing is to syncopate the rebounds, AND make the turn 1 . . 1 2 . 1 or 1 . . 1 . 3 1--you choose! Of course, you can always stick to straight 1 . . 1 . . 1 . ., but where's the extra edge of challenge?

Traveling turns in parallel and crossed systems (tango vals review 1)

I love doing traveling turns in vals, and having one parallel and one crossed system option means that you can start turning at any time: when the music says "Turn!" you will be ready.

Warmup: Tete's exercise

I had the opportunity to study with Tete for a few months in Buenos Aires, and to take his vals class. After he got over the fact that I wanted to lead in his class ;-) he provided me with a lot of useful information.

To get the idea of listening to the music and turning, Tete would have us walk around the room, to the music. He would shout, "Turn!" and we would have to turn halfway or all the way around WHILE traveling down the room. He wanted us to be able to turn clockwise and counterclockwise effortlessly, so that we could access all the feelings in the music and respond accordingly.

The leader's focus is the leader's axis traveling through space. Tete would tell us to imagine that we were able to flip 180 degrees at a time, rather than trying to gradually turn (keep this in mind when you have a follower attached, because it makes the dance work). Don't try to tell the follower what to do; just move your own body clearly. That clarity creates the lead. As long as you move down the room on each step, this works. Practice without a follower first, and then add a partner.

In this exercise, the follower works on being on axis and staying in front of the leader; the leader is focusing on the leader. There are no specific kinds of turns being done: the leader is listening to the music and turning. As a follower, you will find that this is easier than it sounds. There are no correct number of steps, no demands for how to follow the step. As long as you stay in front of the leader and upright, it works.

Hint: As a follower, sometimes it will be safer to step on the inside or outside track, rather than right in front of the leader until the turn finishes.  Use your common sense: just step where it makes sense.

Parallel system traveling turns

Tete's exercise helps you feel more comfortable walking LOD and turning.  Here is one specific traveling turn. Although it is possible to turn clockwise and counterclockwise, it is MUCH easier to turn clockwise, so that is what we learned in vals class.

Leaders: "Forward side back, back side forward" is your mantra, after getting set for the turn:

  1. Right foot moving into the "inside" (or "outside" track, depending on your descriptive terms), or to the right of the follower, line-of-dance (LOD) WHILE the follower steps back LOD on the left ("forward").
  2. Step onto the left, moving LOD, facing the outer wall ("side") WHILE follower steps onto the right, moving LOD, facing the center of the dance space.
  3. Step onto the right, moving LOD, facing reverse line-of-dance (RLOD) ("back") WHILE the follower steps forward, facing/moving LOD, with the left.
  4. Step onto the left, moving LOD, facing RLOD ("back") WHILE follower steps forward and through to the "inside" track (to the leader's right side).
  5. Step onto the right, moving LOD, facing the center of the floor ("side") WHILE the follower steps LOD, facing the outside wall, with the left.
  6. Step onto the left, in front of your partner, moving LOD, facing LOD ("forward") WHILE the follower steps back with the right, moving LOD, facing RLOD.

You can do this move in a very tight space with small steps, always moving LOD. You can do this with really big steps if you have room. If there are people in the way, you can always truncate the move by continuing the turn IN PLACE, or by abandoning the rest of the pattern and doing something else (improvise!).

Timing in the traveling parallel turn

We spent a lot of time in class practicing turning with different timings:

  • Stepping only on the 1 . . 1 . . 1 . . makes this simple, but sometimes feels too slow.
  • Stepping on the 1 . 3 1 . 3 1 . 3 has a nice lilting feeling (the brave Sir Robin count :-)
  • Stepping on the 12 . 12 . 12 . has a zippier feeling that fits some valses better (the tiptoe count--yes, this is silly, but you did it right when I said this!)
  • Stepping on all count 123 should only be done once in a row, and only rarely does it feel right; but I do use it.
  • And then there is the "Dan" (as in Dan Boccia from Alaska): I love dancing vals with Dan because he plays with all of these timings in the traveling turn, starting slow and speeding up into a 123! ending. Dan, you probably don't know that I've called this step a Dan for years, but I think of it as your signature step!

