Archive for the ‘Alberto Paz’ Tag

“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.

Posted January 26, 2012 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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The proof is in the pudding   Leave a comment

The proof is in the pudding

The concept of structure in tango sometimes is met with a certain skepticism, if not downright cynicism when it comes to assume responsibilities and conform to a fundamentals codes that go are rooted in the very essence of the Argentine tango culture and tradition. Generally the excuses fall under the umbrella of freedom of expression. In some cultures it is fashionable to show aversion to authority figures. Teachers and their concepts of structure may be framed as the works of the tango police. After all, the battle cry is “We are not in Buenos Aires.” You might find them everywhere, recklessly using empty geometry, crude acrobatics, and clueless attitudes that endanger those who are trying to mind their own business on the dance floor.

Their ignorance of a culture and values that are part of a rich tradition makes some people an eyesore on every dance floor they choose as their playground. It is only through education and proper learning that one can avoid becoming a clueless dancer, and instead set the standard of excellence for others to follow.

Tango dancing is a dance of people showing their pride in the way they dance by respecting each other, the music, the dance floor, and the rest of the dancers. The fact that the man is responsible for dancing around the floor makes him more accountable for the behavior of the couple on the dance floor.

The role of the woman includes elements that contribute to the safe circulation of the couple around the floor. One is the judicious use of the code of the tango; another is the correct way to let her legs follow her body as her body is carried in her partner’s embrace. We can’t put enough emphasis on the fact that dancing around the man is what produces the look of legs being crossed, as seen from the point of view of the man.

In reality, the woman legs are moving forward or backward on a circular trajectory around the center axis provided by the man. Her upper torso is always turned in the direction of her partner to maintain connection with his upper torso. The effect, from where the man stands, is that in between lateral openings, one of the woman’s legs is alternatively crossed inside the couple (between them) or crossed outside the couple (away from him).

However, the responsibility of circulating around the floor without causing harm falls directly into the man. Polite and civilized behavior on the dance floor is to be expected from everyone who claims to be a good tango dancer. It’s not how many steps you can do but how many you can do without infringing on the right of the rest of the dancers to enjoy their time without risking injuries and abuse. The purpose of learning to dance the tango is not to collect steps to impress the foolish but to learn the rules and codes of conduct that are faithfully followed by seasoned dancers around the world.

To that extent, in this session we decided to test the ability of our dancers to go around the floor respecting the line of dance while using three simple sequences we have worked on in weeks past.

Observe how the simple salida to cruzada is used to get onto the line of dance.

If you use the Pause button on the video at 0:44 you will be able to see why the woman finishes the salida with her left foot crossed in front of her right foot. As the man opens to his left in order to free his right leg to step forward on the right of the woman, their body positions change with the dancers being relatively to the right of each other. Were the man to stop, the woman would continue dancing around him to his left as this is her purpose during the dance, to dance around the man. When he steps with his right foot he doesn’t allow her to dance around him to his left, so she walks straight back with her outside leg, stepping with her left foot.

Again, were the man to stop, the woman would continue dancing around him to his left as this is her purpose during the dance, to dance around the man. But the man continues to advance so the woman can use her inside leg, the right, to step back on a diagonal continuing her intention to go to the left of the man to dance around him. If the man chooses to call for a “cruzada” he will match her diagonal by stepping forward with his left foot and stopping his forward motion. As the man stops, the woman for the first time has a clear path to the man’s left but since her body was going back the only way she can position herself on the left of the man is by crossing her left foot over her right foot without turning her hips. It’s important to understand that the trajectory of the man is a straight line while the woman’s trajectory is a diagonal in the following her shoulder line.

The illusion of walking back on a diagonal is what creates the need to cross. The man calls for a cruzada on his forward step with his left foot going opening forward to his left on a slight diagonal, stopping, and gentle bringing his right elbow straight in front of him. It is extremely important that the woman embrace properly so her body is guided in the embrace as the man’s elbow extends forward. As a corollary, if the man wishes not to call a “cruzada” he will step straight into her body with his left foot closing the space for her left foot and taking it to his right as in a resolution or base.

Changes of direction using the forward step for the woman (forward ochos) allow the couple to turn in place and end the combination with variations of the resolution. Using the shape of the dance floor, the ochos and the resolution allows the man to steer the couple so the repetition of the three sequences keeps them progressing along the line of dance.

References, Gotta Tango by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart

The Media Vuelta   Leave a comment

The media vuelta

During the learning process, certain patterns and figures become so internalized by sheer repetition, that body memory inhibits the ability of dancers to improvise with creativity out of many situations created by the presence of other dancers and their own trajectories around the dance floor.What should be used as a base from where to build a variety of movements becomes “the basic” and it limits the possibilities of flowing around the dance floor in a seemingly continuous pattern that includes the three fundamental body displacements (forward, backwards and laterally) connected with rotations of the bodies over the support axis.

A working understanding of floor navigation and the dynamic interplay of the body positioning, create plenty of opportunities to enjoy a tango, any tango, with any given partner, and with floor conditions in effect at the time that you step on to the dance floor. Remembering that the intention of the woman is to always want to dance going around the man, while the man dances around the floor.

We have learned before that as soon as the man stops, the woman begins to dance on a circular trajectory around him. She does so applying another fundamental rule of the structure of the tango, the code of the tango.

The code is a sequence designed to allow the woman to surround the man while dancing. There are instances in which the man will make use of elements of the code to complement the motion of the woman and to create complex patterns. But for the purpose of defining roles, the code is primarily a mantra for the woman that ensures a predictable way to dance to the right or left side of the man. All dancers, regardless of gender, must understand the code, be proficient in its execution, and use it according to their roles.

In typical fashion, the man will indicate the trajectory of the woman and mark the inside and outside crosses as he sends her around him. The woman will walk around the man, observing the progressive sequence of her legs to execute the code. The code is activated as soon as the woman moves a second step in the same direction (that is, either to the right or to the left of the man). The resulting trajectory looks different depending on whether the man is stationary in one position or moving forward or backward.

The definition of the code, however, is the same in all cases: Alternate inside front and outside back crosses linked by openings. In short hand, forward, side , back.

The opening leg is always the one favoring or leading into the direction of the movement. The crossing leg is the one opposite the direction of the movement. Simply put, when the woman moves into the left side of the man (her right), she opens with her right leg and crosses with her left leg. When the woman moves into the right side of the man (her left), she opens with her left leg and crosses with her right leg.

The term media vuelta is commonly used to describe a 180 degrees body turn north to south for example, if we call north the direction in which the body is facing before the execution of a media vuelta. Visually, a media vuelta is a body rotation over open legs, that is, after the legs open in a forward direction for example, the body turns in the opposite direction of the leading leg.

The classic media vuelta for the man is to his left, and it begins at the second step of the salida (15″). The man extends his right leg without weight change marking the a back step for the woman. This sometimes is called a fake step or an amague that provokes an impulse for the woman who passes to his left side on her second (diagonal) back step. The man begins transferring his weight forward as he begins to rotate left on the ball of his feet. This marks a forward step for the woman. The left foot remains on the ground, firmly pushing down with the metatarsus. At this point, the body is supported by both legs. The upper torso continues to rotate left as both legs elongate to keep the heels off the ground. Most of the man’s weight is now on the right metatarsus. That serves as the initial rotating axis. The woman brings her eight to her left leg and turns on axis to face the man. At the end of the turn, their bodies are facing opposite to where they started.

At the end of the media vuelta the man takes a back step with his left marking the woman a forward step with her right on his right. The video clip shows various ways to return to the line of dance, and some improvisation using the media vuelta as a theme.

Posted September 12, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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Turning is something else   Leave a comment

Turning is something else

In 1889 Mark Twain wrote in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: “she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one way to skin a cat”, that is, more than one way to get what she wanted. This proverb, which suggests there are always several ways to do something, applies to the ways we teach people how to dance tango. Argentine tango is not just another social dance. It cannot be learned in one evening or a series of one evenings. It cannot be faked on the dance floor. You either know how to dance it or you don’t. Its historical and cultural context makes an intriguing and rich counterpoint in the learning process. Its music and poetry, in the form of lyrics, are unique and powerful. No other music sounds like this, and no other dance looks like the Argentine tango. Anything else is a version of choreographed ballroom lead and follow dancing. Some call it empty geometry, organized chaos, or a zipless tango.

Our success in developing good social tango dancers relies in the belief when you listen, hear, and process what we say in class and what we wrote in our book Gotta Tango, you learn the same way you have learned many other things that require coordination and knowing what you are doing. You probably forgot how you learned to use the gas and brake pedals in your car, but you go around in your car every day without having to call somebody every time you get in your car to asking him or her to show you “one more time how and when to move the feet in order to stop and go.”

During the new session started on the first week of August, we have been working with one of the rules that are embedded in the structure of the dance. The idea of taking two steps and doing something else. The two steps in question are either both forward or back, one with each leg. Something else so far has been crossing the feet, closing the feet, or opening the feet.

In this lesson we show that after taking two forward steps, one with each leg, something else is taking two back steps, one with each leg. This leads to another rule that is embedded in the structure of the dance. The woman dances around the man, while the man dances around the floor. As soon as the man stops, the woman goes around the man. She goes around by virtue of taking two forward steps one, with each leg, two back steps, one with each leg. If nothing changes, she would continue walking endlessly around the man like a windmill. Every time she takes a back step after the two forward steps, she is doing a change of front or cambio de frente. That is she turns herself around as she continues to advance in the same direction. As she does that on a curved trajectory around the man, the figure sometimes is called a media luna.

Observe at the 9″ mark that after starting with a simple salida, the woman takes two forward steps, one with the leg inside or closer to the man, and another with the outside leg or farther from the man. To mark and match her movement, the man takes two back steps, one with the outside leg, farther from her, and another on a diagonal, turning to her, with the inside leg or closer to her.

At the 14″ mark, the man brings his feet together (something else) while the woman takes a back step with the outside leg (something else) to the left side of the man. The man changes weight in place while she takes her second back step inside. As a result of the man staying in the same place, the woman’s second step is a wide back diagonal that places her body back on the right side of the man, at the same exact body alignment as the beginning of the sequence.

At 15″ initial two step sequence repeats, and at 19″ the man does something else, he interrupts the turn, he rocks back to his left foot, marking a similar rocking step for the woman to her right foot. The man closes right to left while the woman crosses left over right. This is a back alley Sally to get back to the cruzada position. The sequence resolves to the resolution.

The rest of the clip shows us dancing from various angles the linked sequences, salida simple to cruzada, media luna, turn with interruption, cruzada, resolution.

There is a very comprehensive Glossary at the end of our book, and you can have a look HERE.

One step at a time   Leave a comment

One step at a time

Over the years we have learned that so called fundamentals are often and wrongly associated with the things people have to do during the first couple of tango lessons. For Argentine tango dancers, fundamentals mean posture, balance, and coordination. They include, foot placement, leg elongation, and upper and lower body dissociation. The goal is to being always on axis, and dance by changing axis with precise and clear weight changes. These skills can only be acquired by not using the feet for dancing but to provide the proper support to the moving body. Only then, tango improvisation is possible. Make sure you understand that, otherwise we won’t be able to help you.

We don’t learn fundamentals today and discard them tomorrow. It bears repeating, accomplished musicians do scales. Accomplished athletes do drills. Accomplished ballet dancers do daily classes at the barre. Accomplished artists draw every day. Accomplished writers write every day. This is how we use our fundamentals. They are the tools that we use every day as tango dancers. The more experienced we become, the more our fundamentals will look so spectacular that they will not be recognized as such by the untrained eye.

After a year and a half hiatus, we have resumed teaching weekly classes in New Orleans. We will be loosely following the teachings we have left for posterity in our best selling book and DVD Gotta Tango. The concept is relatively simple, and the proposal fair. First you must get tango fit, then master technique, then approach a partner.

Here is a snapshot of the Warm Up, Fitness and Technique segment of our class led by Valorie Hart. Valorie has had the extraordinary fortune of having being drilled on fitness and technique by the likes of Graciela Gonzalez and Esther Pugliese in the early years of our partnership.

Valorie Hart leads the Warm Up, Fitness and Technique session

We had a variety of dancing experiences ranging from none to a few years. That is always a challenge, but our experience has taught us that those who apply themselves to take instruction, to understand a concept, and to challenge their bodies to execute, blur the typical lines that segregates people into arbitrary levels. We have a lot of experience handling situations like that. So for purposes of give people a way to progress at their own pace, we present a particular topic in a progressive manner.

ROOKIE

We begin with a simple three step walk with a rocking step to change direction, followed by two steps and another change of direction that ends on a cruzada (the position where the woman brings her left foot next to her right foot but on the outside of it). From the Home position (man on his right axis and the woman on her left axis),

1M. The man advances with his left leg on a slight diagonal to his left.
1W. The woman steps back diagonally with her left.

2M. The man continues with his right leg on a slight diagonal to his right as he begins to turn his upper body to his right.
2W. The woman steps back diagonally with her right allowing to begin turning to her right.

3M. The man steps forward with his left leg finishing the turning to his right, stopping with his weight on his left foot.
3W. The woman steps back with her right leg and allows to be stop with her weight on her right foot.

4M. The man rocks back into his right leg.
4W. The woman rocks forward into her left leg.

5M. The man takes a back step with his left leg bringing the woman to his right.
5W. The woman steps forward with her right leg into the right side of the man.

6M. The man steps back diagonally with his right leg turning his upper body to his right and stopping with weight on his right foot.
6W. The woman step forward with her left leg allowing her body to turn to her right and stopping with weight on her left foot.

7M. The man rocks back into his left leg and brings the right foot next to his left foot changing weight to the right foot.
7W. The woman rocks back into her right leg and turns her hip to her left sliding her left foot in front of her right foot changing weight to her right foot.

This is similar to the initial Home position except that the woman’s left foot is on the outside of her right foot. Otherwise it is similar to the Home position.

INTERMEDIATE

The previous sequence follows a salida simple replacing the typical tango close or resolution. So begin a salida simple and proceed to execute the walk with double change of direction back to cruzada, repeat the walk a couple odf times before ending with a resolution.

EXPERIENCED

We challenge the most experienced dancers by adding an elegant ending to the previous sequences. To review, the man starts a salida simple with his body facing the outer edge of the dance floor so his left arm, extended points to the imaginary line of dance. At the end of the salida (cruzada position) the man initiates a walk with double change of direction. After he takes first back step with his left leg, he begins to turn to his right with a short back step with his right while guiding the woman to take her second step to his right. As the man continues to turn to his right, he sends the woman into a back step with her outside right leg. He steps forward with left leg into the right side of the woman following her right foot. This position is equivalent to the first step of a simple salida. Finish the salida to a cruzada, and resolve with a tango close.

It is important for both men and women to “see” the trajectory that their bodies follow much in the same way you know how to get the store using one of your favorite routes. We want you to get there, not to get lost trying to remember the sequence required to turn or to step on the gas. If you avoid looking at the floor and don’t insist on memorizing the “steps,” not only you will soon be enjoying your new skills, but you’ll be the kind of dancer who can really benefit from our book and DVD Gotta Tango.
Enjoy your practice and dance more tango.

Next window, please   Leave a comment

Next window, please

If you or people you know are looking to experience the DRAMA. The PASSION. The LOVE. The HATE!

If you are hot to learn the best INTENSE FACIAL EXPRESSIONS to wear while you FLING and SPIN!

If you want the dance floor to CLEAR for YOU, yes YOU, so you will be the ONLY ONE THERE, the STAR of the show!

If you want onlookers to narrow their eyes, sneer and scoff because they are JEALOUS of your cool tricks and flicks!

Sorry, next window please…

To say that we are excited with the way the Thursday Argentine tango sessions are shaping up, would be a major understatement. Really. Can’t tell if the moon is in the seventh house and Mercury aligns with Mars, but it really feels like 2001 again…

Fundamentals are not something we learn today and then discard tomorrow. Accomplished  musicians do scales. Accomplished athletes do drills. Accomplished ballet  dancers do daily classes at the barre. Accomplished artists draw every day.  Accomplished writers write every day. This is how we use our fundamentals.  They are the tools that we use every day as tango dancers. The more experienced we become, the more our fundamentals will look so spectacular that they will not be recognized as such by the untrained eye.

Our classes will be 2 hours long. Every week we will begin with a Warm up, Fitness and Technique period led by Valorie with me assisting. Then, we’ll introduce a particular aspect of technique which will be pertinent to the topic chosen for the evening’s lesson.

Tango is the ultimate touch dance between a man and a woman. It is a safe form for experiencing human connection three minutes at a time. It is an exercise in mutual respect and consideration for both partners as they both embark on a journey that requires full participation and cooperation from both ends of the partnership. No partner needed. Multiple lesson pass don’t expire unless we do first.

ARGENTINE TANGO
with Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart
Lelia Haller Dance Arts
4916 Canal St., New Orleans, LA

STARTS THIS THURSDAY, AUGUST 4, 2011

8 pm – 10 pm

$15 per person, $25 per pair.
5 lesson pass $50 per person, $90 per pair

For more information, 504.535.3614, or email, planet.tango@gmail.com

Buy our book from us, please   Leave a comment

A recent life altering event have gotten me to think about the way being immersed in the tango sometimes means to be disconnected with reality. It’s like one lives and operates in a different dimension often times trapped in a vortex where values are distorted.

One thing I don’t understand is why we have been so shy about ringing the bells, beating the drums, and blowing the horns about our book GOTTA TANGO (the publisher’s cheesy choice of cover photo has a lot to do with it). We gave up fighting them and ended up getting them to print a special edition with our choice of cover, and we get to sell the special edition out of our website and suitcases.

The book is without a doubt the ultimate reference in the state of the art in tango dancing. Not a single word of confessional or high school confidential nature can be found in page after page of honest historical references and time honored solid technical concepts about the structure of the dance.

So please, buy our book from us. The few extra dollars you’ll pay for getting the book signed by us with our mug shot on the cover will go a long way to help us retire the humongous medical expenses we incurred in Canada.

In the world of Argentine tango, sometimes it seems that there are more social dance teachers than students and dancers. The odds for a new woman showing up at a tango dance party and being given express tango lessons right on the floor are very high. The attraction that some people have to teaching cannot be denied.

How does one become a teacher of Argentine tango? There are no college or university courses. There are no officially sanctioned programs. There is no official or sanctioned certification. Several enterprises exist claiming exclusive training methods and delivering official looking certifications for a fee. At times the process of becoming a teacher seems like a free-for-all with no standards. Yet, we know when a good teacher leaves a lasting impression in our lives. For now, common sense and integrity must rule.

If you are a good communicator, if you have a comprehensive understanding of the structure of the dance, if you have a complete knowledge of the music, if you have knowledge and respect for the Argentine culture and knowledge of the history and environment that formed the dance, if you have solid skills as a dancer, and if you have the time to dedicate to teaching, then perhaps teaching is for you.

Acquiring all these skills is a process that you will have to undertake on your own. Business skills come into play too. Classes need to have a dollar value put on them. Studio space must be found and paid for. Advertising for classes needs to happen. Don’t underestimate or overlook the value this book has for the aspiring teacher as well.

Of course there is a high standard for dancing Argentine tango. While it is a dance of the people and for the people, it has a level of difficulty that must be reckoned with. There is a structure of the dance from whence improvisation is created. There is a learning curve and a developmental curve that comes from putting in hours that lead to weeks that lead to years of taking classes and dancing socially. Even the uninitiated eye of a newcomer can look at a room full of tango dancers and see various levels of ability. Most important is that those who dance Argentine tango hold themselves to their own standards of excellence. The judgment of self is the most rigorous!

This go-around of the Argentine tango is still new. For the first time in the history of the tango, more people outside of Argentina than inside of Argentina are dancing the tango. Those who are not natives of Argentina are evolving and taking small steps that deal with a culture that is not their own, trying to make it a meaningful experience. Regardless of nationality, the tango lifestyle requires great effort and commitment. It is difficult to learn to dance, to learn the music, and to socialize. Be aware of opportunists who, while outwardly banging the drum for the Argentine dancers, devise ways to remove most things Argentine, the essence that once nourished them.

Inside Argentina the evolution is taking place as older dancers pass on and the younger dancers try to revamp the dance to make it their own. The poignant hug of an older milonguero can be appreciated as much as the forceful dance of the younger dancer. All these tender feelings will sort themselves out, and perhaps there will come a day when dancers of Argentine tango will have a mature confidence that might allow the dance to become an Olympic sport or maybe just a friendly contest in a neighborhood milonga that nets the winner a bottle of champagne and bragging rights.

With evolution will come preservation of the Argentine tango (music, culture, poetry, and dance) that has been formed over the last hundred years. Today there are living witnesses of a tango covenant that has bonded generations of men and women in the mission of preserving what we love; seeing to its preservation when we are gone; and exposing all attempts to distort it, exploit it, and destroy it.

The ones who started this current cycle of the tango in the 1980s had a heartfelt mission to foster and preserve the Argentine tango. Now, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, some are becoming dinosaurs or simply dying out. We will not live long enough to see the rose planted firmly again in alternative teeth. The tango seems to need to die only to be reborn. We and many of our friends, associates, and disciples work hard to make sure that when someone wants to see the relics of the Argentine tango, our archives will be intact, and someone much like us will once again see the beauty and excitement of it and make it live. It could be you. . . so buy our book from us, please.

Excerpts used in this post courtesy of GOTTA TANGO by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart

Posted December 15, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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