Tag Archives: practicing

How are you feeling?

I am following Memoto, a project by Swedish entrepreneurs to develop a wearable camera that would take a picture every 30 seconds, then upload and organize all that, producing a visual log of your life.

Graphs and charts showing performance

Lifelogging example

In a guest blog post by Dave Asprey, an inveterate biohacker and lifelogger, he asserts in “5 Self-tracking tips” that, “how you are feeling is the most important data point to consider at the end of the day.”

This suggests a useful adjunct to Rebecca Brightly’s “The Dance Practice Blueprint” of a post-practice, post-practica, post-milonga practice: that of logging how you are feeling about what just transpired. Whether, post-event, you are elated or depressed (or some combination) by the proceedings, you could profitably ask yourself — and log the answers to — three questions:

1. How am I feeling about my dancing at this event?
2. What, specifically, of that is within my control?
3. What, specifically, can I do to have more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff?

Learning from web videos

So I downloaded my lesson from tangomeet.com (an online tango school
by Sebastian Arce y Mariana Montes), a 12 minute web video that presents and explains how to do an elegant, close embrace change of direction sequence. (In your browser extension store you can find ways to download varieties of formats from YouTube and elsewhere. Make a comment to this blog post if you’d like help with something. Fair use only! Observe copyrights.) The Chrome browser extension Vimeo Download Videos let me grab the material, and then in Windows Live Movie Maker I can quickly scan the whole thing, snip out the few brief bits I want to focus on, and then save it in a more compact format. What was 240 MB shrank to 8 MB!

The interesting thing I noticed in this process was that the key learning concept may boil down to a single element. For example, this was an elegant looking change of direction that can easily be done entirely in close embrace and which takes little space to do. I’ll describe the entire sequence and highlight the key concept.

From an ocho cortado, he steps around her to his right, causing her to make a tiny step forward and pivot on her front-crossed (L) foot. He steps backwards and around with left leg, leading her to uncross and step into him on his right, the closed side. This is #3 of the eight-count basic, but going backwards. Key concept: That step back uses inertia to step-pivot counter-clockwise the entire couple as a unit. Instead of dissociating, he moves as a unit, intending to immediately pivot his right side (and her) around to the left on stepping. He is leading her to pivot backwards as a unit. (Both keeping their thighs tight!) He finishes the pivot by bringing right leg back to close, while she does a molinete to end just left of him in perpendicular position. He gives her parada with left leg. She steps over, then pivots back to end square in front of him.

Not to minimize the importance of a good beginning and ending to a sequence that, like the punctuation of a sentence, give it a resolution. But they do tend to obscure key concepts that introduce a new movement and understanding of axes.

Por ejemplo, could this pivot also be done in the clockwise direction toward her? Well why not try it! Now suppose we continue our exercises by trying all possible combinations:

  • Direction of step: he stepping forward or he stepping backward
  • Direction of pivot: clockwise or counter-clockwise
  • Side of embrace: he on open side or he on closed side

Notice, too, that this is a cross-step pattern so far. That is, he back-crossed with her forward-crossed or vice-versa. Would these sorts of pivots be possible in an open-step? What does that do to the couple’s alignment if they step together and pivot? Does it help or hinder for him to step longer or shorter than her? What if he steps across her path after (or before!) she steps? Ah, that looks like a sacada.

This is the sort of exploratory play that I am wanting to do at practicas and in my home gym/dance space. In the past I haven’t much gone to practicas because they always seemed to work just like a milonga, with everybody “practicing” what they already know and do. I want to discover the things I don’t know, as well as structured couples practice to enhance the quality of things I do (or should) know.

If you find yourself with an opportunity to be in southwest Austin and want to explore Argentine tango, please get in touch. If we’re not friends yet, email to david at this website address can start the process.

Thanks!
  –David

Javier Rochwarger: A leading follower

I wrote about Daniela, a solo maestra who is an outstanding leader as well a follower, and who teaches both roles in detail for the utmost in style, elegance, and technique. And this past weekend Austin was treated to the opposite configuration of a solo maestro who is an outstanding follower as well as a leader: Javier Rochwarger.

Javier Rochwarger

Javier Rochwarger

In our first private lesson as a beginner a year ago, and reinforced every time I lead him, Javier did more for my understanding of what it really means to signal our intent to the follower, detect their readiness, and then move with confident clarity. Although Javier makes for a wonderfully comfortable, capable follower, who can and will do anything I can reasonably ask, he has an uncanny ability to remain immobile until he feels the lead intention.

What makes this technique so memorable and striking is how it in no way feels heavy, stiff, or difficult. David Turner’s book, A Passion For Tango, on page 33 has a good exercise for developing sensitivity both by follower to leader’s moment of intention, and by leader to follower’s moment of readiness to respond. Summarizing . . .

A couple stands holding hands, side-by-side. One of the two, as leader, will indicate (invite) a forward movement. The other teases by holding on as long as they want before committing to the step. The leader tries to sense the moment of commitment and the couple go together. The exercise can be done without music to increase the randomness of the response. This exercise hones the body-listening skills of both leader and follower.

With any exercise I like to play, How many different ways can we do this? Switch leader and follower, of course! Does it make a difference whether leader is on left or right side? How about backward steps; what, if anything, must the leader change in their indication? Now do the exercise facing each other, adding the possibility of side steps. Do it in practice hold. Do it with no hold. Try the exercise where you intentionally try to fake out your partner – naughty leader/follower. Now try the exercise where you seek above all else to be utterly in sync with one another. How does your movement change between the two? Certainly a partner can move too soon, but what about moving too slowly, is there a sweet spot?

Javier taught a variety of classes: basic, intermediate, and advanced, and I enjoyed and benefited from it all. Here I will report on just one night’s lesson, Villa Urquiza perl sequences. (Mari Johnson also has a report on Javier’s visit at her My Tango Diaries blog.)

Long, elegant lines characterize the Villa Urquiza style. For the follower, after they have unweighted a leg preparatory to stepping back, they step back with a straight leg, not merely moving the upper leg back and carrying the lower leg with it, but having a long leg that moves back as a whole. Same for the lead, the legs are straight as they move. Not by any means to say a stiff leg. The knees and ankles will be ever so slightly softened to absorb the forces of takeoffs and landings, yet there will be an ever so slight undulation in height of the traveling couple due to the straighter legs, versus absorbing every bit of height variation that you can with bent knees. (By the way, though takeoff and landing are my (an inactive pilot) terms and seem like useful images to me, think not of airplanes going up and down, but rather of track and field long jumpers moving horizontally across the ground.)

The style uses a close embrace throughout, though elastic enough to accommodate limitations in a couple’s dissociation. The room for the feet and legs to maneuver below is provided through apilado posture, where the couple “tents” against each other at the upper body. The embrace, from both sides, is firm and clear, to hold the couple together and to aid in producing the greater dissociation required of both partners in the close embrace.

Each of these three sequences is based on the eight-count basic. All using the styling above.

Apilado

At #5, where follower crosses and leader collects, leader steps back on left, right once or twice to produce a clear apilado. From there leader “loads” the undercarriage, getting somewhat under follower, to step out decisively in a long, dramatic step. Normal ending from there.

Linked forward sacadas to back ochos

Following #5, the cross, instead of continuing ahead as usual, leader steps decisively (so as to be clear to follower that this is not a forward step) to the left, and as follower comes to axis on right foot, lead them to pivot right so couple is now in perpendicular position with follower facing to leader’s left.

Lead follower to step across and left-pivot to now face back to leader’s right, then lead continues across left/backwards for follower, and as they step back-left on left leg, leader gives sacada to their right to produce a voleo. Notice that the close embrace requires extreme dissociation in this position, with his legs tightly twisted against each other.

They unwind the follower’s voleo in a back ocho until follower is now backing to leader’s right, then the sequence repeats on that side. The entire sequence zig-zags left-right in front of leader, down the line of dance.

Left, right sacada to barrida

As in the previous sequence, following #5, lead follower to step sideways, then as you lead follower for a forward ocho, you step side and back cross with right leg, giving follower room to step around. As follower steps around leader’s right. Leader gives sacada with left leg to follower’s trailing back-crossed left leg. Then on follower’s side open give sacada with right leg to follower right leg. Overturn follower’s back ocho as you, too, overturn to give barrida left-to-left.

One final thing, please. Down at the bottom of this blog entry, where it says Written by David PhillipsNo comments — . . . , you should interpret that to say, click on “No comments” to give us all the benefit of your thinking on the matter! (What a poor user interface choice in the template: minimalism versus clarity. Now I’m going to have to fix that some day.)

Thanks!
  –David

Learn By Doing: The experiential learning model

At one time I held some kind of certification as an examiner for ISO 9000 (the quality standard). I thought it would be useful both for what I could learn about improving our company’s work and for use in ISO 9000 implementation at other companies using Lotus Notes for work process automation.

The basic cycle of ISO 9000 processing — Plan, Do, Check, Act, and repeat — can be found in other arenas, such as ISO 14000, the environmental quality standard, and in learning models, such as this one:

Depiction of the five step Experiential Learning Model

From “Curriculum Development for Issues Programming: A Notional Handbook for Extension Youth Development Professionals (1992).

“Learn By Doing”: The experiential learning model
(A cycle of five stations of activities under three categories.)
DO
1) Experience the activity; “do it”.
REFLECT
2) Share what happened.
3) Process what’s important.
APPLY
4) Generalize — the “so what”
5) Apply — the “now what”
Return to step 1 …

Although I’m well aware of the value and benefits of applying such a process to learning and improving, I don’t use it with the rigor and consistency that I’d like. That is a confession, by way of which I am expressing an intention that I want to make as clear and definite — and actual, as I want for the intention in my Argentine tango leading.

In a private lesson with Javier Rochwarger at Esquina Tango this morning, I told him that I have had trouble dancing to Biagi, feeling constrained by the stong rhythmic nature of the music, and that perhaps we could work on “musicality”. After expressing shock and dismay that I wouldn’t love Biagi, a one time and off and on most favorite of Javier’s, we went to work.

On reflecting after the lesson I realized that we went through several cycles of the experiential learning model during the lesson. Javier would feel my dancing — he is just as skilled and comfortable a follower as leader — and tell me what I really needed (share what happened). I would try to express, both verbally and in action, what that meant to me and how I could reproduce it (process), he or I would reflect on how that affected the broader context of my dance performance (generalize), finally, I would apply this new understanding to do a new dance, either refining my understanding and performance of that skill or finding the next thing to focus on. And repeat …

You can’t begin to express musicality because you are not arriving on the beat.” Not to say that my timing was off, but that the quality of my movement was muddy, unclear. We worked on arriving “nose over big toe” on the beat, with maximum energy released at that point. I reflected on how a failure to do this affects not only musicality, the dynamics of the dance, but also the clarity of the lead and the success of many movements, such as sacadas and turns.

Why are we not stopping? You are all the time going, going, going.” Contributing to a flatness and sameness in my dancing, despite a variety of movements on, around, and about the floor, was my constant motion. Javier made a clear distinction between merely pausing, with no energy, versus building a dynamic tension that is finally released. He likened it to street racers revving their engines side-by-side at a stoplight. Even though they are stopped you can see the energy building.

There were any number of other things to fix or tweak. Javier packs a lot into a lesson, and there were many big and small cycles of the experiential learning model, but the two biggies were fully arriving on my standing foot, and use of dynamic pauses. When I incorporated these into our dancing, happily, Javier observed, “You have no problem with musicality. You understand the music well. The long, the short, the rhythmical, the lyrical.” And I was becoming better able to express my understanding of the music.

Instead of another dance, I chose to conclude the lesson by reflecting on what I’d learned and how I could use it. I bemoaned not having a regular practice partner, and Javier said that unless you can dance this way by yourself, how can you hope to do it with the added complication of a partner. He said that [everyone] should use the first 30 minutes of a practica for just walking by themselves, improving the quality and dynamics of el caminar. So now that’s on my now what list of how to improve my practice to improve.

Changes of direction

To my taste in tango, “simple” changes of direction can be some of the more interesting and elegant things we do. I’m talking about changes of direction within the framework of stepping, whether in the context of walking, mostly, or even any step within a figure. The benefits are the variety of feeling and direction they give, they way they facilitate moving into and out of spaces on the floor, and the opportunity they give to observe the space around the couple.

Changes of direction can be simple not only in apparent effect, but also more simple in execution, without needing an advanced understanding of physics, geometry, and timing that things like sacada, colgada, volcado, and gancho require. But the effect can still leave an observer wondering, “What just happened with their feet?” Furthermore, changes of direction can be done all in close embrace, and they are safer than moves with flying limbs.

A step — the moment a foot commits to the floor — is a wonderful kind of thing. Sure, there are lots of things to think about, appreciate, and do in the moments leading up to a step and departing from a step, but in that moment of contact, arrived at with some amount of inertial energy to be managed, there are so many interesting possibilities.

One can conserve the energy, letting it continue in the same direction, or the energy can serve to load the muscles and make them rebound, sending the energy back in a direction from which it came.  The linear energy across the floor can be converted into rotary energy in the form of a pivot that can be either over-rotated or under-rotated, depending on the desired effect and navigation across la pista. (I learned a great deal about managing inertia from Luciano Brigante and Alejandra Orozco. The bad follower exercise was a lot of fun.)

Imagine, or better yet, grab a partner and try, all the possibilities that can flow out of the 8-count basic. (So much, even, as to make it unrecognizable as an 8-count basic.)

  • To begin with, the Count #1 side open starting step can be taken in practically 360° of different direction. Indeed, as a starting point for your experimentation, put on some music and under or over turn every single step of the 8-count basic as you perform the pattern repeatedly. After a pivot you can also include a rebound, where you collect the energy of a step, using part of it to pivot, and part of it to help push off in a new direction.
  • You can place yourself outside, in front of, or inside your partner.
  • Parallel or cross-system stepping.
  • Parallel or cross-system direction. Cross-system direction is where you send the follower in one direction while you move in a different direction.

Now here is one technical detail to be aware of. In many situations you may both be pivoting in parallel by the same amount, with no special consideration required. But in many other instances one of you will be orbiting about the other partner. The partner inside the circle — sometimes the leader, sometimes the follower — will be like the axle, and the circling partner will be like the wheel laid flat on the floor. The axle must make a tighter, smaller turn than the wheel. If you are the axle it may mean that your step is a hook behind the standing leg to minimize the distance you cover, or even only a pivot on the standing leg. Whereas when you are the wheel on the outside of the circle, you may need to step beyond the follower so that you keep them in the center of the wheel.

Note, too, how this approach could be seen to simplify musicality considerations. In essence every figure boils down to an open or cross step, a close, and a pivot (which can be zero degrees). So rather than worrying how your pattern will fit within, or multiple patterns across, a phrase, you are “merely” concerned with observing and respecting the beginning and ending of phrases, and with seeing that your step-pivots within the phrase reflect the music in some way (cadence, size, dynamics, etc.).

These class notes are what prompted me to think further on this theme . . .

April 23rd, Kara Wenham and Javier Antar completed the last week of a month of classes as guests of UT Tango In Orange. This workshop was on redirecting her steps. Any time she takes a step, if he has good position with his feet forming a triangle on the floor with her stepping foot, then he can turn that step into a pivot, including an overturned pivot, or into a rock back in the opposite direction.

First example, he leads her into back ocho to his right, and as she steps back he steps forward on his right to follow her leg from the front. He and she pivot clockwise so that he now backs line of dance. Then he rocks her to a forward cross, stepping beside him with her right leg. As she steps he collects and pivots clockwise, returning to line of dance, and finally changing weight to his right foot to prepare to walk out.

Second example, again he leads her into a back ocho to his right, but this time he steps BEHIND her, blocking her from closing and rocking her to go back forward. This was also demonstrated to the left, open side – harder, and in cadena (chained) fashion with alternating left and right figures.

Last example, starting her molinete to his left, she steps back cross, side open, forward cross. On that last, forward cross step, he steps side open and slightly forward, blocking her, then leads her back the way she came, with back cross, side open, forward to his right, while he hooks his right foot behind left to help with opening his right side to get out of her way and lead her in that direction.

The lesson also included alternate timings. Straight S, S, S timing. For example one, the reversed ocho, 1-3-1, S to enter, Q Q to exit. The molinete, Q Q S, Q Q S.

Felices caminando!
—David

My olla podrida

After carrying a cup of tea a través de la casa to my wife I said, “This is good practice for my tango walk.”

Gym with Sam's Club mat topping

The gym originally had a soft foam matting so that if I dropped a kettlebell it would have a soft landing.

Recently tango practice has been on my mind – and To Do list – as I seek to convert thought to action to results. And this website, Tangolio.com, will become my olla podrida of Argentine tango, en la mayor parte made up of my notes, thoughts, and ideas on learning and practicing the dance, y tal vez spiced occasionally with other observations.

I had my first serious engagement with Argentine tango in August 2011 at Esquina Tango in Austin, Texas. I’d taken a workshop at Fandango de Tango many years earlier, but it didn’t “take”. That introduction had left me with no understanding or appreciation for what the dance was about. When I mostly retired from a life of computer technology businesses and programming I had some notion that I wanted to explore the tango to see what I might have missed.

Spending the next year at my new “job”, it was dancing at least a couple of hours most every night or day of the week: Argentine tango several times, West Coast Swing, Blues, Salsa, various ballroom styles, and what have you. Balboa anyone? Then I mostly narrowed that down to tango, swing, and salsa; then tango and swing; then mostly tango. (But I’ll have more to say about what we can learn about tango from swing and other dances, in future articles.)

So what’s that got to do with starting a blog? Well when I get involved in a subject I like to learn everything I can in every way I can, so that I can excel. The thing I loved about working with computers is how they always offer opportunities to learn something new. I think I’ve found the same thing in Argentine tango, in an activity, a discipline, one might even say an art form, that involves all the senses, both halves of the brain, and a lot of the heart.

Yet it has been exceedingly frustrating at times, with wild highs and deep lows — the most difficult of the many dances I’ve pursued over parts of the past thirty years. I’ve reached a point where I “know” so much from all the groups classes, private lessons, workshops, books, and DVDs that I’ve studied, yet I don’t feel that my dancing really shows the benefit of all that investment of time and money.

Horse stall mats on the gym floor

Horse stall mats further protected the floor from kettlebells.

So I have determined to take my dancing to a new level through rigorous practice. For months I’ve been asking around for a practice partner but struck out. My wife will dance with me when the opportunity is appealing enough and I appeal hard enough, but mostly she has other priorities. We live a ways out of town, and I haven’t found anyone with the regular interest, the time match, or the location.

When my friend, Peter, suggested a “if you build it they will come” approach, I decided to take up that challenge, AND, I’ve come to realize that there are many, many things that I can be working on solo, on my own.

New dance plus gym room

Sala de baile con gimnasio.
New dance floor with cork over Whisperwool blanket. The domino dots in the floor mark practice spots for molinetes. Now I’ll simply have to not drop the kettlebells!

So that’s what this is about. I’ve converted our spare room, a 12′ x 16′ space, from a gym into a sala de baile-cum-gym. I have 30 or so DVDs, lots of books, innumerable “didactic demos”, and notebooks full of notes. I am going to work on practicing, making some organized sense of all the material I have, organizing my practice and reporting on it, and providing a practice space for anyone who wants to join me in a true practice, learning, rehearsing, improving mode.

molinete side left

Water bowl exercise. Beginning molinete side left.

molinete forward cross

molinete forward cross

molinete side open

molinete side open

molinete back cross

molinete back cross

I don’t expect future articles to be so long, and I don’t want to leave this one without something to practice. Luciano Brigante and Alejandro Orozco suggested this one to me. Hold a bowl of water in both hands, arms circled in front of you. The bowl represents your partner. Now walk, pivot, and molinete while keeping the water as still as possible.

This illustrates several principles of mindful practice. The shorts I’m wearing let me see more clearly if I am neatly collecting my bowed legs. Mirrors let me check that and other factors, and a video recording gives me a “third person” view of myself to more objectively evaluate.

Felices caminar!
–David