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Chapter 19   Leave a comment

Dancing on a crowded floor

Over the years, it has become natural to find dancing opportunities all over the world. For those who travel, it is a blessing of sorts to be able to connect with a local Tango community at almost any destination, whether it is in the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and even Buenos Aires.
The experience varies whether the travelers are a couple, or single men and women. Couples have a slight advantage in terms of dancing, because if anything else fails, they have each other, so they can dance to their hearts content. Single men have to deal with an unknown group of women, and their experiences will vary according to their social skills, and to a certain extent, their ability to dance with any stranger. Single women fair the hardest task, since they have to deal with the idiosyncrasies and protocols of the local community, having to balance their desire to dance with the uncertainties of how to meet their objectives.
Our experience has taught us that being schooled in the improvisational aspect of the Argentine Tango is a major plus to be able to dance as a “single” or as a couple at any place and with anybody on the spur of the moment, under any floor conditions, and to any selections being played by the local music person.

The benefits of improvisation

Improvising a meal is a feat that most people relish when on a short notice a bunch of friends or associates drop by to visit. Imagine how difficult it would be to improvise a meal if upon opening the kitchen cabinets you were to find them empty or containing only a box of instant mashed potatoes.
By definition, to improvise is to invent on the spur of the moment. Similar to being able to improvise a great meal by making good use of a very well stocked cupboard, the Tango dancer can improvise a great dance by putting to good use a comprehensive set of navigational patterns. What has navigation to do with Tango dancing? Just give me the gancho. Show me how to swing the leg. If you can lead it, I can follow. Indeed, there is still confusion after more than ten years and thousands of hours of classes at every possible level and location. The concept of Tango improvisation and how it relates to navigating the dance floor is overlooked because of the insatiable appetite of those who continue to accumulate figures and steps out of context, for the sake of keeping their interest in dancing alive.
In its simplest form, the Argentine Tango has kept generation after generation of Tango dancers interested by the mere fact of spending hour after hour, three minutes at a time, holding each other close while navigating the dance floor to the sound of the music.
In its most complex form, the Argentine Tango continues to keep generation after generation of Tango dancers interested by the simple reason of holding each other close while navigating the dance floor at the sound of the music.
Given the choice of knowing lots of steps and patterns and recognizing lots of Tangos and orchestras, the Tango dancer always chooses the latter, because the nature of the music dictates the kind of Tango to be danced. The solemn renditions of Osvaldo Pugliese may call for symbolic pauses to smell the roses, to blend the inhaling and exhaling of life from our lungs with the invisible sway of bodies in place. The precise beat of Di Sarli may invite for window shopping, brief side trips through softly lit back alleys before returning to the main road for a happy stroll under the stars.
To improvise on the dance floor men and women must be aware of what is required from each of them individually, and what are the elements that each must contribute to make the improvisation a shared experience, and a great one at that. The universality of these requirements and elements would make it possible for men and women to dance at ease with anybody on any crowded dance floor anywhere in the world.

The mans’ role

The primary responsibility for the man is to carry the woman in his embrace in a comfortable and safe way around the floor. He must be aware of the motion of other dancers, the conditions of the dance floor, and the particular music being played. To navigate around the floor he must have complete control of the woman’s movements. He must be ready to react to sudden interruptions in the flow of the line of dance in front and behind him. He must be ready to handle unexpected changes of direction dictated by the presence of obstacles, or by the actions of other dancers. If this sound much like what a driver has to be aware of to go from point A to point B, it is because navigating the dance floor is similar to moving in heavy traffic. However, while you may drive an automobile and take good care of arriving at your destination without any scratches or bumps to the shiny metal, Tango dancing for the man is about taking care of a precious human being that has trusted her safety and movements to him.
As the couple embraces, imagine the two of you carrying a tray loaded with a priceless crystal set. The four extremities that support the precious cargo become critical to insure a smooth journey and an enjoyable ride. Dancing with our bodies becomes natural as we concentrate on the embrace and let our legs follow our bodies providing at all times the proper support and the shock absorbing effect that makes our bodies move in a smooth, elegant, sensual, playful, etc. way.
It is the man’s responsibility to know how to move his partner with clear weight changes to insure that all four feet are on the ground at all times, except on those situations when one of dancers will stand on one leg in order to embellish with the other free leg.  For the man this includes flicks, back displacements, kicks and hooks. Before engaging in the execution of any of these figures, he must insure that his partner is solidly grounded with legs open and both feet on the ground.
To be able to move his partner, the man must be solidly grounded, that is his weight must be allowed to rest on the support leg. Moving your partner does not mean pushing and shoving with your arms. It is the rotation of the upper body around the support hip that creates the necessary torque to bring the woman off balance from one leg to the other one, provoking her displacement from her initial balanced position to a new balanced state at the end of the displacement. Standing firmly in one position, the man should be able to provoke a movement of his partner forward, backwards or laterally. When the dance floor really gets crowded, this skill is priceless because it allows for great dancing in short circular trajectories while still being able to improvise all kinds of patterns in heavy traffic, without banging your partner against objects or other dancers around you.

The woman’s role

Perhaps, the concept of the role of the woman in the Tango is the most difficult to define and the hardest to grasp because it is closely surrounded by contradictions. On the average, every woman has had a “bad man” in their lives, or know somebody who has. The way society is structured, women are at a disadvantage in that they need to try twice as hard to obtain half of the benefits that men get in just about every aspect of life. To make things worse, just about every other form of partner dancing requires that a woman follow, that she be on her proverbial toes to follow, that she allows to be dehumanized and called a follow, that she be stripped of a full participation in the dance. Not so in the Argentine Tango where equality and mutual respect are fundamental. In Tango we trust. The first thing a woman must trust is herself. She must acquire posture and balance in order to allow her partner to have total control of her movements, while she uses her technique to respond to motion with clear weight changes finishing each displacement comfortably balanced.
Her upper body must be quiet and relaxed to be able to receive the changes of direction marked by her partner. Her waist must be loose so her legs don’t fly in response to alignments of the upper body. Her legs must be firmly on the ground at all times except when her partner puts her on one leg in anticipation of a leg flick, a hook,  a sweep, etc. She needs to understand that her free leg moves in response to the man’s actions, so therefore she must complete all weigh changes in such a way that her upper body can rotate on the grounded hip. The free leg moves in a relaxed way in response to the rotation of the hip, much as a protractor that has a pointed needle that pierces the paper which allows for a rotation on the axis of the needle to provoke a smooth drawing by the pencil attached at the other end.
These concepts grouped under the heading of essential techniques for men and women are the subject of our Tango Barre and Tango Bar sessions aimed to empower women and men to dance with freedom, on the spur of the moment, anywhere, at any time, with any partner.


Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 18   Leave a comment

Putting the tango on a solid base

Tango is a social and cultural manifestation of the city of Buenos Aires which was first a way to dance whatever it was they were dancing to around 1878. Gradually it developed into a distinctive way to dance the primitive music, played by ear, by trios of mobile street musicians. During the formation period of the dance, it was a manifestation of masculine bragging and a way to gain the favors of a layer of females who because of the impurity of their blood, had to make a living dancing for a fee at the seediest hangouts of the scariest elements of the criminal underground.
So, don’t let anybody fool you with the fable about men dancing with men at the beginning. To dance what they called Tango in those forsaken days of  the last score of the nineteenth century, was a way of life for the male sediment of the society to establish a reputation as tough and rough and compete for the attention of the better and raunchiest female dancers. A matter of phycological and biological need.
Eventually the economic boom of Buenos Aires trickled down to extend a blanket of asphalt over the wilderness of mud, weeds, and human waste that served as playground for the primal Tango dancers. Forced to walk on firm ground they probably suffered from foot aches, swollen feet, and bad ankles, as they tried to adjust to the new shoe wear fashion courtesy of the economic boom. Somewhere between the crowded tenement they called home and the nightly hangout some called cantinas, or bars, or general store, they started walking with a painful strut that almost made them look effeminate, so they covered that up with an upper counter sway of their body as if to make sure that everybody saw them tall and defying, only noticing their arrogant and defying stance, overlooking the sore feet.
That’s how the porteño walk may have evolved and made its way into the way to dance the Tango at the end of the nineteenth century. It had begun to make inroads into the center of the city, courtesy of the Europeans who found the provocative and erotically charged choreography irresistible during their period of highest decadence.
Meanwhile, a burgeoning middle class, product of the education of the sons and daughters of the original immigrants, began to influence the way the city continued to grow and expand. Money was flowing into the country thanks to ever growing exports of primary products, and when money talks everybody listens. Those who didn’t have it as a result of their social birthright, became creative to get it in a variety of ways, the commerce of sex being by far the most popular choice. Find a need and fill it, is the motto of most motivational sales training seminars. Riding on that wave of prosperity the Tango continued to find an identity. Its sounds began to be preserved on music sheets, since the new generation of musicians, trained in conservatories, could read and write what they played.
In the mid 1920’s the structure of the music changed dramatically. The original 2×4 rhythm was transformed into a 4×8 measure. The new composers, influenced by the French romanza, heralded their work by claiming “Tango is also music.” The old guard ofmusicians and dancers claimed that “church music was not suitable for dancing.” The great Tango divide ensued with orchestras led by the influence of Francisco Canaro, Roberto Firpo, Juan Maglio Pacho and others who continued to cater to the dancers, while the sexteto tipico devised by Julio De Caro and supported by the works of Juan Carlos Cobian, Pedro Maffia, Enrique Delfino and Francisco De Caro, became the standard formation for the new guard groups which saturated the night of Buenos Aires with their ever growing repertoire. Between the 1920’s and the late thirties, the sexteto tipico and the De Caro school were the seeding grounds for the greatest Tango musicians of all time: Osvaldo Pugliese, Anibal Troilo and Carlos Di Sarli just to name a trilogy that supported the greatest graduating class of Tango directors of the 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s The dance took a dive during the Depression years and the subsequent mourning period that followed the tragic death of Carlos Gardel. Actually it was Hollywood and New York, with their money, movies and records that muscled their way into the consumer preferences of a new generation of Argentinos.
Towards the end of the 1930s, dancing became popular again, this time with an intensity that has never ceased since. Society had changed, the city had changed, social mores had changed. Dancing Tango for the enjoyment of it replaced the old compadrito’s need to do it for survival. What provoked the change was the music, or better the rhythm. The nostalgic, melancholic and sentimental cries of the bandoneon in a 4×8 measure, were replaced by the fastest pounding and urgent digitation of fingers on the keyboards and buttons of pianos and bandoneons and the nervous picking of the strings of a double bass.
To take advantage of the contagious rhythm and the addictive beat, new forms of dancing were created by young innovators who saw to add the participation of the woman into the dance. Turns, displacements, leg hooks and flicks were to change forever the way couples danced Tango. A whole structure of navigation routes, and creative interaction between men and women conformed to the needs of the crowded salons of the center of town as well as to the clubs of the suburbs where ample space was available. But regardless of the size of the dance floor, any milonga that deserves to be called as such was always crowded like a New York subway at rush hour.
When the first foreigners landed in Buenos Aires with their choreographed Tango taught by traveling show dancers, locals couldn’t have been more astonished if Martians had been spotted hanging from the Obelisco. Today they welcome visitors, and they even attempt to communicate in English, four o’clock, meet at studio, teach you tango.
Meanwhile a whole generation of dancers have mushroomed over the planet, and even in Buenos Aires you’ll find “beginners” obsessed with their feet, and oblivious to the bruises they leave on the legs and feet of those around them not fast enough to get out of their way. In a morbid twist of fate, the twenty first century “compadritos” exaggerate their way to dance to cover up the fact that they don’t know how to do it properly.

About logic and common sense

Having being endowed with two legs, the human species adapted quickly to walk without the need to think on which leg to move next. It was always the other one. Having our eyes in front of our face, there are three directions on which we can focus our attention. In front of us, behind us, and at either side, left or right. We can actually move in those directions (forward, side, back) without having to turn our bodies into the direction of motion. If we did that then we would always be moving forward.
As kids, we learned to walk, rather march, to the beat of a drum. First it was the stern look and deep voice of an intimidating elementary school teacher who made us march back into class after recess; later it was the chanting crowd at our first soccer game jumping up and down while singing nasty limericks about the families of opposing team players; then at the tender age of twenty a mean looking Army drill sergeant transformed us into men by making us march up and down the asphalt lanes of boot camp. As a result of that, our bodies have gotten used to move to the rhythm of “left-right-left-right” with the precision of a metronome, and to stop at attention, feet closed together, body upright, chest forward, tight butts.
Thanks to the simplicity of the first musicians that began to create the rhythm of the Tango, its beat can be walked, yes you guessed it, by going “left-right-left-right.”
If men get comfortable with carrying a woman in front of them surrounding her with a safe, gentle and firm embrace, and if women get comfortable and accept letting themselves be carried around by a man who moves them to the beat of the music while navigating the floor to the beat of the same music, then we have the base for a wonderful experience. It is called Tango dancing.

The Base and the theory of creativity

From May of 98 to March of 99, we were hired by the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco, to teach a Tango lesson every Monday evening at their plush Top of the Mark night club. The task was simple enough. We had one hour to get totalstrangers, tourists, people who probably never again would show up for a drink on a Monday night, comfortable enough to be able to dance Tango later that evening to the sound of a live orchestra.
Soon after we started, a growing number of Tango dancers started coming earlier to join in the class. They were intrigued to see first time dancers moving around the dance floor, enjoying themselves and having a good time.
For quite a while we had noticed in some Tango teaching videos, that the translator mistakenly referred to the basics every time the instructor would mention la base. For us it was clear that the concept was to have a point of reference, a road map, a navigational route from which figures were nothing more than momentary detours. Once the figure was resolved, the dancing would resume at same point of the road map. As a teaching tool, having a structural base for navigating the dance floor from which figures can be considered an interruption or a side trip that bring us back onto our route once the figure is resolved, was a very powerful concept.
As a matter of logic we decided to combine all the possible unique movements available using both legs and the three possible directions where we can move to, into a pattern that allows the couple to travel around the dance floor. We called it, of course, The Base, and it is a combination of six unique movements that repeated to the beat of the music can get most people dancing in a very short time.

Know your base

The first move of the base (Figures 1,2 and 3) is a lateral displacement to the men’s left. The couple can open to the side by using one of their legs while the other one is firmly on the ground supporting the whole weight of their bodies. This allows the extension of the free leg so the foot can be placed, and space is created for the bodies to shift to when the move is completed. Starting to the men’s left gives both dancers a clear view to where they are going so unexpected bumps or collisions are minimized.
This lateral move to the man’s left, offers the man the possibility to make changes of front before continuing, by having the woman swivel on her right foot. It is also a move where boleos, calesitas, and planeos, can be set up as a way to alter the normal sequence of the base. An  important concept as improvisation becomes part of the learning process from the word go.

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3

On the second move (Figures 4 and 5) the dancers will use the other leg to move in the direction faced by the man. The man’s upper body turns ever so subtly to his right facing his partner while supported by his left hip. His right leg is placed right of her right leg. Turning their upper bodies with a counter body movement sends the woman’s left leg back in line with her right, naturally keeping both upper thighs close and legs slightly crossed in the natural porteño look. Confusing words like collect, rub your knees, keep your ankles together, walk like a cat, etc. become inoperative, freeing the dancer from the hanging side of ham syndrome, which makes the legs heavy, conspires against balance and requires that they learn to lead and follow to compensate for their lack of improvisation techniques.

