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 13, 2008

  

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week.  Do your knees bump into those of your partner, whenever the leader takes a forward step down the line of dance? The most common reason for this is that the follower isn’t extending her leg back properly, when taking her back step.

 

Followers, here’s a way to help insure that you’re moving your leg in the right way, when you walk backwards. Place your hand on the front of your thigh (let’s start with your left hand on your left thigh) Now reach back with your leg in preparation for taking a complete step. Don’t take your body weight back to your left leg yet. Just point your toe, keeping your weight forward on your right leg. When you reach, back, do you feel your thigh come slightly forward? If so, this means that right now you’re bending at the knee and reaching back from the lower leg only. Not good Tango practice.

 

Let’s try it again. This time, when you reach backwards with your left leg, push your thigh backwards a little with your left hand. This will help you to activate hip joint, and enable you to move your entire leg at once, rather than from the knee down. In other words, your whole leg will be moving backward instead of just the lower half.

 

Reaching the whole leg back at once is the way we dance Tango. Try to get yourself into this habit, and you’ll start feeling more balanced in your dancing. Furthermore, your partners won’t wonder why they’re bumping into your knees ever again.

 

December 7, 2008

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

November 21, 2008
 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. As many of you know, for the past few weeks Pat and I have been teaching Milonga at the Firehouse. For this reason, we thought it might be appropriate to talk about one of the most important concepts in achieving excellence in Milonga.

 

Let me start by saying it plainly, in three simple, easy-to-understand words:

 

T A K E   S M A L L   S T E P S ! ! ! ! !

 

Milonga is a fast, energetic dance. Most inexperienced dancers treat Milonga as if it’s a very fast Tango. They get caught up in the emotion of the moment, and end up hurtling around the floor at breakneck speed, taking huge steps -- which only tend to get even larger as they continue dancing. And they’re not the only ones doing it. Virtually everyone else on the dance floor is on the same merry-go-round. If everyone is really lucky, they may all reach the end of the dance in one piece. But sometimes, catastrophic accidents happen, and people end up with serious injuries … all because they’re taking steps that are just too big.

 

When I teach Milonga, I start by showing students how to move in place, just changing weight from one leg to the other – without traveling at all. I call this the “neutral” position. I encourage students to think of idling in “neutral” as a kind of safe haven that they can always return to, when the going gets rough. In fact, in Buenos Aires, moving in place is a crucial skill to master, since the dance floors are so crowded that continuous movement is virtually impossible.

 

Here in the USA we have plenty of room to move around most of the time, but I like to teach students to restrict themselves to two, three – or at most four – traveling movements in any single sequence before returning to “neutral” for a short rest. In this way, we avoid building up unnecessary momentum, which might otherwise cause us to lose control of the dance.

As you begin to increase your skill at Milonga, try to notice whether your steps are appropriately small (the length of a normal walking step, for example) or perhaps beginning to feel like giant leaps through space. I think you’ll find that if you can keep the length of your individual steps under control, the entire dance will feel much better to both you and your partners.

 

Pat and I want to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

 

November 14, 2008

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Today’s Tip addresses something that can ruin a dance even before it starts. It can happen to you whether you’re a leader or a follower. It can take place in a lesson, a practica, a milonga … anywhere at all. When you’ve got it, it’s hard to get rid of. And it makes dancing almost impossible.

It’s called T-E-N-S-I-O-N!

 

People who are new to dancing –even experienced dancers, who are in the process of learning new things – tend to get tense. Backs stiffen. Shoulders rise. Arms become granite-like. Little beads of sweat form all over the body. It happens to all of us at one time or another. Usually, it’s a defense mechanism we incorporate in order to avoid making a mistake. We think that if we tense up, it’s less likely that we’ll goof during a new dance figure, or when dancing with an unfamiliar partner.

 

The problem is that tension actually causes the opposite to take place. When we’re tense, it’s far more likely that we’ll make a mistake, because our whole body has become brittle and unyielding. We’ve actually given up our ability to be flexible enough to handle the little compromises, which invariably become necessary to interact with another person during a dance.

 

When we’re tense, we can’t feel what going on with our dance partner. If we’re leading, we can’t notice whether she’s responding in the way we want, whether she’s balanced between steps, whether she’s ready for her next lead. If we’re following, we can’t feel the leads, because we’re too wrapped up in trying to hold ourselves together – always expecting the worst. When a lead does come, we’re unprepared for it, and lurch into the invited movements, probably losing our balance in the process.

 

Dancing is supposed to be fun. Making “mistakes” when dancing is not something that we should dread. Let’s talk about how to lessen or even eliminate tension. Start with the attitude that it’s okay to make mistakes. That’s just part of the learning process. Check yourself out, when taking a lesson, when dance with a new partner, even when practicing by yourself. “Am I relaxed? Am I ready to accept the fact that I might goof here and there, and it will be okay?” Thoughts like this can help you take it easy on yourself and actually make the whole process of learning and dancing much more enjoyable.

 

If you continue to feel tense, talk to Pat or me about it. Maybe we can help get you to a place where you’ll start having fun dancing, and leave tension behind.

 

November 1, 2008
 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Our subject during the past couple of weeks has been giro or molinete. This is one of the most difficult sequences in Tango for women to execute, because it calls for a combination of excellent balance, just the right amount of energy, superb timing, and a strict adherence to form. Because of these unusual demands, when a leader insists that his follower move too quickly, it becomes virtually impossible for her to effectively execute the necessary movements involved in the sequence. For this reason, today’s Tango Tip is: SLOW DOWN!!!!!

 

Every movement we make in Tango – whether it’s molinete, ocho, or simple linear steps (forward, backward, or to the side) – has a beginning, a middle, and an end. One of the biggest problems leaders have is that they try to induce followers to complete movements as rapidly as possible as they themselves are rushing around the dance floor. This doesn’t allow either person to experience the totality of each movement. In Argentina, among fine dancers, each individual step within the dance is showcased as if it’s the most important thing in the world. One doesn’t see good dancers hurling themselves and their followers around the floor, trying to get everything done at lightning speed.

 

So what can you as a leader do to slow things down? An excellent practice mechanism you can adopt is to try dancing in slow motion.

 

See if you can take a simple series of steps with your follower as if you’re imitating a movie playing back in slo-mo. Move as slowly as you possibly can. At first, it will feel strange, but over time, you’ll get used to it. Once you can do this effectively with forward, backward and side movements, try it with forward and backward ochos. When you can get that to work without you or your partner losing balance, try it with molinete. To produce the giro, turn you body as slowly as possible, allowing your follower to move as slowly as she can through the turn. Finally, try doing an entire dance, using this idea.

 

Initially, you and your follower will find this to be very difficult. You’ll find that balance is quite challenging, and that creating impetus when you’re not speeding through your sequences is a whole different ballgame. But you’ll also begin to experience the subtleties of the dance maybe for the first time. You’ll begin to realize how beautiful and satisfying simple movements can be between two people. And your dancing will improve immeasurably over a short time.

 

ALL you have to do is SLOW DOWN.

 

Try this, and see for yourself. See you next week.

 

October 27, 2008
 

Hello everyone, Pat here! Last week, Fran began a series of Tango Tips on one of the fundamental movements in Argentine Tango—molinete. More than almost anything else in this dance molinete serves as the underpinning of so much that separates Argentine Tango from all other types of dance.

 

Molinete requires specific techniques that the follower must learn and practice relentlessly -- forever! I’m not exaggerating. To be done well, molinete involves body alignment, size of steps, pivoting technique, and balance!

 

As you begin, and continue, to study Argentine Tango, you will come across all kinds of instruction on how to best learn and execute the formula for molinete. I remember being taught to move around a chair in a four-sided pattern, using the formula—forward, side, back, side, forward, side, back, side, and so on. The chair method was only somewhat useful, as in the dance you don’t move in a square shape at all! You move around your partner in a circular fashion.

 

Whatever methods of teaching molinete you come across, the most important thing you must learn is the formula, and then gradually improve your technique in executing it.

 

Followers, when your leader asks for a pivot and a walk, this could be the lead for a forward or backward ocho (depending on which way he walks you). It could also be the beginning of molinete. How do you know? When he leads the walking step, he will either pivot you back in the second half of ocho by turning his body in the opposite direction, or he will continue turning in the direction of the walking step. This is your signal to continue with molinete formula!

 

In molinete, the follower’s purpose is to stay in front of her leader. Therefore, as long as he keeps turning slightly ahead of you, you keep “trying to catch up to him,” using the molinete formula.

 

Exactly how do you execute the formula? Let’s assume you have been led to take a forward step on your left foot (following a pivot on your right foot) and your leader keeps turning in the direction of walk, signaling a molinete. The next step (in the formula) is a side step. You will pivot around your partner on your left foot and take a step to the side. By this time, your leader has moved around more, so your next step is backward. From the side step, you will transfer your weight to your right foot, and make a BIG pivot backward around your leader, aligning your lower body so that your back step (with your left foot) is straight, not crossing over. Next is a side step. After the back step, there is no pivot into the side step. Your right foot will simply slide past your weight-bearing foot (left) into a side step. This completes one full molinete.

 

Of course, as long as your leader keeps turning, you continue the formula. When you no longer feel him turning, it is up to you, followers, to stop moving. You will simply finish the step you’re currently executing, turn to face him, if necessary, and wait for the next lead.

 

Sometimes, a leader will go straight from a molinete into another movement, without pausing at all. In this case, we must hope that he is skilled enough to take care of the transition safely, without yanking you off balance, stepping on your feet or any number of unpleasantries!

 

More about molinete next week.

 

October 18, 2008
 

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. This is the second in a series of Tango Tips on what is called giro or molinete. (You can read last week’s introduction in our archives at Firehousetango.com.)

 

Today I want to address the leader’s role in producing this complex figure. As I said last week, in order to initiate the molinete, the leader invites the first ocho, then continues the lead simply by turning his body in the direction he wants the action to progress.

 

Molinete always starts with an ocho. It can be a forward ocho (ocho adelante) or a backward ocho (ocho atras), and it can move to the leader’s left or right. Once the follower has been led to begin molinete with either of these movements, she will continue according to a learned formula (which we’ll discuss next week). Right now, our focus is on how the leader produces the first ocho, and how he indicates that he wants the molinete to continue.

 

To initiate an ocho by the follower the leader has to invite her to pivot or rotate on her standing leg in one or the other direction, depending upon which of the two possible ochos he wants to produce.

 

For example: If his follower is standing on her right leg, (located opposite his left leg) and the leader wants to invite a forward ocho (which will move around to his left), he has to ask her to begin the ocho by pivoting clockwise. If he wants a backward ocho, he has to invite her to begin by pivoting counter-clockwise.

 

The leader invites one of these pivoting actions by rotating his own torso in the same direction that he wants his follower to go. (No, he doesn’t push or pull her with his arms!) The rotation is very slight. But with a skilled follower it is direct enough that this small rotation invites her to produce a significant pivot – large enough that her lower body is aligned to move around the leader, while her upper body continues to face him.

 

Once the leader has produced the pivot in this follower, he now begins to turn his body in the direction in which he wants her to travel while executing her molinete. Using whatever footwork he has selected, the leader maintains a relationship with his follower of facing approximately forty-five degrees to her left or right during his turn. His gives the follower a target center with which she tries to align herself. As long as the leader continues to turn, she continues to move around him – using the formula for molinete. When he stops turning (and she therefore catches up with his center), she finishes the step she is currently taking, and stops as well.

