Leaning into the Sharp Points - Part II

Lesson with Oliver and Silvina - Part II

Down to business

Oliver and Silvina greeted us very warmly and asked us what we wanted to focus on. We really wanted to focus on very basic things, since asking to learn a pattern for example, if our walk was falling apart, would be a waste of time and money. So we danced for them and let them pick it apart.

My partner and I are close-embrace, often shared-weight, dancers, So we lean into each other when we dance. In that type of embrace, we sacrifice a certain amount of vocabulary, to enjoy a very comfortable, and solid, connection. We knew that Silvina and Oliver were very much (more upright) Salon Tango teachers - stressing independent axes, and a more fluid embrace. We were taking a lesson with them to become more adaptable - especially since the majority of dancers in our community are Salon, rather than milonguero, dancers.

So we worked on posture - and I mean we worked, and worked, and worked. Then we walked, and walked some more. And got reminded of posture things again. And again. Next, some extremely useful and highly musical variations on the ocho cortado (which I love). Then more walking, more posture checks to make sure we were being consistent. With those tools starting to come together, changes in weight-sharing (or lack thereof) become more precise, and more seamless at the same time.

It's all about options

I've found that for me at least, the more I dance one style (such as apilado - or pronounced weight-sharing), the harder it gets for me to transition to other styles with other partners. It also tends to make me frame certain techniques (like posture and embrace) as existing in only three separate settings - apilado, salon and nuevo. In my mind that meant only 3 possibilities: more shared axis, independent axis, or more off-axis moves respectively. It can be a limited view of things. Studying with Silvina and Oliver gave an opportunity to expand my view and learn more options.

The first thing Silvina had me do was stand completely flush against the wall (like when you're getting your height measured) and to pull in/back my hips so that the curve of my lower back was straightened out. That was the posture she wanted me to maintain - completely upright. The first thing I noticed was that this put my weight on my heels. Wasn't I supposed to keep my weight over the balls of my feet, I asked? No - that is an illusion, she answered. Keep your weight on your heels. I asked her to repeat that, since I was sure I must have misunderstood. Nope, I heard correctly. Keep my weight on my heels. Umm.. Ok. Rule number 1 - the teacher is always right, while you're in their class. I would just have to see how that played out later.

Next Silvina and Oliver told us both to focus on keeping our chests wide and open, not just lifted and tall, while keeping our arms relaxed and light. This complemented much of what Gregory "Grisha" Nisnevich taught in our last lesson with him, which was surprisingly reassuring.

With Silvina's help, I started to fine tune degrees of shared to independent axis. I stopped "defaulting" to an anticipated position. More importantly, the precision and control of axis they taught keeps me from using my partner as a stabilizer - especially when I haven't been invited to share weight. It's one thing to lean when I'm invited to lean, it's another to lean because I can't maintain my balance. I was starting to feel like I had control of my axis, and degree of lean, through nearly any movement. The technique some teachers describe as pushing into the ground with your lower body, and pushing up straight through your head, lengthening your torso and abdomen, does accurately describe the feeling.

We spent the rest of our time in the lesson refining the technique and gaining consistency. Oliver and Silvina taught well as a team, and switched with my partner and I frequently to gauge how well we were understanding what they were explaining. They were also very encouraging - noting the things that we were already doing well, while strengthening the areas that we were having trouble with. It was a very intense lesson as Oliver and Silvina are very focused and stay on track. There was no trace of the negativity exhibited in the class I took last year. For my partner and for me, it was time and money very well spent.

On a personal note, with Silvina's technique help, later in the weekend I was able to successfully perform more of the movements I had trouble with in the past, including the infamous soltadas. This time I had no problem keeping my axis, but still didn't enjoy such jarring (for me anyway) breaks in the embrace in the middle of a song. It was especially awkward on the exceedingly crowded floor at both Friday and Saturday's milongas. At least now it was little bit more a matter of preference, than a matter of ability.

Working out the kinks

After our lesson, we thanked Silvina and Oliver for their time, and their flexibility in scheduling our lesson. We sat down in Esquina to recuperate for a little while - and cool off. Then, while Monica and Gustavo's class was going on the dance floor, my partner and I practiced in Esquina's kitchen. I cannot stress enough how important it is to practice what you've learned as quickly as possible after a lesson - if possible, immediately. It's astonishing how fast you start to lose the information. I feel like it's a race to get the new information into my muscles before I forget everything.

Once the milonga started, we relaxed, employed the things we could use right away, "put away" the stuff that wasn't coming together yet and just had fun. With each new leader, I tried to be more aware of my axis control and posture, and adapt a little more smoothly to different embraces. It was easier to implement what I'd learned than I thought it would be, though being weighted on my heels feels pretty unnatural about 95% of the time. It is useful in moves where my balance might be compromised, either by the step itself, or by trouble my partner might be having with his balance, to weight my heel and stabilize us momentarily. But staying weighted on my heel feels like it pulls me away from my partner. This might be one of those things where, even though we're using the same words (keeping weight on the heels), we might be envisioning something different. Time will tell. Meanwhile, where it works, I use it, where it doesn't, I don't.

(NOTE: After speaking with other students who have had privates with them, the idea might be more about placing weight over the entire foot, rather than weighting to the heel or the ball of the foot. If anyone would like to contribute their ideas on this, I'd love to read it.)


Mark said...

You did all that in just one lesson? How long was it? It sounds like enough stuff for a whole term.

Marika said...

Mark - omg you have no idea! The lesson ran long because they didn't want to give up on us until they were sure we "got" it. But did I mention that they were *extremely* focused? (And also very organized.) I've never really dealt with teachers that were this "straight down to business" don't waste a minute, kind of teachers. My brain was so melty after the lesson that I literally had to sit for almost half an hour and think about it. (And cool off - my partner and I were bright red, and crazy hot by the time we were done.) You will definitely get your money's worth if you study with them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mari,

Perhaps our post may help slightly - we wrote about the concept of having weight in your heels (http://movementinvitesmovement.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/weight-in-your-heels/).

Otherwise, we find it very difficult to understand that people think that Oliver&Silvana dance traditional tango. It looks nothing like what is danced in Buenos Aires. So it seems like such a challenging situation that you take lessons in, and dance, so many "styles" of Tango which require such different technique. It's our thought that "perfecting" one technique will be for more advantageous than being able to do multiple techniques at an OK level.


tangocherie said...

Everyone has to find the way of dancing tango that is right for them, don't they? I really do believe that, even though we teach people to dance a certain way, a way that we feel is best. But then, with experience and their own personalities and their free choice, students have to make tango their own by deciding how they want to dance it.

Ruben and I dance on the balls of our feet. We feel there is more balance, control, forward weight alignment, and grace that way. However, it is true that sometimes we put our heels down and sometimes, depending on the step, walk heel first. So one never can stipulate "never."

For men walking heel first they can appear as soldiers or robots and often lean backwards, causing them to pull the woman too tightly forward in order to maintain the chest connection.

The heels also act as breaks and can prohibit both partners from pivoting easily. When women have their heels down while doing ochos, they don't complete the pivot 180 degrees and start moving too close or too far from their partner.

I put my heels down usually only to rest, and control them so that there is no noise. Hearing heels clunk clunk on the floor, or entire feet swishing swishing in skating movements are the bad habits of beginners.

So there you have at least one opinion on this very controversial subject. I do think it makes a great difference if you're dancing milonguero, salon or nuevo though.

Thank you for sharing your personal experience.

Marika said...

MIM - thank you!!! I knew I'd read that post somewhere but I couldn't remember where so I couldn't find it again - it's extremely helpful and might be what S&O were trying to get at - except for the whole back being completely straight thing, which I don't really understand. For my own comfort, and for maintaining connection to my partners, I ended up in almost the exact position you described - and it's very comfortable through a range of movements and styles of embrace.

My partner and I are really most comfortable, and most trained, in close embrace with a slight to moderate lean. It's what our teachers dance, and so we are most familiar with that style. However, most of the dancers in our community are more upright/independent axis dancers. Which leaves me frequently "too close" for many leaders' comfort, and leaves him feeling like he's practically chasing the woman around the pista. We needed to have at least some adaptability to the predominant style in our community - hence the lesson.

Marika said...

Cherie - Thank you for commenting. The heel down thing is tricky, and the MIM describes it is more helpful than saying keep heels down which, as you say, makes it hard to pivot and maintain connection. It will take some experimenting and practice to see what works most comfortably. I think maybe my partner and I have different needs in that regard since it's generally accepted that it's the follower's job to adapt to the greatest range of leading styles as possible. Though my partner might find an easier time getting dances the more easily he can adapt to different followers.

NYC Tango Pilgrim said...

Silvina has influenced the way I dance throughout the years. I still remember what she taught me at our first private class a couple of years ago. Whenever I have question or am not sure about something, I would ask her to help me. The posture that she taught you and your partner, from your description, was what any good salon teacher would have taught.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite videos where Silvana dances with milonguero Nestor Ray ten years ago in Pairs. http://www.youtube.com/user/Jantango#p/f/45/xbvrS2tnGa8 She has since changed her style dancing with Oliver. Her website stated that she learned to walk from Ricardo Vidort, how to turn with Nestor Ray, and to dance milonga from El Flaco.

Marika said...

NYC-TP - I have to admit I'm so very impressed with Silvina's emphasis on a disciplined approach to learning to dance, and on posture and technique over steps and patterns (at least in private lessons.)

Jantango - thank you for the video link - and for your comment. I think her embrace there looks much more relaxed than how she generally dances with Oliver, but that's looking at it from the side lines. Plus, as followers, we learn to adapt to our partner's style. No?

Anonymous said...

I agree with NYC Tango 100%. My partner and I took their privates in the past. They taught us how to dance good salon style which most US instructors rarely offer.