Figure 4 Figure 5

The third move (Figures 6 and 7) is another forward step for the man using his other leg. In this case it is his left so his upper body counter rotates slightly to his left. This action places him straight back in front of the woman. It is at this point on the base that the
normal trajectory can be interrupted by not counter turning to the left. Instead, the man moves the lady back while her body is still slightly turned to her right, and then brings her in front of him by crossing her left leg over her right. It follows then that the cruzada
position is marked not automatically executed as the crowd who considers the Tango the “eleventh dance” of the ballroom circuit wrongly teaches it. Here perhaps it is where the major difference is between Argentine Tango as an improvisational dance, and the
ballroom style version using the “lead and follow” method. You are, of course, entitled to dance the Tango in any way you please, as long as you are aware that there is a difference.

Figure 6 Figure 7

The fourth move (Figure 8) begins with both partners in front of each other, and it involves a second lateral opening, in this case to the man’s right. For this move to be executed under total balance and body control, the previous one (as always) must be finished by ending with the body weight on the legs that will provide support for the bodies to be able to displace laterally in the direction of the free leg. As both dancers open to the side, the man will stay open (both feet on the ground) long enough to place her on her left leg, and then he’ll close ready for the next move.

Figure 8 Figure 9

The fifth move (Figure 9) is identical to the second except that the traveling direction is reversed. The man goes back while the woman advances forward. The counter body motion is also the same with the man slightly rotating his upper body to his right to face her. Since the navigation duties still remains with the man, he must make sure that he begins to extend his left leg back first, to create space for his displacement and for her forward advance. He uses his right forearm to keep her in front of him avoiding the bad body position known as “lady in the man’s armpit.”
The sixth move (Figures 10 and 11), as you may now guessed, is identical to the third one, except again that the direction of travel is reversed for both dancers. This is also the end of the base, as both dancers are once again in front of each other, weight on the man’s right and the woman’s left, ready to go around again.

Figure 10 Figure 11

Letting the bodies do the dancing and maintaining complete connection all the time, the lateral moves allow for changes of front for both the forward and the backward moves, providing the dancers with a very effective, efficient and simple way to dance around the floor. As this becomes a natural way to navigate, each position affords the opportunity to break the sequence with natural figures (cruzada, forward and back ochos, cross feet salida, giros, etc.) that end always in one of the six stages of the base. The dancers can then resume navigating without the annoying effect on the flow of the dance floor caused by the Eight Count Basic, Salida to cruzada, Tango close, and the execution of figures out of context.
We have found that working la base (side-forward-forward-side-back-back), and understanding the concept of breaking the sequence with natural figures at each position, builds a very high degree of confidence from the word go for both men and women. They are free to dance immediately, learning how to listen to the music, rather than spending wasteful time resorting to memory to guess each other’s move. Connection is rapidly established, as dancers realize that both must contribute 100% of their attention, their balance, their axis, and their bodies for the sake of an enjoyable spin around the floor. It is also a very powerful tool for the veterans who continue to be chained and shackled to the lead and follow method, but are offered an opportunity to dance the Tango the way it is done in Buenos Aires.

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 17   Leave a comment

Raising the bar

As we travel to teach, our own education as dancers and teachers develops. Many questions are asked, and one of the most often is regarding how long I have been a teacher. In a general sense I have been teaching a good part of my life. My mother operated store front dance schools, and I taught classes for her when I was a teenager. As an eldest child, I developed a natural proclivity for showing my brothers and sisters how to enjoy accomplishing a skill.

I often thought that I might become a high school teacher at the very least, but as I neared the time to make the decision regarding college choices, I opted for what I thought was a more glamorous choice of taking a fine arts degree in art school in New York City. A knee injury as a young adult curtailed my classical dance career.

Time passed and I accomplished reinventing myself in multiple artistic careers. The more recent of these concerned an event design company that I owned and operated. As I became known as an employer of creative types, I found myself in a teaching mode again. By undertaking the training of my crew, I found an old familiar enjoyment. I added classes in floral and life-style design offered to the public, which were held regularly in my studio. Business was good, so I often donated the tuition for these classes to a local charity. I taught for the pleasure of it.

More time passed and I found my way to the life of Argentine Tango (La Vida Tango). Although it was not an initial goal to become a teacher of this newly (to me) important art form, I cannot imagine that it wouldn’t have happened at some point in my development as a dancer and aficionado. The process was accelerated by my meeting my life and Tango partner. He being from Argentina, was already dancing and very knowledgeable about the music, history and art form. This jump started my education.

We embarked on serious albeit enjoyable study of the dance and how to teach it, together. This journey exposed us to many teachers and coaches, musicians and historians. Ultimately we found what we were searching for in Buenos Aires, where we took our pivotal training.

Our mentors showed us a way of thinking and teaching. We are indebted to them for that for all time. However, being thinkers and innovators in our own right, we chose not to become slavish copies and disciples, but rather take the good information they shared with us and put our own methods of organizing that respected material into practice.

Honing teaching skills is a continuing learning process within itself. As we present material to the hundreds and hundreds of students we encounter in our travels around the world, we revise and build upon our knowledge. Many of our methods have become tried and true. We are producing good improvisational dancers who enjoy what they create. We do this in comparatively short amounts of time. We also coach show dancers and can create choreographies. Since there are so many other coaches that can produce patterns, tricks, jumps and routines for the able bodied dancer, we find this enjoyable, but not as profound as producing the competent social dancer.

Being the female part of the couple, dancing and teaching the woman’s role has been a unique journey. Immersing myself in the culture that surrounds this dance has been extraordinary, merely for the fact that it is not my heritage. Learning about the music and what has created the music has been on par with any university level course.

Schooling myself in the mechanics of the dance has been another odyssey of self exploration. Out of this immersion I have discovered ways to move; to create balance; to be creative within the parameters of the movements; to understand and interpret music; to release energy for expression. All of this has been very enjoyable, and a lot less difficult then I could have imagined when taking my first tortured steps in this dance.

And who tortured me? Mainly myself! There was also a good sprinkling of teachers that shrouded learning this dance form with mystification and hopefully innocent misinformation. So many hang ups and expectations were pinned on this mythological social dance. But I’m a good time girl, and somewhere along the way I had to find a way to enjoy myself or stop dancing the Argentine Tango.

The most enjoyable aspect of Argentine Tango for me, is the music. Listening for hours and days and weeks and months and years on end is refreshing, amusing and inspiring. So I looked to the music for my enjoyment. I spent many hours by myself, playing my favorite Tangos while trying to logically figure out what made me physically comfortable while dancing on my own. It always came down to simple balance.

In one of my self sessions, I would start a simple movement and try to hear the voice of my mentors in my head. I would try to distill this information into actual movement, created solely by myself. Lo and behold, their previously elusive concepts, started to immediately gel and take form and make sense. Later when I went to dance in the partnership, many, many things went smoothly. I was onto something for myself and very happy. When coached again by my teachers, classes became that wonderful alchemy of the good student “riffing” off the good teacher, and vice versa. My torture had stopped. Months went by as I continued my solo sessions.

When we teach together as a couple, we move around a class individually to help people. I would offer some of my explorations into technique to the women. Usually and immediately, they understood and were able to execute some part of the theory, thereby making an instant discovery and improvement. Like me, their confidence increased and they enjoyed themselves immensely.

An idea began to form for me to give a class for women. I started by thinking about what I did not want it to be. I did not want to stand in front of a class and have them imitate my movements. I wanted to give solid reasons and ways of executing a logical technique. I did not want this to be a torture session or something designed for only the physically gifted. The average social dancer is not a trained athlete or dancer. I wanted to present a series of repetitive movements that would improve one’s dancing immediately at first, and dramatically with only a few weeks of work. I wanted to design a little workout that one could memorize and take home with them and use it when each one felt the need for a touch-up. I wanted a class where professional and amateur could go through the exercises side by side and benefit from the experience.

I realized that many of these values echoed my very best classes when I was training as a ballet dancer. There were many “barre” classes that I took that often had the principal company members sweating right alongside the neophyte. The difference now would be the torture free aspect and the physical availability of the movements. The similarity would allude to the repetition of movements designed to strengthen the dancer both physically and mentally. Almost every ballet bar class in any studio, in any language in any part of the world has the recognizable movements to any ballet dancer from age six to sixty. This common language of movement allows one to utilize any class at will, necessity and convenience.

Hence my metaphorical bar class was created. I wanted to call my class Tango Bar as an amusing homage to Gardel’s Tango Bar (and Raul Julia’s Tango Bar too). When I wrote a friend in Salt Lake City about my plans, he suggested “barre”, a made-up word alluding to the French and Russian ballet. So it became Tango Barre.

While offering this class to women, I have discovered that by simply making this offering, I have struck a chord. As anyone who takes an Argentine Tango dance class knows, not much focus is put on the woman, and our education comes catch as catch can.

I have often been asked to include men in the Tango Barre class, and I sometimes agree. The technique for men and women is the same. However, I try to make a time especially for women, because the camaraderie it fosters is as important as learning the movements themselves. My partner and I are putting together a men’s class to coincide with the material I present in the women’s class. Ultimately, we must dance together, men and women. Ultimately we want it to be an enjoyable proposition.

I explain my concept, because as I travel I hear so many interesting comments. One charming woman in Massachusetts remarked that she nearly refused to come to my class solely based on its name using the word bar. She disliked ballet bar classes, and thought that anything alluding to that style of class was not for her. She changed her mind and attended the session, and later told me how valuable and useful and enjoyable it was, and how she regretted not spreading the word to more people to encourage them to take the class. Always in the learning by doing state of mind, I made a mental note to perhaps approach describing my class in a different way.

The Tango Barre class is designed to be given in a four to six week cycle, with at least one two hour session per week (ideally I would like two weekly sessions to be the norm). I am often hard pressed when we travel to present an hour, or at best a two hour class, to a completely new group. There is a philosophy and reality behind the creation of the movements I present. So these classes, as are the first classes in the weekly cycles, involve lecture and movement. I encourage people to tape the class, and I try to demonstrate (and take the class to go through the process of theory and movement) as many of the concepts that I want to present in these isolated sessions.

The main idea of the class is to use a series of movements on a repetitive basis. They start with simply understanding what the Argentine Tango axis is and how to get the body to create it and then use it to simply stand on one leg. The class progresses quickly with stretching exercises designed to be useful for the movements used in Argentine Tango. Concepts and small historical ideas are presented in order to give context to movement. Creating embellishment is demystified and put into practice at once. Giros are demystified and explained. Methods for connection to a partner are presented. Music is discussed and ideas presented for interpreting rhythm and melody. All this information is something one can practice at home. Any part of it is useful and doable, which one can put to use the very next time while on the dance floor at the milonga.

The last part of the class is spent on questions about any aspect of Argentine Tango, technical, social or historical. It provides for lively conversation.

The idea I try to impart to the participants is that if you want to become a confident dancer who enjoys herself, there is a bit of a commitment and some body work to do. It is not as difficult as ballet, or probably any other exercise class you might experience at the gym. It is accessible to all at any age and at any level of dancing. However, without making the effort and the investment of time in oneself, the road to learning the dance, or taking a spin around the dance floor, can indeed, be torturous.

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 16   Leave a comment

Body language

The understanding and good use of the relative positions of the upper bodies leads a dancing couple to clear execution of patterns and figures while maintaining good posture, developing a personal elegance and establishing a dynamic connection between the dancers.

In this installment we will analyze the use of crossed feet walking in the three body positions typically used for displacements along the line of dance. In other words, we will develop a walking pattern with both dancers stepping with the same foot, while the relative position of their bodies varies in three different ways.

It is a good idea to review past installments dealing with body positions. Briefly, in Body Position 1 both dancers are fully in front of each other, as at the beginning of the dance, at the cruzada and at the close. In Body Position 2, the dancers remain in front of each other, but with a slight shift whereby the center of the man’s chest is aligned with the right shoulder of the woman. Finally in Body Position 3, both dancers are also in front of each other, but the center of the man’s chest is aligned with the woman’s left shoulder.

In any of these three body positions, both dancers move together along the same path.

Remembering our previous installment, from the initial Body Position 1, the man executes a Salida Cruzada by shifting his weight immediately after his side step to his left. He then walks crossed feet two forward steps in Body Position 2, and with his body, he brings the woman in front of him on her fourth step, regaining Body Position 1 with her left leg crossed in front of her right.

Figure 1

At the end of the Salida cruzada, the man brings the woman back in front of him. As she crosses left over right to align herself in front of her partner; the man may cross his left leg behind his right leg to match her cross. Their weights are on their left leg.

Figure 2

The man displaces her body back by advancing straight into her with his body walking on his right leg. The woman walks back a step with her right leg.

Figure 3

Firmly supported on his right leg, the man sends the woman back another step by advancing into her. As her left foot begins its backwards motion, he occupies the space vacated by her left leg moving his body into Position 3, that is, he steps with his left leg onto the woman’s left side.

Figure 4

Maintaining Body Position 3, the man advances another step with his right leg while taking the woman with his chest into a back step with her right leg.

Figure 5

As soon as the woman plants her right metatarsus firmly against the floor, the man begins to turn himself around pivoting on his right leg. This turns the woman around on her right leg. The man holds her vertical on her right leg. She allows her left leg to close weightless next to her right leg. They are now crossed feet in Body Position 2.

Figure 6

Firmly supported on his right leg, the man now extends back his left leg and brings the woman into a forward step with her left leg.

Figure 7

With weight in his left leg, the man extends his right to position himself in front of the woman (Body Position 1) and then he brings her forward on her right leg.

Figure 8

As soon as she steps on her right foot, the man crosses his left leg over his right leg, and he receives the woman’s body while she is now completely vertical on her right leg with her left leg relaxed.

If you care to analyze the last three photos, you will see the familiar pattern commonly used by the man to take the woman to the cruzada walking crossed feet. Except that the man is walking back in the path normally taken by the woman, and the woman is walking forward in the path typically taken by the men.

The creation of symmetrical patterns where the dancers’ positions are reversed is just another example of the unlimited potential for improvisation. This is afforded by a rational understanding of body alignments and the craftiness of the man’s use of La marca, and the full awareness of the woman of her space and balance to respond and dance with confidence, poise and enjoyment.

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4
Figure 5 Figure 6 Figure 7 Figure 8

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 15   Leave a comment

The salida cruzada

Whether you are dancing with your partner on a crowded or an empty room, understanding the reason and the logic of most Tango moves helps to develop an instinct for floor navigation with finesse. The only space that really counts, and the one for which both partners are equally responsible, is the space occupied by the embrace. Take good care of the embrace and the Tango will take care of itself.

What differentiates the creativity and expression of an enjoyable dance from plain empty geometry are the underlying factors that contributed to create many of the figures and patterns available to dancers today. There are a great deal of movements that make a lot of sense if one can imagine the crowded dance floors of Buenos Aires.

Of course, every so often we hear cries of this is not Buenos Aires and these are the 90’s and here comes the tango of the new generation. These claims generate mostly from groups with clever marketing strategies aimed solely to isolated communities controlled by gatekeepers who seek empowerment by facilitating the implementation of those marketing plans.

Those who have visited Buenos Aires know that space on the dance floor is at a premium, regardless of the size of the venue. Indeed, dancing Tango has become once again a major attraction for a loyal legion of dancers in the capital city of Argentina. There are new dancers, but they are dancing the same “old” Tango in a variety of styles.

In Buenos Aires, regardless of the dancing style you prefer and the club or confiteria you like the most, there are well respected codes of the milonga that deal with the way Argentinos invite and get invited to dance, and the way they manage to dance with enjoyment and proficiency in what would seem to be an impossible lack of space for those who are prisoners of the Eight Count Basic, and those who are eager to try the newly acquired movements characteristic of the new tango.