Crossed system traveling turns (the cadena, or chain, step)

If you are in crossed system when the music says "Turn!" you do not need to switch systems to begin. The cadena is harder than parallel system turns at first, but once you learn the movement, you will find it just as easy to do.

Leader mantra: "Through, around, through around" (this is a four-step repeat, rather than the six-step repeat of the parallel turn)

Do:

  1. Leader mantra: side-side, front-back. The leader's steps are right, left, right, left.
  2. Follower mantra: back-front, side-side. The follower's steps are right, left, right, left.
  3. These are the two sets of rebounds, rocks, whatever, that are involved in the chain step.
  4. ALL STEPS turn continuously, so that the dance travels on each step, down the line-of-dance; if you are ending up staying in one place, something is wrong.
  5. On the side-side steps, the person facing LOD is actually stepping forward straight THROUGH the step of the person doing the other set of steps, while turning. Yes, their left leg is in the way and touches yours; yes, the leg you touch does not have weight on it, so you are not knocking the other person over.
  6. The easiest way to start and end the move is in traveling back ochos; or experiment!
  7. This can turn both directions, but is easiest turning clockwise (once it's easy, then tackle the hard side).
  8. Although possible to do in open embrace, it is easier to lead this in close embrace because the follower must follow your lead, rather than try to extricate her/his leg from the center of the turn :-)

Don't:

  1. Do not try and keep your legs touching while you turn: this ends up looking like wrestling or some kind of European pivoting couple dance ;-)
  2. Do not stop turning: it's much easier to just keep moving (which is why I made you do the Tete exercise first to get used to that idea).
  3. Do not worry about perfect placement. If you keep landing in the middle of the dance, pivot steps 2 & 3 more. If you keep ending up heading towards the walls, you may be twisting too far around on 1 and 3. Experiment and find the right amount of turn for you.
  4. Do not tighten your legs and knees to try to keep touching. If you relax your "free" leg while you turn, your legs will go into the correct place.
  5. Do not do more than one set of four steps at once UNTIL you get control of that sequence. Get in, turn, get out.

Timing

I tend to do cadenas in even timing: 1 . . 1 . . 1 . . 1 . . because I don't want my follower to panic when they feel a leg touch theirs! It is possible to do all the other timings, but I would not advocate the 123 version. Dance safely.

Vals and Argentine tango musicality: games and exercises

Each time I get on the dance floor to do a tango vals, I feel grateful that I was a musician for several decades before learning to dance. Timing in music is something I feel and do not have to count. When I started teaching dance, I found it hard to describe how to move to music: couldn't everyone hear what I heard?

The truth is, many people struggle with finding the beat for dancing.  I recently fielded a request about how to be more musical with tango.  I replied to that person, and then realized that this advice might be useful to more folks.

After teaching dance for 22 years, there are only a few things that I've found work for learning to hear and use the music:

1. Start listening to the music as much as possible; around the home; in the car; at the office, etc.  Even if you are not paying close attention, your brain hears the music and starts processing it better, even without moving to it.  Eventually, when you move to the music, you will REALLY move to the music because of these hours of extra "listening."  This is purely aural learning, but it helps.

2.  In classes, dances and practicas, watch the people who look like they are moving nicely with the music . . . and copy them shamelessly.  I'd suggest getting behind a leader who looks like they are musical, and try to move at the same time.  Again, this is a long process, but in patterning your body to theirs, you are learning to connect visually with the music.

3.  OK, so far, we have aural and visual elements of learning musicality.  For kinesthetic learning, my games about musicality help (see my other musicality posts).  If you are in a class that is about musicality, you experience the movement with the music, connecting #1 and #2 to this body feeling.  You can also do this in private lessons, and I'd be happy to set some up with you if you would like that.  Another way to experience this is to have a musical person lead YOU so you can follow to the music and feel it in your body; we could also do that in a private lesson.

4.  Last part of musicality that I do as another kinesthetic approach (and aural): make sounds!  That's why I make people play my "silly games" about musicality while making noise. For some folks, attaching a sound to a movement helps them to remember how to move.

Different people learn different ways.  I learn mostly visually and kinesthetically.  I have a student who learns best by saying things while moving: sounds and noises that he then associates with the movement.  I have some students who need to hear me explain things as their way to understand.  Another students needs to stand and watch others try the movement, and then can do the movement. If you know how you learn best, you can streamline the process, but this will take some time--much longer than learning steps, but EVERYONE can learn this.

I disagree with people who say that musicality can be learned with a computer program :-)

Milonga and vals class, Salem, Summer 2009

I disagree with teachers who think that new tango learners should avoid milonga and vals until their tango is in good form. Frankly, I think these two dances are more accessible than tango. The music is catchy and more cheerful, which attracts dancers from other genres (lindy, West Coast swing, contradancers, folk dancers, ballroom folk). Also, because the emphasis is on really moving to the music, beginners can let go of aiming for perfection in technique and enjoy DANCING. Too often (IMHO), tango learners and teachers forget that this is supposed to be FUN!

OK, off my soapbox, at least for a few seconds. In milonga and in vals, what I look for in a partner is: connection, ability to move me to the music, joy in dancing and (icing on the cake) good technique. Given that, we worked on learning a few moves, oldies but goodies, and spent the bulk of our time honing our musicality.

Milonga musicality

In milonga, you can focus on moving on the stressed beat of the music, without pauses or syncopation for the most part. This produces an elegant, more flowing dance (smooth milonga, or milonga lisa). This is a good starting point for the beginning milonga dance, as well as a form that can be taken to amazingly graceful heights with practice.

The "Everyready Battery Bunny" exercise is based on this style: followers step on each beat, in place, heels touching, unless moved through space by the leader. Of course, in "real life," you wouldn't be this automatic about it; but it helps to be ready to move on each beat so that the dance goes smoothly. Make sure that you are not automatically walking backwards: the leader gets to pick the direction and the step. You just help make it musical and peppy!

The other style of milonga is milonga traspie which focuses on syncopation to play with the music in a more boisterous way. I think that the dance should still be elegant, but with underlying groove so that it rocks (please, no bouncing arms). Oscar and Georgina did a milonga at Wednesday night (Norse Hall) that had most of us rooted to our chairs: it was sexy, elegant and raucous as the same time! (and then they sat down and said, "Interesting! We've never danced milonga to [cumbia] before!" Wow: brand new music AND amazing musicality.

But I digress. The traspie steps that we began belong to this style of milonga.  Traspie literally means "behind the foot", but can also mean "stumble" or "trip." This step has that tripping rhythm: BAHdum BUM, but only if you use a rebound (revolte): instead of three even counts, I think rebound, STEP. It's not about the initial step: this move stresses the step after the rebound.

Everything we did EXCEPT the vai-ven step (see step review at the bottom of this post) can be turned into a syncopated move. Other people may not agree with me, but I think this step only looks good when the timing remains slow (6 slow steps).

Milonga clips

Here are a few YouTube clips to inspire you. Oscar and Omar learned from the old milongueros. Dani IS an old milonguero. The young couple have nice style, and are repeatedly using the turning grapevine we learned: look how you can put the traspie steps in between!Elegant and sassy milonga: Oscar and Georgina

Omar Vega doing candombe milonga: outrageous and crazy!

Dani: milonguero doing a great milonga

Here's the turning grapevine step

Here's the half-grapevine/sawtooth thingie (and adornos): Graciela Gonzalez

Vals musicality

There are several ways to use the music in vals. Vals is in 3/4 timing (three beats per measure, with the first beat stressed). There is nothing wrong with sticking to moving on the first beat of each measure, but if you want to play with the music, practice each of these separately, walking and later dancing moves. Then, put them together. The BLOB exercise we did focused on playing around with all the rhythms, while moving through space. I find singing along (Dah DEE Dah dum DAH DAH DAH dum . . .) helps, but then again, I was trained as a singer before getting into dancing.

Normal possibilities

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 . . . (accent on the first beat of each measure; this is used the most)

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 . . . (accent on the first and last beat of each measure; this is also used a lot)

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 . . . (accent on the first and second beat of each measure; equally cool, but used less)

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 . . . (all three beats of the measure used; avoid using this as a default, oh my ballroom dancing tangueros!)

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 . . . (pauses of . . . whatever length; not used as much in vals as in tango, but useful)

Places to mess around with this:

  • walks (corridas, or little runs of QQS)
  • turns (remember, some steps of the turn are traditionally quicker): on the back and next side step, try different variations.
  • walking to the cross: "maybe yes cross" can be done in many different timings; play around! New folks this session: we didn't do this step, so don't worry about this)
  • turning grapevine: perfect place to play
  • traspie: usually done in syncopated timing anyway, but play with 1 3 1 and 12 1 timing.

Abnormal possibilities

Musically inclined leaders who have advanced tango skills and advanced music skills, tend to go off the beaten path with vals. I find myself led into moves such as "1 . . . 2 3 . . 3 1" simply because the leader thinks it's fun to make me dance on the off beats. Leaders: this MESSES with follower's brains; only do this when you know the follower will enjoy the geekiness of the variations (most will NOT enjoy it because it detracts from the flow of the dance). As a tango geek, I can appreciate strangeness IF IT IS LED WELL.

Folks who lead this well: Evan (now of NYC); Alex (Pland); Charles (Eugene) and Noah (Eugene). I'm sure there are more, but these guys understand the music on a deep level. Even after fourteen years of leading tango, I personally don't like to lead these strange variations, except with one or two stellar followers who purr, giggle and verbally express appreciation of the silliness.

Vals clips on Youtube

After a week with Oscar and Georgina, so few folks look good out there on YouTube (yes, I know I am biased, but after all, that's why I organize for them! They are amazing). I couldn't find a vals with them dancing, but here's another couple who taught me a lot about vals musicality in their classes in Buenos Aires:

Tete y Silvia: remember the "walk and turn" exercise we did? I learned that in Tete y Silvia's classes in Buenos Aires. As long as you are clear about what direction you are heading, it's easy for the follower to keep up.

Vals at Glorias Argentinas: Although these folks don't have fabulous technique, they DO have fabulous musicality and connection. Watch how he only uses a few patterns to make a nice dance.

Nestor Ray and Silvina Vals: very much like Tete, Nestor Ray has a very turny, smooth dance.  Watch how he does lots of walking and turning--and not much else; look how nice it is!

Milonga and Vals steps from class

Given the fact that two of our leaders had never danced tango/milonga/vals before these six weeks (bravo, guys!), I stuck to basic moves that you can use in all three dances equally well. Those of you who are more advanced can look at your review sheets from the past year, and add back in other moves we've learned. Also, it never hurts to work on musicality: how many ways can you do each of these?

