December 29, 2007

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. As you probably know by now, there is no set timing for dancing to Tango. It’s up to you as a leader to interpret the music, and move in an improvisational way within the rhythm structure.

Oh, yeah, thanks a lot. That really helps, right?

The question is: how do you go about figuring out how to move to the music? When you’re learning Tango, there are so many things you have to concentrate on that moving appropriately with the music often doesn’t get taught in a cohesive way. And yet the whole point of dancing is to respond to music. If you can’t somehow fit your dance into the rhythm of the music, you just don’t have a dance.

The ability to move with the music in an accurate and creative way is sometimes referred to as “musicality.” Some people have a  “natural” sense of how to do this. Others need to learn it. With today’s Tango Tip and for the next several weeks, I’m going to talk about how to give yourself the gift of “musicality.”

Okay, we’re going to start by moving to all the beats of the music. Certainly, there are other ways to move in rhythm, but we’re going to begin with all the beats.

When you listen to any Tango of a 1930’s-40’s “Golden Age” composer such as Di Sarli, Tanturi, Fresedo, D’Arienzo, or Calo (just to mention a few), you’ll notice that it’s pretty easy to clap the beats of their music. If you have a little trouble at first, just get someone to do it with you. Within a few minutes, you’ll be clapping away, keeping the heartbeat of the music in your hands just like a milonguero.

The beats you’re clapping will most likely be half notes (if you’re a musician, this will mean something to you; if you’re not, it won’t – don’t worry about it.) We’re going to call these the major pulses of the music.

Once you can clap these pulses, the next thing we’re going to do is step to them. Do it in place – by yourself. You can start with either foot, but once you get going, don’t stop. Step in place to all the pulses.

When you feel comfortable with this, grab your partner (gently, please …) and move to the same beats with her. You lead, she follows. When that becomes easy, you can add a forward step now and then, or a side step, or a backward step – always returning to moving in place. (If you were at this week’s lesson, we did exactly this exercise. Remember? If you weren’t there, now’s the time to catch up.)

The goal of this timing exercise is to be able to move comfortably with your partner to all the beats of the music, using your entire basic vocabulary (forward, backward, side, in-place – no pauses here)) for a whole song – without stopping. Think it’s easy? Try it and see.

Moving to all the pulses is one way to interpret the ongoing rhythmic structure of the music. It’s one way to have “musicality” in your movement. Next week, we’ll talk about another one. In the meanwhile, practice dancing to all the pulses of the music. When it starts to get easy, practice some more.

December 22, 2007

 

Note from Sue – Your calls, e-mails and beautiful comments convinced me to distribute copies of last week’s Tango Tip.  You’ll find this gem at the front desk and on our web site (click on Tango Tips.)  Fran and Pat alternate writing these for the weekly Firehouse Tango newsletter.

 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Last time, we talked about making the decision to dance Tango as an intimate social dance – rather than a performance spectacle. This week I want to focus on something more specific. In fact, I want to concentrate your attention on the smallest unit of action in the dance: i.e., a single step.

 

What step am I talking about? All of them. Or to put it another way, each individual step that you take as a leader. (Pat will talk about how all this applies to followers in a future Tango Tip.)

 

When we’re first learning Tango as leaders, most of us want to quickly assimilate as many semi-complex figures as possible in order to create the outward appearance of knowing how to dance. Once we know “the basics,” maybe we’ll relax a little. But until then, keep those figures coming!

 

Right?

 

Okay, so now it’s time to regroup. It’s time to take a deep breath, and start concentrating (at long last) on what’s important – a single step.

 

For the moment, stop thinking about Tango as a complex matrix of difficult sequences. Think of Tango as a single movement. A side step, a forward step. A backward step. A weight change in place. A pivot. A pause.

 

Tango is how you take each of these steps yourself, how you invite your partner to join you, when you move, and how this collaboration works. The only way to check on how it’s all going is to slow down and start noticing each element. If you’ve learned a figure that consists of six or seven steps, slow the whole thing down to a crawl so that you can evaluate how each of the components is working.

 

Concentrating on each individual step within every sequence is a crucial component of your learning process. Sooner or later, you’ve got to recognize that skipping this work is what’s keeping you from being a better dancer. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not sexy. But without this stage of learning you just won’t get anywhere. I guarantee it.

 

A way that I sometimes put it to my students is “Make every step count.” Make sure you’re doing it right. Make sure your partner understands what you want her to do, and is, in fact, doing it. Make sure the partnership is working properly. If it isn’t, find out what’s wrong and fix it.

 

Once you get through to the other side of all that, Tango heaven awaits. See you next week with another Tango Tip of the Week.

 

December 8, 2007
 

Hello everyone, Fran here with your Tango Tip of the Week. Because we live outside of Argentina, the way in which we first experience Tango is almost always by going to see a show. We’re mesmerized by the way the professionals effortlessly perform their beautifully crafted choreography on stage. The leaders seem so powerful and sexy … they sport those thirties-style, double-breasted pin-stripe suits with the big, flashy lapels. The followers seem sensual, seductive – with huge slits running up their slinky dresses, and incredible netted stockings.

 

Everyone wears those great shoes.

 

Our mouths fall open at the spectacle, and we think, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could dance just like that. I’m gonna take Tango lessons!!!

 

Toward the end of our first month of instruction, we start to realize that the teacher (if he or she is any good) seems insistent on limiting us to boring fundamental movements. Will we ever get to where we can do all that neat stuff we saw on stage? How long will it take? We want it now!

 

Eventually, the teacher starts telling us that social Tango is completely different from stage Tango, that social Tango is really a relatively simple dance. Tango is about the intimacy that we’re supposed to share with a partner. It’s about moving well to the music in the moment. It’s about enjoying the interaction of a large group of dancers together on a dance floor, generously sharing space with the people around us.

 

Tango is about the enjoyment we get in executing a single movement together with another person.

 

Wait a minute! What about the show-stopping fancy moves? Where do they fit in? Well, the teacher says, to tell the truth, they don’t ... not on the social dance floor in any case. That kind of dancing is for communicating something to an exterior audience – at a safe distance away from the action. Social Tango is for communicating intimately between two people in a social context – always taking great care not to intrude on the intimacy of others.

 

At this point, we have a big decision to make. We could decide to pursue fancy movements anyway. That’s easy enough. In this country we have the ready availability of virtually any movement we choose to attempt in Tango. All it takes is money, time, and a willing dance teacher (or maybe even a collection of YouTube videos). The question eventually becomes: “What do we do with those fancy figures once we’ve learned them (if, indeed, we have the capacity to learn them). Do we then have the right to insinuate them into our social dance – even though they are inappropriate in this context -- all for the sake of personal vanity?

 

Or do we decide that social decorum is more important?

 

My Tango Tip of the Week, leaders – from me to you -- is to think about this. Please think carefully. No one can actually force you to keep your dance simple and therefore socially appropriate. But in the long run, I think it’s the right way to behave. If you’d like to perform, put in the time and become a performer. I promise to come and cheer enthusiastically at your opening show.

 

See you next week with another Tango Tip of the Week.

 

December 1, 2007

 

Hello everyone, Pat here with the final part of our followers’ series:

 

Do I have time to adorn a given movement -- and which adornment, if any, do I choose?

 

If you have been reading our previous segments in this series of topics for followers, you should be ready now to take on a discussion about one of the most exciting parts of tango (for both followers and leaders); i.e., the subject of adorno or adornment.  Many women learn adornments, but too often they are shown as something that you can just add to a step or a pattern, or even your fundamental dance, as if you can just toss them off. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

Adornments must be not only learned, but need to be practiced over and over again in a non-dance setting before you even think of taking them to the dance floor. They require precise technique and an understanding of appropriate placement, execution and styling.

There is nothing worse than seeing a follower throw in an adornment carelessly and without any apparent thought. Unfortunately, even this kind of adornment draws attention to itself and anyone viewing it (if they do not obviously wince) will realize how awful it looks. No adornment should ever be done as if by rote!

 

So, let’s say you have learned some simple adornos, you have practiced them, and feel that you can execute them appropriately. You also know where they can be done in the dance, and you want to try them out on the dance floor. At this point, your wishes are totally dependent on two major hurdles:

 

Hurdle #1: The leader

 

It is impossible to adorn anything, if you are dancing with a leader who is racing around the floor, never pausing for breath or contemplation. You just can’t do it, and it can dangerous to try. However, if you are lucky to be dancing with someone who creates pauses and slower movements, this is when you will have time to try out your newly learned adornos … and that brings us to the second major hurdle

 

Hurdle #2: You must plan ahead as much as is possible

 

If you want to do an adornment such as what we call a “catch”, for example, in some of your ochos, you need to say to yourself, “I’m going to do a catch on the next forward ocho.”  If you wait until the forward ocho is already being led, the chances are you won’t get the adornment done in time, and I hardly dare to think what would happen, if you have tried and not quite made it! Alternatively, you will realize it’s too late and just not do it (the better decision.) It’s quite possible that the first time out, it will take you the whole dance just trying to put in that one catch!

 

Learning adornos and putting them in the dance are as far apart as New York and San Francisco! A good way to start incorporating adornment into your dance is as follows: Just keep one adornment in your head at a time. and at some point, you will be successful at putting it into your dance. When you are comfortable and can execute this adornment more easily, pick another one, and try adding that (always assuming your leader is giving you the time.)

 

Adding adornos, followers, can take your enjoyment of tango to a whole new level. However, please always keep in mind that when you hear about “the art of adornment,” it is just that. This art must be developed over time and with good leaders. But, of course, it will be worth every single minute that you put in.


November 17, 2007

 

Hello everyone, Pat here with the 4th segment of our series on following. This week’s question for followers is:

 

How do I dance with a leader who does not allow me to follow?

 

Special note for leaders: Please read this Tango Tip carefully and often.

 

As followers, our job is hard enough. We have to develop many techniques and train ourselves to listen for the slightest hint of a lead. One of the most unfortunate issues we also have to handle is a leader who lurches and blunders his way through a dance. This kind of leader will challenge the best of followers!

 

Imagine yourself accepting a dance most graciously, waiting for the music to begin, clearing your head of all thought, your body listening for first lead. And what happens? All of a sudden, you are lurched into by the leader, and all but hurled onto your free foot. This assault, of course, throws you off balance -- and probably onto both feet as a means of self defense and not falling to the ground.

 

Typically, a leader who dances this way is also prone to lurching from one step to another, pushing his partner before him, or pulling her with him. Once in motion, this type of leader usually blunders through the dance, and it’s unlikely you will get a chance to properly regain your balance, your poise or any kind of appropriate response to his lead (if you can call it that.)

 

Sometimes, this leader will lurch into the beginning of a step and then slow down, or start normally, and suddenly and without warning -- and at lightening speed -- race into half a dozen steps that are impossible to follow. Do not expect to be allowed to finish any lead you think you may have received.

 

What can a follower do under circumstances such as these?

 

a)      Assess as soon as possible if you are dancing with a lurcher

b)      Do not try to use standard following skills

c)      Be prepared to run backwards and to the side

d)      Hang on for dear life

e)      Just try to survive the dance and get back to your seat

f)        Never dance with this person again

 

None of what happens in this type of dance is the follower’s fault. You will gradually get to know which leaders dance in this fashion, and you can politely decline any offers that come your way from them. If you don’t know, and have accepted an invitation from one of these inept dancers, your only recourse is that of self defense; i.e., using some of the suggestions I have listed above.

 

Any questions about this? Ask Fran or me. See you on the dance floor (with a good leader, we hope).

 

November 10, 2007

Hello everyone, Pat here with part 5 of our series on Following. This week, we will talk about a very important part of being a good follower:

How does the leader want me to move?