As the ladies get strategically seated around the periphery of the dance floor by the host, they face the gentlemen who in most places are seated across the floor, or on stools by the bar. As any red blooded Argentino will tell you, no man will dance unless a lady invites him. She does so by clearly seeking his attention with her face and making direct eye contact with him. The “famous” nod of the head used by the men is actually a reassuring question, “me?” The flicker of her eyes, the subtle nodding of her head or her delicate smile means, “yes, you!” The chosen one then confidently walks towards the lady without loosing eye contact. When he is a couple of feet away she stands up and facing the center of the dance floor waits for him to come to stand in front of her.

Given these typical conditions it only comes naturally that after embracing her, the man will initiate the dance with a side step to his left, into the line of dance. Once this movement takes place, the dancers have an infinite variety of movements to continue.

Because of the crowded conditions, the use of parallel feet walking, which requires about one-and-a-half body widths of dance floor space, is often combined or replaced with crossed feet walking, which only uses one body width of dance floor space. Taking the lady to the cruzada is now executed with both bodies remaining in Position One, that is with both dancers fully in front of each other.

Technical aspects of the salida cruzada

The most common way to initiate a salida cruzada is for the man to do a traspie immediately after his side step to the left. That means to change his weight as the right leg closes so the second step will also be done with his left.

The way the bodies line up for the second step of the salida varies according to how the bodies are aligned when the first step is taken.

Following the description of the common way to start the dance, the woman faces the center of the dance floor while the man is with his back to the center of the dance floor. (Photo 1, is taken from behind the lady’s perspective as the dancers prepare to start assuming Body Position One)

First, they take a side step staying fully aligned in front of each other. The man transfers his weight to his left to mark the lady a full step to her right.

Next, he changes his weight back to his right, while doing a half turn to his left. Hs upper body rotates the woman over her right foot, facing her back into the line of dance. With her weight completely on her right foot and fully elongated, her left leg is weightless resting next to her right. (Photo 2).

Next, the man transfers his weight back to his left slightly flexing his knee. This result in a mark is to “push” the woman “off balance” so her free left leg extends behind her to carry the motion of her body. Her metatarsus seeks for the space behind her. As she firmly pushes down with her metatarsus, her lower leg elongates, her heel touches the ground and her weight is now over her left foot. The second step has been completed and both dancers are now crossed feet, that is, they are both stepping with the same foot, the left in this case (Photo 3).

With the weight solid on his left leg, the man now marks the next step of the woman by advancing with his right foot and using his upper body to place her right foot back in line with her left foot (Photo 4).

Finally, while transferring his weight completely on his right foot, he continues to project his upper body forward marking the woman’s next step. In this case, applying a slight pressure with his right arm on the woman’s torso, he places her left foot in front of her right foot, bringing her completely on front of him in a cruzada position (Photo 5).

Photo 5 Photo 4 Photo 3 Photo 2 Photo 1

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 14   Leave a comment

The media vuelta

A working understanding of floor navigation and the dynamic interplay of the body positioning, create plenty of opportunities to enjoy a Tango, any Tango, with any given partner, and with floor conditions in effect at the time that you step on to the dance floor. During the learning process, certain patterns and figures become so internalized by sheer repetition, that body memory inhibits the ability of dancers to improvise with creativity out of many situations created by the presence of other dancers and their own trajectories around the dance floor.

For, example, walking on the side of the partner, (Body alignments 2 and 3) can be boring and repetitive if the result is another cross for the woman followed by a resolution or an occasional forward ocho. What should be used as a base from where to build a variety of movements becomes “the basic” and it limits the possibilities of flowing around the dance floor in a seemingly continuous pattern that includes the three fundamental body displacements (forward, backwards and sideways) connected with rotations of the bodies over the support axis.

The term media vuelta is commonly used to describe a body turn north to south for example, if we call north the direction in which the body is facing before the execution of a media vuelta. Either of both dancers can do a media vuelta at the same time or individually. Visually, a media vuelta is a body rotation over open legs, that is, after the legs open in a forward direction for example, the body turns in the opposite direction of the leading leg. To clarify further, visualize the typical forward ocho. The turning on the forward ocho is in the direction of the leading leg. What differentiates the media vuelta is that it is done with both feet on the ground which allows the dancer to continue moving in either direction, north or south after the turn, depending on how the weight is transferred at the end of the turn. In the case of the man, this allows him to correctly mark the next move for the woman.

[Left] After stepping on the right side of the woman with the right foot, the man marks a side step to the right for the woman with a rotation of his upper body). [Center] Once she is on the man’s left side (body position 3), the man marks a forward step for the woman as he continues to rotate his upper body to the left. As she sets her left foot down, the man is half way through the media vuelta. Their bodies are perpendicular to each other (body position 4). [Right] As the man finishes his rotation, he marks a pivot for the woman on her left who then completes the first part of a forward ocho. At this point they both are in body position 2 again, and he can indicate the next movement bringing her forward to complete the ocho, or sending her back by advancing on her side.

A media vuelta to the left begins after the right leg is opened forward. Weight is transferred forward so the right foot is flat on the ground and the knee is naturally flexed. The left foot remains on the ground, firmly pushing down with the metatarsus. At this point, the body is supported by both legs. Next, the upper torso begins to rotate left as both legs elongate to keep the heels off the ground. Most of the weight is now on the right metatarsus which serves as the initial rotating axis. At the end of the turn, the body is facing opposite to where it started, and the forward leg is now the left. To continue in the new direction, the weight is transferred to the forward leg. To go back in the original direction, the weight is transferred to the trailing leg. The object of weight transfer is to provide a balanced axis for the body so the free leg can naturally close and then open in the direction of travel.

If this media vuelta is executed by the man, the woman connected throught the embrace, will begin with a back step, then open to her right moving to the left of the man, and as he begins the rotation she’ll advance forward and turn on left leg to end facing the man in body position 2.

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 13   Leave a comment

The thorns make my lips bleed

Have you had non-Tango dancing family members ask you about the rose between the teeth and the dips to the floor? This questioning comes across the noisy clatter at the dinner table, after the eating and drinking have eased the minds for a family heart to heart conversation. With the acquired sufficiency that being a Tango dancer brings about in all of us, we go into the dissertation about Tango being an urban dance with uncertain origins, associated with the worst elements of Buenos Aires society and witness to the burgeoning prostitution business that flourished in the city throughout the nineteenth century and the first decade of this century. This part gets the giggling attention of the young males. You mean I have to pay a woman to dance? No, you just have to pay attention to a woman.

By the time the story gets to the part when the last vestiges of brothel stench dissipated with the winds of time, and Tango became a dance of connection between men and women, a dance of sublimated sexuality, the females sit up straight. When we get to the explanation of the roles of men and women, as it has been practiced in Buenos Aires for years, most of the questions are directed to the American half of our partnership.

We all like to dance with “good” dancers.

Whether it is a God given right or a matter of selfishness, it is important to empower women with the knowledge that is required to be great Argentine Tango dancers. The odds are heavily against them as the ratio of male to female teachers follow the old formula of men being the masters and the ladies their partners. Rather than succumbing to the politically correct notion that men should allow themselves to look silly by pretending to dance like a woman, men need to understand that the joy of Tango dancing for a woman demands of them a complex and sometimes paradoxical series of qualities. A woman can make a man look and feel mighty good. And it is also a joy when a man can make a woman feel like a creature of consummate grace, beauty, strength and skill.The structure of our society has been very unfair to women, injustices and bad deeds still abound and it is a jungle out there. Men and women are pitted against each other at work, at home, at school, etc., in a war of genders. Women have fought and have made great progress to further their careers, their feminism and their individuality. So suddenly Argentine Tango comes to America with farfetched ideas of women voluntarily letting go, responding instantaneously to the subtle or forceful marking of motion of their male partners, while skillfully maneuvering the dance floor at high speed, backwards and in high heels. Further, there is this division of labor where men assume the responsibility for choosing, shaping and directing the movements of the dance across a crowded dance floor. To make things peachy, some like to desensitize the gender issue with the euphemism “follow” to describe a woman they are dancing with.

So, how does this concept of role playing by men and women, who dance Tango in the traditional Buenos Aires fashion, play in dining rooms across the USA?. The answer is, not too well. Quite often one forgets that entering a milonga does not mean leaving the real world. Yet, there is so much delusion among many grown ups, that the minute they step on the dance floor they assume false identities and proceed to act like fools.

In our society very little is taken for granted when it comes to gender definition. After the initial years of learning Tango as followers connecting dots, or by delusional imitation of ballroom dancers’ skillful imitation of show dancers, women who manage not to fall down during an entire evening (whether on their own or hanging from their partners) decide they want to lead, to sit in the driver’s seat, to go for the gusto, to experience the “fun” part of Tango dancing. False pretensions don’t have a place on the dance floor, because one cannot dance Tango alone. For the single most appealing aspect of the Argentine Tango is the unspoken expression of a way of life by those who embrace to dance, each contributing to enhance the sense of self and freedom for the other. This does not simply happen by just leading and following.

As more and more women begin to receive the quality instruction they deserve, and as more and more women realize that they have been treated as second class citizens by the studios, associations and societies that cater to the hedonistic appetites of many of their choice of visiting teachers, a growing population of technically fit dancers are gradually enhancing the quality of our dance halls, rivaling in many cases and sometimes surpassing the skills and talents of many native females who frequent the dance halls of Buenos Aires.

Lessons for a life of Tango

Writing about her film The Tango Lesson, Sally Potter attempts to demystify the complexity and paradoxical demands that are placed upon female dancers. There is no disclaimer, but later on she writes about her classes with Juan Carlos Copez (sic) and Graziella (sic).

A woman must be completely centered and balanced so she can be able to move at an instant’s notice in any direction.

True, but the same applies to the male dancer since the only way he is going to be able to know where he is going is to make sure he knows where he is, ergo centered and balanced. Sally leaves out the boring part, the how to fill symbolism with substance. Being centered and balanced requires that the entire body weight be supported by the metatarsus of your support foot, the one you just put down to push the floor with in order to be grounded before you elongate and make yourself tall on that leg.

She must be in complete control of her body in order to surrender control of where she is going.

True, but being in control of your body really means trusting your body, following your body and of course trusting your partner. This is a thorny issue because you can’t close your eyes and pretend, well, yes you can, but then what is the purpose of reading this? You need to see where you are going.

She needs to be completely grounded so she can be free enough to feel that she is flying.

One of the first things we were made aware when we first started studying with Mingo Pugliese was that we were “flying.” The displacement of Tango dancers is aimed down to the floor rather than up into the air. So as a corollary of the centered and balanced issue, a person who’s centered and balanced and grounded can move as if rolling on precision ball bearings.

Her body must be toned enough to provide enough resistance to the man to respond to his proposed changes of direction in a completely relaxed way that avoids obstruction.

True, but think about the telephone. Tone is not as important as the connection that allows the parties to communicate. The most misunderstood element of Tango dancing is the embrace. This is what the dictionary says about the embrace: a close encircling with the arms and pressure to the bosom, the bosom being the front of the human chest, the female breasts, the anatomical center of secrets and emotions. That’s why the fad called “close embrace” is an oxymoron. Of course you also have heard about “open embrace” but let’s get back to the point.

When a man and a woman embrace to dance Tango, they are contributing 100% of each other to the centering and balance of the couple by first being centered and balanced on their own. So, it is incorrect to ask a woman to provide resistance while in the next breath we ask them to surrender control, to do nothing, etc. As a matter of fact the whole grocery list of requests is incorrect. Both the man and the woman must commit to the embrace which is where they will dance. As the man marks, the dynamics and shape of the space defined by the embrace changes to allow the woman to dance into the space while maintaining the integrity of the embrace. In case it is not obvious, the interaction takes place by the alignment of the upper bodies in the embrace and their motion in space to the rhythm and melody of the music.

The woman must be mentally alert in order to keep her mind empty in the present time in order to respond at the speed and with the precision that it is required.

Right! Tell the CEO of the hottest software company, out for some relaxing Tango dancing, to empty her mind. You’ve come a long way babe, now shut up and follow.

When we dance, in spite of the fact that we do this quite often for fun and while working, our minds are sharp as surgical blades tuned to the music, to the space surrounding us, to the alignment of our bodies and to everything that is needed to be centered, balanced and comfortable in the embrace. Like the crew of a jumbo jet, each of us runs an almost unconscious check list which has been internalized, and still is, with hours and hours of practice, miles of dance floor and a constant inquisitive mind for studying and trying. As a result we are in a constant improvisational mode dictated by our partner, our mood, the conditions of the dance floor and the choice of music.

The successful results we obtain whenever we approach a class, a workshop or an exhibition, are the consequence of having first seriously studied with a qualified master, i.e. Mingo Pugliese, and second of having opened our minds to self and mutual critical analysis, to having accepted the long hours of practice and frustrations, and above all for having agreed from day one to treat our Tango dancing and teaching as a very important aspect of our lives.

In practical terms, we suggest that women take care of controlling their bodies always reaching for balance at the end of every step, while we teach men how to create motion by offsetting that balance. It is during the positions of balance that the orientation of the bodies can be changed through pivots or rotations over the supporting leg, before motion in the new direction begins. Thus, the woman’s legs always open, in the direction her body is moving in to reach to a new position of balance. Then the legs close in a relaxed way to achieve balance. Maintaining a firm and comfortable embrace insures that the connection between the dancers is conducive to smooth displacements and sheer improvisation since both bodies move in unison carried by the legs that provide support and transportation.

In Argentine Tango, the legs provide support and allow the bodies to dance within the embrace. Leg dancing can be detrimental to the development of individuals attempting to dance Tango.

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 12   Leave a comment

Sacadas are body displacements

Front Sacada Side Sacada Back Sacada

The dynamics of Tango dancing come into play when the couple moves to the sound of the music. The space occupied varies according to the alignment of the bodies with respect to each other and the trajectory of every particular movement. Thus, a couple “walking” a Tango will move in unison with their bodies traveling in the embrace while their legs open and close to facilitate their motion.

When the dancers decide to execute a figure that involves turning in a giro, for example, the structure of the embrace changes, the alignment of the bodies change, and various displacements of the bodies take place. That is, as one dancer moves creating space, the other moves to occupy that space. The displacement of one dancer by the motion of the other dancer is commonly known as a sacada, and it is one of the most difficult moves to teach, to learn and to understand.

Almost every female dancer that ever uttered the disclaimer “I’m just a beginner,” has had their legs kicked by the foot, leg or knee of a careless partner infatuated with a sacada. Since a sacada involves leg action, it is not without sadness that we report that the cumbersome attempts of “leg dancers” to execute sacadas, cause more damage to the legs of their partners and their dance floor neighbors, and to the image of the Tango as a dance of connection and finesse.

A sacada is a body displacement across the path of your partner to provoke a change of direction.

A Front Sacada

A typical front sacada can take place on her forward motion entering in parallel or crossed legs fashion, that is he may enter with either his right or left leg.

In the illustration, the position of the legs follows the alignment of the upper torsos in Body Position 6, that is, her right breast is lined up with the center of his chest so the shoulders are at an approximate 45 degree angle to each other.

As he marks a forward step, he receives her motion with his right foot reaching past the front of her left shoe, touching the floor mostly with the inner edge of his shoe. Her weight is evenly distributed between both legs so she is in the middle. His weight is also evenly distributed so he is also in the middle.

To execute the displacement, he transfers his weight forward to his right foot, bringing his body forward as he begins to rotate his torso to his right. The resulting effect is that the motion of his body forward and the rotation of his torso, provokes a transfer of her weight to her front leg, a rotation of her torso to the right over her right leg, and a displacement of her left leg as his right leg occupies the space that her left leg was occupying.

Side Sacada

A typical side sacada opportunity occurs when the bodies are aligned in Body Position 8, both shoulders in line facing in the same direction.

