Back-saving tips for ballroom dancers starting Argentine Tango

I met a new Argentine Tango dancer this week. She is a ballroom dancer, and I found myself giving her the advice I always give people who start tango with a ballroom background. It occurred to me that it might be helpful for others who are coming over to the tango side of things.

I started teaching ballroom dance in 1986. When I started Argentine Tango in 1995, I had all of the same issues to fix that I work on with other dancers. I have been there myself!

Adjust the pelvis to save the back

Most ballroom dancers come to tango complaining of tight backs and inability to pivot constantly into turns and ochos. The fix: a different hip position to relax and free up the back!

Natural movement at the sacrum

A lot of dancers have been told to hold their hips completely straight. This is not how the body moves! As you shift weight from one foot to the other, the sacrum naturally rocks slightly from side to side, like a seesaw. This allows your head to balance over your feet efficiently.

If you hold your sacrum tight, that extra motion needs to come from somewhere, and other body parts (your back, your feet, your knees) take more pressure and get tired and sore. Let your pelvis move naturally, and you have more graceful movement and less work per step.

Try to find a new natural without exaggeration: with any new movement, you need to be careful not to overdo it.

Build slowly on your body's current abilities

The pelvic motion needed to maintain back health is not extreme. If your body says, "Ow!" pay attention. It may be that you are doing something you THINK is part of tango, but you misunderstood the teacher. Or, it may be that the motion needed is currently not something you can achieve in one leap.

I always encourage dancers coming from ballroom to take at least a few private lessons. A good teacher can evaluate whether or not you might benefit from some myofascial release, or chiropractic adjustment--or maybe just a bit of strength building in muscles that you haven't been using.

Recruit your abdominals for better pivots and less pain

Many people stand with their hips forward and their legs locked. While this may be useful for waiting in line somewhere, it is bad for movement. The back bears the brunt of the weight and the back muscles work a bit too hard.

In tango, it's really important to balance the front and back bodies out, so that pivoting and other movement around the spine is as easy as possible. To get your abdominals in gear, lift your belly button towards your back, adding abdominal tone. Look at some pictures of how your abdominal muscles help you rotate; visualize where they are and how they hug the body.

Make sure that you have a bit of a tip at the hip joint. You need to take pressure off of the ligament at the front of the hip. Yes, that takes more abdominal work than slouching into your hips. However, that little tip onto the point where your hips balance better on the leg, allows your spine and back muscles to get help from the front of the body.

Use these muscles for ballroom too!

By the way (if you haven't guessed already), I am a big fan of using these same muscles for ballroom dancing. I have never had a ballroom dancer come to study with me who did not find that their ballroom dancing also improved from their tango postural work. Once you get used to switching dance styles between ballroom and Argentine Tango, you will find that all the work you are doing in tango will pay off in other dancing.

 

 

Tips for good pivoting in Argentine Tango

Improving your pivots in tango makes a lot of moves easier. Ochos, turns, boleos, . . . the list goes on and on. Pivots are just as important for leading tango, but I have been focusing on making videos for followers to improve their own dance. It seems to me that many classes only focus on how to lead tango, leaving the followers to do the best they can with little information.

Build your body map

If you spend some time working just on the pivots, your moves will improve. Finding what muscles work in your body to make a good pivot, helps you build your own "body map" of how the body works. Then, if something is not working, YOU can detect and fix the problems. Having a good teacher is very important, but that person cannot follow your around the dance floor, pointing out when you have successfully done a move, or when you have made a mistake.

Take the time to work SLOWLY on your pivots. Feel how they work in your body. Focus on your feet, or your hips, or your abs, or whatever part you are working on. Once you have a good feel for that part, add it into your body map until you can see/feel how all the parts work together. For me, when it is working, I feel as if there is a fiber optic cable running through the focus points, lit up like a Christmas tree. When something is not working, one of those connect-the-dot spots fails to light up.

After many years of working on my body map, I can tune into it pretty easily, but it took a lot of work to get to this spot. Don't give up!

Video time!

Turn technique for followers: practice drills

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

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

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

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

This month, my classes will focus on the vals.

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

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

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

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

Learning tango the efficient way

The creative, the restless, and the driven are not content with the status quo, and they look for ways to move forward, to do things that others have not. And once a pathfinder shows how something can be done, others can learn the technique and follow.
— p. 206, Peak

I keep up with learning theory to help me learn to teach better. I recently read Anders Ericsson's and Robert Pool's book, Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise, Mariner Books, 2017. Their aim is to share research that shows efficient ways to get to a higher level of expertise, without wasting time.  To save you time, I have summarized the book. All the information below is from the book (quotes as noted).

The reason that most people don’t possess . . .extraordinary physical capabilities isn’t because they don’t have the capacity for them, but rather because they’re satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it. They live in the world of “good enough.” The same thing is true for all the mental activities we engage in.
— p. 47, Peak

Deliberate practice vs. traditional learning

Traditional learning assumes you have a limit and trains you to (maybe) reach that potential. If you are trying to get "good enough" you don't need to push for peak excellence. You can take a few classes, go to practicas, and eventually feel competent on the dance floor. At that point, your dance is automatic and you don't have to think hard to dance. The only problem with automatic practice, is that it deteriorates over time. Once you reach a level, if you don't maintain it, you will actually get worse at it!

Deliberate practice assumes there is no limit: you can shape your own potential if you have the drive to go beyond good enough. If you apply the ideas in this book to your practice, you will continue to get better and better. The only stopping you, is yourself!

The elements of deliberate practice

Defined goals

Deliberate practice includes having defined goals. What skills do you need to master to become good at tango? What are the steps to building those skills? How can you incorporate practice into your daily life to save time and increase the time you practice?

Pursuing defined goals is not fun. It's difficult to stay focused. Make your list of skills you need in order to become a good tango dancer. Highly focused sessions where you are tuned into your body and focusing on exactly what you need to do to improve, will be exhausting, but they are still the fastest way to get better. You can't space out and just go through the motions if you want to improve.

Feedback

You will not improve without feedback about what you are doing. The most efficient way to get that, is to work with a good teacher, one-on-one. That person already knows what skills you need in order to reach the top. They have already gone through the same process, and have reached a high skill level themselves. They can help you develop a plan for building your skills.

Why does it matter if your teacher is good or not? A good teacher will teach YOU how to provide your own feedback. As you understand your practice and your goals, you can monitor yourself and adjust your practice to achieve those goals. Once you understand the mental representations of what you are doing, you get coached not only when your teacher is around, but when you also can correct your practice.

How to find a good teacher

How do you get a good teacher? Find out who the teacher has taught: are those dancers good? Find out if the teacher is a good dancer; most teachers can only teach you up to their level of dance. Find out if s/he is a good TEACHER: a lot of people are good at performing in their field of expertise, but they haven't learned to teach. Can they get you to reach specific goals, provide good mental representations for you to use for practice, and help you over roadblocks? Then that's the right teacher.

[A good teacher] is particularly important . . . where the training is cumulative, with the successful performance of one skill often depending on having previously mastered other skills. A knowledgeable instructor can lead the student to develop a good foundation and then gradually build on that foundation to create the skills . . . no student, no matter how motivated, can expect to figure out such things on his or her own.
— p. 108, Peak

Where there is no teacher

If you can't afford one-on-one lessons, there are things you can do on your own to learn. However, you aren't going to learn as fast. You need to push yourself a little bit further, constantly. You need to stay focused on your goals. You need to give yourself feedback, keeping in mind that often only one or two things are wrong: look for the one thing you need to fix. You need to address that problem, adjust your mental representation, and keep going. You have to stay motivated.

Get out of your comfort zone

You won't improve if you just practice at the same level, but it's hard to make yourself leave your comfort zone. It's not fun! This is one place where having a teacher helps. One of the teacher's jobs is to ask questions/set tasks for the student that are not always easy to complete. They should be just outside the comfort zone of the student so that they are not a huge step forward that looks impossible; just baby steps up the ladder to improvement.

Motivation

The biggest factor that determines how good you will get at something, is your motivation. You can find ways and reasons to keep going; or make it harder to quit :-) It's hard to stay motivated as you pursue a goal. Most of the time, it's a long slog of practicing, and practicing is often not fun. You are pushing out of your comfort zone, trying things that are a bit too hard, and working on improving your technique. SO...figure out what kind of reward makes you keep going, and give yourself little rewards when you accomplish small goals towards your big goal.

Make it harder to quit by putting a time into your schedule where you practice. Don't just say, "oh, I will practice sometime today" and let it slide. Make the sessions short, do the work, and stop. Believe in your ability to reach your goals. Look at someone successful: that's a great example of someone who didn't give up! You can do the same thing.

Get your friends involved

One of the best ways to stay motivated, is to do your practice in a group. You can get feedback from the other people, borrow their training tips, watch them for new ideas, and stay focused on your goals.

Find ways to get through barriers

Everyone hits roadblocks in their training. When you get stuck, look at the problem a different way. Try a different exercise, dance with a different partner, go to a different event, take a private lesson--whatever you need to do to get back on track. There will always be barriers, and it's just a question of overcoming it.

Let your motivation get you through being stuck. Pick what motivates you, and use to so that you don't give up when you hit a roadblock on the way to your goal. For example, if I meet my running goal for the week, I get to buy a gluten-free pastry at the bakery. It keeps me running, and my overall health improves.

Mental representation

This is what I am implementing even more than I did before I read this book. According to the book, "A mental representation is a mental structure that corresponds to an object, a collection of information, or anything else, concrete or abstract, that the brain is thinking about" (p. 58). Mental representations hold a lot of information, but in chunks of data. This helps your brain process/apply information more quickly.

As your skills improve, you refine your mental representation. You try things, fail at them, redraw your mental representation, and try again. You get better at evaluating your performance, comparing it to your representation and giving yourself feedback and corrections.

One of the last things the authors note in their book: we don't know enough about mental representation in training, and that studying how top performers in a field work through their mental representations might allow coaches, researchers and learners, to tailor training to include how to improve these mental models. Verbally building these representations, explaining what you understand, should help your teachers guide the construction of your mental representation, and speed up your learning.

The big take-aways

Talent only helps the process get started

Ericsson's research shows that natural talent is not the THE key to becoming one of the best in the world at something. It helps in the beginning, as kids who seem talented at something may be steered into a path, but that doesn't mean they will be better in the long run: ". . . there is no evidence that any genetically determined abilities play a role in deciding who will be among the best." (p. 235)

Everyone has potential

Hard work, good coaching and focused, deliberate practice make the difference, not talent. The ones who get to the top work harder that other people and have more motivation. They didn't quit when they hit a plateau.

For me, I have always said that everyone is a dancer; some people just don't know it yet. Look for potential, not limits! The only person who won't be good at something, is the one who has given up. That means ALL OF US could be amazing tango dancers, top in the world. Even if we don't aspire to that, we can up our game through deliberate practice. Get inspired!!

Performance anxiety and a good partner

Scared but still performing

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

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

I try to avoid performing.

Peak experience

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

AND...

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

What made it work for me?

Jose Garofalo

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

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

100% improvisation

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

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

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

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

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

What's the best tango embrace?

Over the 20+ years I have danced tango, I have been taught LOTS of different "best" ways to embrace my partner in tango. Many students have come to me with sore arms, shoulders and backs "caused" by their partners. "What's the best way to dance so I don't get hurt?"

I see a lot of room for improvement in how we dance and how we teach the embrace. For myself, I have found that learning to stabilize my shoulders and arms has helped me dance better with more people, and with fewer injuries. As long as I am using my body correctly, I can do several different styles of tango embrace.

So what is best? Body-based choices. You knew I was going to say that, didn't you?

Anchor your shoulder girdle

You have several layers of muscles at work in your back. You want to make sure that the deepest levels of muscles are strong and aligned, and then stack the outer layers on from there. If you use too much neck and shoulder work for your embrace, you are stressing ALL the layers.

Since it is hard to feel the layers of muscle in your back (for most people), focus on one area: the lower tip of your shoulder blade, and the muscles that help anchor it into the center of your body.

back shot for shoulder girdle video with words.jpg

 

Exercises

Here are the exercises that I am currently for MY shoulder girdle strength!

1. Table top: Get your arms and shoulder girdle in the right position to use as a stable area.

2. Plank: Build your strength and stability by placing more demand on that area.

3. Negative pushups: After your can stabilize, continue to improve by increasing the demand on those muscles.

4. Pushups (and yes, I can't do these yet!). For those of you out there who do pushups: MAKE SURE you are doing them using these muscles, or you won't be training the correct muscles. Have someone watch you to make sure that the focus is back muscles. Yes, there are other muscles being used, but those muscles may not help your tango embrace as much.

 

Want more info?

For more in-depth info, I recommend two fabulous books that I use all the time to show my students how the body works:

  • The Anatomy of Exercise & Movement by Jo Ann Saugaard-Jones
  • Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain (and there is a related Exercises book)

Imagery to help you

Words get in the way. For many people, pictures work better (especially for my visual learners). However I can't transmit the picture in my head to yours without words and the pictures I draw while teaching. Here are some pictures that work for me or some of my students. If they don't work for you, throw them out!

  • Wine corkscrew: Think about opening a bottle of win. Your shoulder blades are the wings that pull down and in. Your neck and spine are the cork sliding straight up!
  • Hanger: Imagine that the back of your neck is the hanger handle, and that your shoulders and arms are following gravity, like a heavy coat drapes on the hanger. The coat does not need to hold itself up.
  • Tree: Your legs and torso are the main strength to hold up the branches. Imagine your head is the top of the tree and that you are REALLY tall. Relax your shoulders: the roots are holding you up. The tree on the right of the picture is the one I think about: it's on my college campus, and I spent a lot of time under it, playing guitar. Don't laugh too hard.
  • Fountain: Water shoots up and out of your head, falls to the basin of the fountain, and comes up the middle again. The shoulders are out of the picture! This can help with breathing as well as energy circulation.

Practice time = all the time you aren't dancing!

I definitely try to "forget" all of my technique and just dance when I am out dancing. In order to do that, my technique needs to be hard-wired into my brain so that it just happens. How do you get to that level as fast as possible? Do your tango homework all the time!

Practicing all the time does not mean carving out an hour or two a day to practice. I certainly do not manage that, and I am a dance teacher. Instead, I try to stay aware of how I move my body whenever I have spare brainpower.