 

This all sounds quite a bit more complicated than it actually is in practice. Once you get the hang of it (after lots of practice, of course!) you’ll find that it’s really quite simple.

 

Next week, we’ll start to focus on the follower’s part. In the meantime, If you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to ask Pat or me. We’ll be more than happy to help out.

 

October 11, 2008
 

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Starting today, Pat and I are going to offer what I hope will be a comprehensive series of Tips on what is known as giro or molinete. This week, I’ll discuss some of the general characteristics of this complex series of movements, and then we’ll expand from there in future Tango Tips.

 

Let me describe in a fundamental way what happens in a giro:

 

Basically, a follower moves around a leader who is turning in place on the dance floor. The follower makes a small circle around him, using a formulaic – i.e., learned or memorized -- series of movements. This formula is sometimes called a “grapevine” in American social dancing. A simple way to define it would be to say that she executes a forward ocho, then steps to the side, executes a back ocho, and finally steps again to the side. (She might also be led to start this series of movements with a back step in which case the formula would be back, side, forward, side.)

 

In order to invite these movements, the leader invites the first ocho, then continues the lead by simply by turning his body in the direction he wants the action to progress.

 

Attempting to keep herself in front of the leader, the follower moves around him, stepping on what becomes the circumference of a circle. When the leader stops turning, the follower finishes whatever movement she is executing at that moment, and brings herself to a stop, having finally arrived in front of the leader.

 

This is essential what happens in the giro. The two questions that arise here are:

 

  1. Exactly how does the leader invite this complex series of actions?
  2. Exactly what does the follower do in taking up the invitation?

Answering these questions will be the focus of our next several Tango Tips. Many of you are already dancing molinetes, Our hope is that these Tips will give you some insight on how to make them better.

 

October 4, 2008

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Let’s talk about one of my favorite topics – inertia. I’ll start by paraphrasing the law of inertia: A body in motion tends to remain in motion; a body at rest tends to remain at rest.

 Remember having to memorize this, when you took high school Physics? Little did you know then that one of the most important differences between American/European social dancing and Argentine Tango actually centers around this idea.

 First, let’s talk about our own Ballroom Dancing. If we’re dancing Foxtrot, for example, once we start we don’t stop moving until the dance is over. The same thing occurs with Waltz, Quickstep, Peabody, Viennese Waltz, or American Tango. All these dances have what we might call a sense of flow. We glide along, moving gracefully (we hope) from one step to the next. When we move, we tend to continue moving. When we aren’t moving, it means that the dance is over.

Argentine tango, however, is completely different. In Tango, every individual step has a definite beginning, middle and end. Of particular importance is the end of every step. What do we do? We come to a stop. That’s right – we come to a stop. Can we continue moving? Of course we can, but first we have to acknowledge the end of each individual movement by stopping -- even if it is very briefly – before continuing into the next movement. This way of moving is quite different from the flow of American/European social dancing. It is staccato rather than legato. It has a definite sense of pulse.

Some (non-Argentine) people think of the movements in Tango as “jerky” or ungraceful. Stage performers often complicate matters (since they are the people with the highest profiles in the Tango community) by portraying Tango on stage as ballet-like, smooth, and continuously moving. Trained American dancers try to anglicize Tango by giving it the same kind of flowing grace they’re used to in our social dances.

But if we watch social dancers in the milongas of Buenos Aires, we see that Tango is quite different from the way it is all too often performed on stage, or the way Americans dance it. In Tango we attempt to overcome the law of inertia with every step we take. We start, we move, we stop. Start, move, stop. Having stopped, we may choose to remain at rest for as long as we like. Then we start again.

Try to incorporate this principle of inertia in your dance. Make it different from Foxtrot or American Slow Waltz. If you need clarification or assistance with this idea, ask Pat or me. We’ll be happy to help.

September 27, 2008
 

 Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, I defined what I consider to be the “basics” of dancing Argentine Tango:

 

(If you’d like to review the details about what I said last week, you can read last week’s Tango Tip in our Firehouse archives on our Web site, Firehousetango.com.)

 

The leader brings these four elements to bear in improvising his dance. The follower receives information step by step and executes movements individually, always waiting for the next lead before taking any action.

 

Putting all of this together takes months, sometimes years, to accomplish. Unfortunately, we live in a time when most of us want it now. We’re in a hurry. Why should we have to go through all that basic stuff? At the end of last week’s discussion I posed the following question:

 

Do you know of anything that will simplify the process of getting past the basics without putting in the hours, taking group and (especially) private lessons, practicing, and spending as much time as possible on the dance floor? Can you think of any way to “get good” faster?

 

Have you thought about it? Let me give you the short answer – you can’t “get good” faster.

 

There just aren’t any shortcuts. Sorry, but it’s true. However, most of us (me included, when I first started to learn Tango) think that there are.

 

The biggest shortcut (we think) is to learn figures.

 

We really believe in our hearts that if our teacher would only show us four or five (or twenty or a hundred) fancy steps, we’d have it made. We’d be able to look like we know what we’re doing. We’d be able to cut through all the red tape. Right?

Instant gratification!

 

To borrow a phrase that has achieved some notoriety lately, this is like putting lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig. And we still can’t dance. There’s nothing more painful to me as a dance teacher than to see students staggering through figures they’ve just learned from some high-priced stage performer, thinking they’ve got the real deal now, believing that they’re cruising in the fast lane to success.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, it just doesn’t work that way. If you want the pot of gold, you have no choice but to travel the road to get there. In the case of Tango, that road consists of private and group lessons, dancing a lot, and practice, practice, practice.

 

Do you still want to learn Tango? Okay … as the Nike commercial says, put on your dance shoes, take a deep breath and just do it.

 

September 20, 2008

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Let’s talk about my favorite topic – basics! Learning any skill involves a progressive, building-blocks process. Fundamentally, you start with simple things, and move ahead from there. Sounds logical, right?

 

I just wish it were as easy as that.

 

For those of us who study Tango, most of us have come to understand that so-called “simple things” aren’t really so simple after all. Learning to walk by ourselves -- to execute forward, backward, and side movements, weight changes in place, and pauses – is quite difficult for someone who hasn’t had years of dance training.

 

What do you mean? It’s just walking, isn’t it?

 

If you’ve tried it, you know there’s no such thing as “just walking.”

 

When we add a partner into the mix, and introduce the idea of lead and follow, things really start to get tricky. The leader has to gently but confidently invite a single movement, accompany the follower as she executes this movement, make sure she’s ready for the next movement, lead the next movement … and make it all look effortless.

 

The follower has to patiently wait until she receives the invitation, read it correctly, make the invited movement, then wait for the next invitation -- never anticipating what it’s going to be by moving earlier than she’s asked to do. Help!

 

Now we add the idea of moving rhythmically. The leader has to hear the music, figure out where the beats are, decide whether to move in single time, half time, double, time – or pause for a few beat before continuing. And to make all this seem “musical.” What the heck does that mean?

 

As if all that isn’t enough, the leader has to watch out that he doesn’t bump himself or his partner into anybody else on the dance floor, while he’s trying to figure out all this other stuff.

 

And guess what: Everything I’ve just said falls into the category of SQUARE ONE. We have to know these things from the moment we walk out onto the floor to dance. And there just aren’t any shortcuts that will help us out. Or are there?

 

Do you know of anything that will simplify the process of getting past the basics without putting in the hours, taking group and (especially) private lessons, practicing, and spending as much time as possible on the dance floor? Can you think of any way to “get good” faster?

 

Think about all this. Let me have your comments. You can reach me at franchesleigh@mac.com. I’ll have more to say about his next week. See you on the dance floor.

 

September 13, 2008

 

In our last Tango Tip for followers, I discussed the proper technique in executing the leader’s indication for the first ocho walking step, at the end of which the follower should make a small pivot on her own to realign herself with her leader. She should end up facing his body, but she will not be fully in front of him.

 

Followers, one of the most important things for you to do when following in ocho is to “listen” very carefully to your partner’s lead. If he’s doing his job correctly, the leads will be subtle and you must be paying attention and be ready not just to follow the lead but to do your part in dancing an ocho.

 

Therefore, when you reach the point of making that small pivot to realign with your partner, you must be sensitive to what your leader wants next. Has he stopped leading you? Or is he indicating with his upper body that you should continue with your pivot and take the second walking step?

 

To complete the ocho from where we are now, the leader should move his shoulders in the direction he would like you to walk, and you should take that step. Your foot should curve around your leader so that it lands directly in front of him. As you bring your weight onto that foot, it is your responsibility to pivot to face your partner. If your foot has been placed correctly, the pivot should bring you into perfect alignment in front of your leader.

 

Followers, the final half-pivot is essential. Do not just stop after you’ve taken the second step—you will not be facing your partner and he will be unable to lead you to do anything else. He may even feel the urge to do the unmentionable…pull you around to face him in heaven knows what rough manner. We don’t want this to happen, so just remember when you finished the second walking step in an ocho, just do that little half-pivot to face your partner, and you’ll both be ready for anything!

 

September 6, 2008
 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, Pat discussed the technique used by the follower in the walking phase of a forward or backward ocho. Today, I want to talk about what the leader does next in order to invite the follower to continue into the second half of this ocho.

 

Let’s assume that the follower is doing her job, and in reaching the end of her walk she is now in the process of automatically pivoting her lower half in order to align herself with you. If you want her to continue with the second half of her ocho, the lead for her to continue occurs during this automatic realignment. All you have to do is turn your upper body slightly in the direction you want her to rotate. She will feel this through the connection and know that she needs to continue her rotation in order to align herself for the walking phase of the second half of the ocho. Under no circumstances should you try to turn the follower by pushing or pulling with your arms. You arms are neutral. It is your upper body that creates the lead. The movement you make is simple – just a slight body rotation. The timing of this rotation, however, is crucial. If you turn too soon, you’ll pull the follower off balance.

 

Wait until she is realigning her lower half in order to face you ... then turn slightly, and watch in deep admiration as she rotates herself.

 

As the follower is coming to the end of her rotation, turn your body slightly in the direction you want her to walk. Remember that with a back ocho your lead for the pivot and your lead for walk move in the same direction. However, in the forward ocho, your lead for rotation and for the subsequent walk move in opposite directions.

 

At the end of this “second half” the complete ocho is at an end. If you want her to execute another ocho, use the technique of offering a slight body rotation lead again at precisely the right moment as described here and in previous Tango Tips. If you want her stop, all you have to do is stop leading. The skilled follower will align herself to you, and wait for the next lead.

 

If at this moment, she doesn’t stop, whisper gently in her ear: “Dance lessons.”
 

August 30, 2008
 

Hello everyone, Pat here. Fran and I are currently discussing in detail the leading and following of ocho.  This week I will discuss how the follower responds, when her leader asks for a forward or backward step, following the pivot (which we talked about two weeks ago.)

 

Followers, having executed the pivot, you wait with your head and upper body facing your partner and your lower body facing your leader’s chosen direction. (In other words you’re in a twisted position.) Your feet are together and you are ready for the lead to walk.

 

If your leader invites this movement correctly, as you are finishing your pivot you will feel his upper body turning slightly in the direction he wishes you to go. Having felt that lead, it is your responsibility to take the step, bringing your weight fully onto the stepping foot, and then your feet together. Followers, as you take the walking step your head should still be facing your partner’s upper body -- and therefore you will continue to be in the strong twist at the waist that we discussed during the pivot. (Now, you have been practicing this—and taken off some days from work to do so, haven’t you?)

 

As your feet come together from the walk, you will make a half pivot with the lower half of your body, thus un-twisting and re-aligning yourself, facing your leader and ready for the next lead. This half pivot is not led, and is therefore your responsibility to execute.

 

Followers, as you are waiting for the lead to walk, if you do not feel any lead, don’t go anywhere. The walking step is not automatic after a pivot! Too many followers will just take that step without being led. The result is that you anticipate the lead, and he may a lazy leader. Why should he bother, if you’re just going to do it? Please, followers, wait for the lead!

 

And so, having received the lead to walk, in addition to your response described above, there is an important piece of technique that the follower should observe. In order to keep equidistant from your partner and to stay on an invisible circle when doing ochos, the follower must curve her step around her leader. This will preserve your dance connection and prevent the creation of large gaps that can pull either one or both partners off balance.

 

Next week Fran will discuss what the leader does to complete the ocho.

 

August 23, 2008

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango tip of the Week. We’re in the middle of a somewhat in-depth discussion about leading and following ocho. If you’ve just joined us, you can catch up on what we’ve said so far by logging on to the Firehouse Tango Web site, going to the Tango Tips, and bringing yourself up to date.

 

Last week, Pat wrote in some detail about following the first part of a lead for ocho – the pivot. An important thing for followers to remember, when rotating, is that they must not immediately execute the walk until it is led – as a separate part of the ocho. Many followers automatically take their step at the end of the rotation, without waiting for the lead to walk.

 

This week, I want to talk about how the leader invites this walk. As the follower is finishing her rotation, he simply turns his upper body in the direction he wants her to go. Responding to this, she will continue from the rotation or pivot into the walking action. (If he doesn’t give her this lead, she will simply stop, turn to face him, and wait for his next invitation. More about this next week.) The actual amount of body rotation the leader needs is somewhere around an inch to an inch and one half.

 

No more than that!

 

By giving the follower this small amount of body rotation, the leader is inviting the beginning of her walk. It’s up to her to respond by executing the entire walking action. Leaders often feel that they have to literally carry their partners through the walk – as if their followers will never be able to get to the end of the walk on their own. This is bad dance practice. Tango is a collaboration between leader and follower. The leader provides the invitation to move; the follower responds and executes the move.

 

Try this lead the next time you want to invite a forward or backward ocho. We’ll talk  about how the follower responds to this invitation to walk next week.

 

August 16, 2008
 

Hello everyone, Pat here with your Tango Tip of the Week. This week, as part of our continuing series on leading and following ocho, I would like to talk about the first part of the follower’s movement – i.e., her pivot -- when her leader asks for a forward or backward ocho.

 

As Fran discussed last week, once the follower is weighted on one foot, the leader indicates that he would like her to execute either a forward or a backward ocho by turning his upper body slightly. (He turns in the direction of her weighted foot, if he wants a backward ocho, and in the direction of her free foot, if he wants a forward ocho.). The follower feels this indication, and her response is to pivot on her weighted foot. While keeping her upper body still facing her partner, she must execute a twist in the waist with her feet together, rotating her lower body either forward or backward. As she rotates, she pivots on the ball of her weighted foot, keeping her un-weighted foot close to the ground, heel down and ankle to ankle with the pivoting foot.

 

Followers, it is important to remember that ocho moves around the leader on a point of an invisible circle. Because of this, you have to target that point on your own. When pivoting, try to twist as far around as you can so that when you take your step, you will move toward that place on the floor. It is not the leader’s responsibility to twist you all the way. It’s your job to make sure you pivot enough so that your lower body is in alignment after the pivot.

 

If you have completed the pivot correctly, you should feel a strong twist in your torso, with your head and upper body facing your partner and your lower body facing in your leader’s chosen direction. Your feet will be together as you wait for the next lead.

 

We do understand that many followers may not have a lot of flexibility in their waists, but you can increase this flexibility by exhaustive twisting sessions (in the privacy of your own home, of course). This results in the added benefit of possibly pulling in a notch or two on your belt!!

 

More about leading and following ocho next week.

 

August 9, 2008
 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week.  Let’s continue our discussion about leading and following ocho. In leading ocho most beginners simply push their followers to one side, assuming, I suppose, that they’ll know how to get themselves where they’re supposed to go. The result is that followers routinely try to pivot at the same time that they’re trying to walk. Of course, they end up completely off balance and quite uncomfortable. If the ocho continues, so does the discomfort.

 

The good leader is aware that, in fact, there are two leads, which have to be given in order to invite the ocho. The first is the lead for the pivot; the second is the lead for the walk. If each of these leads is given at precisely the right time, the ocho is effortless for the follower.  Today, I’ll talk about the lead for the pivot.

 

In order to execute an ocho, the follower has to move in the direction of her weight – in effect stepping around her standing leg. To do this, she has to pivot in either direction (depending on whether the leader wants her to produce a forward or a backward ocho). Once he has placed his follower on the correct leg, all the leader needs to do to invite the pivot is to turn his torso slightly in the direction he wants her to go. When I say “slightly” I mean perhaps one inch or less. The reason this lead is so small is that only the beginning of the pivot needs to be led. Once the lead is given, it’s up to the follower to do the rest. And that will be the subject of our next Tango Tip of the Week.

 

August 2, 2008
 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week.  Sometime ago, Pat and I offered an extensive series of Tips on the general subject of leading and following. Starting today, we’re going to begin a special series on the very important – and often misunderstood -- skills of leading and following forward and backward ochos.

 

An ocho – which, of course, means “eight” in Spanish – is similar to what ice skaters would call a “Figure Eight”; i.e., a series of movements which, taken together, actually carve out the number eight on the ice. In Tango, a complete ocho consists of two halves, each tracing one of the loops in the number eight. Sometimes, dancers will refer to each half of an ocho simply as an ocho; others will call such a figure half an ocho. For our purposes here, we’ll consider that two “halves” of an ocho join together to form a complete or full ocho.

 

In this series Pat be providing a comprehensive exploration of the techniques followers bring to bear in executing the movements used in ochos -- as well as how to precisely follow the leads which invite them. From the leader’s side of the equation, I’ll be discussing exactly how to lead each aspect of the ocho and what to expect from a good follower in terms of her responsiveness to the lead.

 

Let’s start this week by talking about what the follower actually does, when executing a forward ocho. (Pat will be discussing details about the follower’s movements in the future.) To oversimplify a bit, the follower does two things:

 

1. She pivots with her weight on one leg.

2. She walks forward.

 

NB: If the leader asks for her to execute what we might call the “second half” of the ocho (see explanation above), she repeats these two movements.

 

So far, so good? Now, let’s look at the follower’s two movements in somewhat greater detail:

 

The pivot

When she receives the lead to pivot, the follower continues to face her partner with the upper half of her body, while rotating in the direction led from her waist down. This creates a twisting action. Furthermore, without being specifically led to do so, she rotates enough to align herself so that she can walk to a point somewhere on an invisible circle around the leader – as defined by her current distance form him. This will enable her to maintain the same distance from him at the end of the ensuing walking movement as when she began her ocho.

 

The walk

When she receives the lead to walk, the follower – with her body now in a twisted shape with her upper half still facing her partner – walks forward to a point on the circle around the leader (Pat will talk more about exactly where that is in the future). When she arrives at the end of this walking movement, she twists the lower half of her body to face the leader – again without being specifically led to do so. At this moment, both her upper and lower halves are facing her partner, and her walk has been completed.

 

Pretty complex, isn’t it? When done appropriately, Tango is a highly collaborative relationship between leader and follower. And nowhere is this intricate collaboration more obvious than in the interaction which takes place during the leading and following of ocho.

 

Read this Tango Tip a few times to be sure you understand what the follower is actually supposed to do, when executing an ocho. You may find that it’s different from what you thought. If you have question about what we’ve described, ask Pat or me about it, when we meet at Firehouse Tango.

 

More about leading and following ocho next week.

 

July 26, 2008
 

Hello everyone, Pat here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Today, I’m going to offer the final installment in our series on la cruzada. This one will be for followers.

 

Last week, Fran talked about the problems occurring when a new and/or inexperienced leader keeps himself too close to his follower as he leads her to the cross. Followers, how often have you arrived at the cross and felt your feet were all tied up, there was no room to move, your leader was crowding you and stepping on your feet, and you both practically fell to the ground?

 

This is no laughing matter, and unfortunately it’s all too common! So, as Fran mentioned last week, I am happy to divulge a “secret weapon” for followers -- one that presents a frighteningly simple solution to all these problems:

 

When your leader is taking you to the cross, if we count the 1-2-3, starting with his outside partner step forward with the right foot—and your back step with the left—on your 2nd step, with your right foot, make sure to take a BIG step before you cross left over right. This will create additional space between you and your leader, and will ensure that you have plenty of room to comfortably cross, your leader will not be falling into you, and (hopefully) you will both be nicely balanced.

 

Try it. It’s completely failsafe, and I can guarantee you will be amazed. Your feet will thank you, your leader will thank you, and you will marvel at how easy and comfortable it is to do your cross.

 

July 19, 2008

 

Hello folks, Pat here. This week I would like to address one of the most important issues for the follower when learning to dance Tango. As we have all experienced, this most unique dance can present some of the most daunting challenges we have ever faced in our dance life. Due to possibilities and conventions that simply do not occur in other dances, Tango demands the highest level of perseverance during the learning process.

 

A single issue could be said to represent everything I have just said. For the follower, it is the ability to recognize when her leader has traveled outside partner left (she will perceive this movement as being to her right) -- which is the crucial signal for the likelihood of an upcoming cruzada.

 

Last week, Fran discussed how difficult offering this signal can be for the inexperienced leader. If you put him together with an inexperienced follower, all manner of convoluted and unexpected results can occur in this couple’s efforts to lead and follow la cruzada.

 

Followers, when you are being led to walk straight back, make sure you are directly in front of your leader and that he is directly in front of you (frente a frente), and that you know what this feels like in relation to him. When he steps outside partner to your right, it should feel quite different. You should immediately be aware that his juxtaposition to you has changed, and that his center is no longer directly in front of you. The next two steps are of great importance—if he stays outside on the second step, this movement verifies that you’re going to cross left over right on the third step (la cruzada). If he goes outside with one step, but then comes back in front on the next step, you will not cross on the third step.

 

Many new leaders are themselves learning to get used to this odd-feeling position when they are walking outside their partner (to the leader’s left.) They very often take one step outside, wander back towards the full front position where they feel more secure, and then remember they’re supposed to be outside their partner and take a lurching third step that puts them in no mans land! This can create a dilemma for the follower. Is he outside partner or not? Should you cross or not? When you leader is waffling outside, in front, outside…with each step, it’s very difficult to tell what his intentions are. Many followers will decide not to cross for fear of being tripped; they may also think the leader is making a mistake and not cross. Some followers will try to cross and suddenly find that their feet are bumped and possibly trodden on.

 

This situation is quite common and can be truly daunting to the budding Tango dancer. Followers, if you are unsure whether your leader is outside partner going to the cross, or just taking a wide forward step, it’s best that you do not cross -- even if it turns out that leading you to the cross was actually his intention. Crossing your feet in uncertain circumstances can be more harmful to both partners. Eventually, he will learn to be clearer, and you’ll find it easier to read what he wants.

 

In fact, the good news (assuming you continue your Tango studies and improve your fundamentals and technique) is that there will come a time when you won’t even have to think about these things. The feel of your leader going outside partner and staying there will be obvious, and you will cross. Conversely, the feel of him going outside and coming back in line will be obvious and you won’t cross.

 

So please persevere. It’s the only way to get beyond any and all quandaries in this amazing dance!

 

July 12, 2008

 

Hello folks, Pat here. This week I would like to address one of the most important issues for the follower when learning to dance Tango. As we have all experienced, this most unique dance can present some of the most daunting challenges we have ever faced in our dance life. Due to possibilities and conventions that simply do not occur in other dances, Tango demands the highest level of perseverance during the learning process.

 

A single issue could be said to represent everything I have just said. For the follower, it is the ability to recognize when her leader has traveled outside partner left (she will perceive this movement as being to her right) -- which is the crucial signal for the likelihood of an upcoming cruzada.

 

Last week, Fran discussed how difficult offering this signal can be for the inexperienced leader. If you put him together with an inexperienced follower, all manner of convoluted and unexpected results can occur in this couple’s efforts to lead and follow la cruzada.

 

Followers, when you are being led to walk straight back, make sure you are directly in front of your leader and that he is directly in front of you (frente a frente), and that you know what this feels like in relation to him. When he steps outside partner to your right, it should feel quite different. You should immediately be aware that his juxtaposition to you has changed, and that his center is no longer directly in front of you. The next two steps are of great importance—if he stays outside on the second step, this movement verifies that you’re going to cross left over right on the third step (la cruzada). If he goes outside with one step, but then comes back in front on the next step, you will not cross on the third step.

 

Many new leaders are themselves learning to get used to this odd-feeling position when they are walking outside their partner (to the leader’s left.) They very often take one step outside, wander back towards the full front position where they feel more secure, and then remember they’re supposed to be outside their partner and take a lurching third step that puts them in no mans land! This can create a dilemma for the follower. Is he outside partner or not? Should you cross or not? When you leader is waffling outside, in front, outside…with each step, it’s very difficult to tell what his intentions are. Many followers will decide not to cross for fear of being tripped; they may also think the leader is making a mistake and not cross. Some followers will try to cross and suddenly find that their feet are bumped and possibly trodden on.

 

This situation is quite common and can be truly daunting to the budding Tango dancer. Followers, if you are unsure whether your leader is outside partner going to the cross, or just taking a wide forward step, it’s best that you do not cross -- even if it turns out that leading you to the cross was actually his intention. Crossing your feet in uncertain circumstances can be more harmful to both partners. Eventually, he will learn to be clearer, and you’ll find it easier to read what he wants.

 

In fact, the good news (assuming you continue your Tango studies and improve your fundamentals and technique) is that there will come a time when you won’t even have to think about these things. The feel of your leader going outside partner and staying there will be obvious, and you will cross. Conversely, the feel of him going outside and coming back in line will be obvious and you won’t cross.

 

So please persevere. It’s the only way to get beyond any and all quandaries in this amazing dance!

 

July 5, 2008

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. During the last several weeks we’ve been talking about la cruzada – the cross. If you’re unfamiliar with this special technique, read our last four or five Tango Tips to find out all about this uniquely Argentine movement.

 

One of the difficulties that beginner followers have is recognizing when the leader has traveled outside partner to her right, and is headed for the cross. Next week, Pat will talk more specifically about the follower’s dilemma in this regard. This week I want to discuss how the leader can make it easier for the follower to know that a cross is called for. When dancing in parallel (leader’s left leg to follower’s right; leader’s right leg to follower’s left), a leader initiates the sequence which leads to la cruzada by stepping forward with his right leg outside to his left (the follower’s right [Thank you, John Wynn]). This step will be recognized by all but complete beginner followers as the onset of the cruzada sequence.

 

However, it is the leader’s next step, which can often cause problems. If the leader takes this step (with is left leg) too close to the follower’s center, she may interpret this action to mean that he doesn’t want her to cross – since she may now believe he has moved back in line with her. (In fact, a standard technique for negating la cruzada is to move back toward her center with this step.) Beginner leaders often move toward the follower’s center unconsciously, because being outside partner is generally somewhat awkward for beginners – and moving back toward her center makes them feel more comfortable. But it’s wrong to do so – unless the leader doesn’t want her to cross. Of course, the leader can move too far outside left, but this isn’t the subject we’re discussing at the moment.

 

The bottom line here is that the leader needs to be very clear with this step with his left leg, which follows his initiating the outside partner sequence. As he steps forward he must be sure to remain outside partner. This will verify for the follower that she is supposed to cross. And, if she knows what she’s doing, she will.

 

June 28, 2008
 

Hello everyone, Pat here. Last week, Fran’s Tango Tip covered some fundamental issues arising, when inexperienced leaders are learning how to execute and lead followers in la cruzada. This week I would like to address these issues from the follower’s point of view.

 

“Going to the cross” (as it is generally called) is a very common movement in Tango -- but it requires a sensitivity in the dance embrace that is crucial to its successful execution. When learning how to go to the cross, both partners must become acutely aware of the precise alignment and juxtaposition of their bodies. Followers, when your leader moves “outside partner,” you will perceive this as him moving to your right side. In the beginning, this movement of the leader may feel strange and even incorrect! You might think he’s made a mistake, and decide to stop moving. You might become confused and go off your stride. These are understandable reactions, but you must try not to respond in this way. Trust what you know—if your leader is moving forward, you keep walking backwards, making sure to take steps which are large enough to maintain your juxtaposition to him.

 

In this way, you’ll be observing one of the follower’s most important “rules”: Stay in front of your leader and follow his center.

 

Of course, once he moves outside partner, you will no longer be fully in front of him. Therefore, what you need to do is turn your upper body -- from the waist -- toward your leader. He should be mirroring this twist, so that you are both facing one another whilst still walking in separate tracks. In fact, as he turns toward you, his embrace will help turn you toward him without your having to think much about it. This will give your movement to the cross a very nice “connected” look and feel.

 

In future Tango Tips I will address more issues arising for the follower, when being led to the cross, including some tips on how to help your leader and overcome problems.

 

June 21, 2008

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. If you’ve been reading our Tango Tips lately, you know that right now we’re in the middle of a discussion about la cruzada. Last week, our subject was where this idiosyncratic sequence comes from. Today, I’d like to talk about a problem leaders often have in its execution.

 

If you’re just learning how to dance Tango, it may be that when you take yourself outside to the follower’s left in order to produce la cruzada, by the time she crosses, you’re practically past her, and you’re quite far over to your own left. This is a common problem with inexperienced leaders. The moment they’re not directly in front of their follower, they start taking considerably longer steps than she – and ultimately end up virtually moving past her on the left side. Furthermore, in an attempt to remain outside her, they end up much too far outside, thereby creating a very uncomfortable moment at the cross itself.

 

In such cases, followers often play a substantial role in exacerbating the problem (which Pat will talk about next week); but let’s stay focused on leaders for the moment. In general, Tango is a dance in which both partners share the mutual responsibility of constantly trying to stay in front of one another. Concentrating on this fact alone will help you stay more or less in the right juxtaposition throughout the dance. To make this idea work for you when you move outside to the left (generally by crossing your right leg over to outside left rather than staying in front of her), it is very important that you rotate your upper body to the right. In this way, you’ll tend to continue facing your partner at least at your torso – even though technically you’re not totally in front of her in this moment. In fact, your legs will seem to be going parallel to the follower, while your upper body will feel as if it’s connected to her. As you do your best to remain frente a frente with your follower in this way, it will be much more difficult for you to inadvertently move past her – or to get too far away from her at the moment of the cross itself.

 

Try this the next time you take a follower to the cross. I think you’ll find that your cruzada comes together much more efficiently than ever. If you have questions about this, just ask Pat or me the next time we meet.

 

June 14, 2008

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Our subject for the next several weeks is a multi-step sequence, which leads to a movement called la cruzada. This week I’d like to talk about where this sequence comes from. In older versions of Tango, the follower would generally adhere to an idea called el codigo del Tango – the code of Tango. This means that as she was led, she would always be attempting to move around the leader in one direction or the other, using a specific sequence of steps, which we now sometimes refer to as molinete or grapevine.

 

Typically, the molinete sequence consists of an apertura or side step, a pivot and step forward or backward, another apertura, and yet another pivot and step in the opposite direction from the first pivoting step in the sequence. Thus, a typical molinete sequence might be side, pivot and step forward, side, pivot and step back. Alternatively, its opposite might be side, pivot and step back, side, pivot and step forward. In fact, this sequence can begin at any point (side, forward, or backward). From there the sequence continues in predictable order (forward, side, back, side, etc.) until the leader brings it to a close by discontinuing his lead.

 

Followers will no doubt recognize this concept immediately as the way in which they move around leaders today, when asked to execute molinete.

 

Originally, it is believed that Tango was danced sideways around la ronda – the line of direction – rather than forward or backward as it is danced today. This resulted in an often-used sequence which consisted of the leader beginning with a left side step, and continuing by pivoting and stepping forward with his right leg, then taking another left side step, and pivoting and stepping behind with his right leg to complete the sequence. As he did this, the follower would be led to step to the side with her right leg, then pivot and step back with her left, then side with her right, and finally pivot and step forward with her left. This sequence was executed so often that dancers eventually did it as a matter of course, when dancing tango in the old style.

 

During the late 1930’s, Tango underwent a fundamental change in technique. Instead of moving to the side – “crab-walking” as we sometimes call it – Tango began to be danced forward and backward as well as to the side. Thus, in a typical walking sequence, the leader might move straight into the follower’s space; thus the follower had to develop the special technique we see used today of moving her legs sharply backward in order to get them out of the way.

 

In this context the sequence described above was now executed in a very new way:

 

1. It began with the leader’s side step left, accompanied by the follower’s side step right.

 

2. Instead of continuing to the left side as above, the leader now moved forward – albeit on the right side of the follower. As she stepped back with her left leg, she still had the feeling of crossing behind as she had in the original sequence, because the leader was on her right side. In fact, her upper torso would be turned somewhat to the right in order for her to maintain a front-to-front connection with the leader.

 

3. Next, the leader stepped forward in this new outside line with his left leg; and since he was still on the outside right of the follower – and her upper torso was still turned to face him -- her accompanying step would feel more like a side step than a back step. In fact, it would feel much the same to her as it had felt in the original sequence.

 

4. To complete the sequence the leader would now either close right to left or cross his right leg behind his left, coming in a stop. In years gone by, the follower would have executed a pivot and forward step at this moment. But in this new way of dancing she simply crossed her left leg in front of her right producing what we call today la cruzada.*

 

Does this all sound familiar? It should, because once again, all I’ve done has been to describe what we know today as la salida. The difference is that perhaps now you can see that this figura actually derives from the older way of dancing Tango. It is, in fact, a remnant of or a throwback to el codigo del Tango in the old style.

 

This explains why this sequence is danced in Tango today. Over time, it has become an integral part of the new tradition of the dance. People in Argentina dance it, simply because everyone before danced it the same way. If you’re learning this sequence as part of your Argentine Tango studies, you’re actually learning to execute by rote a piece of Tango history.

 

Now that we have an idea of how la cruzada came about, we’ll discuss more about how to dance it – starting next week.

 

See you then!

 

*In some parts of Argentina, people don’t dance la cruzada at all. In such areas, in order to produce the crossing effect, the leader must actually lead a forward ocho. This disparity over the way Tango is danced in Argentina may have led to a confusion over whether la cruzada is danced by default or whether it must be led. More about this in the following weeks.

 

June 7, 2008

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. For the next few weeks, I’d like to talk about a somewhat problematic subject in Tango – a sequence of steps, which results in a movement generally called la cruzada. This week, I’ll describe the sequence, and over the next several Tango Tips, we’ll discuss such things as where this very special movement came from, how a follower knows when to execute it during the dance, and why it has become so controversial.

If you’ve taken even a few Argentine Tango lessons, la cruzada – the cross – isn’t something that’s new to you. It resembles what American social dancers would call a “lock step.” If you originally learned Argentine Tango in a structured way, la cruzada  might have been taught to you by rote as part of the so-called “8-count basic.” If your lessons were more in the Argentine improvisational tradition, you may have learned that when a leader moves to the left side of the follower during a forward progression, she responds by crossing her left leg in front of her right at the correct moment.

I want to describe in some detail the sequence of steps, which produces the cross. Let’s say the couple is moving down the dance floor with the leader walking forward. At some point, when his right leg is free:

1. The leader takes a forward step, which crosses over to the follower’s left side -- what we might call “outside partner” (the follower, of course, perceives this as her right side). He does this as the follower is moving backward with her left leg.

2. Next, the leader takes an additional step forward with his left leg in this new traveling line as the follower moves backward with her right leg.

3. To finish the sequence the leader brings his feet together – right up to left, At the same time, the follower slides her left foot in front of her right, crossing her legs somewhere below the knees, thereby forming la cruzada.

This is the basic sequence that is generally used to produce the cross. If the couple were to simply memorize this sequence, it would eventually be quite simple to execute at any time. It’s just three easy steps. So what’s the problem? Why is this rather straightforward sequence so difficult for people to understand? Where did it originally come from? And why is it so controversial? These are the things we’ll examine in some depth over the next few weeks.

May 31, 2008

 

Hello everyone, Pat here with your Tango Tip of the Week. I’d like to talk to followers this week about maintaining constant light contact with the floor during the dance. A follower’s feet should be considered among her most prized assets, when dancing Tango. They should be elegant, stylish, and most importantly, they should be connected lightly to the floor both at rest and in movement. When stepping backwards, the foot reaching back should brush lightly to a pointed toe; then the weight should be transferred; and the other foot, as it is pulled together, should brush the floor lightly in motion, coming to rest next to the weight-bearing foot.

 

Followers: All the steps in your simple social dance should be executed with this light brushing motion. The floor is your friend. If you always maintain light floor contact through your feet, your movement will feel much more connected to your partner’s lead and to the embrace, enhancing the intimacy of the dance. In general, neither foot should be lifted up off the surface of the floor and then put down. Tango feet slide from place to place.

 

Of course, there are certain movements during which followers lift their feet momentarily. For example, when the leader invites the follower to step over his foot in a barrera, she must lift up her foot over his. Also, if a follower is accustomed to including embellishments such as a sharp toe-tap, lifting her foot briefly at certain points in the dance (what we sometimes refer to as “hot coals”) then yes, her foot will briefly come off the ground.

 

But in a simple tango dance (which is what you should be practicing!) the feet stay on the floor. Even when walking forward, followers, the feet should maintain floor contact. Lifting the foot off the ground and then stepping heel-toe as in normal forward walking will be a natural instinct -- but it doesn’t look graceful, and it doesn’t look like Tango. Instead, try moving the whole foot forward along the floor, or point the toe so that the ball of the foot keeps contact with the floor, finally bringing your weight onto the whole foot. Lifting the foot and stepping with the heel first when walking forward can create a kind of lurch, which can upset the embrace and connection with your partner.

 

So followers, think of caressing the floor when you dance. It’s worth taking the time to practice and when you get it right, it’ll feel good!

 

May 24, 2008

 

Hello everyone, Pat here. I still have visions of Fish and Chips and full English breakfasts floating in front of me, so I will try to be very focused as I write. Our Tango Tip this week is part of our ongoing series on the embrace, and could be called, “Where do I look?” This is a question often asked by beginner followers as they form the embrace with each new leader. They have probably seen women dancing tango who hold their heads in any of several different positions, and they wonder whether there is a correct position, or whether they have a choice.

 

The answer is that the follower does indeed have a choice of positions for her head, These positions can be dictated by the height differential in the embrace, the type of embrace (closed, open, “breathing”) and the type of figure which is actually being led during the dance.

 

At the beginning of the dance, the follower must make a choice. (She will be taking a position in which her body is directly in front of her leader, not offset to the side, but frente a frente—buttons to buttons.)  Her choice is: a) to look straight at her partner (probably not directly into his eyes, but at his neck, chin or upper chest); b) to look over his right shoulder (slightly to the left of his head from her point of view); or c) to turn her head either slightly to the right or even as far as looking at the handhold of the embrace.

 

It is very important no matter which position the follower chooses, that her head is not pushed forward from her upper body or tilted in any way, but held upright over the shoulders and in line with a straight back.

 

If the dance starts, continues and ends in a very close embrace, the follower will likely not change her head position and it is usually more comfortable to be looking over the leader’s right shoulder during this type of dance. On the other hand, if the leader includes open figures during the dance, the follower’s eyes must stay focused on her leader’s front, no matter where he is positioned in relation to her…so her head will turn as she tries to keep her eyes on him. If the dance “breathes” with closed and open dancing, the follower’s head will assume different positions as dictated by the embrace.

 

If your leader is shorter than you, please do your very best not to look down at the top of his head, or somehow stoop over to try and be shorter! It’s something that a follower will very much want to do, but it looks awful and must be resisted—hold your head up and your shoulders back, and the embrace will look and work just fine.

 

And followers, one more thing (a pet peeve of mine). When you begin dancing, please cast your eyes down (without tilting your head) or close them. Try not to look around the room to see who’s watching you! When I see followers doing this (and it’s unfortunately all too common) I realize that she is not in the dance and not listening to her leader; her focus is connecting to an imagined audience or any person who may catch her eye as she goes by. It looks bad and is not Tango!

 

May 17, 2008

 

Hello everyone, Pat here. I still have visions of Fish and Chips and full English breakfasts floating in front of me, so I will try to be very focused as I write. Our Tango Tip this week is part of our ongoing series on the embrace, and could be called, “Where do I look?” This is a question often asked by beginner followers as they form the embrace with each new leader. They have probably seen women dancing tango who hold their heads in any of several different positions, and they wonder whether there is a correct position, or whether they have a choice.

 

The answer is that the follower does indeed have a choice of positions for her head, These positions can be dictated by the height differential in the embrace, the type of embrace (closed, open, “breathing”) and the type of figure which is actually being led during the dance.

 

At the beginning of the dance, the follower must make a choice. (She will be taking a position in which her body is directly in front of her leader, not offset to the side, but frente a frente—buttons to buttons.)  Her choice is: a) to look straight at her partner (probably not directly into his eyes, but at his neck, chin or upper chest); b) to look over his right shoulder (slightly to the left of his head from her point of view); or c) to turn her head either slightly to the right or even as far as looking at the handhold of the embrace.

 

It is very important no matter which position the follower chooses, that her head is not pushed forward from her upper body or tilted in any way, but held upright over the shoulders and in line with a straight back.

 

If the dance starts, continues and ends in a very close embrace, the follower will likely not change her head position and it is usually more comfortable to be looking over the leader’s right shoulder during this type of dance. On the other hand, if the leader includes open figures during the dance, the follower’s eyes must stay focused on her leader’s front, no matter where he is positioned in relation to her…so her head will turn as she tries to keep her eyes on him. If the dance “breathes” with closed and open dancing, the follower’s head will assume different positions as dictated by the embrace.

 

If your leader is shorter than you, please do your very best not to look down at the top of his head, or somehow stoop over to try and be shorter! It’s something that a follower will very much want to do, but it looks awful and must be resisted—hold your head up and your shoulders back, and the embrace will look and work just fine.

 

And followers, one more thing (a pet peeve of mine). When you begin dancing, please cast your eyes down (without tilting your head) or close them. Try not to look around the room to see who’s watching you! When I see followers doing this (and it’s unfortunately all too common) I realize that she is not in the dance and not listening to her leader; her focus is connecting to an imagined audience or any person who may catch her eye as she goes by. It looks bad and is not Tango!

 

May 10, 2008

 

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. As I write this, Pat and I are staying at my brother’s home in Dorset, England, enjoying the rural English countryside, and wondering why we don’t live here instead on New York City. For any of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit this part of the world, it’s like going back about 200 years in time. I look out the window and see nothing but rustic hillsides, vast open fields of lush green, cows, sheep, and endless hedge-rows. Our main activities here consist of eating and walking the dogs. Oh yes, and watching cricket matches. We’ve thought several times about perhaps never coming back … but then Tango beckons. So enough already with the travelogue. Let’s talk about today’s subject: el abrazo -- the embrace.

 

This week I’d like to focus on how the embrace changes from closed to open during the dance – how it‘s supposed to breathe. When the leader forms the embrace, he is generally quite close to the follower. In Buenos Aires what are now referred to as “traditional” leaders (as opposed to “nuevo,” for example) always begin by making close body contact – without, of course, giving their followers the uncomfortable sense of being smothered. Throughout the course of the dance, however, leaders will allow the embrace to loosen momentarily, and then return to being closed again.

 

Let’s talk about how this occurs. In order to loosen the embrace and therefore create additional space for the follower, the leader extends his arm away from his body at the right elbow, and – if he happens to have his arm well around the follower’s back in what we might call a close embrace – allows this arm to slide from left to right across her back. At the same time, he extends his left arm slightly forward. Sensing that the leader is creating more space, the follower slides her left arm from around the leader’s neck or back -- or high on his shoulder – to somewhere around the deltoid muscle of his arm. This combined action releases the embrace from closed to open.

 

The reason for opening the embrace is to make certain figures more comfortable. These include la cruzada, ochos, and molinete –as well as such techniques as parada, sacada, boleo,  calisita and gancho. Once such an action has been completed, the leader generally closes the embrace again. If he is at rest, he may actually release his right arm completely, and close it around the follower’s back. If he is still in motion, he may instead simply allow his right arm to slide around her back to the left, thereby closing the embrace. The follower, in turn, will generally lift her arm slightly (or elaborately, if she is creating an extravagant gesture) and replace it further around the leader’s neck or higher on his shoulder. She can do this quite easily whether she is at rest or in motion at the time.

 

For the past several years, there has become quite popular a style of Tango variously called close-embrace, milonguero, apilado, confiteria, club – and who knows what else – in which the embrace remains more or less rigidly closed, never opening and closing as described above. Adherents of this style suggest that in the crowded milongas of Buenos Aires there simply isn’t enough room to open and close in this way. I respectfully disagree, and have personally observed most “traditional” dancers in Buenos Aires using this technique all the time – no matter how crowded the milonga may become.

 

Try this technique yourself, and see whether you like it. I am quite certain your follower will be very happy with your newly found skill, and will thank you for making her feel far more comfortable during the dance. If you have any questions about how to make the embrace breathe, ask Pat or me when we get back from England – if we ever decide, that is, to return from this Paradise.

 

May 3, 2008

Hello everyone, Pat here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, Fran talked about the leader’s right – oops, left -- arm in the embrace. In this week’s tip I’d like to address the follower’s right arm as it relates to the leader’s left.

As the leader forms the embrace, he holds up his left arm, with elbow down, and offers an open palm, generally turned in the direction of his own face. As the follower, you place your right hand gently in his left hand, turning your wrist and hand counterclockwise slightly so that you can see the back of your own hand.  Your elbow is down, and it’s up to you to maintain the weight of your arm yourself.

Now the dance can begin.

The contact in the handhold should be very light, not a vice-like grip! As you are led in various movements, you do not push, pull or squeeze your leader’s left hand. Furthermore, you do not lean into his left arm or drag it down. And under no circumstances should you use his left arm for helping to maintain your own balance. Any of these actions will affect his ability to lead you properly, and your ability to read his lead -- your connection will be lost and the dance will tend to disintegrate into a disaster.

When executing pivoting actions, ochos or molinetes, your connection to the leader’s left hand is important in helping to stabilize your lateral balance, but for most linear movements in the dance, it should be possible for both partners to dance with very light contact – or even without any contact with these hands at all. This, of course, assumes that you are both on your own balance (there’s that pesky balance issue again…)

In the real world, you may have occasion to dance with a leader who tends to use your right arm like a steering wheel, pushing and pulling all the way, so that by the end of the dance your wrist, elbow and shoulder feel as if they need medical attention. Since it’s not your job to correct his behavior on the dance floor, there’s only one response to this kind of abuse. Run for the hills, and try your best not to dance with him again until he learns how to use his left arm appropriately.

As always, Fran and I are both available to answer any questions about this or any of our Tango Tips.

April 26, 2008

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Over the past few weeks we’ve been addressing the subject of el abrazo del tango – the Tango embrace. This week I want to talk about another specific aspect of this embrace -- the leader’s left hand.

 

In forming the embrace, the leader offers his left hand to the follower by raising it up to about his nose level, his palm generally turned toward his own face. The follower places her hand in his, and the couple holds hands. The leader extends his arm slightly forward so that his hand is halfway between himself and his follower – neither too far forward nor too far backward. This becomes part of the overall dance connection.

 

Okay, so far so good. But things often tumble downhill from here.

 

First the leader may squeeze the follower’s hand, such that she feels as if she’s caught in a vise. Then he may begin using this arm to lead her from one step to the next. He pushes. He pulls. He tugs. He yanks.  It’s the Tango version of Wrestlemania! She prays for the end of the dance to be soon. It seems never to come.

 

To avoid such problems, let’s talk about what the leader should be doing instead with his left hand in order to ensure that it functions appropriately as an integral part of the embrace.

 

We’ll start again.

 

He raises the hand to about his nose level. She places her hand in his; they hold hands gently. And then … nothing. The leader does not use this hand to induce linear movement or rotation, or anything else. He simply keeps it in its place, maintaining what we sometimes call the open side of the embrace. His left hand provides balance to the embrace simply by being there. As his upper body moves his arm moves with the body. But he doesn’t use the arm or hand independently. The lead comes either from his total body movement or a rotation of his torso – which includes both arms. In general, neither of his arms moves or in any way suggests movement by itself. (For more on the use of the leader’s right arm during the dance, see Firehousetango Newsletter, April 3, 2008.)

 

In holding hands, I’ll sometimes suggest that both leader and follow apply slight pressure to the other’s palm in order to solidify the connection. But the operative word here is slight. It’s not an arm-wrestling contest. Just by being there, the leader’s left arm supports his lead, and supports the follower’s balance. But to repeat: the left arm is not an active element in his lead.

 

As a leader, try to start noticing what’s going with your left arm while dancing. Keep it more or less fixed in place, using the movement of your torso to create leads. Do this and you’ll be well on your way to better dancing.

 

Pat will have more to say about the embrace next week. As always, we’re both available to answer any questions about this or any of our Tango Tips.

 

See you next week!

 

April 19, 2008

 

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Let’s continue with our ongoing discussion of el abrazo del Tango, the Tango embrace. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to break the embrace down into its individual parts in order to give both leaders and followers a better understanding of how this crucial dance connection makes it possible to move efficiently together.

 

An important component of the embrace is the leader’s right arm. Let’s talk about how the leader uses the right arm in forming the embrace:

 

1. The leader places this arm under the follower’s left arm and around her back. How much his arm actually encircles her will depend on how close or distant he is from her.

 

2. He gently rests his open hand at about the center of her back – not too low or too high -- using the palm of his hand as well as the rest of his arm to establish a comfortable connection with her – without exerting pressure on her back.

 

3. The leader does not close his arm tightly around the follower, drawing her forward toward him. This would pull her off balance, making the dance extremely uncomfortable for her.

 

4. The leader’s upper arm remains down; i.e., he does not create a “platform” by elevating his upper arm to the side (as we often see in contemporary competitive ballroom dancing).

 

During the actual dance, the leader’s right arm has to be flexible. He can’t hold her rigidly or she won’t be comfortable. During the trip Pat and I recently made to Argentina, I was very impressed with how the Argentine men use their right arms. Sometimes, they consciously move it away from the follower’s back -- as if to demonstrate the gentleness of the embrace, and to show that they’re not using this arm to manipulate the lead in any way.

 

The leader’s right arm enables the embrace to “breathe” – to be close at various times, and further apart during others. During linear movements, for example, (forward, back, side, in-place, pause), the right arm is more or less fixed unless the leader feels the need to create space between him and his follower – in which case he loosens the right arm by extending it way from her back. During ochos and molinetes, his right arm must be quite loose in order to make it possible for the follower to execute these complex movements – unencumbered by his embrace.

 

Next week, we’ll discuss a specific aspect of the follower’s embrace. In the meantime, if you have any questions, ask Pat or me at any time.

 

April 5, 2008
 

Hi everybody, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Let’s continue with our ongoing discussion of el abrazo del Tango, the Tango embrace. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to break the embrace down into its individual parts in order to give both leaders and followers a better understanding of how this crucial dance connection makes it possible to move efficiently together.

 

An important component of the embrace is the leader’s right arm. Let’s talk about how the leader uses the right arm in forming the embrace:

 

1. The leader places this arm under the follower’s left arm and around her back. How much his arm actually encircles her will depend on how close or distant he is from her.

 

2. He gently rests his open hand at about the center of her back – not too low or too high -- using the palm of his hand as well as the rest of his arm to establish a comfortable connection with her – without exerting pressure on her back.

 

3. The leader does not close his arm tightly around the follower, drawing her forward toward him. This would pull her off balance, making the dance extremely uncomfortable for her.

 

4. The leader’s upper arm remains down; i.e., he does not create a “platform” by elevating his upper arm to the side (as we often see in contemporary competitive ballroom dancing).

 

During the actual dance, the leader’s right arm has to be flexible. He can’t hold her rigidly or she won’t be comfortable. During the trip Pat and I recently made to Argentina, I was very impressed with how the Argentine men use their right arms. Sometimes, they consciously move it away from the follower’s back -- as if to demonstrate the gentleness of the embrace, and to show that they’re not using this arm to manipulate the lead in any way.

 

The leader’s right arm enables the embrace to “breathe” – to be close at various times, and further apart during others. During linear movements, for example, (forward, back, side, in-place, pause), the right arm is more or less fixed unless the leader feels the need to create space between him and his follower – in which case he loosens the right arm by extending it way from her back. During ochos and molinetes, his right arm must be quite loose in order to make it possible for the follower to execute these complex movements – unencumbered by his embrace.

 

Next week, we’ll discuss a specific aspect of the follower’s embrace. In the meantime, if you have any questions, ask pat or me at any time.

 

March 29, 2008

 

Hello everyone, Pat here, with the Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, Fran started a series of tips on the subject of the tango dance embrace. He covered the formation of the embrace at the beginning of the dance from the leader’s point of view. This week, I will provide a “mirror” from the follower’s standpoint.

 

1)     As always, the follower waits for information, standing in front of the leader who is about to form the dance embrace. Although it is primarily the leader’s job to make sure the couple is standing in front of each other, the follower also takes responsibility for her position, making certain that to her own satisfaction she is standing in the correct place, in balance, with her weight evenly distributed on both feet.

 

2)     As the leader reaches around with his right arm, the follower should adjust the position of her left arm and elbow in order to allow the leader to comfortably place his arm and hand in the correct position around her back. The follower’s hand can then come to rest in a place most comfortable for her. It could be on or around the leader’s shoulder, in the middle of his upper back, on his upper arm or around his neck (if a closer embrace is indicated.) If the follower clutches her left arm tightly to her body, this will create an extremely awkward condition that will not get the dance off to a good start!

 

3)     Once the leader’s arm is in place and the follower has positioned her left hand, she should notice whether or not he is making her uncomfortable. For example: If the leader has pulled her suddenly out of balance and toward him, and/or has created a platform in which her left arm and elbow are lifted up above her shoulder, it is the follower’s prerogative to politely reposition herself so that she is in balance and comfortable. This 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 next dance gets going.

 

4)     So, let’s assume your leader has encircled your back in a relaxed comfortable way. The next move you should expect is to see his 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 handhold or arm positioning here is in any way uncomfortable, adjust it yourself. Some leaders are just not aware that they may be pulling, or gripping, or pushing with this arm, and most will appreciate being corrected, if it makes you more comfortable.

 

Followers, when forming the embrace, you must be as assertive as possible in making sure you are comfortable and in balance before the dance begins—within the parameters of being polite, of course.

 

Under no circumstances should you drape yourself over or in any way lean on your partner! We see this too often, and we believe this is bad dance technique. Not only does the follower totally relinquish any control over her dance, but it just looks terrible. Forming the embrace is the first and most important communication you make with your leader.  He must be allowed to initiate the embrace, but if you permit him to take an uncomfortable dance position, he will find that leading you is awkward and communication is difficult. Furthermore, you will not dance well, and any number of problems may end up spoiling the dance for both of you.

 

Next week, Fran will talk about Part II of the embrace for the leader. As always, we are happy to help with any questions you may have.

 

March 22, 2008

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. The way leaders and followers communicate to one another during a Tango is through el abrazo – the dance embrace. The embrace is a complex subject, and we’re going to explore it over the next several Tango Tips.

Today, we’ll talk about the leader’s general role in forming the embrace prior to beginning the dance:

  1. First, the leader stands in front of the follower, close enough for the embrace to occur comfortably. The leader makes sure the two are absolutely frente a frente; i.e., right in front of each other – not off-set as is often the case in contemporary American and European social dance.
     
  1. Second, the leader reaches around the follower’s back with his right arm, placing the palm of his hand gently in the middle of her back below the shoulder blades. He does not in any way disturb her balance here by, for example, pulling her toward him. Furthermore, he does not make a platform with his arm as is done in American or European competitive dance – his arm remains down between shoulder and elbow, and close to the follower.
     
  1. Third, he offers the follower his left hand, usually by raising it into the “dance position” with his palm turned toward his own face. At this point, the leader’s hand should be more or less level with his nose. If the follower is considerably shorter than he, the leader lowers his hand appropriately. The leader’s left elbow is down, not extending to the left horizontally as one often sees in American or European competitive dance.
     
  1. Fourth, when the follower places her hand in his, he holds her hand gently. He does not grip her tightly, he does not lean his arm toward her, and he does not allow her to carry the weight of his arm. The hand of leader and follower are midway between the two dancers on a lateral plane. The leader’s arm is not extended forward or pulled backward.

Once all this has been accomplished and both leader and follower are comfortable, the dance can begin. Many dancers both in Argentina and other parts of the world reverse the second and third elements of forming the embrace. In such a case, the leader first takes the follower’s right hand in his left, then encircles her back with his right arm. Over the years, this has become a matter of personal preference.

Leaders-- practice taking the embrace with many different followers. See how it feels. Get used to forming the embrace easily and correctly. The embrace is the single most important tool for communicating in the dance.

Next week, we’ll discuss how the follower responds to being invited to form the embrace. In the meantime, if you have any questions, ask pat or me. We’ll be happy to help.

March 15, 2008
 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. When dancing Tango, we enjoy something very special for the duration of each song.  We move together as one in a carefully controlled – at the same time improvised -- way to this unique form of music. We generally find ourselves on a crowded dance floor where caution and group cooperation are crucial to maintain the flow of traffic and avoid collisions. Each of us is – or should be – concentrating on how our individual lead or follow is affecting our partner. At its best this can be nothing short of breathtaking.

 

There are, of course, many things that can serve to diminish the pleasure of Tango. One of them is talking during the dance. It astonishes me to see people start and end a Tango with their mouths flapping away, not paying any particular attention to the dance itself, just making idle conversation, chatting about the latest current event, the weather, what’s for dinner, the cold they’re getting over….

 

Sometimes talking takes on that most odious manifestation – teaching on the dance floor. This is perhaps the worst breach of etiquette I can imagine. And yet it seems to be rampant among leaders. In general, teaching on the dance floor is the leader’s way of saying to the follower: “I really don’t have clue how to lead this step, so I’ll try to blame you for the problem we’re having. I’ll just tell you how to do it; then I’ll be off the hook for not knowing how to lead.”  

 

Of course, there are times when a follower needs help, but the dance floor isn’t the place for it – and leaders are almost never the right people to provide that help. That’s what professional teachers are for. Followers, when you have a problem, ASK THE TEACHER. Leaders, when the follower has a problem, tell her to ASK THE TEACHER. Did everybody hear that? ASK THE TEACHER!

 

Getting back to talking on the dance floor … in Argentina, people talk on the dance floor between the individual songs of a tanda (a set of three or four songs played back to back, focusing on Tango, Milonga or Vals). Most chat about the music, the conditions of the room, or other related matters. It’s Tango small talk. And it gives the two partners a way of enhancing their dance relationship while enjoying each other’s company. But when the music starts, it’s time for the highly precise, concentrated activity of dancing. No one would think of taking during the dance.

 

The next time you dance Tango, try not talking. See if you can last an entire dance without opening your mouth. If your partner is chewing your ear off, gently suggest that you both listen to the music. Maybe that will help.

 

So the Tango Tip of the Week is SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

 

March 8, 2008
 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Because of the way we learn to dance in this country, most people think of their relative ability in terms of the number of steps they know. In Foxtrot, for example, if you’ve learned the first “ten” steps of the teaching syllabus, you think of yourself as a “bronze-level’ dancer. Another ten steps and you’re at silver level. Another ten or more and you’ve reached gold level. (These designations are roughly equivalent to beginner, intermediate and advanced.)

 

In other words, we tend to see our dancing as a series of figures. This was not always the case, by the way, but since about 1952 it has become increasingly prevalent (with the ever-mounting influence of European – specifically English -- values completely overtaking our American system).

 

This kind of thinking leads to such situations as this:

 

“Would you care to dance?”

 

“Oh, I couldn’t.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“I just don’t know enough material yet. Tango is so hard. Ask me after I’ve had ten more lessons.”

 

Does this ring a bell? That’s what most of us think after our first few Tango lessons. But it just isn’t true.

 

Tango is different. Argentine dancers don’t think of an accumulation of figures as what constitutes their dance. If a couple hears a Tango, and they get up to dance – no matter what they know or don’t know in terms of “figuras” – they’re dancing Tango. As of this moment, there’s no such thing in Argentina as a Tango syllabus. The moment you have teachers, however, various ideas about teaching the dance tend to lead inevitably to lists of steps, so don’t be surprised if ten years from now there are bronze, silver and gold levels of Tango skills just waiting to be learned.

 

In the meanwhile, however, to dance Tango is to get up and dance to the music of Tango. I always tell my beginner students after their very first lesson, “You’re now ready to get our of the floor and dance Tango. You know how to embrace, you know how to hear the music, you know how to walk. This is Tango.”

 

This is your Tip this week, dear ladies and gentlemen. Tango is not a series of graduated skills (although there’s certainly plenty to learn over time – as we all know by now). Tango is you and your partner on the floor, moving to the music called Tango.

 

So don’t wait. Get up and dance!

 

February 29, 2008
 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. After last week’s Firehouse Tango, Pat and I traveled to the Catskills for a Stardust Dance Weekend (which we do four to five times every year – as many of you know). One of the things we get to do at these weekends is dance. And we absolutely love it!

 

Unfortunately, a lot of the people around us – not all, of course – weren’t having fun at all. Instead, they were busy competing with other dancers to prove who was the best. There’s even a dance contest on Saturday afternoon, so that people can battle with one another to beat their rivals. The winners strut around, brandishing their trophies obsequiously. Many of the losers actually weep inconsolably, and snap angrily at the judges for not picking them.

 

What’s going on here?

 

This week’s tip is a plea to return to the joy of dancing. When I teach a beginning dance couple, who think that learning to dance might be something they can have fun with, they’re usually delighted after their first few lessons. They experience how enjoyable it is just to move together with grace and confidence on a dance floor to the rhythm of the music. It feels like the fulfillment of a dream – learning to dance.

 

“Gee, dancing is pretty easy,” they think.

 

“Let’s learn some harder stuff.”

 

This is when things often begin to go downhill.

 

Three possibilities occur:

 

1. They attempt to learn more complex material, patiently getting better little by little, continuing to experience the simple joy of dancing (a few couples).

 

2. They find it too difficult to learn harder material (usually the leader), and quit dancing (a few couples).

 

3. They become obsessed with learning every step in the book, and start competing against other couples every chance they get (lots and lots of couples).

 

 Obviously, I wish everyone could find themselves content with the first possibility. I think that dancing is its own special reward – just two people enjoying a few moments together. No showing off, no overachieving, no angry recriminations when there’s someone else around who happens to be better.

 

So what? Life is too short to worry about such things.

 

Do you get the idea. Learn to dance, practice, get better. But don’t just pine for the future, when you’re going to be the best dancer the world has ever seen. Enjoy the intimacy of the moment. Right now, what you can do today … that’s what’s important.

 

February 22, 2008

 

This week’s Tango Tip can be summarized in a single word: balance! I’ve spoken about this before, but I think it bears repetition (over and over again, it seems). Tango requires that both leader and follower be balanced throughout every single movement of the dance.

 

Right now, there is a fad going on in certain parts of the tango community in which women lean forward and hang onto their partners. I can only hope this goes away very soon. I want to make a plea to return to being balanced, not perched on your partner’s shoulder, not draped on him, weighing him down, preventing him from moving in a natural way.

 

Please!

 

Tango is a very, very complex dance. As a leader, to be encumbered by a partner who is restricting my movements severely – because she’s leaning on me – makes it virtually impossible for me to freely perform even the most rudimentary elements of the dance.

 

Being balanced means maintaining your own equilibrium both at rest and in motion. If you lose your balance as a leader, don’t grab the follower in an attempt to hold yourself up. Find balance within your core. At the same time, make sure you’re not asking your follower to move before she’s ready. Learn to feel that she has finished a movement you might have led, and only then invite a new one. This takes lots of practice, but you can do it, if you work at it.

 

Followers, be responsible for your own balance. Whenever you take a step, be sure you plan to be balanced at its end. This will help you to concentrate on coming to rest comfortably at the conclusion of each movement – without suddenly realizing you’re off balance. Don’t lean on your partner. Notice whether he’s pulling or pushing you off balance. Notice whether he is giving you the time you need to complete a given movement before inviting the next. If you’re dancing with a leader who is constantly interfering with your balance, mention it to him in a nice way, or bring him over to me (or to your regular teacher) and ask that I help you with the problem.

 

Without balance there is no Tango. Start putting a little balance in your life, and work really hard to keep it there.

  

February 15, 2008

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, we talked about some of the differences between Buenos Aires and the U.S.A. in how people interact at Milongas. I’d like to expand on this a bit this week.

 

In Argentina music is generally played both by orchestras or DJ’s in tandas. These are groups of 3 or 4 Tangos, 3 or 4 Milongas, and 3 or 4 Valses. If a man invites a woman to dance through the means described last week, he generally remains with her for the duration of one tanda.

 

The woman’s role is to sit at her table, chatting with friends or watching the dancing, while she waits for a man to invite her to dance. In Argentina the woman never invites a man to dance. This would be (up to now at any rate) unthinkable in Tango society.

 

For his part, the man never approaches the woman directly to ask her to dance. He signals her from across the room, using a nod of his head to gain her approval. (This is often referred to as cabeceo.) If she looks away, or doesn’t return his nod, he understands that at this moment she doesn’t want his company. If she nods back (or in some other way indicates her acceptance), he approaches and escorts her to the appropriate position on the dance floor for the dance.

 

During the brief interlude between songs, the couple makes small talk, usually about the music or the venue. When the tanda is over, the man escorts the woman back to her table, and moves on. If he wants to dance with her again later, he observes the same ritual as he did earlier.

 

If a woman is not pleased with her partner after the first dance, she can end the interaction by saying “Thank you,” and returning alone to her table. Her partner will unquestionably be insulted by this behavior, and certainly won’t ask her to dance again, but this harsh action is the only way the woman has of saving herself from discomfort on the dance floor.

 

In the U.S.A. our social dance customs are quite different. There is no tradition of an orchestra or DJ playing tandas. On the contrary, each song played is self-contained, and represents an individual opportunity for a man to invite a woman to dance. As we discussed last week, it’s also an opportunity for a (courageous) woman to ask a man (or a woman) to dance. When each dance is over, the interaction comes to an end, unless one of the partners suggests continuing with the next song, and the other agrees. This is the behavior those of us who dance have gotten used to over many years.

 

However, in an attempt to emulate Argentine custom, DJ’s will often play tandas.

 

Now, we have a dilemma. Should dancers automatically revert to Argentine custom in such cases, observing all the rules of dance etiquette described above? Or should they maintain our ingrained American customs? What if one of the partners doesn’t know the Tango rules? Will one of the partners be insulted, if the other moves on after one or two dances within the tanda?

 

Personally, I can’t answer these questions for you; I can only answer them for myself. There’s an old saying that begins, “When in Rome ….” To me, it suggests that when I’m in Buenos Aires, it is appropriate to observe Argentine custom. On the other hand, when I’m in the U.S.A., my preference is to observe American tradition.

 

One could certainly argue that the playing of songs in a tanda format automatically implies that everyone’s is expected to behave in the Argentine way. My own view is that when I decided to learn how to dance Tango, I signed on for the dance, not the customs. I want to dance Tango comfortably within my own society (unless I’m in Argentina, of course)

 

So ultimately, I would say, it’s entirely up to you. If you decide to adopt Buenos Aires customs,, it could be helpful to make that clear to your partner at the outset of your interaction. “Want to dance the whole tanda?” might be an easy way to approach the subject. If you prefer to adhere to American custom, but you’re uncomfortable with ending the interaction after one or two dances, you might make some plausible excuse (“My feet are tired” is always a good one), and suggest that you have a dance together later in the evening. This will take the edge off any possible perceived insult to the other person.

 

I’d love to know what other people think about all this. Let me know your opinion either at the Firehouse or personal communication. You can email me at franchesleigh@mac.com .

 

February 9, 2008

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Women, when was the last time you asked a man to dance? Does the prospect make you wince just a little bit? Would you prefer to just sit there, waiting for him to ask you – otherwise you’ll remain seated all night, if necessary?

 

Well, guess what? Things have changed in this country, and, like it or not, it’s time to take charge of you own destiny on the dance floor.

 

Let’s take a fast flying carpet ride to Buenos Aires for a minute. Here we are in any milonga; let’s say, it’s Gricel on Friday evening. You arrive – alone – with the expectation of a beautiful night of dancing with the milongueros. The host escorts you to a table on the side of the room, where the women sit. (The men are seated on the other side!) You order a bottle of sparkling water. Then you wait.

 

Eventually, a man seems to be looking directly at you and gently nodding in your direction. You recognize this as “cabeceo,” the signal given by a man who wants to invite a woman to dance. You return his glance, and nod back at him. He rises, walks over to your table, and gestures toward the dance floor. You begin you first dance. If all goes well, he continues to dance with you until the end of the “tanda,” a group of three or four songs in the same category (Tango, Vals, Milonga).  Then he escorts you back to your table, thanks you for the dances, and seeks other dance partners.

 

You then wait – again -- until another milonguero nods in your direction.

 

Very exciting, yes? Romantic, yes?

 

Of course, the other possibility is that no one – not a single milonguero, European, American – no one nods in your direction. Why? Because they don’t know you. They haven’t seen you dance, so they’re afraid to embarrass themselves by dancing with someone who might make them look bad.

 

And so you sit. After your forth sparkling water, you pick up and go back to your hotel. Maybe tomorrow night it might be different. Maybe not.

 

Okay, back to the good old U.S.A. You arrive at Firehouse Tango on a Thursday night. You see lots of people you know. You’re among friends. John is there (you like the way he dances); he’s chatting with a few other men. After changing into your beautiful new Tango shoes, you approach him, asking if he’d like to have a dance. He graciously accepts. Your night has begun. Out of the corner of your eye, you notice a few other women, sitting, waiting to be asked to dance. You wish you could help them realize that your way is better. Just take the bull by the horns. Things have changed in American culture over the years. It’s now considered perfectly fine for a woman to ask a man to dance. We wouldn’t do this in Buenos Aires – yet. But right here -- on Thursday evening at the Firehouse – take a deep breath and go for it!

 

February 2, 2008

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Let’s talk about an important aspect of lead-follow that separates skilled dancers from everyone else. The question is: When a leader invites movement, how much lead does he provide? And from the follower’s standpoint: How much of the movement does she execute on her own?

 

We’ll use as an example the forward ocho.

 

In leading a forward ocho to the leader’s right the leader turns his upper body slightly counterclockwise in order to invite the initial counterclockwise pivot in the follower, which will begin her ocho. She feels this invitation through his connection, which consists primarily of his arms at this point, since he has created space between him and her so that she can pivot her hips unimpeded by his body.

 

The unskilled leader will generally think he has to turn the follower all the way in the direction of the step, so he’ll over-lead her, carrying her through the pivot. If a leader is dancing with an unskilled follower, in fact, he’ll usually have to carry her through the entire pivot in order to induce her to turn all the way.

 

But let’s examine what happens with skilled dancers. The leader turns his upper body slightly to the left (counterclockwise), just enough to suggest movement. In doing this, he gives an invitation, leaving the execution to the follower. The follower, in turn, is sensitive to the invitation, and executes the movement without needing to be carried through it. She turns herself all the way to the point where she is ready to take the step across the leader’s front. Her upper body remains facing the leader, while her lower body twists in order to align her hips so that her step will not involve crossing her left leg over her right.

 

Now she is ready to take the step (when led), thereby completing the first half of the ocho.

 

It is entirely up to the follower to turn enough to align herself properly; i.e., to prepare to step around the leader in an invisible circle, maintaining the same distance between herself and her partner that exists prior to taking the step. It is not up to the leader to turn her exactly where he wants her. This is what leaders often don’t understand.

 

One way to define this concept might be: The leader begins the movement, the follower ends it. This idea plays a significant role in every step we take as leaders/followers. The leader invites, the follower executes, the leader accompanies (or not). If you’d like to explore this further in your own dancing, talk to Pat or me about it. We’ll be happy to help you with it.

 

January 26, 2008

 

Hello everyone, Pat here. Before Fran’s recent series of tips on timing, he had talked about the leader concentrating on each single step in the dance. At the time, some of you followers may have thought to yourself, “Well, what am I supposed to do if my leader is dancing in this way?”

 

Followers! This is a golden opportunity for you to hone your balance, your fundamental technique and your style. If you are led in slow and deliberate steps -- let’s say walking backwards for the follower -- you can make sure that your weighted foot is solid, that your free leg stretches back from the hip (not the knee), and that your toe finds a place on the floor where you transfer your weight onto the whole foot and come into balance.

 

With each backward step you can practice this technique. When you feel you can add a bit more, as your free foot moves backwards turn it out slightly and brush the floor with the inside ball of the foot. Now, your steps will really be looking like something!

 

Similarly, side steps and to a certain extent, forward steps (although a forward step does not offer quite the same opportunities for leg extension and style) can receive the same focus. Slow pivots will allow you to pay attention to where you place your foot in relation to your partner. Be sure to wait for the lead to pivot and walk again, and, when you’re ready, add some style to the movement—as you pivot, “carve” the turn with the inside edge of your free foot.

 

None of this is possible, of course, unless your leader is dancing with care. Everyone has heard the phrase, “Tango is a way of walking”. If you are given the opportunity to work on every step with these three elements (balance, technique and style), I would suggest that you will be well on your way to crystallizing the essence of that phrase.

 

As always, Fran and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have about our Tango Tips. See you soon!

 

January 19, 2008

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Three weeks ago, we began a discussion about timing in Tango. Of course, there isn’t any set timing for dancing to Tango. It’s the leader’s job to interpret the music, and move in an improvisational way within the rhythm structure.

 

To do this, we introduced a series of special tools to help you move rhythmically with the music:

 

1. Moving constantly to every pulse of the music – using your basic vocabulary of movements -- forward, backward, side, in-place and pause. This is a direct, relatively easy way to interpret the ongoing rhythmic structure of the music.

 

2. Moving to every other beat of the music; i.e., dancing in half time.

 

3. Combining the two ideas above, creating small sequences in which some of the steps are on every beat, while others are on every other beat.

 

4. Pausing longer than a single beat after any given step; i.e., coming to a stop and just allowing the music to continue, while you remain at rest.

 

Today, we’re going to complete our discussion of timing by introducing a fifth tool – doubling the timing of the steps.

 

In doubling, we dance twice as quickly as the pulses of the music. We do this for short bursts, say three steps in succession – and then return to dancing to the beats or any of the other rhythmical ideas we’ve discussed so far. When we double, we’re actually moving to what a musician would call the quarter notes of the music. (If this terminology doesn’t mean anything to you, just note the pulses in a piece of Tango music, and every once in a while try clapping three times from one beat to the next. The effect will be the same as the rhythm for a popular Latin dance, called Cha Cha Cha: “One—two—cha cha cha.” The three short beats you produce in this way will be the same as doubling three steps in Tango.)

 

Once you understand the doubling concept, you’re ready to put it into the dance. I’ll suggest three possibilities (although there are many more):

 

First, dance three double steps in place. From a rest or at the end of any traveling movement, change weight in place for a count of “one-two-three.” Then, continue walking or choose any other Tango movement.

 

Second, dance three double steps with one foot in front and one foot behind. This produces a fast rocking motion. To do this, either foot can be in front -- and you can begin forward or backward as the first movement in the rocking motion.

 

Third, dance three double steps traveling forward. In this instance, each step is forward but the movements are very small, resulting in a shuffling effect. If your steps are too large, you and your partner will probably experience a feeling of being out of control.

 

The hard part about doubling is that you have to lead your partner to move with you. If you execute your double steps in perfect timing, but your partner is lagging behind or not doubling at all, you haven’t led the sequence properly. The best way for you to insure that you’re leading properly is to consult with your own teacher during a private lesson. In general, you’ll need to bring your partner closer so that she can quickly feel everything you’re asking for immediately. Furthermore, you’ll have to make certain you’re giving her the lead in advance so that she’s knows what’s coming up. And, of course, you have to practice this type of movement a lot in order to perfect it.

 

Doubling the steps is lots of fun for both leader and follower, and – along with the other tools described above -- gives you a strong basic vocabulary for dancing rhythmically in Tango. If you have questions about this, be sure to ask Pat or me.

 

January 12, 2008

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Two weeks ago, we introduced the subject of timing. To bring you up to date, there’s no set timing for dancing to Tango. It’s up to the leader to interpret the music, and move in an improvisational way within the rhythm structure.

 

First, we talked about a fundamental way to do this; i.e., moving constantly to every pulse of the music – using your basic vocabulary of movements; i.e., forward, backward, side, in-place and pause. This is a direct, relatively easy way to interpret the ongoing rhythmic structure of the music.

 

Second, we talked about moving to every other beat of the music; i.e., dancing in half time.

 

Third, using these two ideas, the next step is to combine them, creating small sequences in which some of the steps are on every beat, while others are on every other beat.

 

This week, we’re going to discuss pausing longer than one beat after your steps. Whenever you feel like it, you can come to a stop and just let the music play, while you rest and possibly think about what you’re going to do next. It doesn’t matter how long you stop.  That’s entirely up to you. This gives you yet another way of relating to the music as it plays.

 

When pausing, the only potential drawback is that you may interfere with the general flow of the dance for other people. So try to notice what’s going on around you, and pause only when you think you have space in the continuum of the dance to do so.

 

Next week, we’ll explore a final basic rhythmical concept for dancing Tango. If you have questions about this topic so far, just ask Pat or me. We’ll be happy to help you.

 

January 5, 2008

 

Hi everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last week, we began a discussion about timing. Just to recap a bit, there’s no set timing for dancing to Tango. The leader has to interpret the music, and move in an improvisational way within the rhythm structure. Basically, that means you’ve got to come up with a way to keep time with the music.

 

In last week’s Tango Tip we talked about one way to do this; i.e., moving constantly to every pulse of the music (and, of course, inviting your follower to join you). If you need a refresher about this, read last week’s Tango Tip of the Week.

 

Moving to all the pulses – using your basic vocabulary of fundamental movements; i.e., forward, backward, side, in-place and pause -- is a direct, relatively easy way to interpret the ongoing rhythmic structure of the music. It’s one way to have “musicality” in your movement.

 

Today, I want to introduce another way: Try moving to every other pulse.

 

When you move to every other beat or pulse of the music, you’re going to feel as if you’re dancing twice slowly as you did, when you danced to every single pulse. That’s exactly what it’s supposed to feel like. You move on the first pulse, and pause on the next one, then do the same thing again – move for one beat, then pause for the next beat. Do this with a partner for an entire song or two or three.

 

During the pause you can tap your free foot gently when your feet come together, if you want. That will mark the pulse – without your taking an actual step. You don’t have to do this, but some leaders find that it helps them keep accurate time. If you’re a follower, you can tap, too, if you choose to.

 

Once you can dance to every other pulse easily, try combining last week’s idea (dancing to all the pulses) with this new one. See whether you can create little sequences in which some of your steps are on every beat, and some are on every other beat. You’ll find that this requires a great deal of concentration at first, but that as you do it more and more, it becomes considerably easier, and eventually makes it possible for you to move quite effectively in a creative, musical way.

 

Next week, we’ll explore another rhythmical concept for dancing Tango. In the meantime, practice – get better; don’t practice – get … well, you know the end of that line, don’t you?