Chapter 3   Leave a comment

Cat on a hot dance floor

One of the often used analogies to describe the motion of tango dancers on the floor is that they walk like a feline. The subtle, catlike, cunning displacement of good tango dancers speaks plenty of connection, sensuality and finesse.
How, then, can we learn to move like a cat, while watching where we are going, taking care of our partner and listening to the music? Did somebody hiss, “technique”? Absolutely! As with any other discipline, learning to dance the Argentine tango requires technique in order to develop a dancing personality of your own. Otherwise, the temptation to imitate others is the curse of the lazy dancer. Think about a handful of world class Tango dancers, Pablo Veron, Miguel Angel Zotto, Osvaldo Zotto, Pablo Pugliese, Eduardo Arquimbau, Carlos Copello, you name them. They all are superb dancers, they all can teach and they all dance completely different from each other. The same thing applies to the ladies: Milena Plebs, Alicia Monti, Miriam Larici, Marcela Duran, Cecilia Saia, Lorena Ermocida, Esther Pugliese, and the list goes on. Spectacular dancers, yet, each one dances with a unique personality and style.

The common denominator is technique. Technique is acquired with knowledge and honed with practice. Of course, we have not overlooked talent, but that is what makes those and other stars who they are.

The beginning of the dance

Many of the unique traits of Argentine tango dancing are the result of protocols, rituals and habits developed along the line of time since the first man raised his left arm and embraced a woman with his right. The salida, the beginning of the dance, is part of the ritual of tango dancing.

Traditionally the “best” women dancers were seated in the front row around the dance floor. This still takes place in many popular dance halls in Buenos Aires. The men would either be in the center of the dance floor or near the bar from where they could see and be seen by the ladies. The object was to make eye contact and imperceptibly ask a lady to dance with a nod of the head. A lady wishing to accept the invitation would indicate so with a minimal motion of her eyes, her lips, or her head. At this point the man would walk towards the lady without losing eye contact, a sort of reassurance that the eyes he was looking at, were looking back at him and not for some other guy coming from behind him.

After accepting the invitation to dance, the lady would wait until the man got closer to her table and then she would get up and step forward with her back to the table and facing the dance floor. The man would stand in front of her facing away from the center of the dance floor. The accepted protocol expected that the couple would not disturb the dancing of others already dancing, so their first step would have to be into the line of dance, i.e., the man’s side step to his left, the lady’s side step to the right.

Then, a left turn of the man’s upper body would line them up to join la ronda and they would proceed to complete what has became known as the salida, the beginning of the dance, which commonly ends with the cross, but it doesn’t have to necessarily happen that way.

Do you have to start with a step to the side? No. Can you start with a back step? Yes. In which of the two situations can you see the space in front of you? Which of the two situations would minimize the possibility of stepping on somebody dancing behind you? Rather than engaging in a philosophical debate over which is the best way to start moving, we suggest that you use common sense. There are some crowded situations where you are almost forced to move in one and only one direction. You may back out of your driveway, but would you back out on a freeway?

The Salida

At the beginning of the dance, both dancers are facing each other and their legs are closed, that is their feet are together. The first step keeps the dancers facing each other but their legs are open. Throughout the dance both dancers will be repeating the same movement, opening their legs, then closing them. This is a simplistic concept yet it is the way we dance. There will be times when one dancer opens the legs while the other keeps them closed or viceversa. Tango dancing requires a mark from the man, a motion by the lady and a subsequent motion by the man. Sort of the way a cat displaces his body by moving one leg at a time. The combined bodies of the dancers and their four legs move in a similar fashion.

Every time we step we open our legs. Every time we bring our feet together before the next step we close our legs. So, stepping to the side is the same as opening the legs wide. Stepping forward or backwards is the same as opening the legs deep.

A very commonly used sequence for a salida consists of a side step, two steps in the direction that the man is facing, and a return to the closed legs position. When the dancers are in the closed legs position, their bodies are fully facing each other. Their feet can be together or crossed.

A typical salida then, consists of:

(1) A side step to the right of the lady. The man’s body shifts slightly to the left in order to walk outside the lady.

(2) Two steps, forward for the man and backwards for the woman.

(3) A forward step for the man and a back step for the woman who crosses her left leg over her right to come back into a full frontal alignment in front of the man. This position is similar to the body position the dancers had at the beginning of the salida but now her feet are crossed.

Although the crossing of the lady’s leg is a very common occurrence in Argentine tango, the man has the responsibility to mark such a movement. In fact, every single step of the tango is marked, and this is a very important subject that we will address next time.

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Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

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