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Valorie Hart Tango Barre Class for Women and El Yeite Practica   Leave a comment

New class in New Orleans starting after Jazz Fest. Starting Tuesday May 5.
Valorie Hart’s Tango Barre is a weekly training class for women. Learn where, when, and how to communicate the emotion that the music evokes through the movement of your body, legs, and feet. Tango movement is poetry in motion achieved through your movement that is unique to you. These classes are designed to help you find your style so you can be confident and express yourself every time you go out dancing. Dancers with any level of experience are encouraged to come to this class.
Every Tuesday 8-9PM, Lelia Haller Ballet Studio, 4916 Canal St, New Orleans, LA 70119, $10. Bring flat shoes and heels (and water).
Valorie’s El Yeite Practica after class 9-11PM, $5. for those who do not attend Tango Barre class. All are welcome to the practica (men, women, everyone).




Posted April 28, 2015 by Alberto & Valorie in Uncategorized

Chapter 28   Leave a comment

Whatever, whenever

We are reaching a point where the original purpose of this series is being fulfilled. More and more people realize that there is more to dancing tango than arguing about styles, proclaiming who is the best teacher this week, or pretending a level of expertise from behind the glare of a computer screen.

The way people dance is affected by social and cultural values. People in different countries dance differently in social clubs, salons and night clubs. One thing is common everywhere where tango is danced: couples are required to embrace. By definition, embracing involves arms surrounding one another with neither pelvis pushing in nor butt sticking out. Yet, people fight over “open” and “close” embrace as they draw battle lines to protect the “purity” of their turf.

A similar situation occurs in the matter of styles of dancing. Nowhere in Europe, Canada, and of course Argentina, you will find discussions, dissertations and grand standings on “invented” style names. It’s only in communities in this country that people find the need to give everything a name, embellishing it with the use of an euphemism here and an oxymoron there.

At the end of the day, there is only one way to dance tango: the way YOU like to dance it. And there is only one style: the one YOU choose to be your style; because a tango dancer never copies, never imitates, never conforms to an established pattern, never follows the trends, never talks about his dancing. A tango dancer dances.

What and when does a tango dancer dance? Whatever and whenever the moment, the music, and the partner provide the ingredients that motivates a dancer to dance.

Variations on Giros to the left

As teachers, we try to encourage dancers to dance, whether in a class environment, or through the sharing of our experience in this series of articles.

The description of figures captured on video during live teaching sessions and performances, is primarily aimed to frame their execution from the mindset of the man and the woman during the process of sheer improvisation.

In this issue’s example, we will analyze the interruption of a right hand giro with a change of direction that initiates a left hand giro. During the progression of the left hand turn, the man will advance breaking the line on which the woman is executing her change of front, displacing her into a new trajectory where both dancers will turn around each other changing fronts. The movement will be interrupted by a change of direction to the right, whereby the dancers will find themselves in the same initial position from where they will repeat the left hand turn again, to finally exit with a salida cruzada on their way to their next destination. The movement will begin at the end end of a salida simple, which  is one of many positions where a new trajectory can be initiated.

First take notice that both the man and the woman are in an almost identical position as that adopted at the beginning of a salida. The man’s axis is on his right leg, the woman’s axis is on her left leg (Frame 1). The woman’s right leg is hooked (crossed) behind the left, rather than next to it as it is at the salida. The position may look and feel different, but it is exactly equivalent to the beginning of a salida.

With the woman’s right leg crossed behind the left, it is more obvious that she can be made to pivot to her left and made to walk forward into the man’s right side. The man marks her pivot with a rotation of his upper body, and her forward step with a matching left back step of his own (Frame 2).

The man stops with his weight on his left leg, marking a pivot for the woman in order to change directions. Rather than continuing moving into his right side, her body now is positioned to walk again forward, but in the direction of the man’s left thus initiating a giro to the left. The man accompanies her forward step to his left by turning to his left on his left leg while letting his right leg coil around the rotating axis completely weightless. (Frame 3).

The impulse of the man’s rotation on his left axis, marks a second step for the woman, who then begins to change her front with forward opening of her left leg in order to continue her giro around the man. As she touches the ground with her right leg, the man initiates a forward step into her left side crossing the line between her open legs and preparing to displace her left leg (sacada) as soon as his weight is transferred (Frame 4).

Frame -1 Frame -2 Frame-3 Frame-4

It is important to emphasize that the man must continue rotating throughout the entire figure to create the trajectory on which she will execute her changes of front around him. Also, it is very important for the man to tuck his left arm and to open his left shoulder turning his upper torso deeply into his left side, in order to avoid sending the woman away from him when she is in the reverse step of her change of front.

It is also very important for the woman to allow her right elbow to bend so she can actually be pulled deeply into the left side of the man. A very common occurrence is the stiff arm syndrome which has kept many women from ever knowing that there is left side to every man. At a more basic level, the stiff arm syndrome is what stops a woman from finishing the salida in the correct body position, because she stops herself from being able to cross her left leg over her right leg and end up in front of the man.

With the man moving forward into the woman’s left side with a displacement, the woman receives the sacada by pivoting on her right leg. The man follows with his left leg the woman’s left leg as she pivots, and marks the end of her change of front by stepping on the inside of her right foot while she steps back with her left leg. (Frame 5).

The man continues rotating to his left while transferring his weight, and the impulse completes the woman’s back step with a quick opening of her right leg which places her again on his left side (Frame 6).

While rotating on his left axis, the man marks with his body her next movement, which happens to be the beginning of a new change of front, or if you prefer to see it in a different way, the beginning of a new giro to the left. The man must time the landing of his opening right with the landing of her forward left leg (Frame 7). Depending on the amount of rotation, the man has the choice to straddle with the opening of his legs the woman’s forward step, or to advance his right leg into the woman’s left side producing a bonus sacada in the process.

Frame-5 Frame-6 Frame-7 Frame-8

While in the open position, the man simply does a half a turn in place ending the left progression of the woman’s giro. Since she is on her left axis, the body mark of the man provokes a pivot on her left leg. This changes the direction of her movement, and she returns into the man ready to begin a change of front into the man’s right side (Frame 8).

The next move is identical to Frame 2, with the man marking a forward step to his right, while accompanying with a back step of his own (Frame 9).

Here is where the mind of the creative dancer recognizes the position and seizes the opportunity to repeat the figure just finished, albeit that he is already planning to end it in a different way. On Frame 10 the man interrupts the forward motion of the woman into his right by stopping and setting his axis on his left leg. As he continues to turn to his left, Frame 11 is identical to Frame 3 and Frame 12 is identical to Frame 4 as the woman advances through the first two steps of her change of front.

Anticipating the third move of her change of front (going backwards), the man does a half a turn in place to position himself on her right side, cross feet position as she steps back with her left leg (Frame 13).

Recognizing that this is the second move of a salida cruzada, the man can continue forward to complete the salida cruzada, for example, whereby the sequence comes to an end. The opportunity to initiate another combination waits for the creative dancers in their displacement around la ronda embroidering the dance floor with their invisible curved lines.

Frame-9 Frame-10 Frame-11 Frame-12

Posted January 8, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 27   Leave a comment

It is what counts

It is sadly amusing to read about teachers who ask their students to tap each other’s shoulders and/or back according to the rhythm of the music to feel really wonderful about being massaged after a vigorous dance class, under the pretenses of learning musicality to improve their tango dancing.
This brings creepy memories of another teacher who keeping a straight face told a captive audience at a musicality class, that she was capable of dancing the bandoneon sound with one leg and the violin sound with the other one.

Musicians know that “El que toca nunca baila” (A musician never dances). Let us challenge anyone to debate our contention that musicality has nothing to do with one’s ability to dance tango.

There is ample evidence that not a single one of the thousands of musicians who played tango since at least the 1920’s, ever engaged in the social activity of tango dancing. Further, consider the famous quote attributed to Enrique Santos Discepolo, a poet, journalist and philosopher, “Tango is a sad thought that it is danced.” There is not a shred of evidence that Discepolo could dance his way out of a paper bag. Not knowing (or wanting) to dance tango, he made a name for himself composing music and writing memorable lyrics. He knew, as many do,  that tango is multidimensional. It can be danced, it can be played, it can be sung, it can be listened to. It is safe to assume that Juan D’Arienzo, “el rey del compas,” never danced a tango in his life. By the same token, nobody has ever praised Pepito Avellaneda or Petroleo for singing tangos or playing the piano, violin or bandoneon.

