Javier Rochwarger's Workshops in Austin, Texas

Second class of Javier Rochwarger's Workshops at Esquina Tango, Austin
(Background: I've had classes/lessons with Javier Rochwarger for the last 3 years. He makes his annual visit to Esquina Tango here in Austin every Spring. You can read about two of my previous experiences here: Spring, 2011 and here: Summer, 2012. )

Group Classes
One of the reasons Javier is so popular is that everything he teaches in group classes is taught in the context of the social dance. The movements and the technique are intended for dancing on a populated floor, and respecting the line of dance. He talks about listening to the structure of the music and understanding movement in terms of the music's grammar. His classes have always been filled with beautiful and immediately applicable skills on the milonga floor. Javier's focus is on the quality of the embrace and of the dancer's movement - not so much on sequences, though he does use them. When he uses a sequence, it's most often to demonstrate the point of technique he is trying to make.  (Connecting turns, making use of crosses in certain places in the music, disassociation etc.)  
He is funny, and as his website says "warmly intense", but he is not timid with correction. He does not take himself too seriously, but he does take the material he teachers very seriously. He knows he has very little time so he is direct with his instructions and with his feedback.

This year I took more group classes than last year - I managed 3 out of 5 group classes and 2 shared private lessons with different partners.  Javier's group classes are about the only group classes I seek out anymore, mostly because he  really tries to give followers "equal time" when it comes to technique instruction. (In most group classes, I feel like a prop or worse, a crash test dummy, present only to give the leaders someone to practice their new moves on. I understand the importance of that, truly - but I paid for the class too. ) Javier really makes an effort to work with everyone at some point in the class and that's no easy task, especially in a large class.

At the beginning of every workshop (and private lesson), he asks the dancers to dance at least once, usually a couple of times, to get a feel for where, collectively, the students are in their dance. If necessary, he adjusts what he had planned to teach to better help the students as a group. So I can tell you he focused on embrace, collecting (and when not to collect), pauses, disassociation and turns in the classes I was in - but that may not be what he focuses on in other classes.

Private (shared) Lessons
I've written before that many dancers, myself included, rarely get truly surprising feedback in private lessons at this point. I usually have an idea of what is going wrong, I just don't know how to fix it. Every once in a while I get a, 'When did I start doing that???' moment, but thankfully not too often.

The homework list this year is, sadly (see previous post), much like last year's list.
(In no particular order.)

1. Straighten my back and stop sagging/tilting at the middle. I have less "middle" now, but I shouldn't be resting it on my partner if he's not inviting that in the embrace.

2. While we're on the subject of waiting to be invited  - wait to be invited into the leader's embrace rather than putting myself where I want to be. There is always some negotiation of the embrace but latching onto the leader, where I have not been invited to be, can feel presumptuous and limiting to the dance.

3. Continue to work on balance issues. That part was relatively new given my current  muscle issues, but I got a very clear demonstration of how it is limiting the options of my partners.
4. Get control of my weight changes and axis.This is one of those things that, because I only recently understood how to begin to affect that change, it is taking a very long time for me to work on. It's a case of different metaphors/explanations work for different people and it took a long time to find an explanation that worked for me.
5.Disassociation needs to be more clear and controlled. This one really is about my own bad habits. Here in Austin, for several reasons, most leaders open the embrace to do ochos and turns so I don't really have to disassociate as much as I do when I dance in other cities. Some of that is because it is so often taught (in open embrace) that way in Austin - but I didn't realize until I was in the group classes this weekend how few dancers (followers and leaders) can manage turns and ochos smoothly and comfortably in close embrace when directed to do so.

: It's not that I object to doing turns and ochos in open embrace - I don't mind at all as a style issue. I do mind a bit when I'm being pushed and pulled through turns because my partner has not been taught to rotate his torso separately from his (or her) hips.
6. Stop the auto-collecting and wait for the leader to actually lead me to collect. Collecting too soon, or without being led to, limits certain options for the leader. It was particularly noticeable (as an obstacle) when dancing vals.
7. While we're at it - stop auto anything. Some things you do as a default when you're first learning tango - but after awhile, damned few things in tango should be considered "automatic".
8. Continue work on hip laxity which slows down my ability to truly land my side steps. I land my foot, but my hip is still in motion or pulled slightly over the foot. This is an ongoing PT and training issue that my teacher was able to refine in terms of the dance.
9. Slow down. We disagreed at first on this topic as he believed I was anticipating the lead, but after actually testing my balance, he admitted what I had initially told him was true - I'm falling into the next step, not getting ahead. This is the most deeply frustrating part of my tango training right now. 
A couple of months ago, my balance was more solid than it had been in my entire adult life. Starting High Intensity Interval Training in the manner I did has developed my muscle tone (which is great - my body fat percentage dropped from over 32 to 28% in less than 2 months) but in very unbalanced ways (which is less great.)  I didn't combine my HIIT training with the complementary strength training that would have prevented this problem and now I'm having to retrain and do more corrective exercises to address that. (More on that in a different post.)  It gets better every week, but I'm just not where I want to be yet.
10. Get better control of my hips/balance/abdominal muscles to reduce unintentional movements in the dance, like breaking at the waist, dropping my hip, rocking to the side etc. 


More notes from my second private lesson.

1. In terms of posture and embrace, when I thought I was disassociating, I wasn't really using contrabody motion (at least not consistently), but simply breaking at the waist and dropping my hip and/or shoulder. I had to feel the "correct" way several times (by leading Javier) to feel what I needed to do with my own body. Through turns in particular, even in the ocho cortado which is very minimal pivot, I was falling slightly away from my partner.

2. Again, as above, don't be so quick to complete the "move" - slow down.

3. Match the energy my partner gives me.

4. Keep working on the balance issues - especially using the disassociation exercises. I made more progress on my balance this weekend than I have in the past two weeks simply using the suggestions Javier gave me.  I wish I could explain them here - but even when Javier explained them to me verbally, I struggled to understand. Once he showed me, as a leader and as a follower, within the embrace - I got it.

My only regret was that, once again, I forgot to record either the lesson, or a wrap up dance to review later.  :-/  My brain was too full.

For more about Javier Rochwarger, visit his webpage here: http://www.javitango.com/
Videos of his teaching/dancing can be found here: http://www.javitango.com/videos


David said...

Bravo to you for getting this out there. My half-baked notes on Javier's recent work here are mouldering on my computer. One thing I wanted to say about Javier was how impressed I was at how much attention he gives the follower role, at least as much as if not more than the leader. Interesting, with him being a leader, but he follows wonderfully, too.

Might I suggest that for both aerobic and strength training that you look into kettlebells. They make for a wonderful combination of the two aspects of fitness, and the strength aspect is so good because it is whole body, with a great deal of core involvement. Let me know if you'd like ideas on getting started.

Glitter said...

Thanks for the good note taking! I've been starting to do that too, otherwise it feels like everything just washes over and I'm not getting anywhere with this dance :)