Fundamentally, this is not a hard question for the follower. Your leader has five basic options: a forward step, a side step, a back step (very carefully!), a weight change in place or a pause. Fran and I have always maintained that using only these 5 basic movements, it is possible to create a very credible dance -- if the lead is good, the follower responds well, and the couple is connected and dancing in the music.

That said, part of the unique and alluring nature of Tango is the opportunity for a couple to incorporate additional movements into their dance, some of which may include pacing, playing with the music, different levels of energy and length of step. Each dance can be an opportunity for a whole new collection of ideas and expression.

As a follower, you must be able to feel leads that are inspired by your leader’s response to the music. If you are dancing to a piece of music with great drama, you may feel a stronger energy coming from your leader, who may move you into longer steps; you may feel a quickening in the lead as a response to some other part of the music.

There is (almost) nothing worse than a dance couple who are stepping out of synch—your leader may not be in time to the heartbeat of the music and may not even notice that you are out of step with him! A lead who asks for increased energy or quickening of the step at the wrong moment in the music or in an uncontrolled fashion is asking for disaster.

I’m sure all followers recognize this unpleasant state of discombobulation (OK, it may not be in the dictionary but it gets the idea across!!)

So, followers, be ready for these special leads—keep your mind free of worries, and listen to the music yourself. When you feel more energy from your leader, respond in kind, at the same time being aware of when that extra energy stops. When your leader asks for longer steps by taking them himself, you must get your feet further out of the way (otherwise you’ll either get stepped on or fall over).

Soon, you will learn to read these movements in time to follow them correctly, and if you are truly connected, you’ll have very little trouble feeling them coming. If you are dancing with a leader who is able to include these movements with a controlled technique, rejoice!! You have found someone very special.

If you have any questions about this, be sure to ask Fran or me.   See you next week.

November 3, 2007

Hello everyone, Pat here with the 4th segment of our series on following. This week’s question for followers is:

How do I dance with a leader who does not allow me to follow?

Special note for leaders: Please read this Tango Tip carefully and often.

As followers, our job is hard enough. We have to develop many techniques and train ourselves to listen for the slightest hint of a lead. One of the most unfortunate issues we also have to handle is a leader who lurches and blunders his way through a dance. This kind of leader will challenge the best of followers!

Imagine yourself accepting a dance most graciously, waiting for the music to begin, clearing your head of all thought, your body listening for first lead. And what happens? All of a sudden, you are lurched into by the leader, and all but hurled onto your free foot. This assault, of course, throws you off balance -- and probably onto both feet as a means of self defense and not falling to the ground.

Typically, a leader who dances this way is also prone to lurching from one step to another, pushing his partner before him, or pulling her with him. Once in motion, this type of leader usually blunders through the dance, and it’s unlikely you will get a chance to properly regain your balance, your poise or any kind of appropriate response to his lead (if you can call it that.)

Sometimes, this leader will lurch into the beginning of a step and then slow down, or start normally, and suddenly and without warning -- and at lightening speed -- race into half a dozen steps that are impossible to follow. Do not expect to be allowed to finish any lead you think you may have received.

What can a follower do under circumstances such as these?

a)      Assess as soon as possible if you are dancing with a lurcher

b)      Do not try to use standard following skills

c)      Be prepared to run backwards and to the side

d)      Hang on for dear life

e)      Just try to survive the dance and get back to your seat

f)        Never dance with this person again

None of what happens in this type of dance is the follower’s fault. You will gradually get to know which leaders dance in this fashion, and you can politely decline any offers that come your way from them. If you don’t know, and have accepted an invitation from one of these inept dancers, your only recourse is that of self defense; i.e., using some of the suggestions I have listed above.

Any questions about this? Ask Fran or me. See you on the dance floor (with a good leader, we hope).

October 27, 2007

Hello everyone, Pat here with Part 3 of our multi-part series on Following. This week we address the following question:

Am I Anticipating The Lead?

This subject is probably one of the most common issues affecting the lead/follow relationship. Anticipating the lead is something that almost all followers have done at one time or another, and for many it can become a chronically bad habit.

Most followers begin to anticipate, when they’re new to Tango -- and are afraid of not understanding the lead properly. They really want to do the right thing, but their fear that they don’t know enough and won’t recognize the lead is so real that they try to second-guess the leader. As a result, when an unfortunate beginner does misread the lead, the insensitive or insecure leader may be quick to blame her for being wrong! Anticipation can also happen when a follower has some knowledge under her belt and begins to think ahead about what her leader might be planning to do (so that she can be “ready”).

I believe that the majority of followers really want to do the right thing and to be considered good followers. Unfortunately, when they anticipate in these ways, it can create a very disjointed and unsatisfying dance. This is definitely not the right path for followers to choose as they develop their tango skills.

Followers, when starting a dance with any partner, try to clear your head of all thoughts. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve danced with this person many times before or never before. When you begin to dance, listen with your body. Be ready to feel and stop thinking. This state of mind does take time to develop, and it will be more difficult if you‘re in the habit of anticipating. You will feel insecure at first, but in time you will develop a sense of confidence. Because you are concentrating on feeling and not thinking, you will become more sensitive to the lead, and more connected with your partner.

Many of you may say that it’s not possible to dance this way, but I can tell you it is – as long as you’re dancing with a leader who not only understands the follower’s role, but also that Tango is a dance of stillness as well as movement.

So, followers: Don’t move unless you feel a lead. If you catch yourself moving too easily, it’s likely that you are anticipating, and your leader will feel that he has to catch up with you. Be prepared to come to a stop with each step, and do not move if you don’t feel the lead.

If you have any questions about this, ask Fran or me. We’ll be very happy to help. See you next time.

October 20, 2007
 

Hello Everyone, Pat here. This week I would like to address the second topic in our multi-part series on the art of following:

 

Is he giving me time to do what he leads?

 

The question of timing in dance is one of the most crucial elements in becoming a good dancer. Of course, this applies to all dances, but especially to Argentine Tango, which is still a relatively unadulterated form, and is best learned as an improvisation between the partners. This creates certain requirements of the dance partnership between the leader and follower.

 

As a follower, your job is to receive instructions, process them and execute all in a timely way. This is not easy. The follower cannot be trying to guess what’s going to happen, but must wait for the lead. Once a lead has been initiated, received and understood, the follower then translates this information into action.

 

The action taken by the follower will require, to a certain extent, a prescribed timeframe in which to complete the movement. For instance, if the leader asks for a side step, the follower must move one leg to the side, transferring the weight from one foot to the other in a process that maintains her axis and results in her full weight being taken by the side-stepping foot, and completing this lead in balance with her feet together. At the end of her movement, she stops and waits for the next instruction.

 

If the leader does not wait for the completion of the lead, the follower can be thrown off balance, become confused, try to follow the new lead -- and very quickly, the partnership becomes a complete shambles.

 

Followers! Try to make every effort to come into balance before receiving the next move. But if your partner is not sensitive to what you are doing and does not wait for you to complete his lead, it is not your fault!

 

As we have said so often, Tango is a dance that requires connection and sensitivity between partners. If these elements do not exist, the dance becomes mechanical and robotic—an unfortunate circumstance that should be avoided at all costs.

 

October 13, 2007
 

Hello everybody, Fran here. Continuing our multi-part Tango Tip series on leading and following, this week we’re going to begin focusing our attention on the art of following. As defined in our first Tango Tip on the subject, we suggested that:

 

Following is the skill of comprehending an invitation given by the leader to move in a specific way, and the ability to execute the requested movement in an appropriate fashion.

 

When first learning how to follow (by which I mean, of course, your first several years of dancing Tango) it’s important to put yourself in a “responsive” mode (rather than attempting to process information from the leader, and then -- as a separate act -- move on your own). At the same time – and here perhaps is where the real skill comes in -- you have to concentrate on several individual aspects of following, which combine to bring about the desired end result: moving appropriately one step.

 

Here are six questions you need to ask yourself as a follower in order to determine whether you’re doing the right thing:

 

1. What does the leader want me to do now; do I “feel” the lead?

 

2. Is he giving me time to do it?

 

3. Am I anticipating the lead?

 

4. Is the leader giving me a chance to finish my movement before inviting the next one?

 

5. How does the leader want me to move? (Speed, length of step, energy, musicality, etc.)

 

6. Do I have time to adorn the movement; which adornment, if any, do I choose?

 

This week, we’ll talk about the first question: What does the leader want me to do now; do I feel the lead? (During the next several weeks, we’ll address the other five questions, one by one.)

There are many things the follower could be asked to do. She could be asked to execute a side step. She could be invited to move backward, or forward, to change weight in place, to pivot in one direction or the other, or to simply remain still. These are the fundamental elements of movement in Tango:

 

a. Forward

b. Backward

c. To the side

d. In place

e. Pivot

f. Pause

 

As a follower, you can’t predict in advance what sequence of steps the leader is trying to accomplish. All you can know – all you can concentrate on – is what he’s asking you to do in the moment. Sometimes, in attempting to reproduce elaborate sequences learned in class, beginning leaders will neglect to properly ask for every step they want, and followers will feel confused or completely lost. In such instances, followers generally blame themselves for somehow “not knowing” what the leader wanted. (And leaders will sometimes believe it’s the follower’s fault for not knowing the step.)

 

This, of course, is nonsense. Unless a leader specifically invites every single movement in a series, it’s not the follower’s responsibility to guess what was intended. She can only live in the moment. If the step is led, she follows. If nothing is led she waits. That’s all there is to it. A good leader will know whether he has effectively led a step or not. If he makes a mistake in his lead, he’ll either try it again, this time attempting to get it right, so that the follower “understands” what he wants. Or he’ll decide to give up on that particular sequence until he learns how to lead it effectively. The bad leader will pretend it’s the follower’s fault.

 

As a follower, your job is to “read the lead” to determine whether he wants any one of these six fundamental movements – and then to execute whichever of them has been invited. If you don’t know what he wants, don’t just take a guess and move on your own. Wait for a lead you can understand. If you don’t get one, continue to wait. If he looks at you, pleadingly, but doesn’t give you a lead, wait. If he gets angry and turns red, wait.

 

Wait.

 

Sooner or later, he’ll either learn how to lead, or he won’t. That’s his problem, not yours.

 

That’s our Tango Tip for this week. Next week, we’ll take a look at Question Number 2: Is he giving me the time I need to execute the movement he just asked for? In the meantime, remember the expression “lady in waiting.”

 

Just wait.

 

October 6, 2007
 

Hi, everyone, Fran here. With the past five Tango Tips, I’ve talked about the many elements which a leader has to focus on, when inviting a follower to take a single step in Tango. If you’ve been reading these Tips, you now have a very good idea of what happens during this process. Just to give you one more opportunity to read them, here are the primary questions you should be asking:

 

1. What do I want the follower to do now?

 

2. How will I invite (lead) her to do it?

 

3. Is she responding to my invitation in an appropriate manner?

 

4. What do I choose to do by way of accompanying her movement?

 

5. When are we finished with this movement, and are therefore ready to consider beginning the next one?

 

As you continue to ask yourself these questions, and learn to put these skills into practice more and more, they will eventually become “second nature,” and you won’t have to think about them very often. But if you’re in your early learning stages (let’s say, your first five years of Tango), you really should be thinking about them all the time.

 

I’d like to wrap up our present discussion of leading by talking about some of the areas of concentration which a leader must focus on during the dance. Besides the actual lead mechanism – which we’ve now described in considerable detail over the past five weeks – the leader also has to concentrate on the following complex elements:

 

1. Maintaining the line of dance. “La ronda” or “line of dance” runs counterclockwise around the outside of the dance floor. Leaders have to continually access the flow of traffic on the floor, and focus on keeping themselves and their partners moving with it. When stopping in one place to execute a special figure, make absolutely certain you’re not “hogging” the space, holding up traffic, spoiling the line of dance. Never go against the line of dance. Never dance across the middle of the floor. Never walk across the dance floor, if you’re not dancing. Be extremely cautious about entering la ronda, while a dance is in progress.

 

2. Choosing a style of dancing and a repertoire of figures, which fit appropriately with the type of music being played. This concept is somewhat advanced, but the style of the music being played “tells” the leader how he should be reacting to it. For example, I would dance to most music by DiSarli in a completely different way from music by Pugliese. Over time, you, too, will start to feel the difference, and with practice and instruction, you’ll be able to do the same thing.

 

3. Avoiding collisions with other dancers. One of the reasons it’s so difficult to gaze dreamily into the eyes of your follower is that you have to spend all your time watching everyone else in the room like a hawk in order to avoid crashing into them. Sometimes a follower will ask me why I don’t look at her during the dance. It’s not that I don’t like her; it’s just because I want us both to live until the end of the dance.

 

4. Dancing within the rhythm of the music which is being played; i.e., keeping the beat. Sometimes this skill is called “musicality.” Because there’s so much to concentrate on during a dance, leaders will often neglect the all-important skill of moving to the music appropriately. Followers may become stressed by this problem, because they’re able to notice that he’s not stepping to the beat. What to do? Give him time. The leader has a lot on his plate. He’ll find the beat eventually, once all the other things begin coming together.

 

Whew! That’s a lot to chew on, isn’t it? And you’re supposed to be having fun, too. Oh, well, no one ever said dancing was easy. Next week, we’re going to embark on a multi-week series, which will focus on following. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask Pat or me. We look forward to helping out.


September 29, 2007
 

Hi, everybody, Fran here. Today’s Tango Tip is part 5 of our multi-part series on the subject of leading and following. We began this series by asking the leader a series of questions:

 

1. What do I want the follower to do now?

 

2. How will I invite (lead) her to do it?

 

3. Is she responding to my invitation in an appropriate manner?

 

4. What do I choose to do by way of accompanying her movement?

 

5. When are we finished with this movement, and are therefore ready to consider beginning the next one?

 

In the previous four weeks we addressed the first four questions: What do I want the follower to do now? How will we invite (lead) her to do what it is we’re asking? Is she responding to our invitation in an appropriate manner? And finally, what do we choose to do by way of accompanying her movement?

 

It’s important to remember that when you invite your partner to do something in Tango, it will almost always be one of six fundamental elements of movement:

 

a. Forward

b. Backward

c. To the side

d. In place

e. Pivot

f. Pause

 

You also know by now that in Tango your accompaniment to her step isn’t limited to simple parallel movement. In fact, it can be any one of the techniques above, depending upon what you want to accomplish.

 

This week, I’ll discuss our fifth question: When are we finished with a given movement, and are therefore ready to consider beginning the next one? Here’s the way you should start thinking:

 

Once I know what I want her to do, and I’ve decided how I want to accompany her movement, I invite the lead, using the appropriate technique (as discussed in a previous Tango Tip). As she responds, I notice whether she’s following correctly; i.e., executing the movement I’ve asked for.

 

This takes us to the full execution and completion of one step – with accompaniment. The question now is: When are we ready to take the next step?

 

If you pay close attention to the movement of your follower, through practice you’ll be able to pinpoint the exact moment that she’s finished executing her movement. It will be at the precise point at which she comes into balance again. Some people call this “collecting”; i.e., bring the feet together in balance at the end of a movement. You’ll actually be able to feel her body, reaching this place through the embrace. It is at that moment that the stage is set for leading the next step.

 

As we’ve discussed before, most new leaders are too busy trying to figure out what they’re doing themselves to notice what their follower is doing. In such cases, leading their follower to move when she’s balanced and ready becomes a hit-or-miss proposition. Sometimes, they lead at the right moment (usually by accident), but most of the time they hardly notice whether their timing is right or not. Generally, the result is that they attempt to lead their followers into most movements prematurely – before the followers are balanced and therefore ready to go. This means that these followers never have an opportunity to balance themselves – even if they recognize that this is a crucial part of their following technique (to be discussed, when we break down the follower’s role in detail).  Their part of the lead/follow equation constantly feels out of kilter. Usually, followers blame themselves for this, believing that somehow they’re just not moving quickly enough to keep up. But, in fact, it’s completely the fault of the leader, who’s not waiting for the follower to reach the end of her step before proceeding with the lead for the next one.

 

So, what’s the bottom line here? As a leader, it’s your job to invite her movement, accompany it, then allow her to reach a new balance point before trying to lead another step. You can continue the next step immediately (in order, for example, to sequence several steps together), or you can wait a few seconds for her to settle. What you can’t do is attempt to lead a new movement before she’s finished executing the one she’s doing now. Perfecting this part of the lead calls for a lot of patience, sensitivity, and practice on your part (and a good sense of humor, when it doesn’t work).

 

The best way to learn this technique is to work closely with your teacher. Forget concentrating on the fancy steps for a while. Learn to lead by reading your partner’s following. This is what will make you the kind of dancer followers will look forward to partnering.

 

See you next week with a few more thoughts about leading. In the meantime, try to combine everything we’ve talked about so far. If you have any questions, ask Pat or me. We’ll we happy to help.

 

September 23, 2007

 

Hello, everybody, Fran here. Today’s Tango Tip is part 4 of our multi-part series on the subject of leading and following. We began this series by asking the leader a series of questions:

 

1. What do I want the follower to do now?

 

2. How will I invite (lead) her to do it?

 

3. Is she responding to my invitation in an appropriate manner?

 

4. What do I choose to do by way of accompanying her movement?

 

5. When are we finished with this movement, and are therefore ready to consider beginning the next one?

 

In the previous three weeks we addressed the first three questions: What do I want the follower to do now? How will we invite (lead) her to do what it is we’re asking? And finally, is she responding to my invitation in an appropriate manner? As always, try to remember that when you invite your partner to do something in Tango, it will almost always be one of six fundamental elements of movement:

 

a. Forward

b. Backward

c. To the side

d. In place

e. Pivot

f. Pause

 

This week, I’ll discuss our fourth question: What do I choose to do by way of accompanying her movement? Once I know what I want her to do, I have to decide how I want to accompany her movement. In American dancing, we’d never have to ask ourselves this question. All accompanying steps (or almost all) would automatically be “in parallel.” For example: If I wanted her to move backward with her right leg, I would join her by moving forward with my left leg. If I wanted to lead her in a movement to my left side, I would join her with a side step with my left leg. These are the kinds of accompanying movements many of us have become used to in American social dance.

 

When we study Tango, we find out that things are quite different in this dance. At a fundamental level, we might stay with parallel movement for a while – because it’s what we’re used to. But as we progress in Tango, we learn that there are many additional possibilities. When leading her to execute a backward step with her right leg, for example, we learn that it’s possible to join her in a “crossed-foot movement.” This means that we can accompany this back step by moving forward with our own right leg – unheard of in American dancing, but commonplace in Argentine Tango. When leading her to execute a step to our left side, we could certainly join her with a left side step. But we could also choose a forward ocho with our right leg, or a backward ocho with the right leg. We might also choose to remain in place – not move at all.

 

This potential in Tango to accompany virtually any step we ask her to take with several different possibilities means that we have to think about this aspect of our own movement before we act. Thus, the question: What do I choose to do by way of accompanying her movement?

 

A major hurdle that beginning leaders encounter in Tango is that they tend to focus on what they themselves are supposed to do – rather than on what they want their follower to do. Somehow, they hope that if they do their part, the follower will do hers. This, of course, doesn’t happen unless our parts have been choreographed. So when you’re asking yourself what you’re going to do by way of accompanying her movement, make absolutely certain you don’t forget to actually lead her movement as your primary focus. If your accompaniment suffers for a while, at least you’ll have her moving the way you want her to.

 

Next week, we’ll address the fifth question in our lead/follow series: When are we finished with a given movement, and are therefore ready to consider beginning the next one?

 

See you next week with Part 5 of our Tango Tip series on elements of leading and following. In the meantime, try to combine everything we’ve talked about so far into your leading. Once these elements begin working, I guarantee that followers will look forward more and more to dancing with you.

  

September 16, 2007

 

Hi everybody, Fran here. Today’s Tango Tip is part 3 of our multi-part series on the subject of leading and following. We began this series by asking the leader a series of questions:

 

1. What do I want the follower to do now?

 

2. How will I invite (lead) her to do it?

 

3. Is she responding to my invitation in an appropriate manner?

 

4. What do I choose to do by way of accompanying her movement?

 

5. When are we finished with this movement, and are therefore ready to consider beginning the next one?

 

In the previous two weeks we addressed the first two questions: What do I want the follower to do now? And how will we invite (lead) her to do what it is we’re asking? This week, I’ll talk about the third question: Is she responding to my invitation in an appropriate manner? Remember: when you invite your partner to do something in Tango, it will almost always be one of six fundamental elements of movement:

 

a. Forward

b. Backward

c. To the side

d. In place

e. Pivot

f. Pause

 

 

Let’s say you want to lead your partner to execute a back step. You first determine that this is the step you want her to do. Then you use the proper technique to invite the movement. In this case, your body begins to move forward into her space. Your expectation, of course, is that she will respond by moving backward one step. The question is: Is the follower actually doing what you want? Is she moving backward – or is she doing something else, or even simply remaining still?

 

An important part of your job as a leader is to notice whether or not your partner is responding the way you want her to respond. All too often a leader will do what seems necessary to produce a certain movement in his follower, but fail to actually notice whether she’s responding appropriately. He may get lucky – she may do the right thing. But she may be new to Tango or distracted, and not immediately perceive the lead. Then what? If you’re not paying attention to her response, you may end up stepping on her, or knocking her off balance.

 

The only way to be sure she’s following your lead, therefore, is to pay careful attention to everything she does. You have to develop a sense that when you ask for a movement, she is actually receiving the invitation and is beginning to act on it. You can’t simply do your part and hope that she’ll respond correctly – but insist on continuing your movement whether she responds or not.

 

This sensitivity to her responsiveness is one of the keys to being a good leader. It is part of the lead/follow collaboration that makes Tango so enjoyable between the partners. Whenever you dance with someone, pay very close attention to this part of the lead. I guarantee that when you do, your dancing will improve immeasurably.

 

Next week, we’ll talk about accompanying her movement once you’re sure she’s responding appropriately to your lead. In the meantime, keep asking: Is she actually doing what I’m asking her to do?

 

See you next week with Part 4 of our Tango Tip series on elements of leading and following.

 

September 9, 2007
 

Hi everybody, Fran here. Today’s Tango Tip is part 2 of our multi-part series on the subject of lead and follow. Last week, we began by asking the leader a series of questions:

 

1. What do I want the follower to do now?

 

2. How will I invite (lead) her to do it?

 

3. Is she responding to my invitation in an appropriate manner?

 

4. What do I choose to do by way of accompanying her movement?

 

5. When are we finished with this movement, and are therefore ready to consider beginning the next one?

 

In last week’s Tip we addressed the first question: What do I want the follower to do now? This week, I’ll talk about the second question: How will I invite (lead) her to do it?

 

Remember, there are basically six fundamental elements of movement in Tango:

 

a. Forward

b. Backward

c. To the side

d. In place

e. Pivot

f. Pause

 

Let’s talk a bit about leading each one of these movements – although it’s crucial to note that leading and following are felt, not analyzed or described. So anything I say here will need intensive hands-on clarification between you and your teacher.

 

Since followers move backward most of the time, we’ll start with that step. Leading her to move backward one step generally requires that the leader move forward into her space one step. It’s up to the leader to move everything at the same time – from the top of his head to the tip of his toe – in a single, integrated movement. He doesn’t need to push with his arms, since the follower is going to use her skill to “read” the movement of his body as he travels forward. Thus, the invitation (or lead) comes from his forward momentum, and her sensitivity to this momentum as he executes his step.

 

In leading her to move forward or to the side it’s helpful for the leader to have his right arm firmly on her back. When he moves away from her, she feels pressure on her back from his arm, and moves with him one step.  He doesn’t have to pull her forward. His arm simply needs to maintain the same distance from his own body (i.e., around her back) as when he is traveling forward or to the side. As with leading a backward step, he allows her to “read” the movement of his body and travel with him. When dancing with a very sensitive follower, the hand on the back is often unnecessary. She simply moves as he moves.

 

To lead a weight change in place, the leader simply has to shift his own weight from one side to the other, while maintaining contact with his partner in the embrace. She will feel his movement through the “frame” and travel from one axis to the opposite axis. The leader should try not to turn weight changes in place into small side steps (as we see quite often on the dance floor). This fails to differentiate the weight change in place from the side actual step. If he has trouble communicating the difference to her, he can try lowering slightly as he executes the side step – and remain unlowered while executing the weight change in place. This will often help her to distinguish one lead from the other.

 

Leading the pause is quite simple: all he has to do is -- nothing. If he isn’t leading anything, she should remain still on whichever axis he finished leading her last step. That’s all there is to the pause.

 

Leading the pivot – as preamble to ocho and other movements -- calls for rotating the follower on the ball of one foot in order to turn her in such a way that she can eventually be led to move across his front rather than forward, backward or to the side. The impetus for this rotation comes from the leader’s “frame” rather than from his arms. As one example: to lead her to rotate counter-clockwise the leader has to turn his upper body slightly counter-clockwise. To lead her to rotate clockwise, he has to rotate his upper body slightly clockwise. This rotation transfers from his frame into hers through the arms – but the rotation itself is not specifically induced by the arms themselves – rather by the rotation of his frame.

 

I could talk about leading indefinitely, but whatever I said wouldn’t come close to experiencing individual leading techniques through interaction with your teacher. For purposes of this Tango Tip I’m simply offering a few of the highlights of lead and follow to help the process along. If you have specific questions about leading a particular movement, please feel free to ask Pat or me about it the next time we see each other.

 

Next week, we’ll talk about question 3 – Is she responding to my invitation (lead) in an appropriate manner? For now, think about what you want her to do, and how to invite her to do it – one step at a time.


September 2, 2007
 

Hello everybody, Fran here. Today begins a multi-part Tango Tip series on the subject of lead and follow. This is part one.

 

My female students are forever asking me, “Where are all the good leaders?” At the same time, my male students are asking: “Why can’t any of the women follow?” I hear these questions again and again from people who want to enjoy dancing, but just can’t seem to find partners who can dance even at the most rudimentary level. Leaders may know a thousand complicated figures, but they can’t lead a simple backward walk appropriately. Followers might be wearing the latest shredded skirt and expensive, 4-inch heels, but they can’t keep their balance for more than one second without falling over.

 

What’s the problem?

 

Well, here it is. There are two skills in social Tango that are very difficult for most of us to learn, but are crucial to mastery of the dance. They are – you guessed it -- leading and following.

 

Learning to lead is not sexy. Fancy figures are sexy. So most leaders naturally gravitate toward fancy figures. They decide they’ll learn to lead some other time. Or that it will come to them by osmosis. Or that if they have a good follower, the rest will be easy. All these ideas are, of course, dead wrong. But most of us are still hoping there’s a fast lane.

 

Learning to follow is also difficult. When are we going to learn adornments, women ask. That’s what I want. They decide that all they need is a good leader, and they’ll be fine.

 

Wrong!

 

Let’s say you finally bite the bullet, and decide you want to learn to how lead or how to follow (translation: how to dance socially with skill and feeling). How do you go about it? What are the elements you have to know? Of course, you can’t possibly learn these complex skills just by reading our Tango Tip of the Week, but maybe we can give you a few hints at what leading and following are all about.  And maybe -- just maybe – you might like to give them a try.

 

We’ll start by talking a bit about what leading and following are. I’ll try to put it as simply as possible:

 

Leading is the skill of communicating what you want the follower to do, and the ability to accompany her in some way as she does it

 

Following is the skill of comprehending an invitation given by the leader to move in a specific way, and the ability to execute the requested movement in an appropriate fashion.

 

Sounds pretty clear, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, what can be easily said is definitely not at all easy to do or to learn.

 

Let’s begin with leading. I’d like to break leading down into a series of questions that you might be asking yourself as a leader every time you want your follower to do something:

 

1. What do I want the follower to do now?

 

2. How will I invite (lead) her to do it?

 

3. Is she responding to my invitation in an appropriate manner?

 

4. What do I choose to do by way of accompanying her movement?

 

5. When are we finished with this movement, and are therefore ready to consider beginning the next one?

 

This week, I’ll talk about the first question: What do I want the follower to do now? (During the next several weeks, I’ll address the other four questions, one by one.)

 

There are many things I could want my follower to do. I could want her to execute a side step. I could want her to move backward, or forward. I could want her to change weight in place. I could want her to pivot in one direction or the other. Or I could want her to remain still. These are the fundamental elements of movement in Tango:

 

a. Forward

b. Backward

c. To the side

d. In place

e. Pivot

f. Pause
 

You could, of course, create thousands of complex sequences, using these fundamental elements in combination. But you have to lead each movement individually – as if it were the only movement in the dance. As a leader, you can’t think past what you’re actually inviting her to do now to what you’d like her to do later. When you ask yourself – what do I want the follower to do now – you can’t be thinking about that multi-step sequence you just learned in that fancy step class. You have to think about each individual movement, one at a time. That’s the only way you’ll be able to focus on actually leading her to do precisely what you want.

 

Get the idea? That’s our Tango Tip for this week. Think about one elementary movement, the one you want her to execute right now. All complex sequences are built that way, and led that way.

 

August 25, 2007

Hello everybody, Pat here with your Tango Tip for this week. You may have seen my discussion a couple of weeks ago about what Fran and I sometimes call the “dangling foot” -- when we talked about how followers should always bring their feet together, ankle to ankle, after taking a backward step, and not allow the free foot to dangle out behind them. This week, I want to remind followers about what to do next. We’ve often spoken about this technique, but it bears repeating.

When you feel the lead to take a step backwards, stretch your free foot far enough back so that the point of your toe is resting lightly on the floor. At this moment your extended leg is essentially straight and the extension has come from the hip, not the knee. Because you are keeping your weight in a slight forward poise (you are, aren’t you?) the weighted leg may be slightly bent at the knee. As your leader moves into your space and you shift weight to the back foot, you allow your weight to transfer from the pointed toe into the ball of your foot and finally into your heel, as the (now) free foot closes ankle to ankle with the new weighted foot.

Every part of this technique must be interrelated for it to work properly. If you aren’t maintaining a slight forward poise, you probably won’t get your leg back far enough and it won’t look elegant. If you don’t roll your weight through your whole foot, it will likely feel jerky and uncomfortable. If you bend your front knee too much, it will look and feel like you’re doing a lunge of some sort—and your leader will probably be very confused.

This technique of extending the free leg and then bringing the weight to it needs practice…give yourself time, don’t expect to get it right immediately. Come to our 7pm Fundamentals lesson at Firehouse Tango. This is an excellent place to practice not only this particular technique, but other fundamental elements of your dance that you might need to work on

August 18, 2007

Hello everyone, Fran here. Leaders, what do you think about while you’re dancing Tango? Could be lots of things, right? … the weather … how good a dancer you are -- or how not so good … how impressed she’s going to be, when you lead that great fancy figure you just learned … how you’re the only one in the room who seems to be observing the line of dance.

These are things most of us think about all the time. But there’s one crucially important thing you might consider thinking about instead – I mean, really thinking about – that will make your dancing light years better almost right away. And that one thing is: the ends of the steps.

That’s right, the ends of the steps – all of them -- each one as it occurs during the dance.

Here’s what I mean. When you lead someone to move, every step has a beginning, a middle and an end. As leader, it’s up to you to invite the beginning of each step; i.e., to induce your follower to move. Once you’ve issued the invitation (i.e., you’ve given her the appropriate lead), you then have to leave her alone so that she can a) travel through space by herself, and b) balance herself at the end of the step. While she’s doing these things, your job is to go about the same thing yourself; i.e., a) traveling through space, b) balancing at the end of your own step.

If you pay close attention to her as she’s completing these movements, you’ll start to notice the precise moment, when she has finished what she’s doing and is comfortably in balance. This is the moment you want to concentrate on, the moment you want to allow her to reach. Only then, it is time to lead the next step. If you lead her to begin the next movement before she’s balanced, she’ll be off balance. Not only that, you’ll actually be inviting her to get into the habit of rushing her steps, and never fully balancing herself. A follower who is constantly rushed by leaders will eventually get into the very bad habit of never balancing herself at the ends of her steps. She will almost always “anticipate” the next movement by taking it before the leader invites her to do so. But if she gets used to dancing with leaders who give her the opportunity to come into balance before leading the next step, she will not develop this habit, and be a better dancer for it.

I teach my students to treat the ends of steps as separate and distinct from the beginnings of steps. I teach them to concentrate their energies on coming purposefully into balance before taking their next step – and only then moving on. In American and European-based social dancing, the emphasis is on flowing around the dance floor. But in Argentine Tango, the emphasis is on being able to either move or not move at will. Please start thinking about the ends of steps, both your partner’s and your own. I guarantee that this new focus will change your dancing for the better – almost immediately.

August 11, 2007

Hello everyone, Pat here. Our Tango Tip this week for followers is something that many women might think of as inconsequential. In fact, it is a habitual movement that is not only incorrect in terms of Tango styling, but indicates a potential lack of understanding on many levels. We often refer to it as the “dangling back step.”

Followers, when you take a backward step, many of you will leave the free foot dangling out behind the foot that carries your weight in some sort of unfocused movement that leaves one guessing!

Why do followers do this? Does their free foot have a mind of its own? Does the follower think it could possibly look good? Are they holding the foot out in anticipation of another step backward?  Do they not realize it’s happening? I suspect the dangling foot is there for any and all of these reasons and possibly some more.

Followers, please do not ever let your foot hang out behind you! When you take a step backwards, bring the free foot next to the one bearing your weight, ankle to ankle, and do not move it one more centimeter until you are led to take another step. This is sometimes called “collecting” the feet.  For the follower, especially, it is done throughout the dance and is one of the quintessential elements of dancing Tango that creates the proper look.

If you need to think about doing this in the beginning, then put in the time! You will certainly not regret it. When you reach the point where ‘collecting’ your feet is second nature, you will have definitely moved to another (and better) level in your dance.
 

August 4, 2007

Hello everyone, Fran here. When I watch students dancing, one of the things I notice quite often is that each member of the couple is physically moving at a different pace from the other. It’s as if they’re not actually dancing together – just loosely sharing the embrace while going their own way. To some of you, the concept of moving together – what I would call simultaneous movement -- may seem so basic that you do it automatically without even thinking about it. To others, you may never have thought about it at all – and therefore never include it in your dancing.

So, let’s spell it out as clearly as possible.  When you dance with someone, one of the things you should be trying to do is move together. If I lead my partner to take a step, I try to pay close attention to her movement so that I can take a complimentary step at the same time she does. (This, of course, is not always true in Tango, but if we’re talking about fundamental parallel movement, this is our goal.) If I’m the follower, my goal is to pay close attention to my partner’s movement so that I can stay with him during his step – not race ahead of him or lag behind.

The effect of concentrating on taking each step at the same time as the other member of the couple is to create a feeling that you’re moving in collaboration with each other as one person. When it works, it feels great. When it doesn’t work, it feels disjointed and uncomfortable.

Every step you take in Tango is an opportunity to move together. If it doesn’t quite work out in any given step, the worst thing you can do either as leader or as follower is to keep moving. This will just compound the problem. Instead, both dancers should pause, rebalance, and then try to achieve simultaneous movement in the next step. This is one of reasons Pat and I stress using the technique of pausing while you’re learning how to dance with one another: It gives both members of the couple an opportunity to come to the end of your steps, and get ready for the next movement – without feeling rushed or out of balance.

Try incorporating this idea of simultaneous movement in your Tango. It takes practice and concentration, but once you “get it,” you’ll never want to go back to moving at a different pace from your partner again.

July 28, 2007

Hello everyone, Pat here. This week, I want to provide the details of proper parada technique for followers. Fran and I have worked recently with paradas in our Firehouse Tango lessons, and it is worth repeating how they should be done.

A parada is a “stop” of the follower’s movement by the leader that can be applied in walking steps, forward or backward ochos, or during molinete. This stop should be indicated in the middle of a follower’s step, when her legs are apart.

When you feel your movement curtailed in this way followers, indicating a parada, you should stop in the middle of your step with your weight evenly distributed on both feet.  It is incorrect either to have all your weight on the front leg, or to have all your weight on the back leg; nor should you bend the knee of the back leg. Both legs are straight and the weight is evenly in the middle. You should be able to comfortably stand in a parada as long as is required.

Once in parada, the feet can be adjusted to create a more comfortable and balanced position (while your leader is making a “sandwichito,” or doing some fancy steps). You can turn the back foot out slightly, which will help solidify your stance. The front foot can also be turned out slightly, giving additional elegance to this position. (“Slightly” means moving the foot about an inch and a half. Never overdo elements of style such as this.)

That’s our Tango Tip this week. I hope it helps clear up any confusing misinformation followers have. As always, please ask Fran or me any questions you may have.

July 21, 2007

Hi everyone, Fran here, talking this week to leaders. One of the problems beginners face early on in their Tango dancing is this: “Okay, here I am, I have my partner in the embrace, I’m ready to dance, but … what do I do? All these other guys seem to know a million steps. Am I the only one who always draws a blank? What I need is a plan! I know, I’ll try that neat sequence I learned in that class. Oops, that didn’t go too well. I’ll try another one ….”

Does this sound familiar? It should. Most of us at one time or another just can’t think of a thing to do in our dance – I mean, NOT A SINGLE THING! So what do we do? We try half-learned figures from classes, we make things up, we run around the floor, dragging our partner faster and faster. It can be exhausting for us and for our poor followers. And in the end we feel as if nothing has happened in the dance. It’s been empty and shallow.

Well, I’d like to offer another way. Some people – me included -- feel that Tango should be a very intimate experience between a leader and a follower. The number of fancy sequences you know is irrelevant. What’s important is the quality of each interaction. That means that if you execute a single movement with your partner – say a side step, for example – in a meaningful way, in that moment your Tango is a complete success. At the end of this step, you pause. Next you take a back step with her, slowly sensually, meaningfully. More success. What next? A forward step, a weight change in place, an ocho forward or back? It’s up to you. If you can’t think of anything to do, you can simply pause and enjoy the embrace with her, while you let the music wash over you. Eventually, another basic movement will occur to you, maybe even a sequence.

The idea is to try to live absolutely in the moment – rather than feeling that you have to know ten or twenty fancy figures in order to even set foot on the dance floor. If you can move forward, backward, to the side, in place, and pause, you’re ready for the intimate relationship called Tango. Let other people whirl their way around you and your partner. What they do is their business. Make your dance slow, simple, intimate. You’ll feel much better about yourself in the end. Your follower will thank you for a wonderful experience. And who knows? Maybe other dancers will soon begin emulating you.

July 14, 2007

Hello everyone, Pat here. This week, I would like to talk to followers about a special tip that will help you to dance with almost any type of leader without falling off balance or feeling out of control during the dance.  It involves some pro-active dancing on your part that we can describe as “protecting your steps”.

As you have probably found out already, leaders of Argentine Tango are not all the same. Some are good—they will provide a lead that is distinctive and clear, one that you can follow, and they will allow you to finish you steps associated with each lead. These guys are like gold. You will feel like a queen and will not need to protect your steps.

Another type of leader gives little or no indication of what he would like you to do. This can be confusing and frustrating. You may find that you start to anticipate what he might want and you end up either back-leading or having an extremely uncomfortable dance experience at best. There really isn’t much the follower can do with this type of leader, except run to the ladies room if he approaches again.

Yet another type of leader is the one who pulls, pushes and whirls his follower around the dance floor, usually at considerable speed…she desperately tries to keep up, always one or two steps behind and trying to regain her balance (almost impossible) without falling to the floor. This dance experience leaves most followers breathless but thinking that if they were just a slightly better dancer they would be able to keep up and be OK.

Well followers, here’s what you should do with the Whirling Dervish—protect your steps. This means that no matter what he leads, back steps, side steps, molinete, ochos YOU make sure that you finish those steps and keep your own balance. You will get to know the leaders that you must do this with, and you can be prepared! It may take a little while for you to become proficient at this, but knowing that it is something that a follower can to, you will gradually get better at it.  Bring your technique to the fore and be especially vigilant in ochos and molinete (movements when these leaders are most likely to pull and shove you around.) By taking measured steps in this way, you can actually slow down such a leader! I can personally tell you that it works.

In a perfect world, our leaders would learn not only to lead correctly but also to know what the follower will be doing as a result of his lead and allow her to do it. Until then followers, protecting your steps with leaders on the fast track with give you a wonderful sense of control in your dance and will also help to hone your technique as you use it to help yourself. 

July 7, 2007

Hi everyone, Fran here. This week’s Tango Tip is about leading, a skill we’re all supposed to possess in order to dance tango, but one that seems to be widely misunderstood. Let’s talk about the basics. A lead is an invitation, issued by the member of the dance couple who has taken on the role of leader. (Usually, this is the male partner.) The follow is the action taken by the other person in the couple (usually the female partner), executing the movement asked for or invited by the leader. The lead occurs as the beginning of a movement – for example, the leader may invite the follower to move backward, forward, to the side, in place or to pivot. Assuming that the leader knows how to invite each of these movements (I realize this is not necessarily the case), once a lead has been given, the follower has all the information she needs to execute the movement. Her response is to travel through space (except, of course, in an in-place weight change), balance herself at the end of the movement, and then wait for the next lead.

A good leader treats each movement individually. He leads his partner to do something; then he waits for her to execute the movement; finally, he invites the succeeding movement (or pauses while considering what he’s going to do next). Even if the leader has a sequence of movements in mind, he leads each movement within the sequence individually, waiting each time for the follower to complete one movement before inviting the next one. To do these things effectively, the leader has to be paying careful and constant attention to the follower. He has to know what she’s supposed to do, and he has to verify that she has actually done it before moving on.

Now, we come to the real world. Many leaders don’t wait for followers to finish what they’re trying to do before continuing the sequence. They simply press on as if they’re dancing by themselves. In such cases, good followers often try their best to keep up – but generally to no avail. This kind of disconnect usually happens, because a) leaders don’t really know what followers are supposed to do in any particular figure, and b) leaders aren’t really paying attention to their followers at all.

So how do we fix the problem? First, leaders have to learn the follower’s part for any figure they want to lead (we’ve actually discussed this in a previous Tango Tip). Second – and most important for today’s Tip: Leaders simply have to pay attention to their followers. They have to notice whether or not she has properly read their lead, whether she’s responding appropriately, and finally, when she has actually completed the movement -- and is therefore ready for the next lead. If a problem occurs, the leader is now in an excellent position to know where it arose and to be able to fix it – because he’s paying attention. These are crucial skills in being or becoming a good leader. If you haven’t mastered them to date, now’s the time to start. If you need help, ask Pat or me about it. We’ll be glad to help.

June 30, 2007

Hi everyone, Pat here,

This week, I want to discuss a very common issue that has to do with the follower’s cross, but that is not addressed very often, and it could be entitled, The Cross That’s Done Too Soon!

I expect most followers may know what I’m talking about. The women’s cross in tango is typically taught in the early stage of your studies, and as time goes on and you are taken to the cross hundreds of times on the dance floor, it can become a movement that followers don’t pay too much attention to. The result is a cross that is rushed and done too soon. This immediately throws the dance partnership out of sync and off balance and everything goes awry!

Followers, you must pay attention to your leader when you feel a cross coming up. The leader indicates the timing of your cross. He may lead steps that are on the ‘heartbeat’ notes of the music, in which your steps to the cross will all be slow and of similar timing. OR, he may lead a cross so that your back step before, and your cross step will be in a “quick-quick” timing. It is not the follower’s option to make this decision.

Remember followers, when you cross your left foot over the right, it is considered a step, and your leader may wish to take full advantage of this. If you rush your cross you are ignoring your basic technique. Moreover, be thankful if your leader allows a slow cross…ladies, you can embellish!!! Don’t cheat yourselves of this opportunity. Make as much of this moment as you can.

June 23, 2007

Hi everyone, Fran here! Leaders approach me all the time with the following question:

“Fran can you help me with a step I learned in another class.”

“Sure,” I respond, “what do you remember about it?”

“Well,” they say, “I remember what I did, but I can’t remember her steps. If I show you my part, can you figure out what she’s supposed to be doing?”

The short answer to this question is no. But because this is the Tango Tip of the Week, I’ll expand. When you learn a combination in Tango, there are two parts – what you do and what she does. One of the challenges of being a leader is that you have to learn both parts. Otherwise you can’t lead her to do what you want her to do. If we’re talking about which part is more important to remember, it’s without question HER part. If you lead her well, and just stand there, it might not be great, but it will look like dancing. If you only know your part – not hers – you can’t lead her to do anything, so there isn’t any dance. When the teacher is showing students the follower’s part, many leaders think about other things – the meaning of life, baseball, food. They more or less assume that the follower will take care of her part, while they take care of theirs. Not true. Sure, she may execute the figure in class, but what happens later, when you’re on the dance floor, and – oh, no -- it’s not her anymore, it’s someone else. Yipe!!

So what’s the bottom line here? Leaders, the important thing for you is to learn her part, what it is and how to lead her to do it. Then, when you come to me and ask what you’re supposed to do, if I can’t figure out what you did in class, as long as you can remember her part, I’ll make something up for you that might even be better than what you originally learned.

See you on the dance floor!

June 16, 2007

Hello everyone, Pat here! Followers, when you are new to Tango and trying to absorb so much, I know that it seems as if you will never grasp all the different techniques and conventions. One tendency that is common in a follower’s early studies is her reaction to a technique that leaders are learning called “crossed feet.” This involves the leader taking an extra step, or several, while NOT leading the follower to change her weight.

Since a follower is nevertheless aware that her leader is taking one or more extra steps, she may react by purposefully adding additional steps, too, thinking that she should keep the same “timing” as her leader. This is a very understandable misconception by newer students, especially by followers who may be used to the completely different timings and conventions of American social dancing.

In Tango, however, the changing of weight from one foot to another throughout the dance is a major fundamental difference from other kinds of social dancing. If a leader decides to go into crossed feet, he does it by “disengaging” his embrace or dance frame and adding an additional step. The follower should not feel this as a lead, but should be aware of what he’s doing -- and she must wait for a clear lead before taking another step, which she will feel when the leader “re-engages” the embrace. The leader can literally do several small steps, should he wish to, and -- sorry ladies -- even if he does the Highland Fling, you’ve just got to wait on that same foot till he’s ready to move on.

June 9, 2007
 

Hi everyone, Fran here. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about leaders slowing things down – sometimes momentarily coming to a complete stop – in order to give followers the opportunity to add adornos to their dance. I’d like to touch on what we might call the opposite side of the coin – overdoing it.

 

When a follower – or a leader, for that matter – adorns a movement, he or she uses the leg, the arms, the head, or the entire body to accentuate a particular moment in the dance. To offer two examples: one might follow a side step with one leg with a darting motion to the other side with the other leg; or while the couple is stationary, one or both partners might employ circular movements with their free legs (lapices). Adornments add creativity and character to the dance. Executed well, they enhance the enjoyment of Tango.

 

One problem we see with adornment has to do with not being careful about other people on the dance floor. All too often a dancer executes an adornment in the middle of a crowd, and ends up kicking the person next to him or her. What started out as a creative personal statement ends up as a cause of anything from mild discomfort to serious injury.

 

So this week’s Tango Tip is this: Don’t be afraid to add adornment to your dance – but do so with caution and respect for others on the dance floor. Be free in your dance, but not at others’ expense. Keep your movements contained in a small area, using as little of the floor as possible to make your creative statement. And if you feel the uncontrollable urge to execute a very large, elaborate adornment, wait until you and your partner are the only people on the dance floor. We’ll all give you a big round of applause.
 

June 2, 2007
 

Hello everyone, Pat here! This week’s Tango Tip is for the followers. It concerns a technique that everyone should use in their Tango, but which is rarely articulated to the extent that it is fully understood.

 

In all your walking steps, which as we know are the fundamental basis to the dance, your feet should keep in constant touch with the floor. It can be the lightest of connections, but as you transfer your weight from one foot to the other, the moving foot should lightly brush along the floor to the new point of weight transfer. For followers, this will happen mostly in the backward walk, but should also be observed in the forward and back ocho and in any forward walking steps you may take.

 

To help articulate this technique we have chosen an analogy that we call “pushing the paper.” Followers, when taking a backward step, imagine that there is a small piece of (possibly crumpled) paper that you are trying to push out of your way so you don’t step on it. With the inside ball of the moving foot, gently push the paper backwards, maintaining contact with the floor—your ankle should be tilted inwards throughout this movement, with your heel slightly off the floor.  When your leg is fully extended, transfer your weight starting with your toe and moving onto the whole foot, while also pushing the paper as you collect with the closing foot. You can use the same technique in your backward ocho steps.

 

When moving forward, either walking or in forward ocho, it will be the full front of the foot (i.e. the ball and the toes) that brushes forward to push the paper. As the leg extends the heel is slightly off the floor and the whole foot angles slightly outward to take the change of weight. Again, as you finish the step, the closing foot will pull the paper with you as you collect. In the forward walks, the ankle is not tilted inwards.

 

So, whenever you receive a bill that you don’t want to pay or that’s really too much money, crumple it up, throw it on the floor and practice pushing it around in this special technique (no kicking now!) Let us know how you get on.

 

May 26, 2007
 

Hi everyone, Fran here. Tango is an act of creativity between a leader and a follower. The leader creates by generating a series of connected movements, directing himself and his follower around the dance floor to a piece of music. The challenge for most leaders is to avoid prefabricated figures, and to try new movement combinations in order to make something that completely belongs to them – while at the same time remaining true to the gestural language of Tango.

 

For the follower, creativity in Tango takes the form of adornos; i.e., adornments or embellishments of her individual steps or physical gestures. The follower uses her vocabulary of learned adornos – occasionally creating new ones that seem appropriate to her in the moment -- in order to enhance what she is being led to do, and to make her own statement during the course of any given dance. (Pat and I are in the process of developing a special DVD on adornos for both followers and leaders.)

 

Adornos for the follower occur most often between individual steps in the dance. She can adorn a) while she is at rest, b) just before begin to follow a lead, or c) right at the conclusion of a figure. There are a few adornos which can occur while she is in motion, but these are few and far between. What a follower really needs in order to adorn is stillness between steps. If she is dancing with a leader who is constantly racing around the dance floor non-stop, her ability to create is completely stifled.

 

This week’s Tango Tip is quite simple: Leaders, give your follower a chance to adorn by picking key moments in your dance where you come to a complete stop. There are lots of opportunities to do this during a dance. When you come to a definite stop, the follower may choose to adorn or not, but at least you’ve given her the option. Adornos add to the overall beauty of the Tango. Followers, be sure to add adornos to your dance; leaders be sure to give your followers a chance to execute them.
 

May 19, 2007

Hello everyone, Pat here, this week’s Tango Tip for followers addresses an issue that is as commonplace as any human condition, but one that presents many dilemmas on the dance floor. I’m speaking about dancing with leaders of different heights.

Followers, if you are short and most of your leaders are considerably taller than you, there are certain techniques that you can use to make the dance much more comfortable for both of you. You may have heard the phrase, ‘dancing up’ during your Tango life (or you may have never heard it), but what it means is that a follower who is significantly shorter than her partner should raise her frame and chest and gaze up towards her leader’s head. (Of course, she should NEVER go up on her toes!) By ‘dancing up’ in this way, she will feel more comfortable and she will also not force her leader to bend down towards her. Arm positions should be adjusted to a comfortable level that suits the differing heights.

Conversely, followers who find themselves on the dance floor with a shorter leader should never bend down towards him. This is, unfortunately, a fairly natural reaction as the follower attempts to create something akin to an equal height embrace. The result, however, is an unsightly combination of a leader trying desperately to navigate the floor from “underneath” his precipitous partner, and a follower who has sacrificed every ounce of balance and grace she may have had. This couple is heading for disaster! Tall followers, don’t bend over—stand up straight and be on your own balance. Give your leader a chance. You’ll find that even though you defy convention, you can still have a lovely dance with disparate height.

May 12, 2007

Hi everyone, Fran here. This week’s Tango Tip is for leaders. Have you noticed that there are a lot of other dancers out there who seem to enjoy bumping into you and your partner all the time? If they don’t actually collide with you, they brush past so closely and with such force that you think they’re going to knock you to the floor? Who are these people, and why are there so many of them in today’s milongas? And maybe the more important question: Is one of these people YOU?

Dancing social Tango is a complex art. It involves traveling around a dance floor, using an ongoing series of improvised movements – in a large crowd of other people who are all trying to do the same thing. All it really takes is one or two couples, moving in the wrong direction – or moving erratically – or suddenly stopping – to turn an entire dance floor into chaos. If you have five or six couples acting in this way, the situation becomes hopeless.

We sometimes blame the “beginners” for this problem, pointing out that because they really don’t know what they’re doing yet, they tend to get in everyone else’s way. Personally, I think beginners are the safest people to be among on a dance floor, because their movements are almost always going to be predictably slow and steady. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s not the “expert” dancers either (I mean, of course, truly expert dancers). People who truly know how to dance are keenly aware of floor craft and dance etiquette, and make a point of moving around the floor without interfering with others.

This is the nature of their expertise.

The problem lies, I believe, with leaders at an intermediate level who have perhaps been exposed to a few more “advanced” sequences – which they just can’t wait to display (whether they are ready to take them to the dance floor or not). These are the leaders who are focused entirely on what they want to do in any given moment, not on the people who might be around them and may be in their way. Once they begin a sequence, they can’t stop until they’ve gotten through it. And, of course, by that time it may be too late.

The art of social Tango is the art of change. We may have a plan to execute that new figure we just picked up from that hot-shot stage performer, but our first responsibility is to the welfare of others on the dance floor. So we need to build in several escape routes during any complex series of movements – in case we suddenly find that we can’t finish a sequence. In this way, we can place our fancier figures in less crowded contexts, and effortless improvise our way through crowds without hurting or scaring our friends.

Let’s all try this and see whether it works. (Give it a little time, say ten years.) See you next time.

May 5, 2007

Hello everyone, Pat here,

This week we have a Tango Tip for the followers. It’s an extremely fundamental part of your dance and should be something that you learn from the very beginning. However, it often happens that as we move along in our tango studies, the simple techniques begin to get buried under the more extravagant notions of how we think we should dance.

What is this vital element?  Keeping your feet together! As you dance, be constantly aware of brushing your ankles and collecting your feet as elegantly as possible. It should be as if your inner ankles have two little magnets that are constantly seeking each other as you dance.

This is particularly true when doing forward or backward ochos. In your pivots, swinging your foot and leg around and away from your other foot is neither correct nor stylish and indeed may even be dangerous for other dancers on a crowded floor. In ocho, we do not want to see huge amounts of space between the followers’ legs as you pivot--collect your feet and keep them together until you are led to take your next step.

Followers, if you practice this tango tip I can guarantee that your dance will assume a sophistication that others will envy, and it will greatly improve your balance in these movements.
 

April 28, 2007
 

Hi everyone, Fran here. This week’s Tango Tip is directed primarily toward followers. I call it “curling the ocho.”  When I teach a beginning follower how to dance the figure eight or ocho. I break the technique down into two distinct elements – the walk and the pivot. If we’re talking about a forward ocho (ocho adelante), for example, I teach her to walk forward, bring her legs together, using the appropriate foot technique, then pivot to face her partner to complete the sequence. Then I usually reverse the order, teaching her first to pivot with her feet nicely together, and then walk forward.

 

When a follower arrives at a point where she can execute this technique comfortably and precisely (and, of course, without anticipating the lead), I advance her to what I consider to be the next level – “curling the ocho.” In this more authentic technique, the follower moves forward with her upper body already facing her partner (as much as her ability to twist her body will allow). When her leading foot takes her weight, the foot is already turned toward her partner (following the direction of her upper torso), and she completes the sequence by “curling” herself around to face her partner so that she is frente a frente (face to face) with him. She executes this “curling” action without being physically led by her partner to do so. If he wants her to continue, he then offers the next lead for whatever he has in mind.

 

If a beginner pivots herself at the end of the walk, it is almost always because she is anticipating the continuation of the movement. This is inappropriate. But for the more advanced dancer, the “curling” action which she incorporates is done to actually finish the movement – since it places her in front of (and facing) her partner. If you try this in your own dancing, don’t turn past the point of facing your partner unless he leads you to do so. Just “curl” enough to bring yourself in front of him.

 

If you have any questions about this, ask Pat or me the next time you see us.  


April 21, 2007

 

Hello Folks, Fran is away this week in Buenos Aires.  His tango tips will continue upon his return next week.


April 14, 2007
 

Hello Folks, Pat here. Our Tango Tip for this week is for the followers. It addresses an issue of fundamental technique that many followers either do not observe or have never been taught. I’ll bet there are numerous leaders who will recognize the following circumstance when they lead either a forward or a backward ocho. After leading, say, a forward ocho, their partner is suddenly so close that it’s impossible for either partner to negotiate a return ocho. The result is an uncomfortable and awkward mess-up of twisted bodies and wrestling arms as they try to get back in front of each other.

 

Why does this happen? Because the follower, when taking her forward ocho, under-pivots and heads straight towards her partner, leaving absolutely no room for her return pivot and ocho -- and she gets caught up in her leader’s arms, legs and heaven knows what else.

 

So our Tango Tip for this week is: Followers!  Keep your distance. When you are led in a forward ocho, (and also in a molinete) you are moving on the outside of an invisible circle. You must maintain the same distance between you and your partner when executing your ocho as when you are standing in front of each other.  For example, let’s say the follower’s feet are approximately 4-6” from her partner’s feet, in the open position. When led in a forward ocho, the follower must pivot enough to take a step that is also 4-6” from her partner, thereby keeping the distance.

 

A similar situation occurs in the back ocho, when the follower under-pivots and with each step moves further away from her leader -- until eventually she is several feet from him and he, if he’s still trying to hold her, is displaying the kind of form better seen when waiting for the gun in a hundred yard dash or maybe Olympic speed swimming.

 

So Followers, the bottom line here is to keep your distance. Make sure you pivot enough so your steps in ocho and molinete create enough distance from your partner for you both to comfortably execute the moves that are led.

 

Thanks for reading our Tango Tips—as always, we’re happy to answer any questions you may have.


April 7, 2007

 

Hi everyone, Fran here. This week’s Tango Tip is directly primarily toward leaders, but I’m certain that followers will find it useful, too. One of the things that initially attracts most of us to Tango is the excitement of the stage dance. We see performers executing those often breathtaking movements, and we decide that – wow! -- we’d like to look just like them. Then we start taking lessons and find out that social Tango isn’t really supposed to be like that at all. We learn that in social Tango the emphasis is on a sense of intimacy and connection between two individuals – not on performing for a real or imagined audience. We are told by good teachers that the overwhelming majority of so-called “fancy” figures are strictly for the stage – not for the social dance floor, but for many of us (at least temporarily) this advice tends to fall on deaf ears.

 

Some of us eventually decide to embrace Tango as an expression of intimacy rather than ostentation. We discover the special satisfaction of inviting or being invited to execute simple movement, to carefully and courteously navigate a dance floor filled with other people, to alternate between moving through space and pausing while the music inspires us to create something beautiful from nothing but the simplest of elements with our partner.

 

If you are among those who have discovered social Tango, I commend you. However, if  you’re still driven by the feeling that Tango is an endless collection of complicated steps whose purpose is to impress people around you, I would urge you to consider what you’re missing in your dance—one of the most fundamental elements of Tango: intimacy with your partner.

 

The bottom line: Let’s all make an effort to dance simply, elegantly and socially. Let’s pay attention to our partners, not our perceived audience. Let’s enjoy every moment with one another, without fear of being bumped, kicked or stepped on by others. The place for performance Tango is on the stage. But on the social dance floor, let’s dance social Tango!


March 31, 2007

 

Hello folks, Pat here. I want to address a subject that I’m sure many of you will have experienced during your Tango studies. It can be traumatic enough to make the recipient (most often the follower) want to give up the dance completely. I’m speaking of criticism during the dance.

 

Followers, how often has a leader told you that you’ve done something wrong? How often has something untoward happened during the dance and either the follower assumes it’s her fault, or the leader implies that it is? How many followers have complained to their leader that he’s not doing something right?

 

Whose fault is it?   No one’s fault!!

 

The fact is that learning Tango is an adventure that is infinite and none of us should stop learning no matter how “good” we think we are. There is always room for improvement of our technique, our fundamentals, our bad habits, and our understanding of the dance and the music.

 

So, our Tango Tip for this week is: if something goes wrong in your dance, don’t rush to lay the blame on your partner. It can take a while to get used to a new partner, and will not happen overnight. Accusing your partner simply causes bad feeling and can sometimes create a serious indignity that is hard to overcome. This is not what we want on the dance floor! Have a generous heart, be willing to admit that mistakes can happen, and move on with your dance. And above all, enjoy yourself!

 

 March 25, 2007

 

Hi everyone, Fran here. This week’s tip is for followers, when executing an ocho. The ocho presents the follower with a very specific balance problem – that of transferring linear energy into pivoting energy. It’s all too common to see a follower finishing her forward or backward ocho by literally falling into a side step, or by “losing” her balance so that her partner may actually have to hold her up for a moment. Of course, there might be many causes for this, which involve a faulty lead. But today’s consideration is what the follower herself often does to create and to exacerbate the problem.

 

First, let’s compare a forward walking step to a forward ocho. When moving forward, the follower is invited to move off her balance. She then travels some distance through space – most likely toward the leader -- with her body aligned so that her legs are moving perpendicular to the normal positioning of her entire upper frame. At the end of her movement forward, she balances herself on one foot (some people like to call this “collecting”), perpendicular to the floor. This is the end of her step, and she now waits for an invitation to do something else.

 

Now, let’s consider a forward ocho. In this action, she is moving across the leader’s axis, commonly across his front. As she moves, she has to keep her upper body turned toward him, not facing forward as she would in a normal forward step. This alone makes the movement extremely difficult to execute with any confident degree of balance. Furthermore, at the end of the step, she has to transfer her linear or forward-traveling energy into pivoting or rotating energy in order to end up in front of and facing her partner. If she doesn’t plan carefully for this curling or change in the direction of energy, she will either fall to the side at the end of the figure, or feel that she has “lost” her balance, and grasp at her partner for support.

 

So how can a woman help herself to maintain balance during the ocho? The answer lies in knowing what’s coming, and planning to deal with it in advance. Once she realizes that the traveling part of the ocho is difficult in itself  (moving with the body twisted), she will begin to practice this movement with more awareness. And when she starts recognizing that she has to take the linear energy she has built up during the traveling portion of the step, and translate that energy into pivoting or rotating-in-place energy at the end, she will begin actually planning for this transition – rather than having it take her by surprise every time she attempts to execute and ocho.

 

So, as always, the answer lies in knowledge and practice. Followers, try to incorporate these concepts into your ochos, and I think you’ll find that they start to feel better, more controlled, more balanced. If Pat or I can help you any further, just ask the next time you see us.

 

March 18, 2007

Hi everyone, Pat here again. Last week’s Tango Tip ended up missing its final paragraph, so we decided to reprint it as this week’s tip to give you all the full sense of what we were talking about.  Here it is, this time in its entirety:

I would like to address the followers with this week’s Tango Tip. As you move forward with your tango studies, and gain knowledge and skill in the dance, you should make yourself aware of an important technique in your walking steps that can allow your leader to use elements he has learned and thus greatly enrich your partnership and your dance.

Followers, when taking forward, side or back steps, make sure that you create enough space between your legs and feet for your leader to execute (should he wish to) movements such as sacadas (displacements) and other  entradas (such as small kicks,  ganchos or enganches). Creating this space is crucial to the successful execution of these movements, and it is particularly important in molinete, during which many leaders have learned some of the more popular sacada/entrada sequences.

If the follower does not take steps with enough space, the leader has to make a split-second decision whether or not to go ahead with his intended sacada or other entrada – even though he might not have enough space to do so. Obviously, if he goes ahead the result may be disastrous and possible painful!

So, our Tango Tip for this week is: Followers, you must be aware of the space you are creating between your legs during your steps. Be generous! If your leader does not make use of the space you provide, no matter. Your dance will proceed without incident. But if he does want to embellish in between your steps, he’ll have the luxury of an aware follower taking a spacious step, and your dance will instantly acquire more sophistication.

March 11, 2007

Hi everyone, Pat here. I would like to address the followers with this week’s Tango Tip. As you move forward with your tango studies, and gain knowledge and skill in the dance, you should make yourself aware of an important technique in your walking steps that can allow your leader to use elements he has learned and thus greatly enrich your partnership and your dance.

Followers, when taking forward, side or back steps, make sure that you create enough space between your legs and feet for your leader to execute (should he wish to) movements such as sacadas (displacements) and other entradas (such as small kicks, ganchos or enganches). Creating this space is crucial to the successful execution of these movements, and it is particularly important in molinete, during which many leaders have learned some of the more popular sacada/entrada sequences.

If the follower does not take steps with enough space, the leader has to make a split-second decision whether or not to go ahead with his intended sacada or other entrada – even though he might not have enough space to do so. Obviously, if he goes ahead the result may be disastrous and possible painful!

March 4, 2007
 

This Week

After last week’s Tango Tip of the Week I was talking with Sue Dallon, who said she’d been thinking about a few additional ideas in the area of ”dance etiquette” that she’d like me to mention.  I asked Sue to give me her list, and I’ve taken the liberty of expanding on her excellent thoughts:

Don't worry about mistakes. Because social dancing is an interaction between two people, mistakes can occur even in the simplest of movements. Blaming yourself or your partner for such errors is inappropriate. The best thing you can do is laugh it off and move on.

Choose dance steps you’re comfortable with on the dance floor rather than attempting material you haven’t yet mastered. If you’ve learned something new during a lesson – or seen someone else dancing something you like, but can’t yet actually do – wait until you’ve practiced such movements before you try them during a dance. That way, you won’t pose any potential danger to your friends around you. The right time for working on new material is during your practice sessions. 

Don't bring any food or drink on or near the dance floor. Spilling food or drink on the dance floor is, of course, extremely dangerous. If nothing else, it causes a great deal of bother and inconvenience to clean up. Please keep food and drink on the tables, or in the outer room of the KofC.

Be careful when you step onto the floor after a dance has started. The line of dance has begun to flow. When you enter it, it’s sort of like stepping onto a moving train. If you’re not careful, someone could easily get hurt.

Don't talk during the dance. It’s true that dancing is part of our overall social interaction at the Firehouse. But dancing and talking at the same time just don’t seem to work. While you’re dancing, concentrate on enjoying moving together to the music. After the dance there’s plenty of time to chat.

Don't cut across the floor while people are dancing. If you have to get to the other side of the floor during a dance, walk carefully around the edge. On the dance floor, it’s the dancers who have the right of way.

If you combine our Tango Tip from last week with this week’s ideas (thanks very much to Sue Dallon!), you’ll have an excellent overview of what constitutes good behavior or appropriate “dance etiquette.” All you have to do now is put these things into practice. And if we all do that … what wonderful times we’ll enjoy!

Last Weeks Tango Tip

There’s a term that keeps floating around the dance world called “dance etiquette.” Here are a few of the topics involved in this very important concept:

Always maintain the line of dance. This means moving counter-clockwise with your partner around the outside of the circle or oval which comprises the dance floor. If you feel the need to pass a couple in front of you, you can travel around them either to the outside or the inside of the line of dance, depending upon whether there’s room available. If there’s no room available, be patient, using your skill as a leader to execute in-place movements until the way becomes clear to continue moving around the line of dance. That’s pretty straight forward, isn’t it?

However, when you choose to move across the center of the room or directly against the line of dance – you’re acting in an inappropriate manner. You’re not observing dance etiquette. Such leaders must be reminded (most appropriately by the host of the milonga) of their obligation to maintain the line of dance.

Don’t teach on the dance floor. There are certain people who are compulsive teachers whenever they go out onto the dance floor with a partner. They simply cannot stop themselves from imparting what they no doubt think of as wisdom to their captive audience. This is inappropriate behavior. In my experience, teaching on the dance floor often emanates from leaders who find it necessary to substitute words for good leading skills. Of course, there are also certain followers who teach – usually to cover mistakes in following which they prefer to blame their partners for. The bottom line is this. If someone asks you for advice on the dance floor, and you feel able to give it (a true rarity) go ahead. If your wisdom is unsolicited, learn to keep your thoughts to yourself, and let your dancing do the talking.

Don’t criticize. This is really an adjunct to keeping your thoughts to yourself on the dance floor. We dance to have fun, to express joy, to escape from the grind of our daily drudgeries, to engage with other people. Being critical of someone else’s dancing is bad behavior. If anyone does this to you, the only appropriate response is to walk away from them.

Dance with everybody. The milonga is a place to meet and greet lots of people. Dancing is a lovely way to interact, and enhance the good time we’re having. I think it’s perfectly natural to have favorite dance partners, people we like to spend time with on and off the dance floor. But our milonga is a social occasion. That’s means everybody gets to participate. I would therefore like to suggest dancing with new people from time to time. Dance with someone you find intimidating. Dance with someone whose skill level you think might not be up to yours. Dance with someone older, younger, whomever you haven’t been dancing with up until now. And since times have definitely changed, let’s have invitations to dance coming both from men and women. I think you’ll like it, and so will they.

February 24, 2007

There’s a term that keeps floating around the dance world called “dance etiquette.” Here are a few of the topics involved in this very important concept:

Always maintain the line of dance. This means moving counter-clockwise with your partner around the outside of the circle or oval which comprises the dance floor. If you feel the need to pass a couple in front of you, you can travel around them either to the outside or the inside of the line of dance, depending upon whether there’s room available. If there’s no room available, be patient, using your skill as a leader to execute in-place movements until the way becomes clear to continue moving around the line of dance. That’s pretty straight forward, isn’t it?

However, when you choose to move across the center of the room or directly against the line of dance – you’re acting in an inappropriate manner. You’re not observing dance etiquette. Such leaders must be reminded (most appropriately by the host of the milonga) of their obligation to maintain the line of dance.

Don’t teach on the dance floor. There are certain people who are compulsive teachers whenever they go out onto the dance floor with a partner. They simply cannot stop themselves from imparting what they no doubt think of as wisdom to their captive audience. This is inappropriate behavior. In my experience, teaching on the dance floor often emanates from leaders who find it necessary to substitute words for good leading skills. Of course, there are also certain followers who teach – usually to cover mistakes in following which they prefer to blame their partners for. The bottom line is this. If someone asks you for advice on the dance floor, and you feel able to give it (a true rarity) go ahead. If your wisdom is unsolicited, learn to keep your thoughts to yourself, and let your dancing do the talking.

Don’t criticize. This is really an adjunct to keeping your thoughts to yourself on the dance floor. We dance to have fun, to express joy, to escape from the grind of our daily drudgeries, to engage with other people. Being critical of someone else’s dancing is bad behavior. If anyone does this to you, the only appropriate response is to walk away from them.

Dance with everybody. The milonga is a place to meet and greet lots of people. Dancing is a lovely way to interact, and enhance the good time we’re having. I think it’s perfectly natural to have favorite dance partners, people we like to spend time with on and off the dance floor. But our milonga is a social occasion. That’s means everybody gets to participate. I would therefore like to suggest dancing with new people from time to time. Dance with someone you find intimidating. Dance with someone whose skill level you think might not be up to yours. Dance with someone older, younger, whomever you haven’t been dancing with up until now. And since times have definitely changed, let’s have invitations to dance coming both from men and women. I think you’ll like it, and so will they.

February 17, 2007

 

Hello everyone, Pat here with a special tango tip for followers! Ladies, how many of you are aware how important your whole foot is as you dance tango? By this I mean not just your toes and the balls of your feet, but your heels as well?  I think we all know that toes are regularly pressed into service to save our balance—they dutifully scrunch into action as we begin to list in one direction or another, and are most of the time our invisible saviors.

 

But what about our heels?  Heels are also extremely important in maintaining balance and posture. It is down through our heels and onto the floor that our lower-body weight must be directed. When walking backwards, the follower’s foot touches down first on the toe and then through the whole foot onto the heel as the weight is transferred. In the forward walk, one uses the whole foot, with the toe sometimes briefly touching the floor first.  In addition, the follower needs to be able to separate her upper body (trying always to face her partner) from her lower body as she executes even the simplest movements that require pivoting, turning, and stopping—not to mention anything more complicated. If you have taken your weight high off the floor by lifting your heels up and are dancing on your toes, the proper execution of these movements will be much more difficult to achieve.

 

So, remember to dance with the whole foot. You should be able to dance Tango the same way whether you are wearing 4” heels or flats. It’s the use of your foot, not the height of the heel on your shoe that’s important. And don’t let any leader yank you onto your toes and off your balance. This will create bad dancing and eventually, very painful feet.

 

February 10, 2007

There are lots of things about social dancing that are great fun. One of them is that we get to put our arms around someone who may be a total a stranger to us even before we know their names. What a truly wonderful opportunity. (I always tell my students that this is really why I’m in the dance business.) If you tried this anywhere else, you’d be put in jail!

Leaders – especially those who haven’t danced much -- are sometimes a bit shy about making such an apparently deep commitment, however. Instead of encircling their partner with their right arm when they assume the dance embrace, they place it tentatively and nervously on her hip, her side, her shoulder … anywhere but where it belongs – behind her back. Guys, please! Do you think she’s going to bite?

Let’s change all that, starting right now. Leaders – in assuming the embrace, don’t go for the woman’s hip, side or shoulder. Instead, place you right palm confidently in the center of her back. Don’t pull her toward you; let her balance on her own. And hold hands with your left hand and her right, keeping you left arm at about the level of your nose – unless she’s considerably shorter than you in which case, lower it a bit.

Now, the embrace is the beginning of what we hope will be a comfortable relationship for taking a turn around the floor. You don’t have to plan a life together. It’s only dancing. Any questions? Ask Pat or me the next time you see us at the Firehouse.

February 3, 2007

Hello everyone, Pat here! This week I want to talk about something that can drive leaders crazy……and it’s not a good thing! In any good tango class, the subject of the barrera (or barrier) in the leader’s dance should include information about the follower’s role. Our fearless leaders have diligently learned how to, let’s say, lead a forward ocho and then, as the follower turns in her pivot , create a barrier by sliding one foot out in front of her feet as she prepares to come back. You will all recognize this—it’s one of the most common moves in the dance.

So here’s the leader with his perfect barrera in place…….and what happens??? The follower jumps right over his foot without so much as an excuse me. She executes her returning ocho pivot and whoosh!..over she goes without a moment’s hesitation and heaven help us, may even start to do something else that he hasn’t led. Unfortunately, this situation has become so epidemic that many leaders have stopped trying to lead the follower over when they do a barrera…they just wait for her to do it herself. Sorry to say, this is bad dancing.

Followers! When your leader places his foot in front of your path, it means STOP! You must wait until you receive the invitation to step over. It can be a wonderful opportunity for you to do an embellishment or two, and not only will you be dancing correctly but you’ll be looking really good doing it.

January 27, 2007

 

Hi everybody, Fran here. Here’s a Tango Tip for both leaders and followers that’s easy to remember, but not so easy to do. It’s to stand up straight while dancing. Many of us get used to slouching in our daily lives. We slouch, when we sit. We slouch, when we stand. Eventually, we start looking like human question marks. Our heads jut forward from our necks, our shoulders become rounded, and our stomachs hang forward. Yech!

When we dance, this posture is not only unsightly, it also makes it difficult to maintain balance. Our connection with our partner feels incomplete. And quite often we end up leaning on one another.

Slouching is a habit. It develops over many years of practice (or neglect). If we choose to do so, we can develop the habit of standing up straight, too. Try this: Pull your chest up, as if to puff it out a bit, Be proud! Next: pull your head back with your chin slightly down – not up. Finally, settle your shoulders out and down – not up.  This should put you in the right posture for dancing. Then, you have to try maintaining this posture throughout the dance – not slowly but surely returning to the question-mark look.

If you have questions about this, ask me or Pat at the next Firehouse Tango. We’ll be happy to demonstrate how correct posture is created and maintained.

January 20, 2007

 

Hello everyone, Pat here. This week’s Tango Tip is for both leaders and followers, and from the very beginning, should be a fundamental part of how you dance Tango.

 

It is all about being in front of each other—leader’s center in front of follower’s center. All too often during the dance, a couple will find themselves facing in totally different directions. This is not just happenstance -- it is because there has been no effort to stay in front of each other; they have allowed their bodies to ‘separate’ and even sometimes to face away from their partner!

 

A Tango dancer’s moving body should be constantly seeking, searching for and finding the other dancer’s center or front. For the follower, this means never taking your eyes off his center, no matter where you are led. In some instances, especially in ochos and molinete, it will mean that you are twisting at the waist so that your upper half faces back to your leader, as best it can. For the leader, it will mean that you try to follow with your upper body wherever you lead your partner.

 

Much is said about the importance of the so-called “connection” between partners dancing Tango. Well, this is where and how it begins! Be aware of your upper body position at all times and seek each other’s center. If both leader and follower make this effort, your Tango will change dramatically for the better.

 

Thanks everyone, we hope this tip will be helpful in your dancing. See you soon!

 

January 13, 2007

 

For this week’s Tango Tip I’d like to talk about the subject of balance. First, I want to describe a couple of scenes we witness on the dance floor everyday:

 

  1. When embracing his partner, a leader draws her to him by squeezing with his right arm. She loses her balance, falling forward, and is compelled to remain that way for the whole dance.
  1. As a follower assumes the embrace, she purposely drapes herself over the leader’s shoulder, leaning forward and down, actually taking herself out of balance and relying on the leader to hold her up during the dance.

These are two examples of what I consider to be bad dance technique. One of the fundamentals elements Pat and I stress during our lessons is the idea that the leader and follower are each responsible for maintaining individual balance during the dance. We think that leaning on one’s partner or being pulled forward off balance is just plain bad dancing.

 

Of course, there are exceptions to this “rule.” Those of you who attended this week’s Firehouse Tango will remember that we taught a technique called volcada – literally, a tipping over or overturning of the follower -- which involves the two partners leaning on one another for a period of time. This leaning action – sometimes referred to as the puente (bridge) or carpa (tent) position – is initiated by the leader, who eventually returns the follower to the upright, balanced position after leading her through a series of movements, revolving around the volcada. Another technique – which we’ll explore in the future -- is called colgada in which the two partners actually lean away from one another for a period of time, and eventually return to an individually balanced embrace.

 

During the last several years, a style of dancing sometimes called “close-embrace” or apilado Tango has become quite popular among certain dancers. In this style, the two partners dance very close to one another – their bodies touching, with the follower’s left arm often wrapped high around the leader’s neck. It is, of course, quite possible to maintain individual balance while dancing this style – even though the two partners are quite close together. However, some dancers – either because they don’t know any better or because they’ve been badly taught -- lean on one another whenever they dance in the close embrace. Worse, they see other people doing it, and assume it must be the right way to dance. Pat and I like close embrace Tango. But we don’t lean on each other, when we dance this style. And we would like to invite you to try being balanced, when you dance this way. We think you’ll like it.

 

We’ll talk to you next week. Remember: balance, balance, balance.

 

January 6, 2007

 

Hello everyone, Pat here. Fran’s Tango Tip last week addressed the problems encountered in molinete, when a leader makes the turn too fast and causes the follower to be unable to execute her technique appropriately. The result, of course, is disaster for both! This week, I will explain the follower’s technique in detail, and include a hint or two on how to deal with “Mr. Tornado.”

 

In molinete, the follower must execute a series of steps and pivots that are intricately intertwined into a specific formula, and require considerable control. The proper technique is not easy. Many followers may never learn the right technique -- or be tempted to take the easy way out without thinking what the feet or body are doing -- and as a result molinete looms as a fearful requirement in the dance.

 

The follower’s formula in molinete can be started with either a forward or backward ocho lead. Let’s use the forward ocho: forward ocho step, feet together, turning pivot, side step, feet together, BIG turning pivot to the back (this includes a big twist in the waist also), step straight back—do not cross your step behind your standing leg, side step passing through (no pivot), feet together, small forward pivot and step … and we’re back to repeating this formula—forward, side, back, side—for as long as the leader keeps turning his body. As soon as he stops turning, the follower also stops.

 

Somewhere along the way, most women seem to forget about the pivots. This could indeed be the result of having to turn too fast due to … well, we know that answer. I believe the pivots are crucial to molinete. They will help you get around with much more ease, they will make your molinete look enviable, and they will help you keep your balance.

 

When you are dancing with a leader who may think that “spinning” the molinete is the right thing to do and it’s just your job to keep up with him, think of the pivots as small, fleeting anchors that provide control and alignment. The better you get at using the pivots, the more seamless they will become and the better you will be able to handle “Mr. Tornado” without losing your balance and falling to the ground.

 

Another trick is not to allow yourself to be pulled around. Insist on your balance and the correct execution of the formula by making your turn in all slow steps (i.e. no quick-quicks) and using the pivots. You’ll be surprised at how well this works!

 

Thank you for reading this long Tango Tip. Fran and I are happy to answer any questions you may have.