The introduction of musicality as an intrinsic element to be able to dance tango, seems to be another folksy American consumer’s contradiction like veggie burgers, decaf coffee and dancing tango to Piazzolla. It is almost certain that nowhere in Europe or in South America there exists this ridiculous concept that dancers must be taught musicality before they can dance. Tango dancers, that is. Because those who dance foxtrot, swing or rock and roll would laugh if they were required to attend musicality classes before they can dance to Up the Lazy River, In the Mood, and Rock Around the Clock very well, thank you very much.

What is most saddening, are the cheap shots and outrageous displays of disrespect dished out to professional teachers and dancers under the excuse of not being capable of teaching musicality. While bashing the real teachers, there seems to be a desperate need to elevate to the rank of teachers, anyone with the latest gimmick aimed to keep people from having to face their lack of coordination to walk around the floor keeping a relatively simple beat.
Any educated individual knows, or can look it up in a dictionary, that musicality is the quality or state of being musical; it is the sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent for music. Being musical in turn, is having the pleasing harmonious qualities of music (melodious). In other words, having an interest in or talent for music.
By contrast, dance is the performance of a rhythmic and patterned succession of bodily movements usually (but not necessarily) to music. No musicality or  musical talent is required for dancing. Rhythm helps. Deaf people can dance.

From the dawn of civilization, humans have been dancing to primal rhythms produced by the stomping of their feet, the clapping of their hands, and the striking of objects against objects. The conception of the tango did not happen until the drum beating of the African slaves permeated the lower strata of the Buenos Aires and Montevideo society. By and by the dance acquired a form before the music could be identified. Over the next hundred years, the rhythm of the tango drove generations of men and women to the dance floors of Buenos Aires. They in turn, as time went by, influenced the evolution of the music from its primitive 2×4 signature beat to the post De Caro 4×8 rhythm. Generation after generation of dancers have followed Canaro, D’Arienzo, Di Sarli and Pugliese from club to club, from CD player to CD player, performing a rhythmic and patterned succession of bodily movements with a fanatical zest.

There were other musicians who tried with a vengeance to eliminate the dancing out of tango, ironically because dancing had nothing to do with musicality (“Tango is also music,” was their mantra). It was Piazzolla who set out successfully to get rid of the rhythm of the tango to keep away dancers from disturbing his recitals for espresso drinking snobs. His universal success in adding yet another dimension to tango is underscored by the narrow perception of those who try to teach musicality to their feet (to dance Piazzolla, perhaps?) missing the rhythms of the forest by staring at the stiffness of the trees.

The Chan-chan of Tango
Counting and collecting steps is definitely not what Argentine Tango is about. There is a structure of the dance, as we have seen from previous installments. And this structure is made of blocks of movements, that when done in groups of up to four components, “match” the rhythm of the music perfectly. So often, we are asked, “how do I dance to the music?” A better question might be, “how do I chan-chan to the rhythm?”

Argentine Tango music is no different than any other popular music, in that for the majority, it is written in 4/8 time signature. For most of us, who are non musicians, what does this mean? In non musician terms, it means that there is a measure of music eight beats long, and within this measure, groups of four main (down=Chan) beats are counted, not exceeding the measure of eight. It can be counted out in two groups of four.

Take any piece of popular music – disco, swing, a ballad or even a tango, and start to count along aloud. Count one, two, three, four, one; two, three, four. Or – one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Repeat this throughout the whole song. You are now chanting 4/8 time. You can also call out the upbeat(chan), or the “in-between” beat, along with the stronger down beat, which will double the counts ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and.
While counting, chanting or calling the rhythm of the song, walk or better march, stepping in time with the down beat (Chan) and changing weight on the upbeat (chan).

Chan-chan to the Salida Simple
This is one of many figures contained within the left turn Giro, drawn on a gentle curve to the man’s left, and executed in four moves.  Gentlemen: lateral move with left leg (ONE-and), forward cross of the right leg (TWO-and), forward opening of left leg (THREE-and), close and weight change with right leg (FOUR-and).
Ladies: lateral move to her right (ONE-and), gentle passing her left leg behind her right to his left (TWO-and), back opening of her right leg to his left (THREE-and), crossing her left leg in front of her right to his left (FOUR-and).

A very common way to change direction after the Salida Simple is the Tango Close or Resolution. The change of direction is to the man’s right side, and it is executed in three movements.

The man opens his left leg forward placing his foot next to the inside of the lady’s left shoe causing her right leg to open into the man’s left side (ONE-and). The man then opens his right leg into his right rotating his upper body to his left and opening the lady’s left leg to his right (TWO-and). The man finally closes his left foot next to his right foot and steps in place to change weight, marking a similar movement for the lady (THREE-and).

To complete the four movements, the man can change weight in place again, or move his right leg back a very short distance, enough to change weight (FOUR-and). The sequence Salida Simple-Resolution can be repeated again. If you never heard of the Eight Count Basic, never mind and just dance the two sequences of four movements. Each time you open left or right, you are changing directions, so that at the end of four repetitions, you have completed a four corners type of navigation.

ONE and TWO and
THREE and FOUR and

Chan-chan to La Base
This is another common pattern that combines direction changes to the left and to the right. Practice it the same way. In La Base, the man avoids the fourth movement of the Salida Simple (woman’s cruzada) by beginning the change of direction to his right on what otherwise be the third movement of the Salida Simple. He also skips the Resolution by backing up with his left leg instead of closing to change weight in place. Thus, La Base is a continous movement where the dancers step alternately with either leg on time with the rhythm.

The man moves to his left with a lateral opening of the left leg (ONE-and), then a forward cross of the right leg (TWO-and), then a forward opening with his left leg getting in front of the lady (THREE-and). Pause long enough to establish a good axis on the left leg. The man continues the back end of the base with a lateral movement to his right (ONE-and), a back cross of the left leg (TWO-and), a back opening with his right leg (THREE-and). Pause long enough to establish a good axis on the right leg. Open out to the left with a lateral, and repeat, using curved lateral moves to navigate changes of direction.

The movements in La Base are also complimentary and done exactly the same way by the man and the woman, except that when one is moving forward, the other is moving back, and vice versa. Resist the temptation to do La Base in a square shape to avoid stepping twice back into the line of dance.

Out into the dance floor

Let’s organize now and put a few basic movements to the test. We’ll start with a Salida simple, followed by a right turn Giro with Sacadas, ending the Giro with a forward Ocho of the lady, and ending the sequence with a Resolution. Refer to the corresponding video frames.

We begin the sequence aligned in the same fashion as when we first take to the dance floor: feet together, in front of each other, weight on the man’s right leg and the lady’s left leg (Frame 1).

In Frame 2, the man takes the lady to his left with a lateral opening (ONE), and in Frame 3 they complete the transfer of weight to the man’s left and the lady’s right (and).

In Frames 4 and 5, the man advances with his right leg on the lady’s right side as she takes a back step with her left foot (TWO), then they both transfer their weights to their supporting legs (and).

In Frame 6, the man begins the marking of the cruzada by opening the lady’s right leg with a forward opening of his left leg and a weight transfer (THREE-and).
In Frame 7 the man closes his right leg behind his left, bringing the lady to his left, which she accomplishes by crossing her left leg in the direction her body is being sent (FOUR). Frame 8 shows the weight transfer to the man’s right and the lady’s left. Often, ladies who are taught improper technique, fail to complete the weight transfer to the crossed leg, skipping the “and” segment of the fourth step, and getting ahead of the music, compromising their balance and posture.

Frame 1 Frame 2 Frame 3 Frame 4 Frame 5
Frame 6 Frame 7 Frame 8 Frame 9 Frame 10
Frame 11 Frame 12 Frame 13 Frame 14 Frame 15

Similarly, a failure of the man to transfer his weight to his right leg on the “and” of the fourth step in preparation for a right hand turn, creates unnecessary perils in the sequences that follow.

After the Salida Simple, a movement oriented to the left of the man, choosing a right turn giro to continue is an option to make a change of direction oriented to the man’s right. The man brings the lady around to the his right side marking her three fundamental moves: a forward opening of her right leg (ONE-and), opening of  her left leg (TWO-and), back cross of her right leg (THREE-and).

In Frame 9, as he marks the first step of her giro into his right (ONE), the man steps forward into her right (counter motion).  The man displaces the lady on the “and” as he transfers his weight and continues turning to his right (Frame 10). Notice how the lady responds to the sacada by holding her axis on the leading leg while turning as a result of the man’s rotation.

The second movement of the giro continues in Frames 11 and 12. On the TWO the man marks the lateral opening of the lady’s left leg into his right while he advances again into her right. On the “and” the man displaces the lady and she holds her axis on her left leg while turning in place while the man turns into her. Ladies need to remember that they always dance around the man (and the man dances around the room).

The third movement of the giro is shown in Frame 13. The man steps and holds his axis on his left leg (THREE) while aligned on the left side of the lady. Frame 14 shows that on the “and” the lady transfers her weight to her left leg because the rotation of the man in place does not allow her to finish her back step on her right leg, but rather it provokes the quick lateral step with her left that brings her back into the initial body aligment of the giro where they are both on the right side of each other.

For all practical purposes, Frame 15 is identical to Frame 9 as far as the lady is concerned. She can expect the possibility of going around the man again with her three fundamental giro steps. For the man, because he held a step in Frame 13, he is now “crossfeet” as he advances with his right into her right side (ONE).
Frame 16 shows the “and” part of the previous step, and the resulting displacement of the lady, who as indicated before holds her axis on her support leg. Here, the man holds his axis on his right leg without rotating. The right turn “giro” has ended, and a change of direction is forthcoming.

As the lady received the displacement in Frame 15, her weight transfer provokes a complete rotation on her right axis as soon as the man transfers his weight to his right leg without rotating. The anticipated change of direction takes the form of a forward “ocho” (Frame 17) as the lady now advances to the man’s left side with a forward cross of her left leg (ONE). In Frame 18 the man holds his axis on his right leg while the lady transfers her weight to her left leg and rotates on her axis to face the man (and).

Frame 16 Frame 17 Frame 18 Frame 19 Frame 20
Frame 21 Frame 22 Frame 23 Frame 24

The short lived motion to the left of the man is altered in Frame 19 as the man readies to end the sequence using a standard Resolution. While sending the lady one additional step to his left, he advances forward with his left leg into the lady’s left side (ONE). In Frame 20, the step is completed (and) when both transfer their weight, man to his left, lady to her right. In Frame 21, the man opens laterally to his right, bringing the lady also to his right (TWO). In Frame 22, they transfer their weight (and) aligned in front of each other. In Frame 23 the actual closing takes place when they both change axis in place (THREE). Frame 24 shows a typical link to the initiation of another sequence. The man opens his left leg back enough to provoke another weight change (FOUR), and at this point their position is similar to Frame 1. So after an exciting side trip to enjoy the sights, they are back on Main Street ready to continue their journey around the dance floor.

After developing a sense of control over the timing of these or any sequence, put the music on! Carlos Di Sarli is an excellent choice. He isn’t called the Lord of The Tango for nothing. Both dancers may count aloud while they are doing the exercises. Try the whole Tango using only the exercises, but with the goal to move around the dance floor at least once. We think you will be pleased at how your movements will naturally correspond with the music. Organizing your movements in blocks of threes or fours, let’s you build your own figures in a controlled and rhythmic way, with navigation of the floor and connection to your partner as your goal.
Have the discipline to step on the down beat (ONE), come up on axis to finish the step on the upbeat (without a weight change) at the “and” part of the beat. You hear so many clichés about how to walk the tango. “It’s like a heart beat”. “It’s like breathing” “It’s the chan-chan.” Whatever it takes to stop you from running like a Tasmanian Devil or Woody Woodpecker on skates on every beat. (Just forget “walking like a cat”, unless you want to get down on all fours).

Exhale as you put your foot down (the first contact with front of the foot, the ball, the metatarsal, edge of little toe when you go forward, edge of big toe when you step lateral or back, arrive flat on the ground with the heel down, knee softened). Inhale as you arrive up on the step, on axis (when you are “up on the step”, or “over the step”, at this point completely on axis on the support leg, cast your eyes downand –  you should not see your foot). The free leg naturally closes to “finish the step” as a result of coming up on the step with both knees straightened. The effect of the counted movement of the walk is, One-and. Or Chan-chan. Or Bomp-bomp (or whatever the sound is that the heart beats in your imagination). Breathe, but don’t overdo it and hyperventilate. This explanation and exercise take place naturally and simultaneously and seamlessly, the several parts of each step imperceptible to the onlooker, except that you move with the cadencia of the Tango. All the steps we dance are “walks”. However, as we should now know, it is NOT like walking in the street in our normal way. We are dancing the “walks”, by changing axis with each step.

As the music changes…

Juan D’Arienzo is playing. It’s rocking. In fact it’s swingin’! Again he is not known as The King of The Beat for nothing. You can still dance the entire tango stepping only on the downbeat, but because of the tempo of this orchestra, it is natural to feel inclined to also step on the upbeat, to step on the “and.”

D’Arienzo is also credited with speeding up the old 2X4 Tango rythmn of the 1890’s, to a modern interpetation of the 1930’s and onward. 2X4 has nothing to do with a piece of wood (or dancing like one).This time the measure is only four beats, with counts of ONE-and, TWO-and. So you can make your life even easier when using  the 2X4 tempo, because you never need count above two!

When dancing to D’Arienzo or Biagi, it is very popular among milongueros to end the Salida Simple on the upbeat rather than the downbeat. That is, the lady is made to cross on the “and” of the third step, rather than on the fourth step. So the salida simple would be counted, ONE-and, TWO-and, ONE-and where the third “and” is used to actually change weight to the other leg, rather than holding it as in a regular “and.”

The Tango Close or Resolution is also ended on the upbeat rather than the downbeat. You can count it like this: ONE-and, TWO-and, where the second “and” is used to actually change weight to the other leg, rather than holding it as on a regular “and.”

Stepping on the “and” is called a “traspie,” a “quick,” a “sobrepaso,” and even a “syncopation.” or  “bomp, bomp, bomp.” As you can see the lady can also double step, by accident or design without ever again having to apologize for her “mistake!” It is desirable that the man always mark the stepping on the “and,” but it is even more important that he be aware of an “unmarked” double step by the lady.

The result of an unmatched doublestep by either one of the dancers, is to change the moton of their legs from a parallel sequence to a cross feet sequence, or viceversa. Working around these conditions is at the heart of tango improvisation.

It would be exhausting, and perhaps a visual overkill to double step every beat, so keep in mind that dancing is not racing to hit the floor on every beat. Mix up stepping on the one, the downbeat, and mixing it up with stepping on the upbeats, the “ands”. Why it isn’t counted as a triple step for the man, is because as he steps one, two, three, he steps twice with the same foot, hence double stepping.

In ballroom parlance, the rhythm would go slow, slow, quick quick, slow quick quick, slow. Again practice first while listening to the music counting aloud (or banging the steering wheel or the top of your desk) in groups of threes and fours. Count aloud while you practice to dance with the music. Or chant “bomp bomp, bomp” or “quick quick, slow” or “Larry, Moe, Curly” . What verbalization you use to get  your body moving is semantic. But get your body moving!

Double stepping can be done to the tempo of any tango, vals or milonga (besides D’Arienzo) – Di Sarli, Tanturi, Biaggi, De Angelis, Calo, Troilo, Canaro, Rodriguez, Varela, Pugliese – just let the music speak to you.

Let the music speak for you…

Remember that we are phrasing the tango, much in the way we naturally speak with implied punctuation using the idea of commas and semi colons and periods, as a way to breathe and organize verbalized thoughts. Since we don’t have an orchestra playing when we speak, dictating the tempo in which we speak, we can speak in any time signature that is comfortable or expressive. But with dance, the music dictates how we express our bodies with rhythmic thought. No two dancers will ever interpret the music in the same way, but the music must be used to speak for you and your partner, and further, for those looking on, especially if it is a live orchestra playing for dancers (yes musicians do watch, and when the dancers are dancing the music, they feed into your dancing as you feed into their music).

Posted January 8, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 26   Leave a comment

All aboard!

Recently we stepped back in time to an era when first class travel meant plenty of room to move around, with panoramic views of the landscape, delicious meals, and sleeping quarters. We rode the train on a teaching tour of the Midwest.

Inasmuch as hugs and good wishes, mixed with smiles and tears bring people together at a train station terminal, there is a moment in time when the imminent departure of the train is announced for everyone to hear. Within minutes, a separation of sorts occur. People who get on board begin a new journey. Left behind there is a shrinking image of people waving as the train leaves the station.

In life as in the Tango, people face from time to time, the decision to move on or to stay where they are, content with their hands waving. For twenty-five installments, we’ve been preparing for a great journey, and so with this chapter, we begin to move on to explore the possibilities that an educated grasp of the fundamental concepts of Tango improvisation, brings to those on board, for the ride of a lifetime.

We will analyze combinations that use elements of Giros (turns) to the right and to the left to create figures that are both visually appealing, and practical in their execution within the considerations of respect for the line of dance.

The figure illustrated below, begins at the point where a Salida Simple would, that is, man’s axis is on his right, woman’s axis is on her left; bodies aligned in the Body Position One. As a matter of taste and dance protocol, no self-respecting dancer would attempt to execute this figure at the beginning of the dance. Preferably, the initial position is arrived to, at the end of La Base, when the man has backed up twice and is ready to open to his left. This is the position indicated in Video Frame One.

Holding his axis on his right, the man rotates to his left sending both, his left foot behind and the woman to his left side forcing her to change axis with an opening of her right leg. This position is captured in Video Frame Two.

The initial motion to the left of the man (which if initiated in the proper position would be in the direction of the line of dance), is now changed to the man’s right. He accomplishes this by rotating back to his right on his right axis, and stepping deeply into the woman’s left side, changing her axis back to her left (which is where the man is now) with a back opening of her left leg. Video Frame Three shows the moment he advances into the woman’s left side.

The motion into the woman’s right is both a forward step and the beginning of a spin to the left, thus another change of direction of the Giro begins to take place. We occasionally call the resulting action as a Vaiven, a descriptive word that indicates “going (Va) and (y) coming (Ven)” as the man “goes” up onto his left leg, spins while vertical on axis, and then “comes” down with a back step of his right leg (or viceversa, of course).

This Vaiven to the man’s left, is what characterizes the figure we are analyzing because as he goes up on his left leg and begins to spin on his axis, he makes the woman rebound from her left back step, changing the direction of her Giro from right to left, as she now changes weight to her right leg and begins to advance forward in a Giro to the left. Video Frame Four captures the moment the man is suspended on his left leg spinning to his left.

The duration of the spin is such that the woman will step one more time as she continues her Giro to the left with a forward motion of her left leg.

In Video Frame Five, the man finally “comes” down from the Vaiven with his right leg, and receives the woman’s forward step on his left. To facilitate, he keeps his left elbow close to his body while opening the left shoulder to make room for the woman.

Holding axis on his right leg, the man continues to rotate his upper body to his left to keep the Giro in progress. As he opens to his left with his left leg, the woman opens her right leg and changes axis to continue going around the man into his left side. Observe Video Frame Six, and notice the alignment of the bodies. They are not dead in front of each other, but slightly to each other’s left. That is, the woman needs to understand that she has moved, and continues to advance into the man’s left side and not to force her body (and thus the resulting steps) to stay in front of or to the right of the man.

The advanced Tango dancer can “see” these “video frames” as they are being created on the spot, mainly because he is the one creating them with a sense of timing and space, but also because he and she know how to dance Tango.

So, a closer examination of Video Frame Six brings to mind a familiar position which is none other than the beginning of a Salida Simple (or to the Lead-and-Follow-by-the-Numbers practitioners, Step 2 of the Eight Count Basic).

The ability to “see” where we are going, is an integral part of an oral pedagogy we inherited directly from masters with a lifelong dancing experience. It is also a by-product of our own dedication to put into practice those concepts, and to quantify them into a teaching methodology which has opened the mystical doors of the Argentine Tango to regular folks everywhere our line of dancing take us.

The end of the figure is as important as its beginning, so recognizing the opportunity to resume progressing into the line of dance, the man turns once more to his left holding axis on his left leg, and then he “sees” that his motion has brought the woman back into his right side as she pivots on her right axis. When he advances to his left with a forward crossing of his right leg, she crosses her left leg behind to keep going into the man’s left. This is Body Position Two, as captured on Video Frame Seven. It is also the second movement of a Salida Simple, or the first movement of La Base, but that is irrelevant, since the options available to the creative dancer with a knack for improvisation are countless.

The Giro to the left is smoothed out as the man advances with a forward opening of his left leg, rather than pivoting on his right to continue a circular motion of the woman around him. She opens with her right in a backwards motion, changing axis into her right side (where the man is now) as they begin to walk into wherever the moment may lead to. Video Frame Eight looks very familiar to the position prior to the end of a Salida Simple (the man closes his right leg with a change of axis, allowing the woman to catch up as she is coming from his right side into his left with a crossing of her left leg over her right axis), which in terms of the structure of the music is one of several natural positions where to put a “period” to end an eloquent “paragraph,” such as the figure we just completed.

Video Frame One Video Frame Two Video Frame Three Video Frame Four
Video Frame Five Video Frame Six Video Frame Seven Video Frame Eight

Video footage shot at the Rock ‘N’ Bowl Cafe in New Orleans, LA on June 2001

Posted January 8, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 25   Leave a comment

The great equalizer
A compulsive fixation on “the steps,” holds the development of many a Tango dancer as much as bumping into trees numbs the senses for the awareness of the beauty and purpose of a forest. Inasmuch as lip service is paid to the benefits of concepts and techniques, a desire to show off and an opportunity to strut a newly discovered personality, brings the strangest of bedfellows to an
environment that promises instant gratification, tolerance for impolite behavior, and political correctness that seeks redeeming values in the manners of the offenders at the expense of the further humillation of the victims.

In places where the opportunities to learn and dance Tango are as diverse as the culinary kaleidoscope offered by cities like New Orleans, for example, the quality and personality of dancers are evident in their blend of styles, personal appreciation of the music, and above all for their contribution to good taste and sociable behavior. In the words of a wise engineer turned Tango dancer, the milonga is the great equalizer. Aspiring good dancers follow good teachers, good music and good partners.

Becoming a “good dancer” is as subjective as trying to define a good meal, or describe a good partner. One of the few things which have not been imported from the Buenos Aires tales of Tango lore, is a time honored system of grading dancers, applied not just to the average Joe Salami, but to the veteran anonymous milongueros, and the most famous and not so famous stars of the stage and the silver screen. It is based on calling bread, bread and wine, wine. It is definitely against the political correctness that protect the rights of people to make fools of themselves and cajole others to follow suit, providing an umbrella of resounding denial under which it is cool to insult and offend the intelligence of those who cherish the traditions and cultural values, intrinsic in the Argentine Tango, under a circus tent in which, the unseemly and disingenuous use of words like “unity” are an excuse to hide desperate attempts to keep others isolated inside closed doors and with the lights out.

So, it is hoped that wherever you are, there is an abundance of choices to dine out on any night of the week, and there are as many places to go out Tango dancing as well. Odds are that no matter how you choose to get where you are going, finding your way to your destination, will be guided by safety, common sense, and a respect for accepted codes of public conduct. Safety, common
sense, knowledge and respect for the codes of the milonga, are some of the requisites that describe the tangible qualities of a good dancer, and they can’t be acquired on the Internet. They are the result of good teaching, good learning, good manners, and good time spent on the dance floor.

A Tango dancer tends to approache every dance with a variety of objectives. Partner safety, the safety of others around the dance floor, making it around the dance floor at least once, and being able to sort out and take advantage of the unexpected creation and
disappearance of spaces, to create logical routes for his partner to dance gracefully in relation to his own path.

The ability to create on the spot as we dance, is the signature of improvisation for a Tango dancer. Balance, clear changes of axis, and solid points of created by the support leg, and that the free leg follows the direction of the body as it rotates on the axis provided
by the supporting hip. We don’t dance with our legs, and we don’t dance with our bodies. We dance with our partners.

Legs offer support and allow the movement of the body from one stable position of balance to the next one. As the weight transfers from axis to axis, the direction of movement will be a function of where the weight transfers to. Legs move one at the time, when the
body is stationary and firmly standing on an axis. Weight transfer happens when the body moves while the legs are firmly placed on the floor.

Time spent learning and constantly practicing how to stay balanced on either axis, and how to move the body from axis to axis, being able to change directions at will, and keeping time with the music, is the most valuable time an aspiring tango dancer can dedicate.

When one approaches the dance from a tridimensional point of view, it is possible to visualize any pattern as a combinations of relative movements between the partners that result in an infinite number of combinations being available to the creative dancer.
Changes of direction of one partner relative to the other one, or changes of direction for the couple, use the concept of rotation over an axis, whether either dancer walks around the other one’s axis, or they both walk around a common, shared axis.
Let’s review one of many combinations we like to teach to demonstrate the ability to dance with total freedom in the space occupied by the couple, using changes of direction.

Frame 1 Frame 2 Frame 3 Frame 4

The sequence begins as a salida simple with the dancers in a closed feet position, weight on the man’s right, woman’s left. (Frame 1). In the next frame (2), the man marks a displacement of the woman to his left with an opening in that direction. Next, he prepares for a change of direction to his right, by holding her on her right axis, and changing his axis to his right. This move can be done at single or double time, preferably according to the music (Frame 3). In the following frame (4), notice the change in his body attitude as he begins to align his body in preparation for passing onto the woman’s left side, using the crossed feet system.

Frame 5 Frame 6 Frame 7 Frame 8

In the next frame (5) the man advances onto the left side of the woman marking an opening of her left step to her left, rather than a crossing behind to her right (like in the regular salida simple when the man is on her right). The invitation to throw a right hand turn (giro) is hard to resist. So, he enters the right hand turn with a sacada, marking a crossing of her right leg behind (5th movement of the Eight Count Giro), holding her on her left axis and turning on his left axis to mirror the back step of the giro himself (Frame 6).
On the impulse they both quick step with an opening in the direction of the turn and they find themselves aligned to continue turning. (Frame 7). In Frame 8 we see them both moving into the other’s right side with a forward crossing of their right legs in front (4th movement of the Eight Count Giro).

Frame 9 Frame 10 Frame 11 Frame 12

Next, he decides to make another change of direction, so he stops turning by holding his right axis momentarily and using a double time to shift his weight back to his left axis. (Frame 9). This marks the ending of her motion into the right side of the man, and creates an axis for her right hand pivot to change direction to return to the man’s left with a forward crossing of her left leg (Forward Ocho). Notice in Frame 10 how he backs his right leg into his right to make space for her to finish her return to his left side using counter body motion. After receiving her forward ocho into his left side, he makes her open one more time into his left using her right leg (Frame 11). Since he had held his axis on his right, he can now advance forward with his left returning to the parallel system, and changing direction one last time as he moves onto her left side. (Frame 12).

Next, he changes her direction into his right by marking an opening of her left leg onto her left as he opens his right leg forward to her left side. (Frame 13).
Finally, they are back where they first started. He ends the sequence with a closing of his left leg (resolution), (Frame 14) which in turn marks for her the Tango equivalent of a period, signaling that the sequence has ended. She responds by closing with her right, and readies for another thrilling spin around the tile.
Frame 13 Frame 14

Posted January 8, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 24   Leave a comment

Picking the lock… step

No Fault Tango Dancing

The one and only undisputed fact about the Tango, is that it began as a way to dance existing rhythms, and over a couple of decades, the music morphed into a distinctive rhythm to match the choreographic challenge of the early dancers. Time passes and people change, as the progress of civilization moves apparently forward. It is now about one hundred and thirty years since men and women began dancing what it would later become the Tango. Yet, Tango is still danced to Tango music, written and arranged for dancing.

The best Tango music for dancing is still the music of the nineteen thirties, forties and early fifties. In almost four decades of creativity by the most talented musicians of Argentina, there is enough variety and styling to make every average dance party a non stop hit parade of the best of the best. There is a reason for that: it takes a great pair of Tango dancers to dance Troilo, D’Arienzo, Tanturi, Di Sarli, Pugliese, Biagi, Calo, just to scratch the surface of the great orchestras of Tango.

We agreed from the beginning of our Tango experience to approach the dance from a no-fault-perspective. It saved us from pandering to each other with falsehoods such as, “If you made a mistake, it is because it is my fault,” which results in grandstanding male cavalier attitudes, and a female failure to assume responsibilities for their part of the dance. The core structure of the dance requires specific skills and an understanding on how to use them. It is a process that can be learned. Contrary to what has become the latest fad among celebrity-teachers, who shamelessly affirm that they didn’t learn to dance Tango from anybody, we owe our fundamental knowledge to a variety of teachers, but primarily to, Mingo Pugliese, who taught us how to think so we could dance and teach others to do the same.

Those who drill men and women separately until they memorize a pattern, are actually impairing the ability of dancers to learn how to dance Tango, the way those who know how to dance Tango dance: connecting, communicating, each contributing one hundred percent. They are also setting the stage for wasting time in glorifying mistakes and blame sharing, which in turn brings the unpleasant judgmental approach to the choices of partners.

If you run through the list of recognizable problems we mentioned earlier, it seems that the majority of things that go wrong have to do with the lady. They do. However it is not as if the object is to find fault, to highlight mistakes, and to enter into the blame game which people bring from their outside life.

There are no mistakes in Tango dancing because in the purest and truest definition of improvisation, there is no certainty as to what the next move will be, and therefore there can be no mistakes, because by definition a mistake is doing something wrong or contrary to what it is expected.

We propose then, that improvising a Tango requires a sophisticated and committed body language between the couple, where the responsibility for the results fall squarely on the man’s role inasmuch as the captain sinks with his ship, and the car driver is the one charged with any moving violation.

Only one thing is certain when we dance: we are quite capable of knowing exactly where we are, and which axis each of us have our weight on. What comes next, is a change of axis in any anatomically possible direction which the man MUST execute as technically perfect as possible in order to MARK clearly the position where the lady will change her axis to. Yes, it takes two to Tango, and it is done one step at a time.
This has been the subject of every chapter in this series, and we believe in reinforcement for success: balance, clear axis changes, and total commitment to partner connection and understanding.

We have established previously that the Salida  is a component of a turn to the left, the degree of the curvature of the trajectory leading to the position where the lady’s left leg crosses in front of her right, will dictate how she will position her feet in order to continue the flow of the dance without uncomfortable interruptions.

If the trajectory chosen by the man is pronounced in its curvature to his left, the crossing of the lady’s left leg in front of her right leg will require a larger rotation of her grounded right hip to bring her weight change to her right by letting the leg cross in what appears to be a lateral motion (as it is the case of an ocho cortado).

More often than not, the trajectory of the salida will tend to be more of a straight displacement, especially when the dancers are not aware that the salida is a gentle giro to the left, and perhaps are working the Eight Count Basic without consideration of the alignment of their bodies.
Be that as it may, the end of the salida results in what is most commonly known as the cruzada, that is the lady’s legs are crossed at the end of three back steps. Focusing on the crossing of the feet as a figure, adornment or step, leads to significant problems which affect dancers of all levels.

Some of the most recognizable problems are: the lady is leaning off balance against the man; her right foot flies immediately behind her pulling the man with her; the man rams the lady’s legs into a frenzy by rushing in and out of the cruzada; the lady takes an agonizing amount of time to go into the cruzada, sometimes dragging her feet heavily against the floor while leaning on the man for balance; the lady brings her left shoe to the cross ahead of time and with a significant amount of power; the man rushes his steps so he is literally on top of her feet making it anatomically impossible for her to cross her feet.

Legs cross, feet lock

Let’s look at the lady’s natural sequence while the couple does a salida simple advancing into the line of dance.
Let’s assume that the last chapter made it clear that the dancers don’t line up in front of each in the line of dance. Rather, the man always places the lady slightly outside of him, closer to the outer edge of the floor, while he stands with his back mostly facing the center of the floor. Referring to the video clip illustrated below, observe the yellow lines parallel to the far wall, and consider them to be invisible lanes in the general direction of the line of dance. The red lines indicate the relative orientation of the dancers’ bodies with regards to the line of dance. This should make it obvious that the correct way to move around the floor, is by progressing gradually on a gentle turn to the left, and if the salida is repeated constantly, the couple will go around the floor, without falling into the center, or randomly changing lanes in the line of dance.

Frame 1 Frame 2 Frame 3 Frame 4

In Frame 1, the man has begun moving to his left by dropping into an inner lane. Assuming that his axis was on his right, he does a natural opening with his left leg, creating a mark for the lady to open naturally to her right (or as it should looked from the point of view of the lady: to the man’s left). The axis for both dancers has now changed to the other leg.

In Frame 2, because his axis is on his left side, the man continues moving to his left by crossing his right leg. The lane which he chooses to land his foot on, is totally his decision. It is a navigational choice whether he chooses to move relatively straight in the direction of the line of dance (he stays as in this case, on the same lane), or whether he wants to move up a lane and move to the outer side of the floor. Regardless, the crossing of the man’s right leg into his left, marks a cross behind of the lady’s left leg, so she also move in the direction of the man’s left.

In Frame 3, he uses his left leg to open naturally to his left. In the example, he has decided to stay on the same lane, thus keeping a straight trajectory along the line of dance. Had he wanted to veer sharply to his left, he would have gone down as many lanes as required by the radius of the turn (turning at the corner of the dance floor could be such a case). Conversely, had he wanted to shift towards the outer edge of the dance floor, he would move up the lanes. In any case, the placement of the man’s opening step, marks where the lady’s opening should occur. This is perhaps one of the most convoluted puzzles for the Eigth Count Basic Lead and Follow practitioners, because following the memorized pattern, many times the lady will actually cross her right leg behind forcing her weight to her left. Since he is marking her weight change to her right, suddenly she is hanging at an angle because her feet are in one direction and her upper body is asked to go into another. Little may she realize that the reason she does not fall, is because all her weight is resting heavily on the man. Trouble ensues, and the connection begins to dislocate.
In Frame 4, the man brings his right leg to a close, shifting his axis. Up to here, the man has been slightly ahead to the right of the lady, so the closing allows her to complete her natural sequence, that is, a cross of her left leg in front, which brings her right back in front of him, as they were when the sequence started. Since in this particular trajectory her left leg is moving back, the crossing of the leg is produced by a slight turn to the left of her right hip. The tip of her shoes point to the man. Both feet are together because the legs are crossed virtually on the same axis. The lady’s legs are “locked” in place. This is what technically is called the Lock position where her legs are cruzadas left in front of right. Her weight must transfer to her left leg to be ready to continue.

Notice that all along, they have moved along different lanes. The lady on a outer lane, and the man on an inner lane. This is what makes possible a flawless and comfortable alignment, and it sets the starting point for a change of direction to the right of the man.
Although very few make an efficient use of the salida, there is no reason not to repeat the entire sequence again from the Frame 4 position.
This in itself is quality dancing, and it beats the overstated cliche about “walking” being just for beginners.

Posted January 8, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

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.

Posted January 8, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 22   Leave a comment

Riders of the man’s mark

It seems that Argentine Tango dancing is the most talked about pastime because of its free form nature and the many opportunities to dance that are now available everywhere we go. Unfortunately those doing most of the talking are the ones who are socially challenged, tend to be mechanical dancers, and find in their eloquence a way to justify their frustrations on the dance floor.
The predictable target of these talking heads are women who follow all kinds of advice, most often contradictory. Facing the “addiction” of Tango and the “seduction and passion” that it promises, many women accept situations which they would not tolerate in the course of their daily lives. In the process they develop bad habits and attitudes that makes the progress towards total fulfillment of their desires difficult, painful and frustrating.

The Luxury of Letting Go

There is a method for learning to dance Tango from the woman’s point of view. It is part of a process of work and improvement by emulation and recognition of excellence in dancing.
As communities grow, there is the potential for excellence as men and women take a more discriminating approach to learning, understanding the concepts and as a result of their work, they begin to stand out on the dance floor. It is a time proven fact that what drives aspiring Tango dancers to excel is the incentive to learn the techniques and understand the concepts of Tango dancing in order to better themselves without the rhetoric and the pitch for the latest fad, the phony claims of new secrets discovered, or the promises of instant gratification.
Tango dancing requires that people embrace and move to the rhythm and melody of the music executing the most simple and the most complex patterns without loosing connection to each other; without disturbing the path of others on the dance floor, and hopefully enjoying the moments shared together.
The first step in the learning process for women is to find and recognize their axis and to manage their weight changes and center of gravity, in order to have their bodies ready for the motions that the man creates. The underlying corollary here is to accept from the word go, that in Tango the man drives and the woman rides. The analogy does not do justice to the actual experience of dancing, because the implied passive role of riding, as in a car, adds a sense of unfairness to women accustomed to being discriminated against in every other order of life.
To the contrary, riding the Tango is a luxury that presents women with the egalitarian challenge of having to assume responsibility, making decisions that count and accepting the consequences of their actions. Crediting a partner for the goodness or blaming him for the badness of their dancing is no longer an accepted option for the woman who wants to become a Tango dancer.

First Find Your Axis

We define axis as the vertical line formed by the head, shoulder, hip, knee and foot, which means that the axis can be on the right or the left side of the body, as the weight is transferred to either side. In other words, when you find your axis, you’ll be standing with your full body weight favoring either leg. In order to improve the equilibrium while balanced on one leg, the upper body must elongate upwards, and the other hip must be relaxed in order to have the leg attached to it hanging loose and ready to swing from the hip in any direction indicated by the motion of the man you are dancing with.
Favoring either leg on your axis grounds the hip on which your weight is resting in such a way that the only possible motion for that hip is circular. What produces the circular motion is the result of your upper body rotating enough that eventually makes the hip turn, which in turn forces the foot on which you are standing to pivot. Pivoting has the main purpose of pointing the grounded hip into a different direction. This is very important to understand since the embrace does not allow the upper body to fully turn. Therefore, the connection between the upper body and the hips must be fluid so the plane of both parts of the body can be broken – thus the commonly used term of quebrada, which literally means “broken” as in the line between the upper body and the hips is broken.
A training exercise that helps develop a good sense of axis is to stand up straight, feet together, weight on the ball of the feet. Gradually begin to shift your body weight to the right as you take a deep breath. Tighten the hip muscles so there is solid support for the weight of your upper body and elongate upwards as if standing on top of a pedestal. Feel the other hip relax, and the other leg literally hanging relaxed as its heel almost gets off the ground.
Next, shift your weight to the left hip while exhaling and repeat the tightening of the hip muscles. Inhale and elongate your torso at this time on your left leg. Do this swaying motion that results from weight changes in place while listening to Tango music. Gradually, synchronize your breathing and axis shifting with the beat of the music so you shift on a beat, elongate on the next and shift again on a beat and elongate on the next. Two weight changes should equate to four beats. You are already dancing Tango.
Once you make it clear to your partner that you are on the axis he placed you on, you will be in a position of dynamic balance where you can wait as long as it takes for your partner to initiate the next movement. This is what it’s meant when a talking head tells a woman, without actually knowing what they are saying, “wait,” “don’t think,” or the classic “shut up and follow.”
Things change dramatically when a woman on her axis confidently waits for the mark to continue. This is the moment when you can tell the men from the boys, and the time to become discriminating about who you accept to dance with, and why.
In summary, find your axis, allow your partner to shift your weight from axis to axis, understand how your grounded hip can only rotate, and be ready to have the ride of your life.

Changing from Axis to Axis

When clearly standing on her axis, the woman can now be moved in any direction. It is the man’s responsibility, to the degree of his own skills, to clearly mark the direction and extent of the movement required from the woman.
It is very important and fundamental for a woman to understand the process in which her movements are marked, created, dictated, suggested, whatever makes it clear to her that a man is required to know how to move her from position to position on the dance floor.
Standing in front of the man, with her weight on either leg, the woman should only be aware that she can be moved away from the man’s chest (back step), towards the man’s chest (forward step), to the right shoulder of the man (lateral opening if standing on the right leg or forward or back step if standing on the left leg), or to the left shoulder of the man (lateral opening if standing on the left leg or forward or back step if standing on the right leg).
The man moves the woman’s body to the new position. At the new position, the woman must again stay on her axis with the weight on the leg used to move to the new position, and the other leg hanging relaxed next to it.
The man moves the woman away from his chest by gently stepping forward displacing the woman with his upper body so her free leg extends into the new space behind her.
It is possible that in sending the woman away, the man may choose to move into the woman’s right or left shoulder with a slight counter body rotation of his upper body so as to keep their hips facing each other. This is part of a previous chapter on the man’s role.
The man moves the women towards his chest by gently stepping backwards and bringing the women with his upper body so her free leg extends forward into the new space.
The man moves the woman towards his right side by rotating his upper body to the right thus opening the space where he wants the woman to go. Whether the resulting step is a lateral opening, a forward step or a back step, it is important for the woman to see the opening, to understand the mark and to allow her whole body to go deep into the right side of the man, and NOT just her leg.
The man moves the woman towards his left side by rotating his upper body to the left thus opening the space where he wants the woman to go. Whether the resulting step is a lateral opening, a forward step or a back step, it is important for the woman to see the opening, to understand the mark and to allow her whole body to go deep into the left side of the man, and NOT just her leg.
It is the responsibility of the man to finish all the woman’s motions by clearly placing her vertical on the leg she used to move, thus establishing her new axis.

Rotating at the Hip

Allowing her body to be moved from axis to axis keeps the woman’s center of gravity vertical over either hip facilitating her ability to pivot. Pivoting has the main purpose of pointing the hips in such a way that the motion of the trailing free leg is natural, relaxed and follows the direction of the body.
Generally the woman will pivot when the man moves to her right or left side while holding her on her axis, or when he moves her to his right or left while rotating only his upper body.
In other words, when the man accompanies with a step in the same direction the motion he created for the woman, the resulting figures fall under the general category of WALKS. When the man doesn’t move or move into the space where the woman was, the resulting patterns fall under one of three categories, FORWARD OCHOS, BACK OCHOS or GIROS.

Learn Well and Dance Better

Tango dancing is no different than anything else requiring knowledge, understanding and application.
The history of the Tango seems to show peaks and valleys that occur every forty years, that is the span of two generations. The earliest heyday dates back to 1870 as documented by the chronicles of Viejo Tanguero in 1913. About this time, during the centennial celebrations in Buenos Aires (1910), the second wave of Tango dancing took place fed by the furor that had taken Europe by storm, with the appearance of the first European-style cabarets in the city. Then, in 1950 we had the most documented period of renaissance of Tango dancing, the so called Golden Era. Many who lived through the forties and fifties are still alive and some of the details of the times trickle down colored by the characteristic trait of the habitant of Buenos Aires to embellish the facts with their biased opinions on any subject that reaches wide attention.
We are now at the peak of another wave that started around 1990. If history repeats, we are in for another decade or two of great dancing and indescribable enjoyment.
What has not changed is the anatomy of men and women. We each have two legs, two arms, one brain and one heart, along with the humility to accept the nature of a timeless dance and the rules and codes that have kept its purity in spite of many attempts to corrupt it, deface it, or morph it into fads that eventually disappear.

Posted January 8, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 21   Leave a comment

All about Eve

The biblical story seems to indicate that Eva got to take the rap for turning Paradise into a living hell for the Creator‘s ultimate creation, Da Man. Looks like the First Guy leisurely enjoyed the pleasantries of an ideal world created just for him and the fruit of his ribs, with only one caveat to be aware of (actually two, stay away from the Forbidden Tree and don’t dance to Piazzolla). One day, the First Gal was hanging around the garden followed by a snake who kept telling her, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Eventually Eva succumbed to the temptation and took a bite from the fruit of the Forbidden Tree and sweet talked Da Man into doing the same.

And so the story goes that they got thrown out of Paradise condemned to pay for their sin with the sweat of their foreheads. Da Man now had to work and be a provider. Eva stayed home barefoot and bearing children. This inequality and injustice prevailed throughout the centuries, until the roaring of fed up females sick of being called follows decided to do something about it. It takes two to Tango, you know, was their battle cry. Although we are still living in an imperfect world, when it comes to Tango, the roles of men and women have become less stereotypical, and progress towards equality continues at a steady pace.

For many, the Tango has become a metaphor for higher levels of men/women relationships. Long gone are the days of the early 1900’s, when tough men killed each other to gain the favors of mischievous women, who without missing a beat would turn away from the bloody bodies laying outside the bar to focus their attention on those inside eager to be the next ones to go out and fight.
The Roaring Twenties imported from the Parisian halls an air of sophistication and the elegant Buenos Aires cabarets where musicians had to dress up in tails. Class warfare was responsible for so many broken hearts and so many great Tango lyrics. However, the Golden Era of Tango provided the blueprint for the codes and protocols associated with the social appeal of Argentine Tango dancing. During a period that roughly begun in the mid 1930’s and lasted into the early 1950’s, the relaxation of social constraints allowed men and women to socialize publicly at social clubs, night clubs and just about every other place where Tango dancing took place.

Many marriages resulted from the romances started on the dance floor because for as long as we can remember, the main purpose of going to the milonga was for boys to meet girls and vice versa. To be able to dance Tango well was a given, and the codes of conduct at the milongas were strictly adhered to by those who wanted to succeed. The entire body of activities, social interaction and behavior at the milongas of Buenos Aires fall under what we would like to call the tradition, myths and legends of Argentine Tango dancing. For most Argentinos this is part of their idiosyncrasy and most truly believe what George Dumesnil said on the subject: A country that no longer has legends, as the poet said, is condemned to freeze to death. It is quite possible. But, people without myths would already be dead.

Lead Thyself Not Into Temptation

Countless numbers of women have spent lots of time walking around a chair. That’s how you learn your molinetes, they have been tempted to believe. The more they walked around the chairs, the more they kept pulling their partners off balance while they did their molinetes.
More and more women are realizing that men don’t have four legs like chairs. They are also learning that there is no such thing as molinete steps. They are beginning to acknowledge that they are dancing with men, not leads. They are beginning to assume responsibility for their balance so they can tell when the men they are dancing with stop, but keep them walking around them. They realize that going around the man makes their hips move their legs in a predictable and repetitive sequence, forward, to the side and back.

Many women have spent lots of time leaning against a wall while practicing their ochos. Knees bent and pressed hard against each other. Ankles locked into each other. Collect, collect, said the voices of temptation.
The more they practiced, the more they fell off their ochos regardless of how hard they leaned against their partners. More and more women are now realizing that men are not walls to lean onto and that there are no steps called ochos.
They are learning that an ocho, is an invisible pattern resembling the number eight drawn on the floor by their feet. It results from a motion created by their partners that asked them to step forward with one leg, pivot on that leg maintaining balance, and step forward again with the other leg back to where they came from.
Their awareness of the men they are dancing with affords them plenty of time to realize that they are not walking along with them on a straight line. Rather, the men are either stationary or moving in such a way to create the pivoting necessary for the changes of direction after each forward step.
They know that bending and pressing their knees together, locking their ankles against each other and forcing the hip of the trailing leg to make the body turn, make them heavy, throws them off balance and render their legs unable to respond to the natural flow of the dance required to carry their bodies wherever the men are taking them.

Many women have lined up behind another woman, who repeated numerous times a sequence of steps asking them to imitate her and memorize the steps. They have then proceeded to demand that men lead them to recreate the steps. They have been heard calling each step for the tentative leads who went along with the game.
More and more women are now realizing that real and skilled men don’t lead. They dance with a woman in their arms.
More and more women are giving up memorizing steps and the unnerving anxiety that results from wanting to be good follows. They are assuming the responsibility for their posture and their balance. They are willing to put into the learning process as much effort as they want to get out in terms of satisfaction.
They know that there is a logical aspect of the learning process that addresses specifically the techniques that allow them to be empowered to be a full fledged partner. They seek those who are qualified to impart that important wealth of knowledge.
After all, Tango dancing has always been done in wondrous ways in the city-country we call Buenos Aires by very simple and humble men and women  who considered learning their roles a very important stage leading to the mutual enjoyment of the dance.

In Tango We Trust

Many Tango communities are graced by the charming presence of women who manage to feel good and look the best in the realm of the embrace, knowing where they are at all times with relation to the men they are dancing with. They are the women who good dancers enjoy dancing with.
They know that they only need to recognize which one of only three fundamental moves will make their bodies reach another space on the dance floor.They connect to their partners, friends, lovers, or total strangers, as these men navigate. They dance elegantly with their bodies fully connected to their partners, letting their legs be free to move forward, back, or to either side providing comfortable support for their bodies.

Albeit, they overwhelmingly and silently outnumber the vocal few who laugh at the traditions of Argentine Tango by claiming that in this country people have a different approach.
The ones who impose themselves on any man to fulfill a quote on their self-centered agendas, trading cheap easy dances for cheap, easy frills for perverts disguised as milongueros.

Posted January 8, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 20   Leave a comment

All roads lead to tango

A male Tango dancer approaches each dance as a journey around the dance floor inspired by the music and the presence of the woman he’s holding in his arms. A female Tango dancer enters into the embrace of the man who’s transporting her around the dance floor and lets her body become an expression of the feelings and emotions that she and her partner create as the journey takes them to unexpected levels of intimacy.

This is an instance where there is no degree of separation, no personal space and no boundaries. The man and the woman bond together, they extend their arms and surrender their bodies, coming closer to each other. The music is playing, their bodies are dancing, their breathing is silent. It seems so sublime and simple; it cuts to the chase of personal relationships; it brings the best of humanity in an act of trust and generosity. It has no ulterior motives and it repeats itself time after time in an universal setting that knows no geographical, racial or cultural barriers.

The Tango was conceived as a dance because of the primal needs of men and women to play out their lust and desire. This happened at a time and at a place where our minds can not even begin to comprehend, so we are left with isolated sound bites, stereotyped flashes and unredeemable cliches.
What brings us to the question of why people choose Tango as their dance? Which produces a predictable answer. Who knows? Human nature is so complex that whatever forges each person’s personality in life seems to converge to an intrinsic desire to belong, to be part of, to be where everybody knows their name. And then, we seldom know if the person we’re embracing is truly sincere and genuine, or we are just fictional characters in their undisclosed life story.
According to most accounts, the combination of a fortuitous outing to a theater to watch a Tango show, with an overwhelming desire to emulate the choreographed depictions of passion and emotions on the stage, has inspired many to join or start a Tango community at home. The release of cult Tango movies has also added more converts to the legions of Tango addicts. Then, local residents in search of a pastime joined the Tango classes, attended Tango parties, and a mushrooming number of cities where Tango is danced has dotted the world.

Real men ask for directions

For a while, a basic eight step sequence was taught so women could get their dances trusting that the men, notoriously singled out as incapable of asking for directions, could at least “lead” them in tedious repetitions of the same thing. The recipe was simple: separate the men and the women, teach each group their steps and then spend the rest of the evening trying to get them to agree on who forgot the next step or went the wrong way. There is nothing more unsettling than the sight of a bossy woman and a sheepish man on the dance floor.
The sooner preconceived life stereotypes are left outside the class or the milonga, the better equipped men will be to learn to navigate the dance floor with confidence. It is a difficult task, it is demanding and it is not about “leading” but about going places without getting lost even when exploring every single opportunity to take another route.
It would be fair for women to reflect on the fact that men go to the milonga to dance with women who don’t behave like their mothers. The trade off for men not getting bossed around and treated like surrogate partners is to assume the role of a man who feels confident about himself, who knows where he stands, who knows where he is going, who is prepared to deal with the unexpected and cares about the woman he is dancing with. For that, men need to be humble yet confident to ask for directions from qualified and experienced dancers and teachers.

Guys who grew up kicking around a soccer ball may have a more natural body coordination and balance than those who grew up using their bodies to hit each other while carrying or hitting a ball with their hands. This is a fact and not racial profiling as evidenced by looking side by side at a marathon runner and a swimmer. Their bodies conform to the discipline they perform.
Pundits may quickly point out that smoking, drinking, chasing young women and putting on some layers of lard around the waist may be the ingredients required to become a milonguero, but these conclusions are ridiculous as are the often mentioned tales of men-dancing-with-men and the rose between the teeth as prerequisites before dancing with a woman.
Tango dancing is deceiving and Tango dancers can easily be deceived by promises of instant gratification when mechanical execution of the flavor of the month pattern is rewarded with awe rather than derision. There is no shortcut to Tango for men who want to dance Tango well. And here is where the real problem exists since dancing Tango well is a matter of opinion, a matter of taste, and a matter of convenience. Or is it?

It is not a coincidence that an overwhelming majority of Tango dancers over the last one hundred years were people with rudimentary education at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale. Dancing Tango was part of their life, and to reach the status of good dancers the men went through a rite of passage dictated by a rigorous system of promotion among their peers. The learning process took place on the streets, in the neighborhood bars, in the social clubs and every place where the male population gathered to drink, gamble and pass the time. Women were not part of these functions because of strict codes of conduct that required them to conform to the existing moral standards.
Men had a clear goal that kept them focused through months and often years of  training: that was the day they would be invited to attend their first milonga and be introduced to the rituals of the night life. When they stepped on the dance floor for the first time, they were prepared to face the music, to embrace a woman and to weather the critical eye of their peers.
Things are different today. Tango dancing is found everywhere and the pressures and demands of yore no longer affect the ability of men to dance. Yet, today as yesterday, the formula for success is deceivingly simple when approached with commitment and conviction.

Begin with the music

Identifying and understanding the sounds of at least the Top Ten orchestras of all times is paramount to approaching a plausible compromise between being a native of Argentina and being in the Tango scene only for a short period of time.
Roberto Firpo, Francisco Canaro, Osvaldo Fresedo, Julio De Caro, Juan D’Arienzo, Anibal Troilo, Osvaldo Pugliese, Carlos Di Sarli, Miguel Calo, Alfredo de Angelis could arguably make up the Top Ten for some, give or take a few names. The whole idea is to listen to the music; to learn the sound of each orchestra; to recognize the most popular songs. No matter how you do that, but don’t ever accept the commercial claims, much less the wrong notion that there is music for beginners and music for other levels of dancing. Above all, remember that there is only one level of dancing, yours.

Know where you stand

Attitude, presence and intention are subjective factors that contribute to the development of good posture and balance.
Men must be solid on the ground with their weight mostly on the ball of their feet, yet their overall silhouette must project upward with their upper torso relaxed and firmly standing tall. The arms must create a comfortable space for the women to dance. The right arm surrounds her torso, and the raised left arm extends to the side to bring her right arm forward.

Move with confidence

When ready to move, the body weight rests mostly on one leg, with the knee slightly flexed, effectively compressing the muscles on that leg so the other leg has elongation to reach forward, or backwards. Just before the free leg begins to travel “hanging” from the hip, rotate the upper body on the leg where your weight is, so the shoulder associated with the free leg goes in the opposite direction that  the leg. This counter body motion insures that the movement will not cause the body to fall onto your partner, but rather produces a movement that will make her extend her free leg in the opposite direction of her shoulder. Effectively, the bodies are centered between both legs firmly on the ground. There is a slanted line that runs from the legs to the upper torso that creates the optical effect of leaning bodies and crossed legs. Moving confidently following the beat of the orchestra transmits a clear sense of motion to your partner. Before you know it, you are dancing. Now watch where you are going.

Aiming to please

Dance floors have at least one thing in common: they have boundaries. So the object is to work around the floor using a variety of routes. It is commonly accepted that dancers generally progress around the line of dance in a counter clockwise manner. This does not imply forming a conga line. At one time, certain salons in Buenos Aires observed a rule that required dancers to keep their place in the line of dance, that is, no passing or being passed, sort of dancing in-place on a merry-go-round.

As with everything else people talk about the old days, never mind. Consider primarily the rudeness of banging your partner against somebody else, or allowing her to be run over by another insensitive couple. Then, don’t let it happen. And although it shouldn’t have to be said among reasonable adults, don’t use your partner as a prop for your ridiculous fantasies of imitating Rudolph Valentino. He was not a Tango dancer.Sooner or later you’ll reach the end of the dance floor and you’ll have to veer left the way you turn around the corner. You aim your body without forgetting to keep your partner in front of you, and your legs follow. While at it, you may begin to move laterally instead of forward. This allows you to change your front so you can walk backwards. Now you must be aware of bringing your partner into you.

As you begin to see that the longest path always consists of single displacements put next to each other, you will begin to create short patterns as you zig zag your way around slower or stationary dancers. At times you may find yourself cornered. You may want to bring your partner back and forth keeping her in front of you until you find a new front to aim to.
Random repetition of these and whatever else you may come up with to navigate around the floor falls under the general category of improvisation. Dancing without a prescribed set of patterns frees the imagination and let the bodies fuse into a dancing couple to the rhythm of the orchestra. There are names for the things you’ll be doing, but when the time comes to learn more about the name of the  patterns, you’ll see the possibilities of more exciting journeys rather than another mental block to stiffen up your act.

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial