Workshops with Hugo "Gato" Valdez and Andrea Monti

I had doubts about these workshops. I went in with a fairly skeptical attitude.

Local teachers Juan Carlos and Alicia Suarez , hosted Gato and Andrea, and I wasn't familiar with them at all. When I searched for information (and YouTube videos of course) about them, all I found was performance dances and very general details about their style. From their website, "Andrea Monti and Hugo “Gato” Valdez were both trained as tango dancers and teachers in their native city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, sixteen years ago (Andrea) and twenty-five years ago (Hugo). They met in 1998 and since then, they have been working continuously in Argentina and around the world."

Their website is here and their Youtube channel is here.

The class descriptions were a little bit general, but still intriguing:

Tango I Workshop
Dance with style and musicality: different possibilities when walking for parallel and cross systems; double time steps in the walk. Use of the pause. Changes of directions. Turns. Good resources for good navigation. Easy sequencies for the social dance. Close and open embrace.

Here's the deom from their first class:


Tango II Workshop
Turns with “entradas” and stops. Technique of the "sacada". Special moves and positions for sacadas. Technique of the “barrida”; barridas inside the turn and from different positions. Coordination and musicality. Line of dance. Flexibility of the embrace. Combinations and Sequencies.

Here is a demo from their second class:



Tango Vals Workshop
Rhythm and musicality for vals. Figuras from cross system. Turns with syncopation for vals; double time in the turn. Turns with sacadas and voleos. Specific sequencies and combinations for vals.

Milonga Workshop
Rhythm and musicality. Close embrace and connection. Different walks. Easy, useful and playful moves for the social dance, leading tranfer of weight. Combinations.

After some persuading from a friend (and my curiosity about the class subjects), I decided to give it a try despite my reservations. I am so glad I did!

As with most tango workshops, the classes were pattern based but with two very welcome differences. First, each pattern was made of 3 interchangeable chunks that could be worked into nearly anything. Gato and Andrea showed several ways to get in and out of each chunk and change it up as needed. At the end we would string the sequence together and play with it some more. They allowed time for practicing each part and throughout the workshops, Andrea taught a few posture exercises to make each movement more graceful and distinct.

Second, and most surprising to me given the fact I could only find performance videos of them to watch, was that every step/sequence/movement they taught was immediately useful and appropriate in a milonga setting.

No ganchos. No boleos. No colgadas, soltadas, or volcadas.

Everything was on the floor. The "fancy" stuff came from small, well placed and timed sacadas, amagues, arrastres, and changes of direction. (See glossary here for terms.)

I learned a great deal in their classes though not much of it related to the sequences themselves, but more about waiting to feel for the transitions between movements. I also, as I always do, had ample opportunity to work on my posture. I wish I had been able to record their Vals and Milonga class demos as I was especially impressed with those classes. Andrea is excellent about breaking down and explaining each part as well as letting you know what you need in your posture and alignment to lead/follow each part well.

As far as their style goes, they are flexible embrace dancers but seemed comfortable in everything from very close embrace to completely open embrace, depending on how the students in the class preferred to learn.

If you get the chance to study with them, I highly recommend them. They have their schedule posted here: http://www.gatotango.com/htmldocs/schedule.html though it appears that it might be outdated. Their contact info is here: http://www.gatotango.com/htmldocs/contact.html.

Thank you to Juan Carlos and Alicia for hosting Gato and Andrea in Austin.

8 comments:

Jane Prusakova said...

I don't recommend these teachers.

I arrived to the first lesson late, and saw a small and highly unbalanced class (3 leads, 5 or 6 follows). Only one teacher was in the room, working with a lead. The extra women were standing on the side, waiting for their turn.

I figured that I'll watch this class, and decide whether I want to take the next one. But a few minutes later the other teacher returned to the room, and informed me that "If you don't pay, you have to leave the room".

I complied, but I won't be taking lessons from this couple. Their work ethics is questionable - they scheduled the class, they both should be in the room, and actually teach it.

And the emphasis on payment is off-putting, to say the least.

my 2 cents

Mari Johnson said...

Jane: I wondered why I didn't see you later - I was sorry to see you go!

It didn't seem like either of the teachers was out of the room for very long - maybe I'm not remembering the same instance? I know one of the leaders was also out of the room at the same time so it wasn't quite as out of balance as it may have seemed. For the first class on Sunday, we had 3 leaders (4 leaders in the second class) and 4 followers, though I think Alicia was up there too, but not participating due to her injury. Juan Carlos assisted in all the classes even though he hadn't intended to be in them. (He even did the first day's workshops in his socks because he hadn't brought dance shoes - he was such a good sport. :) ) Also, we had another leader come in for the milonga class which helped even things out.

As far as teachers not allowing non-paying observers, I've experienced that before - probably about half the time, maybe more. I've observed them being extremely testy about that at Fandango, for example.

jantango said...

Jane's comment isn't unusual. It is about the money for many who travel to teach. Those with the benefit of English and a few connections in the USA go from city to city for the weekend and run with the money. They are glad to be hosted by anyone who will give them a place to stay and round up a few takers for their classes.

If you ask anyone in the tango scene in BsAs about them, they'll say, "who?" I couldn't tell you where they teach because they don't advertise in any of the five magazines.

Their workshops include too many things for one class from my point of view as a dance teacher. I wonder if they really covered everything they promised.

They know enough to offer "flexible" embrace or open hold to have more students, but that didn't seem to matter. I viewed the videos and concluded they don't have an embrace; it's all about figures for them.

I have to tell you that I don't see this brand of tango where I dance in BsAs. It's about the embrace, not figures, for us. Even those in Villa Urquiza dance with a closer hold than your weekend teachers.

Mari Johnson said...

Jan - I'm sorry to be blunt but when your job, the thing that puts food on your table, is to teach tango and perform - why shouldn't it be about money? I'm sure most teachers would love to do it for the love of the art, but they have to eat and pay bills like everyone else. I have no problem with a teacher in any subject making it a priority to earn a living. If they don't, they likely won't get to teach very long. And if any tango teacher is "in it for the money" I wish them luck. The world isn't exactly awash in rich tango teachers.

Regarding their videos, however, I agree. When I saw their videos on youtube before the classes, I was so disappointed. It looked like the same performance done again and again. It looked like pure theater and completely separate from anything resembling social tango. (Even their demos I recorded only vaguely hint at the usefulness of what they taught.) I was ready to tell my friend I didn't want to go to their workshops - until I actually saw them dance socially. They both, with each other, and with others, danced with great respect to other dancers on the dance floor. No acrobatics, no big moves. In stark contrast to their performances, they danced simply and beautifully.

In fact (I don't remember if I wrote this or not) every time I danced with Gato, which altogether in all the classes and practice time was about 6 or 8 times, it was in very close embrace. No daylight between our torsos. But not everyone is going to be comfortable with that kind of embrace - physically or emotionally.

Every teacher I know has had to adapt at least a little bit to the needs of their students and, within reason, I think they're right to do so. If and when these students dance in Buenos Aires, then they'll have a lesson to learn in those milongas. But the vast majority of dancers will never go to BsAs, and don't have a desire to. They dance tango because it's fun and brings something to their lives.

jantango said...

They probably gave up other careers to pursue teaching tango. It's obvious from their schedule that they live in the USA and visit Buenos Aires. It's a given that we all have expenses to live, but no one forced them into teaching, nor moving to the USA. That was their choice.

Those who perform tango for stage have to supplement their income by teaching. That's where the money is. And yes, there are many who are in it for the money and do very well. Susana Miller is one who has done very well in the tango business.

Andrea was born to dance, so naturally they enjoy arranging choreographies for performances. However, your videos of their classes demonstrate a style that would never work in the crowded milongas of BsAs. You'll see that for yourself when you attend your first milonga in BsAs.

I imagine they have built a following among older dancers with lots of free time in California communities. They want to learn new figures each week to practice, and the class fulfills that need.

I feel it's more important to teach the simple tango as it has been danced since the 1950s in BsAs which anyone of any age can learn as opposed sequences that have to be memorized. I wouldn't go to a teacher who spoke Chinese if I wanted to learn French, yet so many attend classes with performers who give them choreography for stage, not social dance skills. Dancers don't get what they need or pay for.

Many who study tango may never travel to BsAs, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't learn the real thing with some who can teach it. American ballroom style has been around for a long time in the USA. It's time to learn tango from Buenos Aires when it's advertised as Argentine Tango.

This may come as a surprise, but tango isn't fun for me. It's so much more. Lots of things can be fun for a moment, but then it passes and you want something else to satisfy. Tango does that for me.

Frances R said...

I agree with Jantango. Gato and Andrea are very nice people, but... If your goal is to learn tango, take your money elsewhere, and don't waste time in their classes.

Anonymous said...

I've been in BsAs and danced at many milongas. I do consider Gato and Andrea as good dancers if not excellent ones. The class content shown in videos are proper for these who want to learn good tango. Tango is about feelings, embrace and connections. That should not count out good technique nor proper training. If you just want to hug a person and be comfortable, you don't have to dance tango.
I don't agree with Jantango's view of "following older dancers with lots of free time in California communities" If you don't live in CA, you have no right of commenting the community itself. CA tango community is the one of most open ground for visiting and local instructors. They learn tango from everyone and absorb materials that are working for them.

Chris, UK said...

"Tango Vals Workshop"

Out of interest, did they really describe vals thus? Almost every Argentine tanguero I know understands "tango" as tango, "vals" as vals, and "tango vals" as a misunderstanding of people who don't sufficiently hear the difference.