Tango Tips by Fran

 

As most of you know, Fran and his partner, Pat Altman, have been with Firehouse Tango since we started and are a major reason for our success. 

 

Fran is one of the most highly regarded Argentine Tango teachers in New York City. He teaches at Dance Manhattan and the Argentine Consulate and is dance director and emcee for Stardust Dance Productions.  He is a also very successful freelance writer, who even takes over this newsletter when I’m out.
 

December 25, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, we talked about the five most important things a leader should be concerned with, when he gets up to dance a Tango. This week, we're going to focus on followers.

Ladies, when you get up to dance Tango, what do you think about? "I hope he doesn't lead anything too fancy," might be a thought that crosses your mind. "I just don't want to make a mistake on the dance floor," might be another. "I'll bet my lipstick is smeared," could be in there somewhere, too.

Let's refocus a bit, and try to concentrate on what we need to be a good partner - the best partner possible -- in order to do our part in making the dance a success. Here are five important things to think about, whenever you begin a Tango:

1.    I'm going to wait until I'm given a lead that I can understand - before moving at all.

2.    When given a readable lead, I'm going to move with energy and conviction.

3.    When I move, I'm going to take only one step; then, bring myself to a stop and wait for the next lead.

4.    At the end of every step I'm going to find and maintain my own balance.

5.    I'm going to make sure my feet and legs come together at the end of every movement.

These are the things that make you a good follower. These are the skills that enable a leader to consistently give you the best lead possible throughout the course of every dance. Try thinking about each of these elements, whenever you dance, and watch how everything feels more comfortable and controlled.

Happy Holidays!

December 18, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. What do you think about, when you get up to dance Tango? Do you try to remember that complicated pattern you just saw on YouTube? Maybe it's that figure you've been trying to memorize - you know, the one by that famous performer with the long hair and the sneer of superiority on his face.

Let me give you an alternative mindset - a way toget your head into the game. Instead of steps, try thinking about these five important elements of good dance practice, whenever you begin a Tango:

1.     I'm going to try making my partner feel as comfortable and balanced as possible in my embrace.

2.     I'm going to try to maintain my own balance throughout the dance.

3.     I'm going to bring my feet/legs together neatly between each step that I take.

4.     I'm going to wait for my partner to finish each movement that I ask her to make - before leading the next one.

5.     I'm going to treat each single movement that I lead as important within itself - I won't just rush from step to step.

These are the things a good dancer thinks about. If you can do you best to put these elements into practice during a dance, the steps will tend to take care of themselves. And both you and your partner will find that you enjoy the dance far more.

December 11, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Is it what you do or is it how you do it that's most important in dancing Tango?

Most leaders are completely focused on dance steps. They see dancing as a series of learned (memorized) patterns, which, taken together add up to their dance vocabulary. It doesn't matter whom they're dancing with  they keep trying the same material over and over again. The more complex a figure is, the better they like it. If it's really complicated, they think this will demonstrate how good they are, and really impress their partners.

Here's the problem. Unless you've been dancing for many years, practicing diligently, and slowly developing your ability to execute complex material, the difficult patterns you can't wait to take to the dance floor look and feel nothing short of terrible! Instead of impressing your partner, they scare her, making her feel in danger. Instead of making people think you know how to dance, they look away, not wanting to embarrass you any more than you've already embarrassed yourself in attempting something you just aren't ready for.

Does this sound like the kind of dancing you want to do?

Back to our question: Is it what you do or is it how you do it that's most important in dancing Tango? Obviously, how you execute even the simplest movements tells the whole world what kind of dancer you are. If you can lead comfortably, it you're consistently balanced, unrushed, careful and considerate with your partner - and if you treat each movement, no matter how simple, as if it were the most important single thing you'll ever do - you will open the door to becoming a master of the dance. If you choose instead the road of unpracticed, hastily assembled material designed to impress, you'll find yourself absolutely nowhere.

Make a choice

December 4, 2010

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. The question of the day is: What's the difference between people dancing Tango and a cattle stampede?

If your answer was that in Tango there are "no cattle," you were half right. In Tango, there's no stampede either. But all too often what we see is leaders racing around the dance floor non-stop, rushing headlong to nowhere, never taking a breath, never slowing down, never finding even a nanosecond for balance.

One of the defining characteristics of modern Tango is that it starts ...  and stops. Tango is a dance of movement and stillness. Part of the beauty of Tango is the ongoing contrast between motion and non-motion.

The skill of being at rest is every bit as crucial to the appropriate execution of Tango as is the skill of moving through space. If you haven't become familiar with this aspect of Tango, you're missing half the point of the dance.

Try adding stops to your dance ... lots of them. Take two or three traveling steps; then come to a stop for at least three-to-four beats of music. At first, this will feel strange to you - a bit like pausing for a cup of coffee during that cattle stampede I mentioned earlier. But with practice it will eventually start to feel more and more natural. Once you've mastered this crucial skill, your dance will be far less like a stampede, and far more like ... Tango.

Happy trails.
 

November 20, 2010

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Today, I want to shine my pet-peeve light on women - in particular on women's shoulders.

There's nothing more unpleasant-looking on the dance floor than a woman, who is wearing her shoulders like earrings. They ride up her neck higher and higher ... until her head almost disappears - sort of like a turtle trying to hide inside its shell.

Usually, this phenomenon is caused by extreme tension or fear. She may be afraid she's doing something wrong in her dance, or it may be that her leader is keeping her in a chronic state of imbalance. New dancers tend to scrunch up their shoulders as a matter of course.

Ladies, whatever the reason is, try to notice your shoulders. Try to push them down, down, down. Stretch them out wide. Elongate the back of your neck, and keep it that way throughout the dance. Find an embrace with your leader that doesn't pull your shoulders up and forward.

Keeping your shoulders in their proper place will help you release tension, and eventually be a better dancer.

November 13, 2010

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Two weeks ago, I came to a point in my "Building Blocks" series, where I opened the discussion of a traditional sequence in Tango, which is sometimes called la cruzada. Although there's more to say about this unique series of movements, I've decided to table additional thoughts about la cruzada for a while.

When I began the "Building Blocks" series - building Tango brick by brick - my purpose was to demonstrate what I believe a conscientious student has to address in learning the fundamentals of this highly complex dance. This first "Building Blocks" series looks at what I refer to as the "linear" dance - the dance that progresses around the room.

If you've been reading my Tips over the past several months, you now have a good idea of what you need to do in order to gain a minimum level of competence at basic Tango. Frankly, it's a lot of work. And to maintain your skill level, you have to practice regularly. This is, of course, a matter of personal choice and commitment. 

For the time being, I'm going to take a break from the "Building Blocks" series, because I want to shine some long-overdue light on a few problems I see rather often on the dance floor that I think nee immediate attention.

Today's pet peeve: Leaders pumping their left arms up and down or side to side while dancing.

I'm aware that individual expression is part of dancing, and I don't want to stifle anyone's creative impulse - but please stop pumping your arms. Everything from the waist up should remain quiet, while the lower part of your body does the moving. Pumping your arms is amateurish and unsightly, and it makes following you almost impossible. Your follower is trying her best to respond to the movements indicated by your center, your chest, your torso, your core. If you insist on flailing your arms every which way, it so detracts from her ability to concentrate that she simply cannot do her job.

Do you know whether or not you pump your arms while dancing? Find out by literally watching your left arm the next time you dance. If you get dizzy just looking to your left, try concentrating on maintaining a quiet arm, not rigid or tense just quiet.

You partners will breathe a long sigh of relief.

November 6, 2010

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. If you've been following my "Building Blocks" series, most of what I've talked about to date has been about what we might call "linear" movement. This refers to the "walking" dance, which, generally speaking, moves counter-clockwise around the outside of a dance floor along what is known as "line of direction," "line of dance," or la ronda. I want to conclude this part of the "Building Blocks" thread with a description of a movement called la cruzada.

With "Building Block" 27 (two or three Newsletters ago), I alluded to la cruzada. This came about, when I was describing weaving actions in the context of the crossed system. Today, I want to more fully examine this unique sequence of movements.

La cruzada (which literally means "the crossing") is a moment inTango, Milonga or Vals in which the follower crosses her left leg in front of her right - and sometimes, but not always - comes to a stop. This movement is thought to be a remnant of an older form of Tango (no longer extant), which is variously called Tango viejo, Tango antiguo, Tango orillero, or Tango canjengue.

As a carry-over from an older tradition, la cruzada is one of the atypical movements in the dance, which is not led in the "normal" way. Today, I want to simply describe the simplest way in which a leader can invite his follower to produce la cruzada:

1.    The leader moves forward with his left leg in parallel (as the follower moves backward with her right leg).

2.    The leader moves forward outside-partner left with his right leg, creating an alternative travel line (as his follower moves backward with her left leg).

3.    The leader moves forward with his left leg along his new travel line (as the follower moves backward with her right leg). At this moment the leader is
       actually slightly to the right of his follower.

4.    The leader brings his right leg up to his left, centering his weight over his balance. In this moment, the follower crosses her left leg in front of her right,
       producing la cruzada. At this moment, she
       has weight on her entire right foot, and some weight in at least the ball of her left foot. The sequence comes to rest.

This is a very basic description of how la cruzada may occur. If Tango were a choreographic dance, where everything was done from memory, we wouldn't have much more to talk about here. But la cruzada is not done choreographically - and at the same time, it's not directly led. Furthermore, there are many areas in Argentina where it seems la cruzada isn't done at all. Next week, we'll talk about the problems and opinions surrounding this movement.

Meanwhile, follow the directions, and have fun creating la cruzada

October 30, 2010

 

Hi everyone, Fran here. Last Thursday evening we wrapped up our four-week exploration of Milonga. Of course, Milonga is a complex, multifaceted dance, which would require much more time than just four weeks to achieve any semblance of mastery. But we made a good start.

This week I want to offer a few general tips on how to get greater enjoyment out of this wonderful dance. Last week we talked about taking small steps. This is crucial in making certain that the dance doesn't get out of control. Another tip for leaders along the same lines is to take no more than two, three, or four traveling steps in any given sequence before returning -- briefly at least - to the "neutral" position for a short rest. This way, the dance is far more manageable, especially on a crowded dance floor.

Fundamentally, Milonga is a simple dance. Try to keep it that way for the most part. Enjoy moving to the music in a basic way (forward, backward, side, in-place) with you partner. If you know a few fancy steps, use them to punctuate the dance once in a while. But don't turn the dance into a never-ending series of show-stoppers. The only thing that's going to stop is your ability to keep going.

In order to lead and follow appropriately in Milonga you have to be close. There's no way a leader can give a follower the information she needs, if he's too far away from her. But that doesn't mean crushing her to death in an iron grip. "Snug" is good. "Smothering" is bad.

Followers: don't try to "figure out" what the leader is asking for in your head before taking a step. Just go! The leads happen much too quickly for you to read them in your mind, plan the movements and then take your steps. You have to just take a risk, and take a ride. If a mistake is made, it's almost surely going to be the leader's fault for giving you a bad communication. But if you're trying to second-guess him, it will end up being a tug-of-war, and the whole dance will just fall apart.

One last point for both leaders and followers: in Tango we always try to bring the legs and feet together neatly and stylishly after every step we take. In Milonga, things happen so quickly that this becomes virtually impossible. It's fine in Milonga to simply bring your feet under you, but have them remain slightly apart and ready for action.

Pat and I hope you enjoyed our four-week Milonga workshop. As always, if you have any questions about this fabulous dance, feel free to ask us anytime at the Firehouse.

 

October 23, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, we talked about "weaving" in the parallel system. With "Building Block" 28, we're going to describe the same type of sequential movement in the crossed system. Since in a previous Tango Tip we've talked in great detail about how to get in and out of the crossed system, I will assume that it won't be necessary to say it all again. If you need a review, you can refer to the Firehouse Archives, and reread the Tango Tip, which discussed "Building Block" 23. You'll find it in our Newsletter of about five weeks ago.

All set to continue? Okay, let me describe the basic weaving action in the crossed system:

1.     In this version, our leader will begin the sequence by stepping forward with his left leg - as his follower steps back with her right leg.

2.     At the conclusion of this step, the leader will make an additional weight change from left to right - this one in-place in order to change over to the crossed
        system. Now, both leader and follower will find that their left legs are free.

3.     In the crossed system, our leader now has two directional choices. When we originally discussed the crossed system, our leader continued by traveling to the
        left side of his follower's right leg. At that time, we referred to this as traveling "outside" left. However, in order to begin our "weaving" action our leader is
        going to travel to the right side of her leg - or what I refer to as "inside" right. This step will take him to the right side of his follower and begin the weave.

4.     Next, the leader will step directly forward with his right leg as his follower steps backward with her right leg. (With this step the leader has to make sure he
        stays to the right of his follower's leg in order to avoid bumping into her.)

5.     In the next step, as the leader steps forward with his left leg, he will find the left outside track of his follower. This will put him on her left side.

6.     Then, with his right leg he will step to the left, thereby weaving to the left. From there, he may choose to continue to weave, or return to regular outside
        movement in the crossed system as described in the previous Tango Tip.

Weaving in the crossed system is easier to understand, when you see it - rather than reading this somewhat complex description. So, if you found this Tango Tip a bit difficult to follow, it's not your fault. The material is inherently complicated and hard to visualize. The solution: Next time you see me, ask me to demonstrate the weave in the crossed system. Pat and I will be happy to show you exactly how it's done.

October 16, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, we talked about "weaving" in the parallel system. With "Building Block" 28, we're going to describe the same type of sequential movement in the crossed system. Since in a previous Tango Tip we've talked in great detail about how to get in and out of the crossed system, I will assume that it won't be necessary to say it all again. If you need a review, you can refer to the Firehouse Archives, and reread the Tango Tip, which discussed "Building Block" 23. You'll find it in our Newsletter of about five weeks ago.

All set to continue? Okay, let me describe the basic weaving action in the crossed system:

1.     In this version, our leader will begin the sequence by stepping forward with his left leg - as his follower steps back with her right leg.

2.     At the conclusion of this step, the leader will make an additional weight change from left to right - this one in-place in order to change over to the crossed
        system. Now, both leader and follower will find that their left legs are free.

3.     In the crossed system, our leader now has two directional choices. When we originally discussed the crossed system, our leader continued by traveling to the
        left side of his follower's right leg. At that time, we referred to this as traveling "outside" left. However, in order to begin our "weaving" action our leader is
        going to travel to the right side of her leg - or what I refer to as "inside" right. This step will take him to the right side of his follower and begin the weave. 

4.     Next, the leader will step directly forward with his right leg as his follower steps backward with her right leg. (With this step the leader has to make sure he
        stays to the right of his follower's leg in order to avoid bumping into her.)

5.     In the next step, as the leader steps forward with his left leg, he will find the left outside track of his follower. This will put him on her left side.

6.     Then, with his right leg he will step to the left, thereby weaving to the left. From there, he may choose to continue to weave, or return to regular outside
        movement in the crossed system as described in the previous Tango Tip.

Weaving in the crossed system is easier to understand, when you see it - rather than reading this somewhat complex description. So, if you found this Tango Tip a bit difficult to follow, it's not your fault. The material is inherently complicated and hard to visualize. The solution: Next time you see me, ask me to demonstrate the weave in the crossed system. Pat and I will be happy to show you exactly how it's done.

October 9, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. With "Building Block" 27 we're going to continue right where we left off last week. You will remember that at that time we discussed the basic weaving action in the parallel system, which enables a leader to move first to the left side of his follower, and then to her right, finally ending up back in front of her to finish the movement. (If you need to review, just reread last week Tango Tip, which you'll find in the Firehouse Tango archives.) Now, let's describe two simple variations of this sequence. We're going to start by reiterating step one of the weave, and move on from there.

Variation #1:

  1. The leader moves outside-partner left with his right leg as the follower moves backward with her left leg. He accomplishes this by waiting until his right leg is free, and crosses over to the left, moving forward outside the left side of his follower. This single movement places him in a left outside-partner position.

  1. Instead of moving his left leg back in front of his follower - as he did with the weaving sequence last week - the leader continues moving forward outside-partner as he steps with his left leg. The follower steps backward with her right leg. Since he remains outside-partner left, this movement opens the door to a crossing action by the follower in the next step.

  1. To finish the sequence, the follower slides her left leg in front of her right, producing a crossing action Although the leader has several options, which he can use here by way of accompaniment, we will ask him to simply bring his right leg up to his left, come to a close and stop. This finishes the action at a moment Argentines often call "la cruzada."

Variation #2:

  1. The leader moves outside-partner left with his right leg as the follower moves backward with her left leg. He accomplishes this by waiting until his right leg is free, and crosses over to the left, moving forward outside the left side of his follower. This single movement places him in a left outside-partner position.

  1. The leader now moves his left leg back in front of the follower by crossing slightly right - back into the normal traveling line. (At the same time, the follower moves backward with her right leg.) This movement brings the couple back into the normal "in-line" juxtaposition.

  1. To continue the weave, the leader steps forward in-line with his right leg (into the normal space vacated by the follower as she moves her left leg backward).

  1. Next, he crosses his left leg over to the right side of his follower, thereby creating the same off-axis juxtaposition as before - but this time on his right side.

  1. Instead of resolving the movement by moving back in line in the nest step he continues moving outside-partner right for several repetitions before finally ending up back in front of the follower.

Try these two variations on the weaving action, and see whether you can make them work for you. Next week, we'll discuss weaving in the crossed system.

October 2, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Today, with “Building Block” 26, we’re going to talk about what I call “weaving.” This series of movements can be done either in the parallel or crossed system. For now, we’ll discuss “weaving” in the parallel system.

During a series of forward walking movements, a leader may choose to simply move continuously into each natural parallel channel opened by his follower’s legs as she moves backward. We could refer to this as walking normally -- or perhaps walking in the “in-line” manner.

However, the leader has two additional options: He can cross over to the left side of the follower, thereby moving “left outside-partner,” or he can cross over to the right side, thereby moving “right outside-partner.” Choosing any or all of these options while walking is what I refer to as “weaving.”

I want to describe a series of weaving movements, which involve all three possibilities. The series begins with the normal parallel walk. As the leader moves his left leg forward, the follower moves her right leg backward – and his left leg moves into the space vacated by her backward-moving leg. As he moves his right leg forward, the same thing occurs on the other side.

Here’s where we’ll begin describing the “weave.” 

1.  The leader now decides to move outside-partner left. He accomplishes this by waiting until his right leg is free, and crosses over to the left, moving forward outside the left side of his follower. This single movement places him in a left outside-partner position.

2.  Although the leader wouldn’t normally stop here, I’m going to freeze this action for a moment to talk about the change in juxtaposition between leader and follower that is created by this single action. By moving to the left in this way, the leader’s vertical axis is for the moment no longer precisely in front of the vertical axis of his follower. His axis is now diagonally off to one side. This creates a feeling of relative discomfort between the partners. It just “doesn’t feel right.”

3.  Let’s unfreeze the action. In our weaving action, the leader now moves his left leg back in front of the follower by crossing slightly right – back into the normal traveling line. This step resolves the discomfort problem and brings the couple back into the normal “in-line” juxtaposition.

4.  To continue the weave, the leader steps forward in-line with his right leg (into the normal space vacated by the follower as she moves her left leg backward).

5.  Next, he crosses his left leg over to the right side of his follower, thereby creating the same off-axis juxtaposition as before – but this time on his right side.

6.  To resolve the discomfort once again, he moves back in line by crossing his right leg slightly over to the left during the final step of the weave.

He has now returned to normal walking movement. I hope my description of this action isn’t too complicated. Practicing the weave will begin to give both leader and follower a sense of moving in and out of the front-to-front axis relationship, which is very important in dancing Tango. Next week, we’ll talk about two important variations of this weaving action.

Until then, you know what to do.

September 25, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Have you been practicing the skill of getting into the crossed system, and moving down the line of dance? Today, with "Building Block" 25, we're going to talk about changing over from the crossed system back to parallel.

Remember that when you and your partner are in the crossed system, both leader and follower are moving with, and resting with, the same leg. If you need to review the technique of getting into and moving in the context of the crossed system, take a look at the last three Tango Tips in the Firehouse Tango archives (you'll find them on the Firehouse Web site).

If you've just completed taking any step in the crossed system, and are now at rest, your follower's resting leg (i.e., the leg which is currently carrying her weight) will be on the opposite side of your resting leg. By this I mean that if, for example, you're currently resting on your left leg, your partner will be resting on your right side - because she, too, is resting on her left leg.

If you want to return to a parallel relationship with her at such a time, all your have to do is shift your own weight to the other leg. Because her weight is already on that side, she won't shift at the same time that you shift.

Let me spell this out in greater detail. Let's say that you've created the crossed system (as described in previous Tango Tips):

1. At some point, you take a step forward with your left leg. In following you, your partner steps back, employing a slight backward ocho technique, and, of course, using her left leg.


2. As the two of you come to rest, you're both balanced on your left legs - with your right legs free. With your own weight on your left leg and you facing your partner, her free leg is opposite your resting (weight-bearing) leg. Her weight-bearing leg is diagonally across from your left leg, opposite your right leg, which is currently free.

3. If you now shift your weight in place to your right leg, you will thereby recreate the parallel relationship - i.e., the juxtaposition in which both weight bearing legs are opposite one another, and both free legs are opposite one another. Since your partner' weight is already on the right as you move there in changing your own weight, she will have no inclination to change her own weight accordingly.

In effect, the leader takes an additional step - just as he did in order to create the crossed system. However, the process of returning to the parallel system is far more comfortable.

Practice moving into and out of the crossed and parallel systems. Next week, we'll talk about "weaving."

September 18, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. In last week's Tango Tip, we discussed various aspects of movement in the crossed system. Our particular focus was the concept of avoiding the follower's leg (which blocks the normal travel route of the leader's legs, when the couple is in the crossed system).

Before we describe how the leader changes from the crossed system back to the parallel system, I want to talk about how a fairly common follower's error can result in sending crossed-system movement completely out of control.


The success of crossed-system movement depends largely on the skill of the follower in responding appropriately to the lead for a back ocho.

Nota bene: I haven't yet broached the subject of ochos in our "Building Blocks" series, although I've certainly discussed the technique of leading and following both forward and backward ochos in other Tango Tips as well as during Firehouse classes. For now, let's agree that when the follower is led to pivot as part one of a backward ocho, all she does is pivot. She does not immediately launch herself into a walking movement. Her walking movement requires another lead. (We'll discuss this in far greater detail, when I talk specifically about ochos in a future "Building Blocks" Tango Tip.)

That said, many unskilled followers respond to the lead for a pivoting action by adding the walk - without being led to do so. The result of this is that she ends up moving by herself. An unskilled leader will almost always respond to her error by trying to catch up to her movement - so that the dance doesn't completely fall apart. In effect, he will be enabling the follower to lead him. In this way, movement in the crossed system will immediately race out of control, and be virtually impossible to stop. Eventually, the leader will probably find that he wants to grasp his follower hard in order to bring her movement to an end. He simply won't know what else to do.

What I've just described is what I call racing the crossed-system walk. The only cure for this is for the follower to learn how to respond appropriately to the lead for a backward ocho.

Next week, we'll get back to the actual "Building Blocks" of Tango, and talk about going from the crossed system back to parallel.

September 11, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. I've just finished rereading last week Tango Tip in order to prepare myself for writing the one you're about to read. I strongly suggest that you do the same, so that we're both on the same page.
 
I'll wait.
 
Wait ... wait ... wait ....

 
Have you reread last week's Tip? If so, you'll have no trouble understanding what I'm about to discuss. (If you haven't reread last week's Tip, you won't have any idea what I'm talking about.)
 
Wait ... wait ... wait ....
 
Okay, here we go. We ended last week's Tip with two questions:
 
1.     Why is it necessary to move on a diagonal (when attempting to move forward in the crossed system)?
 
2.     How does the leader return to the parallel system?

 
Here's the answer to question 1:
 
When the leader takes a step forward in the normal parallel system, his leg moves directly into a track or channel opened up by the follower's opposite leg as she moves backward. But when the leader has created the crossed-system relationship with his follower, this normal track is no longer available - since the follower's weight-bearing leg is now blocking the path.
 
If the leader's left leg is free in the crossed system relationship (and he wants to move forward), he must choose either to cross over to his follower's right side or to move further to his own left (which means he has to move on what we might refer to as an outside diagonal). If he steps directly forward, he will, of course crash into her standing leg.

Because the leader is moving on this diagonal, he "takes" his follower with him by pointing his chest in the direction he wants her to go. She responds by executing a slight pivoting action in order to align herself appropriately for her traveling step. In effect, she's executing a very shallow ocho.
 
At the end of each individual step in this crossed-system collaboration the couple will find themselves in the same axis-to-axis relationship as the one they were in before they began - which means that they will still be in balance with one another.
 
When moving in the crossed system, a common error is for the leader to start running the individual movements of the sequence together in quick succession, leaving neither himself or his follower any time at all to balance. It is very important not to rush during the learning process. Try to come to a complete stop at the end of every individual step. Make sure both leader and follower are completely balanced and comfortable, and only then consider taking the next step.

 
More could be said about all this, but let's leave it there for the moment. Let me know how creating and moving in the crossed system goes. Next week, we'll talk about getting out of it.

September 4,  2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. In last week's Tango Tip, we looked at one of the ways in which a leader can create a crossed-system relationship with his partner. If you need to review this, go back to the past two Tango Tips, and read them again. That will bring you up to speed with what I'm going to talk about today.

Today, with "Building Block" 24, we're going to discuss one way in which we can start moving through space, using the crossed system. If you've successfully managed to bring your follower into "crossed feet" in the manner described last week, you're now facing one another, each balanced on the right leg. In order to produce crossed feet the leader has rotated his body very slightly to the left - which means that his front is facing a slight diagonal to the left, while the follower is also turned slightly with her back pointed in the same direction.

Using his leading skills (which we've discussed before) the leader now walks forward one step on this slight left diagonal, which invites his follower to move backward along this same travel line. The leader's left leg moves to the left of the follower's right leg (which is not moving, since the couple is now in the crossed system). At the end of this step both partners find themselves facing one another with their feet together. Now, however each is balanced on the left leg.

To continue moving in this manner, the leader now rotates his body slightly to the right. This positions the couple so that in the next step they will be moving on a slight right diagonal - the opposite of what they did moments ago. As the leader moves forward on a slight right diagonal, his right leg moves to the right of his partner left leg, which is stationary, since they are in crossed feet. At the end of this step, the two partners find themselves again facing one another with their legs together, this time with the weight of each partner on the right leg.

In order to continue moving in this way, the leader simply repeats the process described above with each side over and over.

Two immediate questions might arise from all this:

1.     Why is it necessary to move on a diagonal?

2.     How does the leader return to the parallel system?

Since the answer to each of these questions is enough for an entire Tango Tip, I'll save this information for next week. For now, I'd like to invite you to practice this crossed-system movement until you feel comfortable with it. For most people, this takes about a month or two. If you'd like to ask questions about it, ask Pat or me anytime.

August 28, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Today, with "Building Block" 23, we're going to start learning the ins and outs of the "crossed system" in Argentine Tango -- a system which we introduced in a conceptual way last week. (Just a quick reminder: When we move in the crossed system, both partners will be using the same leg at the same time.)

Let's begin our study of the crossed system by describing one way in which a leader might initiate what we often refer to as "crossed feet." We'll start with both partners standing in front of one another in the Tango embrace. (To begin with, both partners will be balanced on both feet.) Here's a straightforward three-part way of getting into crossed feet: 

1.     The leader shifts his weight to the right leg, which provides the follower with a lead to shift her weight to the left leg. Now, both leader and follower are standing on one leg
        (leader on his right, follower on her left). If we think about this from the leader's standpoint, we could say that at this moment both partners have their weight on the leader's
        right side.

2.     The leader steps forward left (follower back right). This action positions the weight of both leader and follower on the leader's left side.

3.     At the end of the above step, the leader shifts his own weight to his right leg - without inviting the follower to shift her weight with him. If this is successful, the partners now
       find themselves in "crossed feet;" i.e., both have their right legs engaged in carrying their individual weight, and both have their left legs ready to move.

Parts 1 and 2 above are easy. But when we get to the part where the leader changes his weight without the follower ... this is where things can go very wrong. If a follower has had experience as an American ballroom dancer, she'll change with the leader every time he makes a weight change himself - because this is what's she's supposed to do as a good follower in American dance. On the other hand, if she's new to dancing, she will most likely either change with him instinctively, or perhaps become completely confused at this moment, thinking that she was probably supposed to change, but missed the lead.

Bearing all this in mind, therefore, step 3 may seem straightforward, but, in fact, it's quite complex.

Nota bene: It may be instructive to learn that a skilled Argentine follower will almost never misread Step 3, because she's been experiencing movements just like it, since she started dancing. To her, it has become second nature. In fact, she would most likely have the opposite problem, should she decide to learn American Ballroom technique.

The challenge for the leader of American followers, therefore, is to overcome her inclination to change weight herself each time he changes his weight. Personally, I utilize several little tricks to make this happen. Today, I will describe the one I believe is the most useful:

As the leader lands on his left leg at the end of Step 2, he rotates his upper body slightly to the left (counterclockwise). This will cause the follower to rotate her own body in the same direction (since she is always attempting to remain absolutely in front of the leader).

As she rotates, the leader gently shifts his weight to the right leg. Because the follower is busy, focusing on her rotation, she won't be able to feel his weight change - and he will have achieved the crossed-feet juxtaposition with virtually no difficulty.  

Practice this until it feels comfortable. If you don't understand it, I'll help you figure it out.

One final note: There's a reason I want you to rotate her counterclockwise besides overcoming her inclination to change weight with you. This, in fact, will be the subject of next week's Tango Tip.

Stay tuned.

August 21, 2010

Everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. In keeping with our ongoing "Building Blocks" approach to learning Tango, the next hurdle we have to face is what is sometimes known as the "crossed system."

This calls for a bit of background. In American dancing the relationship of leader and follower is always the leader's left leg to the follower's right leg/the leader's right leg to the follower's left leg. This simply means that if the leader and follower are standing in front of one another, as the leader moves his left leg the follower joins this action by moving her right leg. And if he moves his right leg, she joins him by moving her left leg.

We take this for granted. For us, there is no other way to move. But in Argentina, the leader and follower often move with the same leg at the same time. To us, this feels wrong - because it's something we just don't do. But in Argentina, it's considered a normal way to move.

With this in mind, let's redefine the way we dance. We'll call it "the parallel system." We didn't have to have a name for it before, because there wasn't any other possibility for us. But now, as we learn Argentine Tango, we realize that we need a name for what we do, so that we can compare it to an additional manner in which Argentines dance - what we will now refer to as the "crossed system."

In the "crossed system" both leader and follower move with the same leg at the same time. (There are actually two additional possibilities, which we will consider in detail at another time: The leader may be moving while the follower is standing still; or the follower may be moving while the leader is standing still.) In order to make the crossed system possible, the leader needs to rebalance either himself or the follower in order to place both dancers on the same leg. Then, he can lead appropriate movements in this new juxtaposition for some period of time -- after which he may choose to again rebalance either himself or his follower so that they return to the parallel relationship. 

This is the concept of the "crossed system." Next week, with "Building Block 23" we'll begin putting the crossed system to work in your developing Tango. In the meantime, read this material again, just to give yourself a clear idea of what the "crossed system" means, and how it differs from what we will now call the "parallel system."

August 14, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. In keeping with our ongoing “Building Blocks” approach to learning Tango, the next hurdle we have to face is what is sometimes known as the “crossed system.”

This calls for a bit of background. In American dancing the relationship of leader and follower is always the leader’s left leg to the follower’s right leg/the leader’s right leg to the follower’s left leg. This simply means that if the leader and follower are standing in front of one another, as the leader moves his left leg the follower joins this action by moving her right leg. And if he moves his right leg, she joins him by moving her left leg.

We take this for granted. For us, there is no other way to move. But in Argentina, the leader and follower often move with the same leg at the same time. To us, this feels wrong – because it’s something we just don’t do. But in Argentina, it’s considered a normal way to move.

With this in mind, let’s redefine the way we dance. We’ll call it “the parallel system.” We didn’t have to have a name for it before, because there wasn’t any other possibility for us. But now, as we learn Argentine Tango, we realize that we need a name for what we do, so that we can compare it to an additional manner in which Argentines dance – what we will now refer to as the “crossed system.”

In the “crossed system” both leader and follower move with the same leg at the same time. (There are actually two additional possibilities, which we will consider in detail at another time: The leader may be moving while the follower is standing still; or the follower may be moving while the leader is standing still.) In order to make the crossed system possible, the leader needs to rebalance either himself or the follower in order to place both dancers on the same leg. Then, he can lead appropriate movements in this new juxtaposition for some period of time -- after which he may choose to again rebalance either himself or his follower so that they return to the parallel relationship.

This is the concept of the “crossed system.” Next week, with “Building Block 23” we’ll begin putting the crossed system to work in your developing Tango. In the meantime, read this material again, just to give yourself a clear idea of what the “crossed system” means, and how it differs from what we will now call the “parallel system.”

August 7, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, with "Building Block" Number 21, we discussed what I call short continuous sequences. These are two-, three- or four-step patterns, which enables you to begin practicing your improvisational movement with more than single steps. (For a more detailed description of what I mean by short continuous sequences, see last week's Tango Tip.)

This week, with "Building Block 22," I want to list several practice sequences, which I believe will give you the chance to put this technique to work for your dancing. Each of these sequences can be initiated by the leader with either leg. At the end of each sequence, please come to rest for a beat or two before beginning another. In no particular order, therefore, here they are:

1.     Together - together - together.

2.     Forward - forward -- forward.

3.     Forward - together - together.

4.     Together - together - forward.

5.     Forward - together - forward.

6.     Side - together - together.

7.     Side - together - side.

8.     Together - together - side.

9.     Back - together - forward.

10.  Back - together - together.

 11.  Back - side - together.

12.  Back - side - forward.

13.  Side - forward - side.

14.  Side - back - side.

Each of these sequences offers specific challenges in leading and following, and therefore should be practiced - using the lead/follow skills which you've acquired by now -- until it feels comfortable. Once you've mastered any one of these sequences, try to incorporate it into your dancing along with "single-step movement" as described in previous "Building Blocks."

Eventually, you'll be making up your own short continuous sequences to enhance your developing dance skill set. For now, these will give you a very comprehensive head start. As always, if you have any questions about any of this, talk to Pat or me. We'll be very happy to help. 

July 31, 2010

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Let's get back to our series on the "Building Blocks" of Tango.

So far, we've learned to move in the five fundamental ways (forward, backward, to the side, in-place and pause). We've learned these movements as discreet, individual elements - each of which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Now, we're going to talk about combining some of these elements into continuous movement.

 

We're going to call this "Building Block Number 21" -- making "short continuous sequences." They're similar to the figures you'd learn in a ballroom dance class in that they move not as single steps with pauses at the end of each, but continuously, one after another -- except that each group only consists of three steps.

 

Let me give you a few obvious examples by choosing continuous sequences that you probably already use in your dancing right now:

1.     The three-step "resolution" from the so-called basic step is a short continuous sequence. That's when you step forward left, side right, and close left to
        right, changing weight at the end.
 

2.     Another easily recognizable example would be the first three steps of the eight-count basic figure. This would be back right, side left, and forward
        outside right.

 

3.     A third example - also found in the eight-count figure - would be steps three. four, and five; i.e.; outside right, forward left, and close right to left (as
        your partner crosses front).

 

I would define each of these as a short continuous sequence. In actually dancing these sequences, your partner, of course, has no idea what's coming next - so ... you have to lead each individual step within any of these sequences as a discreet movement rather than assuming somehow that she'll "know" what to do next.

Let's analyze the first listed sequence above (forward, side, close). In your mind, you know exactly what you want to do. You can picture it. You've done it many times before. If you simply launch yourself into the sequence without paying attention to leading your partner, she'll become confused, and most likely respond badly. So you have to treat each of the movements as a single step with its own lead:
 

1.     For the forward step, you lower slightly and lean or move toward her.

2.     For the side step, you lower slightly and lean or move to the right side.

3.     For the closing step, you simply lean or move your upper body slightly to the left.
 

The result of all this is that you produce a short continuous sequence. It now feels easy to your partner, because you're leading each individual movement - just as you would lead individual elements.

Next week, more about short continuous sequences.

July 24, 2010

Hi Everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Trying to describe dance movement in words can be quite difficult at times. It's very easy for a reader to interpret a given word or phrase in a way that's different from what the author intended - or for the author to simply choose inappropriate language to convey a particular concept.

Over the past several months I've been trying to describe in great detail the specific elements of the lead in order to make it possible for leaders to offers their follows an invitation to move that doesn't call for guesswork or possible misinterpretation as a response.

As I said in previous Tips, the lead for a pause is simply not to do anything. The lead for a weight change in place is for the leader to "lean" to one side. The lead for a step to the side, front or back is for the leader to lower his body very slightly (which tells the follower that he's about to travel), and then "lean" into the direction he wants her to go. If you've been reading these Tango Tips, you're familiar with my terminology. 

A problem, which many of you seem to have is with the use of the word "lean."  I've noticed that many leaders think that this means "tipping over" in the direction you want her to go. I can see people breaking at the waist in order to create what they perceive as a "leaning" motion. This leads me to believe that I've chosen the wrong word to describe what I'm trying to talk about.

What I'm looking for is a word that describes moving the leader's entire body forward, backward or to the side in an action that's perpendicular to the floor. This means that, if you're leading a backward step, for example, you lower your body slightly so that she can feel that you're about to travel - and then you move your whole self forward from toe to tip. What you do not do is leaning your upper half forward, following it with the movement of your legs.

In trying to come up with an easy-to-remember phrase for leaders, I decided on "lower and lean" for traveling movements. Maybe if I change this to "lower and move," it will work a bit better. Let me know how you feel about this.

The next problem is the word "lower." How can I convey that your body lowers approximately one eighth of an inch. "Lowering" doesn't mean genuflecting, which, unfortunately, is what a lot of leaders are doing right now in an attempt to follow my suggestions.

Words, words, words. What a predicament.

July 17, 2010

Hi Everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. About six months ago, I began a series, which I called "Building Your Tango 'Brick by Brick'." The audience for this consists of people who have decided they really want to learn how to dance Tango - rather than those whose interest is largely superficial. Today, I want to briefly remind you of how far we've come so far.

The following is a simple listing of the "bricks" or "Building Blocks" that have been discussed in some detail to date:

1.     Balancing at rest on one leg.

2.     Optimizing your balance.

3.     Developing good Tango posture.

4.     Finding balance in side-step motion.

5.     Balance in forward motion.

6.     Balance in the backward step.

7.     Patience in the learning process.

8.     The leader's Tango embrace.

9.     The follower's Tango embrace.

10.  Leading and following the weight change in place.

11.  Leading and following the side step.

12.  Leading and following the leader's forward step.

13.  Leading and following the leader's back step.

14.  Moving together to every beat of the music.

15.  Moving together to every other beat of the music.

16.  Combining every beat with every other beat in the music.

17.  Leading and following the extended pause.

18.  "La Cunita" -- the rocking traspie.

19.  "La Cadencia" - the traspie in place.

20.  "La corridita" - the little run.

Whew! That's a lot of material. If you want a detailed description of these "Building Blocks," reread Tango Tips #158 through #180. Just go to the Firehouse Tango Web site, where you'll find them all posted for your convenience.

None of these elements is easy to learn ... yet each of them is crucial to becoming a skilled Tango dancer. Furthermore, taken together these are no more than the bare bones of learning this complex dance.

Next week, I'll begin adding a few more of these "Building Blocks" to your skill set. In the meantime, if you have any questions about any of this, talk to your teacher, or ask us. And to those of you who really want to learn this wonderful dance - who are willing to put in the time, effort and commitment that's necessary -- I'm very proud of you.

July 10, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. We've been discussing the "Building Blocks" of Argentine Tango for quite a few weeks. Do you remember what each of them is? Have you been practicing diligently, making sure that you've pretty much mastered each mini-lesson before proceeding to the next?

Let's step back a bit this week, and reassess where we are.

When I started this series, I told you that my inspiration was a teacher from Argentina, who tried to impart this information to several groups of American students - only to be abandoned by them in favor of the many "hot-shots," who were willing to offer glitzy stage movements as long as the money kept rolling in. (Hmm, the situation hasn't really changed has it.) Eventually the teacher I respected decided to return permanently to Argentina, since he believed that Americans in general didn't have the desire, the humility or the patience to learn Tango.

I would like to believe that this isn't true. My ongoing hope as a teacher is to find the few people among the many who really do want to learn the dance the way it was done in the golden age of Tango -- and the way it's danced in the traditional milongas of Buenos Aires even today.

With all this in mind, I started this series, which I called "Building Your Tango Brick by Brick," using my teacher's phrase. Somewhere along the way, I began calling each mini-lesson a "Building Block." Of course, this doesn't represent the way people have traditionally learned to dance Tango in Argentina. If you were lucky enough to be born there -- and luckier still to have the support of family and/or friends to frequent the milongas -- you learned strictly by dancing rather than by the analytic/synthetic process offered by a teacher. If you were an avid student, who practiced virtually every day - and if you had a natural sense of grace and movement -- you could become a pretty good dancer within about thirty years.

The "Building Blocks" approach is different from the "try-it-and-see" approach by offering you the opportunity to "cut to the chase." Instead of years of trial and error (lots of error!), this approach helps you develop a solid foundation for fine dancing right from the beginning. This can slash your overall learning process to ... let's say ... ten years (if you work at it).

But ... and this is a big but ... you have to decide that instead of superficially picking up a bunch of semi-flashy junk, which you maybe can execute (and maybe you can't), you're going to buckle down and actually learn how to dance. I know, I know - we live in the age of "I want it now!" Unfortunately, where Tango is concerned, you can't have it now - no matter who you are. But you can engage yourself in the process now, and as you learn each "Building Block," you can begin to see your progress very clearly. And eventually, you'll master Tango. When will that be? It's not important. What IS important is that you learn to respect and honor the process. The result will take care of itself. 

Next week - a review of the "Building Blocks."

July 3, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. If you've been reading these Tips week after week, you know that we're in the process of discussing the "Building Blocks" of Tango" brick-by-brick. Right now, we're up to the somewhat complex skill of relating to the music, and the technique we've been talking about for the past two weeks has been traspie. This week, as promised, I'm going to describe what I consider to be the third fundamental traspie technique -la corridita (the little run).

The corridita is a rhythmic doubling technique, consisting of two or more very short traveling movements initiated by the leader, in which his feet pass each other, simulating a little run. In my opinion, the corridita is by far the most difficult of the traspie techniques to lead and follow comfortably. And yet it seems to be the technique most inexperienced leaders try to execute over and over again, without actually learning how to lead properly.

If this movement is led successfully, the couple seems to glide effortless through the sequence in complete comfort. If it is led badly, it often causes the leader to step on the follower's feet, send her off balance, and often bring the entire dance to a crashing, painful halt.

Let's learn how to lead and follow a corridita correctly. We'll begin with a very popular version of this technique, which we'll refer to as a "" corridita.  This will involve the leader taking three very short forward, shuffling steps in sequence. At the same time, the follower will be taking three shorts backward steps.

First, I'll address the leader's movement:

The legs:

·    With the knees comfortably flexed, slide the feet along the floor, keeping the front of each foot in contact with the surface.

·    Option -- If you elevate your body slightly, it will bring your heels up about an eighth to a quarter of an inch from the floor. (Some leaders elevate, some don't.)

·    Execute this sequence in double time.

The connection:

Create a snug body-to-body connection with your follower so that it becomes easier for her to feel what's going on during the sequence. If you're too far apart from her, the corridita will tend to fall apart.

The body:

·    Lean forward toward the follower throughout the sequence in order to create a sense of continuous forward momentum.

·    Rotate your body in a deliberate way, with your left shoulder moving backward during your left step(s) and your right shoulder moving backward during your right step(s). This will enhance the sense of double-time action, which you're trying to convey.

·    At the end of the three-beat sequence, curtail these leaning and rotating actions, returning to "normal" movement.

Now, let's talk about the follower's response:

·    You will feel the leader lowering slightly (as in a normal traveling lead), and leaning forward toward you. This lets you know that you will be executing a backward movement.

·    He may also elevate his body slightly, giving you the sense of being lifted to the balls of your feet.

·    His body will rotate somewhat more vigorously than during normal movement, and in double time.

·    All these indications will tell you that he's leading a corridita.

·    As the sequence begins, you won't know what its duration will be until he finishes by returning to normal movement. In the sequence we're describing here, there will be three beats to the corridita; however, the action could be longer (more than three beats), or even shorter (as little as two beats).

I have tried to describe the lead and follow for this technique in as much detail as possible, in part because I want you to be aware of just how complex this action really is, but perhaps more importantly, to give the leader an overall guideline for communicating this complex sequence to the follower.

Lots of practice is crucial in order to make the corridita feel comfortable. Be patient. Don't expect instant success. And feel free to ask me or your regular teacher for any help you need in making this sequence work for your dancing.

June 26, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week.  Last week, we looked at a form of traspie sometimes called a cunita. (I'm counting on the fact that you've read last week's Tip - if not, go to the Firehouse Tango archives, and read it now, okay? It will familiarize you with the basic definition of traspie, and describe the first fundamental traspie technique.)

This week, I'm going to describe what I consider to be the next fundamental traspie technique - movement in place. An in-place traspie consists of two or more weight changes (done in double time, of course) without traveling through space. I've heard Argentine people sometimes refer to this action as una cadencia - which means a cadence or beat.

 First, I'll describe the action, starting in place:

·    Leaders, take a single step in place with your left leg. Next shift your weight in place from left to right, then right to left, and finally to the right. Your timing will be "slow--quick--quick--slow." (You could, of course, do the same thing, starting on your right leg; but for purposes of keeping it simplefor the time being, we'll start with the left.)

·    Once you feel comfortable doing this yourself, ask your partner to join you, and try to lead it. Hold your follower in a snug embrace without squeezing her excessively. She's going to feel your lead from this connection.

·    Remember that an in-place lead consists of "leaning" in the direction you want your follower to go - without lowering at all. (Lowering means traveling.) This tells her you want her to make a weight change in place - rather than travel through space.

·    When you make the movements described above in the timing I've defined, make sure that your torso moves laterally in the appropriate direction as you move your legs. This is where the lead comes from. If you pick up your feet and plop them down without moving the upper body, she won't be able to feel a lead, and therefore won't respond the way you want her to.

·    Practice the movement until it feels smooth and comfortable.

Followers, there's no way you can take control of this movement. It happens just too quickly. As with the cunita from last week, try to remain alert and flexible - and enjoy the ride.

Leaders, once you're able to lead this action in place comfortably, try it from a forward walk:

·      Take a few steps forward, maintaining the beats of the music.

·      At some point, after you've stepped on your left leg, traveling forward, do the traspie as a quick--quick--slow sequence in place.

·      Then, without a pause, continue to move forward again with normal steps, keeping time with the music.

·      A typical iteration of this idea might consist of two slows (steps in normal timing), the traspie sequence (quick--quick--slow), and finally
  two or more slows.

After you feel comfortable with executing the traspie sequence from a walk, try initiating it from the other leg. Everything will be the same except for the fact that you'll be starting on the other side.

Add this new idea to your traspie vocabulary and practice both over and over with music. Next week -- la corridita.

June 19, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. For the past several Tips we've been focusing on rhythmical ways to respond to the music of Tango. Up to now, we have the following:

1.     Moving to every beat (pulse, half note)

2.     Moving to every other beat

3.     Extended pause

Today, I'm going to continue our exploration of rhythmical techniques with "Building Block" #18 - traspie.

In Spanish, the word traspie means a "stumble" or "slip," or perhaps "tripping over one's own foot." When we use the term in regard to Argentine Tango, we're referring not to an accidental slip, but rather to a doubling of the rhythm.

In ballroom technique, we often talk about the internal rhythm of a particular pattern as a series of slows and quicks; e.g., one of the basic figures in Foxtrot is called the "progressive basic," which consists of two slows and two quicks. (Slow-slow-quick-quick). In Tango a basic traspie might be thought of, therefore, as quick-quick.

Traspie isn't a just one movement. Rather it is a category of many related possibilities, which can add a great deal of rhythmic complexity to your dance. In analyzing traspies for teaching purposes, I've identified three major categories of basic movement:

1.     The rocking traspie (sometimes called la cunita)

2.     The in-place traspie (sometimes referred to as la cadencia)

3.     The little run (maybe we could call it the corridita)

Today, we'll describe the first of these techniques - the rocking traspie. To create this movement, the leader typically moves forward with his left leg, then backward with his right leg, then forward with his left.

    As he moves forward with his first step, he actually stops his momentum about halfway through the movement, not allowing his weight to continue through until the end of the step. As he does this, he bends his knees slightly in order to lower himself - it feels as if he's putting on the brakes.

·      With his second step, he moves backward in the same way, not completing the action by coming into final balance. Rather, he puts on
       the brakes again, lowering himself a bit in preparation for a final forward movement.

·      With his third step he moves forward, this time completing the step, and bringing himself into normal balance.

The timing of this sequence is quick, quick, slow.

In order to make certain this somewhat abrupt multiple change of direction sequence is comfortable to the follower, the leader makes sure that her upper body is very close to his own; i.e., that they are virtually sharing a single axis during the movement. If the couple maintains distance between the two torsos. The entire sequence will tend to feel as if it's falling apart.

As follower, there is no positive action that can be taken to enhance or control the traspie. In fact, the woman can't possibly know when a leader is going to create this traspie. There is no way she can try to control the multiple movements of the sequence without interfering with the rhythm, and making the whole thing feel forced and tense. In the ideal, she simply lets the movement happen to her, taking a lovely ride with the leader, whose impeccable leading skills will make it seem effortless. 

Although I described the rocking traspie as being initiated by the leader's left leg moving forward, it can also begin with his right leg forward. It can also commence with either of his legs moving backward.

Here's a simple exercise for practicing your rocking traspie:

The leader moves forward several walking steps, moving to every beat of the music. When it feels appropriate, he created the rocking traspie by altering one of his left forward movements in the way described in detail above. At the end of the traspie sequence he resumes walking forward to every beat of the music. Throughout all this action, the follow relaxes and enjoys the ride.  

Try this exercise this week, and see if it works for you. If you have any questions, ask Pat or me. Next week, more on the subject of traspie. 

June 12, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Over the last two weeks we've been talking about moving rhythmically to music. We're listening to your copy of "La Cumparsita," which I trust you're firing up on your player right now.

Two weeks ago, we discussed moving to every beat or pulse of the music. (If you're a musician, these are the half notes.) Last week, we talked about moving to every other beat of the music. This feels as if you're moving twice as slowly as you were during the previous week. If you have any questions about either of these skills, refer to your Tango Tips for those two weeks. (And if that doesn't help, ask me.)

This week - with "Building Block" #16 -- we're going to decide as leaders which of these two possible timings we want to use in any given moment during the dance. Sometimes we'll choose moving to every beat; sometimes it will be every other beat. In other words, we're going to create a rhythmical improvisation, using these two possibilities. The movements themselves will come from your basic vocabulary; i.e., forward, backward, to the side, or in place. The leader's job will be similar to what we did last week and the week before - except that now we'll be changing the timing from one to the other whenever we choose.

The upside of using this more sophisticated rhythmical technique is that the dance will become more interesting to both the leader and follower. The downside is that leaders actually have to lead it. Two week ago, when we practiced moving to every beat of the music, it became very simple almost immediately for followers to move right along with us - because they were able to quickly determine that we were going to be moving to every beat. This meant that they weren't necessarily following our lead; in fact, some of them may have actually been moving by themselves.  (Oh horror!) The same thing happened last week, when we moved to every other beat. Because the rhythmical approach was consistent, it became only a matter of a few steps before followers were able to keep the rhythm of the steps without actually being led.

With "Building Block" #16, however, everything suddenly changes. Because the leader is using two different timing techniques at random, it becomes incumbent on him to lead these changes of rhythm. At the same time,  - it becomes crucial that his follower wait for the leads, rather than assuming that the rhythm will be consistent, and therefore move by herself. So, with this "Building Block" we're right back to fundamental lead/follow technique.

Practice these two timing techniques this week. Try to get to a point where can use a variety of basic elements in either timing - inviting your follower to move with you effortlessly. Next week, we'll talk more about additional techniques in rhythmical improvisation.

June 5, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Over the last two weeks we've been talking about moving rhythmically to music. We're listening to your copy of "La Cumparsita," which I trust you're firing up on your player right now. 

 Building Block # 16

Two weeks ago, we discussed moving to every beat or pulse of the music. (If you're a musician, these are the half notes.) Last week, we talked about moving to every other beat of the music. This feels as if you're moving twice as slowly as you were during the previous week. If you have any questions about either of these skills, refer to your Tango Tips for those two weeks. (And if that doesn't help, ask me.)

This week - with "Building Block" #16 -- we're going to decide as leaders which of these two possible timings we want to use in any given moment during the dance. Sometimes we'll choose moving to every beat; sometimes it will be every other beat. In other words, we're going to create a rhythmical improvisation, using these two possibilities. The movements themselves will come from your basic vocabulary; i.e., forward, backward, to the side, or in place. The leader's job will be similar to what we did last week and the week before - except that now we'll be changing the timing from one to the other whenever we choose.

The upside of using this more sophisticated rhythmical technique is that the dance will become more interesting to both the leader and follower. The downside is that leaders actually have to lead it. Two week ago, when we practiced moving to every beat of the music, it became very simple almost immediately for followers to move right along with us - because they were able to quickly determine that we were going to be moving to every beat. This meant that they weren't necessarily following our lead; in fact, some of them may have actually been moving by themselves.  (Oh horror!) The same thing happened last week, when we moved to every other beat. Because the rhythmical approach was consistent, it became only a matter of a few steps before followers were able to keep the rhythm of the steps without actually being led.

With "Building Block" #16, however, everything suddenly changes. Because the leader is using two different timing techniques at random, it becomes incumbent on him to lead these changes of rhythm. At the same time,  - it becomes crucial that his follower wait for the leads, rather than assuming that the rhythm will be consistent, and therefore move by herself. So, with this "Building Block" we're right back to fundamental lead/follow technique.

Practice these two timing techniques this week. Try to get to a point where can use a variety of basic elements in either timing - inviting your follower to move with you effortlessly. Next week, we'll talk more about additional techniques in rhythmical improvisation.

May 29, 2010

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Remember last week's  "Building Block" #14 - moving to every pulse (beat, half note) in the music? I hope you've been practicing this skill, and are now ready to continue moving rhythmically as you listen to "La Cumparsita."

This week - with "Building Block" #15 -- we're going to move continuously to every other pulse or beat in the music. So grab your copy of this well-known Tango, fire it up on your player, and let's find out what moving to every other beat is all about.

Start by clapping to every beat of the music as we did last week. Got it?  Now, as you clap, nod your head at the same time. Your clapping and the nodding of your head should coincide precisely. Once you're able to do that comfortably, eliminate every other clap, while continuing to nod your head to every single beat. In this way you'll be acknowledging all the beats with your body, but only clapping to every other beat with your hands.

The next step is to substitute motion with your feet for the clapping action. Moving by yourself, start taking forward steps, back steps, side steps or weight changes in place - always moving to every other beat of the music. Once you feel okay with this, you can stop nodding your head - because now you're relating to the music, stepping to every other beat.

Finally, try this with a partner. At first, you may have to go back to nodding your head on every beat in order to make certain you're fully connected to every beat of the music, while actually moving only on every other beat. But eventually, you'll be able to move comfortably with your partner to every other beat.

Once you've got this new skill under you belt, you will have two very definite ways of relating to Tango - moving to every beat, and moving to every other beat. Practice both these skills during this week, and you'll be ready for "Building Block" #16, which we'll explore in next weeks' Tango Tip. 

May 22, 2010

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Remember last week's  "Building Block" #14 - moving to every pulse (beat, half note) in the music? I hope you've been practicing this skill, and are now ready to continue moving rhythmically as you listen to "La Cumparsita."

This week - with "Building Block" #15 -- we're going to move continuously to every other pulse or beat in the music. So grab your copy of this well-known Tango, fire it up on your player, and let's find out what moving to every other beat is all about.

Start by clapping to every beat of the music as we did lat week. Got it?  Now, as you clap, nod your head at the same time. Your clapping and the nodding of your head should coincide precisely. Once you're able to do that comfortably, eliminate every other clap, while continuing to nod your head to every single beat. In this way you'll be acknowledging all the beats with your body, but only clapping to every other beat with your hands.

The next step is to substitute motion with your feet for the clapping action. Moving by yourself, start taking forward steps, back steps, side steps or weight changes in place - always moving to every other beat of the music. Once you feel okay with this, you can stop nodding your head - because now you're relating to the music, stepping to every other beat.

Finally, try this with a partner. At first, you may have to go back to nodding your head on every beat in order to make certain you're fully connected to every beat of the music, while actually moving only on every other beat. But eventually, you'll be able to move comfortably with your partner to every other beat.

Once you've got this new skill under you belt, you will have two very definite ways of relating to Tango - moving to every beat, and moving to every other beat. Practice both these skills during this week, and you'll be ready for "Building Block" #16, which we'll explore in next weeks' Tango Tip.  

May 15, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. If you're following along with your Tango "Building Blocks," you've been practicing improvisation, using all five fundamental elements of the basic dance. Now, it's time to move to music.

The music of Tango has a pulse or beat, which we use as a guide to our own movement. With older Tango music the pulse is very obvious; with modern music the pulse can sometimes be a bit more difficult to find. Unlike most American- and European-based dances, Tango has no fixed basic step, or basic rhythm pattern. Every rhythmic response to the music is improvised. Because leaders don't have a memorized rhythmic pattern to simply repeat over and over, moving to the music of Tango can feel a bit more challenging at first. Eventually, however, it will become far easier than it may feel initially.

Let's listen to a version of "La Cumparsita." Do you have one handy? Play the song, listen carefully, and try to clap to the obvious pulses or beats. If you're like most people, you're probably clapping to what musicians would denote as "half notes." (If you're having trouble with this, call your teacher immediately, and set up an appointment to listen together. The teacher will be able to show you exactly which are the appropriate pulses in the music.)

Once you're able to clap to the pulses of the music, try standing in place, and move from one foot to the other by yourself instead of clapping. This may take a little time to master with accuracy and consistency; but if you work at it, you'll get it.

Now, do the same thing with your dance partner. As you're a leader, you're role is to keep moving in place to the pulses. If you're a follower, your role is to move with the leader in whatever rhythm he sets. (If you're following a leader who isn't keeping proper time, you still have to keep his time. Sorry about that ....)

Once you've become comfortable with moving in place to the pulse of the music with a partner, it's time to start using the other elements in order to create an improvisation just as you did without the music last week. But this time, you'll be using the music as a rhythmic guide - which for leaders will add considerable difficulty to the process.

"Building Block" #14, then, is moving to every pulse (beat, half note) in the music. : Move with a partner, employing forward steps, back steps, side steps and weight changes in place. For now, don't use pauses.

This is one of the ways to respond to the music of Tango. Next week, we'll explore another way.

May 8, 2010

 

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. I'm sending this week's Tip from my brother's house in the very small, picturesque village of Leigh in Dorset, England. In fact, as I write this, I'm looking out the kitchen window at his lovely backyard vegetable garden. Birds are singing; squirrels are gathering nuts; dogs are running around the nearby fields -- not a Tango dancer in sight. Except, of course, Pat, who is at the moment busily enjoying a delicious breakfast of tea, country bread with homemade jam and sundry other goodies. Who can think about Tango at a time like this? Well, as it happens, I can.

If you've been following our ongoing, multi-part series on the "Building Blocks" of Tango, you have no doubt been dutifully practicing what we've covered so far with your partner in the Tango embrace. Up to now, you've been exploring all the fundamental movements of the dance - including forward, backward, side and in-place steps, combined with pauses. These are the individual components of what some teachers call the "linear" dance. It is these elements which enable you to improvise a basic dance, travelling around the line of direction, starting, stopping, and moving in place.

At this point, a question leaders might ask is: "How do I use these elements in my dancing - what about the steps?" Here is where we come to "Building Block" #14 - improvising the dance. If you're used to the contemporary American way of learning to dance, you know that teachers normally provide patterns of steps from a fixed syllabus, which students are called upon to memorize right from the start. As the learning process continues, leaders amass a sizeable repertoire of patterns, which are divided into categories such as "basic," "intermediate," and "advanced" - or perhaps "bronze," "silver," and "gold." Students gauge their own progress in the learning process by their class level. If you're in a basic class or learning basic steps, you're a beginner; if you're in an advanced class or learning advanced steps, you're an advanced dancer. The faster you can move through basic steps to those which are more advanced, the sooner you can call yourself an advanced dancer.

The problem with this system is that because it consists exclusively in memorizing patterns of movement, it doesn't in any productive way address the very fundamental - yet very complex -- ability to actually move comfortably in partnership with another person. In learning Tango, memorized patterns are irrelevant. Moving together in a skillful way is where the dance begins. What we've been learning so far is how to move together. And instead of applying this ability to the execution of pre-determined patterns, Tango consists in creating improvised movements in the moment.

Using your developing repertoire of fundamental movements -- i.e., forward, backward, in-place , side and pause - try to create or make up your own patterns of movement. This will consist of starting with one of the basic movements, then after each step choosing the next, the next, and so forth. Because there is no pre-set pattern to follow, as a leader you'll have to choose each movement you make. And, of course, you'll have to apply all the skills we've addressed so far in order to lead (or to follow) these individual movements. If you're used to pre-determined patterns, this will all be somewhat difficult at first. But eventually, you'll begin to get used to it.

This is the way in which Argentine people dance Tango. I recommend that you try this without music. It is important as a leader to develop the ability to move from one element to another without feeling pressured by the insistence of a musical beat. Next week, we'll begin to discuss how to relate to the rhythm and tempo of music.

 

May 1, 2010

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. We're one step away from completing our "Building Blocks" for what some teachers refer to as linear movement. (That's when the couple moves together in a counterclockwise fashion around the line of dance.)

 

Today, with "Building Block" #12, we're going to describe the leader's backward step, accompanied by the follower's forward movement.

 

Please remember that any traveling lead is produced through a very slight lowering of the leader's torso, immediately following by a leaning in the direction he wants the follower to travel.

 

For his backward step, the leader is going to lower (just enough for his follower to feel it), then lean backward in order to clearly indicate that he wants her to move forward. As he moves his torso backward, the leader does not tilt his upper body back, falling backward from the top. Instead he moves his entire torso directly backward -- perpendicular to the floor -- as he extends his leg backward (in the same manner as described for the follower in her backward step).

 

This backward movement is somewhat different from the way in which the follower moves in the same direction. While she moves in two successive motions (first her leg, then her body), the leader moves both his upper body and his leg at the same time - in order to produce the lead. (If he moved his leg first, mirroring the follower's technique for stepping backward, his follower wouldn't feel a thing, and would therefore have no choice but to remain still.

 

As the leader moves backward, the follower moves forward, taking a single walking step. As this occurs, the leader must take great care not to inadvertently pull the follower forward with his right arm. Instead, he allows her to read the movement of his torso, and to respond accordingly. In this case, she will, of course, feel his torso moving away from her, and in reading this movement will accompany him by taking one step forward.

 

At the end of this collaborative movement both partners will have achieved perpendicular balance individually, and both will therefore be ready for the next lead/follow interaction.

 

As many of you know, Pat and I will be in England next week for our annual visit to our relatives. While we're gone, we hope you'll take every opportunity to practice the
12 "Building Blocks" we've described so far, and that you'll be ready to continue, when we return.

 

Keep dancing!

 

April 24, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your tango Tip of the Week. Have you been practicing all your Tango "Building Blocks" up 'til now? (I'm referring to the multi-part series we've been running in the Firehouse Newsletter over the past several weeks.) If so, you know that after discussing the basics in considerable detail, we've now formed the Tango embrace with a partner, and we've learned how to lead and follow three of the five basic elements of the Tango walk; i.e., weight changes in place, side steps and pauses.

Are you all caught up, and ready to continue? Today we're going to talk about "Building Block" #11 -- the leader's forward step (accompanied, of course, by the follower's back step). Moving forward is a traveling step. That means that the lead for this movement is:

Lower and lean.

As described last week, lowering tells your follower that you're asking her to move. Leaning provides her with the direction you want her to move to. You offer this information immediately prior to actually traveling through space - in other words, IN ADVANCE. This is all the information a skilled follower needs to know exactly what you want her to do, and to execute the movement in an efficient and timely way.

Having given the follower the lead, the leader advances forward one step, finding his balance at the end of the movement, and bringing his legs and feet together neatly. He takes great care not to lean on his follower, and not to propel her backward, using his body or arms. From the time he feels that she has received the lead and is executing the movement, he allows her to move and to balance herself at the end of the step on her own. At the end of his forward motion, the leader takes special care not to lean forward into the follower's space, which would send her off balance into an unintended additional step.

The follower pays careful attention to the leader in expectation of his lead. When she feels the lowering and leaning from his torso (in this case he leans forward into her space), he executes a backward step in the manner discussed in an earlier "Building Block" Tango Tip. First, her leg extends backward from the hip. Then she transfers her weight backward one step, bringing her body over her extended leg, finding her balance, and bringing her legs and feet together. At the end of her movement, the follower takes great care not to fall backward past her balance, which would produce an unintended additional step, and tend to pull the leader off balance with her. She all does these things by herself, never relying on the leader for support or balance.

At the end of the movement both partners have achieved perpendicular balance individually, and both are therefore ready for the next lead/follow interaction.

The description above is what I think of as the ideal way for this movement to happen. With students of the dance, achieving this ideal takes a great deal of time and practice. Start today. Somewhere between next week, and two or three years from now, I know you'll get it. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask Pat or me about it.

April 17, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango tip of the Week. If you've been reading our Tango "Building Blocks" series up to now - and you've been practicing everything we've been describing - you know that last week we connected through the Tango embrace, and executed weight changes in place. Since we also stopped between these movements, we also learned what it feels like to pause; i.e., to remain connected in the embrace without moving at all. Both the weight change in place and the pause are important elements of our Tango improvisation. Therefore, the skills necessary to lead and to follow these elements are also important.

 

To briefly review:

 

In general, a "lead" is information given by the leader in advance, so that his follower knows exactly what she's supposed to do before making the movement.

 

To "lead" the pause the leader simply remains still. Since the follower feels no lead, she also remains still.

 

To lead the weight change in place the leader simply leans his entire perpendicular self in the direction of the change. Immediately after he begins to lean, he takes himself from one lateral balance axis to the other. The follower feels him leaning laterally, and makes a weight change with him.

 

It's like whispering gently in her ear: "We're going to change weight"   -- except that the invitation is accomplished through body movement rather than speech.

 

Now, with "Building Block" #10, we're going to start traveling through space!

 

The movement we're going to begin with is as follows:

 

The leader will move one single step to the side. At the end of this movement, he's going to bring his legs neatly together, find his balance and stop - just as he did with the weight change in place. The follower will feel this movement through the embrace and travel to the side with him.

 

Before we try moving to the side, however, let's talk about the lead and the follow. As we did with the weight change in place and the pause, the leader and follower will begin by forming the Tango embrace according to the description we offered in a previous Tango Tip ("Building Block" #3).

 

Remember: No leaning on one another, no pushing or pulling.

 

A movement to the side is a traveling step. However, it involves the exact same lateral weight change as the weight change in place. This presents the leader with a problem. If he simply leans to the side for a weight change in place, and if he also leans to the side for a side step, the follower has no way to distinguish one movement from the other. We need a way, therefore, that the leader can clearly define for the follower the difference between a step to the side and a weight change in place - so that she doesn't have to guess which one is being led at any given time.

 

What the leader will do is the following:

 

When he wants his follower to execute a side step, he will lower his body very slightly prior to leaning in the direction he wants his follower to travel. Think of it as an almost imperceptible compression through the knees - not unlike setting oneself in a slight crouch before jumping - but much, much smaller!  This lowering action will be followed immediately by a leaning action to the side; i.e., the direction the leader wants his follower to travel.

 

To say this very simply: The lead for the side step is lower and lean.

 

The role of the follower in the step to the side is to wait for this very specific lead described above. When she feels it, she executes the movement, and finishes by bringing her legs neatly together, coming to a complete stop.

 

Once the step has been successfully led to one side, try moving to the other side. Eventually, try to combine this movement with the pause, as well as with the weight change in place in an improvisational way. When traveling through space with a partner, your strong inclination will be to lean on one another both during any given movement and at the end of each step.

Don't do it!

Maintain your independence from the beginning of each movement through its end. If you do happen to find yourself leaning on your partner, try to find a way to stop doing it. With practice, this will become easier over time.

April 10, 2010
 

This week, we'll begin to talk about using the embrace as a means of communication between leader and follower -- in order to create the movements, which comprise Tango at a fundamental level. "Building Block #9," as we're going to call today's Tango Tip, begins with a leader forming the embrace with a partner. Here are a few reminders from the past two weeks:

 

Leaders: Make absolutely certain that you're not pulling your follower toward you with your right arm. Simply let your hand rest gently against the center of her back. Make sure you're not grasping her right hand tightly with your own left hand. Just hold hands, palm to palm, and gently press your palm slightly toward her. Make sure you're not in any way leaning on her.

 

Followers: As you place your left arm on your leader's shoulder, neck, upper arm, or around his back, make sure you're not leaning it on him. Using your right hand, connect your palm to his, pressing forward into his palm slightly - but don't push. On the other hand, don't be completely loose. Make a palm-to-palm connection with him. Don't lean on your partner.  Maintain your own balance, as he will maintain his.

 

Now, it's time for the leader to invite movement, and for the follower to respond. Leaders, you're going to shift your weight to one side (weight change in place - remember? We learned how to do this ourselves in a previous "Building Block."), thereby inviting your follower to move with you. Followers, you're going to feel the leader shifting his weight to one side through his torso, which will serve as your cue to move with him. Throughout the movement, leaders, your arms will remain neutral, resisting the impulse to push or pull her in order to "assist" her movement - and resisting the urge to hold her up (help her balance) at the end of the movement. Followers, you'll maintain you own equilibrium, resisting the urge to lean on your partner for balance.

 

Once the leader has completed this single weight shift - and his follower has responded with a weight shift of her own - both partners will pause with their feet together, balancing themselves independently - without in any way attempting to hold each other up. This will complete our first movement together.

 

To continue, the leader will shift his weight to the other side and the follower will join him, again pausing at the end of the movement with feet together as above.

 

The specific lead for this weight change in place consists of the leader moving his entire upper body - all the way from his torso area down through his knees - from one side to the other. When the follower feels this lead, she will respond as described above by shifting her own weight, coming to a complete stop with her feet together at its conclusion.

 

April 3, 2010

Hello everyone, Pat here. I'm hoping that many of you will have read Fran's Tango Tip last week in which he addressed the misconceptions that can occur amongst leaders when they take the Tango embrace. This week, we will examine some of the most prevalent false impressions that followers have adopted.

Followers, think for a moment - as you get up and prepare to dance with someone - what are your expectations and your actions as you take the embrace? Do any of the following sound familiar?

Are you expecting your

movements to be controlled by the leader, and do you believe that he will literally move you around the room?

Are you worried that you "won't know your part," and therefore you have developed an unfortunate habit of anticipating your movements?

Do you automatically tense your arms and grip his hand in preparation for being able to stay upright during the dance?

Do you immediately drape yourself on your partner, putting your arm all the way around his neck and leaning on him, so that you are completely off your axis and your balance?

All of these notions are incorrect, and could very well be exactly what's wrong with your dance. The Tango embrace is the single most important component in the dance, creating a connection that is intimate, strong, flexible, soft - changing with the dance and with the music, but ever-present throughout. In my opinion, a Tango embrace that remains fixed in one position means the dance is not alive.

So, let's describe the components of the embrace from the follower's point of view. The follower stands directly in front of her leader. They are close - their bodies may even be touching, but the follower is completely on her own balance, standing up straight. As the leader encircles her upper torso with his right arm (not pulling her towards him, we hope!) she does not move. She places her left arm in a gentle, relaxed way on the leader's shoulder, back or arm wherever it feels comfortable for her. This will depend on the physical and height differences between the couple. Her left arm and hand can be on her leader's shoulder, slightly behind his shoulder, on his upper arm, possibly around his neck as long as it doesn't pull her forward. It is not hung all the way around his neck with her leaning on his chest.

As the leader offers his left hand with palm facing inwards, the follower should place her right hand in his open palm, still standing upright on her balance, and not moving. This is a moment when sometimes things go wrong. As the hands come together, all the tension that may be lurking in either partner is manifest in a vice-like grip from one or both, the arms become rigid, and before it has even started, the dance has become virtually impossible! Followers, relax...place your hand gently in his...relax...and feel a gentle two-way pressure between the two of you. This is your connection, and it should remain this way throughout the dance.

At this point, the leader and follower should be standing straight and close, their elbows facing down, and on their own balance with their connection running through their hands and arms and into their bodies. Followers, your head position can be either turned to the right (looking at your hands), or looking over your leader's shoulder. Preferably, your eyes should be cast down, not looking around the room! And neither leader nor follower should be looking down at the floor!

So followers, if you can successfully form an embrace as described above, you will have a chance to shed your misconceptions. You won't need to worry that you will be pushed around the floor or that you have to know your part, because you will be on your own balance -- not tipped over or contorted in any way -- and you will be able to feel the lead! You won't need to be tense, and you won't need to be draped and leaning on your partner. The result for both of you should be a real Tango embrace, which will result in a real Tango dance.  Good luck!

March 27, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week.  Last week, I identified two important misconceptions that virtually all of us seem to have, when we start dancing Tango. The second of these is the following:

We'll be physically holding a follower in our arms, or being held by a leader in his arms. If we're leading, we'll be controlling her actions - actually moving her from place to place. If we're following, we believe that our actions will be controlled by a leader - that we will be physically taken from place to place without any control over our own movements.

As I said last week, this idea is absolutely not true. However, most people dancing Tango today do precisely that. Starting this week, I'm going to address this notion in great detail. First, we're going to learn how to get connected with another person. Next, we'll learn the two distinct roles we play in creating movement. Finally, we'll begin the process of actually moving together.

Let's talk about the Tango connection, the Tango embrace, el abrazo del tango. The Tango connection is a physical bond between two people, which makes it possible for them to dance together. For purposes of this description I'm going to refer to "the man" and "the woman," since in Argentina these are the accepted roles of leader and follower. In this country today women, of course often lead (though regrettably men are almost universally unwilling to act as followers). So, if you're a woman who is learning to lead, please forgive the gender specificity.

From the man's (traditional leader's) perspective, the embrace consists of the following elements:

The man stands very close to the woman, close enough so that their bodies may make a physical connection slightly above the leader's center. (Since men are usually taller than women - this initial physical connection will generally be between the man's sternum area, or slightly below, and the woman's chest.) In making this physical connection, neither the man nor the woman lean on one another, although their upper bodies may be poised forward.

The man encircles the woman's torso with his right arm, placing his right hand at about the center of her back. His right elbow is not raised -- as it would be in contemporary competitive ballroom dance practice. It could be inferred from the appearance of this part of the connection that the man is, in fact, holding the woman in his arms. This is not the case. Though his arm is placed as described, there is no snugness in this part of embrace, and he is not pulling her toward him, so that she in any way surrenders her balance. (As the man encircles the woman's torso, she places her arm in a specific way on his shoulder, back or neck. Pat will discuss this in detail next week.)

The man offers his open left hand, raised to approximately the level of his face, his left elbow pointing to the floor. As the woman takes his hand he gently closes his hand around hers - without squeezing, pushing or pulling. He exerts a G-E-N-T-L-E pressure against her hand, and she returns this pressure in order to solidify the connection. (More from Pat about this next week.)

These are the basic physical components of the man's embrace. Next week, Pat will talk about the basic embrace from the woman's perspective. Until then, leaders, practice your part without a partner. Think about it. Look forward to what it will feel like, when you're actually connected with a partner. Read the misconception I began with above. Try to visualize that your embrace will not feel like that.

 

March 20, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. When we make a commitment to learning how to dance Tango, most of us probably believe that the following two things will happen:

1)    We'll be performing some kind of (unnatural) physical movement ourselves either as leader or follower (probably a group of memorized steps that we'll learn from a teacher).

2)    We'll be physically holding a follower in our arms, or being held by a leader in his arms. If we're leading, we'll be controlling her actions, actually moving her from place to place. If we're following, we believe that our actions will be controlled by a leader that we will be physically taken from place to place without any control over our own movements.

Both of these prevalent ideas about Tango are absolutely wrong; yet the overwhelming majority of dancers do exactly that. Leaders see dancing as a group of steps they're supposed to memorize, and then execute on the dance floor. Followers somehow think they have to learn their parts in dancing complex sequences. Leaders grasp their followers tightly, usually pulling them off balance, in order to control their actions. Followers grasp their leaders, lean on them, and hold on for dear life in order to prevent themselves from falling during the whirlwind they're about to experience on the dance floor.

With our first six Building Blocks (read the last six Newsletters on the Firehouse Web site, if you don't know what I am talking about) we focused on the first of the misconceptions about Tango, stated above. We discussed in some detail the idea that in Tango instead of an encyclopedia of memorized figures, we move by ourselves in increments of single steps. We learned that these steps consist of natural human movements: we can move in place, forward, backward, or to the side. And, of course, we can pause. We learned how to hold our bodies (posture) while moving or standing still. We learned how to balance ourselves on one leg, when we're at rest, or at the end of any of our traveling movements. In general, we learned to focus our energies not on what we're doing (as in a series of memorized steps) but on how we're moving during each individual step that we take.

The problem with most attempts to learn how to dance is that leaders begin to try to move with followers long before their skill levels are up to the task.

So, what's Building Block Number 7.  I can say it in a single word: Patience.

If you've been practicing the individual lessons I've outlined for you up to now with Building Blocks 1 & 6, you have a fairly good idea that movement in Tango requires a great deal of conscious concentration in order to be successful. So what I'd like you to do this week is practice all your movements by yourself. Be very, very patient. Move in place, move forward, move backward, move to the side, and stand still, balancing yourself on one foot. Make up any sequence you want, involving these movements. Find balance at the end of every step. Notice every mistake you make. Notice every success.

Nota bene: It's crucially important for you to be aware that most Tango students never, I mean, NEVER  do this. They just grab a leader or follower and start bouncing around a room. Of course, the results are pretty much ALWAYS horrible. And these students never, ever get any better -- no matter how many complicated sequences they pick up from teachers, from videos, from YouTube, or from their friends on the dance floor.

In order to dance Tango with any degree of skill, we first have to perfect our own individual ability to move. Only then can we direct our attention to forming a partnership with a leader or follower. Speaking of leaders and followers next week, we're going to begin getting the two together. Because by then, we should be ready.

 

March 13, 2010

Hello everyone, Pat here. Last week, Fran discussed Brick #6 -the leader's back step--in his ongoing series, The Foundations of Tango--Brick by Brick. This week, I am taking the opportunity to talk about the follower's back step--a movement that we consider to be the single most important part of her fundamental technique. It is surprising to us how many followers who are not complete beginners have never learned this. They will take a back step that is hardly longer that the length of their foot, bending at the knee and falling backward onto their other foot. So what happens? They get stepped on!! Of course, correct backward movement requires continual practice after learning how to do it properly, each and every time the follower gets up to dance, and possibly this is a commitment that many followers are just not prepared for or willing to undertake. Nevertheless, in the interests of making every effort possible to help you improve your dance, followers, (and this will pay back big time!) here is Brick #7--a detailed guide on the correct technique for the followers' back step.

Let's assume that you are in a tango embrace with your leader, he has already put your weight onto one foot, you are balanced and about to start the dance with a back step. I am now going to break down your back step technique into 3 parts, as if in slow-motion:

1) Keeping you upper body in place with your weight slightly forward on you axis, upper body and head straight up, extend your free leg backwards at the hip and point your foot, so that your toe is resting lightly on the floor. The leg should be straight. Keep all your weight where your leader has placed it and do not move your upper body! This motion should engage the muscles in your lower back, hip and upper leg. If you do not feel these muscles working, you are not doing this technique correctly.

2) Still keeping your upper body in position, smoothly roll your weight onto the extended leg, through the toe and the rest of the foot until all your weight is on this leg and you are balanced.

3) Bring your feet together, ankle to ankle, and wait for the next lead.

As you can tell, there is crucial technique happening in all three parts of this movement. Balance plays a pivotal role, so if you get your leg extended correctly and your toe in position, you cannot just fall onto the foot. You must continue to employ fundamental balance as you roll your weight onto the foot, and bring your feet together to complete the movement.

In the beginning, followers, you may find that using this technique for your back steps creates a somewhat jerky movement, but if you practice enough it will soon smooth out and you will look much more like a real tango dancer. And, imagine the best benefit of all--you should never get stepped on again!  

March 6, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Sorry about the snow last week. I'm sure you were champing at the bit to get your hands on the latest installment of our ongoing series: Building your Tango "brick by brick." But think of all the extra practice you were able to get in while you were snowbound.

You did practice, didn't you?

Oh well, moving right along ... we've been building our skill at dancing Argentine Tango "brick by brick" over the past several weeks. Most recently, we've been putting our skills to work with moving steps. Our last two "bricks" were moving to the side and moving forward. Today, with "Brick Number Six," we're going to discuss what may be the single most complex fundamental movement in Tango - the back step.

You may remember from our last two Tango Tips that we characterized any traveling step as having three distinct parts:

·      A beginning (initiation of the step)

·      A middle (traveling through space)

·      An end (coming to rest in balance)

With side and forward steps, the dancer's body and leg move at the same time. As the leg extends, let's say, forward, the body also moves forward through space, perpendicular to the floor. The big problem with the back step is that our knees articulate forward. The result of this is that we tend to bend at the knee in order to take any kind step, whether it's forward, to the side, or backward. If we bend at the knee in a back step, the thigh will move forward before the leg moves backward. Furthermore, we will tend to actually fall backward, catching ourselves with the leg at the end of the movement.

To prevent this falling effect from occurring, and to ensure that the entire leg moves backward during the step, the dancer  (whether leader or follower) has to move from the higher articulating joint; i.e,, from the hip. The actual technique for backward movement  will now depend upon whether one is a leader or a follower. (Next week, Pat will talk about how a follower executes a backward step. This week, I'm going to focus on the leader's movement.)

As the leader extends his leg backward, (moving from the hip) his body moves backward as well. He must remember to articulate from the hip rather than from the knee, so that his leg remains relatively straight throughout the movement - and so that he does not experience the sensation of falling backward, having to catch himself at the end of the step. As we will discover in a future Tango Tip, the reason the leader has to move his upper body at the same time he moves his leg is that in this way he provides his partner with an appropriate lead to move forward in the embrace. Without such movement of his body, there would simply be no lead.

Just as we did with our forward and side steps, the leader must learn to achieve resting balance at the end of each backward step - not on two feet as in normal walking, but on the foot that just traveled through space. Because our movement impetus is backward, we have to learn to achieve this balance slightly before we reach absolute perpendicularity. This means having the feeling of leaning slightly forward (without, of course, leaning on one's partner).

Why is this important? If we try to come to a stop at the exact moment of being perpendicular to the floor (at the end of a step), the chances are very good that we will tend to tilt past perpendicular, and fall backward. Even if we manage to prevent ourselves from falling backward, if we have a partner in our embrace, we'll surely pull her over into an additional - and unwanted - forward movement.

Here's an exercise in walking backward. As with our exercises during previous weeks, first, we have a mental part. Think about taking a backward step. You're not trying to get from point "a" to point "b." Your goal is simply to extend one leg backward as the body begins to move, travel slowly and gently through space, and balance at the end. As with our forward and side steps, think of balancing at the end of the movement as a separate element from the movement itself. Plan in advance for perfect balance. In this case "perfect balance" means coming to rest just before achieving perpendicularity.

Now comes the physical part. You're going to try the backward step. When you actually take the step, don't rush it. Let your step occur slowly and smoothly. As your body moves through space, focus on the need to achieve balance - just before you become perpendicular to the floor. Chances are -- after a fair amount of practice -- you'll find that your balance at the end of this backward step will be either absolutely perfect or very close to it.

As we did last week, try another backward step, using the same process as outlined above. Try twenty backward steps ... try a few hundred. For now, the only thing that's important is finding balance at the end of each step. Using only the backward step, practice as often as you can. Be patient. Concentrate; don't be in a hurry. Once you find these steps easy, try combining them with forward steps, side steps and pauses.

Next week, Pat will discuss Brickworks seven - the back step for followers.

February 27, 2010
 

Stormy weather.  Mother Nature has sabotaged this week's Tango Tip.
 

February 20, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. If you've been reading these Tips during the past few weeks, you know that we're in the middle of focusing on the fundamental skills needed to become a Tango dancer. As one of my teachers from Argentina put it, we're "building the dance brick by brick."

Have you been practicing? If so, you now feel fairly comfortable, standing in one foot; your balance at rest has improved measurably; your posture is getting better by the day; and you've started being able to achieve balance after taking side steps through space.

Are you pleased with these gains you've been able to make? Or are you shrugging your shoulders, saying, "So what?"

Let me assure you that if you're now able to perform these movements consistently, you've reached a major level of skill. Most people - even many who think of themselves as "advanced" Tango dancers - can't do these things well, if they can do them at all. But if you've been practicing, you can. And that means your Tango skills are growing quickly!

Last week, we started moving through space, using a side step. Our focus was twofold:

·        To learn how to take a side step (in either direction)

·        To learn how to balance at the end of the step

We talked about concentrating on finding the balance at the end of the step as a distinct element, which is separate from initiating the movement or traveling through space. This specific mental focus enables you to actually "plan" to be balanced at the end of each step - rather than passively finding yourself losing your balance, because you're unprepared for what's supposed to occur at the end of any given movement.

This week - with "Brick Number Five" - we're going to move through space and balance, using forward steps. As with side steps, a forward movement has three distinct parts:

·        A beginning (initiation of the step)

·        A middle (traveling through space)

·        An end (coming to rest in balance)

Normally, when we walk forward, we do so in order to get from one place to another. Once we get where we want to go, we stop and balance ourselves on both feet. The steps we take are functional in nature - we want to travel to another place.

In social dancing, this isn't the case. Rather than being functional, each step we take is gestural in nature. Our object is not to get somewhere else in space; it's simply to use body movement in a dramatic and rhythmical way in order to "speak" the language of the dance.

Just as we did with our side step last week, we must learn to achieve resting balance at the end of each forward step - not on two feet as in normal walking, but on the foot that just traveled through space. Because our movement impetus is forward, we have to learn to achieve this balance slightly before we reach absolute perpendicularity.

Why is this important? If we try to come to a stop at the exact moment of being perpendicular to the floor (at the end of a step), the chances are very good that we will tend to tilt past perpendicular, and fall forward. Even if we manage to prevent ourselves from falling forward, if we have a partner in our embrace, we'll surely knock her over into an additional - and unwanted - step back.

Here's an exercise in walking forward. As with our exercise last week, first, we have a mental part. Think about taking a forward step. You're not trying to get from point "a" to point "b." Your goal is simply to extend one leg forward, travel slowly and gently through space, and balance at the end. As with our side step last week, think of balancing at the end of the movement as a separate element from the movement itself. Plan in advance for perfect balance. In this case "perfect balance" means coming to rest just before achieving perpendicularity.

Now comes the physical part. You're going to try the forward step. When you actually take the step, don't rush it. Let your step occur slowly and smoothly. As your body moves through space, focus on the need to achieve balance - just before you become perpendicular to the floor. Chances are, you'll find that your balance at the end of this forward step will be either absolutely perfect or very close to it.

As we did last week, try another forward step, using the same process as outlined above. Try twenty forward steps ... try a few hundred. For now, the only thing that's important is finding balance at the end of each step. Using only the forward step, practice as often as you can. Be patient. Concentrate; don't be in a hurry. Once you find these steps easy, try combining them with side steps and pauses. 

That's it for today. If you have any questions, please contact us at franchesleigh@mac.com. See you next week with Brickworks Six - the back step.

February 13, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. For the past three weeks we've been talking about the basic building blocks or "bricks," which I believe one absolutely must master in order to dance Tango well. "Brick Number One" - as you may recall was balancing on one leg. "Brick Number Two" was optimizing your balance. "Brick Number Three" was developing good Tango posture.

Today, we're going to start moving through space.

When we think of walking, we usually envision moving progressively from place to place - which, of course, involves forward motion only. When we dance Tango, however, we employ a full range of fundamental movements. In fact, there are five elements, which taken together comprise what we're going to call the Tango walk. These are:

·        Moving forward

·        Moving backward

·        Moving to the side

·        Changing weight in place

·        Standing still

Let's briefly examine each of these elements. There are three traveling movements in our Tango walk - moving forward, moving backward, and moving to the side. With each of these elements we actually travel through space. With another of the elements - changing weight in place -- we move from one lateral axis to another, but we don't travel through space. Finally, with the fifth element - standing still - we don't move at all.

If you've done your exercises for Bricks Number One, Two and Three, you already know how to stand still, balancing your weight on one foot. The challenge will be standing still after a forward, backward or side step. But we'll get to that momentarily.

First, let's talk about exactly what occurs during a traveling movement (forward, backward or to the side). Any of these fundamental traveling steps involves three basic parts:

·        Initiating the movement

·        Traveling through space

·        Balancing (standing still on one foot) at the completion of the movement

To initiate a movement, you start leaning gently in the direction you want to go. This will take you out of balance. You don't have to topple over - just lean a bit forward, backward or to the side. When you're moving by yourself that's all it takes to initiate a movement.

Traveling is quite easy. After initiating the movement by leaning slightly forward, backward or to the side, you simply extend your moving leg in the direction you want to go, keeping your body more or less over your foot - and there you are, moving through space. Nothing to it. (There are lots of stylistic elements to be considered in traveling, but these aren't fundamental, so we won't discuss them here.)

The final component of a traveling step is balancing at the end of the movement. This is what we want to concentrate on right now. As you finish a forward, backward or side movement, you have to try to find perfect balance on one foot. Yu already know what it feels like from having practiced it for the first three weeks of learning the building blocks. Now, you have to use those developing skills to achieve balance from movement rather than from stillness.

Here's an exercise. First we have the mental part. Think about stepping to the side. You're going to initiate the movement, travel through space, and balance. Now think of balancing at the end of the movement as a separate element from the movement itself. Plan in advance for perfect balance.

Now comes the physical part. You're going to try the side step. When you actually take the step, don't rush it. Let your step occur slowly and smoothly. As your body moves through space, focus on the need to achieve balance. Chances are, you'll find that your balance at the end of this side step will be either absolutely perfect or very close to it.

Try another side step, using the same process as outlined above. Try twenty side steps ... try a few hundred. For now, the only thing that's important is finding balance at the end of each step.

"Brick Number Four" is finding balance from motion. Using only the side step, practice as often as you can. Be patient. Concentrate; don't be in a hurry. Remember: You're establishing habits that will last a lifetime.

If you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to contact me at franchesleigh@mac.com. See you next week with Brickworks Four.

February 6, 2010

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. For the past couple of weeks we've been talking about the basic building blocks or "bricks," which I believe one has to master in order to dance Tango well. "Brick Number One" - as you may recall was balancing on one leg. "Brick Number Two" was optimizing your balance. Today, we're going to discuss "Brick Number Three" - developing good Tango posture.

Can you guess what I'm going to say about posture? That's right, you've got to learn to stand up straight. Most of us form very bad habits over the course of time, when it comes to our posture. As we get older our heads begin to jut forward and down, our shoulders become rounded, our chests become concave, our stomachs stick out (even if we're not overweight). What a mess! Even young people often have bad posture. (This might come from imitating their parents.)

The good news is that even if your posture is bad, you can almost certainly reverse the process and regain excellent posture. Of course, it will take a lot of hard work; but it can be done.

Let's attempt to regain our posture:

·        Stand comfortably in front of a full-length mirror, if you have one.

·        Now place the palm of one of your hands on your chest.

·        Roll your chest up so that you actually feel movement in your hand. (Your hand should actually move upward.)

·        Next, see whether you can stretch your shoulders out - in a lateral direction, away from your center.

·        Finally, place your other hand on the back of your head.

·        Pull your head backward over your shoulders. Feel your hand actually move backward. Don't tilt your head upward; just pull it backward.

If you've been able to follow these adjustments as I've described them your posture should now be very good - at least for the moment.

The experience of standing up straight can feel like something of a revelation to those of us who have managed to allow our posture to deteriorate over the years. Once you've been able to achieve good posture once, you have to repeat the exercise as often as possible in order to build the habit of maintaining good posture. Eventually, your posture will tend to be upright as a matter of course. Then all your friends will tell you how lucky you are to have naturally good posture (little will they know how much work it took you to get there).

Please try to practice these first three building blocks during three coming week. Once these elements begin to feel as if they're "second nature" you be ready to tackle the fourth "Brick" - which involves taking these new-found skills out for a spin. See you next week. In the meantime, if you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to contact me at franchesleigh@mac.com.

January 30, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. If you read my Tip last week, you know that we began exploring what I call the basic building blocks (or "bricks") that will enable you to develop a solid foundation for dancing Argentine Tango.

Last week, I talked about "Brick Number One" - balancing on one leg. If you haven't had enough practice yet with finding your balance on one leg, tuck today's Tip away for future reference, and continue working on basic balance. Try to get to where you can comfortably stand on one leg for about thirty seconds without tipping over. Then you'll be ready to move ahead.

Dancing Tango with skill demands that we have near perfect balance with every movement that we make. Being able to stand on one leg is an excellent start to achieving the kind of balance we need. But we have to fine-tune our balance in order to exercise maximum control over it during the course of a dance. We do this by using "Brick Number Two" -- optimizing the balance.

Here's how to fine-tune your balance:

Step One: Finding your current balance point

Stand on one leg. Now, try to feel exactly where your balance is. Do you have more weight in your heel ... in the ball of your foot ... along the outside of your foot ... along the inside? Try to feel this. Now, change weight to the other foot, and try the same thing.

Step Two: Controlling your balance point

With your weight on one leg, try to shift your weight forward into the ball of your foot (without losing your balance, of course). Once you've been able to do this successfully, shift your weight all the way back into your heel. Now, try to distribute your weight evenly between the ball of your foot and the heel. With your weight evenly distributed, shift your weight to the outside of your foot. Try to feel that all your weight is along the outside. Finally, shift your weight to the inside of your foot. This will be very difficult, since it will tend to send you off balance to your center.  But try it anyway. Change weight to your other foot, and repeat the whole series of movements.

Step Three: Optimizing your balance

If you've successfully gone through all the possibilities in the two steps above, you're now ready to find your optimal balance. Stand on one foot. Distribute your weight evenly on your whole foot. Now, shift your weight forward so that most of your weight is carried by the ball of your foot (with some small amount remaining in the heel). Finally, move your weight as much as you can to the inside of your foot. You should now feel that the interior of your foot is carrying your weight, shifted toward the front end. This is your optimal balance. Try to achieve this on the other foot.

Once you've taken yourself through this somewhat difficult and complex process a few times, you should then start to practice "bricks" one and two together. This involves standing on one foot, and achieving optimal balance as quickly as possible; then changing weight to the other foot, and repeating the process.

None of this is easy, of course. You have to decide that you really want to do what it takes to learn how to dance Tango. And then you have to practice.

If you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to contact me at franchesleigh@mac.com. See you next week with Brickworks Three.

January 23, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, I issued a bold new challenge for the New Decade to Firehouse students. I suggested that those of you who really want to learn this dance do so by building your skills "brick by brick." A few curious individuals responded, asking me to be more explicit. "What are these mysterious bricks we're supposed to be using?" they queried.

Okay, you asked; I'll answer. For the next several Tango Tips, I'm going to spell out what I think you need to do in order learn Tango "brick by brick."

NOTE:  Everything I'm going to talk about will be best accomplished under the careful guidance of your personal instructor, of course. Without such consistent one-on-one supervision it's very easy to misunderstand concepts, and to practice skills incorrectly, thereby forming bad - and very hard-to-break - habits. (This is what I've noticed time and time again over the years in observing students who keep trying to learn Tango by taking group classes alone - instead of supplementing these lessons with regular private instruction from a knowledgeable teacher. The vast majority of such people simply never progress even to the point of being able to demonstrate adequate fundamental movement.)

Before we start, let me say that it's important to differentiate between the mechanics of Tango and the art of Tango. What I'm going to address will help you build your mechanics. The art is something that can take many years to develop, and is very personal to each individual dancer. Another issue we need to discuss is the idea of learning Tango quickly. If you're someone who isn't interested in developing your dance "brick by brick", someone who "wants it all right now," stop reading this Tango Tip immediately. I'm wasting your valuable time. I don't possess the requisite skills to make you a Tango dancer in ten minutes.
 

For people who are still reading, let's talk about the "bricks" themselves. Each one of these concepts won't do much for your dancing all by itself. It's the precise application of these fundamental elements both individually as well as in various combinations that will ultimately result in making you a skilled dancer.

Let's begin with what I'll call "Brick Number One" - balancing at rest on one leg. Sounds easy, doesn't it? You just stand on one leg, maybe flailing you arms a little to help prevent you from losing your balance. Nothing to it.

Well, not quite. Balancing at rest begins with your weight on both legs - or what is sometimes referred to as your center axis of balance. Stand with your feet about six or seven inches apart, your weight more or less evenly distributed throughout the entirety of both feet. (You should feel weight both in the heels and the balls of both feet.) Now, gradually shift your weight to one side until all your weight is being supported by one of your legs. Gradually move your free leg up to the weighted leg so that both legs are now together. To an onlooker it should appear that your weight is evenly distributed on both sides; but you know that you're balanced on only one side.

Stand there for a while.

When you reach a point where it's comfortable, start the process again - but this time shift your weight to the other leg, finishing with your legs together, your weight on that leg alone.

Stand on this other leg until you're somewhat comfortable with being balanced on this side without feeling as if you're going to tip over.

There it is -- "Brick Number One." It will take you somewhere between five minutes and one year to get this skill to a point where it feels comfortable. And it doesn't matter how long it takes - just do it, if you want to learn how to dance Tango, okay?

To give you a little more information on why you should be doing this: When we dance Tango, we're almost always balanced on one leg -- whether we're leading or following. So getting very comfortable with this is crucial to being able to dance. Furthermore, this exercise of finding balance on one leg begins the larger process of enabling you to become conscious of your self in space. When you learned to walk as a child, you were pre-conscious. I don't know anyone who actually remembers the process of learning to walk. By the time you've reaching adulthood, walking and balancing have receded well into the background of your mind. All of us accomplish such common human movements without thinking. And yet when we begin the process of learning a complex skill such as dancing, among the very first things we have to do is bring these skills back into our conscious minds--so that we can work with them in a conscious, educated way both alone and in the ultimate context of moving in concert with a partner.

So there it is - Brick Number One, balancing on one leg. Try to do this as often as possible this week. Don't be in a big hurry, and limit yourself to just doing it once or twice ... deciding  that it's a cinch, and writing it off as something that those other less talented people than you need. Work on it; really get good at it. Then you'll be ready for - you guessed it - Brick Number Two.

See you next week at the brickworks.

January 16, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Now that we’ve all begun to settle into the New Year, I want to make a suggestion for your list of New Year’s Resolutions. I know, I know. These are the things that most of us optimistically promise ourselves that we’re definitely going to do every year, and almost never quite get to accomplish. Oh well, we have to keep trying, don’t we?

Anyway, here’s a Tango New Year’s Resolution for you. It starts with a story told to me by a dancer/teacher from Argentina, who began coming to the U.S.A. to teach way back in the early 1990’s. In order to prepare for his classes here, he did what most of us teachers do – he decided to concentrate on holding his classes in a few major cities around the country (that’s where most of the students were at the time), and he made up a detailed plan of exactly what he was going to teach, focusing on the different levels of student ability he expected to encounter.

When he actually began teaching, he noticed immediately that the vast majority of his students – no matter what their level – really had no basic Tango skills whatever. Because of this he decided to quickly abandon his lesson plan, and teach people how to walk. This, he believed, was what they needed.

At first, his revised curriculum seemed to work. His students seemed to realize that basic skills were indeed what they needed in order to progress. And they apparently welcomed his teachings. But soon, he began to notice a steadily increasing drop-off in attendance at his classes. A few people continued with him, but, as it happened, other teachers were arriving from Argentina, and were offering complex figures – with very little regard for the ability of students to master them.

Eventually, this teacher decided that he would stop teaching in the U.S.A and return to Argentina. He felt that too many students here weren’t interested in learning the dance in a methodical way. He told me that in his experience, they just wanted to reach for things that were well beyond their abilities without doing the work that was necessary to do them well.

Before he left, this teacher said to me something like this: “To make a building, you need to create a foundation brick by brick. Otherwise the building cannot sustain itself. It crumbles at the first opportunity. In Tango, one has to build a strong foundation – then everything becomes possible. But without this there is no dance.”

I always try to remember this story, when I teach Tango. It continues to be true that many students will continue to be seduced by things they’re not ready for. Most of these people will probably never become good dancers. But a few – those who are willing to build a solid foundation brick by brick – will eventually become fine dancers.

My New Year’s Resolution is to help those of you who really want to become good Tango dancers to get there. My hope is that some of you will decide to make a resolution this year to build a strong and lasting foundation for your Argentine Tango -- brick by brick.

January 9, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Now that we’ve all begun to settle into the New Year, I want to make a suggestion for your list of New Year’s Resolutions. I know, I know. These are the things that most of us optimistically promise ourselves that we’re definitely going to do every year, and almost never quite get to accomplish. Oh well, we have to keep trying, don’t we?

Anyway, here’s a Tango New Year’s Resolution for you. It starts with a story told to me by a dancer/teacher from Argentina, who began coming to the U.S.A. to teach way back in the early 1990’s. In order to prepare for his classes here, he did what most of us teachers do – he decided to concentrate on holding his classes in a few major cities around the country (that’s where most of the students were at the time), and he made up a detailed plan of exactly what he was going to teach, focusing on the different levels of student ability he expected to encounter.

When he actually began teaching, he noticed immediately that the vast majority of his students – no matter what their level – really had no basic Tango skills whatever. Because of this he decided to quickly abandon his lesson plan, and teach people how to walk. This, he believed, was what they needed.

At first, his revised curriculum seemed to work. His students seemed to realize that basic skills were indeed what they needed in order to progress. And they apparently welcomed his teachings. But soon, he began to notice a steadily increasing drop-off in attendance at his classes. A few people continued with him, but, as it happened, other teachers were arriving from Argentina, and were offering complex figures – with very little regard for the ability of students to master them.

Eventually, this teacher decided that he would stop teaching in the U.S.A and return to Argentina. He felt that too many students here weren’t interested in learning the dance in a methodical way. He told me that in his experience, they just wanted to reach for things that were well beyond their abilities without doing the work that was necessary to do them well.

Before he left, this teacher said to me something like this: “To make a building, you need to create a foundation brick by brick. Otherwise the building cannot sustain itself. It crumbles at the first opportunity. In Tango, one has to build a strong foundation – then everything becomes possible. But without this there is no dance.”

I always try to remember this story, when I teach Tango. It continues to be true that many students will continue to be seduced by things they’re not ready for. Most of these people will probably never become good dancers. But a few – those who are willing to build a solid foundation brick by brick – will eventually become fine dancers.

My New Year’s Resolution is to help those of you who really want to become good Tango dancers to get there. My hope is that some of you will decide to make a resolution this year to build a strong and lasting foundation for your Argentine Tango -- brick by brick.

January 2, 2010

 

No tango tip this week.  Fran and Pat will return next week after a well deserved rest.

 

January 9, 2010

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. It's a brand new year - in fact, a brand new decade! I thought I'd kick off the beginning of our next ten years by attempting to shed light (not for the first time) on what I think are the two most common - and most fundamentally destructive -- errors in dancing Tango (or pretty much any other social dance, for that matter).

A man and a woman are moving beautifully around a dance floor in an embrace. Watching as these dancers move together, here is what most leaders think: "He's holding her securely in his arms, and carrying her around the floor." At the same time, here is what most followers think: "She's being held securely by the leader, she's leaning on him for support, and he's carrying her around the floor."

So ... According to what most leaders and followers see with their own eyes, the leader's role is to hold his follower close and hold her up. The follower's role is to hang onto the leader for dear life - or at least to lean on him for balance and support. Have I got that right?

Anyone who has taken even a single private lesson with me knows that I don't agree with any of this. And neither does any competent teacher. Yet most students think that this is what people actually do. And so that's exactly what they do, when they get up to dance.

I think it's possible that these misconceptions may stem at least in part simply from observing the basic embrace from the outside. We see a man and a woman apparently hugging or holding each other. We see their bodies tilting toward one another. Aren't they leaning on each other? It looks as if the leader is holding onto the follower. It looks as if the follower is leaning on the leader. We draw the obvious conclusions. Dancing is holding and leaning.

The overwhelming majority of beginning or even semi-experienced student followers whom I dance with immediately lean on me or hold onto me quite tightly from the second I embrace them until the end of our dance. Pat tells me that the overwhelming majority of student leaders she dances with immediately close their right arms tightly around her (pulling her off balance), and squeeze her right hand almost to the point of pain from the moment the dance beings until the end. So it seems to us that the empirical evidence is quite conclusive: Most student leaders and followers out there firmly believe in holding and leaning.

But ...

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY, UNEQUIVOCALLY THE WRONG WAY TO DANCE!!!!!!!!

Whew! I'm glad I got that out of my system. I feel better already.

If you've been reading our Tango Tips all along, you know by this time that neither Pat nor I subscribe to holding and leaning in Tango. We've talked about this over and over. But it still seems to be happening again and again. Let's make this bright new decade the beginning of a lifetime commitment to finally learn how to dance without these fundamental errors in the embrace. I guarantee that this will be the first step in making you a very fine dancer. Wouldn't you love that to happen?

Happy New Year!