Milonga traspie I   Leave a comment

Milonga traspie I
The way the man holds the woman to dance the milonga is different from tango since it is important that instant weight changes be transmitted directly to the woman’s feet. It is suggested that the man’s right hand is placed just above the woman’s waistline and on the right side of her hips. The dance demands more attention to the music, to the rhythm, and to the traffic on the dance floor. It also has a higher cardiovascular value than the tango, since none of the nuances encountered in tango dancing, like pauses, paradas, or OMG colgadas are part of the choreography of the milonga.There is no shortcut to dancing the milonga “hearing” the beat in your head as you dance. The only sure way is practice, practice, and practice. The easiest way to follow a beat is by tapping on the ground with the feet. We always begin a milonga workshop with an exercise that helps people recognize and reproduce the core sound of the beat of the milonga. We ask people to step by raising the knee to bring the foot off the ground, extending the leg and bringing the foot down hitting the ground firmly with the ball of the foot. Try this on your own,

  1. Rest your weight on your right leg, open your left leg short keeping your body from shifting sideways, and step on the floor with your left foot, then quickly raise and step in place with your right foot counting aloud ONE~AND. We’ll call this sequence QUICK~QUICK or if you prefer, STEP~AND. Repeat four times.
  2. Resting your weight on your right leg, open your left leg short keeping your body from shifting sideways, and step down with your left foot counting ONE. Step down in place with your right foot counting TWO. Let’s call this sequence SLOW~SLOW, or if you prefer ONE~TWO. Repeat four times.
  3. Now put the two sequences together stepping with your left foot, then your right foot (QUICK~QUICK ), followed by stepping with your left foot again, followed by stepping with your right foot (SLOW~SLOW). You should be hitting the ground four times but emphasizing three downbeats and one upbeat, ONE~AND~TWO~THREE.
  4. Repeat four times QUICK~QUICK~SLOW~SLOW counting aloud ONE~AND~TWO~THREE. Repeat again but this time say I~LOVE~CRAW~FISH. Do it as many times as you need until you are confident that you can transmit the words I WANT TO DANCE to the ground with the stomping of your feet.

Repeat the exercise changing axis to your left leg and stomping with the right foot first. It should be obvious that when the members of the couple get together and face each other, the man starts on his right axis, stomping to his left, while the woman stands on her left axis, stomping to her right. If you have the opportunity to practice with another person, work together to synchronize your movements while keeping time as explained above.

Half steps are one the signatures of the milonga dance. They add the staccatos, the double time stepping and the dynamic suspension of motion that matches the complexity of the music measure. They are also the main components of what is called milonga traspie, a style that uses quarter steps to emphasize the rhythm of slower milongas. In a quarter step the foot moves half the space of a half step.

The term “traspie” is a short form version of “pie detras” which literally means foot behind, and when applied to the dancing of tango and milonga it describes an action similar to skipping, or taking two steps with the same foot while the other foot is locked behind.
In tango dancing we use “traspie” to switch from parallel system to cross feet system or to syncopate stepping twice with the same foot.
In milonga traspie, we take the concept further by developing an entire different style of milonga dancing suitable to what it’s called “smooth” or “slow” milongas.

One of the main characteristics of milonga traspie is the use of a SLOW-QUICK-QUICK-SLOW or ONE-TWO and-THREE tempo to make four touches on the floor in the span of three pulses. Observe at 1:32 and count ONE when the man advances with his right foot and the woman steps back with her left foot, then count TWO-AND when they both rock to the side, and count THREE when they both close and change weight.

We hope you relived the experiences of the first milonga traspie workshop, or enjoyed it for the first time. Feel free to use the Comments section for questions and suggestions.

References, Gotta Milonga by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart, available soon

Posted July 4, 2012 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

Double ocho with two pivots   Leave a comment

Double ocho with two pivots

At the core of the classical dance are three traditional ways of changing the direction of the woman as she dances around the man. Each change of direction can take place at one of the three steps of the code of the tango: the inside forward cross (forward step), the lateral opening (side step), and the outside back cross (back step).

The characteristic of these traditional changes of direction is that the woman repeats the same step of the code she used to stop traveling in one direction in order to begin traveling in the opposite direction. For example, if she is dancing to the right of the man and stepping forward with an inside cross of her right leg, a change of her direction to the man’s left will have her pivoting clockwise on her right axis and stepping to the man’s left with a forward inside cross of her left leg. The resulting figure is what is commonly known as a forward ocho, because with a little imagination you can see a number 8 drawn on the floor by the fanning action of her legs. It takes one pivot to complete a forward ocho.

To dance a second forward ocho, or double ocho, the woman will pivot a second time, this time counterclockwise on her left axis, to begin the second forward ocho. She’ll step forward with an inside cross of her right leg, and change her direction to the man’s left with a third pivot, this time clockwise on her right axis, stepping to the man’s left with a forward inside cross of her left leg. It takes three pivots to dance two consecutive ochos.

The use of the phrase change of direction in the context of dancing tango refers to the trajectory that the woman follows as she dances around the man. Her intention must always be to dance around the man, either to his left side or to his right side. She must never “follow” by stepping back away from or stepping forward into the man. Changing directions while traveling along the dance floor creates a mesmerizing intertwining of legs, which is what everyone notices right away. In this lesson you will learn how to create another illusion of the tango with a clever and well-understood sleight of legs. A woman’s double ocho with only two pivots.

As with seasoned and smooth illusionists, to make a real impression with your sleight of legs, the set up, execution and ‘ta-da’ must have a good dose of entertainment and attention grabbing content.
The first minute of the video clip contains a review of concepts regarding the salida and crossed feet walking. At 1:05:00 we start with the setup. A salida in crossed feet system, walking three steps with the man stopping on his third step using the impulse to mark a diagonal fourth back step to the woman (1:12:00). This is what’s called a “parada.” Next the man sandwiches the woman’s right foot and passes over from her left side to her right to position themselves for the beginning of the first forward ocho (1:23:00) to the man’s right.

The first illusion occurs when the man locks his right shoulder to stop the woman before she completes her back step while touching her forward foot with his right foot as if he stopped her with his foot (1:14:00). To complete the forward ocho, the woman changes direction with a pivot clockwise (first pivot) and readies to step forward with her left to the left of the man. But…

As she advances her left foot, the man steps forward (1:32:00) having her land on his right side. As he pivots clockwise to open to his left, the woman steps forward a second time to the man’s right (1:37:00) beginning her second ocho without having had to pivot. The man receives her forward step in the open position, marks a change of direction, the woman pivots clockwise (second pivot) and finishes the double ocho having pivoted only twice. Ta-da!!

Hidden into the illusion there is another illusion created when the man walks forward as the woman is completing her first forward ocho. It appears that the woman has displaced the man effectively doing a “sacada (1:33:00).” The third illusion was to have relative new beginners learn how to do it by explaining the trick to them, force them to think, learn it, and explain it others, and then doing it themselves without being told about the “advanced” nature of the move.

References, Gotta Tango by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart

Posted April 8, 2012 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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It’s not a happy tango   Leave a comment


It’s not a happy tango

In the early days of our tango lives we often heard tales from the tango urban mythology about milonga dancing in the “old days” (a fit all phrase used by those who have no concrete evidence as to the real date when something is supposed to have happened). The one that stuck in our minds was the description of how one could tell that people were dancing milonga by the cloud of dust that could be seen from afar.

When we first saw milonga dancers in 1997, observing the use of half steps, and noticing how the knees were slightly raised bringing the foot up before stepping straight down onto the ground, we began to understand how a dust cloud could be produced by such a way to dance. To the early cliche of dancing tango the way a panther moves, we embraced the idea of dancing milonga with the spirited and brisk trot of a Clydesdale.

The milonga is a lively dance, but it is not a happy tango, as it was originally called in the US half way throughout the nineteen nineties. It is strictly an urban social dance companion to the tango without the stage baggage that accompanied the tango when it began to travel internationally. As a result of that, the popularity of the milonga seems to drop in inverse proportion to its distance from the dance halls of Buenos Aires. Most men fear the milonga while most ladies seem to love dancing it, and therein lay the conundrum of a dance that is almost a natural for “leaders and followers.”

