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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.

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:


Tango! The fascinating passionate dance that we love and cherish. What is the mystery of tango? What makes many people around the world with diverse cultures, religions and ethnic backgrounds become so attached, deeply immersed and in some ways addicted to it? Assuming that we want to experience this mystery and maybe someday, somewhere, at some unexpected magic moment lose ourselves in the embrace of another person, what is the best way of learning it? We will explore the answers through this blog…