  1. walking forward LOD (that is, leader walking facing line-of-dance)
  2. walking backward LOD (leader)
  3. taking side-together steps: out towards the side of the dance floor, or LOD (leader's left shoulder facing LOD and leader's right shoulder facing LOD)
  4. vai-ven step (go-come): Leader's step is forward on the left, in place with the right, in place with the left; back step with the right, in place with the left, in place with the right. I like using this to bracket the turning grapevine, to find my space on the dance floor, or to finish a sequence where the music is calming down after something more vibrant. Follower's step: back on the right, in place with the left, in place with the right; forward on the left, in place with the right, in place with the left.
  5. turning grapevine (clockwise, traveling LOD):1. Leader steps forward on left, 2. forward and through with the right (like going to the cross), and then 3. steps laterally line of dance (lead faces out, follower faces in); leader 4. steps back on right, 5. back on left (leading follower forward and through to the inside), and 6. open with the right (lead facing in, follower facing out). Follower does the same steps as the leader, but in this order: 456 123. In other words, follower steps back on right, back on left, laterally (facing in) with right, LOD; then forward on left, forward and through with right, and laterally (facing out) with left, LOD; finish with a walk or whatever.
  6. Ocho cortado ("cut ocho"): Leader steps forward on left (either after salida or from walking . . . no "correct" way); then rocks back onto right foot; then steps backwards on left foot, leading the follower through to the leader's right side.  Leader then puts both feet down OR steps SLIGHTLY open with right, to lead the follower in the last three steps; finishing with feet together, ready to walk out with left foot.  Follower steps back on right, rebounds forward onto left foot, steps forward and through with right foot, then pivots slightly into a lateral step (like a side step of a turn). This step rebounds back to the follower's right foot, and then the leader pivots the follower again to close the left foot in front, as in going to the cross.  If you Google ocho cortado on YouTube, you will see what we talked about in class: EVERYONE has different ideas of how this step SHOULD be done. I've taught you what feels most comfortable for the follower, but feel free to mess around with variations ;-) ocho cortado
  7. Giros ("turns"): Remember the "rocks-in-the-stream" game? We walked, listening to the music, and then did half or full turns and then walked again. Remember that, just like water in a stream, the movement rarely stays in one spot for a long time. A lot of turns continue to travel down the dance floor while turning. Let this exercise provide some improvisation in your dance. Instead of worrying about where to start and end the turn, just walk and turn, walk and turn, as the music tells you. The follower's job is to stay with you. HOWEVER: if you are not clear about what direction your torso is pointing/moving (downstream, please), the follower will not know, either. Clarity, clarity, clarity! For those of you who prefer structure: you can turn from a side step, so that the follower's first step is a front or back cross around you. We also looked at starting turns as the leader stepped back in the vai ven.
  8. Sawtooth/half-grapevine: I'm sure there is a name for this step, but I learned it dancing with old guys in the milonga, not in a class; no one said, "Hey, let's do the x step!" To start, leader does a salida, moving LOD with the left foot, facing "out" of the space. Then, leader steps forward and through with the right (like going to the cross); and steps TOGETHER with the left; steps straight back (towards the center of the floor) with the right; and together OR open with the left. If you step together, you get a very crisp, sawtoothed pattern. If you step open, you get a "castle wall" kind of effect.  Neither is wrong, but stepping together looks more elegant and takes less room. The follower needs to be careful not to automatically do a grapevine pattern without being led. Follower steps side with the right, LOD, to start, then back diagonal with the left, still moving LOD and outwards from the dance space. After that, the follower steps in place with the right foot, and straight forward with the left foot, to begin again or exit.
  9. Traspie ("stumble, trip"): We did two versions of this: 1. sd, rebound, step forward (for leader); and 2. fd, rebound, step forward (for leader), which seems to be harder for a lot of folks. Remember that the rebound has to happen BEFORE taking the forward step. You MUST return to an on-axis, body-over-supporting-foot balanced position before continuing through for the next step. If you have Oscar and Georgina's rhythmic tango DVD, there are wonderful instructions for doing this well (as well as ocho cortado variations). I can't find it on YouTube; ah, well.

I've really enjoyed this class. I find it impressive that we have dancers who have six weeks of tango experience (really, none, since we did milonga and vals), up to four years' experience, in one class. With one exception, we covered information requested by the class: new moves; musicality; walking; milonga; and better posture, technique, etc.. Sorry that we didn't get to your boleos, Karen.

For those of you who live close enough to get to Portland, Robert Hauk and I will be collaborating on a milonga class up there this fall. Stay tuned for details!

Swirly twirls in vals: the cadena and a walk-around front sacada turn

We tackled several fun but complex turns in Rachel Lidskog's and my Sunday Specials vals workshop this month. Elizabeth taught the cadena (chain) step, and Rachel taught a walk-around turn, followed by a turn with a leader front sacada. Both sequences can be done in part (use a few steps), completed once, or repeated for a long twirly sequence if there is room.

The cadena (chain step)

I first learned the cadena in a workshop with Fabian Salas in the mid-1990s. The cadena is a crossed system traveling turn. I find it easiest to lead if I have done a complete traveling back ocho with the follower before I start the cadena, but it is possible to simply get into crossed system on your first forward step and launch the cadena directly.

The cadena can be done both turning right (clockwise, CW) and turning left (counter-clockwise CCW). Rachel prefers CCW; I prefer CW because the couple does not need to turn as far to complete each sequence. I will describe what we learned: turning clockwise.

Once the couple is in crossed system, and both partners are on their left feet:

  1. The leader rotates the torso to the right (clockwise) so that the follower steps back to the left diagonal with the right foot WHILE the leader steps forward THROUGH that step with the right foot.
  2. The leader steps line of dance with the left while continuing the clockwise rotation of the torso (if it helps, think AROUND the follower, but you are really traveling straight down the room). The follower is pivoted on the right foot, and steps diagonally forward line of dance with the left foot.  NOTE: So far, the leader has basically stepped forward, side, down the line of dance, and is now ready to step backwards in the line of dance. The follower has done a back rock step diagonally across the line of dance, and then a front step diagonally across the line of dance, and is now headed line of dance forwards. The second half of the cadena has the leader repeat steps 1 & 2 of the follower, while leading the follower to repeat steps 1 & 2 of the leader.
  3. The leader continues to rotate the torso to the right while stepping back diagonally with the right foot (step #1 for follower). The leader leads the follower straight down the line of dance, through this step. OK, this is the hardest part of the cadena: convincing the follower that you REALLY want her/him to step through, rather than around your other foot ;-)
  4. The leader continues to rotate the torso to the right (almost done!) while pivoting on the right foot and then stepping forward diagonal with the left foot to finish ready for step #1. The follower steps straight down the line of dance ("around" the partner) with the left to finish ready for step #1 again.

SECRET to the cadena/true confessions: This is simpler if danced in close embrace, but harder in open. If you are in close embrace, you can effectively body-block the follower from stepping around you. I use my entire torso to lead my follower into my space. I use my hip/torso to stop her from doing a back ocho in #1 & 2, and then I roll my hip/torso to the other side of her leg and block her from going around me. As a smaller leader, I can't wrestle my partner into submission (if it comes to wrestling, I am a "gentleman" and let her win!), but if I set up the placement of the step correctly, I can prevent wrestling.

Counter-clockwise cadena: Reverse the entire thing by rotating to the left and starting the cadena with the follower's back cross step with the left (leader steps through with left).

Good luck!

Walk-around turn + turn with leader front sacada

There are two parts to this combination. Either may be used separately (I'll describe them this way) or together (I'll remind you how to combine them at the end). Just like the cadena, you can use a part of the combo, the whole thing, or string several together to make something VERY swirly.

The walk-around turn

  • Lead the follower into back traveling ochos in crossed system.
  • After the follower steps back on left foot, both dancers have the right foot free. The leader overturns the follower to the leader's right (CW) by rotating the torso as far as possible.
  • As the follower begins a three-step turn (back cross with right, open step to left, front cross with right), the leader steps where the follower was standing and then turns in place while follower finishes the walk-around turn.
  • This turn progresses down the room because of the leader's "replacement" of the follower (the argument is open whether a step that replaces the partner, but does not step through the partner's step, is a sacada or not; but it's the same idea).
  • The follower begins the turn with the center of the turn circle in one place, but then completes the turn around the new center post.
  • The leader has several options for the feet during this turn. However, for all of them, make sure they are under you! I see a lot of folks who reach for the "walk-around" idea with their feet, but never arrive on axis during the turn. Push off, leaders! Land with your whole axis in the new spot to make the follower feel good during the turn. Once you accomplish the "walk-around" you can either spin on one foot (harder to do but spiffy-looking) or just turn in a circle while stepping in ONE place with your feet. I tend to do the second when leading a less-advanced follower, just for balance. The spin I save for moments when I know my follower will not need me as a balance point.
  • You can: continue on with the dance; repeat this move; or combine it with the turn and leader sacada below.

Turn with leader front sacada

  • Turn the follower to the right (CW) around the leader for the following steps: open with the left foot, back cross with the right foot, open with the left foot, etc.
  • On the follower's first open step to the left, the leader does a sacada through that step with either foot. A sacada is a step where the leader is taking the place vacated by the follower (or vice versa for a follower sacada). The leader's body must continue to lead the follower around the turn here WHILE the leader moves to a new spot on the floor (where follower used to be). The requires a spiral in the leader's torso. In this sacada, the leader needs to maintain the same distance with the follower as before the sacada.
  • As you are doing the sacada through the follower's slow step, the next steps will be quick, quick, slow, and then another slow open step for the follower. You can break out of the turn on any of these steps.
  • If you want to repeat just this move, remember that you need to be ready to sacada on the next slow, open step of the follower. To repeat exactly, sacada with the right foot and change weight in place while the follower turns so that you are ready with the right foot again for another round (you can also do a right sacada and then sacada with your left next time, or . . . whatever).
  • If you want to link this to the walk-around turn, only use the first move of this turn. The follower steps open to the left, with the leader doing the sacada through with the right foot and changing weight to the left, so that the right foot is free to immediately do another walk-around turn. In this case, the follower has a QQSS QQSS pattern of timing (QQS in the walk-around, slow during your sacada; repeat) and the leader has a SSQQ SSQQ pattern of timing, so the steps work together, but having a pleasing dialogue with each other.

February Sunday Special classes

Rachel Lidskog and I really enjoyed teaching our second monthly workshop together.  Based on our students' VERY helpful feedback, we are changing our offerings for the next session.  From now on, we will have a beginner/advanced beginner level class at 1 PM, followed by intermediate/advanced level workshops at 2 & 3 PM. Thank you for all of your wonderful suggestions!

We're gearing up for Valentango with:

1.  Navigation for the faint-hearted (beginning level and up): come play some games and get strategy secrets for getting around the crowded Valentango dance floor without getting maimed! Learn to read the "traffic" clearly, improve your defensive "driving" and have fun at the same time. (1-2 PM)
2.  Milonga; the rhythm method (more advanced than #1): build your vocabulary of milonga steps that can be done in small spaces. We'll focus on making your milonga more rhythmic and playful in tight spaces. (2-3 PM)
3. Vals: more swoopy things to do--in small areas (swoopettes?): Use the energy of the dance and the music to keep vals swirly, even in bumper-to-bumper tango space. We'll continue adding to our turn vocabulary that we've been building during the past two workshops. (3-4 PM)

Vals musicality workshop (Salem tango)

Good work lastnight, folks!

Last night, we began class with a variation on Luciana Valle's drill that I call "Bim bam" (from the noises she uses for syncopation). There are several different ways to use the music:

  • 1 2 3 1 2 3--move on count 1 of each measure
  • 1 2 3 1 2 3--moving on counts 1 and 3 of the measure for a SLOW quick SLOW quick
  • 1 2 3 1 2 3 --moving on counts  1 and 2 of the measure for a QUICK slow QUICK slow feeling 
  • 1 2 3 1 2 3--moving on counts 1, 2 and 3 (please use this sparingly!) for QUICK QUICK QUICK slow
  • using pauses (remember to begin on count 1 after a pause!)

Using those ideas, we did:

  • the Blob: interacting with your group to make a "melody" of syncopation (think scat singing!)
  • Backseat driver: leading your partner around, getting the hang of combining all the possibilities, without stepping on toes
  • Dancing: here we go!

As you discovered, more people have trouble finding the 12.12. variation. However, by the end of the evening, some of you had it nicely!

Teaching (not so-) old dogs new tricks:
We then worked on variations of timing in steps that we already do; going to the cross and turns, in particular.

Turns: Using either counts 1 and 3, or counts 1 and 2, for the QUICK QUICK steps in the turn. In addition, you can slow everything down to using only count 1 per step, or speed up to all quicks, although your follower may not like you after that!

Going to the cross: The only way I can remember these when I am trying to do a bunch of different variations, is to sing them to myself. When I dance, I just do what feels right, but I may not be able to tell you which variation I did.

  • MAYBE yes cross (in 1 2 3 1) timing
  • MAYBE yes cross (in 1 2 3 1) timing
  • maybe YES CROSS walk (in 1 2 3 1) timing
  • maybe YES CROSS walk (in 1 2 3 1) timing
  • Of course, all slows (1 2 3 1 2 3) timing is a nice standby


Rock steps: You can use all the timings in rock steps as well, either in place or to change direction. We played with these in the rock step turns that we learned a few weeks ago.

There are TONS more places to play with rhythm, and we'll learn some new moves next week for milonga, as well as in the new session in September, that you will be able to apply to vals as well.

Musicality: We mostly danced to Canaro's valses for this class. However, different orchestras have different flavors of vals. I like Tanturi, d'Arienzo, Biagi (hard but fun) and Laurenz as well, and recently have started to learn Lomuto and Donato's music.

Listen to a piece of music: what does it suggest that you do? Which syncopations are evident in the song? Do you want to play along and mirror those? Do you want to create a counterpoint of your own rhythms? Try different things!

See you next week for milonga!