Chapter 23   Leave a comment

A giro state of mind

Dance floors come in all shapes, so the challenge of navigating any floor while dancing the music, protecting the woman, and respecting the presence of other dancers around, should be the top priority of any man who aspires to be considered a good Tango dancer. Although the woman’s role in the Tango is to ride fully trusting her partner’s skills and his consideration for her safety and the safety of the other dancers, her aspirations to also be considered a good dancer should include that she also be fully aware of the directions in which her displacements are guided by her partner.

Tango is a Left Turn Dance

For years people have been taught the Eight Count Basic, a pattern some think was created by stage dancers on tour presented with the opportunity to make extra money by doing what they do worst, teaching foreigners to dance Tango. Choregraphy is the core of stage/fantasy Tango dancing, and the most used and widely recognized pattern is the Salida Simple of Juan Carlos Copes, which is done in time with the 4×8 structure of modern Tango. This became the basis for the Eight Count Basic that has shackled the creativity and kept at a rudimentary level the dancing of many who choose not to rebel.

In trying to quantify and assimilate the Argentine Tango, an improvisational and very individualistic urban dance form, to its methods and protocols, ballroom studios, their salespersons and their customers, traded off the unique American rugged individualism for a hefty sum of money, and the frustration of wanting to dance the Tango, but being able to only talk about it without showing much for their passion, dedication, time and money.

Look around and see how many men start the dance facing the line of dance placing the woman in front of them, as a weapon to hit or to be hit by other people. Observe how after eight steps, they have fallen into the center of the dance floor from where they will wander aimessly repeating the Eight Count Basic, or worse, trying the Flavor of the Month “cool” step courtesy of the local “teacher,” the one who never takes classes, but somehow manages to keep getting repeated business mostly because s/he is so nice, s/he is a pioneer, s/he is so dedicated. It may have never occurred to someone, to give him/her a bouquet of flowers, a box of bon bons, a watch, or a certificate of appreciation, rather than continuing to encourage his/her state of denial.

When a man approaches the woman he has invited or accepted to dance with, the first thing he should do is to face towards the outside of the dance floor, with the line of dance to his left. He should place the woman in front of him, with her back closer to the outer edge of the dance floor, her line of vision being able to see the entire dance floor behind the man, and to her right into the line of dance.

Even if the man is an Eight Count Basicochist, they’ll end up closer to the outer of the dance floor rather than falling into the center. Besides, he will be protecting his partner with his back facing the busy traffic coming from behind. Further, executing a pattern will always provide the woman with a safe space of where to move, without risking her body to the oblivious actions of others who have not read this article. Finally, because all figures have a set up, an execution, and an ending, they can be thought of as part of the correct navigation of the dance floor, and both dancers will be aware of continuing their displacement into the general direction of the line of dance. This general direction of the line of dance is counter clockwise, therefore the Argentine Tango is a left turn dance. This is mostly the result of the fact that the man embraces with his right arm bringing the woman’s left arm and shoulder as close as possible (and comfortable) on the right side of his upper torso. He creates a larger separation on his left side by raising his left arm and holding her right arm extended forward at shoulder’s height.

The Fundamental Tango Move

As the couple properly embraced readies to begin the dance (Salida), imagine that they stand on different “rings” of concentric lines of dance (think about the multiple lanes of a track and field oval). The man is in a lane closer to the center, say lane 2, while the woman is on a lane closer to the outer edge of the dance floor, say lane 3.

When they move into the line of dance, they do so always going up and down different lanes rather than in front of each other on the same lane. It is a gentle or sharp zig zag displacement to the left of the couple. To accomplish this, the man starts with his weight on his right leg and the woman with her weight onher left leg (this should be indicated, “marked” by the man, even if they have done the move a million times already). Every weight shift by the man should be clear, precise and decisive. Every weight shift of the woman, change of axis, should be initiated and controlled by the man. The sooner a woman understands this, the more time she can dedicate to learn how to find and hold her axis, so she can move with the man NOW,  not later after she wrongly assumed the role of a follower and took time to figure out the “lead,” process the proper “follow,” and ordered her brain to move her body. By then the music is several beats ahead.

Show me lead and follow in Tango, and I’ll show you a couple who is not dancing to the music.

The most common initiation of the Salida, is a motion to the left of the couple, which is accomplished using both dancers natural opening of their free legs, the man’s left and the woman’s right (the side step). The man opens to his left by going down one lane (he is lane 1, and she is on lane 2).

Next, to continue moving to the left of the couple into the line of dance, they both need to use their other leg (the man’s right and the woman’s left) so the legs MUST cross in order to bring the weight changes into the left of the couple. Legs can either cross in front or behind the other one. The man crosses his right leg in front of his left leg stepping up to lane 3, thus marking clearly the crossing of the woman’s left behind her right leg landing on lane 4 (the second step of the salida). His lower body is slightly to the left of her lower body giving the optical illusion that he stepped into her right side, however their upper torsos must keep the shape of the embrace so she does not end up dancing in his armpit.

The third step to continue the Salida into the line of dance is again similar to the first in which the natural opening of the man’s left leg marks the opening of the woman’s right. As with every natural opening this is a point where changes of direction take place to make the Salida a very gentle left turn on a curve with a radius that extends from San Francisco to New York, or a very tight one where the woman actually moves around the man (yes, you guessed it, the salida is a component of the left turn giro!).
The range of motion of the man’s opening to his left with his left leg varies from a straight forward going up to lane 5, to a square lateral motion staying on lane 4, as long as the leg does not cross over his right axis so his weight change in this step will always be to his left. The opening of the woman’s right leg MUST be allowed to fall where it is marked by the opening decision made by the man, and not arbitrarily sent back as the third step learned during the days of the Eight Count Basic!

Finally the man will bring his right leg to a close next to his left to allow the woman to catch up with him. He will bring her in to his left side placing her again in front of him by marking a front cross of her left leg in front of her right leg. The orientation of her body and how the left leg crosses in front of the right leg will be a function of the direction established by the previous opening step, and not the stereotyped figure of the “tight pretty crossing” of the shoes from the the Eight Count Basic days.
From this point the Salida pattern can be repeated, using the natural openings to the left of the couple to steer the couple around the general shape of the dance floor.

In a Salida, the woman always repeats the following sequence with her legs produced by the rotation of her hips as she shifts axis: right opens, left crosses behind, right opens, left crosses in front. This is for the sole purpose of displacing her body to her right (the left of the couple) into the line of dance. The subtleness of this motion have caused some to describe it as a grapevine. It is not. They are still looking for the unfortunate mouth who first uttered the term molinete. It is not.
It is the Fundamental Basic Tango Movement for the woman, that results when the couple progresses into the line of dance moving at an angle on different lanes with the woman on the outer lane. The crossing of her legs behind and in front of each other is mostly accomplished by a gentle rotation of the hip where her axis is. This allows their upper bodies to stay silently connected within the confines of the embrace.

A Giro State of Mind

Why do very few dancers use turns to the left as part of their bread-and-butter bag of tricks is one of those impoderables that defies logic. Why most dancers dance into each other’s armpits is easier to understand: they were taught the “basics” in a vacuum, out of context with the reality of the dance floor, sort of dancing by connecting dots. Why is it that those who know less about the dance feel compelled to jump at the opportunity of forcing the Eight Count Basic down the proverbial throats of curious bystanders, like zealous disciples of some looney tuney religious sect? One more, why do self-respecting men/women allow that to happen?

On the average, it takes the better part of an hour to teach and learn the fundamental concept of the Salida as a component of a Left Hand Turn (Giro) at the intellectual level of a high school senior. The times it takes to accomplish the movement proficiently is a function of supervised practice, positive feedback and a healthy mental attitude.
It is understable that people who have been there, done that, might resist the stunning logic of something so fundamentally simple. But then, most teachers can’t see the connection between a left hand turn and the countless Salidas they come up with. Well, somebody had to tell Christopher Columbus that the world was round, even though quite a few were incinerated for even attempting to say so before.

Just imagine having to perfect only three steps. Think about the enjoyment and fun you’ve been missing so far while trying to process each figure, each pattern, out of context, with its own “sets of steps,” and the personal spin of the person who taught it to you. Think what it would be like to be in that smooth, elegant, sensual, passionate, playful, totally in control, special state of mind, which is called A Giro State of Mind.

Listen to those who want you to perfect your weight changes and the management of your axis, then do it. Perfect the way you clearly shift your axis from leg/hip to leg/hip. Then free your body so it can move naturally. Feel the rotation of your hip when you are holding your axis. There is no other way for your free leg to move but in a gentle curve, whether it opens, it crosses behind or it crosses in front. Be aware of your partner’s axis so the trajectory of your free leg will naturally move around your partner’s axis. In the very special Giro State of Mind, you can now dance.

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Posted January 8, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

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