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 27, 2012

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Each basic movement we make as a couple in Tango can be execute correctly, or can be saddled with problems. Today, I’m going to focus on the leader’s back step, which is accompanied by the follower’s forward step. We’re going to talk about a common problem that leaders often have.

 

Leader’s problem #3:

 

Every time he leads me to take a forward he pulls me off balance so that I sometimes actually fall into him!

 

As the leader moves backward, his right arm, which may be tight around his follower’s back, pulls her forward. This creates the feeling in her of falling forward from the top. At the end of the movement she may have very little chance of regaining her balance, and may, in fact, fall into him.

 

A leader who does this is almost certainly unaware of it. He may even think that he’s helping his follower get through the movement. In any case, it’s very bad dance practice. If you’re a follower and this happens to you, a way to try preventing it from happening a second time is to end your forward step by actually pulling back away from your leader in order to maintain your equilibrium. This will not feel particularly comfortable, but we’re talking about guerrilla warfare here, not skilled dance collaboration. If he happens to ask why you’re doing this, you could gently suggest that you’re feeling pulled off balance at the end of your forward steps. Sometimes, this will end of problem, sometimes it won’t. But at least there’s something you can do, when it occurs.

 

Note to leaders: Skilled Argentine Tango leaders are always extremely careful with their right hand on the follower’s back. In Argentina, you see them actually pulling their hand consciously away from her back at various times during any given dance as if to clearly demonstrate that they are fully aware of the problems which might otherwise occur.  Developing this focused concentration will help make you a better leader, and is well worth trying.

 

Next week, Pat will discuss ways in which followers can create problems with this step – even when the leader is providing an appropriate lead.

 

 

December 20, 2012

Hello everyone, Pat here. As part of our current subject of Defensive Dancing for both leaders and followers, I would like to talk about something that is quite common among followers – both those who are just starting and those who have been dancing for a while – and for which the leader must develop an antidote of his own!

 

Let’s say a couple gets up to dance. They may not have danced before, or they may be regular partners (in the latter case the leader has a definite advantage, which I’ll explain in a moment.) For the couple who have not danced before, they begin with some simple steps – forward for the leader and backward for the follower. Before long, the leader has become aware of something his follower is doing that is creating a discordant feeling in the dance.

 

Can you guess what she’s doing?

 

Following problem #1:

 

Every time I lead her to take a back step she takes two or three instead!

 

With each back step, this follower is automatically starting to take another step – whether or not her leader is still moving forward or has tried to either lead a side step, a weight change in place or maybe just pause…. This follower is committing one of the worst follower sins – anticipation! She is yanking her leader forward when that may not have been his intention, and if this is a chronic style for a follower, she actually takes the lead away from her leader. These followers:

 

(a)   Are not listening to their leader.

(b)  Have not yet developed the fundamental balance and technique to be able to follow well.

 

So what can the leader do when a new partner anticipates in this way?

 

This is not by any means an ideal solution to the problem; but in a social dance the leader can apply a gentle pressure with his arm around her back, when he feels her beginning to anticipate the next step. This will at least temporarily discourage such anticipation, and help her back steps to be more responsive to his lead.

 

Note to followers: Don’t let this problem occur in the first place. Learn to follow only the individual step, which is being led. Remember that Tango is danced in increments of one step at a time. Concentrate on pausing between steps, and waiting for the next lead.

 

 

December 13, 2012

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Here’s more about Defensive Dancing.

 

Leading Problem #2:

 

Every time he leads me to take a back step, he pushes me off balance.

 

This is another very common problem with leaders. Let’s talk about what a follower can do to protect herself. Then, we’ll suggest ways in which leaders can eliminate the problem altogether.

 

As a follower, you will notice that your balance is being compromised after the first or second time your leader invites a back step. You’ll know it’s happening, because he will stop at the end of his forward step, but somehow, you’ll be thrust backward into yet another step. Here’s what to do:

 

1.     As with the side step, don’t blame yourself for the problem. The chances are almost one hundred per cent that it’s not your fault.

 

2.     Notice that it’s his upper body actually pushing its way into your space that causes the problem. Even though he brings himself to a stop, he tilts his torso enough into your upper body to send you careening into another movement.

 

3.     As you’re completing your backward movement, lean strongly forward into his oncoming torso. This will neutralize the pushing action. It won’t necessarily feel particularly good, but it will serve to maintain your equilibrium.

 

Note to leaders: The way to prevent this problem from happening in the first place is to finish your forward step slightly behind exact upright balance. This way, you won’t risk tipping forward enough to even accidentally push your follower off her own balance. Furthermore it’s not uncommon, especially among beginner dancers for the leader to routinely take larger steps than his follower, particularly when he’s moving forward and she’s moving backward. For this reason alone, it’s fairly easy to end up pushing into her space at the end of any given step. Eventually, as the skills of both dancers get better, this imbalance in the size of steps will tend to decrease; however, (as mentioned above) the leader must still pay careful attention to not tipping forward at the end of any forward step.

 

Next week, we’ll discuss a situation in which problems in the follower’s back step may be her fault, and not the leader’s.

 

 

December 6, 2012

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. When I teach the basics of lead and follow technique for Tango, my goal is to help make it possible for couples to learn how to move together in a comfortable, efficient manner, thereby paving the way for dancing excellence at the highest level.

 

As many of you know by now, I teach people at the basic level how to lead and follow pauses, weight changes in place, side steps, forward steps, and backward steps. At the next level, I teach them how to lead and follow pivots, which ultimately become the basis for such movements as ocho, molinets, boleo, and calicita.

 

One of the difficulties in attempting to teach these skills to beginning leaders is that many, if not most, would prefer to learn dance steps instead. Dance steps are exciting. Dance steps create the impression that the beginning leaders actually know how to dance. Dance steps impress followers (or so most beginning leaders believe). The result of such predispositions is that many beginning leaders actually tune out, when taking my beginning classes. They mark time, waiting for “the good stuff” – meaning, of course, steps. When this happens, and unfortunately it happens all too often, followers end up getting pushed around the room rather than being skillfully led to do their part in the dance. And as if to add insult to injury, a typical follower will end up blaming herself for what it happening to her. She will assume his lead must be accurate, and that her follow is just inadequate to the task. To make matter worse, many of these leaders will encourage her to take the blame – rather than to actually learn how to lead properly.

 

Does this sound familiar to at least a few followers, who might be reading this Tango Tip? Believe me, I sincerely wish this were not the case, but in my experience only one or two out of every ten leaders take a lead/follow class seriously – although I must add that some of our Firehouse leaders (I include both gentlemen and ladies who have chosen to learn how to lead) seem to be getting considerably better at leading over the past few months, and I congratulate you for it.

 

Bearing in mind that there are real problems at a fundamental level with lead/follow skills, Pat and I are going to focus on some specifics over the next several Tango Tips. We will identify common problems in leading and following, and describe as clearly as we can how such problems can be resolved, or at least minimized.

 

In the meantime, try to practice your lead/follow skills so that when we identify the problems, you’ve already resolved them in your own dancing.

 

Wouldn’t that be nice!

 

 

November 29, 2012

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. When I teach the basics of lead and follow technique for Tango, my goal is to help make it possible for couples to learn how to move together in a comfortable, efficient manner, thereby paving the way for dancing excellence at the highest level.

 

As many of you know by now, I teach people at the basic level how to lead and follow pauses, weight changes in place, side steps, forward steps, and backward steps. At the next level, I teach them how to lead and follow pivots, which ultimately become the basis for such movements as ocho, molinets, boleo, and calicita.

 

One of the difficulties in attempting to teach these skills to beginning leaders is that many, if not most, would prefer to learn dance steps instead. Dance steps are exciting. Dance steps create the impression that the beginning leaders actually know how to dance. Dance steps impress followers (or so most beginning leaders believe). The result of such predispositions is that many beginning leaders actually tune out, when taking my beginning classes. They mark time, waiting for “the good stuff” – meaning, of course, steps. When this happens, and unfortunately it happens all too often, followers end up getting pushed around the room rather than being skillfully led to do their part in the dance. And as if to add insult to injury, a typical follower will end up blaming herself for what it happening to her. She will assume his lead must be accurate, and that her follow is just inadequate to the task. To make matter worse, many of these leaders will encourage her to take the blame – rather than to actually learn how to lead properly.

 

Does this sound familiar to at least a few followers, who might be reading this Tango Tip? Believe me, I sincerely wish this were not the case, but in my experience only one or two out of every ten leaders take a lead/follow class seriously – although I must add that some of our Firehouse leaders (I include both gentlemen and ladies who have chosen to learn how to lead) seem to be getting considerably better at leading over the past few months, and I congratulate you for it.

 

Bearing in mind that there are real problems at a fundamental level with lead/follow skills, Pat and I are going to focus on some specifics over the next several Tango Tips. We will identify common problems in leading and following, and describe as clearly as we can how such problems can be resolved, or at least minimized.

 

In the meantime, try to practice your lead/follow skills so that when we identify the problems, you’ve already resolved them in your own dancing.

 

Wouldn’t that be nice!

 

November 15, 2012

 

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, I discussed how to prepare yourself to be a good leader and/or a good follower in order to give your partner the best possible chance of success in dancing with you. Today, I want to focus a bit on what happens, when things go wrong, and what you really can’t do much about.

 

For the sake of discussion, I’m going to break down the possible partnerships into four categories: Good leader/bad follower; Bad leader/good follower; bad leader/bad follower; good leader/good follower. Most dance partnerships are more nuanced than this, but please humor me while I take this further.

 

Good leader/bad follower:  The leader has the basic skills to do his job, but his follower has problems such as faulty balance, a high degree of tension, a pronounced tendency to anticipate movement, and an inability to concentrate on what the leader is asking her to do in any given moment. As a leader, you can’t do much with a follower like this. Some leaders will try to help her balance at the end of steps and will try to prevent her from anticipating movement by actually holding her back, when she tries to make a move that hasn’t been led. But these things don’t really help such a follower get any better – they simply make it possible for the leader to get to the end of the dance in one piece.

 

Bad leader/good follower: The follower knows what is necessary to respond appropriately to the invitations of a good leader. But this leader is pushing and pulling with his arms; he is himself following a memorized agenda from a dance class or maybe from YouTube; he wants everything done too quickly; and he makes it close to impossible for his follower to ever find balance between steps. As a follower, there’s almost nothing you can do about a leader like this – except to decline his next offer to dance. Because there tend to be more women in the dance population and fewer men, I fully realize that followers are very reluctant to turn any leader down. But followers, you’ve got to stop torturing yourselves with leaders who are consistently making your lives miserable.

 

Bad leader/bad follower: This is the typical beginner class partnership. Neither partner has a clue about leading or following. My fingers are crossed that with time and effort, one or both of these partners will eventually reach the level of “good.” In the meantime, we all have to be as helpful as possible to them, and try not to discourage them by being overly critical of errors which they might make.

 

Good leader/good follower: If you’re a good leader, and you happen to be dancing with a good follower (and vice versa), you’re in Tango heaven. Relax and enjoy the ride.

 

The point of this discussion is that there are times when you really can’t do anything about the partnership. If both people don’t have the requisite skills to make it work, the dance will be frustrating. It’s certainly important for you to check yourself out; i.e., to make sure you’re trying to do the right thing. But you also have to be realistic about what your partner is doing. If he or she just isn’t measuring up, try not to blame yourself for whatever problems may exist. Don’t get angry, don’t criticize – simple be aware that you’re in a situation that you really can’t control.

 

Oh, yes, and if you have a good relationship with the person who seems to need help, you might consider gently and lovely say two words: Dance lessons.

 

 

November 08, 2012

 

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. In social Tango there a lots of things we have to pay attention to in order to be skilled leaders and followers. But dancing well starts before we come anywhere near a partner. To dance with skill we have to learn how to move like a dancer all by ourselves.

 

This may sound a bit abstract, but I would say that a good dancer moves with conviction, integrity, and balance. The three fundamental directions of Tango movement are forward, backward, and to the side. (We could add in-place movement, which doesn’t travel, and we could add pivoting – but let’s stick with the basic three for this discussion.)

 

Picture yourself, taking a step to the side. (Of the three basic directions, this is the easiest.) Your step will have a definite beginning, a middle, and an end.

 

Conviction: As you begin your step, you will initiate the movement with a feeling of conviction that the step will turn out all right. Don’t hesitate to launch yourself into the movement, but at the same time don’t rush; don’t throw yourself off balance.

 

Integration: Move your entire body (legs, torso, head) all at the same time. In this way, the movement is integrated rather than disjunctive.

 

Balance: As you move through space, consciously and clearly plan at attain easy upright balance at the end of the step. When you arrive at the completion of your movement, the chances are very good that if you plan for balance, you’ll achieve it.

 

Everything I’ve described above can and should be practiced over and over, using each of the three directions; i.e., forward, backward, and to the side. I practice these things all the time, because this is what enables me to consistently move like a dancer.

 

Many of us think that social dancing is easy (it’s not!), or that we can just get up and do it without any kind of regular skill development and maintenance (we can’t!). Make up your mind that you’re going to learn how to move like a dancer. Ask your teacher to help you in the beginning, so that you won’t be practicing bad habits. And give yourself a few minutes a day to build a strong consciousness about these crucial components of moving like a dancer.

 

You’ll feel much better for it, and your partners will thank you

 

October 25, 2012

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. If you take classes with me, you hear me saying things like “Stand up straight; use your whole foot in the step; keep your elbows down; stop leaning on each other; release that death grip – oh, and here’s one – stand up straight.”

 

We tend to do things like this in our dancing through force of habit. We’re operating in ways that have become comfortable to us through years of acting unconsciously. I have lots of these problems in my own dancing, and I’m constantly trying to work on them, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. What helps me is a discovery I made about 20 years ago of becoming conscious about my posture and my movement in dancing rather than remaining – as I had been up to that time – completely unconscious.

 

Here’s how it happened to me. I was teaching at the newly opened studio Dance Manhattan (where I still teach today). I had arrived early in the afternoon and was preparing for classes. Another teacher, whose name was Lisa -- I’ll omit her last name so as not to embarrass her -- came through the waiting room where I was. Without seeing me, she entered one of the teaching studios, put her things down on the floor, and looked at herself in the mirror. (As it happened, I was able to see Lisa from where I was situated in the waiting area.)

 

One of the things I had always greatly admired about Lisa was her beautifully straight posture. I assumed that it was something she was born with, lucky lady. But today, as she walked into the studio, I noticed that she was kind of hunched over – the way all of us get from time to time – and I thought, “I guess she’s human like the rest of us after all.”

 

But then the miraculous transformation occurred. As she looked at herself in the mirror, Lisa gradually altered her posture from garden-variety “ess” shape to the beautiful, elegant upright carriage, which I had come to expect from her as a matter of course. When she was satisfied, she picked up her things, and, ramrod straight, walked out into the waiting area.

 

“Hi Fran.”

 

“Hi Lisa.”

 

Witnessing this literally change my life. I realized for the first time that I could transform my own posture by doing so consciously – just as Lisa did -- rather than by having to be one of the lucky ones who might have been born with straight body position. From that day on I’ve tried as much as possible to act with consciousness in my posture, and in the way that I move on the dance floor. Whenever people say to me, “you move so smoothly and you stand up so straight,” I think of that crucial lesson Lisa taught me.

 

Most of us operate unconsciously in our daily lives. When we take up Tango, we bring this unconsciousness to the dance. At some point, when you feel ready, take a look at yourself in the mirror. For starters, see whether you can transform your habitual posture from what it is now to what you’d like it to be. Do this every time you enter any dance venue. Later you can begin working on the way you move, when you dance. The idea is that instead of remaining unconscious your new goal is to become as conscious as possible -- just like Lisa.

 

 

October 18, 2012

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, I discussed the idea of balance in Tango. I finished that Tango Tip with my opinion that without balance there simply is no Tango. Insofar as balance might represent the end of any given step, I would say that it is one of the two most important things for both leaders and followers to focus on in the dance. Can you think what the other one is?

 

Some leaders might say that it's important to remember the configuration of the figure they want to execute - what the individual steps are and in what order they have to execute them. (In fact, this is what most leaders think about.) Followers might be focused on trying not to make any mistakes, because they don't want leaders to get angry with them. (In a dance that's supposed to be fun, this is what consumes the thoughts of most followers - not making the leader mad.) Help!

 

In my judgment, aside from balance, the crucial moment of every Tango is what happens at the beginning of each step: The leader leads; the follower follows.

 

Good leaders of Tango think of dancing in increments of one step at a time. Certainly, they may have an idea of the shape of a figure in their minds. But unless a leader can invite his follower to execute each individual step within the desired sequence in a comfortable way, the dance can easily devolve into a wrestling match, or just fall completely apart.

 

Your focus as a leader should be how to initiate a single step. That's the beginning. And then you need to focus on balance. That's the end.

 

We've talked at some length about balance (last week's Tango Tip). So what happens in the beginning? Here is where you use your very specific leading mechanisms in order to invite forward steps, backward steps, side steps, weight changes in place, pauses, or pivots. Do you know that there is a very clear upper body movement that you impart to your follower in the embrace in order to invite each of these elements? Virtually every week at the Firehouse I spell out these upper body movements in some detail. If you've somehow missed my introductory class, now would be a good time to take it. Stop by any Thursday at 7:00 p.m.

 

If you're a follower, instead of concerning yourself with your fear of making a mistake, your job should be to concentrate on reading the specific leads that you'll be receiving from a skilled leader, and executing whatever step his lead asks for with appropriate energy. A good leader won't get angry, if you don't follow his lead. Instead, he'll ask himself whether it's just possible that his lead was faulty. And he'll keep giving the partnership another chance until both of you are happy with the outcome.

 

Try to focus on the beginnings and endings of each step in your dance. Don't worry about elaborate figures. That's for tourists. If you can move comfortably together at the beginning of every step, and balance at the end, the rest will take care of itself.

 

October 11, 2012

 

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. What is that tiny, almost imperceptible place between individual steps called that can make or break a Tango? It's called the moment of balance. Let's talk about it.

 

Before you take a single step in Tango; after every step you take; in between every single step and every other step - is that moment where the leader and the follower either feel completely in control, or as if they need to grab something quickly, because they're about to fall down. A few months ago, I asked the question: what is the single most important challenge in dancing Tango. The answer to that question, and the subject once again today is balance.

 

If you stand up on two feet and you can do so without toppling over, you're in balance. If you can shift your weight to one leg and therefore find yourself maintaining your uprightness in this way, you're experiencing dance balance. When we dance, we're almost always on one leg. If you take four steps forward, and you can pause very briefly between steps on one leg, you're applying your dance balance in a practical way. This might not be true in American Foxtrot, or American Slow Waltz -- to name just two of our own ballroom dances - but it is true of Tango. Continuous movement in Tango consists of feeling your balance between each step you take, and each succeeding step.

 

So far so good. The problems start to occur, I believe, when two people try to move together. When we assume the Tango embrace, some of us start to lean on our partners. Maybe we don't do this consciously, but it happens all the same. When we come to the end of a step, therefore, someone ends up losing their balance, because they're being asked to support the other person, and they just can't do it.

 

Here are a few things you can do to start working toward consistent balance:

 

1.      Make up your mind that you are personally going to think about and strive for balance at the end of every step you take.

2.      Monitor your part in the Tango embrace to make certain you're not leaning on or in some way preventing your partner from finding balance between steps.

3.      When any balance issue occurs, see whether you can determine quickly why it happened, and, if possible, remedy the situation in any succeeding steps.

4.      Ask your teacher (if you have one) to watch you and your partner carefully in order to identify balance issues you may not be aware of.

 

I wouldn't go so far as to say that balance is everything in dancing Tango. But I would definitely say that without balance there is no Tango. That's how important I think balance is. And I hope you agree enough to work on it.

 

October 4, 2012

 

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. How do you get your partner from one place to another in Tango? From what I often see, the answer might be: “Pick her up and carry her there!”

 

A typical outsider’s view of dancing is that the leader takes the follower in his arms and transports her around the dance floor by literally carrying her. He is the strong, dominant male. She is the weak, submissive female. Anyone who gets past lesson 1 in a dance class should have learned that this dynamic is nothing more than an unfounded misconception. And yet this is exactly what I see so often in couples who haven’t taken the time to actually learn how to dance.

 

Let’s clarify.

 

The role of the leader is to invite or to indicate a single movement of some kind. In Tango such movement might be forward, backward, to the side, in place or pivot. The skilled leader knows how to use his body in order to give his follower the information she needs to know which movement to make. (Since we’ve talked about these individual skills many times during these Tango Tips, I’m not going to repeat them here.)

 

The role of the follower is to read the body language of the leader, and to execute the specific movement asked for through the lead. Once she has fulfilled this role, she comes to balanced rest and waits for the next lead.

 

In practice, an unskilled leader may not know what body language to give his follower, and may therefore opt instead to simply push or carry her through the steps or steps he wants her to take. Even if he has some idea of proper leading skills, he may make an attempt at leading – and if it doesn’t produce immediate results, he may impatiently and self-righteously resort to pushing or carrying.

 

An unskilled follower who doesn’t understand leads will actually wait to be picked up and carried through the steps. And a somewhat skilled follower who doesn’t receive a lead she can understand – and therefore correctly does nothing – will often find herself pushed roughly through a movement by a leader who has somehow decided to substitute brute force for skill.

 

I have a little contract I want all of my readers to sign and return to me immediately. Here it is:

 

I solemnly swear that as a leader I will apply the appropriate leading skills necessary to produce movement by my follower. If she does not immediately respond, I will wait for her to recognize what I want, and execute the invited movement before I attempt to lead anything else. I will be patient, generous, and forgiving. (After all, it’s only dancing.) And I will never push, pull, or carry in order to achieve the results I want.

 

I solemnly swear that as a follower I will wait for appropriate leads from my partner before taking any given step, and that when provided such leads I will move through space, find balance, pause and wait for the next lead. I will never anticipate movement by taking a step that hasn’t been led, and I will be patient, generous and forgiving, knowing as I do that the leader has a consummately difficult role in inviting movement.

 

My signature ____________________________________________

 

Please read this Tango Tip again. Please try to follow what it asks you to do. Please understand that these things will result in your being a much, much better dancer than you probably are right now. Please be very nice to the dancers around you. By this effort alone, we may we able to achieve world peace.

 

 

September 27, 2012

 

 Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. I tell my female students early on in our lessons together that they can expect two fundamental things from a skilled Tango leader:

 

1.     He will invite her to take one step.

2.     He will allow her to finish the step he has just asked her to take before asking her for another step.

 

Once in a while, this is what, in fact, takes place. But all too often my students report that the men they attempt to dance with just start pushing them around the room without any clear lead. Furthermore, they never once give their followers a chance to stop – much less balance between steps.

 

So, let’s back up and start again. The first thing a good leader does is to invite (correctly lead) a single step. This means that he gives his follower the information she needs to take a forward, side or backward step, or perhaps a weight change in place. Failing any specific lead, she remains in place.

 

When the follower receives a readable lead, she responds by taking the step. For the most part, this involves reading the lead, moving through space, and balancing at the end of the movement. While she is doing these things, the leader accompanies her in some way. He doesn’t carry her through the step – he lets her take the step by herself, and moves with her as she is doing so. A simple example of this is the following:

 

1.     A leader invites a side step by lowering slightly and moving himself to the side by extending his leg laterally as he moves his body laterally through space. In making this movement, he does not carry the follower with him.

2.     The follower reads this simple lead, and moves herself through space in the same direction.

3.     Both leader and follower balance themselves at the end of the movement.

4.     They are now ready for a new step.

 

In the example above, after providing the lead, the leader permits his follower to complete her step before offering a new lead. A skilled follower will balance herself quite efficiently at the end of her step, which means that her leader will be able to lead the next movement almost immediately. But if she has a problem with balance at the end of her movement, it is up to the leader to wait until she is ready before attempting to lead the next step.

 

These fundamental skills make for comfortable dancing between leaders and followers. On the other hand, when a leader is not paying attention to his follower, not noticing whether she is balanced and ready for the next step before he leads it, this is when the relationship becomes little more than a wrestling match.

 

I am well aware, leaders, that learning to dance Tango is a difficult path. I am also aware that when you see others apparently more capable than you, your inclination is to try to hurry up the process so that you’ll look as good on the dance floor as your peers seem to be. UNFORTUNATELY, THINGS DON’T WORK THAT WAY. You have to develop fundamental skills first, and what I’ve described above will help you a great deal, if only you’ll have patience and let each step you invite have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Try not to rush the process, and you’ll ultimately be rewarded with real skill development.

 

 

 

September 20, 2012

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Let’s talk about shoes. Question: What kind of shoes do I have to buy for dancing Tango? Answer: None. That’s right. You don’t have to have special shoes in order to dance Tango or any other dance for that matter. “Street shoes” are just fine.

 

Now having said that, we have to qualify a bit. There was a time when men’s “street shoes” meant lace-ups or loafers with leather soles and leather or rubber heels. That’s what we all wore everyday. For women, “street shoes” might have meant some kind of slip-ons that were very loose on the feet. These might not be ideal for dancing, so we might have altered our definition of appropriate women’s Tango shoes to be “dress shoes” -- with leather soles and a strap (to enable the shoes to cling to your feet).

 

But that was then. Nowadays, a great many of us wear canvas shoes (sneakers) for walking around. And even if our shoes have the look of dress or casual shoes on top, the bottoms are made of some kind of sticky gooey stuff that’s neither leather nor hard rubber. If you’ve tried dancing in such shoes, you know that it just doesn’t work at all.

 

Okay, where does that leave us?

 

If you’re a man and you own a pair of lace-ups or loafers with leather soles and leather or rubber heels, those are perfect for dancing Tango. If you’re a woman and you own a pair of shoes (flat or heeled) with laces or a strap to hold them on your feet, these are fine.

 

Remember to leave the sneakers at home.

 

So why do people go out and buy expensive dance shoes? When I arrive at the Firehouse, the first thing I do is change into my black suede and leather authentic-looking, lace-up Tango shoes, which I bought from Robin Tara (Tara Design). They’re made in Uruguay, and when I bought them they were priced at $185. They have an elegant look to them and a slightly raised heel. When people see them, they often say, “I like your shoes.” Pat has more than twenty pairs of Tango shoes in various colors to choose from, which she purchased over the years from such makers as Tara (mentioned above), Darcos, Flabella, and, of course, Comme Il Faut (all from Buenos Aires). Each pair cost Pat between $150 and $200. When I first met Pat, she was wearing shoes with a two-inch heel for work. Now, she wears shoes with heels that are anything from a minimum of three inches to four-and-one-half inches in height.

 

Do we need to wear high-priced shoes like this for dancing Tango? No, absolutely not. In general, people in Argentina don’t go out and buy special shoes for dancing. Most men wear their everyday “street shoes” – the old-fashioned kind I described above – on the dance floor. Women wear “street shoes” too – the kind with a strap that have three- to four-inch heels – because that’s the accepted style for Tango.

 

So why would you want to buy special shoes for dancing Tango? Pat and I do it, because they make our feet feel special (which, of course) helps us to dance better), and especially because it makes people you come up to us and say, “I like your shoes.”

 

Can you think of a better reason?

 

 

September 13, 2012

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. During last week’s Tip, Pat said the following:

 

The leader should wait until his follower has landed [finished her movement] and is balanced and fully in front before moving on. Some leaders will actually try to move the follower to the side with them, using pressure on her torso or actually pulling her over as they take their step. This, of course, creates mayhem with all semblance of balance and any notion of lead and follow totally lost.

 

The thrust of Pat‘s Tango Tip was to discuss the follower’s fundamental role in taking a side step. However, I believe that what she alluded to above is such an important concept that I’d like to expand on it today.

 

As part of their learning process, leaders are routinely taught to move “musically;” i.e., to take their steps on the beat of the music. Quite often, in fact, a teacher will have music playing all the way through the lesson in order to emphasize that when we dance, our reference as leaders is the ongoing beat of the music – we never move in a non-rhythmical random manner. I certainly agree that this is a goal for the leader to strive for eventually. But when he is just beginning to learn how to lead, I think that trying immediately to do it with music is just too much too soon.

 

When a leader tries to concentrate on moving to the music prematurely, he tends to focus completely on that aspect of the dance, and often forgets all about the fact that he has a person in front of him who needs him to lead her. In such a case, he may resort to pulling and pushing his follower in order to adhere to this concentration on keeping to the beat of the music. As Pat reminds us,

 

This creates mayhem with all semblance of balance and any notion of lead and follow totally lost.

 

The leader’s job is to offer the appropriate lead for the step, then to allow his follower to move through space and complete the step by coming into balance – before he offers his next lead. The implication here is that if the follower is not moving to the beat of the music – if for some reason she is late to complete her movement – it is the leader’s responsibility to wait for her to finish, not to bully her into another movement before she gets her balance just because it fits within the ongoing cadence of the music.

 

From time to time, leaders tell me that they don’t like dancing with this or that follower, because “she just doesn’t move quickly enough for me.” This, of course, means that these leaders are allowing an abstract musical agenda to dictate their movement rather than a continuous sympathetic collaboration with a fellow human being. Although we ultimately want to be able to express our musical ideas in the context of rhythmical movement which is connected the music, this is a goal – sometimes a very far off goal – which we try to achieve, but not at the sacrifice of comfort and pleasure in our relationship with the follower.

 

 

September 6, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Pat here. This week, I will talk about how the follower recognizes and follows a leader’s step to the side. We will assume that you are comfortably in the embrace, balanced and waiting for the lead.

 

Ideally, you will feel your leader change your weight in place, so that he frees up your foot on the side he wants to move towards. (You do not know at this point what your leader is going to do, so you must not anticipate that he is going to lead a side step. There are many other choices he can make. So you wait.)  Then, you should feel your leader moving to the side, immediately preceded by a slight lowering. When you feel this invitation, step out to the side, moving your whole body and coming into balance on your landing foot. The size of your step will more or less be determined by the size of your leader’s step. The two of you should end up front to front. Neither one will have “grabbed” the other and you will both be in balance.

 

Of course, more often than not, the ‘ideal’ takes a long time to achieve and many things can hinder this process.

 

Quite often, beginner followers mistake the initial weight change in place for the side step, and they lunge to the side while their leader is left behind in dismay.  Conversely, a leader’s invitation for a side step may be unclear and the follower may not move, being unsure whether anything was actually led.

 

Sometimes, the follower takes a smaller step than the leader, or may be slightly behind his movement This is OK, don’t worry or get flustered! As long as everything else about the step is good, the leader should just wait until his follower has landed and is balanced and fully in front before moving on.

 

Some leaders will actually try to move the follower to the side with them, using  pressure on her torso or actually pulling her over as they take their step. This, of course, creates mayhem, with all semblance of balance and any notion of lead and follow being totally lost.

 

The leader should never try to carry his follower through the whole step. He gives the lead –lowering his torso slightly and moving to the side – and the follower – recognizing the invitation - takes her own step, coming to rest in balance. 

 

Followers, it is not necessary for you also to lower you body, when your leader does this. It is part of his lead, not part of your response. You should simply take your step in the direction it is being led, using your best upright posture and balancing skills.

 

To summarize, followers must be alert and pay constant attention to signals that are coming from their leader. When the leader invites movement, summon your best fundamental technique – take a comfortable step, move through space yourself, and balance at the end of the step.

 

August 30, 2012

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. The easiest traveling movement a leader can make is the side step. But when attempting to lead his follower to accompany him, he has to differentiate for her between a weight change in place and this movement.

 

Both the weight change in place and the side step involve lateral movement of the torso. For this reason, it is very easy for the follower to misread the lead for one or the other of these steps. But if the leader executes his lead properly, there will be much less likelihood of a problem.

 

To lead a traveling step the leader has to lower his (or her) body slightly just before making the movement. This lowering communicates to the follower that the leader is about to travel. As we will learn in describing the other two traveling steps (forward and backward), lowering the torso is an integral part of the lead for all three movements.

 

Here’s how to lead the step to the side:

 

1.     Make sure you and your follower are positioned on one side; i.e., your weight is on your left and hers is on her right, or your weight is on your right and hers is on her left.

2.     Lower your torso very slightly by bending at the knees. (The actual amount of movement here should be no more than approximately one eighth to one sixteenth of an inch – almost unnoticeable to the naked eye).

3.     Immediately after lowering your torso in this way, move your body to the free side; i.e., the side of the non-weight-bearing leg. (Notice whether your follower is moving with you, but don’t tray to pull her along. If she takes a bit more time to follow, wait for her to complete her movement before you attempt your next step.)

4.     Complete the step by bringing yourself into balance on the leg which has just moved.

 

One very important dynamic to become aware of, when dancing Tango, is that the leader doesn’t “carry” his follower through any traveling movement. He invites the step by giving her the lead (in this case lowering and then beginning to move his torso to the side). After this, both partners move independently. They travel through space on their own, and at the end of the step they each balance themselves on their own. It should feel to the leader as if he has completely surrendered any control over his follower’s movement from the time he offers the lead until the step has been completed. Only when the leader is ready to offer the next lead does he regain control of the partnership.

 

Just to define this a bit more clearly, there are three parts to any step:

 

1.     The lead/follow.

2.     The traveling movement itself.

3.     The balancing at the end of the step.

 

The only part of this integrated series that is directly controlled by the leader is the lead/follow. After this, each partner executes the remaining two parts independently. It is commonplace for leaders (and followers) to hang onto each during the second and third phases of any given movement. He may literally carry her through the traveling phase, and even try to help her find her balance at the end. But good leaders and followers leave each other alone during parts two and three. Even though they are intimately connected through the embrace. These parts of the overall movement are absolutely done individually.

 

Next week, Pat will talk about how this step feels from the follower’s point of view. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please ask either of us. We’ll be happy to help you.

 

August 23, 2012

Hello everyone, Pat here. In my last Tango Tip, we discussed exactly how the follower, when asked to dance, should form the tango embrace. Once this has happened, and you and your leader are both in balance and connected, then what? Of course, it is the leader’s responsibility to decide what his first movement is going to be and within the next single second he will make a decision.

 

With his follower now in the embrace, standing with her weight on both feet, waiting for the first lead, there is something absolutely crucial for the leader to do: he must first put her weight on one foot. Unless the leader does this, there is no dance! If he steps to the side, let’s say, and does not first change his follower’s weight onto one foot, she will have to make an unattractive and clumsy movement to save herself from falling down. Is this any way to start your intimate Tango Dance? I’m sure you would agree the answer is no! The first weight change in place is a movement that should happen at the beginning of every social Tango dance you will ever have.

 

Here’s what the follower should feel and what she should do:

 

The weight change in place involves a whole body shift by the leader of his weight to one foot. It can be either left or right. In a connected embrace, the follower will be aware of this movement and will feel her weight shifting to whichever foot the leader has chosen. The follower should then make sure that all her weight is on the chosen side of the embrace, and the other foot is free and ready to take a step. The follower feels the movement transmitted through the leader’s upper body.

 

The weight change in place is a very subtle movement. Some beginner (and some not so beginner) leaders try to pull the follower over, making an exaggerated bend at the waist and using their arms. This is not pretty -- and it’s definitely not Tango. Some leaders just shift their hips – as in salsa. The follower cannot feel this movement – nor can she feel any movement that is just below the waist – so, of course, she will not respond. If the leader does not notice or disregards his follower’s lack of response, and he then takes a step … well, disaster is the best word to describe the result.

 

Conversely, some beginner followers – not being familiar with this movement – will think it’s a side step and try to move in that direction (Fran will discuss how followers can determine when a side step is being led in a later Tip.)  Or they will not read the movement as anything in particular, keeping their weight on both feet, while maybe wondering whether they’re supposed to be moving somewhere.

 

That’s why the posture and whole body movement of the leader are so important – it’s not a big movement.  As I said, subtle, and as followers become more used to the feel of the movement, they will get better at following it appropriately.

 

The weight change in place is not only used at the beginning of the dance. It can, is, and should be used throughout the dance. Followers should know this. Weight changes during the dance can provide a leader with opportunities to play with the music, stop forward movement, if someone is in the way, bring the dance back into balance if necessary, and create interesting directions and combinations of movement.

 

If the follower is practicing her basic technique – being in balance, waiting for every lead, not anticipating – weight changes in place during the dance should not cause her any problems.

 

As always, Fran and I are happy to answer your questions and hear your thoughts and comments.

 

 

August 16, 2012

Hi everybody, Fran here, with your Tango Tip of the Week. Dancing social Tango is something many of us like to do for pleasure. We hear the music; we take a partner onto the dance floor; we dance. If we have no idea what we’re doing, the results – especially for others on the dance floor – can be unpleasant, if not catastrophic. On the other hand if we become proficient at the basics of movement and floor craft, Tango becomes a wonderful way to enjoy ourselves in a social milieu pretty much anywhere in the world.

During the past two Tango Tips we talked about how to form the embrace in order to get the dance started. Today, we’re going to discuss how it is possible for two people to move together comfortably within this embrace as if each step they take -- each series of movements they invent on the spot -- is choreographically predetermined. We call this art/craft “leading and following.”

We’ll do something very simple today. It’s called a change of weight in place. This is one of the basic elements of fundamental vocabulary that we use in dancing social Tango. To execute a weight change in place by yourself, all you have to do is shift your weight from one leg to the other. In doing this, you’ll feel your weight moving from side to side – without moving through space.

Now, we’re going to try this with a partner. (Right now, I’m going to describe what happens from the leader’s standpoint. Next week, Pat will talk about this movement from the follower’s point of view.)

The first thing we’ll do is to form the Tango embrace as described in detail during our previous two Tango Tips. I assume you’ve been practicing this diligently during the past two weeks, and that at this point you can form the embrace easily.

“No,” you say? You haven’t been practicing? Okay, stop reading this Tango Tip immediately, and practice the embrace 100 times. When you’re ready to continue, start reading again.

Tick … tock … tick … tock … practice … practice …..

How’s your Tango embrace now? All set? Okay, let’s continue.

Form the embrace with your partner. Notice that your connection is soft, balanced, unintrusive. Both you and your partner are currently standing on both legs with your feet together. We’re going to call this your “center axis.” Now, shift your weight to your left leg. Now you’re on your “left axis.” Did you notice whether your partner moved with you? Shift your weight to your right leg. This time, try to pay attention to whether she’s moving with you or not. If you feel that she has shifted her own weight along with you, you’ve successfully led a change of weight in place. (At this moment, you’re balanced on your “right axis.”)

The part of you that produced the “leading” effect was your upper body, your torso. Your partner felt the lateral movement of this part of your anatomy, and she responded by moving her own body laterally in order to remain in front of you. No doubt, you felt as if your entire body were moving, but the only part your partner could feel was your upper half. This is why Argentine teachers will often say that you’re “leading with your chest.”

An uninformed follower may follow this lead instinctively, although some unskilled followers may respond instead by taking an actual step to the side. Through proper training, however, both leader and follower will come to realize that the appropriate lead for the change of weight in place is this simple lateral movement of the upper body – without a corresponding extension of the leg to the side.

Practice this skill many times, moving to one side and then to the other, pausing in between. During the pause, don’t move at all. (The lead for the pause is simply to be completely still -- without leaning in any direction, without in any way indicating that another step may be imminent.) When this all feels comfortable, you will have learned how to effectively lead two of the five basic movement skills in Tango: the change of weight in place and the pause.

Next week, Pat will discuss how these leads feel from the follower’s point of view. In the meantime, if you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to ask.

 

August 9, 2012

Pat here, with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, Fran discussed the subject of the dance embrace as part of a new series on the art/craft of lead and follow. He covered the formation of the embrace at the beginning of the dance, from the leader’s point of view. This week, I will turn things around and talk about taking the embrace from the follower’s position.

As always, the follower waits for information. However, as she and her leader come together at the beginning of a dance, the follower must take responsibility for her position, making sure that she is standing directly in front of her leader, that her weight is evenly distributed on both feet and she is in balance. She should be standing up straight, with shoulders back and down, her head up and her chin level. Then she waits.

The leader will reach around with his right arm, and the follower should adjust the position of her left arm and elbow to allow him to comfortably place his arm and hand in the correct position around her back. Do not clutch the arm close to your body – just relax and allow your arm to come to rest in a comfortable and natural position, placing your hand on your leader’s upper back, his shoulder, or even on his upper arm, depending your respective heights.

At this point, I would like to interject an important ALARM!!! Followers, under no circumstances should you drape yourself on your leader, encircling your arm around his neck and leaning on him. So many followers do this and frankly, any partnership and collaboration in the dance is as good as over right here. The follower has no control over her dance, and the leader cannot lead if he is busy carrying her around the dance floor! Followers, please do not do this. Taking the embrace is the first important communication you can make with your leader and it is done through the upper body with the connection of arms and hands, not by hanging a dead weight around his neck.

So, now that the leader’s arm is in place, it should be clear to the follower if he is making her uncomfortable. The follower should, at this point, politely re-position herself if there is any discomfort in the embrace – for instance, if the leader has pulled her off balance and/or has created a platform in which her left arm and elbow are lifted up above her shoulder. Repositioning yourself is not always easy, and sometimes you may find that the dance begins before you have a chance to say or do anything. You then have two choices, depending on how well you know the leader: don’t dance with him again, or if you do say something right up front before the dance gets going.

Let’s assume you are comfortable and relaxed so far – and on your own balance! The next move you should expect is to see your leader’s left arm stretched out, elbow down, with the hand open and the palm of the hand facing you. This is your signal to put your right hand in his, with the back of your hand facing your body, and your fingers gently curled into the space between his thumb and forefinger. Again, followers, if the hand-hold or arm positioning here is in any way uncomfortable, adjust it yourself. Some leaders are just not aware that they may be pulling, gripping or pushing with their arm, and most will appreciate being corrected if it makes you (their follower) more comfortable.

And now, the follower waits. She is ready, in the embrace, on her balance, front to front with her leader. Let the dance begin!

As always, Fran and I are happy to help with any questions you may have

 

August 2, 2012

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Continuing with Tango Tip #2 of our multi-part series on the art/craft of lead and follow, today we’re going to talk about forming el abrazo del tango, the Tango embrace. In this Tango Tip I’ll discuss what the leader does to form the embrace. Next week, Pat will talk about what the follower does.

 

The leader and follower stand facing one another with weight on both legs. If necessary, the leader moves close enough to the follower so that his body is within an inch or two of hers. He encircles her torso with his right arm, gently placing his hand around the center of her back, his fingers extending slightly past her spine (or even further, if she is very slender). In placing his arm in the manner described the leader makes certain not to grasp his follower, pulling her toward him and therefore sending her off balance. His arm is neutral; both leader and follower maintain their individual balance.

 

A special note for ballroom dancers: In Argentine Tango it is common for the leader to move toward his follower rather than her toward him. Furthermore, it is also common for the leader to begin forming the embrace with his right hand moving around her back rather than first taking her right hand in his left, and then drawing her forward into the embrace. If a leader decides to begin by taking her hand first, this is perfectly acceptable, but what I have described herein is, in my observation, more commonplace.

 

As the leader embraces his partner with his right arm, he uses discretion in deciding whether to close his body to hers; i.e., to make upper-body contact or not. Generally, if the leader and follower know each other and have a comfortable, on-going dance relationship, gentle upper-body contact tends to make the dance collaboration more efficient and, of course, more intimate. Conversely, if the partners are relative strangers to one another, it is probably more appropriate for the leader to consciously leave a slight gap between his and his partner’s bodies. In this way, he doesn’t risk her feeling uncomfortable. The follower plays an important role in this decision as well, which Pat will discuss in greater detail next week. For the moment, let me simply indicate that if the follower makes it obvious through her body language that she prefers to maintain a certain distance, it is the responsibility of the leader to respect her wishes.

 

With his arm comfortably around her torso, the leader now takes his partner’s right hand in his. He raises his own left hand up to about the level of his nose – unless there is a great disparity between his height and hers, in which case he attempts to find a compromise between her nose and his. In Tango, the leader’s palm generally faces him, which means that the follower’s arm will need to twist slightly in order to accommodate this hold. (During the dance, this hand hold will remain largely neutral, and will not be used by the leader to direct the follower’s movement.) The leader’s elbows are pointing down toward the floor rather than extended to the side -- as might be the case in certain forms of ballroom dancing.

 

Once formed, the embrace is front to front. There is no attempt for either the leader or the follower to create or maintain an offset relationship (as is the case in contemporary progressive ballroom dance practice). In order to navigate, the leader looks forward over the right shoulder of the follower.

 

These are the primary elements brought to bear by the leader in forming the embrace. Next week, Pat will discuss how the embrace is formed from the follower’s standpoint. In the meantime, if you have any questions you’d like to ask us, please feel free to do so.

 

July 26, 2012

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. The first question virtually every would-be Tango dancer asks is “What are the steps?” or “What do I do?”-- (which means “What are the steps?”) By contrast, the first thing I ever learned from my Argentine teachers was: “In Tango, there are no steps.”

 

What’s going on here?

 

To take a little of the mystery out of what my Argentine teachers said to me (over and over), we might rephrase the above statement a bit to read: “In Tango, we focus not on memorized sequences, but rather on the art/craft of moving together as a dance couple. When we have mastered this ability, the steps -- both learned from outside sources and created by ourselves – will be virtually effortless.”

 

Okay, let’s talk about moving together as a dance couple. Just for this discussion we’ll keep it traditional, and make the assumption that one partner is male and the other female. You’re standing in front of one another, you’ve formed the embrace correctly, and you’re ready to go. Now what?

 

There are basically three ways you can proceed from here:

 

1.     You can move together choreographically; i.e., using a sequence of memorized, practiced movements. This is what performers for the stage do. If you’d like to embark on a performance career, this is the direction you should take. It’s best to start when you’re about 12 years of age, maybe move to Buenos Aires, work at it five to six days per week for the duration of your career, and plan to support yourself with an outside job to pay the rent.

 

2.     You can throw caution to the winds and start moving randomly without any idea of what you’re doing. This is what beginner dancers without any training do. If you want to limit your involvement with Tango to “learning a step” here and there (and probably forgetting what you learn minutes later), but you just like hanging out with people who are dancing because it beats spending time alone in bars, this is your place. It won’t be much fun for your partners, but maybe some of them are in the same boat you are.

 

3.     You can use the art/craft of leading and following to produce comfortable, consistent movement, which creates the illusion of choreography – but is, in fact, created in the moment. This is what good social dancers do. If this is what interests you, welcome to the world of social Tango. Before you take another step, you have to learn a few things. But once learned these skills will open the door to a very rewarding relationship with Tango for years to come.

 

The first thing you have to do, if you’ve decided to learn social Tango skills, is to stop asking the question: “What are the steps?” Remember: for the time being, at least, there are no steps. The second thing you have to do is to learn about leading and following. This complex skill is what makes dancing social Tango possible. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to break down the art/craft of leading and following as precisely as I can in print. I’m going to try to be as detailed as I can so that you’ll begin to realize exactly what goes into this crucial skill set. Ideally, you might want to supplement what you’ll be reading about by working on these individual skills with your instructor during your private lessons. (You are taking private lessons, aren’t you? If not, you should start thinking about doing so.)

 

Next week, we’ll talk about forming the embrace – el abrazo del tango. I hope you’re as excited as I am to get this series of Tango Tips started.

 

 

July 19, 2012

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Is your Tango teacher telling you the truth? Do you trust that everything he or she says is accurate? Can you be certain that you’re learning “the right stuff?” If your answer to these questions is an unequivocal “yes,” take a deep breath, and get ready to be disillusioned. The fact is that it ain’t necessarily so.

 

Almost universally, dance students think that Tango is a single body of knowledge that other people have and that they don’t. Furthermore, they firmly believe that all teachers possess this information, and can therefore be trusted to provide them with “the truth” about Tango. None of this is true.

 

People who are currently teaching Tango originally learned (we hope) from someone else. They may have been born in Argentina, and have grown up dancing in the milongas of their neighborhood. They may have studied for many years with many different competent teachers. Or they may have taken a few lessons somewhere, and abruptly decided that they were magically ready to become teachers themselves. The bottom line is that people who teach Tango come from many different backgrounds, and each individual brings a unique knowledge base to the process. It all depends on where they learned, and from whom.

 

The fact is that Tango is not a fixed body of knowledge. It is a highly idiosyncratic dance that is constantly reinventing itself over time and within different regions of Argentina (and today the entire world). There is no absolutely accurate way of executing any given movement within this dance, and anyone who tells you they have the right information while everyone else is wrong should not be believed.

 

In studying Tango, if you can find someone who seems to be a communicative teacher, someone who seems to have a credible body of information, and someone who appears to be trustworthy, chances are that this is a good person from whom to learn. Such a person might become your “main” source of Tango information. But because you have lots of options, if you live in the tri-state area where there are a great many teachers to choose from, it’s a good idea to occasionally get a second, third, or even fourth opinion about what you’re learning.

 

Eventually, Tango is your dance. You may learn the rudiments from me or from a teacher who lives conveniently in your area. You may take lots of classes, seminars, and workshops from many different people with many different points of view. But in the long run you have to make up your own mind what works for you. You won’t – and you shouldn’t expect to -- be handed the secrets of Tango to you on a silver platter. You have to put in the research, the practice, and the hours of dancing in order to reach a point where you think of yourself as a dancer of Tango.

 

And when you get to that blissful state, you’ll realize -- as we all do who arrive there – that learning Tango is a lifetime effort, and you haven’t even begun to figure it out.

 

Happy dancing!

 

 

July 12, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. In America, we think of progressive social dancing as an ongoing series of continuous movements. We start a dance such as foxtrot or waltz, for example, and we don’t stop until the music is over. This is not true of Argentine Tango, however (as you may remember hearing me say again and again). Tango is a dance of movement and stillness. Sometimes we move; sometimes we don’t.

 

When inexperienced students move in Tango, they tend not only to move continuously, but they also tend to go too fast. Even though they may be maintaining the rhythm, their steps are too large, and they find themselves barreling along the dance floor, unable to stop no matter what.

 

In the past, I’ve talked about an idea called “single-step movement” in which the leader comes to a stop at the end of each individual step. This practice technique enables leaders and followers to develop the habit of not racing around the dance floor. Furthermore, it teaches both partners the important skill of balance at the end of each step in the dance.

 

Another excellent practice technique that I find very useful is moving in slow motion. This entails executing each of the four linear movements (forward, backward, to the side, and in place) very slowly. It’s best if you try this by yourself at first. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a leader or a follower. Try taking any of the basic steps as slowly as you can. Feel the transition through each of the three phases of the step; i.e., from the initiation of the step into the travel mode and finally to the balance at the end of the movement.

 

Once each of you feels comfortable executing the basic movements on your own, try it together. In this case the leader initiates each movement very slowly, allowing the follower to take as much time as she needs or wants to get from the beginning to the end of each step. When it’s clear that she has brought herself into balance, try the next step.

 

When you can move with each other comfortably in the four basic linear steps, the leader next invites a pivot – which once again is done very slowly by the follower. This will lead to forward and backward ochos as well as molinetes – all of which should be executed very slowly.

 

When practicing in this way, it’s probably best to do so without music, since this will tend to “pull you into” the rhythm, which is exactly what you do not want in this practice technique.

 

There are many very important benefits for both leader and follower in practicing this technique. One is that it changes the overall dynamic of the dance from one of unconscious, continuous movement to one individual movement at a time. It also serves to promote a high level of precision in the lead/follow collaboration. Finally, it helps bring about an optimum state of balance between individual movements – which is one of the more difficult things to achieve in Tango.

 

Try this slow-motion technique, and watch as your dancing improves dramatically, making it possible, ultimately, for you to incorporate more advanced material into your repertoire with relative ease. If you have any questions about this valuable practice technique, ask Pat or me about it. We’ll be glad to help.

 

 

 

July 5, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Sometimes, during a Tango class, I’ll pose the question: “What is the single most difficult challenge in dancing Tango?” After a little hemming and hawing, one or two astute students will almost always come up with the answer I’m looking for: B a l a n c e.

 

As you may know by now, Tango isn’t danced as a series of continuous progressive movements – such as, for example, American Foxtrot. Instead, Tango occurs in starts and stops. A leader may invite his follower to take several steps in succession – or he might invite only one step before opting for a pause. Because of this ongoing unpredictability of movement, both leader and follower must possess consummate balance in order to dance Tango with any degree of success. For this reason learning to move in balance is, at least initially, very difficult for the overwhelming majority of beginning Tango students.

 

In teaching balance as it relates to forward, backward and sideward movement, I compare what I call a normal single step to a single step in Tango. If asked, for example to take one step forward, virtually everyone would take the step, then find balance on both legs. This is normal, because, being bi-pedal, all of us are most comfortable when standing on both legs. But when we dance Tango, this isn’t what we do. Having taken the single step, we bring the other leg up to and together with the moving leg, but we don’t make a shift of weight to that leg. We find balance only on the leg that moved.

 

Following up on this idea, I often give students a series of exercises in which they take forward, backward and sideward steps one at a time, and try to find balance on the traveling leg only at the end of each step. When they become somewhat successful at this, I have them try it with a partner – which increases the level of difficulty considerably. Eventually, with patience and a great deal of practice, most people begin to get the idea.

 

If you’ve never been through the process I just described above, stop reading right now, and start practicing. The next part is for more advanced dancers. When you can balance individual steps by yourself, and with a partner, you can read the next part.

 

Remember: don’t read the next part until you’re ready. (I’m watching you …)

 

Okay, advanced dancers, here’s the secret to consistent balance during forward, backward and sideward movements: Use your other leg to help your balance at the end of every movement.

 

What?

 

That’s right, use your free leg at the end of the step. Sometimes, I refer to this as the “helper foot.” Let’s say, you take a forward step with your left leg. As you begin finding balance on that leg, your right leg will be coming up next to your left. Instead of picking that right leg up in order to get it together with the left, slide the right foot gently along the floor and – without making a strong weight shift to the right leg – place it next to your left (the one that just moved) and create a very small amount of pressure on the bottom of that foot. At this moment, although the bulk of your weight remains on your left leg, the negligible amount of weight in your right leg enables you to be balanced more toward your center axis than would otherwise be possible. In short, you feel “centered.”

 

It’s very important to remember that the “helper foot” is the one you’re going to be using for your next step – so don’t make a complete weight change to that leg – just a small amount of “helper” pressure. Try this by yourself, using all three movements; i.e., forward, backward, and to the side. Then try the same movements with a partner, with both of you using this technique.

 

Why don’t I teach this technique to beginners? Because they will almost invariably change weight completely to the other leg. They don’t yet possess the subtlety or skill to use the “helper foot” in the manner described above. So don’t tell those beginners about the secret technique.

 

And if you’re a beginner who didn’t listen to me and read ahead anyway, tsk, tsk. Please get back to your basics and learn to end your steps on one leg. No cheating! When you’re ready, we’ll talk about this secret balance technique.

 

 

 

June 28, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. As a man (or leader), becoming a better Tango dancer means developing the special skill we call “leading.” Women enjoy dancing with someone who feels comfortable. Conversely, they don’t care at all to be in the vice-like grip of someone who doesn’t have a clue about how to produce harmony in the lead-follow relationship. Let’s talk about how you can improve your leading skills.

 

First, it’s crucial to know what it is in your body that produces the lead. I believe it’s your torso (rather than, say, your arms). You’re connected to your partner through your arms – and usually through a gentle closeness of torso to torso. But it isn’t your arms, acting independently, that produce movement. It’s the action of your torso, aided by your legs, and once in a great while enhanced by something you do with those arms.

 

To be very specific, at a fundamental (and therefore most important) level there are five elements you can lead: A pause, a weight change in place, a side step, a back step, and a forward step. Later on, you also learn to lead a pivot, but we’ll talk about that at another time.

 

Here are the leads for each of these elements:

 

1.     Pause (on one leg): Don’t move. (That was easy, wasn’t it?)

 

2.     Weight change in place: change your own weight from one leg to the other. As you do so, notice that your torso shifts laterally from one side to the other. Depending on your height, this movement can range from about one and a half inches to three or even more inches. This lateral movement of your torso is what your follower needs in order to make a weight change in place.

 

 

3.     Side step: Lower slightly by bending at the knees. As you do this, it will produce a very slight lowering of your torso. This lowering tells your follower that you’re about to travel, to move through space. You don’t have to kneel down, just lower very slightly. That’s all she needs, if she’s a reasonably good follower, she’ll read this as an indication that you’re about to move. As you complete your lowering action, move sideways through space. Make sure you begin by lowering, but travel through space as an extension of that movement, not as a separate movement in itself. What I mean here is that you shouldn’t lower, pause, and move. This would be too robotic, and it would do the job. Lower, and move as a continuous action

 

4.     Back step: To produce a lady’s back step, lower and move forward into her space. Once again the lowering tells her that you’re about to move. The direction in which you gently propel your torso tells her where you’re going, and therefore where she has to go in order to follow the lead.

 

 

5.     Forward step: To produce a lady’s forward step, lower and move away from her. As you do this, make sure you don’t pull her with your right arm (which is behind her back). When I lead a woman’s forward step, I make a point of releasing my right arm so that it doesn’t drag her off balance as she’s trying to take her forward step.

 

Notice that in my system of lead/follow these leads are very specific, Nothing is left to guesswork or chance. To make the system work you have to practice with more than one follower, or, if you’re a follower, with more than one leader. One of the techniques that may help is to practice by yourself -- to pretend that your partner is right there in front of you, and that you have to use these skills to invite movement. One advantage of doing this is that you won’t be able to use your arms (Since there’s no follower connected to you), and therefore you’ll be forced to rely on torso movement as described above to get the job done.

 

Once you try these things with a real person, make sure you don’t automatically shift back to those “gorilla” arms woman hate so much. Your torso is what makes your lead work. If the system doesn’t work right away, give it time. Eventually, it will become your way to lead, and you’ll become a leader who’s very much in demand.

 

 

June 21, 2012

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. One of the unique characteristics of Tango is the special way in which the follower moves, when she walks backward. As you’ve no doubt heard me say many times, her backward step actually consists of two separate – but connected – actions. The first of these is the movement of her leg; the second is the movement of her body.

 

Here is a brief description of the two-part backward step:

 

1.     The follower reaches back with a “straight” leg, pointing her toe along the floor as she moves (rather than picking her foot up and then putting it down). As she does this, she maintains her body position; i.e., she does not allow her torso to move backward.

 

2.     Now, she moves her body backward, over the place where her foot is coming to rest. During this second part of the step her weight is moving from the ball of her foot through the center and finally to the front of her heel. At this point she has completed the traveling action, and she is standing upright, in balance, with her weight on the foot that just traveled.

 

Today, I want to discuss part one of the movement, what we’ll call the extension of the leg. When you achieve good extension, you ensure that at least at this moment you look like you’re dancing Tango – since this is one of the signature characteristics of the follower’s motion in the dance. Furthermore, your chances of getting stepped on by your partner are virtually zero. Who could ask for more than that?

 

Okay, let’s get practical. Here’s a nice way to start the process of getting that leg back correctly every time:

 

1.     Shift your weight to one leg, thereby freeing up the other leg to travel. Make sure the free leg is nice and loose, not tense.

2.     Place your hand on the front of the thigh of your free leg right in the center.

3.     Push your thigh back, so that your whole leg moves backward.

4.     Let go, and allow your leg to return to where it was.

5.     Push your thigh back again, this time noticing the leg action that is occurring.

6.     Let go again, allowing your leg to return to its initial position.

7.     Now, try to move your leg backward in the same way – without actually pushing with your hand. In order to accomplish this you’ll have to use the muscles in your lower back, buttocks, and hamstrings. These are muscles most of us hardly ever use, so at first it will be challenging for many followers.

8.     Once you feel comfortable with one leg, try the other one until that one, too, feels somewhat comfortable.

9.     Place two hands against a wall at about shoulder level without leaning forward, and practice this action many times with both legs.

 

Now. You’re ready to try this action with a partner. For the time being, your partner shouldn’t try to lead the entire step, just part one. Ask him to assume a typical practice position. Then ask him to initiate the lead by lowering he body slightly in order to indicate travel; then leaning slightly forward without continuing into the completion of the step. As he does this, extend you leg backward in the manner you practiced above. Return to balance; then try it with the other leg. Eventually, this will begin to feel comfortable and natural. Be sure to be patient, and be sure to practice.

 

Walking backward is a difficult skill for followers to master. In fact, I believe that it’s one of the single most difficult movements in Tango -- requiring a great deal of commitment, concentration and practice, practice, practice. There are many places where things can go wrong, and ultimately I strongly recommend that any follower learn this complex skill in the company of a qualified, knowledgeable teacher.

 

As always, if you have any questions about this important Tango skill, please feel free to ask Pat or me at any time. We’ll be happy to help.

 

 

June 14, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, I talked about what it’s like to dance with a good leader. Today, I want to talk about what it feels like to dance with a really good follower.

 

She begins the dance with no expectations about what’s going to happen. Her upper body is toned, but relaxed, and she’s not trying to jump the gun – meaning that she’s not attempting to read the leader’s mind before he even begins to invite a movement.

 

When he asks for a step (not a sequence, but rather a single step), she reads his lead efficiently, and then moves without having to be pushed or dragged. In fact, she literally disengages herself from any particular connection with the leader, since the movement belongs to her alone. From the moment he asks for, let’s say, a side step, the follower executes it energetically and all on her own.

 

Then she waits.

 

She waits.

 

Because she doesn’t know what’s coming next, she brings herself into balance – notice that I didn’t say that the leader brings her into balance or helps her balance or in any way interferes with her ability to balance herself. She brings herself individually, independently, into balance.

 

And then she waits.

 

Since she does nothing at the end of each step, one might think that this part would be easy. But all followers know that it’s really the hardest part of the step. You’re overwhelming inclination is to take an additional step. You’ve been placed into motion, and you really want to continue in motion, don’t you?

 

But your job is to wait.

 

Unskilled leaders – or leaders who are just plain awful – don’t know this. They actually expect you to do everything without their lead, because they don’t know how to lead, and they expect you to read their minds as well. If you wait at the end of your steps, they think you feel “heavy,” hard to dance with. But this isn’t your problem; it’s theirs.

 

I like to think of waiting by the follower at the end of every step as a separate element of the movement: First, I take the step; second, I wait. This is a good way to think about each of your steps. Once you get good at this, more skilled leaders will want to dance with you.

 

And, as I’m sure you realize, the world will be a better place.

 

 

 

June 7, 2012

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. I often hear from female students that feel it necessary to stay away from this or that leader, because he’s “such a good dancer,” and they’re afraid he’s too skilled for them.

 

“I danced with him once, and it was obvious that I just couldn’t keep up.”

 

Or even …

 

“He danced with me for less than a minute, and then just suddenly threw up his hands and walked away right in the middle of the dance floor.”

 

Really! I actually saw such a thing happen. What a disgusting, arrogant pig. And trust me, when I tell you, the guy who did this had nothing. His dancing was ludicrous.

 

Okay, now let’s talk about what it feels like to dance with a truly good leader. He takes you into his arms, making you feel not only comfortable, but special, right from the beginning. Everything he leads seems easy; if a mistake of some kind occurs, he probably excuses himself for the error. He guides you effortlessly around the floor without bumping into other couples. After the dance, he thanks you and accompanies you back to your place, maybe with the suggestion that he’d love to dance with you again in the future.

 

This is what dancing should feel like from the follower’s perspective. Every truly good leader knows this, and makes sure that this is what all his followers experience, when they dance with him.

 

Ladies, you have a right, as far as I’m concerned, to expect leaders to behave in the way I just described. If they act more like the examples I mentioned earlier, it almost certainly means that they have no skill, that they have no manners, and that they really have no business inflicting themselves on you.

 

Dancing is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be an escape from our daily grind. When someone turns such an occasion into what can only be described as a personal assault, walk away. If you can muster up the courage, say something to the creep before you do.

 

Whew! I feel better now.

 

 

May 31, 2012

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. The moment of truth in Tango occurs as the dancers come to the end of a step, and attempt to find balance. Not a side step – that’s fairly easy to navigate. And not a weight change in place either. It’s the forward and back steps that do most of us in. What happens at the end of these steps? One or both of us stumble to the other foot. And this causes the whole dance to – at least momentarily – fall apart.

 

Why does this happen in Tango, and not so much in other dances? It’s because of the pause. In Tango, as I hope you remember by now, there is the ongoing potential to pause – to come to a complete stop – between any one step and another. In practical terms, this means that the follower must come to a stop after every single step – because she doesn’t know from one moment to the next what the leader is going to do. He may want her to pause, he may not. If he doesn’t want her to stop, he has to re-initiate the leading process with each succeeding step.

 

What I just explained briefly above is what makes Tango so difficult, when you’re learning it for the first time. If you’ve had American social dance experience, the skills you’ve integrated can actually work against you for a while, making the process of learning Tango even harder.

 

Let’s get back to the moment of truth. What tends to happen – as stated above – in forward and back steps is that at least one of the dancers goes instinctively to the other foot. This pulls the other dancer off balance, or, if not, changes the synchronous relationship of feet so that the partners inadvertently find themselves in the crossed system – if, in fact, they started out in parallel. The result is that the next step they try to take is a disaster.

 

Here’s what has to happen at the end of a forward or back step in order for these elements to qualify as what we might call appropriately executed Tango steps. Both leader and follower have to bring their feet together and come to a stop, resisting the often overwhelming urge to fall to or in any way to use the other foot for balance. This is simple for me to say, of course. But, as you’ve probably found out for yourself, not so simple to do.

 

When I teach Tango, I spend a lot of time trying to get people to pause (stop) at the end of steps, because I believe that this is a crucial skill in becoming a good Tango dancer. In fact, I believe that this skill virtually defines the unique character of Tango. However, I’ve noticed in passing that many people who teach Tango today don’t spend any time at all on this subject. Is it because they feel you’ll be able to pick this skill up as you go along? That everybody knows this already? That it’s not important? What do you think?

 

If you have an opinion on this, I’d love to hear it.

 

 

May 24, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Why do you participate in a dance class? The obvious answer is that you want to learn how to dance. Going a little deeper, you make a contract with a teacher. He or she contracts to do what is necessary to teach you how to dance. And you contract to do whatever is necessary to learn. This is the relationship that gets formed (at least in the ideal world), when you join a dance class.

 

Moving into the real world, however, this isn’t really the way things work. Most students don’t really want to learn how to dance at all. What they want is to know how to dance. Furthermore, they want to know how to do it now. I remember that when I was attempting to learn how to dance, the few teachers who insisted on my developing solid dance technique in order to move properly drove me crazy. I figured that if only they’d just show me a few steps right away, I could develop all that technique on my own time – preferably later.

 

Fortunately for students like I was during that period of time, most people who teach dance these days don’t worry too much about teaching students how to dance. They’re very happy to feed the student as many steps as the student wants – as long as the financial end of the contract continues to be taken care of. This achieves three definite goals:

 

·      The teacher pays his or her rent on an ongoing basis.

·      The student is blissfully happy in the short term.

·      The student learns pretty much nothing.

 

When you walk into a dance class conducted by a teacher like this, you can bet that you’re going to be shown a dance figure of some sort. This is what you want, and this is what you get. For example, when you come into my second class at the Firehouse, I teach steps. And this class is always much more crowded than my first class – in which I focus on technique. We could all pretend that most of the students at the Firehouse already have the technique well in hand, which means that they’re actually ready for my second class. But this isn’t the case. It’s just that most of my Firehouse students would like very much to know how to dance. But learning … that seems to be another story.

 

Being a teacher who is committed to actually teaching students how to dance, I encourage you to take the opportunity to learn. This means making a contract with yourself to do what is necessary to get progressively better. It means spending serious time in basic classes. It means asking questions. It means practicing. It means dancing far more than you do now. And it almost certainly means finding a one-to-one teacher and working regularly together to reach your own inner potential.

 

Each week at the Firehouse I see a few people who seem ready and willing to learn. I’d very much like to see more. Maybe you can become one of them. If you do, believe me, I’ll notice.

 

 

May 17, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Among the qualities every Tango dancer should have is patience.

 

P a t i e n c e.

 

First and foremost, you have to have patience with yourself. Learning to dance Tango takes far more time and effort than most of us expect. We live in an era in which people want what they want immediately, if not sooner. We see other people around us who seem to know what they’re doing, and we assume that we can pick up their apparent skills right away. When it doesn’t happen that way, many of us become angry at the world. Some of us decide we really didn’t want Tango in the first place. And we walk away from it.

 

I always thought that I was “a quick study” in learning most things. People told me: “Fran, you learn really fast.” It turns out that this isn’t true at all, and never was. I just looked as if I were learning quickly, because I was afraid to let them see me sweat. But believe me, in learning Tango I sweat. In fact, everything I’ve ever truly learned – whether in Tango or anything else -- has taken me a very long time to fully integrate. Example: I’ve been dancing Tango since 1986. Recently, I’ve begun to believe that I might be starting to learn something about it. I’m not kidding. Tango takes a lifetime commitment. As does anything worthwhile.

 

If you can start to become patient with yourself, you’ll soon find that you begin focusing more on the process of learning than on the end result. If you can concentrate on each individual step in the learning process – and enjoy developing your mental and physical capabilities in small increments – the big picture will take care of itself almost by magic. This type of guidance usually requires the helping hand of a good teacher, but there are some people who seem to have the ability to effectively serve as their own teachers, if they don’t fall into the trap of instead becoming taskmasters or punitive monitors.

 

Try becoming patient with yourself, and see whether it works.

 

Part two of the patience equation is to be infinitely patient with other people, especially the partners with whom you’re dancing. If you’re dancing with someone, and they’re not responding the way you want, the absolutely worst thing you can do is walk away from them. I’ve seen this happen at milongas in New York. It happened once during one of my Saturday practicas, and I kicked the offender out of the room, telling him that if he ever did that again at one of my events, he’d be banned forever. Frankly, I wish other people responsible for hosting Tango events would act in the same way I did, but I think sometimes their minds are more on their pockets than on their customers’ feelings.

 

The second worst thing you can do, when someone isn’t doing exactly what you want, is teaching. The implication is this behavior is that your lead is perfect, and your follower is just too inept to follow appropriately. Or, if you’re a follower who likes to teach leaders, that he’s just not doing his job as a competent leader. In either case, teaching is insulting behavior – nothing less. In a worst-case scenario – where the dance is absolutely falling apart – you can recommend that the teacher if there is one, be consulted. But I wouldn’t recommend going further than that.

 

The bottom line in all of this is that patience with yourself and patience with your partners is the only way to behave, when you’re in the process of learning Tango. And when you’ve finally achieved success, when you feel that you’ve at last mastered the dance, if I’m still breathing, let me know how feel about things then.

 

 

May 10, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Here’s the key question every leader has to ask himself, when interacting with a follower on the dance floor: “How do I feel to her as I ask her to make this movement I’m trying to invite?”

 

As leaders, the first – and often the only – question we generally ask ourselves is: “What do I want to do?” The answer most often presents itself to us as an image we have of a complex sequence we learned in a class, or tried to memorize from a video. In such circumstances we might possibly recall what we’re supposed to do within the sequence – but if we were asked what the follower was supposed to be doing, we might be hard pressed to define or describe it. And the question I posed above about how I make her feel when inviting each movement within the sequence might never come up.

 

But again, that’s the key question:

 

“How do I feel to her as I ask her to make this movement I’m trying to invite?”

 

Let me break down how a skilled leader approaches every movement in the dance. Let’s assume that he wants to try out some interesting sequence he just learned. (In the first place, I wouldn’t call this creative, improvisational dancing at its best, but what the hell.) In any event, first he asks: “What do I want my follower to do?” The whole idea behind leading is to lead something. So, he has to know in advance exactly what that something is that he wants to lead. If you can’t remember what she’s supposed to be doing, you can’t lead it.

 

The next consideration in the equation is: “What am I as a leader going to do, what action am I going to take, in order to invite my follower to take this step?” As I said above, this is what most leaders start with, but it should be the second question we ask ourselves. If you’ve made a serious study of appropriate lead/follow mechanisms, you know by this time how to invite each kind of movement you might want your follower to make during the dance. There is no special magic to this: Each movement calls for a very specific lead. Both you and your follower have to “speak this language” in order to make the lead/follow collaboration work. If you don’t speak the language, your first job in dancing Tango is to learn and become adept at this crucial skill. This can take months -- or years -- to master.

 

Now, we come to question 3: “How do I feel to her as I ask her to make this movement I’m trying to invite?” As I said, this is the key question. Even though I remember what it is she’s supposed to, and even though I have a good idea about what it takes to invite each movement, now I have to put all this knowledge into practice in the moment. If I’m busy thinking about the completion of the sequence, if I’m concentrating on how it will look to people around me, I may lose focus on the way I’m making my follower feel within every second of every individual movement within the sequence. The result of this loss of focus on my part is that she ends up feeling violated, pushed around, beat up, and abandoned.

 

Women: Have you ever felt this way during a dance?

 

If so, you now know why. Your leader isn’t thinking about how his movements are making you feel. His mind is elsewhere, and so is his dance.

 

Leaders: Please, please, please start paying attention to how the movements you make affect your follower. All you have to do is to notice her balance at the end of her steps, If she’s flying through the air and you have the sense that you’ve got to catch her before she falls, the chances are very good that your movements are causing this to happen. Stop, going too fast, stop using your arms to produce movement, and slow down. This will help things along.

 

Oh, and one more thing. If you want to get good at Tango, take lessons.

 

 

May 3, 2012

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last weekend, Pat and I attended a “Stardust Dance Weekend” at a hotel called Honor’s Haven in the Catskills, which is something we do about four times per year.

 

At Stardust, we have one room dedicated to dancing Argentine Tango. Quite often, guests who don’t dance Tango wander into this room to see what’s going on. Sometimes, they briefly attempt to join the dancers on the floor, but more often than not they just watch for a while, and then leave.

 

In the spirit of getting everyone up to dance I want to offer four possible scenarios for situations like this, and what the dancers can do about them:

 

He dances Argentine Tango, she doesn’t. If the follower has an American dance background, but doesn’t dance Argentine Tango, the leader can suggest that in this dance, they’re going to try to move together one step at a time, and he will be taking things very slowly, often stopping between steps. This will help to counter her inclination to just start going and never stopping as she might otherwise do in, let’s say, American or International Tango. She won’t know what la cruzada is, so he shouldn’t try to lead that movement. And when it comes ocho, he can tell her that the forward ocho is similar to a “fan” in American Tango, and a back ocho is similar to a “fall away fan.” Stay away from molinete, gancho, parada, sacada, boleo, and calicita. I know, that’s a lot to leave out, but what are you gonna do?

 

She dances Argentine Tango, he doesn’t. The follower’s job is to respond to whatever the leader invites with his lead. If he asks for all American Tango steps, she can just respond in the same way she would follow steps led in Argentine Tango. It won’t feel like what we do, but she’ll be dancing and having a bit of fun.

 

Both partners dance Argentine Tango. Get up and dance.

 

Neither partner dances Argentine Tango. Take lessons now!

 

Parenthetically, lots of people from the Firehouse attend these Stardust Dance events, and if you’re looking for a full weekend of dance, food and fun, you can’t do better.

 

 

April 26, 2012

 

Any leader who has ever tried to follow has realized instantly that instead of being able to plan the movements he makes as he normally would, he is absolutely dependent on whomever is leading to get him from one place to another. Most leaders who try following can’t wait to reverse roles, and get back to leading again.

 

To be a competent leader, one has to be able to make his follower feel perfectly comfortable with not knowing from one moment to the next what she is going to be asked to do. For this to happen, the follower must know what to expect in general in terms of a good lead, and she has to receive such a lead from her partner all the way through the dance. When this happens – good lead, good follow – the dance is more or less effortless, and any small difficulties which arise can easily be worked out between the partners. When it doesn’t happen, the dance pretty much falls apart or becomes an exercise is brutality and back leading.

 

I often tell beginner-level students that my classes in lead and follow are the most important things they will ever learn in Tango. Naturally, they never believe this, since their sights are invariably set on being magically transformed into stage performers who can effortlessly execute any complex movement at will. By the time these same people have been dancing for a year or more, a few of them will begin to become aware that lead/follow might be more important than they thought. Sometimes, a student will approach me to say that he or she has suddenly discovered the value of lead and follow, and that she or she has decided to start over again, learning Tango from the top so that they can concentrate on the things they couldn’t wait to get past during their early lessons. When this happens, I am encouraged that these people just might learn to dance after all.

 

As a leader, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about this huge gap between being a leader and being a follower. It’s really like night and day. It is the leader’s job to bridge the enormous gap between his follower not knowing what he’s going to ask of her, and of her knowing clearly what to do from moment to moment.

 

As a follower, it’s time to stop blaming yourself entirely for problems that occur on the dance floor, and begin recognizing those leaders who are able to bridge the crucial lead/follow gap, and those who are not.

 

 

 

April 19, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. During one of my classes at the Argentine Consulate this week, a woman who had never danced Tango before observed that she was having great difficulty keeping her balance at the end of back steps. This produced a sympathetic response from most of the women in the class, who noted that they, too, were continually having the same problem even though many had been dancing Tango for much longer than the new student.

 

I answered this woman’s observation by confessing that after dancing Tango for approximately 25 years, I myself still have to concentrate intensely, or I lose my own balance during aback step.

 

There is a significant amount of specialized technique that goes into taking a back step comfortably. But the best piece of advice I can give anyone about taking this step is to plan ahead for balance – rather than simply launching oneself into the step, and hoping for the best at its end.

 

A back step is inherently difficult. We’re used to moving forward, because this is the way we get from one place to another everyday. Over the years, the great majority of us have developed a sense of balance in propelling ourselves forward without having to catch ourselves at the end of our movement. On the other hand, a back step is largely unfamiliar. For most of us, it feels as if we’re almost falling into unknown territory.

 

What can we do to gain a bit more control? Before you take any back step, think to yourself, “I’m going to find my balance at the end of this step.” As you take the step, keep thinking that thought. It is almost a certainty that your balance at the end of that step will be better than it might have been otherwise. The reason for this, I think, is that your increased consciousness of the movement will make it less erratic, less out of control.

 

Leaders can help a great deal in this process. Just by knowing that your follower needs to concentrate on every back step she takes in order to be more comfortable, you can support her efforts by not abruptly shoving her into these steps. Instead, think to yourself, “I’m going to help her be balanced at the end of this step.” I guarantee that you’ll be pleased with the results.

 

 

 

April 12, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. One aspect of Tango that is very challenging for teachers to convey to students is that of rhythmic movement within the music – some people refer to this as “musicality.”

 

In every other dance that students learn here in the U.S.A. they also learn a fixed basic rhythm. In Salsa, it’s 1-2-3, 1-2-3 (or 1-2-3, 5-6-7), or 2-3-4, 6-7-8 for old school mambo. In Swing, it’s tri-ple step, tri-ple step, rock step. In American Slow Waltz, it’s 1-2-3, 1-2-3. Pick a dance, any dance, and there’s a recognizable rhythm that accompanies it right from the beginning.

 

Not so in Tango. Not so in Milonga. Not so in Vals Cruzada.

 

In these dances, not only do you not have a memorized basic step you can rely on (which you also have in the above-mentioned American dances), you also don’t have any kind of basic rhythm to fall back on. For the average dance student, this makes learning Tango extremely difficult.

 

Okay, let’s take a deep breath and talk about what you do have to work with in learning Tango. You’ve heard me discuss the five basic elements of movement: forward, backward, to the side, in-place, and pause. These are single-step movements that you use in creating your own figures in Tango, in Milonga, or in Vals. With these individual movements you can generate thousands of combinations – virtually an unlimited number of what we usually call “dance steps.”

 

But what about rhythm? Since there isn’t any basic timing to the dance, you have to make up your own as you go along. Some basic choices you have are:

 

1.     Moving to every beat (half-note) of the song.

2.     Moving to every other beat of the song.

3.     Taking occasional long pauses.

4.     Doubling the timing occasionally through the use of “traspie.”

 

These four ideas represent a fundamental rhythmic vocabulary, which you can use in creating your own rhythmic response to any Tango, Milonga, or Vals. Becoming expert in the employment of rhythmic technique can, of course, be a lifetime study. My best advice here is to consult with your private teacher in mastering the skill of using these rhythmic elements in your dance.

 

As your dancing becomes more skillful and more creative, you will eventually reach a point where you hear a particular song, and know more or less instinctively what movement techniques as well as what rhythmic elements will enable you and your partner to enjoy that particular song as much as possible.

 

Some people reach this point in their dancing within a few months. For others, it may take a number of years. It really doesn’t matter how long it takes. (Although I know you want to arrive yesterday, don’t you?) What’s important is that you make up your mind to get there, and enjoy every moment the process.

 

 

April 5, 2012

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. One aspect of Tango that is very challenging for teachers to convey to students is that of rhythmic movement within the music – some people refer to this as “musicality.”

 

In every other dance that students learn here in the U.S.A. they also learn a fixed basic rhythm. In Salsa, it’s 1-2-3, 1-2-3 (or 1-2-3, 5-6-7), or 2-3-4, 6-7-8 for old school mambo. In Swing, it’s tri-ple step, tri-ple step, rock step. In American Slow Waltz, it’s 1-2-3, 1-2-3. Pick a dance, any dance, and there’s a recognizable rhythm that accompanies it right from the beginning.

 

Not so in Tango. Not so in Milonga. Not so in Vals Cruzada.

 

In these dances, not only do you not have a memorized basic step you can rely on (which you also have in the above-mentioned American dances), you also don’t have any kind of basic rhythm to fall back on. For the average dance student, this makes learning Tango extremely difficult.

 

Okay, let’s take a deep breath and talk about what you do have to work with in learning Tango. You’ve heard me discuss the five basic elements of movement: forward, backward, to the side, in-place, and pause. These are single-step movements that you use in creating your own figures in Tango, in Milonga, or in Vals. With these individual movements you can generate thousands of combinations – virtually an unlimited number of what we usually call “dance steps.”

 

But what about rhythm? Since there isn’t any basic timing to the dance, you have to make up your own as you go along. Some basic choices you have are:

 

1.     Moving to every beat (half-note) of the song.

2.     Moving to every other beat of the song.

3.     Taking occasional long pauses.

4.     Doubling the timing occasionally through the use of “traspie.”

 

These four ideas represent a fundamental rhythmic vocabulary, which you can use in creating your own rhythmic response to any Tango, Milonga, or Vals. Becoming expert in the employment of rhythmic technique can, of course, be a lifetime study. My best advice here is to consult with your private teacher in mastering the skill of using these rhythmic elements in your dance.

 

As your dancing becomes more skillful and more creative, you will eventually reach a point where you hear a particular song, and know more or less instinctively what movement techniques as well as what rhythmic elements will enable you and your partner to enjoy that particular song as much as possible.

 

Some people reach this point in their dancing within a few months. For others, it may take a number of years. It really doesn’t matter how long it takes. (Although I know you want to arrive yesterday, don’t you?) What’s important is that you make up your mind to get there, and enjoy every moment the process.

 

 

March 29, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Let’s talk about the anatomy of a dance step. I’m talking about any forward, backward, or side step taken by either a leader or a follower. (What I’m going to say might also apply generally to a weight change in place, but we’ll leave that movement undiscussed for now.)

 

Every step has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning of a typical Tango step involves initiation by the leader and response by the follower. In fact, the art of leading refers specifically to what happens in the beginning of each dance step. The leader uses a very special technique (which we’ve discussed in other Tango Tips) to invite the follower to take a single step forward, backward, or to the side. At this same moment the art of following also comes into play. She reads his specific lead, and responds to it by beginning to execute the step asked for. All this happens in that crucial moment, which we’ll call the beginning of the step.

 

The middle of the step involves traveling. Depending upon what step was invited, the couple now moves in one of three directions: forward, backward, or to the side. Generally speaking, this movement is independent; i.e., the leader does not carry the follower in any way through the step. He moves on his own, and so does she. To put it another way, the follower doesn’t need – and should not receive -- any assistance whatever from the leader in traveling through space.

 

The end of the step calls for balance on the part of both the leader and the follower. Like the middle of the step, this balance at the end is also independent. It is not the leader’s job to “help” the follower come into balance at the end of any given step. Nor is it the follower’s job to in any way use the leader’s body in bringing herself into balance. Both leader and follower have to use their individual inner resources to effect balance without relying on their partner for assistance. It is not uncommon for an unskilled leader to force a follower out of balance during a step, and then try to rectify the situation by attempting to steady her with his arms at the movement’s end. This is bad dancing, and should be avoided. It is also common to find a follower who hasn’t paid enough attention to achieving her own balance at the end of a step, suddenly realizing that she’s about to fall onto the other leg, and grasp onto the leader for emergency support. This, too, is bad dancing, and needs to be addressed.

 

In developing and practicing the social dance collaboration, both partners should eventually learn that except for the moment of initiation in each step -- i.e., the beginning -- they are each fully independent from one another. The next time you finish a dance step, and find yourself hanging onto your partner for dear life (or at least for balance), please start becoming aware that this is not what’s supposed to happen. If you have a teacher, this is what you need to work on in order to become a better dancer.

 

 

 

March 22, 2012

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. I can reduce this week’s Tip to two words:

S l o w  D o w n !

 

Most people – people at every skill level – tend to dance Tango too fast. More advanced dancers seem to be trying imitate performers (who are themselves dancing much faster than would be acceptable on a social dance floor), and beginners are so nervous about their dancing that they seem to just want to get it all over and done with as quickly as possible. The result is that the majority of us are race-walking rather than dancing.

 

S l o w  D o w n !

 

It’s hard to dance slowly. When we slow down, we can feel the problems we’re having with balance, problems that maybe we should have been dealing with a long time ago, but we decided to focus on other things instead – like complicated dance figures that we thought would make us look as if we had more experience than we actually do have.

 

S l o w  D o w n !

 

When we slow down, the lead/follow connection has to be very precise in order to make the dance work properly. We can’t simply rely on momentum – which in this case is another term for falling.

 

S l o w  D o w n !

 

When we slow down, we can start to discover how to use the music more effectively. Rather than always mindlessly moving to every beat, we can begin to vary our rhythm in order to improvise in a create way.

 

There are many things you can do to speed up your progress in dancing Tango. But I guarantee that one of the fastest ways to kick your Tango into high gear is to hurry up and

 

S l o w  D o w n !

 

 

March 15, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. As beginner leaders and followers learn Tango, they move along slightly differing trajectories. Most beginner leaders are gentle in the extreme with their followers, since they're afraid to accidentally cause them harm. The result is that their lead is subtle to the point of almost being non-existent. At the same time, beginner followers are usually so hyper-responsive that they jump at the slightest movement, often taking several steps instead of just the one being led.

 

As time goes on, some followers learn that Tango is done in increments of one step at a time. Gradually, through experience and maybe a few dance lessons, they learn to respond to leads by taking only one step, and then waiting for the next lead before taking the next. But by this time, leaders who used to be naively gentle, even fearful of over-leading, have been exposed to a repertoire of dance figures, which they have more or less committed to memory. Armed with this questionable knowledge, many of these leaders now push and shove their unfortunate followers through such repertoire, having either never really learned, or possibly completely forgotten, the appropriate mechanisms for good leading.

 

Skilled leading and following is an art. And, as it happens, skilled leading and following is the foundation of social Tango. As I've said many times before, most leaders think of Tango as a memorized series of figures. The last thing they think about is how such figures should be led. By the same token, most followers think of following as being controlled by a powerful leader, who literally carries them through the steps. These notions are utterly and completely false. And yet they persist.

 

If you are a follower, the moment you actually begin to take each step that is led, and then stop, taking care to bring yourself into quiet balance, waiting for the next lead to come - this is the moment when you embrace the art of following. It doesn't stop there, but this is your biggest hurdle in becoming a skilled follower.

 

If you are a leader, the moment you stop thinking about figures, and concentrate on properly leading and accompanying the individual step you're currently attempting with your follower -- this is the moment when you embrace the art of leading. It's only the beginning, but now you're on your way to being a skilled leader.

 

Most people dancing Tango won't pay attention to what I'm saying here. Either they'll think they already know this information (which they don't), or that they'll learn it some other time. Right now, they're too busy memorizing steps. In any case, they will never become even mediocre Tango dancers. The few who take what I'm saying here seriously, and act on it by finding a competent teacher who can help them discover the art of leading and following, will eventually succeed in becoming skilled, if not artful, dancers of Tango.

 

Which of these are you?

 

 

March 8, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. One of the pervasive myths about Tango is that the leader controls the follower’s movement, that he makes her do the figures that we see her executing on the dance floor. Beginner leaders – along with leaders who may have been dancing Tango for many years, but who have never actually learned how to lead properly – constantly attempt to control their partners by holding them in a vice-like grip and using their arms to direct each step the followers take.

 

Beginner followers – along with so-called experienced followers who have never learned how to follow properly – exacerbate the problem by surrendering complete control of their movement to their leaders, assuming that if they’re going to execute a figure, the leader has to somehow make them do it by physically carrying them through it.

 

The relationship between Tango partners that I’ve described above is what I sometimes refer to as the “Me Tarzan, you Jane” syndrome. It is a complete mischaracterization of what each partner actually does in the dance, and it turns Tango into little more than a wresting match between the two people involved.

 

What actually is supposed to happen is that each of the partners plays a distinctive, collaborative role in the symbiosis of the dance. The leader very gently suggests an individual step through a specific movement of his torso, which the follower receives through the embrace. Without in any way being forced by the leader, the follower executes the invited movement on her own, then waits in balance for the next lead.

 

Instead of forcing his follower through a rigidly timed choreography, the leader allows his planned figure to unfold within his follower’s capabilities as she is able to execute each step within the total series of movements. He may have a general idea of the overall timing of the pattern he wants to lead, but he recognizes that as the figure proceeds any number of technical issues may impede its ideal execution, and he therefore adapts to whatever alterations of timing might be necessary to ensure his partner comfort and safety.

 

In this way, Tango becomes an ongoing, sympathetic collaboration rather than a kind of adversarial combat. Both partners in the dance play their appropriate roles without hindrance of any kind from the other; thus the unique paradox of Tango is fulfilled: Two people apparently entwined, acting as one, yet functioning with absolute individuality.

 

March 1, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. One of the milongas Pat and I really love in Buenos Aires is “Sunderland” on Saturday nights. This venue is actually a large gymnasium in the suburbs of the city, where dancers young and old come for an evening of traditional Tango.

 

A couple we know recently returned from a visit to Buenos Aires, and reported that last Saturday night one of the event promoters escorted a couple off the floor, telling them their dancing was too dangerous, and was interfering with the welfare of others dancers. Apparently, he had spoken to them once as discretely as possible, when several of his regular patrons had complained. And when they continued to dance in an inappropriate way, he physically walked them off the floor, gave them their money back, and asked them to leave the premises.

 

Wow!

 

In this country we tend to be far more reticent about thoughtless dancers than they are in Buenos Aires. And this often means that an entire roomful of people suffers, because one couple doesn’t know how to act appropriately in a public place.

 

I’m not sure what steps can be taken by promoters to ensure harmony in our dance venues here at home, but as dancers we can make ourselves conscious of our effect on other people in the room, when we start “taking over the floor.” Many of us dancing Tango in this country are relatively new to this dance, maybe even new to the art of social dancing in general. Since the majority of us leaders find ourselves focused on elaborate stage sequences, which we pick up from our teachers, it’s very easy to lose sight of the fact that every step we take may cause us to physically collide with another couple, if we’re not careful.

 

When Pat and I dance in a crowded room, our first concern is the wellbeing of everyone else on the dance floor. Only then, do we consider what figures we might be able to execute, given the space and dance flow parameters in which we find ourselves. I think that ultimately this is the solution to the problem: each of us has to carefully monitor our own behavior, making sure we take good care of everyone on the floor, not just ourselves and our partners.

 

Let’s try to do this from now on at Firehouse Tango, and maybe we’ll become a model for others in the Tango community to emulate.

 

First 2012 Cat's Away milonga next week!

Hi everyone, Pat here. Fran and I are very excited to be hosting the Cat's Away Milonga next week--March 8th. We are looking forward to a wonderful evening of home cooked food, fabulous music, and an all-around good time. As Fran and I look at our culinary sign-up poster, we feel such a deep gratitude for the generosity that exists in our group - our sincere thanks to all who have signed up! We need just a few more volunteers –

 

For our March 8th Cat’s Away

One appetizer!

 

For our March 15th Cat's Away

·      1 salad

·      3 appetizers

·      1 entrees

     

Please email us at franchesleigh@mac.com or paltman@bcrfcure.org

 

And, a few requests to make our evening go smoothly:

 

·      If you're bringing food, please check in with Tibor at the desk, and then go straight to the kitchen. Please do not leave your food on the table.

 

·      Those bringing Appetizers – please arrive at 7:30 p.m., latest 7:45 p.m.  Appetizers will be served at 8:00 p.m.

 

·      Those bringing Entrees – please arrive at 8:30 p.m., latest 8:45 p.m. If your food needs heating up, please arrive before 8:30 p.m. Entrees will be served at 9 p.m.

 

 

 

February 23, 2012

 

Fran Chesleigh has been writing weekly Tango Tips for Firehouse since 2006.  You'll  find them all archived on our website at www.firehousetango.com  under Tango Tips.

 

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. In the United States, if a man wants to ask a woman to dance, he walks up to where she’s sitting, and says something like “May I have this dance?” or “Would you care to dance?” At present, women are perfectly free to ask men to dance as well. This is the culture that has evolved in the USA over the past 15 to 20 years.

 

In Argentina, however, things are quite different. In a typical Buenos Aires milonga, dancers come to the event either as couples or alone. If they arrive as couples, they sit together, and almost always dance exclusively with one another for the entire evening. As a matter of course, no single man will ask a woman who is part of a couple to dance.

 

On the other hand, when dancers arrive alone the men sit together in one area of the milonga and the women in another area. In Argentina, a woman never asks a man to dance, however she makes herself available by deciding whom she’d like to dance with, and then carefully watching his eyes on the chance that he will invite her in the following way. The man finds the woman he wants to dance with by searching the available women with his eyes. When he sees the woman he’s interested in, he attempts to make definite eye contact with her. Then, he nods in her direction in a movement that is usually called “cabeceo.” She nods back to him, and they proceed to meet in the middle of the dance floor to enjoy a tanda of dance together (see last week’s Tango Tip for the meaning of the word “tanda”). At the end of the tanda, the man returns his current partner to her seat, and the process begins again.

 

Occasionally, a man will approach a woman at her table and ask her directly for a dance. This happens sometimes in the case of a foreign woman being addressed by a man attempting to take advantage of her ignorance of Argentine milonga custom. Such behavior is invariably considered to be rude, and a woman should always say “no, thank you” to such ill-mannered advances.

 

Do Argentine cultural mores work here in the United States? A milonga host may from time to time announce that “tonight, we’re all going to act as if we’re in Buenos Aires to see what it feels like to abide by their rules.” Or perhaps it might be an unstated condition of a given ongoing milonga that Buenos Aires protocol applies. For some people the shift in behavior is no problem. For others, it may tend to feel strange and somehow not true to our contemporary values. You have to decide for yourself whether you feel comfortable with adopting the traditional behavior of a culture, which is significantly different from our own.

First 2012 Cat's Away milonga in TWO WEEKS!

 

Hi everyone, Pat here. We are now only TWO WEEKS away from our first Cat's Away Milonga of 2012!! A big "thank you" to everyone who has already signed up to bring their masterpiece dish for all us hungry mice.

For those of you who may be perched on the fence, we would like to fill up the slots for the MARCH 8th feast – particularly appetizer and dessert volunteers, a couple of salad makers. 

And, there are still slots open for MARCH 10th

We prefer that you bring your food in your own dishes (these can be disposable, if appropriate); we can also warm food in the large oven in the Firehouse Kitchen. For salad makers, there are two large dishes at the Firehouse, plus a couple of smaller bowls. Contact me (paltman@bcrfcure.org) or Fran (franchesleigh@mac.com) with any questions. Please don't be shy--we want to hear from you!! 

 

 

February 16, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Let’s talk about the way in which milongas (meaning the events themselves) are structured in Buenos Aires. As you well know by this time, there are three song/dance styles that are offered at a typical milonga: Tango, Vals, and Milonga. These occur in groups, which are called tandas. Generally, a Tango tanda consists of 4 songs either by the same orchestra, or at least in the same style and at more or less the same tempo. The Vals tanda comprises either 3 or 4 songs, and the Milonga tanda also consists of 3 or 4 songs.

 

If the music is being provided by a DJ as it often is in Buenos Aires, a Tango tanda will begin the evening. Between the individual songs of the tanda couples will remain together on the dance floor, chatting between themselves well into the beginning of the next song. After about 30 seconds have elapsed everyone will begin dancing again. At the end of the tanda a short musical interlude will signal that the tanda is over. This is called a cortina or “curtain” and may be any kind of music that the DJ chooses. During the cortina, the man will accompany his current partner back to her seat, thank her for the dances, and seek another partner. (We’ll go into this aspect of milonga etiquette at another time.) The next tanda will consist of another group of Tangos (4 songs) or possibly Vals or Milonga.

 

Well on into the event the DJ may choose to signal a longer break in the tanda structure by playing one or more songs in a completely different style such as American Swing, Merengue, or Salsa. At such a point the DJ may also select an Argentine folk song such as Chacarera – during which time those who can dance this form will take the floor and show off their skills in this lively dance.

 

The continuously revolving tanda structure of the milonga provides both leaders and followers with a very predictable means of enjoying each other’s company for limited periods of time, and for changing partners regularly without causing offense of any kind. Occasionally, one of the partners will find him- or herself dancing with someone whom he or she finds unsuitable. In such a circumstance the offended partner may choose to break off the partnership at the end of a dance – before the tanda has come to an end. As an example, a woman who finds her partner unacceptable may finish the first dance, courteously thank her partner for the dance, and walk off the dance floor. By leaving her partner stranded in the middle of the floor, she announces to everyone that their interaction has been a disaster. He is mortally embarrassed and insulted as he leaves the floor himself, and there is virtually no chance that they will ever dance together again. Such gaffes rarely happen, however, since people in Buenos Aires are generally quite careful about their choices in partners.

 

Next week, we’ll talk about how individuals choose their partners during a typical milonga in Buenos Aires.

 

 

First Cat's Away milonga in three weeks!

 

We are now only three weeks away from our first Cat's Away Milonga on Thursday March 8, and already it's beginning to take shape. There are still plenty of slots that need to be filled, and you can either sign up on the Poster at the KofC, or you can send Fran or me an email to let us know if you will be bringing a dish.

 

Not every item has to be a masterpiece. Simple appetizers, entrees or desserts are welcome too! We will also need two people each week to make a large salad. Keep in mind that these salads -- and each dish -- should feed approximately 25 people. The Appetizer dishes generally go out at the 8:00 p.m. lesson break, and the entrees are served at 9:00 p.m., after the second lesson. To sign up or ask questions, contact me at paltman@bcrfcure.org, or Fran at franchesleigh@mac.com.

 

We are waiting to hear from you!

 

 

February 09, 2012

 

Hello everyone, Pat here with your Tango Tip of the Week. As Fran has promised, this week I will compliment his Tango Tip on the leader’s use of his right arm in the dance, with the follower’s corresponding use of her left arm.

 

When forming the dance embrace, the follower typically positions her left arm around the leader’s right shoulder, so that her hand comes to rest on his upper back in a place that is most comfortable for the couple. It could be his shoulder itself, just below the shoulder, or further around on his upper back.

 

If dancing close, the follower can position her arm all the way around the lower part of her leader’s neck. However, this can only be done if the follower’s height allows her to remain on her own balance. Too often, we see a follower forming an embrace in which she literally drapes herself on the leader, arm hooked around his neck and balance totally compromised as she leans on him at a precipitous angle. Followers: please don’t ever do this!

 

But let’s assume that the embrace is in balance and comfortable, and the dance begins. In linear movement (forward, side and back steps), the follower can comfortably keep her arm and hand in place, as I have described above.  However, if the leader asks for full side-to-side ochos, these pivoting and stepping movements will require the follower to adjust her arm in order to accommodate additional space, so that she can execute her ochos with good technique, and in balance. This could mean that her hand slides onto the leader’s upper arm. When the leader moves on, she can re-adjust her arm to its former position.

 

Similarly, in molinete, there should be enough space between leader and follower to allow her balanced execution of this difficult technique. I find that my arm and hand immediately slide to my leader’s mid-arm, usually just above the elbow. This separates me from the embrace sufficiently for the molinete, without any chance of pulling him off balance. Once the leader moves on, again the closer embrace can be resumed.

The follower should also be prepared to adjust her arm in other movements, such as gancho and parada, even the cross if the leader creates a separation in the embrace during such movements.

 

Periodically, when the embrace is close, a follower may lift her arm off her leader’s back and hold it in position but without touching. A few movements later she will re-engage her arm and resume the full embrace. This is entirely the follower’s choice, and should only be done during linear movement.

 

Followers, understand that your arm position can and should be flexible. Do not keep it rigid throughout the dance. Knowing that there can be movement in the embrace, which can be really close or can move apart at certain places, will open up a greater understanding of this amazing dance. By adjusting your left arm positions throughout the dance, you will feel much more confident and in control of your movements, and it will enhance your enjoyment and comfort.

 

 

While the Cats are away - it's time to play CHEF!

 

Hello everyone, Pat here, and the Cat’s Away poster is back once again in preparation for our two amazing evenings at Firehouse when we feast on some of the most sumptuous dishes you have ever tasted.  This year these two special evenings will be held on March 8 and March 15!!  Please make sure to mark your calendars. What’s different this year is that there are no Cats who are away…we are all here, including Sue and Joe, and ready to start cooking! We will bring the poster each week from now on so there's plenty of time to consider what you will bring. We'll need appetizers, entrees, salads and desserts--and the usual beverages, so start reviewing your best recipes and plan to join the banquet brigade! If you’d like to sign up via email, contact Fran or me at franchesleigh@mac.com. You can also contact Pat at paltman@bcrfcure.org.

 

 

February 02, 2012

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. I promised you a Tip by Pat this week, but she’s so buried in work, it’ll have to wait until next week. In the meantime, you may recall that last week I addressed the subject of the leader’s right arm on the follower’s back. I’m not going to restate what I said already (you can read that Tip in the Firehouse Tango Archives, if you haven’t seen it already); but I want to add one more idea.

 

Quite often, an Argentine man can be observed, actually removing his arm from his follower’s back at various times during a dance. He will do this by simply extending it outward from her back while leaving it in the embrace position -- and he will generally keep his arm off her back for several steps. There can be no other reason for him to do this than to clearly demonstrate that the leader’s right arm is unnecessary in leading the follower in whatever movement is being undertaken at the time.

 

Beginner leaders invariably believe that a follower has to be led by the use of the leader’s arms. The Argentine men who practice removing their right arm from their follower’s back are telling us that this is simply not the case. Try this yourself, when dancing with someone you’ve partnered before. You’ll find that it works both in the linear dance as well as in ocho and molinete. If you have any questions about it, ask Pat or me. We’ll be happy to give you our own demonstration of how easily this technique works.

 

 

January 26, 2012

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Let’s talk about the leader’s right arm on the follower’s back. If you’ve had any experience with American/European ballroom dancing, you know that as a leader your job is to place your hand on that part of the follower’s back which is called the shoulder blade, making a level platform with your forearm and biceps so that she can gently rest her arm on it during the dance (whether it be Foxtrot, Waltz, Viennese Waltz, American Tango Quickstep or Peabody). Once you’ve established this arm position, it remains firmly in place for the duration of the dance. In fact, this somewhat rigid arm position helps to define the embrace in these ballroom dances.

 

Argentine Tango, on the other hand is quite different. In the first place, the basic embrace calls for placing the palm of your right hand in the center of the follower’s back while keeping your forearm low along her side; i.e., without making a platform. The closer you dance with the follower the more your arm will reach around her back, so that in a very close embrace you may find that your hand is making contact with the far side of her back rather than the center. In assuming this position it is crucial to avoid pulling the follower toward you. She must be able to maintain her own upright balance – even in the closet embrace.

 

During the “linear” part of the dance – i.e., when making forward, backward, side or in-place movements – the leader’s arm remains in the position described above. However, when leading ocho, molinete, parada, calicita, gancho, and other movements which involve a change in the relationship of the leader’s and follower’s front, the leader’s arm changes position in order to accommodate each of these and other such movements. In some instances the leader’s arm may slide further behind the follower’s back. In other instances the leader’s arm may slide almost to her side. When these movements are completed, the leader’s arm returns to its normal position in the center of her

 

 

January 19, 2012

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. As a follower, how quickly should you respond to a lead? Once a beginning follower gets over being completely paralyzed about following anything at all, she usually begins trying to respond instantly. In fact, many inexperienced followers respond almost before they even receive the lead. At the same time, inexperienced leaders; i.e. leaders who aren’t certain that their leads are working, are often satisfied only when their follower responds instantaneously to whatever lead they give. This is the only way they can absolutely verify that she has actually felt the lead.

 

As the lead/follow collaboration mellows a bit, both partners begin to realize that following a lead is an interaction, which takes a bit more time to accomplish than instant cause and effect. Leading and following are like two halves of a conversation. Thus, the more experienced leader knows that when he suggests a lead, his follower has to process the request and then take action. Sometimes she responds immediately; sometimes she needs more time.

 

With this in mind, followers should make up their minds to respond accurately and comfortably to received leads rather than instantly and without appropriate control over their own movements. At the same time, leaders should learn to be patient. In stage dancing, speed is often critical in achieving a specific affect in the dance. In social dancing this is almost never the case. In social dancing the emphasis should always be on the mutual comfort and enjoyment of both partners rather than on speed of execution and other performance-oriented criteria.

 

Assuming you have a fundamental level of skill as a follower, you should be asking yourself: “Am I having a good time, dancing with this leader?” If the answer is no, because he seems to have a bunch of rules to which you aren’t able to measure up, I suggest that you find someone else to dance with. The down side of continuing to dance with such a taskmaster just isn’t worth the effort.

 

Happy dancing!!!

 

January 12, 2012

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. A crucially important fact that every leader has to constantly bear in mind when dancing Tango is that his follower has no idea from one moment to the next what he wants her to do. This is perhaps the single most important consideration in the lead/follower collaboration. What it means is that the follower is standing still – almost certainly balanced on one leg – waiting for her leader to invite a movement or series of continuous movements. What these movements will be she hasn’t the slightest idea. But she knows she has to be ready for anything. If her leader is skilled, he’ll be able to make the transition from stillness to movement easy, even comfortable. If he isn’t so skilled, it will be an ordeal.

 

On the other side of the equation, the leader knows exactly what he’s going to do. Before he invites his follower to do something, he forms a mental picture of the step -- or the sequence of steps -- in his mind. He has advance knowledge of what’s going to occur, which, to again state the obvious, means that the movement comes as no surprise to him, when it happens.

 

Compare the two mental states: the leader knows exactly what’s going to happen; the follow has no idea what’s going to happen – completely opposite states of mind.

 

In a good working social dance relationship the leader employs a group of very specific skills to transfer his knowledge of what he wants to happen to his follower. The follower receives the information in increments of one step at a time. Most likely, she won’t remember the sequence in its entirety since she won’t have a complete picture of it in the same way that the leader has. What she will remember is that each step was successful, because the leader was able to give her good information from moment to moment.

 

A good many things can go terribly wrong in the lead/follow collaboration. The most important – as well as the most common -- error that a leader can make is to focus on the picture of what he wants to do himself – and forget to invite his follower to do what she needs to do in order to complement his lead. In such a case, he will start moving himself, but not give his follower the appropriate indication of what he wants her to do. Of course, she’ll try her best to do something, anything, but she’s just be guessing. The result: Disaster.

 

The most common error for a follower is to begin a movement – or even a series of movements -- on her own without being specifically led to do so. This happens more to beginners than to skilled followers, but every follower is guilty of this error at one time or another.

 

In order to minimize the occurrence of these common errors in your Tango, you have to make up your mind as a leader to focus on the correct lead for every step you want your follower to take. If you don’t know what the correct leads are, ask your teacher. If you’re a follower, make up your mind that you’ll never take another un-led step again. Make certain that from now on you wait, wait, wait until you get a clear indication from your leader before making a single move. At the end of every step, bring yourself into balance and wait for the next lead.

 

These ideas may seem obvious. But we all know that they’re very difficult to put into practice and to maintain, step after step after step. It might help to be aware that everyone who dances Tango makes the same mistakes. We’re all in this together.

 

 

January 5, 2012

 

Fran Chesleigh has been writing weekly Tango Tips for Firehouse since 2006.  You'll  find them all archived on our website at www.firehousetango.com under Tango Tips.

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Recently, a couple who have been taking Tango lessons with me for many years took a month-long vacation that didn’t involve dancing Tango. When they returned and resumed lessons, their first comment was “We forgot everything!” I suggested that they try having a dance just to see what might happen. To make a long story short, they enjoyed one of the very best Tangos they’ve ever done.

 

I asked John (the male partner and leader) what he was thinking about during the dance. He said “I couldn’t remember a single figure for the whole time. I knew the five elements [forward, backward, sideward, in place, pause]. I remembered la cruzada, I remembered forward and backward ochos, and molinete. That was it. From there, I just made the rest up.” As I listened to John, describing his dance, I was reminded of a quote from the well-known milonguero, Pupi Castello, who died about ten years ago. Speaking to a group of students, Pupi said “If I teach you to walk, along with cruzada, molinete, and ocho, I can send you to any milonga anywhere – that’s all you need to dance Tango with the masters.

 

Social Tango is not a dance of figures. Or, as so many of my own Argentine teachers have said to me over the years, “there are no steps in Tango.” This is a point you’ve heard me repeat many times during these Tango Tips as well as during any lessons you may have ever taken with Pat and me. My student John was fearful that he wouldn’t be able to live up to expectations, because his memory for complex figures had temporarily deserted him.  And yet, his Tango was pure, simple, elegant, and musical. Why? Because was John did remember was his technique of movement. He remembered the years of repeating the same elements over and over. He remembered the mechanics of lead and follow. He remembered to move with the music, placing his steps on the beats. In short, John remembered how to dance.

 

At the same time, John’s partner and wife, Katherine, who has learned by this time that there’s just no way she’ll ever be able to anticipate what John is going to lead next, remembered to relax, maintain her balance, and respond to each lead, coming to a stop at the end of each step. The result of their mutual efforts was indeed one of the best dances they’ve ever had.

 

2012 might be the year you decide to learn how to dance Tango rather than what to dance. 2012 might be the year in which you develop your movement technique so that it really becomes part of you in a way that it hasn’t up until now. 2012 might be the year when you fine-tune your lead/follow skills so that you feel comfortable and confident dancing with any skilled partner. 2012 might be the year that you finally become a Tango dancer.

 

It’s all up to you.