Buenos Aires Tango Tour: designed for YOU!

Not your normal tango tour!

This is not your normal group tango tour! This tour is designed for people who don’t want to go to Buenos Aires alone, but don’t want to be shackled to a group 24-7. As folks are signing up, I am incorporating their requests into my plan. If you want to go everywhere together in a group, this is probably not the right choice for you. If you are more adventurous, or looking for something really special, this is for you.

This tour will be limited to twelve people. I feel that you deserve quality work from me, and that means individual attention and help. One spot has already been reserved. There is no minimum number of people: we are going!!

What do YOU want to do in Buenos Aires?

I have been going to Buenos Aires since 1999. Those visits have provided me with a lot of local information, friends, contacts, knowledge of the dance scene, and love for the city. I am putting all of that experience to work for YOU!

This is a tour tailored to your personal goals for Buenos Aires:

·        Do you want to dance every day/night? I can help you choose the best places for you to dance, based on your level, your dance goals, etc., and help you make reservations to get decent seating.

·        Do you want to find group or private tango lessons? I will help you make appropriate choices, get you there, and even help you locate a practice partner/dance partner if you want one.

·        Do you want a “taxi dancer” (Buenos Aires dancer who accompanies you to milongas)? I have several good sources for great folks who won’t cheat you on prices.

·        Do you want to see the sights? I will organize daily excursions to fun places that you can choose to do, or do your own thing. I will also be organizing trips to folk dancing, museums, Teatro Colon, and other cool places you don't want to miss!

·        Do you want a Spanish tutor? I will find one for you!

·        Do you want to a cultural exchange? My friend (who is an English professor) is coordinating with me to give her students chances to practice English, while YOU get a native tour guide around the city.

·        Do you want to shop until you drop? I can aim you in the right direction, go to shoe stores with you and translate for you, etc. The “outlet mall” area and wholesale district are nearby!

The dates: Dec. 2-12

I am timing the tour to coincide with the National Day of Tango is December 11 (Carlos Gardel’s birthday). To celebrate, they hold a huge street party between the Congress building and the Casa Rosada (the president’s house), with live bands, dancing in the street and performances. I went in 2012 and 2015, and had fun both times. As it occurs right before summer solstice, everyone is out celebrating the start of summer as well. If you want to come a day early, or stay after the tour, etc., that is up to you; the dates can be semi-flexible.

Cost

Last year, I spent two weeks in Buenos Aires, researching hotels, locating the best current milongas, trying out teachers, and finding a good neighborhood for us to stay. I will be available 24-7 during your ten days in Buenos Aires, as well as making shoe shopping trips, milonga excursions, etc. available each day for you! It’s a lot of work, but I am excited to share my favorite city and dance with all of you, and I want you to have the best possible experience of Buenos Aires, so that you want to go back on your own!

The cost is $1200/person for my services during the trip, my pre-planning, and any individual scheduling and help that you need before and during the trip. You will pay the hotel, airfare, food, tango shoes etc., on your own.

If cost is an issue, please talk to me before deciding not to go.

Flights

I usually fly through Houston, as that is the fastest flight time. Usually, Economy is fine. However, I suggest that you DO NOT buy Economy on the United Dreamliner: I upgraded to Economy Plus on the way home, which was OK. I know some of the people planning to go have miles saved on various airlines. I willmake sure you get from Ezeiza Airport to the hotel, but it's up to you to get to Argentina :-)

Visa

There is no visa needed to visit Argentina as a tourist for under 90 days, BUT it is now required that you pay a reciprocity fee before leaving the USA. Luckily, this is much easier than it used to be. You can buy it via the Argentine Embassy online. The cost is $160 USD, and it is good for ten years. You will need proof of buying your visa in order to board the plane to Argentina. Lots of information is available from the U.S. government online.

Airport transport

I will make sure you get picked up at the airport by a reliable person. If you can arrange to fly at the same time as someone else, you can split the cost. It cost $45 in 2015, and will probably be about that. You can pay in dollars or pesos.  I will also set up your return trip to the airport when you leave, unless you prefer to do so yourself.

The hotel

I will be staying at 5 Cool Rooms in Palermo. I suggest you also make reservations at 5 Cool Rooms (Honduras 4742, C1414BJV Buenos Aires, Argentina) via Expedia or another travel website. It is air-conditioned, has free breakfast (which can be gluten-free), a Jacuzzi and 24-hr. front desk security. It is near Starbucks for those of you who need your American hit of home (& second free WiFi spot). We can walk to 5-6 milongas in the neighborhood. There is a gluten-free restaurant/bakery nearby, and tons of little restaurants! If you prefer something more exclusive (there are some very lovely, very expensive hotels nearby) or something cheaper (AirBnB), I can help you make good choices about locations.

La Marshall: relaxed milonga and great performance!

  • Riobamba 416
  • Entrada: 80 pesos (including the lesson)
  • Bottle of water: 28 pesos

"Celebrating 12 years of the milonga. Dance performance by Augusto Balizano & Claudio González."

La Marshall is one of the gay milongas. There is a mix of young gay men, older women in couples, and people who like to switch lead and follow. Note to the Portlanders: the Lumbersexual style has hit Buenos Aires, but I only saw it at La Marshall: full beards, suspenders, work jeans and checked shirts!

The dance performance was FABULOUS! Two excellent dancers, good choreography, and very touching as a theatre piece. Two seemingly old guys, shuffle out on stage, take quite a while to adjust themselves, figure out who is leading, etc., and then dance a tango in the grotesque tradition: moves just slightly out of control or staggering, catching themselves at the last minute from falling, etc. I know how hard it is to dance like stiff old men when you are a good dancer, so this was impressive.

THEN, when I thought it was over, they played a romantic song that several of the guys (the lumbersexuals) next to me sang along to, with a chorus about remembering a year of love. While the music played, the dancers took most of their clothing off, wiped the old-guy makeup off, and put stretchy muscle tees on.

And THEN they danced an incredible, acrobatic duet. WOW. Lifts, boleos, lightening fast turns. WOW. As a dancer, I know how much work went into that choreography. It looked seamless, beautiful, and muscular at the same time. It didn't seem just sewn together like a lot of tango performances do to me. I'll just keep saying WOW.

 

Food, tango shoes and dancing: who needs more?

Life is GOOD gluten-free

Sintaxis

 

  • Nicaragua 4849
  • Totally gluten-free restaurant, with goodies and bread for carryout

I had scrambled eggs with sundried tomatoes. It came with two (small) slices of bread, and a selection of cheese: swiss, blue, and something else. The breakfast specials are served until noon, and come with a drink. I had a wonderful cafe con leche, my first coffee in over a year. Yum! It didn't look like much food, but I realized after I felt full, that comparing it to traveling in Texas last week was silly: Texas meals were MUCH too large.

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I have the list of when they are open over the weekend and for the holidays (Monday and Tuesday are holidays), so that I can go back. It's a nice walk from where I am staying, 3-4 km., depending on how lost you get (I took the longer route because I became obsessed with documenting the new bike lanes).

The waiter seemed both surprised and pleased that I wanted his picture, so here he is:

 

El Ateneo

  • Av. Santa Fe 1860
  • Books, books, books!

I love bookstores, but this one takes the cake. You walk in, and you are in an old theatre, and it is FULL OF BOOKS. There are people drinking coffee on the old stage, and guys sipping tea in several of the old boxes near the stage. I love this place. I could have just moved in. Argentines seem to read a lot more than Americans. In seven visits to Buenos Aires, it took me until now to visit, but I plan to go back each visit after this!

 

Comme Il Faut shoes

  • Arenales 1239, staircase 3, Apt. M
  • translation: go all the way down this little street-like area, take the 3rd staircase on left, and go upstairs

I had never visited the store before, as I don't wear Comme Il Faut. However, a few friends asked for shoes, so I went to get shoes for them. It's a beautiful building.

 

 

I would say they were very friendly, but they were very business-like. I gave them my list, they found shoes in the right size, with the right height heel. They didn't have the colors that my friends wanted, but other shoes were suggested and bought. They ARE very Losshoes. If they came in wide enough styles for me, I might even get some; but my heart belongs to Neotango.

 

My feet hurt, but I'm happy

Milonga de los Consagrados

  • Centro Leonesa, Humberto Primo 1462
  • Saturdays at 4:30 PM
  • Entrada 60 pesos (does not include a drink)

I went to Los Consagrados because I agreed to meet people I knew for dinner afterwards. My hostess thought I was crazy to go there (pretty far, and most of the folks are older than I am). I had a great time: I danced for 5 1/2 hours without stopping. Each time I tried to stop, someone came up to my table to cabeceo me. In the end, I had to leave the room, put on my street shoes, and wait for my friends. I was just too tired to keep dancing.

I danced four tandas with a guy who finally confessed to 10 years of training and a certificate from the Dinzel's training school. Fabulous! We did tango, then milonga, then vals, then more milonga: heavenly! He made the entire evening for me. I wish I could remember his name. I hope his girlfriend isn't mad at me for hogging him.

I also got to dance chacarera with a good dancer. It was put in a tanda with paso doble, which I faked my way through. I did the tropical tanda (2 cumbias and a merengue) with a guy who openly told me he was faking it, but we had a blast.

What can I say? Life is good! I need to go to sleep, as it's 1:18 in the morning!

 

This flowerstand was just beautiful to look at on such a lovely day, so I took a picture of it.   

This flowerstand was just beautiful to look at on such a lovely day, so I took a picture of it.

 


Buenos Aires, Day 2: Todo cambia

The city feels different this visit. It seems cleaner: less dog poop on the sidewalks, less trash. There are BIKE LANES all over the city, not something I ever expected to see in Buenos Aires! However, the people seem more subdued than before.

A lot of people are nervous about the change of government next week. Whether they supported Macri, the winner, of Scioli, the loser, they are concerned about how things will change. Some are jubilant and sure that a change means good change. Others are downcast and predict change and doom.

Whether change is good or bad, here are some changes I saw today.

Dancing

Cheek to Cheek (practica)

  • El Juvenil, Av Corrientes 4534
  • Entrada: 30 pesos
  • 3-7 PM
cheek_to_cheek.jpg

 

This afternoon, I went to a practica that is new since I last visited Buenos Aires: Cheek to Cheek. There were a lot more tourists there than at De Querusa last night. I danced with and/or talked to people from the USA, Norway, Germany, France and Japan. Most of the dancers were in their 20s and 30s, but there were some of us middle-aged folks, and a smattering of older people. The level was mostly high, with a few advanced beginners (tourists).

I had been told that the practica was stopped at 5 PM for a short lesson. I was skeptical of the idea, but the organizers offered up a complex move, showed it a few times, and then let people dance. After a few minutes, they showed it again, with a few details that people needed to get in order to be successful. A while later, they showed it to the other side, and left people to their own devices.

I always try to lead at lessons because I remember the moves better if I have to lead them. I grabbed someone I knew (yay!). The combo was at a nice level for someone like me (if only I hadn't been in heels!), and several really good couples could do it by the end of the session. My partner wasn't at a high enough level to get the combo smoothly, but she cheerfully kept trying. I appreciated it, as I think I can remember it for Portland because of that.

Things started to wind down around 6:15 because of the intense humidity in the space: men were wiping their faces, heads, necks, and women were fanning themselves. When some Fresedo started, I decided to lead, and led a few dances before heading home to shop before dinner.

What I liked best: the high energy, slightly crazed lesson delivery (I think some of these guys may be actors too), the good music, and the general energy of the organizers.

 

Shopping

Sad changes

There are definitely changes in where to shop from three years ago until now.

Tango Imagen (Dr. Tomás Manuel de Anchorena 606) is still open. The space is much smaller, with fewer clothes and fewer sizes available. I just don't fit into a size 2; never have and never will.

Tango 8, which used to be next to Tango Imagen, is closed. The store across the street, whose name I can't remember, is also closed.

I tried to go to Susanna Villaroel's Artesanal store, but it was also gone. At NeoTango, they told me that they think you can call and get an appointment, but the store is gone; she has moved to an apartment/store. More on this as I keep looking.

Good news (somethings don't change)

Neotango (Sarmiento 1938) is still going strong. Ariel (the salesman) remembered me, and even managed to remember how long since I had been there. I must have bought more shoes than most people...

I have the widest feet on the planet. When barefoot, they almost look square. After trying shoes all over town, and every style Neotango has, I know what I need without much extra, "Oooh! Look at THOSE!" I bought my standard replacements for the shoes I have worn out: black and pewter. They were out of silver in the model I like, so I am the owner of a pair of platinum heels. I also bought a pair of black trainers, as I had forgotten to pack my leading shoes.

At this point, the blue dollar rate is so much better than the official rate, that it makes sense to exchange money and pay in cash. There is also a small cash discount for paying in cash.

 

 

Anxiety and tango: getting out on the dance floor

During the past few weeks, I have watched my students and how they approach dancing tango (and other dances). One Thursday night, I am happy to say, several students were out on the dance floor, doing their thing. However, two more were sitting at the dance, not making much eye contact with potential dance partners; one was texting. Another beginning dancer was hiding in the bar and watching from where no one would ask him to dance.

One student told me that he may never go out dancing, but just wanted to learn tango. Several people have told me that their fear of asking someone else to dance has made it almost impossible to dance, although they have reached intermediate and advanced levels of dancing tango by taking lessons.

This is not only about my students. I had the opportunity to talk to other dancers at workshops and milongas during the past few weeks, and asked them about their experiences going dancing. Some told me of crying in their cars after the milonga, or not being able to walk in the door some nights. Only a few people seemed to find my question silly: "What problem? I love this!"

Most of the responses of current dancers were similar to those persons who were too scared to go dancing, but something must have occurred to get them over that initial hump, and out on the dance floor. What could make this experience work better for those of us who are shy, anxious, lacking confidence, or just starting out dancing? How can we get out on the dance floor more easily?

I would love to hear what you have to say about your experience getting out on the dance floor. What advice would YOU give to someone to help them get out there?

 

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!

New beginning and intermediate sessions start week!

NEXT THURSDAY, new sessions!

FUNdamentals (7 PM Thursdays)
Tango, milonga, vals:
Making the music work for you
Moves that work in all three dances
Beginner & up

You make me cross! (8 PM Thursdays)
Cross in front, cross behind, lateral crosses...
Tips for leading and following
Combos with different kinds of crosses
Classic moves for the social dance floor
Intermediate & up

Om Movement Studi 14 NE 10th
$70/6 weeks
$105/6 weeks for both classes
$14 drop in

Come play with us!

Take a walk on the wild [out]side!

This session, I am teaching a class on using steps that use the "outside" of the dance. That is, the leader is walking on the follower's left side, in close embrace. I looked around and saw that very few people are using this, and fewer are using it effectively :-)

I really like dancing on the "outside" because it provides me with more play-space in the dance. A lot of the moves I do on the outside are things that I learned by dancing with the old milongueros in Buenos Aires milongas back more than fifteen years ago, and in classes with Jose Garafalo and with Tete Rusconi, also way back then.

Although the moves are not difficult, the perception that there is not enough room to move, causes some comical coping strategies. I showed a few to my students, who giggled, but said that was what they did to try to avoid running into the follower. So, here are some pointers for "walking on the wild side" of tango.

Getting there

My favorite

The best thing about my favorite way to switch to the outside is that it is communicates clearly to the follower AND takes up no space on the dance floor.

  1. salida: Complete the move! Collect your feet and make sure the follower did too.
  2. suspend: I think about keeping my hands with the follower and stabilizing her/his balance as the most important parts here. A light, teeny lift, small enough so that onlookers can't see it, but the follower can feel it, is my goal.
  3. slide to the outside: Although it is theoretically possible to just change weight in place to get into crossed system, I have never danced this move where taking a small open step onto my right foot did not improve this move. You really have to slide your chest across the follower's chest (so get used to it!) to get all of your axis on the outside lane.
  4. walk forward: That's why you switched over here anyway! I don't see a point to doing all this work in order to move back or sideways. If you do, PLEASE tell me what you do here, and why; all of my moves on the outside start with at least one forward step, I think.

 

Follower happy, everybody happy!

Don't rush the follower! A lot of people do an approximation of the above instructions. When I am following, I get thrown through more in a "you-know-this-so-do-it" mode that I hate. A lot of teachers teach this as a double-time step. They say that, if you do it before the follower knows you are heading, s/he won't move into your way.

WRONG!

Take your time on each part of the move. Make sure the follower is on balance (and you are on balance) before doing the next step of the shift to the outside. Balance equals elegance and beauty. Rushing makes you and your follower look bad. Sacrifice your musical plan to the comfort of the follower, and you will see a difference.

After you master this as a slow move, of course you can speed it up, but focus on the follower and making them stable and comfortable first, or you won't have a lot of choices of how to use the outside lane.

 

Other variations that work

What I learned from the old guys

In the milongas, sometimes the older guys would do a variant of this move that takes even less room (no salida). I didn't ever hear a teacher teach this version, but I find it works well with a follower who follows, rather than trying to figure out what move I am going to do :-)

  1. Stand on BOTH feet: You are the tree!
  2. Shift the follower over to your left so that you are have room to walk forward.
  3. Walk forward.

Many dancers are not used to moving just the follower, but I find this move easy to do. One of my students watched me do it, and then had me lead her, and said, "But how do you DO that?!"

It's all about intention. When I lead, I imagine where I want my follower to do, and then I accompany that step. A follower who is tuned in to energy moves based on my intent, not my pushing/shoving. I almost don't need to lead with my body because my energy has already moved her/him. This is very woo-woo, but this is how I lead. Be clear with your intentions, and this move is easy.

 

Change at the cross

This takes more room, and I originally learned it in open embrace. I do not usually use it, but it's kosher.

  1. Walk to the cross. Instead of maintaining your positioning, allow the follower to move slightly in front of you as the cross is done (often they do this by accident, so then I take advantage of the "naughty toddler" move and go to the outside).
  2. Leave a step out: both people now have the right foot free.
  3. Walk forward. If you did not get a shift over at the cross, you need to so a slight shift here.

 

Change on the fly

This takes the most room. I remember learning it my first year in tango, probably from Daniel Trenner the first weekend I ever danced tango. Again, I learned it in open embrace, and I don't think it works very well in close embrace. However, since it takes so much space, it may just be that I avoid it because I have improved versions to dance.

  1. Walk regularly. For me, this is in a slight V, with the leader on their own "track"--what some of you call the inside track but I call normal.
  2. Walk in front of your follower.
  3. Walk to the outside of your follower.

I see a lot of people try to do this, but they usually twist their hips to the right and walk off in random directions, rather than forward in the line of dance. It's just harder to know where your partner is when you switch on the fly. I suggest not doing this in close embrace.

 

Now that I am here, what do I do?

Next week, I'll go over my favorite things to do from this position. Since one of the best things I learned from my excursion into learning theory is that posing a question and trying to answer it before being given a solution creates more brain connections and stronger memory when you DO figure it out, I'll give you some time to go play.

 

 

 

 

What's the best way to learn Argentine Tango?

Part One: How the brain learns

Make It Stick

I have been reading Make It Stick, by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel. This book covers several decades of learning research, aimed at the educated layperson. One of my students brought it to my attention (thanks, Marcia!) because she knows I am interested in ways to learn and to teach.

Expert performance does not usually rise out of some genetic predisposition or IQ advantage. It rises from thousands of hours of . . .sustained deliberate practice . . . slow acquisition of a larger number of increasingly complex patterns,  patterns that are used to store knowledge about which actions to take in a vast vocabulary of different situations. (Brown et al. 183)

Does this sound like tango to you? It does to me.

What have I found out? The way that most people think is the best way to learn is actually the worst way to learn. However, because it feels easier, learners ignore studies that show them how to boost learning and keep employing methods that don't work well.

I have seen a huge jump in retention of both technique and specific steps since I tweaked my teaching style to implement suggestions from Brown et al. in my teaching.

 

How does the brain learn?

Neurogenesis

Neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons, actually happens in the brain BEFORE learning begins (Brown et al. 172). So that means that the intention to learn is a trigger for creating an atmosphere in the body that allows for new memories and motor patterns to stick! As a teacher, I find this exciting, because it means that, just by showing up for class, by intending to learn something new, a person is predisposed to learn.

 

Encoding

When you learn new information, dance or otherwise, the brain first encodes it:

...the brain converts your perceptions into chemical and electrical changes that form a mental representation of the patterns you’ve observed. . . we call the new representations within the brain memory traces. Think of notes jotted or sketched on a scratchpad, our short-term memory. (Brown et al. 72)

 

Consolidation

Each time you repeat the new movement or piece of information, the traces in the brain are strengthened. The brain "reorganizes and stabilizes the memory traces," allowing for more connections to be made to other memory traces, so that it can be recalled at a later time (Brown et al. 73). The process of creating long-term memory storage is called consolidation.

 

Reconsolidation

In the next step of learning, the brain continues to work on the new material, reconsolidating it, pulling it out of storage, modifying it if necessary, and connecting it to more information to strengthen the memory, each time it is used: “Scientists believe that the brain replays or rehearses the learning, giving it meaning, filling in blank spots and making connections to past experiences…” (Brown et al. 73).

 

Myelination

As you continue practicing, or using, the stored information, those neuronal pathways become coated with myelin. It acts like insulation, allowing the signals to move faster along those pathways. Brown et al. note that:

our learning it thought to be recoded in . . . the same area that controls subconscious actions . . . As a part of this process of recoding, the brain is thought to chunk motor and cognitive action sequences together so that they can be performed as a single unit [and they speed up]. (Brown et al 171)

In tango, this is why you can only do a new movement slowly at first. Gradually, you will be able to dance it correctly at higher and higher speeds: the improvement in performance is due to how fast the electrical signals can travel in your body.

Good news for older learners: our "neural circuitry" continues to grow into our sixties (Brown et al. 170)! Watching my older students, I suspect this actually continues longer, because some of the biggest gains I have seen have come from my students in their seventies.

 

So what does this mean for tango?

The next post will cover how to use this information to learn in a way that "makes it stick" so you can really dance!

 

 

 

 

Thought for the day

I've been reading a few books at the same time, as usual. I am reading Josh Waitzkin's "The Art of Learning: a journey in the pursuit of excellence" during my morning tea. Here's what I found today for all of you who are struggling to attain a higher level in your tango practice:

The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort of safety. The hermit crab is a colorful example of a creature that lives by this aspect of the growth process (albeit without our psychological baggage). As the crab gets bigger, it needs to find a more spacious shell. . . . [Someone afraid to try and fail] is like an anorexic hermit crab, starving itself so it doesn't grow to have to find a new shell. (Waitzkin: 33)

Get out there and GROW!

Body alignment: finding YOUR midline

The more I teach, the more I focus on finding where each person's body can balance best.

For a lot of people, dancing tango means finding the front of the partner's body with the front of their own body. Focusing on the front surface of each body sometimes leads to leaning, heaviness, and loss of balance. What other ways can we think of connection, in order to protect our own body and dance better?

 

Spine front-to-back

try to picture my spine in 3-D, and build my body around that. Here's a great picture of the spine in the body that might help you with the image I'm talking about. What I like here, is that you can see the ribs and the pelvis, but the feeling of all the bones being IN the body is really well done. I want my torso and spine to be aligned, nice and long, and supple, like in this picture.

Front-to-back, my pelvis is balanced so as to keep my spine as relaxed and long as possible; and to let me use my deep core muscles instead of my back muscles, to hold me up. This gives me a lot more rotational movement possible around my center.

 

Balancing right and left sides of the body

My body is divided right and left, with my spine as the dividing line. That doesn't mean that there is a straight line down the middle all the time. If I am standing on one foot, that midline has some curves in it! Check out The Birth of Venus! The free leg (the one she does not have weight on), is relaxed, and the pelvis is lower on that side. My pelvis is like a see-saw, with the support side up and the free side down; that tips side to side, each time I change weight from one foot to the other.

My shoulders and shoulder girdle rest in a relaxed way, as if they were draped over my body. Remember that the only bony connection between your arms and your body, is your collarbone: the rest is muscle. This page might be overkill, but it does show how everything is connected.

Both the pelvic girdle and the shoulder girdle have to adjust when we move, in order to created balanced movement through our midline. The more we can be efficient with motion at the periphery (away from the midline), the easier it is to remain balance in the center.

If we adjust right and left at our shoulders (the metronome approach, tick-tocking from side to side with the head and shoulders) instead of the hips (pendulum swing) there is a lot more movement in order to stay balanced. Why work harder??

 

Contrabody motion for balanced walking, running or dancing

The midline constantly changes, balanced over one foot or the other; with a pendulum movement of the hips; and responding balancing motion in the upper body, spine, shoulder girdle and head. If this is done without motion twisting around the torso, efficient movement is impossible.

Contrabody motion means the opposite side of the torso and hips/leg match up. If you have ever gone cross-country skiing, you had to do this to move :-) Right arm/torso and left hip/leg come forward, and then the other alternates. I looked for good explanations on the web, but have not found a really good one yet.

Think about jogging or running, or even walking quickly as if to catch the bus: The faster we move, the more we tend to use contrabody motion, because we cannot move efficiently without it!

 

Exercise for finding good contrabody motion

This is a new find-your-own-body exercise I have been teaching recently:

Version 1: Sitting for hip stability

  • Put your fingers into your solar plexus region, just under where your ribs stop and your belly starts, to feel your oblique muscles
  • Find neutral: straight ahead
  • Twist to your right and feel what muscles start to work (if nothing is working, that's a problem!)
  • Come back to neutral
  • Twist to your left and feel what muscles are working
  • Return to neutral

Version 2: Standing

Take a Pilates ball and squeeze it between your thighs (letting your midline help your stability)

  • Repeat the above exercise, with either a helper or a mirror to ensure that you are not twisting the hips.
  • Make sure that the same muscles are working as in Version I
  • Breathe!

Version 3: No Pilates ball

  • Use your thighs against each other to help you stabilize so that you don't rotate the hips (for those of you with thinner thighs, imagine that they are touching: energy does almost as much as you can with muscle, maybe more!).
  • Continue to use your obliques.
  • Now try walking, feeling this motion.
  • Repeat

 

Putting it all together

Putting it all together is both easier and harder than it sounds. After all, you have been walking since you were a baby--but no one taught you how to walk any specific way. Look! The baby is walking! Cool! Done.

As an adult, it can feel disconcerting to realize how little body awareness most of us use day-to-day. When I ask students if they can feel certain motions, I often am told, "No." Only after learning to tune into the body, can some people feel what is going on in their muscles, bones, energy, etc. For some people, even partial awareness can take years, especially if any emotional trauma is being held in the body (read: all of us).

I like to think of the body as being a bunch of stretchy bands, linked together in the center of the body, working as a system to make elegant, fluid motion possible. That's the muscles.

I think of the bones as a building structure, but perhaps one designed by toddlers: the bones don't stack in a straight line, but each one is held up by bones further down. The whole structure rests on the arches of our feet, which are like the earthquake cushions under skyscrapers: they adjust constantly with micro-motions, so that the entire structure might sway, but will stand up.

The nerves move electricity around our bodies and that of our partners. The tango connection for me is more about this electrical field interface, then just touching (although touching is nice!).

Our breath, circulation and lymph constantly pump through, connecting the other systems at many levels. The fluidity of the dance mirrors the actual fluids in our bodies!

It's a complex system to balance, even when not moving, but that constant motion within our bodies is what keeps us balanced. After all, if we tried to NOT move at all, we would not be dancing!

 

 

 

Festivals: cabeceo or no?

Portland Tangofest starts in a few days, and the the topic of whether or not one should cabeceo  (inviting with a glance/head gesture, from some distance away) has reared its ugly head again.

Traditionally, cabeceo gave women a chance to have some power in the decision-making process of who danced with whom. If she didn't want to dance with someone, she could either avoid eye contact, or look at them, but not agree to dance. Because women traditionally didn't invite men to dance, looking available or not-available provided a measure of control over dancing with certain people.

For those of us who did most of our tango learning in Buenos Aires, cabeceo is what feels comfortable. I prefer cabeceo because, if I am having a conversation with another person, it signals to potential partners that I am busy at the moment. If I want to dance, I am looking around. Putting my cultural anthropologist hat on, I think you should follow the cultural rules that go along with traditional dances; or at least know what those rules are.

Cabeceo doesn't work as well in situations in North America because only some people have been trained how to do it; and others don't like the fact that the person being asked might indicate "no" and so use direct invitation to coerce those of us who tend to be too nice to say "no" when standing a foot away from someone. Also, if two women or two men are doing the inviting, the traditional roles don't necessarily fit. As a woman who leads, I have found it almost impossible to cabeceo women, unless they have spent some time in Buenos Aires. Also, many North American men are not comfortable maintaining eye contact long enough to actually ask someone to dance via cabeceo.

This makes for a very confused muddle at a festival. People from different towns have different conventions (traditional Argentine and very non-Argentine), which is even harder to figure out than usual.

Here is what I do at festivals. I stick to cabeceo with folks who know my preference. For people who walk up and invite me, I usually say yes, but then ask them to cabeceo me in the future. However, if I see a man or woman looking at me hopefully, but then looking away/down/etc. I may approach them and ask if they would like to dance. I will especially do this if they don't look familiar. Folks who are new often have not been taught how to cabeceo.

I'll be hosting the Friday afternoon milonga at Tangofest. In that situation, not only will I ask folks to dance; I will also drag people over and introduce them to new people. I see my role as hostess as a connector, helping cabeceo-impaired dancers to find happiness on the dance floor :-) I will see you there!

And tell me how you navigate Argentine custom and North American practices on the dance floor!

 

Ganchos: a primer on leading/following ganchos from a deep pivot

We have been working on perfecting ganchos ("hooks") and leg wraps in my advanced class this session, so I wanted to underline what technique needs to be in place for the follower to have a loose leg and good axis; and the leader to have the timing of the step perfected.

Followers: the secret to a good gancho is a good back step

The best gancho comes from making the best back step that you can do. When I see people preparing for ganchos, what I often see is abandonment of solid, basic technique. We get excited about doing a "fancy" move, and forget we know how to walk.

Also, when a gancho comes from an overturned back ocho, the angle of the pivot that prepares for the step is very important. The leader does pick the angle, but when I feel the extreme twist the leader provides, as a follower, I give my best, on-balance pivot. I try to pivot so that my butt is almost facing the leader.

Keep your legs collected during the pivot to get maximum rotation. Make sure that you are not sneaking the free foot out to get started on the back step of the gancho: that slows down your pivot and prevents you from getting the most you can out of your preparation. If you are even an inch or two further away from the leader, a gancho won't work.

For your back step, feet, knees and hips are in flexion and soft. As soon as you roll through your heel, the free leg needs to be elastic all the way to the hip. Let your foot brush the ground: holding your leg "ready" will only topple you over. The leg is heavy.

Think of your free leg as one of those wristbands that SNAP around the wrist. Your thigh makes contact, and the lower leg wraps from that contact down through the entire leg, and then releases. If you pick your leg up and try to gancho, the effect is not the same. Risk making a sloppy gancho rather than a tense one!

Above all, focus on your axis and stretch of the body: the strength of your axis makes the free leg's movement even more dramatic. It's not really about the gancho; 80% of your work is always about keeping your axis.

Last word of advice: keep breathing! A leader can't do anything with a stiff board as a follower.

 

Leading ganchos from overturned back ochos: let disassociation work for you

Disassociation, controlling the twist in your body so that hips and chest can maintain different angles, is the most important aspect of preparing to lead a follower's gancho. Disassociation allows you to stabilize your hips and use your torso to help the follower pivot.

I originally learned to lead these ganchos from turns, but many followers don't have strong enough turn technique to make this work well. I suggest: salida, (leader changes weight), one or two back ochitos (tiny ochos) to get the follower's hips pivoting, and then leading a stronger pivot to overturn the follower against your body, ready to gancho.

Stabilize your own hips: if you pivot the follower using your hip motion, the follower gets less of a pivot. When I follow, I prefer less torque but with stable hips. If the leader's hips turn, I get less help from the leader. Also, it brings the follower closer to the leader's body, so that the leader doesn't have to fish for gancho placement.

Adjust your angle AFTER the follower's pivot. I want to be facing perpendicular to the follower if I am going to do the gancho with the "same" side leg (i.e., using my right leg to lead a gancho on the right side of my body). I want to be facing opposite the follower if I am using the "other" leg (i.e., using my left leg to lead a gancho that was originally on my right side). Hint: I can sometimes get a secondary adjustment to the follower's pivot after I adjust myself.

Place the follower's back cross step/foot BEFORE placing your foot and ankle for the gancho. For best placement, turn your leg out at the hip, and lift your knee so that your leg is in an S-curve shape. I find that I usually get my little toe down on the ground, but I focus on connecting my instep with the follower's ankle, so that I know the location of the follower's axis/balance point. When I use the "other leg" I am aiming the back of my knee/thigh towards the spot where the follower is standing.

Keep your hips back over the support leg. Otherwise, the follower will not have space to allow the free leg to hook with your leg.

Continue to twist your torso around your own spine and rebound back to neutral in order to lead the follower's free leg. This not a wrestling match: don't pull or push with your embrace to make something happen.

As the follower's leg completes the gancho, gauge the space you have to move, as well as the force of the gancho, and use that energy to create the next step in your dance.

The principal error I see on the dance floor, is to make the gancho a move about momentum. True, a good gancho can be fast and snappy, but a slow-mo gancho feels better to me as a follower, and is no less of a hook. The gancho is about TIMING.

The best exercise I have ever seen to practice ganchos comes from Chicho Frumboli. In his teacher training workshops, he had us practice ganchos, without using an embrace (balance work), in slow motion (timing practice), over and over (motor memory). By the end of the two-hour intermediate class, followed by the two-hour advanced class, my brain was fried, but I really understood how this move works!

Single-axis turns

My advanced class will be working on single-axis turns for the next few weeks: here is a head start on Monday night!

The basics

Single-axis turns are turns in which the leader and the follower are (as much as is possible) sharing an axis while spinning on one foot in place, and then exiting.

A single-axis turn can be done:

  • in a right or left turn;
  • with either the leader's right or left foot;
  • and through any step of the follower's turn.

My main teacher for these was Luciana Valle, but I also studied them with Chicho Frumboli and Gustavo Naveira. I was taught them in open embrace, but I prefer to dance as many of them as possible in the interlaced, close embrace that I usually use to dance. Why? Because I find it easier to control the follower when I have a full embrace, rather than just two hands to guide them.

 

Secrets to make single-axis turns easy

Tips for leaders

  1. Remember to keep your leg, knee and foot relaxed. This will allow you to land on balance, without knocking the follower out of your way.
  2. "Pink Panther" timing: da-DUMP! The follower's foot hits the ground, and then you step around/behind a split second after they start the weight transfer. This allows you an escape hatch if the partner lands off balance, so that you can bail on the turn, OR help them regain balance. It also allows you to "ride" the momentum of the follower, instead of working harder ;-)
  3. Don't go for super-rotation instead of technique: a a half turn is fine (heck, a quarter turn is fine). When you and your partner are aligned correctly, you will find that you turn a lot more, even without much effort.
  4. There should be a moment at the end of the turn where there is a feeling of suspension before the exit: don't fall into an exit, use that suspension and enjoy it! It's like a wave gathering and then breaking.
  5. Exit with the follower's easiest exit (usually back or forward) and arrange yourself as needed. If you need to change feet for stability, then do it, but ONLY to exit. For example, on the follower's back cross step version of this turn, I sometimes lead this in parallel, then transfer weight to exit in crossed system.

Tips for followers

  1. Don't panic.
  2. Remember to use your body like a spring: all joints are soft and flexible, but the body also stretches on axis so the whole thing doesn't compress.
  3. If in general you struggle to keep your hips "back" for good alignment, focus on that while spinning to stay on axis.
  4. Did I mention don't panic?
  5. Do the best turn you can do, with excellent technique on each step, and you will be on balance, ready for anything. Do NOT try to "help" the leader with the step. Focus on doing the best front, side or back step you can instead.

Using single-axis turns

First, make sure you can do some basic single-axis turns before you string them into combinations:

  • left turn, step through follower's open step with left foot (or right).
  • left turn, step through follower's front cross step  with left foot (or right).
  • left turn, step through follower's back cross step with left foot (right is dangerous here).

When those work, try them to the right. For some people, these are almost impossible. For me, the "harder" direction turned out to be easier for me. Try all of them, and see what makes the most sense to you.

I like using boleos and/or drags in combinations with single-axis turns, but I will hold off on making suggestions until we've worked through some of the combinations in class, and then I'll post the ones that folks like the best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paradas: general technique and three examples

I love paradas (stops, from the verb parar, or "stop") because they are a prime place in tango where I, as a follower, get to adorn and play with the music, the feeling of the dance, and the leader! As a leader, I enjoy doing paradas because it creates a natural pause that goes with the pauses in the music; and it lets the follower have time to ornament the dance and express the music in a way that complements mine.

Main concept: A PARADA IS LED WITH THE TORSO, NOT THE FOOT. The foothelps the follower know it is a parada, and creates a situation that often requires the follower to do a pasada (step over the foot of the leader). This makes it look more exciting, but the lead is in the torso, with a little help from the foot and the embrace.

Each parada is named after the step the follower has completed. A front parada is done at the follower's front step. A side parada is performed in relation to a follower's side step. A back parada blocks the front foot of the follower as the follower transfers weight to the back foot in a back cross step.

Follower technique

  • Be on your axis. Make sure you adjust your weight so that the free leg is truly free. If you are off-balance, try adjusting your hips back first (at the hip joint, not the lower back), which helps the femur nest into the hip joint for more balance.
  • Relax your joints: keep your ankle, knee and hip joints, both in the support leg for balance, and in the free leg for ease of movement and adorning.
  • Pivot at the floor/feet, not just at your hips and knees. The leader's foot/ankle should adjust to give you space; if they don't, there are ways to adjust so that you don't get hurt.
  • Collect with your ankles under you with a relaxed, balanced look. The next time you dance in a mirrored space, check that your knees are together, ankles are together, etc. What I often see is the free foot trailing out behind like a kickstand: tidy it up!
  • Adorn! Although not all leaders give you time to adorn at paradas, if the music says PAUSE! perhaps you can influence the leader's musicality by taking your time and adorning. Remember: you can influence the leader's timing, but you are not the leader.
  • Protect your body: If the leader is pushing you off balance, adjust by rebounding onto your "free" foot, and then moving your "support" over a tad (usually a bit away). At this point, wait for the stepover lead.  You will be on balance, and the leader will probably think that you just did an elaborate adorno. You will look good, be on balance, and be able to complete the move.
  • For pasadas (stepovers): Don't rush! The leader leads this move. Give the leader energy to play with, but don't take over. There should be a clear torso lead here to tell you when to move. After all, here is your time to do adornos.
  • When there is no pasada: This is simply half of a front ocho, which you know how to do :-)
  • When you step over, take a normal sized step, carefully staying the same distance away from the leader (unless led to do something else). Think of it as half of an ocho, with a roadblock.

Leader technique:

  • The TORSO is the main way to stop your partner; just stop moving your torso, and the follower stops.
  • The foot placed against the follower's foot or ankle (depends on the move, see below) helps the follower know you are leading a parada--and it looks cool, too!
  • The embrace helps the follower feel the torso's lead. Often, I mark the parada by LIGHTLY lowering my body and the embrace, perhaps 1/16 of an inch (no one should see this, but the follower can feel it). This grounds the follower, making it less likely that s/he will continue to travel.
  • Hint: Keep the follower near you. That way, you don't have to reach out to find their feet.
  • Adjust your foot/ankle around the follower's pivot to facilitate elegant movement for the follower and to protect joints.
  • Give the follower time to adorn (more on this below)! This is a soulful move, not a 1-2-3-4 count kind of move.
  • Lead the pasada (stepover): This is NOT up to the follower to decide when it's time to go!
  • On the other hand, being sensitive to the follower's dance makes you look good (i.e., if the follower did an adorno and is not pausing for you to lead the pasada, maybe you should do it!).

Most paradas can be done in open or closed embrace, as long as you are willing to dance in a V (and that V changes from side to side sometimes for paradas). I prefer to dance in a V-shaped close embrace, opening up for any moves that don't work in closed position; and then returning to close embrace.

In class, we have done only one kind of each parada, and this blog entry would be WAY too long if I put all the possibilities in, so I'll cover one direction, one variation only for now.

Front paradas

For those who like to classify movement, the move we did was a front parada from the first half of an ocho cortado (or a right turn), using the leader's right foot; with a pasada to exit. Front paradas are led as the follower makes a forward step, either in an ocho, a giro (turn) or just walking.

  1. Lead the follower to take a front step of an ocho, turn or walk (easiest in ocho or turn).
  2. As the follower's right foot hits the ground, place your right instep alongside the follower's instep, on the side near you.
  3. As the follower pivots to face to your left, adjust your foot/leg so that you end up in the famous S-curve shape: the edge of your little toe on the ground; your instep wrapped around the follower's ankle; your heel up off the ground; your knee lightly flexed; your leg rotated to the right in the hip socket, as far as it will go. This lets you FEEL where the follower's axis is, right at the floor.
  4. MEANWHILE, slow down your torso and stop, so that the follower feels a pause in the movement. There is no correct length of time to pause: it depends on the  music, your follower, your interpretation of the music, etc.
  5. You can use "la marca" or "mark" the parada by applying a TINY bit of pressure to the embrace, with a teensy downwards movement. I usually do this when I am leading the follower's leg to slide out into a darting motion (suggesting a specific adorno).
  6. Suspend the body (TINY lift up of your body/embrace/the follower) to prepare for the pasada (stepover).
  7. Lead the stepover by rotating around own torso, so that follower steps over your foot and completes a second front step (basically, an ocho with a roadblock).
  8. Exit.

Side paradas

For those of you who are structured, we did a side parada to the leader's left (in parallel system), blocking with the leader's right foot; leading into a pasada (stepover) and exit.

  1. Lead the follower to take a side step with the right foot, to the leader's left, while taking a step to the left with the left.
  2. As the follower's right foot hits the ground, place your right foot alongside your follower's foot BEFORE the follower collects, so that your foot is in between your partner's feet.
  3. Make sure you leave enough room so that the follower can make a V around the front of your foot (the follower's heels need to be able to collect together, or this move looks really awkward in a skirt).
  4. As the follower pivots to face to your left, adjust your foot/leg so that you allow the follower's foot to pivot as much as needed.  You will probably end up with your foot next to theirs.
  5. MEANWHILE, slow down your torso and stop, so that the follower feels a pause in the movement. There is no correct length of time to pause: it depends on the  music, your follower, your interpretation of the music, etc.
  6. Suspend the body (TINY lift up of your body/embrace/the follower) to prepare for the pasada (stepover).
  7. Lead the stepover by rotating around own torso, so that follower steps over your foot and completes a front step around you.
  8. For the side parada, I like to suggest adornos after the follower's foot has lifted to step over, but before there is a weight shift.
  9. Exit.

Back paradas

A back parada stops the follower's "front" foot as the follower transfers weight for the back step. For our class, we learned a back parada in the right turn, blocked with the leader's right foot.

  1. Lead the follower to take a back step of an back ocho, turn or walk (easiest in ocho or turn).
  2. As the follower's right foot hits the ground, place your right instep alongside the outside edge of the follower's foot.
  3. MEANWHILE, slow down your torso and stop, so that the follower feels a pause in the movement. There is no correct length of time to pause: it depends on the  music, your follower, your interpretation of the music, etc.
  4. Transfer the follower's weight onto the right foot while moving to make a "sandwich" around the follower's left (front) foot. Make a nice V with your feet, heels touching.
  5. [optional] Adorn! This is your moment, leaders! Play!
  6. Step back onto your right foot, moving your ENTIRE body (leave your left foot in place) so that the follower can transfer weight and collect around the front of your left foot.
  7. [optional] You can use "la marca" or "mark" the parada by applying a TINY bit of pressure to the embrace, with a teensy downwards movement. I usually do this when I am leading the follower's leg to slide out into a darting motion (suggesting a specific adorno).
  8. Suspend the body (TINY lift up of your body/embrace/the follower) to prepare for the pasada (stepover).
  9. Lead the stepover by rotating around own torso to the right, so that follower steps over your foot and completes a front step.
  10. Exit.

OK, I think we're moving into TMI land, so I'll leave other variations, etc., for another post.

