Sunday, 24 October 2010 at 14:46
Ah, that's what I needed. 4 days of uninterrupted tango. I am thankful for the Tango Mango and all the people I spent time with there. So much joy, learning, expression, focus. It's not just the dancing, but the people, the late night conversations about everything from politics. economics and science to silly tango fashion, favourite jackass episodes and general good humour. Then there's the fresh air, and the generosity and community spirit people seem to have in the tango community (in my experience). I'm still on a high. I was chuckling to myself on the train back to Southampton, remembering some of the many great moments, between deep focus on new tango creations unfolding in my mind.

More interest in 'the book', which is firmly in the very final stages now (yes, I tire of writing that), and also some in my tango teaching, without making any effort to promote it, which I take encouragement from.

Despite sleeping very little (it's always the way for me at the Mangos) I feel spiritually refreshed.

I had originally planned to spend only two days at the Mango and two days walking in Dartmoor, but my walking partner found a compelling distraction (in the form in a 'nice young Russian lady'), so I stayed longer. All is as it is meant to be. But I do look forward to exploring Dartmoor more before long.

safe and relaxed tango in confined spaces - practica session notes

Saturday, 9 October 2010 at 18:37
11th Oct practica plan

theme: Safe and relaxed tango in confined spaces

Question: How do you help each other relax in a busy milonga?

Shrinking dance floor. Continually reduce allowed floor area during practica.

Avoiding collisions: side steps and turns.
Dancing expressively in minature: small giros, favouring the open side. slow steps, fuller body communication, the richness in comunication is only between the two of you.

Game: take half a song without a single full step, projection and balance changes allowed. Try with different partners.

Game: use line of chairs to make a narrow corridor (could use people if enough) to practice following line of dance. Two couples going through at once. Do ochos and giros along line. Can you do your favourite figure?

Dancing within a circle of people (2 couples to make circle, 1 couple in the middle).

Blind folded tango within protective circle. Practice feeling for safe space.

Go from dancing in small circle back to a 'normal' small floor, compare level of relaxation.

Beginner/refresher tango course - session notes

Wednesday, 6 October 2010 at 09:47
After several years of pondering teaching tango professionally, now seems the time to do it. I've already dipped my toes in with the guided practicas I've started running, I have a lovely local venue and hopefully a lot of potential to grow the local scene. Also a little extra money would be very handy right now.

I put together some rough notes for a 4 week course of 4, 90 minute sessions. I'd be very interested to hear any feedback from people who have some experience teaching tango. What ideas or activities work well for you with a new group of beginners? Does the below seem too ambitious for only 4 sessions? Any advice welcome!

Session 1: What is tango? Spirit, origin, music, culture, addiction. Two people connecting through touch and music, a timeless human activity. The embrace (hugging, the frame circle, listening), walking back and forth with connection and rhythm. Walk like this animal game: prowling cat, nervous mouse. Demonstrate the musical richness of ‘just walking’.

Session 2: More on attitude, patience and respect. Getting more balance and comfort in the walk: head above shoulders, above hips, rolling weight, angle of foot, ‘finding the ground’. Role-play in walking: ‘impatient rusher’, ‘indecisive worrier’, ‘seducer’, ‘peaceful zen monk’. ‘There is no wrong foot’ concept. Getting around corners. Rock-step for musical expression and changing direction (also tests frame and connection). Obstacle course game, use rock-step or a simple pivot to ‘steer’.

Session 3: The axis and your core. Ochos, a walk with a zig-zag. Break it down into different shapes or ‘stances’ for leader and follower. Step through the stances and correct posture. Practice drills against a wall. Find your axis between each step. Practice in pairs. Milonga etiquette, line of dance, safe distance. The responsibilities of leading and following. Line of dance and collision avoidance game. Playing with step size. How small can you step?

Session 4: The free leg and following the direction of lead. The cross. ‘A move’ vs. ‘Free leg, following the lead’. Putting the cross into the dance. Show some variations. Refresh ochos, rock-step and pivoting. Introduce the giro: stepping around the corners of a square, disassociation. Balloon exercise. Couple has to keep the balloon between their chests as they do the giro.

I've also thought ahead to future courses. 'core skills 1' below is essentially what I've been teaching in the practicas so far. Had great feedback on it so far.

Tango core skills 1, 4 week course:

Session 1: 3 elements to walking as one (including work on double time and intro to close embrace)

Session 2: stepping with intent.

Session 3: density and dynamics.

Session 4: safe and relaxed tango in confined spaces (more on close embrace).

Tango core skills 2 (requires core skills 1) , 4 week course:

Session 1: free leg, leg wraps, planeos, linear boleos, circular boleos

Session 2: leg invasions, ganchos and secardas

Session 3: shared axis, volcardas and colgadas

Session 4: playing with symmetry and asymmetry in form and timing (including breaking the embrace)

Further tango skills, 4 week course:

Session 1: Enrosques, turning and spinning.

Session 2: Back secardas and over-turned secardas.

Session 3: Gancho and secarda chains.

Session 4: Aerial movements.

Stepping with intent - practica session notes

Friday, 1 October 2010 at 15:42
4th Oct practica plan

'Stepping with intent'

Sub-themes: trust (as comes from patience and respect)

How can leader and follower step with confidence and precision?
What makes steps: indecisive, disconnected with leader or follower, uncomfortable, rushed, etc.?

Lack of technique, respect, patience and trust. Other ideas?

A recipe for more confident and precise steps..

Always listen for direction.
Aim for smooth resistance while transferring weight.
Trust that the space is safe.

Be clear about direction but do not force it.
Aim for smooth lead energy while transferring weight.
Make sure the space is safe.

Walking exercise -
striding out, big smooth steps. how can you stay connected? (revise ideas from '3 elements to walking as one', e.g. grip floor, role weight)

Exercise with ochos -
Question: what angle are the steps of an ocho?
How long is a piece of string? It depends on the lead.
Try varying forward and backward ochos from a walk with a slight zigzag to large over-rotation going in the opposite direction to normal? Leaders and followers try to apply the above recipe.
For leaders, try leading a forward ocho, while you are in cross basic, so that the follower is stepping deep into your space, brushing your leg with each step. (Demonstrate)
(Typically some followers will be hesitant to follower the actual direction and strength of the lead, either increasing the angle of the step, or cutting it short. Both of which diminish the connection. Some leaders will respond to that by being ever more forceful, or giving up and dancing with less interest.)
Help everyone feel the difference the recipe makes for this stylish and sensual step. Strategy for leaders to encourage followers to make such steps: gentle confidence, and building up from very slow movements. Strategy for followers: trust, but with discretion.

Demonstrate a change of embrace that relies on giving clear direction and listening for it.


Give 5 minutes of play to find a new or unusual way of using the recipe.

fun with density and dynamics - practica session notes

Saturday, 25 September 2010 at 15:43
27th Sept practica plan

fun with density and dymanics

Objective: share some ideas that may help you to maintain connection while changing speed, resistance and direction. to have fun with it.

sub-themes: patience, respect

1. density
what is it? level of resistence.
altering density adds an expressive dimension and allows greater connection at higher or lower speeds of movement and for changes in direction. changing density creates dynamics in a dance.
when changes in density are unintentional or incongruous with the music then connection is diminished.
how can you lead it? followers, how do you understand when it's being led, what do you feel?
compression to increase density. leader adds compression to frame. follower holds their frame and translates the tension into legs to create more resistence. keep shoulders back and down. channel resistence into floor, not shoulders.
relaxation to decrease density.
exercise: transition from normal to slow walk. try with and without change in density.
question: what does changing density (as an option that can be chosen sometimes) add to the experience?
talk about what happens with above idea with a lack of patience or respect. e.g. scenario: supposing follower doesn't understand about the frame, or leader or follower does not wait for the other?

2. dynamics
change in speed and force. change in density makes expressing dynamics in the music easier.
musical example: slow and fast passages. demonstrate clearer connection and expressiveness through changing density.
game: stop the leader. follower increases densisty quickly to mark a beat of pause, causing the leader to stop. it's a bold and playful movement that adds excitement and new sensitivity to a dance. it can also remind a leader that tango is a dialogue, not a monologue. some leaders can get confused or take offense. best used with good rapport and as an occational surprise. speaking of dynamics this action from the follower can really alter the emotional dynamics in a dance and spark fresh creativity from the leader. the stop the leader idea can be used sublty to great effect, it is also especially nice in close embrace.
talk about what happens without respect from leader or follower with above idea.
breaking the embrace is one example of reducing density to nill (show example). stopping the leader is an example of dialing it up to 11.

any questions?

what observations or discoveries have you made playing with these ideas?

3 elements to walking as one - practica session notes

at 15:11
This the first posting of my session notes for the guided practica I've started giving at Povey's dance studio in Southampton. (Essentially for the first hour I work around a theme and share related ideas, principles, examples and exercises to help people develop their tango.) They're fairly rough, as notes go, but I hope someone might get some use out of them. Eventually they may all get distilled into a new book on tango next year. This first session I over planned slightly and only ended up getting 2/3s of the way through.

'3 elements to walking as one.' given on 20th Sept:

Objective: share some ideas that may help you to connect more deeply and consistently in your tango, which will improve confidence and creative potential. The elements are: smoothness, opposition and density.

participation - question: what can you do with these principles that you couldn't without them?

sub-themes: patience, respect

1. smoothness
forget about the step. frame.
contrast with stepping as an autonomous action
"what do you need to do to make it smooth?"
tips: rolling weight from foot to foot. gripping the floor. quick movement of trailing leg. (straight back leg for style and avoiding leg clashes)

2. opposition (or resistence) in every direction
exercise: two forward steps followed by two back steps. play with level of oposition
ideas: mirroring, frame, innertia. (respond to push with push, pull with pull, like moving through water, it resists in all directions of movement)
application: secarda chain - try with and without opposition. (with, typically feels much nicer for everyone, no rush, more controlled and flowing)
question: how does it feel for leaders? how does it feel for followers?

3. density - level of opposition
intentional change in opposition or resistence. adds expressive dimension.
question: how can you lead it? followers, how do you understand when it's being led, what do you feel?
compression to increase density: leader adds compression to frame. follower holds their frame and translates the tension into legs to create more resistence. keep shoulders back and down. channel resistence into floor, not shoulders.
relaxation to decrease density.
game: stop the leader

any questions?

what observations or discoveries have you made playing with these ideas?

hiatus and open-source tango

Thursday, 23 September 2010 at 15:47
It's been a while. I've thought about blogging, but just not made the time in recent months. The main reason for breaking the hiatus is my starting to run a guided practica and wanting to share my session plans. My reason for doing that is partly because I'm interested in the input of other teachers and dancers, I enjoy sharing ideas and partly because posting them online will encourage me to make the notes more readable. Next year I plan a book on tango, which these notes may grow into part of. Two session plans will follow in the next day or so.

I'm pretty excited about beginning to teach tango 'officially'. I know that it will enhance my own learning as well as that of others. The practicas are currently held at the Povey's dance studio in Southampton, 159 Shirley road, every monday, 8-11pm. They are open to all and cost £3 per person to cover hall costs.

Other news. The revised edition of 'Healthy Loving Relationships' is very nearly finished. What was a 133 page book is now 280. Yep, it's become quite a fat little pocket book. But so much improved over the original. It's now a 2 year project over all. Committing myself for the last year to re-working it, without income, has been a struggle. One I wouldn't swap for anything else though. The sense of inspiration, contribution and deepening understanding I've gained is truly priceless. All that remains now is to gather a little more feedback and proof readers (so get in touch if you'd like to be a part of this project). I feel confident about getting it out there before the end of Oct, but we shall see.

One recent development that helped spur me on was the generous offering of feedback from a number of experts in the field of conflict resolution, on the section of my book covering conflicts in relationships and how to resolve them in a way that maximizes everyone's benefit. I'm very excited about that.

Well that's it for now.

Accept to mention my new fitness obsession: Kettlebells. Essentially solid iron cannon balls with handles that you lift and swing. I'm quite smitten with mine. It's just so simple and effective. There's a lot of skill involved in using it as well as strength (please don't start using one without at least studying a instructional book on it. Serious injuries await you, otherwise). It requires full concentration and delivers a lot of rewards for the effort. Three 20 minutes sessions a week is all you need. I admit, with pride, mine lives at the bottom of my bed. On that thought, I'll say good night.

Resistance and continuation in movement

Sunday, 16 May 2010 at 17:19
From resistence comes presence and from presence flow.
You resist my impetus, my body knows where you are -
as mine begins to go,
yours says 'wait', calmly, smoothly.
Like water, light at rest,
but when moving, just a little weight.
And so we move together.

Continuation of movement,
a mirror of its starting, carries inertia.
A child plays with a ball
that rolls a little way when pushed.
That simple inertia,
fuel for the creative spark - from my listening energy
I know where your body will be. And so we play together.

This poem was inspired by a synergy of experiences: Homer and Cristina's excellent workshop on follower secadas in Cambridge a couple of weeks ago in which they emphasised the importance of follower resistance (or 'tone') in both pushing and pulling movements (which I never got around to writing up..), and a wonderful and inspiring set of performances by Movement 12 at the Brighton Pavilion Theatre this evening. Amen for contact improv! The dancers moved with such poise and power and fluency together, such dynamic and strong connection. In my rapt appreciation I kept noticing and thinking 'smooth, dynamic resistance in contact, fluid continuation of movement': two catalytic ingredients in tango, fundamental in contact improv and in such powerful effect right in front of my eyes.

How can you interact with someone through touch? By feeling some resistance to movement. Where that resistance is smooth and predictable (like moving in water) a real dialogue can grow. Where force is allowed to have it's inertial effect (even emphasised) the beautiful flowing sequences of movements that these dancers showed become possible, and tango gets a lot more fun. Luckily I have a practica coming up after some sleep.

Transitions - Homer and Cristina workshop, 1st May Cambridge

Saturday, 1 May 2010 at 12:13

Moving from close to open and open to close embrace.

These are my notes on the class, as I remember it. Feel free to share your thoughts!

Starting game – human magnet:

I love it when a class starts with a game, it helps set an atmosphere of having fun and not being afraid, key ingredients to actually learning something. The game started by standing face to face, about 4 inches apart on axis, hands by side. Then the leader gave a visual lead from the chest to come into chest contact, balanceo and then come apart. To do this the leader comes onto ball of their feet, with a slight projection and lift of the chest. This is the invitation to the follower to meet, or mirror the movement. The invitation to part chest contact (just for the game) is a soft return to axis.

Components of transitions

Where to connect:

Magnet points – 3 magnet locations: head, chest, belly. These are points of the body that tend to attract each other while tangoing. All are valid and add something to the dance, however the chest connection is primary and the others are resisted for technique practice. The reason for this is that they make staying balanced independently and free hip and leg movement more difficult than with just a chest connection.

The lead from open to close embrace:

Firstly, the use of the arms is very little or none. Leaders avoid (obviously) pulling the follower into them to make the transition to close embrace. The lead comes from:

  • Releasing the close side arm, allowing it to freely change position.

  • presenting the chest as a point of contact by transferring weight more to the balls of the feet and projecting slightly (but not to the extent that you stick your bum out).

  • Keeping the open side arm still, so not moving it forward in line with the chest, rather keep the hand in the middle of the reducing distance between you (this may feel like you’re drawing the hand back ever so slightly).

  • Use of breath can enhance the lead and lead to a more whole body and natural feel to the transition. Breath in when inviting the follower closer in to you. Breath out when inviting the follower further away from you.

The transition was presented first from a side step, to the open side (with close side as a more challenging option for those who wanted). Initiate the step and during the transfer of weight between feet follow the above points to transition from open to close embrace.

Next was the open to close transition during the follower’s forward step of the hero. For this they used the idea of a hinge. The hinge – for the forward step of the hero the follower aims for a point of contact with the thigh as they transfer their weight from the back to front foot.

The hinge, which is part of good follower technique to maintain connection and the same distance from the leader, along with good upper body disassociation (spiralling/coiling energy, turning in towards the leader) allows the transition from open to close to be made comfortably and smoothly. The lead for the forward step from hero transition is much the same as for the side step, but here especially timing makes a lot of difference to how nice it feels. Let the transition be initiated as the follower begins to transfer their weight between feet: weight transfer → embrace transition. It’s important that the follower allows her weight transfer to be gradual, i.e. project the foot and leg first and then transfer weight, don’t go with the whole body at once. There’s no need to rush, take your time, while dancing with the music. (This is another great parallel with how a cat walks I think. A cat first touches the ground with each foot, testing it before putting its weight on it.)

The lead to transition from close to open embrace:

The suggested lead was a slight push from the chest (with an outward breath), while remembering to release the close side arm.

Points for leaders and followers

Cristina made the point that for followers, during the transition in either direction, connection can be maintained at all times. The follower can slide their closed side arm over the leaders arm during transition. However the follower must be ready to do this and not have their arm ‘fixed’, unless for some reason, such as not wanting a close embrace, they intend to fix it to stop the transition.

Homer emphasised that leaders should not use the arms to pull (or push) to effect a transition. It’s disrespectful and poor technique (you’re basically shoving the follower about if you do).

All of the transition steps should be possible from the leader having teapot (right hand behind back) or even kettle (both hands behind back) embrace. This is good practice to develop a clear upper body lead without use of arms and for the follower to lean to be sensitive to such a lead.

Applications of transitions

Of course the transitions from the side step and hero forward step can be lovely in the dance (as for forward and back steps). Beyond this the first possible application they showed was from a rock step into forwards ocho for the follower (where the leader does a back cross) with a block and follower step over. A very common step but with various subtle details that need to be correct if it is to be done smoothly and with good balance. The close to open transition happens during the pivot of the forward ocho for the follower. The last possible application shown was a cross straight into pivot and back secada for the follower, which can then be completed with the previous application detailed. The transition begins at the point of the cross or during the cross. Here the leader must step around the follower’s axis while they are in the cross, then from the back secada the follower goes around the leader’s axis. The write about these applications know more for my own record since to really understand them they must be seen.

Some variations I discovered during the lesson:

  • From close embrace, lead a stationary circular barida and match this with a circular transition from close to open and back again. Some colgada is required for this.

  • From the hero, leader sedadas follower’s trailing leg on the follower’s side step. The leader uses their outside leg. From here the follower is led to the forward step and the transition to close embrace invited. It makes a nice two stage combination to going into close embrace, first from the leg then from the upper body. This one is quite tricky :)

  • A nice simple one, from walking in the open embrace ground the follower with most of their weight on the back leg and make the transition as you move forward. It’s quite a seductive movement I think, if led gently.

Another excellent lesson from Homer and Cristina!

In conclusion I think transitions are an underrated thing. Partly I think that’s because they are often led abruptly or with a general awkwardness that disturbs the connection rather than flowing with the energy of the music and the feelings of the dancers, which is what it can do very nicely.

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