I suggest:

  • Find good posture for your shoulders and middle back when you start work.
  • Set your computer timer so that it gives you a reminder every 30 minutes to find your center back, relax your shoulders, and restart your work with better posture.
  • Standing in line waiting for something? Use those extra brain cells for finding your perfect alignment so that you can use it in tango without thinking!
  • If you have a job where they don't stare if you do stretches, take 5 minutes of your break time and do the exercises above.
  • When you walk the dog, carry groceries, cart your kid around, etc., check in: are you working "smart" or cheating? Fix it!

 

Revisiting the "heels up vs. down" debate: walking backwards

A reader asked me to be more specific about how I have changed my tango walk to remove foot and back pain from following tango. Rather than write a comment on a three-year-old blog entry, I decided to have a fresh look at my technique and why I have chosen the tango style that I dance and teach.

Razan, thank you for the question: "Can you say more about walking backwards, i mean what exactly did u change?"

The short answer: video

More detail: body-based is best

The foot

The foot has a lot of moving parts. For tango, there are two main components: being on balance over your arches when not traveling; and rolling through your feet as you travel. Both take a bit of work to perfect.

The arches of the foot work like a springboard if your body weight is correctly placed on the foot. Placing your weight too far forward, onto the metatarsal bone heads, or onto the toes, makes your body work a lot harder to maintain good balance. It is not impossible to dance on your toes, but it will hurt your body.

As I say to anyone who points out some famous tango dancer prancing around on her toes: "If you are a trained ballerina, you can maintain your balance like that. On the other hand, what age do ballerinas retire? How long do you want to dance tango?" Not to mention that ballet, while pretty, is not tango.

Find your feet

Gently massage one of your feet. Find the part of your arch that is the softest/highest. That is what I call the MAGIC METATARSAL. That is the center of your foot arches. It is the keystone of your foot. It may not touch the floor, but if you keep your weight balanced over that part of your foot, you will be using your arches correctly.

Now, put your feet on the floor and walk around slowly. Roll through your foot like a cat. Feel how all the bones and muscles and ligaments and tendons GENTLY work together to make a fluid, strong step. Feel how taking front, back and side steps changes how your support foot "launches" you (I am still looking for a good word instead of "launch" or "push off" that makes fewer people tense their foot to move!).

When you stop traveling, your balance is not a static thing: there are micro-adjustments happening all the time to help you maintain balance. Close your eyes and feel how much variation there is in "standing still" and then try it on one foot: harder, isn't it? Let yourself feel/learn what your feet do to balance.

The ankle

The ankle's main movement is that of a hinge joint. Your ankle is happiest moving forward and backward. The bones of the lower leg, the tibia and fibula, help hold everything together. The ankle does have some movement side-to-side in the secondary joint of the ankle, which helps to stabilize the body over the joint.

For more than you probably ever want to know about the ankle, here's a clear video about the ankle.

How do you apply that to walking backwards?

Watch this video of people walking backwards. Look at how their heel is the last part of the foot to leave the ground when they push off (except for some of the girls in backless shoes :-).

If you let the foot and ankle move naturally, you get a much better step, every time. You will cause less wear and tear on your body per step, allowing you to both dance longer AND look more elegant.

What happens when you get tired?

When you stand up on your toes, you are constantly using more muscle work than when more at rest with the heel down against the floor (or against the heel of your shoe, as IT rests on the floor). Any time that you are using more muscle and work to stay upright, you are working harder. When you add that to standing/walking in heels AND backwards, for hours on end, you are talking about tiring out your body.

When you get tired, you begin to make mistakes. Your core gets tired, and you let your back start to take the brunt of your balancing act. You let your ankles roll in or out, as most of do not have perfectly balanced muscles to keep us from doing our favorite bad habit. After my broken toe this year, I have one foot that likes to roll in, and one that likes to roll out; not pretty if I get too tired!

However, if you put your heels down and use your feet naturally, you will have a lot longer you can dance before you are tired AND you can protect your body from injury better as well.

Images to help you change to heels down

1. Imagine that there is a thumbtack on the bottom of your heel, that gently pushes down into the floor as you roll over your heel (just as you would gently push a tack in with your thumb, to pin paper to a cork board). The floor is soft, like a cork board, so you don't need to tighten your body. Just let the heel sink into the ground (or your shoe if you are not barefoot).

2. Elephant feet: Let your foot be soft and imagine that it is HUGE and can easily hold you up. Softening your feet will help normal foot/ankle motion to occur.

3. Pouring sand: Imagine you are a mold, and each time you step, sand gets poured into the mold. First, it flows into the shape of your foot, then your leg, then you body, and finally to your head. The sheer weight of the sand holds you firmly to the floor so that you don't have to grip your feet.

4. What works for YOU? Tell me!!

A final thought: walking backwards is beneficial!

Walking backwards may actually be good for you! Check out this article and tell me what YOU think!

 

 

 

Tango musicality and inspiration

TED Talks do it again!

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

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

Take Jose's workshops!

The Oregon connection

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

Jose Garofalo's bio

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

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

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

He lives and works in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Jose's class schedule

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

Build your base for ongoing work!

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

Savoring tango

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

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

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

Milonga reviews, Buenos Aires 2016

This is a collection of short reviews by the different members of the group. I did not attend all of the milongas with them, so I asked the dancers to send me short bits I could post as a collage of our experiences. All in all, we covered quite a bit of turf, especially among the afternoon milongas and practicas.

El Abrazo Tango Club

  • Location: El Beso, Riobamba 416
  • Fridays, 2:30-8 PM (lesson 1 PM)
  • Entrada: 80 pesos
  • FB page

This is a low-key venue with a nice intimate feel. The level of dancing is modest. I arrived early and was seated by the friendly hosts in an auspicious corner with good sight-lines. But really, the venue is so small, it would have been pretty easy to make eye contact from any table (at least with my glasses on). The mix seemed to be about 60% porteñosand 40% foreign tango tourists. This is a good place to get your feet wet, as it has a more casual feel than the bigger traditional milongas. (Stevyn)

Milonga After Office

  • Location: El Beso, Riobamba 416
  • Mondays, 3-8 PM (lesson 1:30-3 PM)
  • Entrada: 100 pesos for class and milonga (water 30 pesos)
  • FB page

This was my favorite milonga overall. I went there twice. I liked the instruction at the lessons. The place was tourist friendly. The seating arrangements were made with the intention of getting people to dance. I danced with ladies from all over the globe: Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, Brazil and of course, several porteñas. The teacher, who acted as hostess during the milonga, was active in getting people dancing. At one point she suggested that I dance with a porteña who was not getting asked. I did and it was a good dance. Hopefully, some of the other gents saw her dance and kept her busy the rest of the milonga. As I had to leave for the airport to go home, I don't know how that went for her. (Larry)

Milonga de los Consagrados

  • Location: Centro Región Leonesa, Humberto Primo 1462
  • Saturdays, 4:30-11:30 PM (lesson 3:30-4:30 PM)
  • Entrada: 80 pesos for milonga
  • FB page

This is my favorite milonga to attend in Buenos Aires because I have been going to this venue since 1999, and dancing with some of the same guys for that long, too! For me, it's more of a social event than other milongas because I know so many people. I had my best tanda here both this year and last year (with the same guy). Last year, I had a blockbuster 6 hours of dancing without stopping evening here; this year, because I was with a group, I left a lot earlier. I enjoy having folklore, tropical and swing sets during the evening, so this is a good venue for me. (Elizabeth)

The ceiling fans were quite loud. It was a problem for the lesson, making it hard to hear the instructor, but not for the milonga. The class was good and the teacher invited the students to sit at her table. She was even kind enough to dance a tanda with me at one point in the evening. At the end of the second song, she deemed me to be a milonguero! I got so flustered that I completely screwed up the third song. I found it relatively easy to get dances with cabeceo and had several very good partners during the milonga. It was good that I've learned to dance in small spaces. (Larry)

I was uncomfortable in this venue and did not dance much. The music was too loud for my sensitive hearing, and the "air conditioning" (fans) was uncomfortably strong. The lighting was initially so low that I could not make eye contact. It got better later, but by then I was out of energy. (Stevyn)

Nuevo Chique

  • Location: San José 224, Casa Galicia
  • Tuesdays and Thursday, lesson 2-4 PM, dancing 4-11 PM
  • Entrada: 80 or 85 pesos (I have forgotten!)
  • FB page

This was my first experience dancing in Argentina. I was a little disappointed in that many of the dancers were tourists. However, that led to connections that made dancing at other venues easier. The length of the hall was a little hard to work. I mostly danced with the ladies directly across from me that I could make eye contact with. It was hard to connect with the women in the back seating area unless I got up and was "passing through the area." It was a good get-your-feet-wet dance. (Stevyn)

I often suggest Nuevo Chique as a place to dance for new dancers or people new to Buenos Aires. The level is definitely not super-high, but that means that intermediate dancers will be able to get dances. Also, the average age for afternoon milongas is a bit higher, so it's a good venue for older dancers as well. I had wanted to dance with my husband, but we were not in each other's sight lines. I had worried that he would not get dances, but he danced a lot; so I didn't need to worry about it. (Elizabeth)

La Viruta

  • Address: Armenia 1366
  • Days: Larry went Thursday night, but dancing most nights
  • Thursdays: 6:30-midnight classes, practica midnight- 4 am
  • Cost: includes class and practica

The first place I went was a late night practica at La Viruta. It was a total bust. I couldn't get anyone to dance with me. I was quite concerned that this would be the norm in Argentina. Happy to say this was not the case. (Larry)

El bailongo de la Glorieta

  • Location: Echeverría 1800, in the park at the bandstand
  • Time: Class from 7-8:15, dancing 8-11:30 PM
  • Days: Dancing happens here a lot, but we went on a Wednesday
  • Cost: seemed to be by donation

I had not been to La Glorieta since 1999. It is mostly the same, but I enjoyed the warm summer weather, as I used to go in the winter, all bundled up! They put everyone's belongings in the center of the floor and danced around them; a good way to avoid theft! (Elizabeth)

This is a beautiful outdoor venue. It is like the one in the Peninsula Park Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon, but much larger. The sound was good, the floor was good and the dancers were willing to dance. I had probably the best dance of the trip with a lovely dancer from Buenos Aires. She tried to say I had a good ear for the music, but she couldn't think of the word in English (haha). (Larry)

La Marshall

  • Location: Riobamba 416 (El Beso)
  • Fridays, class 10:30, dancing 11:30
  • Cost: 90 or 100 pesos (can't remember!)
  • FB page

This is a wonderful late night venue, mostly queer, with a surprisingly good mix of both gay men and lesbian women, but obviously welcoming to all comers.  The level of dance was high and a bit intimidating, but I really enjoyed myself and look forward to going again. (Jessica)

I went to the lesson with Jessica, and stayed for the milonga. There were only five women, and I danced with all but one of them. Last year, there was a lot of dancing between the men and the women, but not this year. Because no one is entirely sure who is dancing with whom, cabeceo is really difficult at this venue (Are you leading? Following? Both? confusing). The lesson was good: there were total beginners up to advanced dancers, and Augusto managed to provide a two-level lesson, with additional things to try for those of us who were advanced; I know as a teacher how challenging that is, so good work! (Elizabeth)

Muñecas Bravas (Laboratorio femenino de tango)

  • Address: Tucumán 3428 (La Maleva)
  • Mondays, 5-8 PM
  • FB page

This is a very special fun event and hands down my favorite. It is a very small afternoon venue, 10-15 women, with a focus on exchanging lead and follow. It was very friendly, with shared mate during brief rests in between lots of dancing and a ton of fun. (Jessica)

 

Canal Rojo Tango (Salon Canning)

  • Address: Av Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz 1331
  • Wednesdays, 4 PM - 1 am
  • Entrada: I forget :-) I think it was 80 pesos

I went to Salon Canning twice. The second time I went to Canal Rojo with my wife and I was able to get dances after she left to go to the opera. (Larry)

I went to Canal Rojo after a few friends reminded me that they had not seen me at Canning yet this year. Although we left early to go to another venue, it was fun to go and dance for a few hours. The level is definitely lower than it used to be, but I think it's because the guys I know are aging and have less mobility than before. One guy I had met at Los Consagrados this year, came and grabbed me for a few tandas of really nice music and those were my best dances of the afternoon. The woman sitting next to me wanted to talk about the political situation in Argentina to the extent that I finally left, because I couldn't cabeceo and hold a conversation at that speed and complexity in Spanish, at the same time. (Elizabeth)

 

La Gran Milonga Nacional

  • Location: on Avenida de Mayo, between Avenida 9 de Julio and the Casa Rosada
  • Cost: free!
  • Three stages of live music, tango performances, etc.

We went over later in the evening. The venues were far enough apart to keep the sound separate. The dance floor space was very limited, but I did get a dance with Elizabeth on the asphalt. There is video so it did happen. LOL. I really enjoyed some of the orchestras, but it was the kind of place that you probably had to bring your own partner if you wanted to dance. (Larry)

I went over to the festival earlier in the evening with my husband. We listened at the various stages, and danced in the street together. I returned later in the evening with some of the other dancers and did some more dancing. Unlike other years, I didn't go up on the stage to dance; because the other women didn't want to dance, I couldn't dance with all the guys at once ;-) (Elizabeth)

Parakultural (Salon Canning)

  • Location: Av Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz 1331.
  • Tuesdays, 7-9 & 9-11 PM, classes; dancing 11 PM - 4 AM.

I went by myself and I couldn't get a dance, but the class was good. (Larry)

I went to a very cliquey milonga yesterday at Salon Canning. It was still fun. The women and the dresses were gorgeous, the skill level was very high. I took the class prior for intermediate and advanced dancers and it was tough but fun! I only danced with [the friend of a friend who took me there]. I certainly tried to cabeceo others, but guys were avoiding prolonged eye contact with me. I still enjoyed the people watching. (Felicita)

 

 

Lateral crosses and pivoting traspies: Round 3 for the milonga drills!

Adobe seems to have finally fixed the glitch for uploading to YouTube, so I can finally publish my newest video!

It's been a rough week here in the USA in many ways. Here's something to work on to take your mind off the rest life for a few minutes! I will post more tips later on, but with the Buenos Aires tour in less than two weeks, I am running full speed ahead planning events for that; so please forgive me for just jumping to the video.

 

Corridas and toquecitos: technique for milonga excellence

Milonga is perhaps my favorite dance in the entire world (tango, cover your ears!). I love the groove of the dance and the simplicity/challenge of playing with syncopation instead of the more varying syncopation, pauses and slo-mo possibilities in tango. Many dancers who come from other rhythmic dances, find milonga easier to approach than tango.

However, because of its speed and the need for smaller steps, milonga can be more challenging than tango to reach a level of excellence. It is SO easy to abandon technique and just clomp through the dance, panicking at the needed speed of each step.

I have just taught six weeks of milonga technique in my beginning, intermediate and advanced classes. The Body Dynamics class has been focused on small steps, elegance and speed for the session as well.

Corridas and toquecitos

Corridas

Corridas, or "runs" are a series of fast, small steps that can be moving forward, backwards, or laterally. Corridas are also done in tango and vals, and have the same considerations there.

For forward or backwards steps, the main issue is making the fast (syncopated) steps feel comfortable. Remember:

  1. Take quick steps that are half as big as the regular steps.
  2. Get your heel down on each step to balance yourself for the next step.
  3. As you shift feet, keep your knee and hip alignment so you have cushioning.
  4. Core, core, core! Engage your deep core to make a dynamic step your partner can feel.

For lateral steps, a lot of people find the errors in their normal side steps are magnified by going quickly! Focus on:

  1. Rolling through your foot on both the step traveling to the side, AND on the step in place!
  2. Letting the natural shift in the hips happen when you change feet. Don't keep your hips flat to the ground!
  3. Keeping the knees soft.

Toquecitos (little touches)

Toquecitos are adornos that work really well in milonga. BE CAREFUL to avoid overdoing them. I distinctly remember one woman who was dancing when I started in 1995: she sounded like she was tap dancing! Don't be that person ;-)

That said, toquecitos that are soft and get your feet under you can be used as what I call a "functional" adorno: something that improves your technique, rather than just an ornament.

Toquecito tips:

  1. As one of my teachers used to say, "Don't kill the cockroach!" Just tap lightly.
  2. Use the ankle muscles so that the movement is the whole foot.
  3. Think of using it just before you move, rather than step and tap. I think of it like a downbeat: "And, go!" instead of "Step, TAP!" which is too loud/harsh.

 

The video

Exercises for fabulous boleos: the video

The origins

When Guillermo di Fazio was in Portland for Valentango, I had the chance to study privately with him. I am very interested in the style of the old masters, so when he announced a class on Todaro's style/combos, I was very excited. Unfortunately, I had to work at the time of the class, so I contacted him, requesting private lesson time.

During my lesson, Guillermo taught me:

  1. the material from the Todaro class.
  2. all the material he had hoped to cover but had not.
  3. another Todaro combo that occurred to him while we were working.
  4. drills to prep the leaders for the combinations we had worked on.

I really enjoyed dancing with someone who could lead me in the combo, and then follow well, so that I could try the same thing that I had just followed. I learn best this way, and am happiest with a strong teacher who can do this well.

My brain completely full, I sat with my camera, rewatched the lesson and took notes until all the info was on paper and on film. Although I lose some of the information, that way, the maximum that I CAN retain can be found :-)

Crack balls, KNIFE!

As is my habit, I share all information I learn with my students. I don't see a purpose in withholding information to make people wait, or pay more, or to keep my level higher. That's my main complaint about dance schools with prescribed levels--you know what I mean.

Anyway, by teaching new information, I can see how much of it works for dancers at beginner or intermediate or advanced levels, what other material they need in order to be able to do the movements; and how I can best explain it so that more people get it faster. Body Dynamics (for those of you in Portland, this is my 7 PM Monday class at Om Movement Studio) gets all my new material, as it preps for all levels of my group classes.

The men in the class were taken back by Guillermo's suggested instructions of "Crack balls! Knife!" to explain how to swing the leg across the body, pivot, and stop abruptly, on balance. The women just thought it was funny. I have since changed how I describe the movement.

Adapting drills for other purposes

As the Todaro combos proved too difficult for my students to actually do, I started to look for other applications for these drills. I broke down the exercise into easier parts, and working up to the full effect.

Immediately, I noticed that these drills were really about having good balance while one leg was completely relaxed and moving quickly, followed by pivoting on balance. Hmm...this seems to be the same info needed for doing good follower moves that require loose legs! I made last week's video to show how this can benefit followers.

 

In addition, there are a lot of possiblities for the leader to add into other moves, if s/he is sooo on balance that flicking the free leg around does not inhibit a clear lead. We have recently been playing a new game I call "Crazy legs" that incorporates the leader playing with this while the follower does turns.

Go watch the video, do the exercises, and come to class!

 

 

 

 

Ankle and foot stretches and strengthening for tango

Just the video, ma'am!

For those of you who don't like to read, here is the video, right at the top where you can find it!

A big thank you!

Thanks for all the nice /website messages about my last video! So nice that all of this work learning to shoot and edit video is helping other people. As a shy person, it is VERY hard to turn that camera on. Don't be fooled by how much I talk: I talk a lot more when I am nervous! For me, this is almost as awful as those dreams where you realize you don't have clothing on in a public place...

It's been fun to (re)connect with dancers from all over the country. I was thinking about working on my ocho video, but a viewer asked me about ankle strengthening exercises (Hi, Lisa!).

For those of you who don't like to read, I will try to talk through most of this on the video; but some of us still like the written word!

My ankle history

As a child, I was always the person twisting/straining/spraining my ankles. I constantly rolled over the sides of my feet and hurt them. For those of you who know me well, you know I have almost zero stereo vision, so part of this was due to not being able to see very well. However, I also inherited my mother's weak ankles. I remember Mom driving to school to tape my ankles so that I could run track (my school required all of us, even us slow folks, to take part in track meets). I always seemed to have ace bandages on.

I didn't get stronger ankles until I took about six years of West African dance in grad school and afterwards. By the time I got serious about tango, I had strong ankles.

Now, after my foot injury, I am just beginning to put my 9 cm. tango stilettos back on, and I notice that my ankles are not as strong as previously. In the video clips that follow, I will show you how to stretch and strengthen your ankles so that YOU can wear tango heels and not get injured.

Foot & ankle: 26 bones, 31 joints, 20 muscles

A complex system of bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles holds us up and moves us around. No wonder we have so many foot and ankle issues!

Warm up first!

Get the blood flowing in your system before doing stretches and strengthening exercises. Even if you just go walk around the block, that will help you protect your body while improving your tango. I usually do arm and legs swings, as well as twisting around my body, before I start stretching. If I don't walk to warm up, I do ankle circles right and left before stretching.

Part 2: Stretch!

The first part of the video shows gastrocnemius and soleus stretches. Those are the two big calf muscles. They share the Achilles tendon across the back of your ankle. If your issue is lack of flexibility, spend MORE time on this, and less on the strengthening exercises. Remember that it takes 1.5-2 minutes for the microfibers in your muscles to allow for a full stretch: they are there to make sure you don't tear and rip muscles.

Part 3: Massage your feet!

Use a massage ball or golf ball to get your plantar fasciae in gear. That's the layer that encases your muscles on the bottom of your foot. You can also massage your feet: we do this in Body Dynamics almost every week. Consider doing this also when you take your heels off after dancing, ladies!

Notes: keep your foot over the massage ball, so that the weight of your leg helps apply pressure to the sole.

Part 4: Stretchy bands are your friends!

The video shows the first of three parts of a leg and ankle stretch that we do in Body Dynamics. The rest of the stretch addresses other leg muscles, so I left it out for brevity. You will see it some other time!

Part 5: Towel exercise for foot strength

I spent a lot of grad school going to PT and getting my feet taped so I could dance as much as I needed to for my M.A. in Dance. I have learned a lot since then: in my 20s, I saw that as a necessary evil, but never really did my strengthening exercises. I just thought I would have weak ankles my entire life! My feet and ankles are much stronger now in my 50s, thanks to hard work!

Part 6: The alphabet, foot style

Fine muscle control in your feet will help you do fabulous adornos and have precision in your tango. Drawing the alphabet with your feet works the muscles you need for that. Have fun: do different alphabets, draw them upside down or backwards, write whole words--whatever works for you. I usually try to remember the Cyrillic and Arabic alphabets from my grad school studies.

Part 7: Lateral ankle strength stretchy band work

You need a friend or a heavy piece of furniture for this one. Loop a stretchy band under a chair, sofa, bed, or have a friend hold the other end. Make sure you get enough tension on the band to have a good workout, but don't overdo it. I almost always end up moving closer to the piece of furniture than I start.

The most important part here is to STABILIZE YOUR KNEE. You don't want to work the whole leg. The better you line up your knee, the more the ankle gets focused work.

Hope this is helpful!

 

 

 

 

Improve your tango: stretch your hips!

As I come back from my foot injury, I am noticing that MANY parts of my body are more out of shape than before. I have made a commitment to stretch more as well as to work out more; at least until I am back in shape!

Hip stretches

Stretching my hips was one place where I was slacking, so now I am back on it. Here are a set of hip stretches that I learned from Rita Honka when we were in grad school. It's an oldie but goodie.

Try this and let me know how it works for you!

Saving time in your workout

This stretch sequence takes about 16 minutes if you do it correctly. Many days, I don't have that much time, so I only do one or two parts of the stretch. I am very stretchy in two of the four stretches, so I only do those when I am leading the stretch for other people.

I have found that most people are stretchy in at least one part of their hip. If you find that the stretches in the video are too easy in places and really hard in others, concentrate on the hard ones, and let the easy ones go for a while. This saves time and also focuses on problem areas.

Rebuilding my feet: foot care & body alignment

I am trying to do a weekly vlog, as sometimes it is MUCH quicker to show something, than to try to explain it in words!

This week, I wanted to show a quick body alignment reminder, followed by some foot stretches and foot care ideas to help you dance longer and more often, without foot pain.

For those of you who are local to the Portland, Oregon area, I teach a class called Body Dynamics, where we do stretches, exercises and games that help build body strength for tango, while practicing tango technique. I teach at the Om Studio, 14 NE 10th Ave. (off Burnside), and class is at 7 PM on Mondays. Both women and men are welcome, and I tailor the class to the people who take it. Please bring socks and your dance shoes, and dress in clothing that allows you to sit/lie on the floor.