Volcada technique: make volcadas easy to follow and elegant!

In intermediate class last week, we started to learn volcadas. A volcada is a "tipping" or "dumping" motion, where the follower is tipped off-axis and then returned to axis. Usually this includes the manipulation of the follower's leg--a sweepy movement that is created by the off-axis motion.

Because a good volcada is not an easy move, many people cheat to make this happen: the leader indicates a move to the follower, lets her do the move, and then tries to get back to leading after the follower has managed to get on-axis again. Can you tell I have a pet peeve with this strategy? Leaders! Make this move work for your followers! Lead it!

What does a volcada look like?

There are as many different shapes for a volcada, as there are tango partnerships. The follower's free leg is used to draw a shape on the floor, BY THE LEADER. This can be a V-shaped wedge; a big sweeping C, ending with going to a cruzada shape; a big sweeping circle if the leader also rotates the couple; or (in what I call a reverse volcada), an unwinding into a an of a circle, ending in a plain back step for the follower.

Part of the fun of a volcada, is that the leader gets to play with the shape of the movement. Although I don't 100% agree with the technique shown here, I like how the "regular"--ending in the cross, and "reverse"--ending in walking out of the move, look here: volcada demo  Although they may be out there, I didn't see volcadas done by the three people who have taught me the most about them: Oscar Mandagaran, Luciana Valle, and Florencia Tacchetti; if you find them, please comment and attach them to the blog!

Having said that, I think that there is only ONE way to approach volcadas in terms of technique, and that is to create as much clarity as possible, good balance, and control over the step, as possible.

Leader technique to make volcadas work

  1. Stay as much on axis as possible: I think that the volcada is most striking when the follower does most of the tilting. Accordingly, when I lead this move, I try to remain almost completely on axis myself. 
  2. Tell the follower not to switch feet by a subtle lift of the embrace (no one else should see it).If you keep your solar plexus energized and lifted, this gives the follower's leg room to swing, even if s/he is not performing good technique.
  3. Think of the follower's support leg/foot like the point of a compass: all the other motion is happening around that main focus or anchor, and returns to that location before moving to another place on the floor.
  4. Once the follower is lifted, move away from her/him to create the tipping motion. Remember to take relatively small steps away, but with your entire axis (don't take your feet and leave your head). I tend to move directly away from the follower with my solar plexus, which means quickly stepping back and to the side with one and then the other foot (I end up with my feet apart).
  5. Catch the pendulum swing of the follower's leg (depending on the step before the volcada, this will be swinging around and towards you, or dropping directly towards you), and draw a shape that ends with the follower's free foot passing by the support foot. If you are doing a regular volcada, it is your responsibility as a lead to ensure that the follower is in the cruzada, and can switch weight to exit.
  6. Note: In my opinion, it is OK to play with Body English (a student of mine calls it Body Castellano) to get the follower's foot where you want it. It is NOT OK to be off balance or out of control as the leader.
  7. Release the "marca" and the lift before asking the follower to take another step. Do not release the lift early, or the follower's free foot gets stuck out in the swing and can't be collected elegantly under her/him.
  8. As soon as you feel the follower's weight change at the cruzada, you can step forward. There is a lot of argument about when to step forward, and I see a lot of leaders stepping forward IN ORDER TO lead the cross step. As a follower, this does not feel as balanced and safe as when the leader places my foot with the chest, and THEN steps. We talked about this in class, and I led both variants on some of you who are taking the class as leaders: you can feel how much more stable it is to wait to step until the follower's feet are anchored; but you can do as you like when I'm not watching ;-)
  9. Exit: Usually, I assume that we'll need one-two steps for the follower to completely regain being on axis. It is especially important during those steps that the leader is on balance and grounded for those steps, IN CASE the follower needs help.
  10. Pet peeve: As a follower, I personally don't like the leaders to move in a circular path WHILE making my leg swing. Usually, this results in me falling into my cross step, and falling out of it to catch up with them. I want to feel protected and supported: wait for me!

Follower technique to make volcadas work

No matter how clearly a leader leads this move, if the follower is not paying attention to technique, it won't work. The follower has the same setup as for a boleo or a gancho or any tango move: correct posture and balance.

  1. Keep your spine energized and stretched: a lot of volcada injuries occur when the follower sags into the move (and yes, I know some teachers say to keep your hips with the leader, but I don't think it's smart in terms of protecting your body). I think of doing a pushup, with my core muscles and abdominal muscles lifted and strong.
  2. Keep your hips aligned over your support leg. For me, I follow Oscar Mandaragan and Georgina Vargas ideas of alignment: my hips need to shift slightly in order for me to be as on balance as possible. This means that my hips are released a bit, on top of my support leg. DON'T hitch up the hip for your "free" leg, or it won't be free.
  3. When the leader tips me forward, I try to be even longer and more elastic than when on axis. I don't let my heel come off the floor on my support leg unless the volcada is so big that I have no choice. I spend perhaps 80% of my energy maintaining the groundedness and stretch of my axis (40% up, 40% down; 20% on the actual volcada).
  4. Release your "free" leg as deeply in the center of your hip joint as possible. The shape of the volcada is determined by the leader's path of your leg (you can make it pretty after you've learned to let the leader be in charge of your leg). If you stay stretched and elastic in your spine and support leg, your "free" leg will naturally have space to slide on the floor. If it gets stuck, go back and look at steps 1 and 2: are you REALLY doing them? (If you are, check to see if the leader has dropped the solar plexus in the middle of the move).
  5. Note: All volcadas are determined by the step that precedes the volcada. If you do the version that we learned that starts with a side step, the volcada will be V-shaped. If you start with a small boleo (this week), the volcada will be more circular. Try to give up guessing where to put your foot, and focus on your support leg and body. Let the leader worry about your free foot.
  6. When the leader places your foot and releases the lift on your body, make sure that you stay in contact with the leader. It's not necessary to immediately return to on-axis; it may take a step of two.
  7. By being stretchy and maintaining your axis even off-axis, you make this move easy for the leader. Even a follower twice my size is light if s/he follows correct technique.

Note: Because this move requires being off-balance and supporting another person's weight, is it VERY important to safeguard the back. Leaders: lift from your legs, not your back. Followers: work your abs to save your back. If something hurts, talk to me: nothing in tango should not hurt! If you feel that another person is injuring your body, make sure a teacher watches to check.

This week: More volcadas, more on vals, and improving your embrace to make moves work better. Still to come: ganchos, posture and balance exercises, and musicality games. See you Wednesday!