Stepping side or back?

This is the Tango Sueño Tip of the week from 2/9/2015. I am trying to emphasize this issue in classes as I see ever more frequently that some leaders are totally confused and unable to dance because of trying to avoid any back step.

Stepping Side: although the eight count tango basic and “la baldosa” pattern start with the leader stepping back, it is prudent and common to start the dance with a side step to avoid running into others, especially in a crowded venue. It is however important to interpret this convention correctly:

– It is OK to take other back steps during the dance, in fact necessary.
– It is OK to take back steps traveling towards the line of dance.
– It is important to prepare the follower for a side step, with a weight change.
– Even with a side step, it is better to count “one”, “two”, so that the basic or the baldosa stays with the same beat count.
– It is OK to practice with the back salida especially for beginners; this makes it easier to understand and repeat the pattern consecutively.

Fast or Slow?

This is the tip of the week I sent to my list on June 6, 2013. The way movements look in tango sometimes creates illusions about their speed and timing. Less experienced dancers try make all steps faster without realizing the differences in energy.

Tango Tip of the week: Fast or slow? The perception of speed in tango comes from sharp free leg movements. The steps themselves are not as fast as the front and back boleos (kicks). Guys, slow down your walk, control the pace of steps; hold additional beats. Ladies, in tango it is always better if you are late than early. If you are behind, you can still feel the upcoming figure. If you are ahead it is a lost step. Remember: walk slowly, embellish fast!

What is up with the back step?

The other day, one of my beginner male students entered the class, started his dance with some walking steps and side steps and getting confused. When I asked why he does not use the tango basic to warm up and ease into other patterns, he replied that someone at a practica told him it is not appropriate to do a back step! He was trying to avoid -any- back step and getting totally lost.

I then remembered a beginner class that I observed in Buenos Aires where a young unexperienced instructor was trying to teach the “baldosa” pattern to beginners, starting it with a side step, ending up with a five step count, then asking them to continue by adding the back step and repeating it with a six count; of course he lost the class right at that moment!

The leader’s back steps are essential in tango training, especially at the early stages:
– It keeps the basic as eight count, which fits an eight beat musical phrase.
– It allows the basic or the baldosa pattern to be repeated exactly for practice purposes.
– it clarifies the salida and its musicality, as tango musicality with pauses and improvisatory dance phrases is a very difficult concept to grasp for those who initially learn other dances.
– It forces a follower to learn to take a forward step towards the leader, which might not be straightforward for a beginner on high heels.

Once a leader becomes comfortable with various patterns and their design, it is trivial to start the dance with a side step if necessary, as it is prudent in crowded spaces. However there is nothing wrong with generally using back steps in tango, during training, social dancing and performance.

Ball or Heel?

This is the tip of the week from June 2013. There has been various misunderstandings about this issue throughout tango communities. What one does is very personal; high level professionals and instructors use their heels and ball of the foot in various ways depending on context, sometimes even contradicting the recommendations they might be giving in a class. It is better to avoid rigid rules…

Tango Tip of the week: Ball or heel? There is much confusion as to whether to step with the ball of the foot first or using the heel. Unfortunately there is no simple answer, and the details need to be discussed in classes. Ladies: If you are dancing close and ending up with short steps, you can stay on the ball of the foot more of the time. Otherwise, whenever you need support, regardless of what the man does, use your heel to support yourself. Guys: You actually need to support your partner to some extend, so make sure to be well grounded using your heel when technically required.

The Tango Embrace

Here is the tip of the week from May 2013.

Tango Tip of the week: Many Argentineans end their correspondence with “Un abrazo” or “A hug – embrace”. This is also a significant part of the social life in Argentina; friends give long hugs to each other when they meet. Same in tango, instead of thinking of a rigid technical concept such as “the dance frame” simply hug your partner passionately when you dance tango! Un fuerte abrazo!

What is the Axis?

This is the Tango Sueño Tip from May 20, 2013. Although many teachers talk about the axis, I don’t think most students clearly understand what it is or how it is relevant to the dance. I will expand on the topic in the future.

Tango Tip of the week: Axis: “A straight line about which a body or a geometric figure rotates or may be supposed to rotate – Merriam-Webster”. Think about your axis! Even if you dance close embrace, you need to be on your own axis. Give your partner his or her freedom while enjoying the dance together!

Class Etiquette

This is the Sueno Tip of the week from May 13, 2013. Over the years I have consistently observed that the many tango students are tempted to try to “correct” their partners’ dancing during a class. Perhaps this is related to the close connection of tango, but I find it unproductive.

Tango Tip of the week: Classes are for improving your own dancing. It is not appropriate to give unsolicited advice to your classmates, regardless of your level and experience (discussions are OK -if initiated by your partner). Guys: Ask yourself what you can do with your body to convey your intentions to your partner, especially if a figure does not work. Ladies, ask yourself what you can do to protect your own balance and to understand your partner’s intention, even if he is not doing the figure cleanly!

Milonga Etiquette

This is the Tango Sueño Tip of the Week from May 5, 2013

Tango Tip of the week: Milongas are for applying what is learned at class and enjoying a social atmosphere while dancing with others. As much as they are essential for improving your dancing, the social aspect is important. Therefore guys: at a milonga don’t keep leading a step continuously if it does not work regardless of who is at fault. It does not matter, the goal is to enjoy the dance. Ladies, if your partner does not dance perfectly please be patient and adapt to what he is doing, that is the art of the female in tango. Both parties: it is not appropriate to discuss steps or try to instruct your partner while dancing at a milonga. It is even worse to stop in the middle of the dance floor for that purpose. Discussions about figures and technique belong to classes and practicas!

Intention and Anticipation

An interesting comment was left to my post about the cruzada pointing out the difference between the “intention” and the “anticipation”. Indeed a clarification is appropriate since this relates to the subtleties of the tango communication.

One can think of the tango as a partnership that functions using a historically developed and established protocol i.e. a system of rules implicitly agreed upon by the partners. Some examples of these simple but fundamental rules are:

– The leader initiates the gesture such as a step, a pivot or a weight change. (more crudely, he leads)
– The follower responds with the appropriate gesture.
– The follower crosses one step later if the leader walks on her right side.
– If the leader is creates a continuous movement, the follower does not stop it. For example if the leader keeps walking, the follower does not stop the walk and continues at the appropriate pace. The same concept applies to a molinete.

In the context of tango “Intention” is what the follower interprets and prepares to do in response to the lead, without actually doing it. For example in response to a forward gesture of the leader, the follower creates the projection to prepare for a back step, but crucially, does not step before the leader actually does. The same with the cross, the follower prepares to cross but does not do it until the couple reaches the cruzada position.

“Anticipation” on the other hand refers to creating a gesture when it is not lead, or completing a gesture a before its correct time even if it is lead. For example, crossing before the appropriate beat too quickly and executing a molinete too fast with an uneven rhythm are anticipations even though these gestures are lead. The same concept applies to a back step of the follower when it happens too quickly even though both parties know and agree that such a step will happen.

On the other hand over-pivoting for an ocho instead of continuing a molinete is an anticipation without a lead. So is lifting the leg for a boleo when there is actually no lead in the form of a sudden change of direction.

In summary the follower needs to respond to the lead with an “intention” but without “anticipating”.

 

Equally Compelling Styles

Here are the videos of two tango performances that are drastically different yet equally compelling and exciting…

Jesús Velazquez and Natacha Poberaj at a show in Buenos Aires:

Mariano “Chicho” Frumboli and Juana Sepulveda at a Tango Festival in Italy: