Thursday, March 31, 2016

2.75 giros in 8 steps - how do they do it?

There are two reasons I posted the last video with Carlitos Espinoza and Noelia Hurtado:
1) to find out whether you prefer their previous way of dancing or this “newer” one,  

2) and today’s topic:  to study a 9-second segment, and see what’s special about it.  

Look at the segment at 1:38-1:47 in the professionally shot video of this performance we already looked at in my last blog post.  Here we see a nicely executed multiple giro of 2.5 or 2.75 turns, depending on where you see the giros beginning and ending. (One could say the sequence begins with
the pivot at 1:38 or the step at 1:39, and concludes with the step at 1:44 or the end of the pivot at 1:47).

("Rondando Tu Esquina" by the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese, with Roberto Chanel singing.)

Now look at this amateur video, shot from a different angle by a festival attendee.  Here we can observe some specific things about the same segment, at 1:19-1:28.

(Same performance as above, different view.)

In this version, on my first viewing I find found the giro segment rather extraordinary. I thought "What beautiful giros! Let's see that again!"

I watched the sequence many times. The first giro initially disturbed me because it started when Noelia was far from Carlitos (1:19). In their first 3 steps their feet are far apart. Carlitos takes giant steps to enter with his first two sacadas. (A giro with the man's walking sacadas is an old, traditional form.) 

Note that Noelia’s first 3 steps make only half a giro, yet with a total of 8 steps she completes 2.75 turns. 

What changes in the second part of the giro sequence to let her make 2 full giros in just 5 steps?  
Can you tell the difference between the first 3 steps of the giro and the next 5?

When I figured out what was going on, I was no longer disturbed by how they launched the first giro.  I now see that they’re using two different giro techniques.  Let me know what you observe, and we can discuss it below!

I think the effect in the second part is beautiful, and I’m sure the physical sensation of changing from the first technique to the second is rather thrilling for the woman. I'm definitely going to work on this next time I practice with a good partner.

So tell me:  can you recognize any difference in technique or execution of the first giro and the second? Please comment below!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Have Carlitos and Noelia changed their style?

Sometimes one of our readers or program members sends me a link to a video that I feel compelled to share with you.  I want to thank Tanguera Ming in California for posting this one to our Tango Mojo women’s private Facebook group. Ming astutely observed that, in this performance two weeks ago, Carlitos Espinoza and Noelia Hurtado have altered their style.

Here’s the new video straightaway:

(The tango is "Rondando Tu Esquina" by the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese, with Roberto Chanel singing.)

As I see it, Noelia adapted to Carlitos‘ Milonguero Style tendency* early in their partnership, about four years ago. Noelia was originally trained as a Tango Salon Style dancer, before she and former partner Pablo Rodriguez added both Milonguero and Nuevo or contemporary elements to their expression. 

*I’m using these categories - Milonguero, Salon, Nuevo - to economize on words.  Neither of these two couples‘ dancing falls easily into a category.  Carlitos is clearly not “orthodox Milonguero”.  His embrace with Noelia has always been elastic, his steps are very long, and his musical interpretation and even choices of music for performances are different from those we see with Milonguero Style masters. (I feel another article brewing.) 

But you can see in the following 2013 video that Carlitos’ and Noelia’s 1) respective postures, 2) certain aspects of their embrace, and 3) distance between their feet have until now been more “Milonguero” than “Salon”.  Please observe these three elements in the following 2013 video, which is one of my absolute, all-time favorite tango performances! 

Notice too in this earlier video how often Noelia’s heels don’t touch the floor, which tells us that her weight is somewhat forward on her feet.  In contrast, in this month’s Istanbul video above, she always puts her heel down - a result of her changed posture.

For this performance, they've also changed the way they dress, to express greater elegance.

I’d like to know which performance you prefer, and why?  Do you see a significant difference?  Please share with us about your perceptions and preferences in the comments section below.

If you'd like to receive my "9 Surprising Tango Tips for Men - the inside scoop on what women really want", sign up here.

Friday, March 04, 2016

A "Rose Vine Tango" to start your weekend

Here is another "Rose Vine Tango" video that I loved watching!  A brand new Tango Mojo member just gave me the link.  She said that Sebastian Achaval and Roxanna Suarez are among her favorite artists lately. 

This performance really struck me because of its fluid simplicity (albeit with a few virtuoso moments snuck in).  I don't know whether something about this couple has changed, or whether something in me has changed and I'm seeing them differently.  My impression in the past was that they were more about showmanship.  I've heard Sebastian referred to as "a monster", in the good sense, because of his technical prowess, of which you an easily find more evidence on 

I have a notion about the subtle change I'm observing, but I want to hear what YOU think.

Whether or not you knew this couple before, what's your impression of this performance?  Please share your thoughts below!

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

An "Irregular" tango

In my recent articles about a video of Alicia Pons and Luis Rojas‘ performance at Salon Canning, I had withheld the name of the tango and the orchestra. (You can easily find them on the Youtube page). I’d promised you another post about the music.

I had never heard this interesting tango, Y Todavía Te Quiero” (“And I still love you”), written by Luciano Leocata. It was recorded in 1956, a year after the coup in Argentina that ousted President Perón and pushed tango underground.  

Nor did I know of Domingo Federico, whose orchestra recorded it, with Armando Moreno singing.  Federico, I discovered, was the composer of both “Al Compas del Corazon” and “Yo Soy el Tango”, tangos made famous by Miguel Calo’s orchestra. Federico played in Calo’s orchestra.  Story here.

Y Todavía te Quiero” has an unusual structure, compared to most of the tangos of the Golden Age (1935 to 1952/55), especially those of the first decade.  It falls into the category of tangos I call “Irregular”.

Note:  I am not a musician - just a dancer.  My systems of musical analysis help non-musician dancers dissect and understand almost any tango. Some musicians might disagree with my methods. But they work for tango dancers!

What’s the difference between “Regular” and “Irregular” tangos (my terminology)?  

The tangos of the first half of the Golden Age, and many thereafter, are made of 20 rhythmic phrases of 8 counts.

Each phrase consists of 8 downbeats (strong beats) and 8 upbeats (weak beats), as in “1-and, 2-and, 3-and" . . . through "8-and”.  That's the basic structure, or skeleton. 
The musician playing rhythm, usually the bassist, chooses which of those beats he wants to play.

One can hear, by changes in musical theme, that the phrases tend to fall into five groups of four 8-count phrases.  (There are some exceptions, like Troilo’s “Toda mi Vida”, with six groups of four phrases.)  

So, using 
one of my tools, my "quick-and-dirty" stick-chart analysis, in which a "stick" represents a phrase of 8 counts, almost every Regular tango looks like this: 

| | | |
| | | |
| | | |
| | | |
| | | |

Try listening to one of your favorite tangos from before 1945, following this stick chart.  
Or draw your own. (Hint: Avoid early Pugliese, who started recording around 1943.)  

If it doesn’t fit this stick chart-model, you’ve probably chosen a tango that’s not Regular.

Y Todavía te Quiero” does not fit the Regular pattern.

Listen to this recording on Youtube, and try drawing your own stick-chart on a piece of paper. Then check it against mine, below.

Try doing it now.  I'll wait.  :)

If you did this exercise, you probably found it much harder than the first one, for Regular tangos.

Here's my stick chart analysis of "Y Todavia te Quiero".  The double dots after the sticks represent two extra full counts ("full count" means downbeat plus upbeat).  Sticks with no dots are just 8 full counts.

| (8-count intro)
|: |
| | | |
|: |: |:
|: | :::
: |: |:
: |:

I've never yet seen another tango that looks like this one. Most of the phrases have 10 full counts!  I'm showing 10 counts like this:  |:  (8 plus 2).

There's sort of a repeating pattern in the tango:
|: |: |:
: |:
Many Irregular tangos have easily identifiable, repeating patterns. But in this one, each repeat varies slightly from the others. I find it particularly unusual!

If you're just getting started learning to understand tango music structure, I suggest you just stay with Regular tangos for a while.  You've heard hundreds of them in milongas, and they're easy to dance to.  It can be exciting to discover how much so many tangos have in common, and now you have a tool to discover whether or not you want to work with a particular piece of music.  If you discover from starting a stick-chart that a tango is complicated, you can save it for another time.

Did you find this lesson helpful?  Were you able to follow my stick chart analysis for Regular tangos, and for this specific Irregular tango?  (For the latter, it usually takes some extra time. So don't get discouraged if you didn't easily get it yet.)  Let us know in the comments section below!

To get more practice with “Regular” and “Irregular” Tangos, and learn in depth about my “7 Building Blocks of Tango Musicality”, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

9 ideas from Adrian's tango - pick 1!

I haven't posted a "pure" "Rose Vine Tango" video in a while, and I just came across this classic "Rose Vine" performance by Adrian and Amanda Costa, to Di Sarli's "El Ingeniero". The occasion was last month's New Year's festival in Taipei. (I hope you'll read my short article defining "Rose Vine Tango".)

Javier Rodriguez, whose video with Moira Castellano I posted on Sunday, also comes from the "Rose Vine" tradition - my name for Villa Urquiza style tango. Villa Urquiza is the neighborhood in Buenos Aires that gave rise to Salon Style Tango. It's far enough from the city center that its milongas were not as crowded and the dance floors allowed more movement, and in particular, more walking.

One thing that Javier Rodriguez and Adrian Costa have in common is that they both had training with maestro Jorge Dispari (Geraldine Rojas' stepfather), also from Villa Urquiza. Javier became more of a showman and stage performer. Personally, I love Javier's artistry that he combines with his rootedness in the milonga tradition.

But today I'm here to talk to you about Adrian.  I like to post videos of Adrian and Amanda to inspire you, while showing you a model for what YOU can do. I can't usually ask you to emulate Javier. (Adrian can be a skilled and artistic showman too, especially when he and Amanda dance to Pugliese. But that's not his main thing.)

I'd like to suggest to our tangueros that you watch this video, and, if you like Adrian's dancing, choose one thing that you can adopt from him and actually implement this week.

If you're concerned that if you emulate Adrian, who's known for his elegant simplicity, that women would get bored when you dance with them, watch Amanda's facial expression and her engagement. Or show this video to any tanguera and ask whether she would like to dance with someone like Adrian.

Adrian and Amanda often do long, beautiful walks, mostly frontal to each other and in parallel system. Simple, simple, simple, yet very beautiful. Perhaps that's not an aspect that you can adopt now, because it's rare that you'll find a milonga in which you can do much walking.  But what else can you model after Adrian?

Here are at least nine ideas. Choose one, or come up with your own (and tell us about it below!):

1) Can you simplify your tango by being more selective about where you insert figures? 

2) Can you simplify by being more selective about which figures you'll use?
3) Can you slow down?
4) Will you focus on becoming more grounded in your walk? 

5) Is there anything you'd like to adopt from Adrian's embrace?
6) Is there something you particularly admire about his lead?
7) Can you pick up one thing from this piece about how Adrian interprets the music?  (I'd listen with a headset to help you hear the music accurately as you watch.) Consider where in the music:
   7a) - he pauses,
   7b) - he syncopates his walk,
   7c) - he walks, versus where he inserts a figure.
8) Will you decide to master just one enrosque that Adrian uses, to bring more sophistication to some of your giros?
9) Will you choose one of his walking variations to make your walking repertoire more interesting . . . even though your walks in a not-too-crowded milonga must still be short?

In another post I'll come back to this video and talk to our tangueras about some lessons we can learn from Amanda. (But before that I'll post the article I promised about the unusual music in Alicia and Luis' video from two weeks ago.)

Please share in the comments section below what you think of Adrian and Amanda's performance in this video. I think many of us would also love to hear what you've chosen to study from Adrian that you can implement this week!

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Valentine's Sunday Video - Javier and Moira

February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day!

One of our tangueras shared this video on her Facebook page today, and after watching it three times, I had to find it on Youtube so I could share it with you.

If you are not interested in tango "Who's Who", then skip the story and go right to the video below.

But perhaps, like me, you've been following tango virtuoso Javier Rodriguez' career after he and the exquisite dancer Geraldine Rojas stopped dancing together in 2006, or since he tragically lost his next beautiful partner, Andrea Misse', when she died in an automobile accident in January 2012.
Since then Javier has partnered with several professional dancers, including the powerful Virginia Pandolfi.  He worked with the young and talented Noelia Barsi for a few years, and they ended the partnership early in 2015.

Suddenly, Javier was touring internationally by himself, and trying out some top local dancers in cities around the world, as well as dancing with professional friends in Buenos Aires. I saw one performance video with Noelia Hurtado, and another wonderful one from the Seoul Tango Festival in Korea last May, in which Javier performed with his former "mother-in-law", Marita (Geraldine's mother, Maria del Carmen Romero, wife of Jorge Dispari).  I've made a page of links to these videos, and if there are any Javier Rodriguez fans out there, I'll publish them in another post.  Just holler. 

But one trial partnership seems to be working out! Javier has been dancing with Moira Castellano for the last six months. To me, Moira's a more mature and interesting dancer in partnership with Javier than his previous young partner was (refined and competent as she is).

Enjoy this Valentine's Day video, and please tell me in the comments section below what you think of Javier and Moira!  
They're dancing to Di Sarli's instrumental, "Indio Manso" at one of my all-time favorite milongas in Buenos Aires, "Yira, Yira". (The camera lost focus at the end, but I don't think it will ruin your viewing.) 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Ocho Cortado? Have I gone bonkers?

When I published my article on Alicia and Luis' "Ocho Cortado transition" last week, I received several challenges on my calling the couple’s figure at 0:48-0:49 an “Ocho Cortado”.  You can see those challenges in the reader comments at the bottom of the blog post.

I acknowledged that it is absolutely NOT the complete, traditional figure I call the "academic Ocho Cortado”, which is taught in all beginner tango courses and commonly used in milonguero-style dancing.  I also promised to explain next why I identified the figure as an Ocho Cortado. So here we are.

Here's the video again for your convenience:

Two factors made me classify the figure at 0:48-0:49 as a “modified” Ocho Cortado:  1) the shape of the figure as it begins, and 2) the timing.

Let’s look at these two factors.

1) The shape of the figure as it begins - as it begins, because Luis distorts it in the second part, which is the main lesson in that article.

I’ll explain what I mean by “the shape of the figure”.

Leading into the figure:
0:47 a. Alicia steps forward with her right foot around Luis’ right side. Shape-wise, that’s the equivalent of the forward walk after the woman’s backward rebound step of the academic Ocho Cortado. That she embellishes this step with two syncopated mini-steps doesn't change the shape.

0:47 b. On the last mini-step of Alicia’s syncopated walking embellishment - on the “a” of “8 - and-a” - Luis leads a small turn on her right foot, which puts her body almost perpendicular to his, as if she had pivoted. (It took looking at that fraction-of-a second-transition with a microscope!  I had thought it was a pivot at the start of the next beat on 0:48.) 

Next, the two seconds of the figure itself:
0:48 a. Her next is a short side step with her left around his right side.  That step takes one beat, a downbeat, just like in a traditional Ocho Cortado. (More about timing in #2, below.) 

0:48 b. During the same second, on the next upbeat, Luis leads Alicia back onto her right foot to return in front of him. Here Luis has already started morphing the figure with greater upper body torsion than is normally used on the return of a traditional Ocho Cortado.

Some of my readers claimed that the steps “a.” and “b.” that I have just identified are NOT Ocho Cortado steps:  
  • “a.”, because Alicia transfers her weight fully to her left foot, rather than leaving her weight in the middle.

    My repsonse: 
    Some teachers teach that this step is stopped mid-weight. Others, myself included, teach, and I've experienced through many years of dancing with milongueros and other expert dancers, that the woman, in her weight transfer on the side step around her partner's right, goes as far as she's led to go. Often we're brought fully, or almost fully, to axis on our left foot for that one beat, allowing us to play with our free right foot on that beat.

  • “b.” because her next step with her right is a forward walk rather than a returning side step to get in front of Luis.

    My response: I’ve embraced the school of tango thought that says there are two kinds of steps in tango:  an opening (
    apertura) and a crossing (cruz or cruce).  Any normal side step is obviously an opening. But a forward or back step can be either an opening or a crossing, depending on whether one’s legs are in an open or crossed position in relation to one’s partner.  For example, in Alicia's forward walk in the preceding sequence (0:41-0:47), all of her steps with her right foot would be cruces, and all of her steps with her left foot would be aperturas. (This may be new to you, and if it's confusing, comment below and I'll explain further.)  So whether Alicia takes her right step to return in front of Luis side-ways or forward, it’s still an open step.  Side-open and forward-open are interchangeable.
0:49 - Alicia's final step of the figure is a cruce, a crossing step, in front of Luis.  No, her feet are not crossed tightly against each other as they would be in the academic version of the figure.  And she has traveled way more than 90 degrees around his axis.  But she is still in a crossed step (see paragraph above) directly in front of him. It's Luis who has changed his frente (facing direction) by pivoting on this count of the figure.

2)  The timing.  A full, “academic Ocho Cortado” is danced in what I call “simple syncopation”, that is, with equal rhythmic emphasis on downbeats and upbeats, the two parts separated by a rhythmic hold:

1 and 2 (hold) 3 and 4

The complete figure fits the rhythm like this:
- First, leading the woman’s back rebound step - "1 and 2".
- Second, her side step 
around man’s right and return in front of him to a cross - "3 and 4".
- Between the two parts is a rhythmic hold where the "and" after "2" would be.

Many people would say it’s “quick, quick, slow . . .  quick, quick, slow”.  But I don’t think that’s quite accurate.  All 3 counts have the same intensity and duration . . . and 3rd count ("2") is followed by the micro-pause or “hold” of the silent upbeat. The hold is usually where the woman’s pivot takes place.

In 0:48-0:49, we see only the "3 and 4" part of the figure.  

In this tango, although the shape gets distorted by Luis' big torque and pivot, 
Alicia’s “left-side-step-to-cross” part of the figure follows the “3 and 4” of a simple syncopation, and she does cross on "4".  (The segment does not occur on counts 3 and 4 of the musical phrase.  I’ll explain that in my next article about the music in this video.)

So I've shown you why the both the shape and the timing of this 2-second figure made me read it as a "loose" or "modified" Ocho Cortado.

Had Luis stayed frontal on Alicia’s return from the side-step around his right side, she would have crossed in front of him at 90 degrees' distance from her side-step, and all of my readers would probably have called it "an Ocho Cortado". But by his continuing to torque left and then pivot on both feet as he led her to return, he stretched out Alicia's next two steps ("and-4"), creating a much greater turn. 

I had said in the original article:  
"I wonder how many of you are in the habit of working through the various possibilities of a common figure to allow you to move with freedom within the space you have in the line of dance, and especially to respond to unexpected blockages in the ronda. 

"So here's a variation on an Ocho Cortado that helps you change direction, even on short notice, in a round and fluid way."

I'm suggesting that it's sometimes helpful to think outside the box when observing a figure you don't immediately recognize!

In the comments area below, please let me know if today's analysis makes sense and was helpful to you.