Chapter 5   Leave a comment

What tango shall we dance

Previously, we have attempted to provide a series of concepts that include basic elements and fundamental propositions that can serve as the starting point of a dancing learning experience. There is an entire set of intangibles that is very difficult to categorize, assemble and compact into a series of lessons. Feelings, emotions, intimacy, sensuality, are among the most talked about yet most difficult intangibles to define and implement that are part of the whole Tango dancing experience.

There are plenty of quotes to choose from in order to qualify our dancing. As with most quotes, they become clichés the minute we attempt to make them part of our paradigm.

Enrique Santos Discepolo (1901-1951) is credited with the most quoted expression about the Tango: It is a sad thought that you can dance. Years later, a Midwest columnist coined: It is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire. There is no concrete evidence that either Discepolo or the Midwest columnist ever danced a Tango.

The former was concerned about the symbolic value of the nostalgia felt by a suburban popular culture that witnessed the loss of its traditional values to the massive invasion of foreign ideologies.

The latter saw to it that people’s morbid curiosity would draw them to the box office. Unfortunately some of them also made it to the dance floor.

A historical perspective

Actually, anybody interested in history can find out that people interested in Tango dancing have been drawn to it because of the certainty of finding enjoyment, pleasure, self-gratification and happiness during the course of its practice. If history is not your strength, a trip down to South America, to the city of Buenos Aires and into just about any place where Tango is danced, will allow you to see hundreds of people having unadulterated fun. As you enter a dance hall, the lights, the people, the music, the dancing, scream aloud, it’s party time, let’s have some fun, have a great evening! This is the Tango we call our dance.

The line of dance that Tango invites us to join

Susana Miller, an outspoken teacher who travels extensively throughout the United States and Europe, has been quoted to say that to understand Tango, one must understand the fundamentals. This can be seen clearly in the body, movement, circulation on the dance floor and musicality of the great dancers. Great dancers are creative, each dances his own distinct Tango but the fundamentals stay the same in all of them, she continues, then adding, the dance must be rooted in these fundamentals before it can be personal… when one doesn’t understand the essence, it is replaced by clichés, which are a parody of the dance.

In general, our own observation and many hours of intimate conversations with some of the most distinguished teachers and performers from Buenos Aires, confirm our belief that the Argentine Tango is a popular porteño cultural expression that has its own style, pauses, musicality, body language and space management on the dance floor. All of this is inspired by the music that invites us to dance.

The superabundance of traveling teachers has created a distorted culture of confusion where collecting information and trading on steps and figures has delayed the learning process of most communities. Add to that the fixation with performance that seems to pervade at the core of most communities and you can understand why Tango has become a commercial way out of Buenos Aires for many who honestly feel they can offer obsessed Tango step collectors yet another option to gloat and one more luxury object to collect.

Ironically, a current historic revisionism indicates that the genesis of the Tango dance was a form of expression for a hybrid population marginated to the outskirts of the city and frustrated by their lack of consumer power of acquisition. Creating dreams from nothing is a lesson that those born along the shores of the River Plate have learned from their immigrant ancestors. When the Tango music plays, we take onto the dance floor a desire to create dreams from nothing but our brains, our ears, our hearts, our legs and another human being whom we hold dearly close with an embrace.

Becoming part of la ronda

Once we step onto la pista, we become part of la ronda, we belong to a conglomerate of expressions and we form part of a collective demonstration of skills and social manners. Understanding the core elements of the dance, the fundamentals, allows us to assume responsibility for our behavior as it relates to our partner, to our fellows dancers and to the dance floor itself.

What kind of music is Mr. DJ playing now? Listening to the music should be the first priority for the dancer, including sitting out an inappropriate choice by Mr. DJ. The risk in many of our North American communities is to sit out most of the night! So, make some allowances.

The milonga is not the place to experiment with the music nor it is the place to experiment with choreography that requires a lot more space than is available on a social dance floor. We have become somehow oblivious to the leg and foot injuries suffered on the dance floors where the lack of leadership and professional ethics of the hosts encourage reckless behavior in return for a cover charge.

A responsible host will make time available to showcase those who have “performance fever” by interrupting the dance for about five minutes to let an exhibition take place.

Let’s make it clear. Getting injured by careless and insensitive dancers does not go with the territory. First we must take care of our partner by not engaging in dangerous behavior ourselves. That means sharing the dancing space without hogging the space to practice the latest shtick.

Second, we must make sure that our dance is an extension of the music being played and that it is communicated in a respectfully intimate way between partners and that we use the fundamentals to make decisions as to when to walk, when to turn, when to pause, when to do a figure and how to mix and manage these elements to make our dance a joyful experience.

The Change of Front pattern

One pattern we found very useful to circulate along the line of dance while incorporating turns and forward and back ochos, is the change of front. It can be initiated from many different looks but from the same body position when the feet are together and the bodies are fully frontal to each other. The beginning of the dance and the cruzada are two very distinctive looks where the change of front can be initiated. Another possibility is during a forward walk where the bodies are also in what we like to call Body Position 1 (BP-1), i.e. fully facing each other.

A change of front for the man is accomplished in three steps, a forward, a side and a back step. We’ll see later that these three steps are the basis for the execution of giros for the ladies. But for now let’s look at it first from the man’s perspective.

A change of front may begin at the lady’s cruzada position
(1a), while the man’s feet are closed (1b). He marks a back
step (2a) and steps together with her with his left foot (2b).
His left arm extends to his left while holding her body with
his right arm so she will pivot on her right foot. As he steps
with his left, he pivots to his left and opens her to her left
(3a). He then opens his right to face her (3b). Next he shifts
his weight to his right to mark a body weight change to her
left foot. He pivots on his right foot, opens to his left, makes
her pivot to her left and step forward with her right (4a) while
he extends his left foot back to stay ahead of her (4b).
The purpose is to advance one step in the forward direction while placing the left foot slightly pointing to the left (10 o’clock). Next, the body naturally begins to turn to the left because of the left foot is already pointing in that direction. To complete the second step, the right foot travels in an arc to produce a side step allowing the body to be fully facing left from the initial position. On the third beat, as the body weight transfer to the right foot, the upper body opens so there is a pivoting effect on the axis of the right foot. The left foot collects while turning and as the body now faces away from the line of dance, the left leg extends in a back step allowing the metatarsus to provide solid support of the body as it makescontact with the floor. A change of front has occurred. Meanwhile, the lady begins the change of front noticing a different mark. Her partner’s body moves closer on the first step as he points his left foot to his left. Her first back step then is marked to her right rather than straight back.

As the man turns his body on the second step, she notices the mark to open to her left by executing a side step with her left foot. They are now both at a right angle form the initial position, still in BP-1, facing each fully frontal. As the man begins the third step, she will notice that his right arm limits the amount of forward displacement that she can travel on her third step, as she turns on her left foot and steps forward with her right one. At this point, the man has changed front from being “behind” the lady when he faced the line of dance, to being “ahead” of the lady when he faces away from the line of dance. Also their bodies are offset to one side, no longer fully frontal to each other. Only the right half of his torso is facing the right half of her torso. They are occupying twice as much space across the line of dance. This is what we would like to call Body Position 2 (BP-2). The leg placement is identical to the second step of the salida to the cruzada movement explained in an earlier installment. Recognizing these familiar “looks” is a major step towards honing your improvisation skills.

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Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

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