Learning Tango

Special Weekend with Los Totis

Thanks to everyone who came to the weekend workshops and to the Special Milonga last weekend. What a treat to have this caliber of Viriginia y Christian y classdancing and instruction in the Phoenix area and to be 1 of 3 cities on their first visit to the US. SPECTACULAR!

A few comments were:

“They far exceeded my expectations.”

“I was so impressed with them.”

” I have always appreciated the quality of the events you put on and this was exceptional.”

We had an amazing experience with Christian and Virginia. The classes were not too big which allowed for them to go around the room to each couple and help them individually with their questions. Their teaching dynamic as a couple is very fluid – I am so impressed by this. They are calm and on the same page as they take turns in sharing information about the Virginia y Christian in Classsubject matter without taking too much time to get the points across.

Rommel and I spent 6 hours further training with them to enhance our tango for the Salon Tango Championships which are now about 2 weeks away! We have learned so much and have grown from each teacher we have had the pleasure to work with . The journey has presented us with teachers/guides/mentors who have helped us further understand aspects of Argentine Tango and its music. It is incredible.

Back to Los Totis – I am reminded again and again from this workshop weekend, about the clarity and integrity of the embrace, which is so important; which means connection; which ties into the synchronicity of this dynamic partnership; which to me means that the tango couple works together to create the steps, the lines, the music; which in turn translates to clarity of intention and lead. I always have a huge amount of respect for our dance when I interact with a couple like los Totis… The precision of what they do with such clarity and beauty is an artform.

Los Totis and UsWe will be catching up with them again in Buenos Aires in a few weeks. I am very much looking forward to our continued friendship and tango growth with them.

 

 

 

 

 

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About Embellishments

Many of you have heard me speak about embellishments and most followers are dying to figure out how to include them in their dancing. Followers Embellishments 1My experience is that leaders take their time in their excitement to learn these. (Maybe because they are called embellishments!) Sometimes there’s confusion as to what is an embellishment and what’s a led movement.

Recently I was pointed to an article on embellishments that I will reference here, another blog with insights from tango maestra, Olga Besio.  I particularly like this article as it paints a beautiful picture of the notion behind embellishments and it is a very holistic approach to embellishing which I think we can all strive for. In the meantime…..

I find that often students ask how to embellish. We see other dancers embellish and we remark on the expressiveness of the embellishment. And possibly even notice it as a movement that looks independent of the dance, as if all you see is the embellishment. My preference would be that I don’t notice the embellishment as a separate entity from the dance but that it appears to belong there in the meaningful exchange between leader and follower.

In the sited blog the embellishment is spoken about as an emerging expression from an understanding of the dance as a dialog and I totally agree. But I also understand the beginner follower’s desire to explore the possibilities.

With my students (in the US) I experience followers (more than the leaders) who want to embellish sooner rather than later or they are Followers Embellishments 2nervous or even fear trying to tackle adornos, as they are also called. I realize that the blog article doesn’t promote followers copying or having leaders wait for a follower to embellish, however, as a teaching tool, I think it is helpful for followers (and leaders) to model the behavior of possibilities. I am known to encourage followers to watch others and experiment with ideas to create their own toolbox of embellishments. I also think that with practice and with awareness through our growth in the dance we begin to fully understand how an embellishment can emerge from our bodies as a result of listening to our partner and the music. What magic to see an adorno materialize from dancers as a reflection of the music, their communication and their passion.

Most commonly teachers refer to embellishments as something to be done only with the feet and the legs. Many teachers also encourage them to include any part of the body. I recall dancing with a follower who had quite a repertoire of body embellishments. She wiggled and wagged and swam in my arms for an entire tanda. I found it quite distracting at the time. Who knows what she thought of my leading but my experience was that I was letting her have a monologue of expression as opposed to a dialog. Maybe I missed out or maybe we just chose to express and share differently.

What do you think of embellishments?

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Remaining Summer Classes

The remaining highlights for the summer! There are some Saturday workshops as well as some Tuesday and Wednesday night classes happening. Check below for the dates and times or check under Learn Tango in Arizona tab.

2 remaining Saturdays June 23 & July 21 at SNAP Scottsdale Congregational United Church of Christ 4425 North Granite Reef Road Scottsdale, Arizona 85251

INTERMEDIATE/ ADVANCED  12:00pm – 1:30pm as follows:
June 23  – “Social Sacadas”
July 21 – “Complex Social Combinations”

FUNDAMENTALS  1:30pm – 3:00pm
June 23  – “All about Turning: The Giro”
July 21 – “Cruzadas”
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Tuesday and Wednesday Night Classes at Interlingua AZ
June 26 & 27
July 10 & 11
July 17 & 18
July 24 & 25
Tuesdays 7:00pm – 8:30pm Intermediate/Advanced Level material
Wednesdays 7:00pm – 8:30pm For dancers with some Argentine Tango and who want more!
LIMITED to 10 people (so please RSVP)
$15/class
Interlingua AZ
5107 N. 7th Street, Suite 2
Phoenix, AZ 85014
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Check out Virginia and Christian on youtube.
They will be in Scottsdale for workshops July 13 – 15.
There will be a special Milonga with performances by Virginia y Christian.  You do not want to miss this opportunity to study with them. Call Rommel to register and to reserve your place 928-301-5215.

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Labels – Part 2 – It Gets Personal

I have discovered that I have a lot to say about the labels that are used in Argentine Tango.

Essentially one of the main reasons why I have never given myself, or my dancing, a label except for social dancer, is twofold – too often I find myself dealing with an uneducated public and more importantly a public that doesn’t dance or hasn’t ever moved, let alone social danced. This isn’t always true but often is the case.

So who are those labels really for? That person who wants show tango for their wedding? That person who wants you to perform Tango ClassArgentine Tango to 20 minutes of Astor Piazzolla? Or Gotan Project?

The label doesn’t get me any further with the general populace than with someone who has just started dancing. After all what do your non-tango friends ask you when you tell them you’re taking tango classes? Just this weekend prior to a performance a woman was confusing what she thought was tango with flamenco. Isn’t it amazing that we all become educators of dance when we have to explain what we’re doing? And in turn I consider most teachers not just dance teachers but educators of culture in this dance form. Would it make a difference to a newbie if I called myself a milonguero teacher, a tango salon teacher? It might encourage someone to do more research or it might turn them off.

Times are changing and the dance form is evolving. We are living in remarkable times for many reasons. Technology has globalized us. How amazing that dance of any kind gets air time and that on youtube you can see all kinds of dances with correct labels or not!

Another way that times are different in the culture of Argentine Tango is that there are so many more women than men dancing this dance. Not like how it was in the 40’s with so many men and not as many women. Times were different. Men had to be skillful and inventive in order to be popular at the milongas of their day.

But with this change – the competition is now “stiff” for women. We are competing for relatively few skilled dancers. And the number of women who are highly skilled is high. So often women dance with anyone just to dance regardless of skill level. (And those who know me well know that I am not speaking about how many laps around the dance floor he does or how many cool figures he does.) And this is a shame but it is a reality. A reality I do understand.

But what would it be like if the tables started to turn. If women only danced with those men who were good dancers. And what I’m talking Jon & Nancy dancingabout now is about labels – watching the dance floor. Knowing who we are as dancers, individually.

What is your label? What do you like?

And why would you dance with anything but a good dancer? A good dancer for you?

There was a time and often still in Buenos Aires, a man will not dance with you unless he has seen you dance. And the same is true, that a woman will not dance with you unless she has seen you dance.  Like is looking for Like. I want to be sure that I dance with someone who likes what I like.

I check out the embrace
I check out their musicality
Their floor craft
And assuming at this point that I do not know them – I take a chance and dance. (But remember that more often than not, people dance with those they know first.)

I hear the arguments coming – that sometimes you still can’t tell. A leader or a follower might dance one way with one person and then a tanda later dance completely differently with another. So is this globalization on a micro level? A milonga filled with variation and diversity of embrace? Like maybe it once was in Buenos Aires where those who danced a certain way in one neighborhood would be noticed in a milonga in downtown (El Centro) Buenos Aires where their tango was a little different or possibly forbidden to dance a certain way at a milonga.

Labels are our identifiers – a way to create connection – the – hey you may be like me because we are from the same city, town, village, tribe.

And in tango  – if the label helps you to find more of those like you who need and want the music, the embrace, the connection, then let the labels work for you. But aren’t we all still dancing? (And this is an important point.)

In a recent wonderful interview with Javier Rodriguez, which can be seen on youtube in Spanish, he says we are dancing Today’s Tango, Tango de Hoy. Isn’t this true?

Our society, our culture, is reflected in our dances. Argentine tango is reflecting all of its cultures. All those cultures that have embraced it regardless of what you want to call it.

So to that dear follower who struggles with all the information that is being tossed at her, I encourage her to continue to understand her Dancing at a milongatechnique as a follower, as a woman in this dance, as there are certain skills to know. And again “follow what you feel, not what you think”.

(I would like to mention and acknowledge that I think Europe and the US took a huge interest in pedagogy and gave rise to many teachers who were indeed and who still are very much interested in teaching, not just steps and figures but how the body executes them. And with this interest there has been a slow rise in Teacher Training Seminars, Workshops Labs, etc. Even an interview on youtube that I recently saw with a famous Argentine teacher, a woman, mentioned the current desire for teachers to teach the how.)

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LABELS LABELS everywhere! Part 1

Dancers, who have been dancing for a little bit, I do feel your pain. And I am listening to your complaints. You were attracted to this dance called Argentine Tango and now teachers telling you to embrace a certain way and then more experienced dancers telling you to dance a certain way, guest instructors say something else, like it’s the only truth.

Sometimes I can find the thread of truth in all these. After all, aren’t all these tango teachers just regurgitating either, what they were taught or what works for them?

When I was first learning tango I seem to vaguely remember terms like Salon Tango or Tango Salon being tossed around. I wasn’t clear as to what it meant and I remember going to Buenos Aires on my first tango trip and seeing dancers dancing chest to chest at the milongas. No one mentioned to me a label, it was clear we were all dancing tango in a salon de baile (a ballroom or could also be called pista de baile). Yet I was learning to dance a more open embrace in the US. I was vaguely confused but made a decision that I was going to dance, what I wanted to call, social tango, something that I saw in the milongas in Buenos Aires, after all it’s a social dance, right?  Ironically, a friend in my home community articulated his frustrations that what he was learning in classes wasn’t very useful at milongas. And at the Milonga en Buenos Aires Tour 2010time I thought, “Me Too!”

Subsequently over time I think I ignored the labels that people were giving to the Argentine Tango. I found teachers that were recommended to me and I took a lot of group classes and I went out to milongas to dance socially in a close embrace that I had experienced first hand in Buenos Aires. Everyone seemed to be doing it, dancing close embrace, and those that weren’t; I didn’t dance with all that often.

In retrospect I can see that there was a lot of confusion in people’s bodies as to how to lead and how to follow. What I too would hear from one teacher would be totally contradictory to another. What a mess and that was only 14 years ago. One teacher would explain leading through the right arm, another would explain leading as being in the chest, the shoulders, the solar plexus, the center, and others would divide the leaders from the followers and give each of us our pattern and then we would fight it out together! Somehow I swam through the sea of confusion as many of you, or shall I say us, still do now.

You may know that I began teaching Argentine Tango out of curiosity and somewhat by default. I began by teaching what I knew to be my Teaching at ASU Night Galleryexperience in Buenos Aires: from those teachers that shared what I most closely understood to be that which I danced in the milongas in Buenos Aires. Teaching has taken me on a very long adventure which fortunately or unfortunately has included changing what I understood and therefore, what I have taught.

I set out to teach others how to social dance in Buenos Aires as I had done. I did not have a label for it: to me it was Argentine Tango. Soon after my return to Arizona, where I began teaching only Argentine Tango, did the questions begin to arise. “Are you the milonguero teacher from Phoenix?” I recall being asked by a prominent festival organizer. I didn’t answer or maybe I did by the strange look on my face and the repetition of the words, “milonguero teacher?”

I made an attempt to see if I needed the label. I looked up Argentine Tango online only to discover that there were several more labels that I had never heard of, I looked around to see who was labeling themselves what…  (The 90’s saw the label Milonguero and then soon followed was Nuevo, and then came Villa Urquiza.) What kind of a teacher was I if I didn’t have a label? My students were dancing with little complaints so I continued without a label.

My journey has now taken me into a new realm – into an actual label. In competing in Argentine Tango we are now labeled as Tango Salon and thus seemingly poo-pooed by those hanging onto another label. Which is funny to me – because I still can dance at the milongas. For me nothing has changed, except that I am training to look and dance a certain way with my partner. Somewhere in the tango label lineage Tango Salon went categorized as being closer to Stage Tango and with learning choreographed steps. Interestingly enough Melina Sedo in her blog, Melina’s Two Cents, has had a similar struggle with labels and enlightened me that Tango De Salon in France was interpreted as ballroom tango.

Recently a friend of mine who teaches back east said to me, “Aren’t you learning essentially choreographed steps for the competition?” I thought this was an interesting claim as we are constantly working on certain turning patterns that are expected in this label, Tango Salon, and in the competition in the category of the same name.

So where does this bring us – to our frustrations as students. And an entire blog without too many confusing labels and to my point.

A female student came to me recently. She has been studying fast and furiously with many teachers, going out to milongas diligently, has a practice partner, and was beyond confused and frustrated. How does a follower follow all these different leaders? All these different corrections?

From the follower’s perspective I don’t think any of it is wrong but it is about learning and understanding that there are certain possibilities based basically on embrace. Which means that if I am dancing super close, chest to chest and socially, there are a certain set of expectations (this has been labeled milonguero). Those expectations are not to leave the chest, not to pivot the hips, and I think often misinterpreted that the follower is “hanging” on the leader, although I have never heard those words come out of a teacher’s mouth but I observe it all too often on the dance floor and then hear about it from the leaders and their pained shoulders.

I could also be dancing a little less close and socially which offers me other options. The music will dictate and the space and geography might all give me clues, yes, for me as a follower too.

The clues are exhibited on the dance floor for me to see, as a follower, and as a leader. And in this case “like attracts like”. Do you see an embrace that you like? Basically that embrace will dictate that dance. And when you are in that embrace remember one of Graciela Gonzalez’ adages: ”Follow what you feel not what you think”.

(part 2 of labels next week and for more historical notes on Tango Styles visit Stephen Brown’s site at:
http://www.tejastango.com/inside_2011archive.html#0004 and scroll down to The Continuing Conflict over Tango Styles.)

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