With that in mind we occasionally offer milonga workshops, and we get good reviews from those who step up to the task. We just went through a very exhausting one and here is the summary.

The use of Half Step makes the choreography of the milonga challenging and attractive because they can adapt to the complexity of the rhythm in a seamless way.

A half step begins when the free foot is next, in front, behind, or to the side of the support foot, and it always ends with both feet together and a weight change, or change of axis.
To take a half step forward, starting with both feet together, you reach forward with one foot bringing the body to the new position putting weight on that foot. Then you move the other foot forward and bring it next to the support foot without any body movement, and change weight.
To take a half step backward, starting with both feet together, you reach back with one foot bringing the body to the new position putting weight on that foot. Then you move the other foot back and bring it next to the support foot without any body movement, and change weight.
When your feet are in an open position, you bring your feet together without any body movement, and change weight.
Half step sequences always use the same foot to advance, go back or to the side similar to the way we skip rather than how we run. A half step is generally counted as QUICK.

Half Step Sawtooth variation (0:11″)
The sequence begins on the second step of the Base, when the man steps outside right with his right foot, and the lady steps back with her left foot.
We elongate after taking the half step and then drop as the feet come together facilitating the axis or weight change and rotating to the right. Next the man takes a half step to his right into the lady’s left side. She matches by taking a half diagonal step to her left. There is elongation, drop and rotation with weight change, and the figure repeats until we exit continuing with the Base.

Full turn rocking step (0:29″)
From the cruzada position (the end of a salida simple) we rock back and forth using forward and back diagonals to make a full turn in eight counts. Observe how we take advantage of the rocking motion to add embellishments.

Double time ochos variation (0:57″)

The sequence starts from the cruzada and it modifies the resolution. After the expected forward and side, the man sends the woman into a back and matches her in a mirror position. He then begin a series of half steps led with his left foot while the woman does direction changes with her outside foot. Because of the the similarity with tango back ochos, in some unofficial jargon, sometimes the woman’s foot work is called “ochitos.”
The idea for the man is to avoid being robotic and geometric, and dancing around the woman instead to make her back steps less demanding.
At the end (1:11″) the man holds a half step, does an amague with his left and exits the sequence with second step of the salida.

Full giro with soltada (1:28″)
Once again from the cruzada position, we begin a giro to the right in cross feet. The man mirrors her first forward step with his right, as he begins an eight count circular forward step around the woman. On the woman’s fifth step, a repetition of her first forward step, the man “suelta” letting go her right arm as he continues stepping forward on hos fifth step.
Taking the mark, the woman converts her right hand giro forward steps into a left hand giro open step with her back to the man.
Next, she resumes her right hand giro by taking a back diagonal facing the man again. They’re take a forward step with their right leg for the third time, but this being count seven, the man does a check step provoking a change of direction for her. She responds by stepping with her left foot to the man’s left, recreating the cruzada position and resolving the traditional way.

At the end, there is an implied lesson, it’s better to stay away from the buffet line and spend more time on the dance floor doing milonga. Also, stop while you’re ahead before muscles and joints that had been long forgotten trigger an outburst of insanely happy feet.

Posted March 13, 2012 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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Pythagoras of Samos   Leave a comment

Mathematician and milonguero

Pythagoras made influential contributions to philosophy and religious teaching in the late 6th century BC. He was born on the island of Samos, and in his youth he traveled widely, visiting Egypt and other places seeking knowledge. Around 530 BC, he moved to Croton, a Greek colony in southern Italy, where he founded a religious tango sect. He was often revered as a great mathematician, mystic and scientist. But he is best remembered as a pre-Socratic milonguero who introduced a theorem to explain the inner workings of the giro with sacadas. The Pythagorean Theorem states that  in any right triangle the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the legs.

Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he died, so very little reliable information is known about him. His followers pursued the religious rites and practices he developed, and studied his philosophical theories. The society took an active role in the politics of Croton, but this eventually led to their downfall as competing schools with alternatives views on dancing styles led to the burning of the Pythagorean milongas, and Pythagoras was forced to flee the city. He is said to have ended his days in Metapontum as a taxi philosopher.

In our book Gotta Tango we applied the teachings of Pythagoras to explain the interaction of the dancers in an Eight Count Giro. (Reference: GOTTA TANGO book and DVD)
A giro is a turning motion executed by the couple stepping on the vertices of a triangle with one dancer standing on two vertices of a triangle while the other stands on the third vertice. In a giro, each dancer performs different functions. The woman uses the cambio de frente, or change of front, to move around the man. The man normally advances forward in a triangular pattern into the woman’s space.

A giro is a series of compound body positions in which the man initiates a movement and the woman continues the movement into the next position. Successful turning patterns require that the dancers change axis clearly, correctly, and timely to ensure the proper mix of balance and centrifugal force that is generated at the pivoting points. As is the case for every step of the dance, it is even more critical that the man learn how to mark every step of the giro according to the particular pattern he desires to execute. To recognize and respond flawlessly to the man’s marks, the woman must allow herself to be moved from position to position. She must execute smooth transfers of weight and develop an instinctive sense of balance. She must understand her body positions in relationship to the man at every point of the code.

The accompanying video clip shows the set up for an eight count giro. Typically the complete eight count begins from the woman’s cruzada position. She is standing on one vertice of the triangle. The man stands at another vertice with his right foot crossed behind his left foot. The unoccupied third vertice is where the first step of the woman will step as the giro begins. The general idea is that the man will extend his free foot, in this case his left, to the vertice where the woman is standing. She will extend her right to the unoccupied vertice. As the man shifts his weight forward, he displaces her shifting her weight to her forward left and leaves his initial vertice unoccupied. This is where she will go, repeating the process.

“Complicated” is in the eye of the onlooker   Leave a comment

“Complicated” is in the eye of the onlooker

Here is an example of taking an “easy” movement and making it look “complicated” by decorating or embellishing it with minor changes in foot placement and body alignment. The use of quote marks on easy and complicated is to emphasize the subjective approach many take when talking about tango dancing.

We’ll see that it is possible to teach and to learn tango using clear and objective concepts that can empower dancers to express  their personality, talent and creativity within the frame of a simply but powerful structure. A dancer can be extremely technical but devoid of any feelings, utterly passionate but short on technique, or anything in between.

The core structure of the tango is best exemplified by what is known as the Eight Count Giro, a turning sequence to the right or to the left where the man displaces the woman as they go around each other twice, first using the parallel system and then the cross feet system. The name comes from the fact that it takes eight foot movements that involve the entire sole of the foot receiving the entire weight of the body. In “simple” terms, eight steps with weight change.  (Reference: GOTTA TANGO book and DVD)

First we make a surprising and unexpected move during a salida cruzada to enter into the 6-7-8 steps of the Eight Count Giro to the left. Then we show a mirror image of the previous figure but entering into the 6-7-8 steps of the Eight Count Giro to the right. Finally we go downtown by linking the first combination that uses a decorated 6-7-8 to the left with the combination that uses a decorated 6-7-8 to the right.

The set up for the 6-7-8 is the woman’s outside cross or back step. Let’s look first at the decoration involving the 6-7-8 to the left. In this case, the point of entry is the second step of the salida for the woman. She takes a back step with her outside leg (right) to the left of the man (0:08″). The man steps and stops with his left outside her right foot instead of inside as in the standard 6-7-8 sequence. As the man stops, he creates an impulse for the woman who “falls” off her back step, opening diagonally into the left side of the man. That’s the modified, decorated “6-and” of the Eight Count Giro. After that,  it continues normally with the woman stepping forward with her left and the man opening forward with his right on “7.” Next the man changes the woman’s direction and she steps forward with her right while the man turns a half turn in place on “8.” The 6-7-8 of the Eight count giro to the left resolves with a back step of the man (step 5 of the Base) so we end the sequence by having the man bring his right foot together (0:12″), changing the woman’s direction to his left, and ending with a resolution.

To use the same idea with a 6-7-8 to the right, we change the woman’s direction after she takes the second step of the salida (0:16″) so she takes a back step with her right to the man’s right. The man steps and stops with his right outside her left foot instead of inside as in the standard 6-7-8 sequence. That is the modified, decorated “6-and” of the Eight Count Giro. We continue then with the woman stepping forward with her right and the man opening forward with his left on “7.” Next the man changes the woman’s direction and she steps forward with her left while the man brings his feet together on “8” (0:18″). The 6-7-8 of the Eight count giro to the right resolves with a forward step of the man to a resolution.

Finally, to transition from one sequence to the next skipping the resolution, we pick up the end of the 6-7-8 to the left (2:01″) when the man brings his feet together and the woman steps forward with her left leg.  The man turns to his left and provokes a lateral opening of the woman’s left leg. This is the beginning of the second sequence.

Enjoy the experience, and don’t discount the tremendous benefits of reading Gotta Tango to increase your understanding of the language of the structure of the tango.

Variations on a cool sequence   Leave a comment

Variations on a cool sequence

The combination we featured last time featured an unexpected back sacada in parallel system. The leg wrap for the man was followed by a woman’s boleo and another unexpected place where to ask the woman for a gancho.

In this lesson, we will use a different set up. We’ll start with a simple salida to the woman’s cruzada.
From the cruzada position, the man will indicate a forward motion for the woman by stepping back with his left foot.
As the woman begins to walk on the right of the man, she will be executing a change of front, or applying the code of the tango. That means that she will start her forward motion with her right foot followed by a forward step with her left foot. The man will match her second step with a short back diagonal which will convert her forward step on an opening.

The man will double step while sending the woman into her third step, an outside cross with her right foot.
At soon as she has both feet on the ground he will stop her motion, and place his right foot next to her left foot indicating a parada.
Next, he will begin to move to her right side by sandwiching her left foot and stepping back with his right foot.

At this point the woman will step over the man’s left foot and start a new change of front. The man will do the parallel system sacada on the woman’s lateral opening followed by a back sacada on the woman’s back step.

On the second part of the video clip, we choose to have the woman boleo right after the man’s back sacada, and proceed to a cruzada and resolution.

Posted November 7, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

Having fun showing off   Leave a comment

Having fun showing off

Pupi Castello was an inspiration and a mentor for many dancers who eventually got caught in the global explosion of the 1990’s that made the tango a universal magnet for people around the world. He is from an era when practically everybody had the ability to teach, but there were no teachers. Somebody would teach something, and someone would then teach something to someone else who knew less than he did and it was like sharing acquired knowledge. He passed away in 2006 after having influenced the way European dance in the early 1990’s and become a living legend in the dance halls of Buenos Aires. He left behind memories, anecdotes, and above all grateful friends and disciples who find his insane creativity as modern today as they were 15 years ago. He was generous to share some of his tricks with people he thought deserved to be given a step to take home with them.The combination we featured this week starts with an unexpected back sacada in parallel system! It is also a leg wrap for the man that leads to a woman’s boleo and another unexpected place where to ask the woman for a gancho.

The set up can be any variation that brings the woman from the cruzada position. You can start with a cross feet sacada when the woman steps forward from the cruzada, or you can choose to step back cross feet with your right leg when she advances with her right forward step. The idea is for the man to do a parallel system sacada on the woman’s lateral opening followed by a back sacada on the woman’s back step.

The sacada is one of tango’s compound moves where there is an action followed by a reaction (do not mistake this concept with ballroom “lead and follow”). As the person provoking the displacement makes a move to occupy the axis currently occupied by the other person, the displaced person goes to the other axis and reacts rotating on that axis.

That results into a change of direction using the back step, otherwise known as a back ocho. Here the man induces the woman into beginning another back ocho but as she begins to extend her right leg for another change of direction, the man changes his weight to his forward leg and quickly switches axis back to his right. This interrupts the woman’s transition to another back step and instead she changes direction embellishing with a leg flick (boleo) and steps forward with her right leg.

The man fakes a cross feet sacada by simply extending his right leg, stopping her from completing the forward step, and marking a back step. At the same time he puts weight on his right leg, flexes his knee to create a space where she can hook her leg as her back step is blocked.

In our case we chose to end the sequence with a forward ocho and a resolution.

Posted October 26, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango