To Push or Not to Push – The Floor

To Push or Not to Push – The Floor

I have been catching up on my Tango reading. I have a pile of books that are about Argentine Tango journeys and stories and I am slowly paving my way through them.

Last night something caught my attention in a footnote, this author used the phrase pushing the floor.

I started to ponder this idea of what I say when I teach and to whom and why.

How many times have you heard a teacher say:
Push the floor
Caress the floor
Receive the floor
Use the floor

Could it be all of these things?
I reflect on my wide student body and think that all these are possibly true at different times in our tango lives. A concrete way to get a student to feel the floor or become more grounded is often to tell them to push the floor. In doing this they appear to become more aware of their relationship with it.

I remember when I was first learning, one of my teachers would say, caress the floor. And at that time it made me think of being very light and in retrospect I was either praised or criticized for that lightness. “Oh, you’re so light!” a dancer would say seemingly enthusiastically. I also remember a guest teacher pushing on my shoulders saying, “you’re too light, get heavy” as he continued to push down on my shoulders in a dramatic effort to make me heavier.  This obviously did not help me!

In an effort to make dancers out of most non-dancers in Argentine Tango, I think teachers try to find a fast route to groundedness. What the heck is that?

As a modern dancer, who also spent many hours taking ballet classes, I trained my body to use gravity in creative ways: to jump, to dart, to fall, to roll, to pound and all these actions made me very aware of my relationship to the floor. In order to fall to the floor or collapse into the floor without hurting myself several actions or reactions had to take place: my joints had to be mobile, my core active, and I had to have an awareness of the soft parts of my body. (In a nutshell!) As I would allow my body to “succumb to gravity” there would be an opposite reaction in another part of my body to support it.

The same thing happens in tango. It is as if the body is divided top and bottom half – the lower half is the legs working with gravity (and against it!) and the upper half is projecting upwards to support the lower half. Graciela (Gonzalez) has been using the phrase 50% up and 50% down, which makes sense to some and not to others. But if you can imagine that your body is naturally designed to support itself from its center you are 1/2 way there!

How ever you decide or have been taught to use the floor just ponder on what is supporting that action. If you are focusing on only 1 direction, down, your energy and intention will send that message to your partner. This could be a heavy ride for either party. If there is an equal and opposing reaction the body, both as a lead or a follow, is already a better conduit for information. And of course, don’t forget your embrace is part of that 50% up and towards your partner.Where's the support?

I leave you with this cartoon. If you can imagine realigning this poor fellow by stacking his mid section on top of his legs and then his head on top of that. It’s his TORSO or the middle of his body where his support would be coming from. I know we don’t look like this, maybe feel this way sometimes, but hoping that the image helps to support my point…His legs and his feet will bring all of his body through the lead.

Happy Reflections and Happy Dancing!

 

 

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2 Exciting Pieces of News: TedX and “For Beginners”

Save the Date!
And buy tickets… On Sunday November 11, 2012 at 4pm I will be 1 of several presenters for a local TEDx. What is a TEDx you ask? Well, TED.com is all about making available via the internet remarkable talks from remarkable people and TEDx follows in this same vein but TEDxon a local scale. They are fully planned and coordinated independently within a community.
Paradise Valley TedX is curated by sculptor, teacher, artist extraordinaire, David Bradley. Only 100 tickets will be sold at $6.00ish. ($5.00 + a service fee).
Get yours at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/273503
The event will be held at
Arizona Artists Guild, 18411 N 7th Ave. Phx. AZ 85023

starting at 4pm and will also include: a stimulating program of artists and creatives of all types, including Chriztobal Martinez, Greg Esser, Lisa Taylor, Brett Seymoure, Douglas Proce, Michel Zajac, Dennis McClung, Joy Kockerbeck, Tony Desylvester and Crossing 32nd Street.
What will I possibly be speaking about? You probably guessed, The Transformative Nature of Argentine Tango, this is the working title for now… as the spell check tells me that Transformative isn’t a word or is spelled incorrectly, I am already off to a creative start! Spread the word!

SECOND bit of news!

I am starting a BEGINNER’S MILONGA on Sunday, September 30th.
At 6:30pm there will be a Basics Tango Class  and then the Milonga begins at 7:30pm – 9:30pm.

I am excited for this opportunity to continue to share Argentine Tango with new faces. There will be traditional music played in tandas with cortinas in a friendly atmosphere.

OPENING DAY SPECIAL!
Free ButtonBring a newbie to the Basics Tango Class on Sunday, September 30th and your evening is FREE!
The fun will be at Rhythmic Expressions 617 S. McClintock Dr. Ste 3, Tempe, AZ

$12 class + milonga
$6 milonga
$10 class

TELL YOUR FRIENDS!

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How much for that tango?

Today’s topic is one that not many people discuss or at least haven’t discussed with me or my partner and that is: why do organizers charge what they charge for visiting teachers? Who decides this? How is it decided?

There is no standardization or written rules anywhere for exactly how an organizer brings a traveling teacher or tango maestro to their community. Often organizers who keep organizing say that they don’t make money off of it but yet they keep doing it. Some have quit their day jobs to become full time festival organizers and host tango teachers to their communities. Sometimes local teachers often end up feeling forced or maybe coerced into bringing outside talent. But really no one talks about this subject openly.

Now don’t get me wrong. What I would give to be able to bring a tango couple each month to my city to share in the joy of tango. And many of my students have heard me dream of this for years.

As a tango teacher and co-organizer I am often approached with requests from traveling teachers and from agents helping teachers who want to drop into our community to teach. I very often have to politely explain to them that our city isn’t big enough to support them.

But let’s look at this a bit more closely. What little I know about business models there first needs to be supply and demand. For me I look at it simply as what price do I need to charge and how many students do I need to have to cover my costs.

Now, most teachers or a teaching couple will want: 1) a flat rate of about $1500 – $2500 for a weekend of workshops (this is not their festival fee, this is just a weekend visit), 2) their RT airfare paid for, 3) lodging (which sometimes is in someone’s home), and 4) food, well, that has been a vague one, however, some teachers request a stipend of about $100/day others do not.

So now, let’s say I am organizing for a couple, I have to print off flyers; go to milongas, practicas to pass out flyers to get the community excited; book a studio which could cost anywhere from $15 – $35/hour; have liability insurance; transport the dancers from/to airport, home, studio, food, restaurants, etc.

Does this look like a good business model?

Let’s look at it from another perspective. If the organizer has a personal interest in that couple, that dancer, then it was never really about business or was it? Having some beautiful people in your home or in your car for a weekend to discuss the various ins and outs of tango life, then it might just be worth it.

This has created a particular phenomenon whereby the traveling teachers find a good business to spend their time going to different communities but the organizer who wants to make money is obligated to raise prices. And if the organizer is a teacher as well, they risk losing their profits for that week or the month if they don’t raise the price of the event with the traveling teacher.

If there is a large community, this isn’t much of a problem because the numbers make up the overhead.

But it’s particularly challenging when the community is small and even harder when smaller numbers take classes. I am speaking of a small community being about 50 people who come to milongas regularly. Of those 50 maybe ½ will actually take a workshop. And if from this ½ they have to choose between their local teachers who they take from regularly or if there is more than one traveling teacher per month, often times, the price will be the deciding factor. They may splurge or they may stick to what they know.

We haven’t even spoken about quality or how this visiting teacher would contribute to the values and growth of the community. How do you as a dancer in the community make educated choices about your dancing needs? The model that most of us use to measure what we are doing is the milonga in Buenos Aires. We dance Argentine Tango therefore, I/we would like to emulate and dance like it is in the milongas there, to be social dancing, regardless of style. Without getting into a cultural philosophical discussion about how it’s impossible to be culturally the same as in Buenos Aires, the idea is still to strive for that model. I haven’t heard anyone say, I don’t want to be social or dance like they do in milongas in Buenos Aires. (Not yet anyway!)

As an organizer, my partner and I have brought a handful of teachers to the community, from high end maestros/maestras to lesser known but intelligent teachers with our same philosophy and ideals in tango. And there have been different price ranges because we care about the community and we care about our own developments and understandings of the dance form. Or maybe we weren’t good business people to negotiate or set a standard price, which brings us back to where I started, what is the standard? And how do teachers determine this as well? Can they charge the same in Los Angeles as they do in Kansas City? (I picked those cities at random, assuming that LA has a bigger community than Kansas City.) And how do teachers know how big your city is? Phoenix is huge yet the tango community is relatively small.

So what are the solutions? I would love to hear from you. But can you understand why there is jealousy among teachers and a fierce sense of competition?

I know that better communication always helps. In my dream tango community there would be different teachers and organizers that communicate with each other who would be respectful of each other to give each other equal time throughout the year to bring guests. And this could be exciting if each teacher/organizer acknowledges their style, their values, and they bring a teacher who supports that. For example: Let’s say there are 6 teachers/organizers in a community and each were to each bring 1 guest per year in a cycle of every 2 months. (ie: 1 teacher/organizer is in charge of Jan/Feb, and the next March/April, etc). You get variety, quality, you get support from the community and remuneration for your work as an organizer. Or what if community organizers could get together and agree on a price for all visiting teachers and the costs for classes. Ok, so don’t laugh, they are just ideas!

Just another blog….

 

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Performance at Salon Canning

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Informal with a judge

Sick as a dog on the eve of the Finals. The smell of menthol is on everyone’s breath at the milongas. Everyone seems to be sick or with some scratchy throat.

Rommel had the opportunity to speak informally and interpret for a teacher and a judge who was at the house coaching. Some highlights of that conversation follow.

This teacher/coach/judge considers himself a teacher, a maestro, and not so much a dancer anymore. He recommends that dancers should take classes with teachers not with other dancers. The teacher will show you how to dance as opposed to the dancer who will show you how he dances.

He expounded on how he reads the rules that are presented to him for Tango Salon. He needs to give points based on the the following criteria.

the Embrace – el AbrazoPre Finals
the connection
the step/or walk – la pisada
musicality
and execution of movement.

This last one is not on the rules for us. Maybe it is understood. He interprets this final piece as how does one feel what they are doing/dancing, como se siente lo que bailan. Rommel further interpreted this as the quality of movement that is directly powered by feeling. He sees many dancers as too tense or trying to impress the judges doing steps.

As a judge he has 15 seconds per couple (there are usually 10 couples on stage). A judge will see you at least twice and he needs to see all those things in that time.

He spoke about Tango Culture – la cultura del tango – one has to live the tango to be able to feel it. And in this journey find your true identity in tango that isn’t a copy of last year’s champion or of a teacher that you’ve had. So if you dance your own tango you will dance calmly without tension.

If you review previous champions, they all have their own tango identity in their dancing. They have their own style. He believes that the next champion has to be different than what has come before.

This is fascinating to me as it all is still so so subjective. But, yet, a common theme from all these maestros, has been the mention of uniqueness, individuality, and finding your own tango.

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Having just returned from the Finals in Luna Park. What an interesting experience. 41 couples participated. Again the results are Winners 2012somewhat hard to figure out. They showed the point results on the screens for the top 5 couples. It seems strange that couples’ scores could range from low 7’s to high 9’s, like no single couple’s scores from the judges (as shown on the screen) were consistent. Clearly some couples were favored with high scores by some judges and low scores by other.

Beautiful couples from Argentina made the top 3 spots. You can see the dancing online.

I have seen some amazing dancers this trip. It has been a fantastic journey to have shared stage with great dancers from all over the world.

Tomorrow night is our last night and we will be performing at a milonga Salon Canning. I think I am more nervous for that than I was for the Championship!

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