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Tango Improvisation – Part 4   Leave a comment

Tango Improvisation – Part 4

We really hope that you have enjoyed the first four week seminar on tango improvisation, and that our goal of teaching you how to think has made very positive changes in the way you now will approach the enjoyment of dancing tango with a new attitude. We’d like to say that our first four week seminar on tango improvisation ended with a bang, but… we were so pleased with the results that we have added a lagniappe session to wrap things up. This will be a great opportunity for those who missed some classes to catch up, and for everyone else to review and reinforce the newly acquired improvisations skills.

At this stage of your tango awareness education, we would hope that,

  • You make axis and embrace your foremost priority as you step on the dance floor
  • You never refer to women as followers or follows again
  • You never refer to men as leaders or leads
  • You don’t think that you need to compromise your dancing by “adjusting” to whom you dance with
  • You don’t respond to a compliment on your dancing by “blaming” it on a good “leader” or a good “follower.”
  • You accept responsibility for what you can and can’t do
  • You accept compliments on your superb dancing with kindness (and pride)
  • You continue internalizing your knowledge by forcing your body to follow your thoughts
  • You continue to master the concepts of body alignment and body positions
  • You don’t invent “new” steps beyond the six root movements you can do with two legs.
  • You never look at the feet but concentrate on the motions of the bodies in space

At least, give it a good try, and don’t fall back into the old habits of step collection and connecting dots dancing.
Every dance should a be a shared adventure.

In our last session, we moved from exercising the six root steps in place to use them in  a very useful construction called La base, or The Base. No matter how deep into a complex combination you are, you will always be in one of the stages of La base, perhaps a different stage for the man than for the woman, but that is why we’re teaching you how to think. The moment the motion memory in your brain begins to understand and recognize that, you become another member of the improvisation club with all the perks that that entitles. Free upgrades and priority boarding are just a step ahead.

Please, raise your head and look at the bodies, do not memorize feet movements, but recognize the elements you have learned and start marveling at the seamless way of connecting them into coordinated patterns..
Thank you for your trust and dedication.

Tango is not a lead and follow dance   Leave a comment

Tango is not a lead and follow dance

A devoted tango friend is a very talented chef. We met him when we started teaching again two years after Katrina. At the time he was cooking at one of the legendary New Orleans kitchens where many of today’s internationally known chefs got started. He went on to successful experiences in Florida and North Carolina, before returning recently to New Orleans. We get together Tuesday nights at a local club on tango night, and in between tandas we exchange recipes. He tells me about healthy ways to prepare salmon and explain the differences between Argentine tango and all the lead and follow dances.He’s very good at explaining that without the roux a gumbo is just another soup. I try to explain the meaning of la marca, the quintessential ingredient of Argentine tango improvisation. La marca is a form of body communication that occurs within the embrace. The man embraces, first to protect the woman with his body, and second to carry her body in his embrace so she can move with the man NOW. A follower would move later, requiring time to figure out the “lead,” process the proper “follow,” and ordering her brain to move her body. By then the music is several beats ahead. Show me leads and follows in tango, and I’ll show you couples who are not dancing to the music, I say, giving a sweeping glance to the dance floor. Men must learn how to use la marca in order to make tango dancers out of followers.

I was thinking how my cooking skills have improved immensely because of the availability of visual aids such as videos that complement my friend’s knowledge and advice, when suddenly I remembered an early video from the mid nineties, which at the time served as an amusing parlor trick and a comic relief from the “serious trance inducing” tango dancing… I saw Carlos Gavito do the same trick at somebody’s home in the Bay Area in 1996, and at the time it didn’t strike me as being the epitome of what tango improvisation means. Even today the message is so profound that needs to be explained very slowly.
We improvise when we dance Argentine tango. All the time, except once in a blue moon when we prefer to work a rehearsed routine. The way we teach is focusing on teaching people how to think, which is one way to successful improvisation.

Not to bore you with details, here is the most clear example of how a man makes full use of la marca. The next time somebody tries to teach “leaders” and “followers” the “secrets” of the dance, ask them very politely how do the broomsticks follow.

Posted February 6, 2013 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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The 2001 Tango Getaway Master classes   Leave a comment

The 2001 Tango Getaway Master classes

The years go by and suddenly talking about the early days have a meaning.
It’s hard to understand how people today can relate to the rituals and traditions that form the foundations of the Argentine tango we dance everywhere, without the benefit of being exposed to links that reach to the golden years of the tango.
We were fortunate to live along the last generation of milongueros with a direct connection to the golden years, and learning the meaning of tango came gradually as a natural rite of passage sharing with them their wisdom, their wit, and their life experiences. We spent many of the formative years formulating a methodology based on the oral knowledge passed along by so many well known and not so well known bailarines de tango, which is the highest honor vested upon those who simply know how to dance the tango.The explosion of technology, and the onset of social media makes it possible for us, to bear testimony to those things we learned and were able to teach, by inviting you to participate in one of many three day master classes taught at the legendary Labor Day Weekend Tango Getaway in Reno, NV. The very last one in 2001.

Posted February 3, 2013 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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The weird hold   3 comments

The weird hold
The 21st century has witnessed a very curious phenomenon apparently intended to transform the experience of the Argentine tango by waging a frontal attack on one of its fundamental elements, the embrace. The mythical abrazo has fallen victim of fashion. A new look to the dance, the weird hold, has invaded dance floors around the world.

Contrary to what the new generation of dancers might have been led to believe, good teachers will always explain to their students from the first tango lesson, that the tango begins and ends with the embrace. And that the tango is danced connected from and inside the embrace. That is something not open for discussion.

Recently a former student and wonderful dancer from the early days made a rare appearance at the local milonga. After a while she asked with a perplexed look, “What’s with the weird way these women are holding the men?” I had seen that change in newer dancers for a couple of years now, but her question got me thinking again.

Argentine teacher Sol Alzamora, answering a similar question about the weird hold, pointed out in a workshop held recently in Los Angeles that “this is a fad, but not a good way for the woman to embrace. It closes off the shoulder and prevents the woman’s disassociation when she needs it.2

Julio Duplaá, veteran milonguero and organizer of the milonga at Club Sin Rumbo in Buenos Aires, was heard in a radio interview complaining about the abundance of boleos and kicks on the dance floors, and the new way to hold that has become fashionable among young women. “People, let’s respect the embrace. I don’t know why the girls grab you by the waist, or hang their arm from your shoulder, my God, you poor guys!!

There is a blog named Maldito Tango hosted in daily newspaper La Nacion‘s website where the topic has been discussed openly under headings such as Hold me well, that this is not flamenco, and I won’t dance you, never again.3

On the subject of the weird hold, a reader wrote that “it completely blocks the man’s right shoulder, it destroys it, and it limits the man’s dancing possibilities. The embrace,” he adds, “should have the feeling of a hug between friends who like each other. It must provide mutual containment, but not become a trap or a squeeze.” The general view in this blog seems to be that women are often judged harshly by the way they embrace. They agree that it is difficult to conform to all audiences. They give advice to women, “The ladies must be very careful not to hang from their partners, not to bury their heads like a “turtle” and not to fall on the guy as a resting cow. It is not advisable to place your hand on the gentleman‘s nape because this can be seen as a sign of “ownership” inelegant for a salon dance.” Some female dancers agree but add that worse things can be seen, “if the hug is flabby, or cold, the men will also complain.”

Well known artist Mariano Chicho Frúmboli, was asked about the women who hold the men by the love handles or placing their hand on the guy’s kidney. In a Yogi Berra fashion, Chicho prefaces his answers on controversial topics with, “I think I’m among the first to be in favor of freedom in the tango and its movement, whatever its expression, as long as the essentials are respected.

I could say,” he says, “that the women that touch you ‘there’ may be ‘franeleras’ like the hundreds of guys who’ve done it for many years, still do it and will continue doing it.” The jargon ‘franelera‘ describes a woman who teases men by repeating a provocative conduct, like stroking arms, legs and hands causing arousal, without the intention of following through because that’s the way they are.

But,” he adds, “I could also say that it is part of a trend, as it once was Geraldine’s personal embrace, Tete’s stacking or apilado embrace, the tango nuevo and those things that fade in the crowd after a while, and that luckily, are movements, postures, personal attitudes that belong to those who felt that way, really.

Chicho offers a third, perhaps more complex response to the weird holding conundrum. He says that the fad may have come from Europe, recalling that in the early 2000’s he saw in Paris a couple of guys he believes were the first ones to lower their right hands almost below the woman’s waist. A few years later the hand of the man holding the woman’s hand as if holding a “tray” become a style (if we can call it that way) very popular at the dreadful tango “Marathons”. So Chicho concludes that, the man’s hand holding a tray, plus the man’s hand almost touching below the waist of the woman, plus the woman’s hand touching the lungs, kidneys and love handles of the man are likely styles concocted in Europe and brought to Buenos Aires by the tango tourism boom of recent years.

Chicho concludes putting the blames squarely “in the lack of accountability of many professors and teachers who teach this type of tango hold only a few months after taking their first class. Without knowing anything about history, its traditions and the great dancers, they are giving seminars on “dynamic energy” teaching a deformed “style,” that’s far removed from what we know as Tango. At the end Chicho leaves a question in the air, “Who are we to criticize, judge and marginalize?” and a piece of advice, Guys, let’s take a step forward and do something for the tango … let’s not criticize but be generous, let’s teach and share essentially what we learned to save the tango from dying.”

Teaching and Sharing

The job of a teacher is not to judge or engage in subjective arguments about fads or to use fads as a teaching tool. A teacher has to be able to open minds by explaining, demonstrating and inspiring with logic and tangible evidence. A tango teacher should know and be able to teach that there is one fundamental reason for the way we need to embrace to dance Argentine tango. That reason is to establish points of contact between the dancers to allow the body language communication so essential for tango improvisation, the hallmark of Argentine tango dancing at the social level.

Style follows technique, and good dancers develop a personal style only after acquiring solid technique. What identifies people as tango dancers is the unique way they dance Argentine tango: with a higher-than-average degree of closeness. Tango is the ultimate contact dance.

When asked why they hold the men instead of embracing, some women said that a friend or a teacher told them to put their arms like that. None was able to give a reason for the middle finger poking on the man’s back or for shooting their elbows up and out, while others reacted with a blank stare as if not understanding the nature of the question. What is even more perplexing is that female tango dancers who pay such a detailed attention to their footwork and take pride in their footwear, don’t seem to mind the awkward look their upper bodies have when their hand is flat holding the man and their elbow is shooting out and/or up. It is possible that nobody has ever taught them the fundamental and important techniques required for embracing while dancing tango.

Experience has proven that a woman dancer can tell and appreciate the difference between a man who knows how to embrace her and one who just holds her with an open hand and pressing fingers on her right lung . Evidence shows that lots of men don’t have that same sense of appreciation, are afraid to request a proper embrace, or just come to dance with ulterior motives.

When the first generation of dancers in North America fell in love with the tango, we were mesmerized by the look of the dance. We learned that it was the direct result of the environment in which the dance had been developed. Since the late nineteen thirties tango dancing had always been danced in close quarters, in crowded salons where couples were constrained to a space that had the shape of a traveling cylinder. As they danced, each couple carried their own personal space around a very crowded dance floor. For people who have not danced in an urban place with hundreds of couples sharing the floor, it is difficult to wrap around the concept of dancing close, occupying just the space needed by the embraced bodies, and keeping the elbows tucked in and down so they don’t pose a hazard to other dancers. The claim of dancing the authentic Argentine tango, should be anchored very clearly on these images, even if there is nobody else on the dance floor.

There is another fundamental aspect of tango dancing we all learned in the early stages of development that has been gradually forgotten, misrepresented, or mistakenly equated to the lead and follow aspect of ballroom dances. Tango is not a lead and follow dance. When the man embraces properly, the woman moves when the man moves by virtue of her body being in the embrace. To the trained eye is very easy to spot people who dance tango as if it was another lead and follow dance. The time it takes to process a lead in order to follow makes them dance off the music. Some say that alternative music serves as a palliative for the frustration of being unable to dance the rich nuances of tango composed for tango dancing. So, what makes good tango dancers dance to the music that was composed for dancing tango?

Whole new generations of tango dancers learn to dance tango without the benefit of understanding or even knowing the existence of the ever-important concept of La marca, the way the man sets the pace and indicates where and when the woman’s free foot created a new axis for her body.1

There is not a direct and accurate translation of the Spanish verb marcar, as it relates to dancing. It is definitely not the action of tagging, branding, or stamping. The closest description of marcar is, setting the pace. La marca, is a language that is unique to the tango dance. It’s a corporal communication between the dancers that carries the beat and rhythm of the music from the loudspeakers into their bodies and on to the dance floor.

Using this corporal communication, the person playing the role of the “man” also marks where and when the free foot of the person playing the role of the “woman” lands on the floor. This can be a radical concept for the thousands of followers all over the world who carry their weight on the trailing foot in order to follow, as opposed to experienced tango dancers who carry their weight on their leading foot closest to the man in order to allow the man’s mark to place their free foot on the ground when her body moves within the boundaries of the embrace. This is provocative and challenging knowledge that empowers tango dancers.

Good posture and the dynamics of the embrace are very important to learn, understand and use the concept of la marca, for the ultimate thrill of tango dancing, which is tango improvisation. In adopting the dancing posture, the man encircles the woman with his right arm, creating a wedge space where she will dance. The entire left side of her body has contact with the right side of his body. The embrace serves the purpose of establishing five essential points of contact.

It helps if the shoulders are relaxed because that keeps the elbows down. As the dancers stand facing each other, the woman indicates that she’s ready to be embraced by slightly separating her left arm from her body. Then the man begins to embrace by extending his right arm forward and straight down until the inside of his forearm makes firm contact with the side of the woman’s body, regardless of her height. This will allow the man to mark the woman’s movements to his right as she dances into this right arm, and to his left when he moves forward pressing against the side of her body.

Next, the man needs to bend his lower (right) arm from the elbow and encircle the woman just above her waist, loosening the right shoulder to reach without bending. He can adjust for the woman’s height by raising or lowering his lower arm from the elbow so that his right hand can rest horizontally on the right side of her back, keeping his fingers relaxed and closed. The placement of his lower arm and right hand is important to mark the woman’s change of directions often called forward and back ochos.

Once the man has embraced her with his right arm, the woman loosens up her left shoulder to reach forward, raising her left arm, and placing the inside portion of her left upper arm triceps firmly resting against any part of the man’s encircling arm. Make sure you understand that this point of contact is the upper arm triceps against the man’s arm. This will allow the woman to receive the mark for the right foot by the action of the man’s right arm on her left shoulder.

Finally, the woman needs to rest her hand with her fingers closed anywhere along the shoulder line of the man, keeping the elbow down and always below the level of the left hand. Let’s repeat this, the left elbow must be lower than the left hand, regardless of where on the shoulder line the hands rests. See the composite picture below for a variety of ways to place the left hand to complete the embrace.

It is the woman who determines what is close enough. If need be, the woman can scoop her hand under the man’s biceps and hold it like a small pocketbook. She can also rest her left hand on the man’s shoulder or upper arm or even behind his neck. The hand must be relaxed, with the fingers closed. No banana bunch, fingering or karate chop hands. There shouldn’t be any tension in the hand placed on the man’s body. The man should barely be aware of the woman’s left hand.

On the open side of the embrace, the man and the woman hold hands with their arms forming a double V. This happens as the man raises his upper left arm to his left pointing his lower left arm up toward his partner, to form his V, keeping his shoulder relaxed and pointing his elbow down.

The woman extends her right arm forward and up forming a V with her elbow pointing down not out, resting her right palm down on the gentleman’s palm.
The man closes his fingers around the lady’s hand gently, and slightly turn his wrist inward to create a slight tension between his palm and his partner’s palm.

This is not a handshake but a soft connection. There should be no squeezing or gripping. The open side of the embrace must not used for balance or to avoid falling off axis! If dancers approach the embrace in this fashion, any subtle motion of the man’s upper body will be felt very clearly by the woman, and her upper body will move accordingly. Since feet follow the body, dynamic interactions of the upper bodies result in a visually pleasant and smooth displacement of the dancing couple. There should never be any space between the man’s right arm and the woman’s left arm.

We think that embracing properly establishing points of contact is part of the “pre-flight” checklist that insures connection and the raises the expectation of a good dance. It does become the centerpiece of good posture, and promotes the much touted shared intimacy of the tango. However, very tempting as it may be to be lured by the subjective, romantic, and emotional qualities of a good embrace, we must be fully aware of the essential techniques regarding how to embrace when it comes time to dance the tango.

It takes two to provide the five points of contact, and it takes two to understand the dynamics of moving as one, now, with the man assuming the responsibility for circulating and the woman embellishing the ride. None of this is possible or even an option unless men are made aware of the existence of and the importance of learning the concept of La marca1. Unless they learn how to embrace to establish points of contacts, and are not afraid to move their bodies around the floor carrying women in their arms, rather than being concerned with the motion of their feet. When men embrace women, they must be aware that they are first and foremost protecting them with their bodies, from out control dancers. More than involvement, it requires commitment.

Freed from the misguided idea of following, female tango dancers can concentrate on honing skills such as always carrying their weight on one leg, establishing an axis, and using the free leg to receive her body when the man moves her inside his embrace. Perfecting the free leg extension forward, backward and laterally, feeling comfortable changing axis, and always keeping her weight on the leading foot closer to the man are probably the most important attributes tango dancing women should look forward to perfect. The hallmark of a female tango dancer is never having both feet on the ground. This is a phenomenal leap of faith on the skills of their males counterparts, that’s why in tango we trust. As men, we trust that our right arm and shoulder will not be compromised, blocked, or disabled by a hold that limits our dancing possibilities. We trust that a woman’s ability to disassociate her upper and lower body, to hold her axis without falling, and to embellish without interfering with the dance, will not be sacrificed be holding in a weird way.

One thing for certain is that the pure essence of the Argentine tango we dance at the social level requires commitment, effort and understanding by both men and women of the essential elements that define what we dance, Argentine tango. That’s probably the most profound meaning of “it takes two to tango.”


1. Gotta Tango by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart
2. Put Your Arm on My Shoulders a Facebook group
3. El Abrazo Femenino a Debate by Marina Gambier, Maldito Tango Blog

Posted August 8, 2012 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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Milonga traspie I   Leave a comment

Milonga traspie I
The way the man holds the woman to dance the milonga is different from tango since it is important that instant weight changes be transmitted directly to the woman’s feet. It is suggested that the man’s right hand is placed just above the woman’s waistline and on the right side of her hips. The dance demands more attention to the music, to the rhythm, and to the traffic on the dance floor. It also has a higher cardiovascular value than the tango, since none of the nuances encountered in tango dancing, like pauses, paradas, or OMG colgadas are part of the choreography of the milonga.There is no shortcut to dancing the milonga “hearing” the beat in your head as you dance. The only sure way is practice, practice, and practice. The easiest way to follow a beat is by tapping on the ground with the feet. We always begin a milonga workshop with an exercise that helps people recognize and reproduce the core sound of the beat of the milonga. We ask people to step by raising the knee to bring the foot off the ground, extending the leg and bringing the foot down hitting the ground firmly with the ball of the foot. Try this on your own,

  1. Rest your weight on your right leg, open your left leg short keeping your body from shifting sideways, and step on the floor with your left foot, then quickly raise and step in place with your right foot counting aloud ONE~AND. We’ll call this sequence QUICK~QUICK or if you prefer, STEP~AND. Repeat four times.
  2. Resting your weight on your right leg, open your left leg short keeping your body from shifting sideways, and step down with your left foot counting ONE. Step down in place with your right foot counting TWO. Let’s call this sequence SLOW~SLOW, or if you prefer ONE~TWO. Repeat four times.
  3. Now put the two sequences together stepping with your left foot, then your right foot (QUICK~QUICK ), followed by stepping with your left foot again, followed by stepping with your right foot (SLOW~SLOW). You should be hitting the ground four times but emphasizing three downbeats and one upbeat, ONE~AND~TWO~THREE.
  4. Repeat four times QUICK~QUICK~SLOW~SLOW counting aloud ONE~AND~TWO~THREE. Repeat again but this time say I~LOVE~CRAW~FISH. Do it as many times as you need until you are confident that you can transmit the words I WANT TO DANCE to the ground with the stomping of your feet.

Repeat the exercise changing axis to your left leg and stomping with the right foot first. It should be obvious that when the members of the couple get together and face each other, the man starts on his right axis, stomping to his left, while the woman stands on her left axis, stomping to her right. If you have the opportunity to practice with another person, work together to synchronize your movements while keeping time as explained above.

Half steps are one the signatures of the milonga dance. They add the staccatos, the double time stepping and the dynamic suspension of motion that matches the complexity of the music measure. They are also the main components of what is called milonga traspie, a style that uses quarter steps to emphasize the rhythm of slower milongas. In a quarter step the foot moves half the space of a half step.

The term “traspie” is a short form version of “pie detras” which literally means foot behind, and when applied to the dancing of tango and milonga it describes an action similar to skipping, or taking two steps with the same foot while the other foot is locked behind.
In tango dancing we use “traspie” to switch from parallel system to cross feet system or to syncopate stepping twice with the same foot.
In milonga traspie, we take the concept further by developing an entire different style of milonga dancing suitable to what it’s called “smooth” or “slow” milongas.

One of the main characteristics of milonga traspie is the use of a SLOW-QUICK-QUICK-SLOW or ONE-TWO and-THREE tempo to make four touches on the floor in the span of three pulses. Observe at 1:32 and count ONE when the man advances with his right foot and the woman steps back with her left foot, then count TWO-AND when they both rock to the side, and count THREE when they both close and change weight.

We hope you relived the experiences of the first milonga traspie workshop, or enjoyed it for the first time. Feel free to use the Comments section for questions and suggestions.

References, Gotta Milonga by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart, available soon

Posted July 4, 2012 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

Double ocho with two pivots   Leave a comment

Double ocho with two pivots

At the core of the classical dance are three traditional ways of changing the direction of the woman as she dances around the man. Each change of direction can take place at one of the three steps of the code of the tango: the inside forward cross (forward step), the lateral opening (side step), and the outside back cross (back step).

The characteristic of these traditional changes of direction is that the woman repeats the same step of the code she used to stop traveling in one direction in order to begin traveling in the opposite direction. For example, if she is dancing to the right of the man and stepping forward with an inside cross of her right leg, a change of her direction to the man’s left will have her pivoting clockwise on her right axis and stepping to the man’s left with a forward inside cross of her left leg. The resulting figure is what is commonly known as a forward ocho, because with a little imagination you can see a number 8 drawn on the floor by the fanning action of her legs. It takes one pivot to complete a forward ocho.

To dance a second forward ocho, or double ocho, the woman will pivot a second time, this time counterclockwise on her left axis, to begin the second forward ocho. She’ll step forward with an inside cross of her right leg, and change her direction to the man’s left with a third pivot, this time clockwise on her right axis, stepping to the man’s left with a forward inside cross of her left leg. It takes three pivots to dance two consecutive ochos.

The use of the phrase change of direction in the context of dancing tango refers to the trajectory that the woman follows as she dances around the man. Her intention must always be to dance around the man, either to his left side or to his right side. She must never “follow” by stepping back away from or stepping forward into the man. Changing directions while traveling along the dance floor creates a mesmerizing intertwining of legs, which is what everyone notices right away. In this lesson you will learn how to create another illusion of the tango with a clever and well-understood sleight of legs. A woman’s double ocho with only two pivots.

As with seasoned and smooth illusionists, to make a real impression with your sleight of legs, the set up, execution and ‘ta-da’ must have a good dose of entertainment and attention grabbing content.
The first minute of the video clip contains a review of concepts regarding the salida and crossed feet walking. At 1:05:00 we start with the setup. A salida in crossed feet system, walking three steps with the man stopping on his third step using the impulse to mark a diagonal fourth back step to the woman (1:12:00). This is what’s called a “parada.” Next the man sandwiches the woman’s right foot and passes over from her left side to her right to position themselves for the beginning of the first forward ocho (1:23:00) to the man’s right.

The first illusion occurs when the man locks his right shoulder to stop the woman before she completes her back step while touching her forward foot with his right foot as if he stopped her with his foot (1:14:00). To complete the forward ocho, the woman changes direction with a pivot clockwise (first pivot) and readies to step forward with her left to the left of the man. But…

As she advances her left foot, the man steps forward (1:32:00) having her land on his right side. As he pivots clockwise to open to his left, the woman steps forward a second time to the man’s right (1:37:00) beginning her second ocho without having had to pivot. The man receives her forward step in the open position, marks a change of direction, the woman pivots clockwise (second pivot) and finishes the double ocho having pivoted only twice. Ta-da!!

Hidden into the illusion there is another illusion created when the man walks forward as the woman is completing her first forward ocho. It appears that the woman has displaced the man effectively doing a “sacada (1:33:00).” The third illusion was to have relative new beginners learn how to do it by explaining the trick to them, force them to think, learn it, and explain it others, and then doing it themselves without being told about the “advanced” nature of the move.

References, Gotta Tango by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart

Posted April 8, 2012 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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It’s not a happy tango   Leave a comment


It’s not a happy tango

In the early days of our tango lives we often heard tales from the tango urban mythology about milonga dancing in the “old days” (a fit all phrase used by those who have no concrete evidence as to the real date when something is supposed to have happened). The one that stuck in our minds was the description of how one could tell that people were dancing milonga by the cloud of dust that could be seen from afar.

When we first saw milonga dancers in 1997, observing the use of half steps, and noticing how the knees were slightly raised bringing the foot up before stepping straight down onto the ground, we began to understand how a dust cloud could be produced by such a way to dance. To the early cliche of dancing tango the way a panther moves, we embraced the idea of dancing milonga with the spirited and brisk trot of a Clydesdale.

The milonga is a lively dance, but it is not a happy tango, as it was originally called in the US half way throughout the nineteen nineties. It is strictly an urban social dance companion to the tango without the stage baggage that accompanied the tango when it began to travel internationally. As a result of that, the popularity of the milonga seems to drop in inverse proportion to its distance from the dance halls of Buenos Aires. Most men fear the milonga while most ladies seem to love dancing it, and therein lay the conundrum of a dance that is almost a natural for “leaders and followers.”

With that in mind we occasionally offer milonga workshops, and we get good reviews from those who step up to the task. We just went through a very exhausting one and here is the summary.

The use of Half Step makes the choreography of the milonga challenging and attractive because they can adapt to the complexity of the rhythm in a seamless way.

A half step begins when the free foot is next, in front, behind, or to the side of the support foot, and it always ends with both feet together and a weight change, or change of axis.
To take a half step forward, starting with both feet together, you reach forward with one foot bringing the body to the new position putting weight on that foot. Then you move the other foot forward and bring it next to the support foot without any body movement, and change weight.
To take a half step backward, starting with both feet together, you reach back with one foot bringing the body to the new position putting weight on that foot. Then you move the other foot back and bring it next to the support foot without any body movement, and change weight.
When your feet are in an open position, you bring your feet together without any body movement, and change weight.
Half step sequences always use the same foot to advance, go back or to the side similar to the way we skip rather than how we run. A half step is generally counted as QUICK.

Half Step Sawtooth variation (0:11″)
The sequence begins on the second step of the Base, when the man steps outside right with his right foot, and the lady steps back with her left foot.
We elongate after taking the half step and then drop as the feet come together facilitating the axis or weight change and rotating to the right. Next the man takes a half step to his right into the lady’s left side. She matches by taking a half diagonal step to her left. There is elongation, drop and rotation with weight change, and the figure repeats until we exit continuing with the Base.

Full turn rocking step (0:29″)
From the cruzada position (the end of a salida simple) we rock back and forth using forward and back diagonals to make a full turn in eight counts. Observe how we take advantage of the rocking motion to add embellishments.

Double time ochos variation (0:57″)

The sequence starts from the cruzada and it modifies the resolution. After the expected forward and side, the man sends the woman into a back and matches her in a mirror position. He then begin a series of half steps led with his left foot while the woman does direction changes with her outside foot. Because of the the similarity with tango back ochos, in some unofficial jargon, sometimes the woman’s foot work is called “ochitos.”
The idea for the man is to avoid being robotic and geometric, and dancing around the woman instead to make her back steps less demanding.
At the end (1:11″) the man holds a half step, does an amague with his left and exits the sequence with second step of the salida.

Full giro with soltada (1:28″)
Once again from the cruzada position, we begin a giro to the right in cross feet. The man mirrors her first forward step with his right, as he begins an eight count circular forward step around the woman. On the woman’s fifth step, a repetition of her first forward step, the man “suelta” letting go her right arm as he continues stepping forward on hos fifth step.
Taking the mark, the woman converts her right hand giro forward steps into a left hand giro open step with her back to the man.
Next, she resumes her right hand giro by taking a back diagonal facing the man again. They’re take a forward step with their right leg for the third time, but this being count seven, the man does a check step provoking a change of direction for her. She responds by stepping with her left foot to the man’s left, recreating the cruzada position and resolving the traditional way.

At the end, there is an implied lesson, it’s better to stay away from the buffet line and spend more time on the dance floor doing milonga. Also, stop while you’re ahead before muscles and joints that had been long forgotten trigger an outburst of insanely happy feet.

Posted March 13, 2012 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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Pythagoras of Samos   Leave a comment

Mathematician and milonguero

Pythagoras made influential contributions to philosophy and religious teaching in the late 6th century BC. He was born on the island of Samos, and in his youth he traveled widely, visiting Egypt and other places seeking knowledge. Around 530 BC, he moved to Croton, a Greek colony in southern Italy, where he founded a religious tango sect. He was often revered as a great mathematician, mystic and scientist. But he is best remembered as a pre-Socratic milonguero who introduced a theorem to explain the inner workings of the giro with sacadas. The Pythagorean Theorem states that  in any right triangle the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the legs.

Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he died, so very little reliable information is known about him. His followers pursued the religious rites and practices he developed, and studied his philosophical theories. The society took an active role in the politics of Croton, but this eventually led to their downfall as competing schools with alternatives views on dancing styles led to the burning of the Pythagorean milongas, and Pythagoras was forced to flee the city. He is said to have ended his days in Metapontum as a taxi philosopher.

In our book Gotta Tango we applied the teachings of Pythagoras to explain the interaction of the dancers in an Eight Count Giro. (Reference: GOTTA TANGO book and DVD)
A giro is a turning motion executed by the couple stepping on the vertices of a triangle with one dancer standing on two vertices of a triangle while the other stands on the third vertice. In a giro, each dancer performs different functions. The woman uses the cambio de frente, or change of front, to move around the man. The man normally advances forward in a triangular pattern into the woman’s space.

A giro is a series of compound body positions in which the man initiates a movement and the woman continues the movement into the next position. Successful turning patterns require that the dancers change axis clearly, correctly, and timely to ensure the proper mix of balance and centrifugal force that is generated at the pivoting points. As is the case for every step of the dance, it is even more critical that the man learn how to mark every step of the giro according to the particular pattern he desires to execute. To recognize and respond flawlessly to the man’s marks, the woman must allow herself to be moved from position to position. She must execute smooth transfers of weight and develop an instinctive sense of balance. She must understand her body positions in relationship to the man at every point of the code.

The accompanying video clip shows the set up for an eight count giro. Typically the complete eight count begins from the woman’s cruzada position. She is standing on one vertice of the triangle. The man stands at another vertice with his right foot crossed behind his left foot. The unoccupied third vertice is where the first step of the woman will step as the giro begins. The general idea is that the man will extend his free foot, in this case his left, to the vertice where the woman is standing. She will extend her right to the unoccupied vertice. As the man shifts his weight forward, he displaces her shifting her weight to her forward left and leaves his initial vertice unoccupied. This is where she will go, repeating the process.

“Complicated” is in the eye of the onlooker   Leave a comment

“Complicated” is in the eye of the onlooker

Here is an example of taking an “easy” movement and making it look “complicated” by decorating or embellishing it with minor changes in foot placement and body alignment. The use of quote marks on easy and complicated is to emphasize the subjective approach many take when talking about tango dancing.

We’ll see that it is possible to teach and to learn tango using clear and objective concepts that can empower dancers to express  their personality, talent and creativity within the frame of a simply but powerful structure. A dancer can be extremely technical but devoid of any feelings, utterly passionate but short on technique, or anything in between.

The core structure of the tango is best exemplified by what is known as the Eight Count Giro, a turning sequence to the right or to the left where the man displaces the woman as they go around each other twice, first using the parallel system and then the cross feet system. The name comes from the fact that it takes eight foot movements that involve the entire sole of the foot receiving the entire weight of the body. In “simple” terms, eight steps with weight change.  (Reference: GOTTA TANGO book and DVD)

First we make a surprising and unexpected move during a salida cruzada to enter into the 6-7-8 steps of the Eight Count Giro to the left. Then we show a mirror image of the previous figure but entering into the 6-7-8 steps of the Eight Count Giro to the right. Finally we go downtown by linking the first combination that uses a decorated 6-7-8 to the left with the combination that uses a decorated 6-7-8 to the right.

The set up for the 6-7-8 is the woman’s outside cross or back step. Let’s look first at the decoration involving the 6-7-8 to the left. In this case, the point of entry is the second step of the salida for the woman. She takes a back step with her outside leg (right) to the left of the man (0:08″). The man steps and stops with his left outside her right foot instead of inside as in the standard 6-7-8 sequence. As the man stops, he creates an impulse for the woman who “falls” off her back step, opening diagonally into the left side of the man. That’s the modified, decorated “6-and” of the Eight Count Giro. After that,  it continues normally with the woman stepping forward with her left and the man opening forward with his right on “7.” Next the man changes the woman’s direction and she steps forward with her right while the man turns a half turn in place on “8.” The 6-7-8 of the Eight count giro to the left resolves with a back step of the man (step 5 of the Base) so we end the sequence by having the man bring his right foot together (0:12″), changing the woman’s direction to his left, and ending with a resolution.

To use the same idea with a 6-7-8 to the right, we change the woman’s direction after she takes the second step of the salida (0:16″) so she takes a back step with her right to the man’s right. The man steps and stops with his right outside her left foot instead of inside as in the standard 6-7-8 sequence. That is the modified, decorated “6-and” of the Eight Count Giro. We continue then with the woman stepping forward with her right and the man opening forward with his left on “7.” Next the man changes the woman’s direction and she steps forward with her left while the man brings his feet together on “8” (0:18″). The 6-7-8 of the Eight count giro to the right resolves with a forward step of the man to a resolution.

Finally, to transition from one sequence to the next skipping the resolution, we pick up the end of the 6-7-8 to the left (2:01″) when the man brings his feet together and the woman steps forward with her left leg.  The man turns to his left and provokes a lateral opening of the woman’s left leg. This is the beginning of the second sequence.

Enjoy the experience, and don’t discount the tremendous benefits of reading Gotta Tango to increase your understanding of the language of the structure of the tango.

Posted January 26, 2012 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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Variations on a cool sequence   Leave a comment

Variations on a cool sequence

The combination we featured last time featured an unexpected back sacada in parallel system. The leg wrap for the man was followed by a woman’s boleo and another unexpected place where to ask the woman for a gancho.

In this lesson, we will use a different set up. We’ll start with a simple salida to the woman’s cruzada.
From the cruzada position, the man will indicate a forward motion for the woman by stepping back with his left foot.
As the woman begins to walk on the right of the man, she will be executing a change of front, or applying the code of the tango. That means that she will start her forward motion with her right foot followed by a forward step with her left foot. The man will match her second step with a short back diagonal which will convert her forward step on an opening.

The man will double step while sending the woman into her third step, an outside cross with her right foot.
At soon as she has both feet on the ground he will stop her motion, and place his right foot next to her left foot indicating a parada.
Next, he will begin to move to her right side by sandwiching her left foot and stepping back with his right foot.

At this point the woman will step over the man’s left foot and start a new change of front. The man will do the parallel system sacada on the woman’s lateral opening followed by a back sacada on the woman’s back step.

On the second part of the video clip, we choose to have the woman boleo right after the man’s back sacada, and proceed to a cruzada and resolution.

Posted November 7, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango