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Chapter 9   Leave a comment

Consensual tango dancing

When people judge a book by its cover, they may not find the time to read it, or worse yet, they may become “experts” at what they judged without reading. The cover of the Argentine Tango dance book sometimes is illustrated with references to the exotic, cliche-ladden, fairy tales about bordellos, machos, knives, control and submission, which taken at face value may lead to create an injustice on the dance floor.

It is not unusual to hear the plight of those who believe that all the fun and energy of Tango dancing is enjoyed by the overbearing males, who already control and dominate every other aspect of life. Then, dancing becomes militancy and technically challenged individuals set out to “share and exchange the joys of having control, using dominance and establishing supremacy.” They lead themselves to denial and follow a pattern to boredom.

Whether we like it or not, authentic Argentine Tango dancing at its best, requires the physical and phychological encounter of a man and a woman working together to fullfil a three minute contract, which they agreed to when the invitation and the acceptance took place.

The terms of the contract require that the man take care of all external elements that would interfere with the woman’s enjoyment of the dance. Those external elements include physical protection against other dancers, expert navigation skills to become part of the dance floor and not the dance floor itself, sensible understanding of the music style, rhythm and mood in order to dance the music and not the steps, and a clear understanding of where the woman’s feet are, and most important of all, where he is going to mark her steps so her feet will be placed exactly where they should go to execute a particular movement, figure, pattern, or whatever you want to call it.

In turn, the woman is required to know where her axis is within her own space, to allow her body to be secured in the embrace, to respond to the mark by transporting her body into the space created dynamically as a consequence of the mark. To do this, she must have a clear point of support before moving, i.e., one leg supporting the weight, and the ability to allow her “free” leg to be placed as a result of la marca so the motion of her body is in unison with the man’s.

Parada at Door Number Six

Last time we proposed that knowing how to initiate, enter, stop or exit from a Giro gives the dancer a powerful tool to develop creative improvisational skills. We also suggested that the woman’s body positions in the Giro could be seen as eight different doors, each numbered from one to eight, and further, that it is required that you enter the odd numbered doors with your left foot and the even numbered doors with your right foot.

We described a parada, a stop at the position we called Door Number Three. We will now describe another parada, at Door Number Six.

1.- Fourth movement of the giro 2.- Fifth movement of the giro 3.- Sixth movement of the giro

He enters the Giro de Ocho with a leg displacement as he marks a forward step from the Cruzada, (Figure 1). Because he advances with his right leg, he is entering through Door Number Four.

As he steps forward, he displaces her left foot (he produces a Sacada) and he transfers her weight completely to her right foot. He continues rotating his upper body over his right leg while opening his right shoulder to create a new space for her. She pivots and opens her left leg to her side. This is Door Number 5 so he advances with his body and his left foot producing a Sacada. (Figure 2)

Next, he opens his right shoulder to create new space for her to turn into. Her weight transfers to her left leg and she opens her torso to the right pivoting on her left leg until he stops the rotation locking his right shoulder and then releasing it to mark a back step. At this point he “sees” Door Number 6 and decides not to “enter”. So he locks his right shoulder, places his hand firmly on her back, stops his rotation and moves his right foot to touch parallel her left foot. She responds to this lack of space to move by not moving (Figure 3).


Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 8   Leave a comment

Dancing with freedom

Argentine Tango dancing is about a couple moving around the dance floor led by the rhythm and melody of the music. Navigating the floor is an acquired skill and it combines timing, balance and talent to improvise.

We have been leaning on more and more towards the improvisational aspect of the Tango dance because it removes the shackles which the dreaded eight count basic places on legs and arms of beginning dancers. Dancing Tango is about freedom to express with our bodies and our hearts the very special feelings that each and every Tango induces in us.

In those moments when the rhythm of the orchestra, the moaning of the bandoneon, the solemnity of the violin or the voice of the singer enraptures our bodies and soul, we could hardly be remembering StepPatternNumber954B, or trying to apply VariationNumber173A which Joe Blow, or was it Peter Woodlimbs, showed the last time before the milonga.

This is where the power of improvisation comes in handy. To be able to do so, we must be able to have the elements and the knowledge to identify familiar body positions so we can invent on the spur of the moment a way to move to another position without missing a beat.

Where there is motion

There should also be stillness, and this month’s topic is just that, stillness, pausing, or more specifically what is commonly known as parada, a stop in the progression of the dancers’s motion.

If you’ve been following this series of notes, you are familiar with the Eight Movement Turn, or as it is also called, a Giro de Ocho. Briefly, an EMT is a series of continous turns that can be executed to the right or to the left in eight body movements.

Knowing how to initiate, enter, stop or exit from a Giro gives the dancer a powerful tool to develop creative improvisational skills.

Imagine that you are in front of eight different doors, each numbered from 1 to 8, and further, that there is a requirement that you enter the odd numbered doors with your left foot and the even numbered doors with your right foot.

We omit addressing specifically men and women because this concept is equally important for both dancers, and although 99% of the time the men are the ones who are taught how to use Giros for a variety of patterns, there is no reason why women can’t enter and exit Giros as well, assuming that (a) they understand the concept, and (b) that the men they are dancing with, know how to mark the steps.

Introduction to the Parada

In this particular exercise, we will begin the Giro at the Cruzada point, that is at the end of the Salida, when the bodies are aligned in front of each other occupying one lane, feet are together but crossed. (Figure 1)

First, he needs to unlock her crossed feet by slightly opening his upper torso to his left. This will induce a rotation of her upper body over her left foot. Next, using his right arm to create the space where she will move and rotating his upper body to his right over his right foot, he marks a forward step in the new direction her body is facing. As she steps forward, there is Door Number 1 so he “enters” with his left foot. (Figure 2). As he steps forward, he displaces her left foot (he produces a Sacada) as he transfers her weight completely to her right foot.

He continues rotating his upper body to his right creating a new space with his right arm for her to pivot changing direction opening her left leg to her side. This is Door Number 2 so he now “enters” with his right foot and produces another Sacada when he transfers her weight to her left leg. (Figure 3)

Next, he opens his right shoulder to create space for her so she can step back with her right foot after pivoting on her left foot. As she moves, he moves rotating his upper body to his right and bringing his left foot at a right angle to her pivoting left foot. This is Door Number 3, but a decision is made not to “enter”. So he locks his right shoulder, places his hand firmly on her back, and stops his rotation. She responds to this lack of space to move by not moving, so the dancers are now in what is called a Parada. (Figure 4)

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 4

This is one of many simple examples of how to use acquired knowledge to modify set patterns, to alter a movement, to make a decision on the spot and to continue dancing with flair, fluidity, grace, elegance and poise. Improvisation is what leads to fancy dancing on a crowded floor.

We will continue next time, but in the meantime see if you can improvise your next step trying not to forget which foot you both stepped with last and how are your bodies aligned at this point. Who said that homework was not any fun?

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 7   Leave a comment

A case may be made for the long checklist a Tango dancer must go through before stepping onto the floor. Issues of posture, musicality and types of embrace occupy an important aspect in the minds of most dancers. Room should be left for enjoyment and gratification.

Many times, dancers forget to check their psychological baggage outside the milonga’s door and issues not related to Tango dancing may affect the quality of a dance or the entire evening. The way dancers approach the exhilarating experience of social dancing is a choice available to everybody.

First and foremost is the music. Endless arguments may ensue sometimes about how good or bad the music being played at a given milonga is. Most of them are pointless as they only reflect the pettiness, envy, mean spirit, ineptitude or plain stupidity of those who are the most vocal in their unsolicited criticism. Show me a “music critic” and I’ll show you a mediocre dancer. When the intention is genuine and the desire is honest, most of us can enjoy a wonderful night out at just about any place.

The time honored most accepted method of inviting and accepting a request for a dance, is the eye contact and a head nod. It speaks highly of politeness, courtesy and above all about avoiding uncomfortable and at times embarrassing experiences. It also affords every dancer the privacy of choosing how to spend an evening. It is unsettling being stalked by overzealous individuals or being put into the difficult situation of accepting reluctantly or declining uncomfortably. In spite of its popularity nobody appreciates being “used.”

Seize the moment

Dancing is a personal issue and the first concern upon stepping onto the floor is the person you will be dancing with. Second on the list of concerns is the traffic occupying the rest of the floor. What you do next is your choice.

If a lady waits for her dance facing the center of the dance floor, the gentleman will be wise to begin the dance with a left side step that will get them moving in the direction of the line of dance. The closer to the outer edge of the dance floor the couple decides to navigate, the less stationary figures they should attempt. Using walking patterns, cadencias, changes of front, forward and back ochos, and elements of giros, the dancers can engage in a series of movements that will take them around the floor with grace and fluidity. A crowded dance floor is the ideal environment for improvisation since the dynamic closing of spaces hinders most attempts to repeat a given choreography.

The Six Count Walk

The basis for moving around the floor is the walk. We like to introduce the concept of walking the very first time anybody shows up to a class. Although there are no rules as to how many steps to walk, using a 4 step walk with a two count cadencia can get anybody moving from the word go.

From the base Body Position 1, (Fig. 1, both dancers chest to chest), the man marks a change of weight to his right by slightly bending his right knee and releasing the weight from the left leg. The lady responds accordingly and transfers her weight to her left leg. On the beat, the man marks the first back step to the lady who responds by stretching her right leg and planting her metatarsus behind her. Once that she has began to move, the man steps forward with his left foot, transfers his weight to that foot and marks the second back step to the lady who in turn plants her right heel on the floor, brings her full weight to that foot and passes the left leg with tone but without power looking for the floor behind her with her metatarsus. The third step is identical to the first one and at the fourth step the man brings both feet together by stepping with his right foot next to his left. The stopping of the man’s forward motion is the mark for the lady to also bring her feet together, stepping in place. Keeping the beat, the man marks a cadencia by provoking a two count change of weight (left-right for the man and the corresponding right-left for the woman) and on the next beat a 4-step walk with cadencia may begin again.

This particular sequence allows the man to begin the next sequence with his left foot (not a requirement at all, but convenient for what follows).

A Change of Front for Him

Whenever the man is ready to step forward with his left foot, he can mark a change of front by moving at the same time that she steps back with her right foot and turning his body to his left. The second step of the change of front will be his right foot to the side which will complete the turn to the left. Finally, turning the body out to his left, the man will step back with his left. All along he must mark the lady’s steps in order to keep her inside his embrace while he is going around her changing the front.

