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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