Practicas

Practicing on a slippery floor is tough!

Last night I attended a practica. The first feedback I received was that I needed to pivot more and take bigger steps on my molinete, and that my response time for weight shifts was not quick enough. Now, I am not perfect, and these are all things that I want to get down flawlessly. I want to be someone who can respond sensitively and quickly to a lead, who can walk (and molinete and …) comfortably and with good form. But these are not the typical critiques I get in practicas.

I hate to sound like I am passing blame, but I can’t help but think that some of the problem was the floor. I had never danced with this leader before, and a leader I know well and who also does quick weight shifts and direction changes was saying that the floor was inhibiting his lead. I also found myself fighting to pivot as much as I normally do while simultaneously taking big steps and maintaining balance. These are not all problems that I face in normal conditions. (Then again, a new leader may have useful, new critiques. I won’t ignore them.) It does, however, highlight some things that I could be working on. I never feel like I am done working on basic ideas …

Individual Practice Checklist:
1) Balance – Stand on one foot (in heels!) and do exercises with the opposite foot/ankle/leg; transfer weight and immediately lift other leg to check balance; etc.
2) Ochos – A staple exercise for any tanguera, no? Focus on extension, pivot, collecting, etc. Throw in some embellishments for practice.
3) Molinete – Focus on big, even steps. Lots of pivot. Practice in a circle, placing steps an even distance from the center of the circle.
4) Boleos – Any good ideas on how to practice these solo? I want to work not only on training my body to have good placement but also to be properly relaxed. I’m not sure how to work on that without a partner to initiate the movement. In fact, I could probably just call this bullet point Relaxation and include other movements that I want to be more relaxed with. I just need to identify the best way to work on this.
5) Walking – I don’t have a huge space to work with, but I always want to work on smooth walking: Staying at the same level, not ever falling into a step but maintaining control, collecting, etc.

Those are my top five right now. There are lots of fun things that I like playing with in practicas, with partners (e.g. from last night: leader and follower sacadas, colgadas, sentadas – this was a new one …), but in the end I always return to trying to perfect the basics. What are you working on?

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9 thoughts on “Practicas

  1. First aid tape. For the bottom of your shoes.Here’s my $0.02 on the molinete.Not so much big steps, but steps to match the torso rotation (turning) of the leader. Also, for me, it’s always an energy thing – the energy of the follower’s step. I always say “take” the step, emphasizing and really, really enunciating the word “take”. Like Jerry McGuire “Help me help you…” “taAAAke” the step…Jaimes Freidgen did and exercise at a workshop I attended where the leader stood on one foot, with the other foot extended out to the side for balance, but with 100% of the wt on the active (standing) foot. The follower would then do the molinete, turning the leader around in a circle, more or less dragging him around. Then the leader switches feet and the follower does the molinete in the other direction. He said this was to illustrate to the follower the amount of energy she should use when “taAAAking” her steps. It’s almost as if the lead switches to the follower for a microsecond.It’s an “energy meeting energy” sort of thing. Definitely not a passive thing. When a follower contributes energy to the molinete, it’s heavenly.The other one I’ve heard is that the front step is slightly away from the leader’s axis (or the axis of the molinete), and the back step is slightly over-rotated to end up closer to the leader. It’s a geometry thing that’s hard to explain.My follower technique is very rusty, but the last element is that one (or possibly two) of the steps are quicker. I think it might be the side-front, but honestly I forget, I would need a follower to figure it out. Back step at normal speed, but the side-front are quickened ever so slightly. I might be exactly backwards about this. Again, I think it’s a distance/geometry thing required to stay in front of the leader – not to mention staying with the beat, if that’s what the leader is leading you to do.This is all pent up stuff from a post that I never have done on the molinete. I keep talking about it, but I never actually write it.Oh well…have a great labor day weekend!

  2. Shorter steps plus dodgy pivots defintely sounds like slippery floor to me. It’s a problem that it’s hard for most leaders to appreciate, because they don’t need such good balance as we do. I think few leaders, and indeed few followers, appreciate just how much skill is involved in the ‘basics’ of following – pivoting perfectly and stepping, moment to moment, never knowing where you’re going next, really requires enormous physical skill, and we should be proud of our ability to do it.Alex, you’re right, it usually goes like this:Long sideLong backShort sideShort frontIt’s simple geometry: the steps that take longer do so because the foot has a longer path to travel – round the outside behind the standing leg – and require a pivot in the hips. With the shorter steps the foot has a shorter path to travel – cutting the corner on the inside – and there’s often no need to pivot the hips at all. I agree it’s all about actively taking the step – but I think that’s *always* the case, not just with giros. Us followers always have to actively put ourselves where we’re being asked to go. So I don’t like your wording when you say it’s almost like of the lead ‘switching’ to the follower, because for me it’s nothing to do with leading – it’s to do with being actively present and participating, an attitude which I feel we should have in *every* step.It’s exactly this active taking of the step that a slippery floor screws up! It makes everything feel tentative, which sucks.

  3. I guess what I meant with “big steps” was steps that are big and powerful enough for what is being lead.I have never heard of the front step being farther away from the leader’s axis. If anything, I have heard more emphasis on really having a nicely circular front step to keep it in close to the leader (and thus being able to get farther around him, make the step stronger, etc). I’ll have to think about that.In my experience, there is no right way, tempo-wise, for the molinete to be done. It can be done with even steps, with various steps being faster or slower than others … all depending on the lead and the music and how you have been dancing up to that point.Good thoughts, thanks!

  4. “It’s exactly this active taking of the step that a slippery floor screws up! It makes everything feel tentative, which sucks.”Exactly! Oh, I’m glad someone agrees. It was a frustrating problem to have with a leader who was new to me.

  5. Oh, perhaps I should add that sometimes people think of the back-side as the ‘fast bit’, because of the way we hear the beat and call out the step. If you call it out, the double time starts with the back, so you hear ‘back-side-front, side, back-side-front, side’. This makes it sound like the back step and the double time side step are the short steps. But this is an illusion. The action required to land a step happens in the space before the beat, not the space after. So it’s the single-time side and the back step that are physically slow/long, and the double-time side and the front step that are physically quick/short. Hope I’m making sense. And not being too boring.

  6. Dear Modern Tanguera,I agree with you that floors that are too slippery are awful to dance. They also make me tentative, much more afraid of not being able to correct myself, much more afraid of sliding, much more afraid of just putting energy where I should. Once I had a private lesson on a slippery floor. The teacher made lemonade out of lemons and focused on have me improve my balance and step more with the whole foot. That was helpful as a learning exercise, and it is a trick that I use when in need, but sometimes it’s just not enough… I’ve been on floors in which even the heel of the shoes slide if I happen to step just in a little angle with them. So there. We are in the same boat, my friend!Tanguera

  7. It is totally OK to blame the floor! I was also, like Alex, going to recommend first aid tape on the bottom of your shoes…that’s usually how I tackle a slippery floor 🙂Thank you for the individual practice checklist by the way 🙂 I’m dancing belly dance, among other things, and I am working on getting more comfortable dancing in high heels… so I’m definately going to try the balance exercise! 🙂

  8. Re pivots: My first teacher started me out with this twisty exercise “thing” (sorry, don’t know what it’s called) you get at Academy– it’s a round plate you lay on the floor and step on, and you twist side to side. great for balance and really makes you isolate.

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