At the end of the change of front, the dancers are in Body Position 2, occupying two lanes, the man at the lady’s right. (Fig. 2)

And One for Her

If the man considers that at this point she has stepped forward with her right (Fig. 2), he may mark the next step so she pivots on her right and opens her left foot to her side while her body turns right towards him. At the same time he brings his feet together with the weight on his left and walks with his right foot into the inside of her right foot producing a displacement of her right foot and a transfer of weight to her left foot. If he marks a pivot followed by a back step, while turning right to bring his body in front of hers and placing his left foot next to her left foot, these are the first three steps of a giro to the right began at the end of a change of front.

Mind blowing you say? It can be if you bring page 16 or 17 of El Firulete to the dance floor. If, instead you learn to identify body positions and “templates,” not only could you also write about them, but actually enjoy executing them. Improvising is dancing on the spur of the moment, making, inventing or arranging offhand patterns and figures from familiar elements or “templates.”

Now You Try It

After the double change of front, the man is facing the lady again, his left foot on the inside of hers. Her right metatarsus is firmly on the floor so when he brings his right leg over and walks on her right, the dancers are on the second step of a salida so it would make a lot of sense to bring the lady in front of him by marking a cruzada when she steps back with her right, so on the next step her left foot can cross in front of the right while their bodies are once again in Position 1, both feet together, chest to chest, etc., etc.

If you care to count, it took 14 movements from the time the dancers began to walk to arrive to the cruzada. First four to walk, two to change weight in place, three for his change front, three for her change of front and two to reach the cruzada. Suppose that here he marks one stationary forward ocho, so she steps forward with her right foot, passes her body weight forward, pivots on her axis over the right metatarsus while hooking her left foot behind, steps forward with her left foot, passes her body weight forward and pivots on her axis over the left metatarsus while hooking the right foot behind. They are back at the cruzada so the whole sequence could start all over again and 14 movements later they could be back at the cruzada. A grand total of 30 steps.

Side Trips Are Fun

The fun of improvising while enjoying great company and great music consists in the ability to take a group of movements and link them together repeatedly, each time altering the order in which the groups are linked together.

Our imaginary dancers have used a 6 movement walk with cadencia, changes of front, salida to the cruzada and forward ochos. Suppose that the second time they go through the walk they use two steps and four cadencias, or three steps and three cadencias. They still use 6 beats but the sequences have a different look. Of course, walking can be expanded to any number of steps and the men can alternate walking in front, to the left and to the right of the woman.

While they are at the cruzada, if the man walks back with his left foot after marking a forward ocho for her, they are both for all practical purposes at the same Body Position that they were at the end of a change of front (Fig. 2) so he could break the return of the forward ocho by opening her to her side marking a change of front for her and repeating the sequence explained before at the end of his change of front.

What About Me?

Native Argentine Tango dancers understand from the word go that there are two fully complementary roles required to accomplish the feat of dancing a Tango between a man and a woman.

Perhaps elsewhere that is not so easy to understand, because good teachers and role models are hard to come by. Copying the skeleton of the dance and showing it repeatedly in front of people only makes people wonder why there seems to be only one person in a couple that is having all the fun while the other just “follows and follows while making mistakes all the time.”

It only takes a dime to make a Xerox copy of a page of a bestselling book, but that does not a writer make. Yes, it takes two, a man and a woman, each one responsible for finding their own axis, capable of displacing their bodies in unison and keeping a comfortable posture. The man provides a secure space with his embrace for the woman to move with confidence and elegance. The woman responds to the dynamic changes of the space provided by the embrace by displacing her body into the changing space using her feet as support, but not as the driving force.

This is a lot to be said about Tango dancing, but it leads to the conclusion that work and understanding are necessary to properly benefit from the endless combinations that the capacity to improvise allows a couple to create.

Exercises that involve walking, turning, pivoting, help keep the body used to the specific moves so characteristic of the Argentine Tango. Learning to displace the upper body with confidence and allowing the legs to follow the natural path in which those displacements will take them is also important. Everything we do on a straight line we must do on a curve, both to the right and to the left.

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 6   2 comments

Once upon a tango

A major transformation in the way Tango is danced began to take place in the late 1930s and continued well into the 1950s. It was a natural consequence of the changes that the music itself had undergone since the decade of the 1920s. Under the premise that Tango is also music, a new generation of musicians led by Juan Carlos Cobian, Osvaldo Fresedo and Julio De Caro set the stage for the Tango romanza, a style of interpretation rich in melody and sophisticated arrangements that attracted musicians with a higher level of skills. The popular allegiances were forever torn between the so called traditionalists, fanatics of the 2×4 beat, and those who introduced the 4×8 and the 4×4 rhythms.

Turning a Deaf Ear

For a long period, the dancers rejected the newer Tango and continued to march at the beat of 2×4 while the music sounded different. In this early style of Tango dancing, the role of the woman was secondary to the competitive display of skills and bravura of the men.

As times were changing, so was the social structure of the city. Dancing had spread to the neighborhoods social clubs and more and more decent young women were allowed and accepted to participate at these weekly bailes. Once thing that was becoming obvious to the younger generation of male dancers, was that seasoned veterans seemed to be dancing to the beat of a different drummer. By the late 1930s the influence of the De Caro school was overwhelming with musicians and listeners alike. For years, before the talkies changed the film industry forever, the likes of De Caro, Maffia, Vardaro and Pugliese, had been playing at just about every movie theater in town. Their sound, the sound of the new Tango had become familiar to thousands of middle class families, who alternated between the movies and the social clubs in search of entertainment.

A commonly accepted story talks about a group of dancers who began to experiment with new concepts for Tango dancing, trying to match the sounds and rhythms of the most popular orchestras. Carlos Alberto Estevez, who became known by his nickname, Petroleo (nothing to do with the black gold but with the dark color of the beverages he liked to indulge in), is credited as being one of the leading brains behind a totally new concept of Tango dancing that involved the full participation of the women on a 50-50 basis.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

The essence of the emerging style was based on creating figures for the women to move around the men, and for the men to move around the women, using circular patterns that required changes of front and a whole new set of body positions. The women loved it. The women loved the men who could do giros and enrosques. The men who knew how to do giros and enrosques got the attention of the women. Sometimes they also got beat up by the locals at clubs where they used to go to impress the women with their dancing skills.

Eventually, rather than fight, dancers from all over the city began to keep an eye on these guys, and gradually they began to incorporate their own spice into the new luscious recipe. That is why people from different neighborhoods developed a recognizable style of dancing, which was different in the shell but rooted in the same principles developed and perfected by names like Petroleo, El Negro Lavandina, Tarila, Kalisei, Toto, Mingo, and many others. What was important about all these and others innovators, is that they realized the importance of the woman’s role in Tango dancing. They also recognized their intellectual capabilities and their capacity to understand the structure of the dance and appreciate the necessary technical skills to perform it at its best.

Don’t Let Your Daughter Grow up to be a Follower

A giro is the technical name of a Tango figure executed over a circular trajectory that involves changes of front. Master Mingo Pugliese is one of the leading authorities on giros and he has been quoted as saying that the whole concept of Tango dancing is embodied in an eight count giro. Those who have had the privilege of studying under Mingo can easily understand why. We will attempt to delve into the fascinating world of the eight count giro, its structure, its execution, the mark and response and the freedom that its knowledge affords the Tango dancer.

The Anatomy of a Giro

Although an eight count giro can be entered and exited at any of the eight positions, from a woman’s perspective, a complete giro to her right begins with her right leg stepping forward (Figure 1). The next movement requires that she pivots to the right over her right foot while passing the left foot in one swift motion stepping to the side so she now is firmly grounded in an open position with her weight in the middle evenly distributed on both legs (Figure 2). Next, on the mark, she transfers her weight to her left foot, collects her right foot and keeping both feet together she pivots to the right on her left foot (Figure 3). Finally, on the mark, she steps back with her right foot planting her metatarsus firmly behind and placing her weight in the middle again (Figure 4). On the mark, she brings her right heel down, collects the left foot and steps to the side into an open position again. To continue circling around the man, she now repeats the previous sequence, right foot forward with a pivot, left open to the side, right together, pivot to the right on her left foot, right foot back, collect with left and open to the side.

1.- She opens forward
with her right foot
2.- She pivots on right foot and opens left foot to the side 3.- She pivots on left foot with legs closed 4.- She opens backward with her right foot

If you recall last month description of the change of front, the giro completo is a version of the change of front on a circular path, a side step and another change of front (forward-side-back) following the circle.

To do a giro completo to the left, always from the woman’s perspective, the procedure is similar but the leg sequence is opposite. First she starts with a forward step with her left (Figure 5), then she passes the right and opens to the side (Figure 6), she collects the left and pivots over right to the left, she steps back with left (Figure 7), she collects right and she opens to the side.

5.- She opens forward
with her left foot
6.- She pivots on left foot
and opens right foot to the side
7.- She opens backward with
her left foot

Successful execution of giros requires that the dancer carries her body along with the legs to insure the proper mix of balance and centrifugal force that is generated at the pivoting points. In a real dancing situation, the man must understand the structure of a giro, he must recognize the various body alignments and above all he must absolutely lean how to mark every step of the giro according to the particular figure or pattern he desires to execute. For the ladies to recognize a mark and respond with eloquence, it is important to work very hard in achieving positive and smooth body weight transfer, upper body alignment and a sense of balance.

Easier Said Than Done

Incorporating the concepts of giros can really enhance anybody’s dancing, however it is important not to forget the fundamentals. Since the motion tends to be in a circular pattern, it is very easy to forget about posture, body positioning, and correct weight transfer. Conceptually, we can try to break down each movement of a giro into its basic components for the ladies.

One of the most common position where a giro can begin is at the cruzada. Hopefully you have been marked the cruzada correctly so you have moved into a space created by your partner. As you come out of the cruzada, you will walk forward into that space with your right foot, placing it firmly on the floor, elongating your left leg enough for the heel to come off the ground allowing your body to shift to the middle of the step. Without breaking a stride, you will bring your weight entirely on the forward foot flexing the knee and you will rotate your upper body to the right in order to provoke a spin on your right foot. The trailing left leg should now close naturally until the body has completed the turn and it will continue to move in a side direction to place your body in an open position, both heels on the ground, body weight in the center.

Next, you should transfer your weight to the left foot without twisting your upper body in anticipation of the next move. You will then close with your right foot and only then open your upper body in order to produce a spin to the right on your left foot. Once that the rotation has ended (this is marked by your partner, but more on that next time, this is your understanding of the movements), you will step back with your right foot opening your legs, planting the right metatarsus firmly on the floor without falling on your heel. Your body weight should shift slightly to be in the center of the open legs. The next move that should be marked is a body weight shift so your right heel goes down, your left foot closes and then opens to the left for another open position. If you are used to dancing on your toes, you should take extreme care to insure that in the open position both heels go the floor so your body can be firmly balanced vertically and not leaning forward (read falling on or hanging from your partner).

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 5   Leave a comment

What tango shall we dance

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

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

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

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

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

A historical perspective

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

The line of dance that Tango invites us to join

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

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

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

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

Becoming part of la ronda

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Change of Front pattern

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

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

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

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

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 4   Leave a comment

Mark me, she said

In between the Tangos of a set (tanda), a lot of conversation goes on among the dancers standing on the dance floor. The topics of the many conversations that ensue, cover anywhere from flirty interchanges to the latest gossip in the neighborhood. When the next Tango begins, the sound of the conversations blends with the music for a few seconds.

Gradually the couples assume the embrace, the spoken word dies and a new dialogue begins. It is an unspoken interchange that goes on between the dancers and it is based on a language that it is unique to the Tango dance: la marcacion, a corporal communication between the dancers that carries the rhythm and melody of the music from the loudspeakers into the displacement of their bodies on the dance floor. This fundamental aspect of Tango dancing has been systematically ignored, misrepresented or mistakenly equated to certain aspects of ballroom dances. As a result, many people learn to dance Tango without the benefit of understanding the ever so important concept of la marca.

There are several translations of the Spanish verb marcar, the favorite being “to mark” as in tagging, branding or stamping. Another one is “to lead” as in leading and following. They’re both way off the mark.

Left, right, left, right

The Spanish language is rich with words that have several meanings. Add to that the colloquial expressions found in different regions of Spain and in many countries of South America, and you may begin to understand why our young Tango communities sometimes don’t understand the origin of the expression and its application to Tango dancing. To understand the meaning of the word marca, we look back into our early childhood when we used to admire the young soldiers marching down Avenida de Mayo on Argentina’s National Day, to the beat and sound of patriotic songs. As we entered school, we learned to march in and out of class and school. The action of walking to the beat of a drum at a parade or to the stern “left-right” command from an old spinster at school is known as marcar el paso, to accentuate the way one steps while following a rhythmic pattern.

When a couple readies to dance, an experienced female dancer expects her steps to be marked by her partner. Most of the times, if there is no mark, she will not move. More than once an Argentine woman dancer has been heard to say no me marcastes, or no te entendi la marca, to indicate that he did not mark or that his mark was not clear.

She was not asking to be branded with an X on her forehead or to have finger marks on her back at the end of the night. She was demanding la marca. She was requesting that he contributes his fifty percent to the dance. Since it does not seem to be a fair translation for la marca, we might as well add the new Tango word to our vocabulary and to our dancing technique.

Gentlemen, on your mark

To properly understand the concept of marcacion, we need to review the concepts of good posture and the dynamics of the embrace. In adopting the dancing posture, the man surrounds the woman with his right arm creating a space where she will dance. The points of contact are her upper arm firmly set on his upper arm, his upper arm in full contact with her body and his right fore arm and hand gently holding her back. To complete the frame, his left arm extends out in line with his left shoulder holding his right palm slightly upwards.

Her right arm extends out and up and her hand rests palm down on his palm. He gently cups her hand by closing his fingers over her hand. Shoulders lock so any motion of the upper bodies can directly be transferred to the arms.

The man’s left arm should not be used as a pump to force her motion back and forth. If he pushes with his left arm, she will open up when stepping back with her right foot and her body will dance in a V-frame moving sideways while going back, instead of fully facing his upper body. Because her right foot will point at an angle while she steps back on a V-frame, her cross, left over right, will leave her body at an angle instead of being directly lined up in front of him. If the couple dances in a V-frame, their dancing possibilities are dramatically limited, as certain movements, such as walking on her left or turning to the left are difficult to execute without exerting a toll on the spinal cord of the lady.
A.- Her arm and hand rest on his shoulder. The pressure should not inhibit the free movement of his upper body.
B.- The main point of contact between the dancers. It helps
to communicate body weight changes.
C.- His right arm defines a clear and secure space where
she can dance with confidence.
D._ His right hand holds her firmly to complete the
boundaries of the embrace.

The mark of a good dancer

The purpose of la marca is to indicate when, where and how the lady moves into the space created by the extension or contraction of the embrace.

For example, while doing a four-count salida to the cross, his body moves slightly to her right on the first side step. On the third step, (her right, his left) he may subtly extend his right arm to create space for her to cross left over right and reassume a full frontal alignment. If the intention is to continue with a forward ocho, he must indicate the change of direction by applying a slight pressure on her back with his right arm. This creates space in front of her so she interprets la marca and advances with a step forward into the space that was created just before she went into the cross.

One of the most dreaded experiences is attempting to execute a turn only to realize that she “runs” away losing the beat and possibly her balance. This could be caused by one or both of the following reasons: her technique may not include the concept of keeping the pace of the music or he has no clue of what marcacion is needed to create space so she can move around him.

Before we digress any further, we would like to review several concepts that affect the coordination of motion between the Tango dancing couple.

First, the lady always walks in a straight line. Better yet, she walks forward into the direction that her body is facing, or backward into the direction that her back is facing.

Any change of direction is marked. There are two distinctive ways to mark a change of direction.

To mark a side step to her right, he applies a gentle pressure on her left side with his right arm at the same time that his right hand firmly placed on her back stops any further motion in the direction she was walking. This is marked as her right foot comes together with her support leg (left in this case) on her way to a back step. The momentum of her motion towards the back step transfers into a side step once that her feet have come together.

Another way to change direction is by marking a pivot, a rotation of her body while it is vertically loaded on the support leg. If the intention is to mark a change of direction so she will turn to his right while going back, then his right shoulder will open to the right so the enclosure of the embrace will expand in that direction and she will interpret that marca as an indication to pivot on her left foot while opening her upper body into the space that the opening of his right shoulder created.

Once that the spin is finished she will once again continue to walk in the new direction that her body is facing. To mark her a turn to his left, his upper body will turn to his left, creating a space behind to her right. Combining these two marks produces the familiar back ocho figure.

The purpose of this segment is not to describe in detail the various marcas for common movements of the dance, but to introduce the ever so important concept of marcacion against the backdrop of important aspects of the dynamics of the dance.

Follow me, please

So, after we established that she moves on a straight line, we want to add that she moves into space created by his marcacion. In case it is not obvious yet, in Argentine Tango, she leads the way and he follows. She moves, then he moves.

This is a paramount principle voiced by many masters but poorly translated or plainly ignored. If you apply this concept to the simple walk that typically allows dancers to progress around the dance floor, as the man marks the next step, he must wait until she begins the leg extension and only advance with his body when he has felt her metatarsus firmly placed on the floor. At this moment the transfer of weight takes place. Her extended leg elongates and her heel touches the floor.

The subtle delay between the motion of the dancers is what creates the much sought after feline elegance of the dancing couple. You can’t walk like a cat because you only have two legs. An embraced couple, combining both sets of legs can.

In essence, understanding the concept of “I move, then he moves,” if you are a woman, or “she moves, then I move,” if you are a man, is a significant step towards developing the natural sway and sensual motion characteristic of the Argentine Tango.

It Takes Two

To sum up, the dissection of a step shows two parts: the contact of the metatarsus with the floor on the beat, and the elongation of the leg that places the heel in full contact with the floor in between beats. When you take the time to travel with confidence in the execution of each step, you are contributing to the quality of the dance.

The person moving forward must wait for the person moving backwards to firmly set foot on the floor before transferring the weight forward and moving into the space created by the back leading leg. In this fashion, “rock and roll” jumping is replaced by  a slick and dense horizontal displacement.

The forward advancement of the foot should reach the nearest foot of the person walking backwards and not the other way around. This also creates the natural Tango lean where the upper bodies are in full contact while the legs are free to move. More important, each dancer is comfortably balanced on his/her own axis.

Here is another myth revealed: it is not necessary to open the frame in order to execute the most intricate turns and patterns. If a man knows how, when and where to mark, and the woman is technically prepared to move with confidence on the dance floor, then as a dancing couple they only need the space their bodies occupy to dance at any level of complexity.

In summary, the man creates or changes space with the action of his right arm (in case it is not obvious, the right arm is attached to the upper body at the shoulder).

We saw earlier that he can create space for her to cross, for example. She could then, step forward into that space to initiate a forward ocho. If after the cross, motion continues with her walking backwards, he can move into the space to turn left or right into a Tango close.

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Uncategorized

Chapter 3   Leave a comment

Cat on a hot dance floor

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

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

The beginning of the dance

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

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

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

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

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

The Salida

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

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

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

A typical salida then, consists of:

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

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

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

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

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

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Chapter 2   Leave a comment

The missing video

One of the main resources for tango dancers is the large number of videos available from various sources. Given enough time and patience, most people could eventually copy and replicate some of the breathtaking moves they see in those videos. However, the majority of reputable experts, some of which make a good living dancing for the cameras, will tell you that nobody has ever learned to dance tango from a video. A video should be a tool similar to the notebook or handbook we used at school, its purpose being to refresh in our minds concepts learned in class, to observe the correct demonstration of an exercise or a sequence of steps and to be a reference source for consultation.

Videos used to watch other people dance were very popular and people insisted on buying them with the hope that the magic anointment would come to them by some sort of esoteric transfer from the screen to their bodies. That was before You Tube became the equivalent of tango dancing for dummies. The one and only video we all can certainly benefit from is missing most of the time from our videotheque. It is the video where we see ourselves dance. Reality check they call it, because as we spend a lot of time watching and attempting to imitate visually, we fail to see ourselves and therefore we can’t figure out why some things are just so difficult to accomplish. Or even worse, we dance our way to the milongas with the wrong opinion about ourselves. One of the end results is the large number of men who blame their partners for their obvious lack of balance and the inability to execute the way the video demonstrated.

The Posture

Arguably the tango begins with the posture and it travels to the legs.

Each dancer must find his and her axis and each must be capable to move without throwing the other out of balance. Simple, yet hard to implement.

There is a visual illusion that makes us believe that the execution of figures and patterns are always done with the body weight on the opposite leg than it actually takes place. Unless we understand the dynamics of the embrace, and how torso, arms and shoulder interact, we run the risk of imitating what we see in the videos placing our body weights on the wrong side of the figure. Tango lies, and what you see is not how it is being done.

The Dynamics of the Embrace

The Argentine Tango dance requires that men and women embrace and move around in unison.

The embrace symbolizes the union of two partners determined to care for each other while enjoying the moment, the music, the floor, the surrounding dancers and each other’s company. The contact makes for pleasant sensations but most important, it provides the means for the transmission of signals that are needed for safe navigation on the dance floor and smooth execution of the dance.

To begin with, both dancers start by standing in front of each other about a foot apart. As they ready to assume the embrace, their body weight gets transferred to the metatarsus area of the foot, commonly known as the ball of the foot or the base of the toes. This produces a natural lean so the upper bodies can come into contact at the chest area.

The right arm of the man is locked at the shoulder as he surrounds the woman’s back by placing his right hand with closed fingers on her left shoulder blade. The woman rests the upper part of her left arm on the upper part of the man’s right arm so she can feel the mark produced by the moving action of his right arm and shoulder. Her left hand should rest softly on the man’s shoulder but it should not exert any kind on pressure or be used for balance or leverage because this will inhibit his freedom of movement and it could contribute to throw him out of balance.

The final link to complete the embrace is the man’s left arm which extends straight out from his shoulder with the elbow bent at about a ninety degree angle. His hand opens in such a way that the woman can make palm to palm contact. His fingers close gently to hold her right hand in place. Both man and woman’s shoulders should be locked so there is no separate motion from the body and the arms. Notice the V shape of their arms on the open side of the embrace.

If the embrace is approached in this fashion, any subtle motion of the man’s upper body will be felt very clearly by the woman, and her upper body will move accordingly. Since feet follow the body, a dynamic interaction of the upper bodies result in a visually pleasant and smooth displacement of the dancing couple.

During the dance, the woman always walks forward or backwards on a diagonal straight line, meaning that her leading leg should always extend in the direction her body is moving. It follows that to turn, the body must change direction first (turning on the supporting leg) before the leg moves in a straight line in the new direction.

The man walks with the woman always in front of him, whether he moves to her right or to her left. This is very important to understand. The woman must walk in a diagonal straight line. The man can then walk straight in front of her, to her right or to her left.

Having said that, walking for both men and women means adopting a posture that will be both comfortable and elegant. Because of the natural lean adopted at the beginning of the dance, the man’s upper body will always move first followed by his legs attempting always to keep his body weight in the middle not favoring either leg. This concept is important as many already know one the most basics figures of the tango: the parada followed by the sandwich.

Subjective teaching techniques ask the dancers to “sit” on the support leg making it impossible for that leg to respond on cue. Here is where learning by watching, as popular as it is, is misleading. Argentine tango is a dance of fluidity and continuity. A man can stop the woman (parada), sandwich her foot, and immediately mark a boleo. The woman cannot respond if her support leg is nailed to the ground with her entire body weight on it. Had she been in the middle, she could boleo and continue dancing without breaking the continuity and progression of the dance.

So posture is important and leads to good balance. The lack thereof is the main reason why we have so many problems replicating what we see on video or putting into practice the mass of knowledge some have accumulated over the years.

Dancing into the embrace

When the woman is properly embraced by the man, the contact that she feels enables her to dance or move “into” the man’s right arm when taking a back step. The woman should attempt to keep contact with the man’s arm while walking back by keeping her weight on the leg closest to the man. It is very important that the man also keeps contact and a connection that can be clearly felt by the woman. When the woman is turning to her right she dances into the direction of her own arm. As the man is turning, he opens his left shoulder a bit, making the space for her to dance into.

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

Chapter 1   Leave a comment

Stand up straight, embrace your partner and walk…

In the land of the do-it-yourself and the cult of self-reliance, those of us who decided to learn to dance the Argentine tango are constantly lectured on the “unstructured and improvisational aspects of this urban dance,” and then we are immediately bombarded with an endless array of steps, figures and Spango, a list of tango names that are supposed to help the English speaking students memorize steps and patterns better. Adding to the mystification of the “unstructured and improvisational dance,” are the myriad of traveling “teachers” who carry suitcases full of steps, judgments and ego. At the local level, there are a few methods and systems in circulation that contribute to the bedlam that most “beginners”, “intermediates” and “advanced” level dancers face on a daily basis.When Humphrey Bogart asked Lauren Bacall how does one whistle, she responded, “put your lips together and blow…” Had he asked her how do you dance the Tango, she might have said, “stand up straight, embrace your partner and walk…”

Yet, after almost ten years since the Argentine tango fever caught this nation by storm, the general proficiency and the overall quality of the social dance leaves a lot to be desired. Everybody is a performer at heart and the local milonga is the stage to make the dream come true.

Americans are an independent lot, quickly given to instant gratification with a penchant for fixing things that are not broken. As a result of that, the important aspects of systematic learning and the hard work that goes along with that, are easily overlooked. In the few cases where a syllabus or courses have been developed, the tendency has been to catalog a lengthy list of steps and figures. They are then are used to pigeonhole people according to their capacity to memorize and repeat the steps and figures using a ranking system similar to the ones used by the American and International Ballroom community.

If we accept the fact that the Argentine tango is an urban social dance that has been in existence for over 100 years, and if we acknowledge the fact that throughout several generations of dancers the core concepts and elements of the dance have only changed as society mores have allowed more freedom of interaction between men and women at the social level, then we may open our minds to a series of concepts, vocabulary and structural forms, that in many different ways, we have learned at one time or another from some of the most talented and gifted dancers and teachers from Argentina.

Putting aside the silly jealousy, envy and down right competitiveness among the masters and the journeymen that follow them, (traits that, if used with caution, you’ll see soon are a necessary ingredient for the attitude required to absorb the Tango in your organism) we are able to rescue fundamental concepts that compiled in a didactic context, may form the basis for a “dancer’s manual” of sorts. To that extent, in instances where specific concepts or ideas identify a particular individual we will give the appropriate credit.

The basic structure of the Argentine Tango dance

At the very core of the dance structure, we may define and identify four distinctive set of movements: the Salida, the Caminata, the Giro and the Cierre. Each one will have variations, substructures and exceptions but as we pick apart each one of these elements we will discover what Mingo Pugliese calls “the embodiment of the Tango”. That is, out of a finite number of recognizable body positions for the couple, it is possible to improvise a countless number of patterns, steps and figures.

The Roles Dancers Play

During the learning process, both men and women must understand that their responsibilities on the dance floor are quite different. Firstly each one must assume control over their own balance, which translates to finding the correct axis in order to develop the most comfortable posture. Second, both the man and the woman must learn and understand the concept of marking (La marca). This concept is unique to the exhilarating experience of improvisation on the dance floor and unfortunately for many confused dancers in this country, is commonly replaced with the ballroom concepts of leading and following. The confusion has been aggravated by some Argentino teachers who don’t bother with pinpointing the radical difference between marking and leading and following because of expediency, selfishness or ignorance of the conceptual language differences.

A Thesaurus search of the verb “to lead” will produce the following partial list of alternatives: to guide, to usher, to steer, to drive, to direct, to conduct, to escort, to precede, to go before…

We ask the men, regardless of experience, when was the last time you “led”, “drove”, “ushered”, “went before” your lady partner on the dance floor? According to Rodolfo Dinzel and others who corroborate this concept, the woman always moves first and the man follows right behind (the notable exceptions are the not-so-gentle-men who charge ahead with their feet, dragging the women like a sack of potatoes. They are actually “leading” the lady to believe that they care little for their partners).

The Three Steps of Tango

One of the understated facts of dancing Argentine Tango is the availability of four feet and four cardinal directions where the couple can move. Simply put, there are only three steps in Tango: the Side step, the Forward step and the Back step. The direction is relative to the orientation of the upper body.

Step Aside

A side step is typically shoulder wide and in the direction of either shoulder. In other words, it is a lateral movement that begins with the leading foot extending right or left, followed by a body weight change to that foot and ending with the unloaded foot coming together with or without another change of weight (this will be dictated by the next movement).

Being forward

A forward step requires similar mechanics only that the leading foot advances in the direction where the upper body is pointing. Once that the leading foot’s metatarsus has found the ground, the body weight transfer begins with a slight flexing of the leading foot in order to “pull’ the body weight to its axis. This avoids the “bouncing effect” that occurs when the body is “pushed” by the trailing leg. Once the weight transfer has been completed, the heel of the trailing foot is off the ground and the trailing leg is relatively elongated. Then, and only then, the forward step is completed by letting the trailing foot “fall” next to the support foot. At this point both knees are together and slightly flexed ready to continue.

Know When to Back up

A back step is executed in the reverse order. First the leading foot moves back in the direction where the back of the upper body is facing until it finds the floor with its metatarsus. Then, as the heel touches the floor, the leading leg “pulls” the body for the weight transfer at which point the trailing foot “falls” next to the other ready for the next movement.

A Position of Strength

The position where one leg is slightly flexed with the foot completely on the ground and the other leg is elongated with the heel off the ground is perhaps the one most likely to be in use most of the time while dancing. Should somebody enter the room and take a still photograph of that position, it would be impossible to guess whether the dancer is in the process of stepping forward, stepping backwards, or in the middle of a left or right hand turn.

With these three steps a couple could dance in straight lines or in a box, going forward, sideways, backwards, sideways, etc., etc.

In order to turn one more element is necessary: the swivel or pivot, which is a rotation of the upper body along the vertical axis of the supporting leg and executed by flexing the knee, lifting the heel of the ground and spinning on the ball of the foot.

A sequence consisting of a forward step, a pivot on the leading foot followed by another forward step is the most popular Tango figure universally known as the Forward Ocho.

Likewise, a sequence consisting of a back step, a swivel on the supporting leg with both feet together followed by another back step is commonly known as a Back Ocho.

Finally, we’d like to quote Pablo Pugliese: “the Tango begins with the posture and finishes in the legs”. There is an anatomical and a psychological reason for paying attention to posture. From an anatomical point of view, finding a comfortable embrace helps the enjoyment of the dance.

The psychological aspect involves a positive winning attitude. The dancers must believe they are the best they can be.

Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial