Thursday, February 04, 2016

Video analysis #2 - Alicia's footwork!

First, I’d like to address “the elephant in the room”.  

I had predicted that yesterday’s article featuring a 4-second segment of a performance by Alicia Pons and Luis Rojas would be controversial. In it, I called the main figure I analyzed "an Ocho Cortado”. Three of my readers promptly challenged me on it, and I suspect that many more of you either doubted my sanity or were simply perplexed.  If that’s the case, I wish you’d speak up!  I invite you to go here to share your opinion below that blog post. The figure is absolutely not an academic Ocho Cortado.  I promise to write in the next couple of days about why I defined it as “a modified” and “a loose, yet clean” Ocho Cortado, rather than describe it by its component movements.

On to today’s new topic!

In yesterday’s article, I mentioned that leading into that figure is a 7-second walk that I want our tango ladies to observe.

I think that analyzing the walk will be valuable for our tangueros as well.

Tangueras, in the segment we’ll look at today, Alicia’s pivoting, forward walk is so strong and full of character that she is the protagonist in this 8-count phrase, although she’s following Luis’ lead.  There’s an embellishments lesson here, and we’ll also weave in a musicality lesson . . . without which an embellishments lesson would be meaningless!

Please watch the video again, focusing on this 7-second segment:
0:41-0:47 - Luis leads Alicia to walk forward with pivots for a whole phrase of 8 counts. 

Let’s count it and see what they do.  

To give us a baseline, in my system we’d count the musical phrase starting at 0:41 like this:
“1 - and - 2 - and - 3 - and - 4 - and - 5 - and - 6 - and - 7 - and - 8 - and”. 

Right now, please take a moment to listen carefully to the audio of the segment 0:41-0:47, and count it as I’m suggesting. The rhythm is slow and steady.

We can hear the bass playing the integers (1, 2, 3, through 8) as downbeats, or strong beats, and the “ands” between them as upbeats, or weak beats.  (If you can’t hear the difference, try listening to the tango with a headset or earbuds.)

Now let’s go back to 0:41 and watch the dancers.

On every downbeat, Luis leads a walking step - a full weight change. Most of us naturally feel called to step or change weight when we hear a downbeat, even those who claim not to know much about music.  Small children do it.  It’s pretty universal - except for those who have somehow learned not to trust themselves. (Happily, trusting one’s innate sense of rhythm can be relearned!  Email for more information.)

Between the downbeats, Alicia is free to interpret all the upbeats, or weak beats (which we’re counting as “and”) . . .  except the first one.  There, Luis leads and accompanies an extra step on the upbeat, something I call a “simple syncopation”.  We’ll count and break down the sequence, below.

Alicia interprets the remaining seven upbeats in the phrase with two types of small, rhythmic embellishments:

1) In the first half of the phrase, Alicia taps on her free upbeats.  So the count for her walking embellishments starts like this:

1 - and = walk - walk (led by Luis) 
2 - and = walk - tap (taps are her own)
3 - and = walk - tap 
4 - and = walk - tap

2) In the second half of the phrase, she alternates her taps on the upbeat with two quick, syncopated steps after counts 6 and 8.  

5 - and = walk - tap
6 - and-a = walk - step-step (syncopation)
7 - and = walk - tap
8 - and-a = walk - step-step (syncopation)

On the counts where she syncopates, Alicia is using artistic license to play, because the bass is still playing the same, simple upbeats through all the counts; it is not playing any syncopations. (For comparison, notice how in the next musical phrase of 8 counts, 0:50-0:57, Luis syncopates his steps at counts 3 and 5, choosing from a series of syncopations by the bandoneons. *)  

When I show you a performance video, I like to extract a lesson that you can use in milongas.  Well, there’s rarely room for such a walk in milongas; the man’s walking backwards for 8 steps is risky and improbable.  

So why am I highlighting this walk today?  Because it’s an especially good example by Alicia of the union of autonomy and connection that’s a hallmark of women who are great tango dancers. In fact, in this video, Alicia does nothing that you couldn’t use in a milonga. As you watch the rest of the video, look for other examples of her own, distinctive musical expression as she communicates with Luis. There are many!

With Luis, only his directional choices and long walks make this tango most suitable for a performance. Otherwise, his improvisation is milonga-appropriate too!

Please share your thoughts below, about Alicia's walk and her embellishments, or about any other part of this video! 

* Musicality Note: If you’re wondering what happend to the two downbeats and upbeats of the figure between the two phrases I cite above, 0:41-0:47 and 0:50-0:57, watch for my next article all about this piece of music and why I call it an “Irregular” tango!

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Video analysis #1 - Can you use this "Ocho Cortado" transition?

Here’s a lovely, simple milonguero-style performance that’s not too far from social tango.  The artists are Alicia Pons and Luis Rojas.

First watch the video and enjoy it.  If there’s something you particularly like about Alicia and Luis’ performance, please tell us in the comment area at the bottom of this post.  

Next, we'll dissect a tiny part of it.

I want to show you a 4-second segment (0:48-0:51) that looks so simple and normal that you might hardly pay attention to it!

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.

We’ll look at the smooth link Luis creates
 between their loose, but clean, Ocho Cortado and the circular Va y Ven that follows it.


We start our analysis when Luis and Alicia top off a completed phrase that they’ve just walked (0:41-0:47) with a modified Ocho Cortado.

I’ll break the sequence down into three parts:

1) 0:48 -  Luis leads Alicia in a modest opening around him to his right.

0:48-0:49  Next, he uses great torsion in the return to bring Alicia 180 degrees around his left side. But he also adds something special - the “smooth link” I mentioned!

Observe Luis’ pivot on both feet, all the way through 0:49, and past Alicia’s step onto her crossed left, which ends their “loose” Ocho Cortado. Alicia has ended her figure, but Luis smoothly continues his torque/pivot, leading her to pivot another 90 degrees on her weighted left foot, until his forward step on 0:50 starts the Va y Ven. 

So, from the start of the Ocho Cortado at 0:48, they’ve turned 270 degrees, with Luis’ fluid torsion and two-foot pivot driving the turn:  180 degrees up to the end of the Ocho Cortado, and another 90 degrees until the first step of the next figure.

3) 0:50-0:51 Luis leads a Circular Va y Ven, turning yet another 180 degrees, completing  the circle to return the couple in the direction in which they had walked a few seconds before.

Adapting the sequence for dancing in a milonga:

Though you won’t want to do this great a directional change in a milonga, because it would send you against the line of dance, you could pivot during the Ocho Cortado to whatever degree YOU need to smoothly and fluidly change direction.  Or go ahead and turn 270 degrees from the woman’s first left step of the Ocho Cortado just like Luis and Alicia do . . . and then make your circular Va y Ven only 90 degrees, as the video shows Luis facing in the middle of 0:51 (a split second). There, when he changes weight to his left, had he been in a milonga, he could have remained facing in that direction and walked straight ahead.

* * * * * *

My next post will analyze a 7-second segment of the same video for our tangueras.

Was this analysis of this 4-second segment helpful to you?  Please comment below!

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Happy New Year! A joyful milonga with steps to steal!


December 31, 2015

I hope that 2015 has been a fulfilling year for you, and that you have met or gotten closer to your most important goals.  I also hope that you have followed some surprising trajectories that led you to places, events, relationships, and accomplishments you'd never imagined before!  (I certainly have!)

Today I have a video performance of a joyful milonga for you. I'll bet it makes you smile!

The dancers are a tango couple I have always admired, even though they're not of the "Rose Vine Tango" (Villa Urquiza) style. In this video from about six years ago, Julio Balmaceda and Corina de la Rosa dance to the modern milonga "Morena" by Esteban Morgado.

Here's the video:

Notice the wonderfully free creativity to which they treat us, while they still express the traditional milonga that is so deep in their bones!  

Julio grew up with tango.  His parents were the legendary Miguel and Nely Balmaceda, who were important dancers and teachers in Buenos Aires until Miguel's death in 1991. Here are two examples of Miguel and Nely's dancing:

In the second video, notice all the ganchos!  (What became "Milonguero Style", with close embrace and small steps, was only practiced in the city center's crowded milongas.)

But it is told that Miguel and Nely did not allow their students to do any figures for the first two years of study.  Only walking.  I have read that the famous Susana Miller, who coined the name "Milonguero Style" in the 1990's and, together with her then partner Cacho Dante, popularized it abroad, had been a student at the Balmaceda practica. 

Though Julio and Corina's milonga performance in this video is choreographed, or at least partially choreographed, I feel the freshness in it.  (I confess that I'd rather be watching this couple improvise this milonga, and skip the choreography.  Still, I think there are some gems in here.)

If you love milonga, and you lead, I'll bet there are a few steps you can steal from this performance, even if you dance traditionally.
How about practicing one or two of these and adding them to your milonga repertoire?  (For your convenience, I'm posting the video again, right above my list of segments.)

1) 0:18-0:25  Syncopated walk with pauses - only if you have lots of room to walk. I'd say this is an advanced lead, which I'd recommend if your partner is a confident tanguera.

2) 0:28-0:32  Syncopated backward walk (man) in a circle.  I'd make the circle tighter for the dance floor.

3a) 0:52-0:56  Just a syncopated giro, with the woman's molinete.  Followed by . . .

3b) 0:57-1:01  Tight giro with almost all woman's tiny side steps, man's small turning forward steps. Julio walks around Corina, keeping her the center.

4) 1:02-1:04 Small cambio de frente, followed by . . .
1:04-1:11 Julio plays with a crossed system walk in simple time (a few syncopated embellishments without weight changes), changing sides of partner back and forth. At 1:11 he syncopates to change to parallel system.

(Next, we have about 30 seconds with some movements too flashy for the milonga dance floor, though you can probably pick out some things you can use.)

5) 1:35-1:39  Another syncopated giro. (Similar to 3a.)

6) Finally, 1:40-1:48  How would you describe these very cool steps?  "Va y venes" and "reverse va y venes" (right and left) with a "cadencia" (body sway)?  I love this sequence for milonga!  So does the audience.

Notice that only #1 and #4 require space to walk.  The other examples can be easily adapted for a somewhat crowded dance floor.  Just pick one or two and work on them.

Have fun with these!

I wish you health, happiness, prosperity, and many great tandas in the new year!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Farewell to a beloved tango singer

December 14, 2015

A few days ago, we said "adios" to a tango legend.  I'm sure you know his voice very well!  Alberto Podestá, who died Thursday at the age of 91, first became famous for singing and recording with the orchestras of Migel Caló and Carlos di Sarli.  (There's a great story about how he was recruited by Di Sarli's agent in a brief memoir, translated to English HERE.  He was very young!) 

Surely you've danced in milongas many times to the voice of Podestá. 
In homage to the great singer, here are some examples which I think you'll recognize, and to which I hope you'll enjoy listening:

With Miguel 
Caló's orchestra (from the album "Yo Soy el Tango"):
- "Pedacito de Cielo"  (vals)

With Carlos di Sarli's orchestra (from the album "Los Primeros Exitos, volume 2"):
- "Nada" (probably Podestá's most famous song in recordings and live concerts, including this recent one, when he was 90 years old! I saw him perform a year earlier at Salon Canning in Buenos Aires, and felt so fortunate. It was a great surprise to me that he was the guest artist that night. The place was packed solid, mostly with young people.  His "Nada" brought me to tears!)
- "Al Compás del Corazón" (quite different from the Caló/Beron version!)

"Nada" and "La Capilla Blanca" - links above - both by DiSarli with Podestá, are two of 16 tangos we study in depth in "Tango Musicality Mojo".  Today, in homage to Podestá, I'll give you a gift straight from that program:  

Please enjoy comparing the different couples' interpretation of this tango!

For you tango music apasionados, I'll mention that after Di Sarli, 
Podestá sang for the orchestra Pedro Laurenz.  You'd recognize Podestá's voice in Laurenz' "Garúa" and "Recien", because you dance to them in milongas!  And then he sang with Francini-Pontier, a later orchestra formed by two of Caló's musicians, with whom, over the years,  Podestá  became great friends.

I hope you will easily recognize his voice now when you hear it in milongas, and think of him with appreciation, as I and millions of other fans do!

* * * * *

For all of his 74-year-long career, Podestá was a great interpreter of tangos.

We tango dancers also interpret tangos night after night in milongas.  But, unlike 
Podestá, most of us didn't grow up listening to tango.

t whatever level you dance, you're doing your best to interpret the music, and maybe you bring to it "a good musical sense".  But if you're like many of my readers, sometimes you feel like you're "winging it".  Or like others, you sometimes feel like you're trying to make sense out of chaos.

I'd like you to acquire a mastery of interpreting tango music, whether you're an advanced tango dancer or an advanced beginner, and particularly if you're not a musician.  

So as part of my homage to Alberto Podestá', I'd like to invite you to join our musicality program, "Tango Musicality Mojo", and learn my "7 Building Blocks of Tango Musicality", so you'll have clarity and confidence about exactly what you're hearing as you dance.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A good debate about tango floorcraft!

Last week I posted a tanguero's question to my Facebook page, and invited him and about a dozen others to engage in a discussion about it.  It turned into an interesting debate!

The entire discussion follows.  It goes to an inside page of this blog, because it's long.  But I think it's worth reading all the way through.  I've used only the participants' initials.

Now I invite you to read the discussion and add your thoughts in the comments area below!

* * * * *

Helaine:  This just came in from DP in Texas.
"I'm curious about [your words] "respects line of dance".  Let's say there's a traffic jam ahead - through no fault of mine - with a big space behind me because the trailing couple has that jammed up. Is it not acceptable to use that space so long as you don't impact the trailing couple?"

RC -  I would not use the space behind me. Tango in the U.S. already suffers enough from so many leaders not following codes and rules. Why make it even more difficult?

DP - How does using that space make things more difficult, aside from, perhaps, giving inconsiderate, unskilled, or unobservant dancers a bad idea?

RC - Others would see it. And start using the space behind them more is my assumption. Just keeping an actual line of dance seems to be an insurmountable task for most leaders I see.

OB - Dance in your space and wait until trafic start up again... But keep dancing do not stop!

AW - I try watch 2 couples ahead because I dance as I drive a car, sparingly on the brakes and no sudden jerks or changes of direction.

MP - rock step, rock step, rock step. ocho,ocho,ocho, etc. do not reverse

RB - I'm not sure what's "acceptable" in B.A. or elsewhere but I'd stay where I was and maybe take a small back step as part of something else. I wouldn't move back into the space behind me though to dance. However, I've seen experienced (and good) dancers . . .

Then come back and leave your comments below.  (A link at the bottom of the full article brings you right back here.)

* * * * *
In the next few days I'll be inviting you to a free training about how to dance without stress in crowded milongas! If you're not already receiving emails from me, and you'd like to attend the free training (online), just email, and my assistant will tell you how you can attend.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Osvaldo joins the tango angels

Last Friday, a very special tanguero left us after a period of illness.  Osvaldo Cartery, who danced with his wife Coca, was nicknamed "pies de miel" - "honey feet".  Watch the two videos below to see why.  Osvaldo and Coca were not stage stars, but rather as simple milongueros they became famous.  They won the 2004 Argentine world championship for Tango Salon. For years they have been beloved performers in many of the milongas of Buenos Aires.

I'm truly saddened by his passing and will miss seeing him with Coca as guests in my favorite milongas. 
They were such a precious couple, as you can see in video interviews with them on Youtube. But I'm grateful their tango together will live on in the many videos like these two.  Enjoy them!

- What is it that you like about their dancing?  - What can you learn from them to enhance your own dancing?
- Why do you think that many consider Osvaldo an outstanding dancer?

I'd love to hear what you think.  Please comment below!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

My "comeback" and a short tango film for your weekend enjoyment!

Buon Ferragosto to our Italian Tango Mojo friends!

It's been many months since I've posted to my blog.  As you may know, I've recently recovered from a knee injury that kept me off the dance floor for almost a year!  And not dancing, although I watched videos and listened to tango music often, I felt a distance from my beloved tango and had little to say to you about the experience of dancing.  That surely influenced my focus this year on musicality!

In June, after about 10 sessions of excellent physical therapy (Muscle Activation Technique with Jason Weitzner), my knee was strong enough that I could confidently attend Sun King Dance Camps' week-long adult ballet intensive in Richmond, VA.  Seven days of class, seven hours a day, 
it was a rigorous program with a very holistic approach.  I had the humble honor of being at the bottom of the beginners' class. But each of my three instructors told me that they were witnessing a transformation in me. In fact, by my second day there, any doubts I may have carried from childhood about myself as a dancer were smashed . . . talk about empowerment!  (I highly recommend the Sun King programs and their faculty.)  My ballet studies will continue, and I'll certainly return to future Sun King sessions.  I'm staying connected to the experience by practicing at home my instructor Scott Putman's "Elemental Body Alignment System (EBAS)".  

Marco Spaziani (with Fernanda Cerone)
Now I'm gearing up for a two weeks of intensive dancing, teaching, and video production with my former teaching partner from Rome, Italy, Marco "El Duende" Spaziani. Marco arrives in Florida on August 23. We've been tango friends for 20 years, and Marco often taught with me in my big tango school in Perugia, UmbriaTango. Marco's dancing is a hybrid between Tango Salon and Milonguero Style. He's been dancing in milongas in Italy, Europe and Buenos Aires for 25 years, and is a wizard at dancing freely and creatively in tight spaces!  If you live in South Florida and would like to know about our workshops or about private lessons, email your questions to (Tango Ladies, Marco is a dream to dance with!)

After Marco leaves on September 10, I'll be heading west for several months to work daily with a potential tango partner to see what we can develop! It's premature to predict what will happen, because our styles and backgrounds are so different - not what I would have expected.  Yet something makes us both believe that we've got good potential for dancing together.

To celebrate my "comeback" to the tango dance floor, here's a short, new tango film that inspires me.  It was just released by 
Elina Roldana milonguera whom I admire.  Elina was once a guest in my home in Italy for a summer weekend back in 2001, and she performed at my milonga that Saturday night with Diego Riemer, "El Pajaro", our invited workshop instructor.  Aside from enjoying their tango, I was struck that weekend by what fine people both Elina and Diego were, and I've held each of them in high regard ever since.

"Mi Tango Nació en Sarandi" (My tango was born in Sarandi - a neighborhood of Buenos Aires) tells a part of Elina's personal tango story:

It's 24 minutes long, and has English subtitles.  I found it intriguing, and hope you will too.

Please post your comments below, and h
ave a beautiful weekend!