Saturday, 21 June 2008

Los Dispari 1 - Essentials of Villa Urquiza Style

Tango in Action have some big names doing classes again: Jorge Dispari and Maria (or Marita) del Carmen. Here they are dancing together, below. I haven't been taking any classes since March. The quality of my dancing has improved a lot since then, from dancing more, socially, with people who dance better that me. But I felt it was a good time to take some more, picked for interest. A total of eight are scheduled, and I had time, budget, and energy for four.

[Housekeeping edit: here are the other classes I went to: Los Dispari 2 - Essence of Milonga Walk and Los Dispari 3, 6, and 7 - Walking and Turns]

This first class, on Thursday, was all about the embrace. I thought it was great quality and value for a lot of the people who came. The title was "Essential Elements of the Tango Villa Urquiza style: posture, embrace and elegance," and it was billed, I think correctly, as an all-levels class.

Jorge and Maria arrived in good time, looking pleased to be there, and greeted everyone who was waiting individually with a Hola and big smile and a kiss on both cheeks. They are both smaller than they look on YouTube, where for some reason they've been filmed mostly from floor level. I am barely average for the lower North Sea coast, but still just taller than him in my heels. She is little, but makes herself bigger with a "Hello, I'm High Maintenance" look. They seem very fond of each other, but not in an irritating or distracting way, which is nice. Every time he is going to dance more than a few steps with her - every time he intends to progress more than half way round the floor - she gets a kiss on the forehead to snuggle her up.

The class was delivered entirely in Spanish; Stefano interpreted. The interpretation was patchy, but my thin smattering of relevant Spanish, together with their expressive gestures and clear demonstrations, was more than enough for getting the gist. I don't really speak Spanish, but I understand enough to follow Jorge Dispari talking about the embrace at least as well as your basic Portugese footballer can follow Alex Ferguson talking about football. He speaks clearly, and there are no difficult concepts or words. But you would get less out of the class if you didn't understand any at all. Here's a video of him teaching with their daughter Samantha, so you can assess whether you'd understand.

It began with a pep talk about how pleased he was to see us all so passionate about tango. Then we were asked to take partners and just dance two tangos so they could observe us.

Next came detailed advice and demonstration about the embrace. I'm just going to summarise as much as I remember, more or less in the order it came up.

1. Those who tended to hunch over (so that the woman has to hang herself from their shoulders like washing - I hate this) were emphatically told not to, especially by Maria, who said very little in general but responded to this with a "NO!!", a lively imitation of the fault, and as much physical pushing and pulling as seemed to be needed to get the point across.

2. The man's right hand is alive and important. This is very difficult to see - an embrace can look good but not be good. Jorge demonstrated by embracing a student with a good and bad embrace in turn and getting her to identify the difference; then Jorge and Maria went around and physically embraced all the leaders individually to get the idea across. Once the embrace is nice, the fingers will not be splayed. We danced another track concentrating on that.

3. The embrace is front-on. The woman is not being dragged along under the man's right arm. Nor is she at right-angles, facing sideways to the man's left; this is possible, but it puts a dangerous amount of strain on the woman's back. Embrace the woman's spine. Don't both face in the same direction, to the man's left. You can't walk in a straight line with your head pointing to your left - try it without the woman, and see. The leader is facing forwards and the follower, back. There were more demos and advice about togetherness and closeness and a talk about how the embrace shown is relatively difficult for the leader to achieve, at first, but gives much better connection and repays patient practice.

They used a very simple figure to illustrate the principles. The leader walks outside for two steps, then there is a tiny invisible 'up-lead' to make her next step a short one. She crosses left over right and then pivots and steps over his left foot, which he has interposed; she does a tiny forward ocho the other way, and pivots, and they walk out, now back in parallel feet. You can see them do something rather like it, with a bit more going on, from about 00:29 to 00:37 in the video above. It's quite characteristic of their style, and the point is that they stay fully connected and front-on throughout.

There were some miscellaneous points that came up. It's a good idea to start a dance with a walk. [Hedgehog: oh yes please! From Jorge's mouth to the ears of every leader in London! Give me a chance to tune in!]. If you have three metres of space it is better to take three good-sized confident steps, than five little ones. If the music tells you to pause, pause, don't move just for the sake of moving. If you have no space, do some little figure on the spot.

Throughout the class they conscientiously observed the leaders individually, and gave encouraging, specific, constructive feedback. They pointed out who was the most improved since November, when they were here last; who danced well but needed to work on the embrace; who danced well and lacked nothing but confidence; and so on. All the leaders got specific guidance that could and did make a real difference to the quality of their dancing, within an hour and a half.

The only weakness of this class was that there was very little direct instruction for the followers. The only thing I remember was the remark that you cannot dance with a corpse, and the follower should give adequate response and feedback and presence with both arms, without being tense. This is normal for this type of class, and I was OK with it, given the subject matter, but some people could probably have done with more. A follower can still get a lot out of valuable information and experience out of hearing the principles explained, and feeling what happens, what it's like, and how much better the connection can be, when the leader improves his embrace and posture radically within a few minutes. I found it illuminating, and advanced my understanding of what can go wrong, and how it all works.

Towards the end was another general talk; now you are dancing, you look better, you have more energy, you look as though you are enjoying it. But now it is your choice whether you improve or not. Nobody can dance well all the time. We can repeat and repeat instructions, but you have to decide you will DO it. Don't lose it now.

Next post - the milonga class.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm! It sounds like I would have really enjoyed those classes. I really must get into a position where I can travel more, Limerick to London isn't that difficult.

Nice notes on the embrace though.
Once the embrace is nice it's an embrace and not a clutch.

Psyche said...

"so that the woman has to hang herself from their shoulders like washing - I hate this"

Great description! (I hate that too.)

"Nor is she at right-angles, facing sideways to the man's left; this is possible, but it puts a dangerous amount of strain on the woman's back."

Naturally I disagree with this, as it's the way I grew up learning. But I can see how it would seem that way to those with a front-on style - presumably it's the same way that the milonguera hyperlordosis looks and feels dangerous to me.

Thanks to prolongued exposure to a lot of front-on guys, I now do both front-on and side-on, and like both, for different reasons and in different ways. And can do front-on without having to resort to the milonguera hyperlordosis - I think that's an illusion most of the time, anyway.

Anonymous said...

"it's the way I grew up learning"... or the way you were taught?

It is one thing to do something because it is part of a, hopefully, thought-out design and another thing entirely to do something because that is the way you end up doing it. There is a vast territory between the two and the map is marked 'here be dragons' in plenty of places.

NYC Tango Pilgrim said...

How about the man's left hand? :-)

msHedgehog said...

@Pilgrim - I have always had a shaky conception of left and right, and I constantly mix them up in speech and writing - please point out to me where I have transposed them and I'll fix it. It happens all the time, and I'm not going to be able to find it myself! Not at this time of night, anyway. And if you could do me the same favour for the other posts, I'd appreciate it.

msHedgehog said...

oh ... he said nothing whatsoever, interestingly, about the (height of) the man's left hand as we were discussing elsewhere. Absolutely nothing - it just never came up. The leaders in the classes, with very few exceptions, all did more or less the normal thing of holding it somewhere between the follower's shoulder height and their own ear, depending mostly on the height of the follower; and Jorge himself generally did the same as far as I noticed. I don't think he held it rigidly at a constant height, though. There was one man in class 7 who did the 'teapot' thing, as though he were pouring tea into his own ear, but the height of the hand still didn't come up at all; and that man mainly danced with his own equally tall girlfriend so I don't know what he would have done with me.

JD danced with me for just a few steps in the milonga class, as a check, and the hand was at a comfortable height; but it couldn't possibly not have been, because he's shorter than me-plus-heels anyway. So, nothing proven either way.

Psyche said...

Limerick Tango - what I mean is that it's the style used by my primary teacher. I say 'grew up learning' rather than 'was taught', because it's something I kind of passively absorbed from him, more than something he actively taught me (kinda like the way your pick up your parents' accent). He believes in people using whichever style they prefer, as long as it works - and so do I.

Personally, I think all our tango is a mixture of what we conscioualy try to create based on what we're consciously taught or consciously like, and what we fall into naturally because it suits us. Both methods of growth are fine. It's good to work to improve your technique, but it's also important to let your own way of doing things emerge on its own.

Anonymous said...

I am in total agreement with Psyche. There are some things that we simply "grow into" despite what has been preached. Stealing from the doctors' Hippocratic Oath - "Harm no-one" and so yes, as long as it doesn't harm your partner (posture, balance etc) then do your thing if it feels better.