The man receives the forward step of the lady with the opposite leg. That is, if she is moving forward with her left, he creates the displacement with his right.

Back Sacada

To execute a back sacada, he needs to position himself in such a way that he steps back into the direction in which she is traveling.

This will require a double step action so his support leg will travel with her opening leg and as she sets foot on the ground, he backs into her path with his free leg.

Once that his metatarsus sets firmly on the ground, he elongates his calf to allow his heel to settle down on the floor bringing his body over and producing contact with her leg and displacing her body.

When she receives a sacada, she should be already on both legs with her body in the middle. As his body crosses her path and displaces her body, she needs to stay vertical and balanced on her support leg because a sacada will always provoke a rotation of her body over her support leg. Please, refrain from swinging the displaced leg like a scythe.

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 11   Leave a comment

Myths and misconceptions

When one embarks on learning to dance Argentine Tango, one is encountered with as many teaching opinions as there are teachers. Since there is no generally accepted Argentine Tango syllabus, how the teachers themselves learn the dance and subsequently how they teach it, is at best varied and at worst a hodgepodge nightmare for the student.

The most asked question by students is “why is your instruction different from the other teacher (s) that I have had a class with.” We can only surmise that no teacher actually sets out to give conflicting information. Each teacher thinks their information is correct. However, since there is no standard, no school for teachers, the information is assimilated and understood subjectively. Some teachers get information by watching other dancers and videos and learn by imitating what they think they see. Some teachers take the flavor-of-the-month workshop, racking up an impressive list of “big name” teachers that they have “studied” with. Some go to Buenos Aires, this being enough of a credential. Some are the “better” and more outgoing dancers in their community and share their “style.” Others have a good memory for the figures another dancer has shown, and present these figures as a way to learn. Still others are star struck  and “adopt” a favorite dancer as a model, and only teach the star’s “style” of dancing. To be fair, most enjoy teaching for the sake of teaching and because the Argentine Tango has taken an important place in their life.

To this end, we present some of the most common myths and misconceptions that crop up. It is not meant as a critique, but rather as an observation that will perhaps be helpful to those that are receptive.

Show Me The Basic

The first misconception is that there is a basic step. Many other ballroom dances are taught using a basic step that never deviates, so it is useful to memorize. Given the premise that the social aspect of Argentine Tango is an improvised walking dance, a basic step or pattern would be limited in usefulness. The first teachers in recent years came from the show Tango Argentino. They were dancers, and many of them show dancers, and not teachers. When asked to teach, they adopted certain ballroom methods comfortable and known to their foreign students and created a basic step, commonly known as the Eight Count Basic. This pattern consists of side steps, forward steps for the man, side and backward steps for the woman, shifts of body positions culminating in producing the cruzada for the woman, ending with the now famous tango close. When taken as a figure, it is pleasing. When used as the way to start to dance on a social floor it is almost useless and frustrating. Seldom, can any one couple take eight consecutive steps to a prescribed completion on the social dance floor. You will simply be blocked by another couple at any step from one to eight along the way. The memorization of any pattern is contrary to the improvised dance. The possibility of using walking steps (forward, side, back), weight changes in place and changing body positions (in front of, off to either side, at an angle to each other), changing the angle of the side step, all marked by the man, responded to by the woman, is the base (not the basic as it is erroneously translated on some popular videos) needed by the dancers to create patterns and figures.

When Do I Cross, She Asks

The answer: when the man brings her back in front of him while he is on either side of her. This can be done before you even start moving. No side step. No three steps to the cross. It can be done with either leg. He uses his upper body, which is connected to the arm embracing her, and gently lifts the side of the woman’s body, under the shoulder that is attached to the side of the body that her free leg is freely hanging under, and places that free leg in front of the support leg. It even gets better. He can mark whether she puts her weight on the leg crossed in front, or stay with her weight on the support leg. He does this with his own body weight change. The more usual way to produce the woman’s cross, involves using body positioning created by using the side step (called the salida when used to start a figure) to walk on the outside of the woman. The man can walk outside for eternity. Remember the woman always walks in a straight line in the direction her body is going. It is up to the man to change the direction of her body, and to move in and outside of her space, or to bring her back in front of him from the walking on her side position. This bringing her in front of him produces the cross, because it is the only way her feet can fall under the direction that her body is being taken.

Gentlemen must remember that they are creating the cross by bringing the woman in front of them by placing her body weight to her back leg, and then to her crossed leg in front (so Ladies should not automatically clunk to cross by immediately throwing their weight onto the crossed foot. This is just another walking step, transferring the full body weight and line from one leg to the other, in this case from back to front, with a crossed foot on the front leg).The object is to bring her body directly and squarely in front of the man. Please be aware that these weight changes and alignments take time to execute, so don’t run the woman out of the cross you so carefully marked and executed.

Keep Your Feet Together

This is a misconception that women in particular, take to heart as some way of producing their first attempt at neat footwork. It seems easy enough. Feet together. Pretty neat feet. However, the feet are not the first things to be concerned with. Argentine Tango (and we wager all other dances) is danced using the body to displace and transport the legs and feet connected under it. As we walk, there is weight on one leg or the other. As we walk from one leg to the other the legs open and close, open and close. The leg with no weight on it, is free for the man to place as he directs and changes the direction that the woman’s body is being taken to.

A better image is that of the thighs coming close to each other as the legs open and close. If the woman concentrates on bringing the feet together, energy is produced in the free foot coming to connect with the other foot of the support leg. This energy in the leg that is supposed to be free, no matter how subtle, creates a heaviness and impedes the ability of the man to smoothly and freely place the free leg. It also makes the woman look as heavy as she feels to the man. Men are strong, and they can and will muscle a woman on the dance floor if it’s the only way that he can move her. It’s not a comfortable way for either one to dance, nor very pleasing to look at. Some women get so carried away with bringing the feet together, that the look like little soldiers coming to attention at every step.

On Your Toes

Many woman observe that many woman dancers seem to dance on their toes. Since most social dancers are not trained ballerinas, this would be an impossible task for the social dancer. It is true that the weight is placed forward on the metatarsus. But that can be the extent of it. However it is helpful when walking backwards, that she leads with the metatarsus and transfers her body weight over the support leg by bringing her heel down as he advances. Some women seem to be on their toes all the time, but they should transfer their entire body weight and line to the support leg. At this point the support leg should become longer than the non support leg, so that the non support leg can dangle freely from the hip with a straight leg naturally produced by its getting shorter than the support leg. This is produced by the body getting “tall” on the support leg, by lifting the rib cage, which lifts the body enough to make the non support leg get shorter. This applies to side steps, forward steps, back steps. The idea is to always bring you full body over the support leg under you. The line is head, breast, shoulder over the support leg. Try weight changes in place, standing with the feet together, shifting this body line from one leg to the other. This will show you how much the body travels even when standing in place. When dancing with the assistance of another person, it is easy to combine going up on the metatarsus while lifting the rib cage, to produce a clean, confidant line completely on the support leg, with the free leg available, dangling prettily from the hip (to be placed in the next direction by the man, to produce seamless, weightless and timely embellishments before the leg is placed by the man). If the woman uses her body (rib cage) to lift herself up, she will never hang on the man to achieve her balance or her axis. If both men and woman make their weight changes correctly and completely, they will be dancing “on the floor “which gives the Argentine Tango its specific look and feel, as opposed to flying like ballerinas in the air.

Cheek to Cheek

It is often observed that a couple has their heads together as they dance. It looks so intimate. If the woman places her heard on the man’s shoulder or leans her head on his head, it simply takes her off her center axis, and makes it impossible for her to achieve and maintain her line over her support leg. If she aggravates this by insisting that she leave her head glued to his head or shoulder, when he tries to produce the necessary body separations and displacements (subtle but present when dancing in the very close embrace), she will leave her head there, and her body will move away, often producing the effect that her rear end is sticking out. It also greatly inhibits the man from dancing freely to be able to create any kind of figure. So Ladies keep your head up on your vertical axis. If the couple wants the aesthetic of heads together, the man can lean his head in towards the woman’s, and move it away when he needs to create space and body displacements. And men don’t try to leave your head glued to her head when you need to make space, as you need to be on your center axis as well.

The Strangle Hold or The Sticky Woman

Many women will try to imitate a beloved teacher whom they admire. If she wraps her long arm around the neck of her man in the most sexy embrace, this is all that the student sees (sigh) and in turn tries to imitate. They do not realize that the woman may be a totally trained athlete and dancer completely on her own balance, no matter where she places her arm. For the woman, the point of contact of the embrace, whether dancing in an open salon position or in the very close embrace, is with the under part of her arm located directly over his biceps. She places this part of her arm on top of his arm anywhere in the vicinity of the top of his biceps, with her elbow positioned down. She embraces the man’s arm with her arm, and always has contact there. If there is any space under the arm, or if her arm does not make contact with his arm, it is very difficult to receive the body mark transmitted through his shoulder and arm. If you dance chest to chest in the very close embrace, this position is still valid. Also, when the woman feels the man creating space, by his opening his shoulders or sliding his arm away, she should in turn slide her arm out (while keeping contact). Do not hang on tight for dear life, and impede the effort of the man to mark the step. If he creates space, take it and make use of it.

It’s The Other Leg

When we see a woman or a man doing an embellishment, a boleo, a flick, a gancho, a planeo, an amague — whatever, it seems that the leg doing the embellishment has all the energy. In fact it is the opposite. Remember only one leg, the support leg has energy in it. The non support leg is always free. If you produce energy in the free leg to produce the embellishment, you will take yourself off your support axis  and that will create an unbalance. When you try to use the free leg to create the embellishment, you will also become heavy because you have energy in both legs. You will usually try to compensate for these two problems by using your partner for balance, often knocking not only yourself off balance, but also knocking your partner off balance at the same time. Another thing to consider is verticality. By remaining true to the technique of being tall on your support leg, you will be vertical on your axis. When doing embellishments, you remain vertical on the axis of the body over the support leg. The energy produced is produced upwards

Enjoy the dance and keep your balance.

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 10   Leave a comment

Fear of learning

Like in any good milonga when the music stops or the tanda ends, the socializing aspect of the encounter is a very important ingredient to round out an enjoyable evening. What makes socializing at a milonga different from an office party or the local bar scene is the fact that at the milonga there are many moments of truth when we have to deal with our own issues and those of our partners.

What follows is an opinion or a series of opinions based mostly on subjective aspects of the learning process of the Argentine Tango, and by no means there is scientific data or academic research to make these commentaries anything but positive conversation.

We believe that Argentine Tango is mostly about attitude and unconditional self acceptance of oneself. To truly understand this can make a difference to whether you will ever “get it” or you will be part of the cast of Tango zombies who night after night stroll the dance floors.

First we need to deal with the thin line that separates selfishness from the willingness to choose to love ourselves as the ones we will never lose, because our lives are loaded to various degrees with criticism, guilt trips, fear of rejection, negative feelings and a generous dose of what some experts call toxic shame, courtesy of parental figures and others who never considered in their well intended ways that they were the driving force that makes some of us to act as human doings instead of human beings. Human doings can drive themselves looking for more and more achievement in order to feel okay about themselves. It is a very difficult step to love and accept ourselves unconditionally to allow ourselves time to just be. To take time for fun and entertainment as well as to make time a nourishment moment of aloneness. In other words, to be willing to give ourselves pleasure and enjoyment.

Dancing Argentine Tango is about pleasure and enjoyment.

Befriend your mistakes

A man looks around the dance floor and finds a new face looking back. A smile, a nod and a walk brings them together and as the arms wrap around their bodies, I’m just a beginner is overheard. I’m afraid to make mistakes is implied. I am a mistake could be construed. Pleasure and enjoyment now takes a back seat to the intriguing question of whether some people are more than human so they don’t make mistakes, or others are less than human believing they are a mistake.

Because as disturbing and uncomfortable as it is, the thought of dealing with somebody who apologizes beforehand for upcoming mistakes is as stressful as finding ways to deal with the ones that don’t ever, ever make mistakes.

There is no way that we can learn anything without errors. It is after all, (how quickly we forgot our infant years) a process of successive approximation. First we crawl, then we stand, then we walk after falling down many times and adjusting our balance and trying again, and eventually we are capable to run.

Mistakes are a form of feedback, but as the buzzer in the car may warn us about the perils of driving without a seat belt, wearing a mask of perfectionism changes the warning into a moral indictment. At the point of encountering a mistake we can become so preoccupied with defending ourselves against the inner critical voices that we miss the opportunity to heed the warning of a mistake. If a defense mechanism also is cocked to fire back at the “attacker” with the aim to hit his/her hot buttons, then you have a conflagration of major proportions that gets in the way of pleasure and enjoyment. Teachers need to know how to deal with their mistakes and the mistakes of others, and the way different people, including themselves frame their mistakes.

Back to the attitude issue, a good Tango seems to result from the combination of the quasi arrogant and self confidence profile of the man and the self assertive, aggressive in your chest, standing tall body line of the woman. These are difficult attitudes to internalize because it means coming to the dance with a clear understanding and belief of our individual Bill of Rights. The right to judge our own behavior, thoughts and emotions and to take responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon ourselves. The right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying our behavior. The right to say “I don’t know,” “I don’t understand,” or “I don’t care.” The right to make mistakes and be responsible for them. The right to seek pleasure and enjoyment. The right to befriend mistakes as information about what works and what doesn’t work.

You be the teacher

A couple is dancing removed from the rest of the crowd. In their own world we can’t see whether they are giving each other pleasure and enjoyment or they are trading wits blaming each other for their mistakes. Only they can tell, but they won’t. We can only guess unless we are one part of that couple. Then it behooves us to know that the fear of mistakes kills creativity and spontaneity, makes one walk on eggs, always afraid to say what we think or feel. The Argentine Tango thrives on creativity, spontaneity and improvisational journeys walked with poise and confidence on a solid yet trustworthy dance floor. Knowing that mistakes will be made can help seek new information and new solutions keeping away the belief of knowing it all. Assuming responsibility for our mistakes and accepting them as teaching tools may develop a habit to focus on the benefit of a mistake rather than its culpability. The same way that a speeding ticket can be a mistake that saves our life by accepting it as a warning to drive more slowly and concentrate on our driving, the mistakes that suitable teachers or friends may point out to us, may save our Tango dancing life. But before we are ready to implement our self assertive open mind to the warnings from others, we need to make peace with our own inner teacher, our mistakes, mistakes that we are willing to befriend, reformat and accept as a vital element of who we are, human beings embracing other human beings for pleasure and enjoyment while we ride the sounds of the orchestra.

When the music stops or the tanda ends, we will be looking forward to repeating the ritual again, and as we approach each other for the embrace, a glimpse in our eyes will tell of a thousand stories and countless Tangos promising moments of pleasure and enjoyment three minutes at a time.

Making a commitment

One day sitting in our living room sucking from a metal straw the traditional green infusion from the Rio de la Plata known as mate, we listened how Orlando Paiva described his younger years when in the process of learning to dance and later to teach Tango, he had spent countless hours in front of a mirror in his room working on every detail of his posture, foot placement, arm holding and his desired look. Those who have seen Orlando carrying more than sixty years of life on his shoulders, can immediately notice that there is something especial about this man the moment he stands up and readies himself to dance. There is a distinctive stance in his form to walk, turn and pause that generates gasps of admiration at the fluidity, elegance and personality of Orlando Paiva.

Many wish they could dance like him, some have attempted to copy him, very few realize that there is only one Orlando Paiva and he is who he is because of a commitment he made to himself many years ago to put everything he had learned from others into a unique style and personality of his own, while in the process developing his own skills as a teacher.

Making a commitment to find out what works better for ourselves is a very cool step to becoming unique and recognizable in our style and personality.

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial