Salida with alteration ala Veron   Leave a comment

Salida with alteration ala Veron

Back in the 1990’s, the San Francisco Bay Area was arguably the US capital of Argentine tango. Particularly the period between 1995 and the end of the century, saw the best of the best Argentine tango dancers make the Bay Area the place to visit, and the place where to launch their teaching careers around the country. Countless of personalities passed through our home, danced at our milongas, and taught under our auspices.

Many of those dancers visiting for the first time sometimes acted like children at Disneyland for the first time, and quite a few did something that we will always treasure and relish. They “threw us a step” as a way to show their appreciation and gratitude. That was in keeping with the time honored tradition of passing the knowledge only to friends and family. For them, it was the very best they could give in lieu of a hostess gift.

Times are different now, and the “sanctity,” allure and intrigue of the tango are not longer that intense. Regardless, our time continues to pass, and want to share some of those gifts we got from many who inspired us when we were militants on a tango quest that swept the Bay Area and began to spread across the nation.

We’re beginning a series of lessons called Tirando pasos, where we share a collection of steps “tossed” by legendary dancers who visited the Bay Area in the 1990s.

This one is from an exhibition at the 1997 Stanford Tango Week by Pablo Veron. It is a rare salida that includes an alteration and resolves into the left side of the woman in crossed feet system.

At the moment of starting a regular salida, the trick resides in the man managing to mark the woman’s side step while changing axis to his left foot and receiving her lateral opening with an outside cross with his right leg, or in shorthand, matching her side step with a back step. That’s the alteration. Marking the woman’s opening or side step is described in detail on page 76 of Gotta Tango. Instead of opening with his left, the man changes weight to his leg keeping his feet together and steps back with his right.

At the end of the first step, the man remains on the woman’s left side so he steps with his left foot on her left side receiving her left leg back diagonal. Next, the man begins a change of front as he steps with his right foot receiving her outside cross. Finally, the man steps back with his left foot while holding her on axis and turning her 180 degrees if an exhibition mode. In this case, he will return where they came from with a crossed feet salida to the woman’s cruzada.

When dancing on a regular floor surrounded by other dancers, it is important to respect the imaginary line of dance, so the man walks a calesita awhile she is on her right axis, and continues with the crossed feet salida to cruzada in the direction of the line of dance.

Posted October 11, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

Time to stop and smell the roses   Leave a comment

Time to stop and smell the roses

Tango improvisation is not for the casual foot shuffler and leg flicker. Learning what’s at the core of tango improvisation removes the shackles that learning steps out of context bind the legs, arms and souls of beginning dancers. Dancing tango is about freedom to express with our bodies and our emotions the very special feelings that every tango induces in us. It takes two—as in the two of us, you and me, you and him, you and her, together as partners, with the confidence to enjoy the dance on each other’s own merits, according to our level of proficiency. That is if you are in this for the purpose of joining that special class of people called a tango dancers.In tango we trust. We trust that the man will protect his partner and dance with full understanding of the structure of the dance and the options available to him in terms of improvising for navigation. We trust that the woman will let herself be taken around the floor in an embrace that provides her motion and allows her legs to perform the important roles of supporting her balance on axis and decorating and embellishing with tasteful footwork.

One of the most unique characteristics of the tango (beyond the fact that it is based on simple concepts for unlimited power of improvisation and the need for commitment and solid technique in equal parts by each partner) is that dancers don’t have to move on every beat of the music. They can actually dance by not moving—that is, by stopping in suspended pauses. Bringing the dancing to a stop is another sophisticated way to change directions.

In Spanish, the word parada is the past participle of the verb parar, which literally means to stop. In tango shorthand, it is used in context with the expression, la mujer ha sido parada por el hombre, or the woman has been stopped by the man. The definition in tango terms is the action of stopping the woman when she still has both feet on the floor (in other words, when she is transitioning between axes on a forward or back step but never laterally). Men should never stop women while they are in the process of executing a lateral opening or side step because it is not flattering for women to be seen with their legs open.

On page 143 of Gotta Tango, we cover extensively the standard parada on the woman’s back step and the subsequent sandwich. The section is fully explained and demonstrated in the accompanying DVD. In this lesson we introduce a parada on the woman’s forward step.

We set up with a simple salida to the woman’s cruzada.

The man marks a forward step to his right for the woman, and receives her right forward step stepping back with his right foot.
The man marks a change of direction while doing a media vuelta.
He marks a forward step to his left for the woman, and receives her left forward step stepping back with his right foot.
Immediately he holds her in place creating the parada, and passes over to her left with his left foot on a back diagonal over her left foot.
He continues going around her by stepping forward with his right foot changing her weight to her left axis.
He then marks a back for the woman and receives her back step walking with his left foot taking her to her cruzada position.

A variation is shown when the man after going around her steps forward with his right foot changing her weight to her left axis.
He then marks a back step to his left for the woman, reaches with his left foot to her left foot, blocking her next back resulting in a leg hook.

After the dismount from the hook, the woman steps forward with her right foot, and the man receives her step changing his weight to his right axis.
then he repeats the parada, going around and the hook.

This is a social leg hook because the couple stays within their own dancing cylinder without invading somebody else’s space.

Posted October 3, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

The proof is in the pudding   Leave a comment

The proof is in the pudding

The concept of structure in tango sometimes is met with a certain skepticism, if not downright cynicism when it comes to assume responsibilities and conform to a fundamentals codes that go are rooted in the very essence of the Argentine tango culture and tradition. Generally the excuses fall under the umbrella of freedom of expression. In some cultures it is fashionable to show aversion to authority figures. Teachers and their concepts of structure may be framed as the works of the tango police. After all, the battle cry is “We are not in Buenos Aires.” You might find them everywhere, recklessly using empty geometry, crude acrobatics, and clueless attitudes that endanger those who are trying to mind their own business on the dance floor.

Their ignorance of a culture and values that are part of a rich tradition makes some people an eyesore on every dance floor they choose as their playground. It is only through education and proper learning that one can avoid becoming a clueless dancer, and instead set the standard of excellence for others to follow.

Tango dancing is a dance of people showing their pride in the way they dance by respecting each other, the music, the dance floor, and the rest of the dancers. The fact that the man is responsible for dancing around the floor makes him more accountable for the behavior of the couple on the dance floor.

The role of the woman includes elements that contribute to the safe circulation of the couple around the floor. One is the judicious use of the code of the tango; another is the correct way to let her legs follow her body as her body is carried in her partner’s embrace. We can’t put enough emphasis on the fact that dancing around the man is what produces the look of legs being crossed, as seen from the point of view of the man.

In reality, the woman legs are moving forward or backward on a circular trajectory around the center axis provided by the man. Her upper torso is always turned in the direction of her partner to maintain connection with his upper torso. The effect, from where the man stands, is that in between lateral openings, one of the woman’s legs is alternatively crossed inside the couple (between them) or crossed outside the couple (away from him).

However, the responsibility of circulating around the floor without causing harm falls directly into the man. Polite and civilized behavior on the dance floor is to be expected from everyone who claims to be a good tango dancer. It’s not how many steps you can do but how many you can do without infringing on the right of the rest of the dancers to enjoy their time without risking injuries and abuse. The purpose of learning to dance the tango is not to collect steps to impress the foolish but to learn the rules and codes of conduct that are faithfully followed by seasoned dancers around the world.

To that extent, in this session we decided to test the ability of our dancers to go around the floor respecting the line of dance while using three simple sequences we have worked on in weeks past.

Observe how the simple salida to cruzada is used to get onto the line of dance.

If you use the Pause button on the video at 0:44 you will be able to see why the woman finishes the salida with her left foot crossed in front of her right foot. As the man opens to his left in order to free his right leg to step forward on the right of the woman, their body positions change with the dancers being relatively to the right of each other. Were the man to stop, the woman would continue dancing around him to his left as this is her purpose during the dance, to dance around the man. When he steps with his right foot he doesn’t allow her to dance around him to his left, so she walks straight back with her outside leg, stepping with her left foot.

Again, were the man to stop, the woman would continue dancing around him to his left as this is her purpose during the dance, to dance around the man. But the man continues to advance so the woman can use her inside leg, the right, to step back on a diagonal continuing her intention to go to the left of the man to dance around him. If the man chooses to call for a “cruzada” he will match her diagonal by stepping forward with his left foot and stopping his forward motion. As the man stops, the woman for the first time has a clear path to the man’s left but since her body was going back the only way she can position herself on the left of the man is by crossing her left foot over her right foot without turning her hips. It’s important to understand that the trajectory of the man is a straight line while the woman’s trajectory is a diagonal in the following her shoulder line.

The illusion of walking back on a diagonal is what creates the need to cross. The man calls for a cruzada on his forward step with his left foot going opening forward to his left on a slight diagonal, stopping, and gentle bringing his right elbow straight in front of him. It is extremely important that the woman embrace properly so her body is guided in the embrace as the man’s elbow extends forward. As a corollary, if the man wishes not to call a “cruzada” he will step straight into her body with his left foot closing the space for her left foot and taking it to his right as in a resolution or base.

Changes of direction using the forward step for the woman (forward ochos) allow the couple to turn in place and end the combination with variations of the resolution. Using the shape of the dance floor, the ochos and the resolution allows the man to steer the couple so the repetition of the three sequences keeps them progressing along the line of dance.

References, Gotta Tango by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart

The Facebook method   Leave a comment

The Facebook method

We’ve seen this movie before. Facebook rolls out new changes and its users kick and scream. Facebook walks the changes back a bit, and then everyone gets on with their lives. Facebook just introduced a new homepage with a layout that sends you a stream of “top news” in the main center column of the page. Facebook decides which stories you see. Facebook users don’t like the site choosing their top stories for them. They think that Facebook is like those people who, barely out of “eight count basic and leg wrap school,” become tango evangelists and devote their time putting down quality in their obsessed quest for democracy, raw quantity, and mediocrity, as if bringing more and more bad dancing to the “melonga” will make them shine like the top of the Chrysler building.Facebook has a brilliant business goal on mind, and that is to serve voracious business entities a targeted quality and captive audience. Some people can still smell a rat, “HEY MORONS, HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO ME, FACEBOOK? CAN YOU READ OUR MINDS?” Whether Facebook will care about their free loaders users is not the topic of this post. What’s great about Facebook is that it’s free and people get exactly what they pay for it, and what it’s worth, just like…

In Mano a mano, creole poet Celedonio Flores puts  these colorful words in the character’s mouth as he addresses his bygone girlfriend, “your head is filled with wretched illusions, you were conned by the fools, by your girlfriends, and by the libertine… Not to be confused, the tango is full of illusions. It is sort of a benign lie. What we do while we dance is not what the spectators see. “We” are those who study, learn and understand the importance of technique. In our execution of movements we don’t try to imitate what the eyes see but we apply solid technique to create the illusion that others see. We don’t decide which illusion you should copy. We actually teach you how to dance the Argentine tango using a sleight of legs, with pride and respect, for your partner, other dancers and foremost the dance floor.

In the old days when we considered that learning was a must before venturing onto the dance floor or “teaching” others what we didn’t know, it was common for many women to try to imitate a beloved teacher or dancer. If the teacher wrapped her arm around the neck of her man in the sexiest embrace, this was all that the student saw (sigh) and in turn tried to imitate. They did not realize that the woman was always completely on her own axis and well matched in height to her partner. For the woman, the point of contact of the embrace, regardless of its closeness, is with the inside of her left triceps located directly over the man’s biceps. Her arm has to be placed on top of his biceps, with her elbow positioned down.

She embraces the man’s arm with her arm and always has contact there. If there is any space under the arm, or if her arm does not make contact with his arm, it is very difficult to receive the body mark transmitted through his shoulder and arm. Even in the closest of embraces, this position is still valid. When the woman feels the man creating space by opening his shoulders or sliding his arm away, she should in turn slide her left arm out while maintaining contact. Do not hang on for dear life and impede the effort of the man to mark the step. If he creates space, take it and make use of it. And always remember to keep your weight on the leg closest to the man. A follower carries her weight on the back leg, a tango dancer carries her weight on the front leg. And that’s how to tell the difference.

Posted September 22, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

The Media Vuelta   Leave a comment

The media vuelta

During the learning process, certain patterns and figures become so internalized by sheer repetition, that body memory inhibits the ability of dancers to improvise with creativity out of many situations created by the presence of other dancers and their own trajectories around the dance floor.What should be used as a base from where to build a variety of movements becomes “the basic” and it limits the possibilities of flowing around the dance floor in a seemingly continuous pattern that includes the three fundamental body displacements (forward, backwards and laterally) connected with rotations of the bodies over the support axis.

A working understanding of floor navigation and the dynamic interplay of the body positioning, create plenty of opportunities to enjoy a tango, any tango, with any given partner, and with floor conditions in effect at the time that you step on to the dance floor. Remembering that the intention of the woman is to always want to dance going around the man, while the man dances around the floor.

We have learned before that as soon as the man stops, the woman begins to dance on a circular trajectory around him. She does so applying another fundamental rule of the structure of the tango, the code of the tango.

The code is a sequence designed to allow the woman to surround the man while dancing. There are instances in which the man will make use of elements of the code to complement the motion of the woman and to create complex patterns. But for the purpose of defining roles, the code is primarily a mantra for the woman that ensures a predictable way to dance to the right or left side of the man. All dancers, regardless of gender, must understand the code, be proficient in its execution, and use it according to their roles.

In typical fashion, the man will indicate the trajectory of the woman and mark the inside and outside crosses as he sends her around him. The woman will walk around the man, observing the progressive sequence of her legs to execute the code. The code is activated as soon as the woman moves a second step in the same direction (that is, either to the right or to the left of the man). The resulting trajectory looks different depending on whether the man is stationary in one position or moving forward or backward.

The definition of the code, however, is the same in all cases: Alternate inside front and outside back crosses linked by openings. In short hand, forward, side , back.

The opening leg is always the one favoring or leading into the direction of the movement. The crossing leg is the one opposite the direction of the movement. Simply put, when the woman moves into the left side of the man (her right), she opens with her right leg and crosses with her left leg. When the woman moves into the right side of the man (her left), she opens with her left leg and crosses with her right leg.

The term media vuelta is commonly used to describe a 180 degrees body turn north to south for example, if we call north the direction in which the body is facing before the execution of a media vuelta. Visually, a media vuelta is a body rotation over open legs, that is, after the legs open in a forward direction for example, the body turns in the opposite direction of the leading leg.

The classic media vuelta for the man is to his left, and it begins at the second step of the salida (15″). The man extends his right leg without weight change marking the a back step for the woman. This sometimes is called a fake step or an amague that provokes an impulse for the woman who passes to his left side on her second (diagonal) back step. The man begins transferring his weight forward as he begins to rotate left on the ball of his feet. This marks a forward step for the woman. The left foot remains on the ground, firmly pushing down with the metatarsus. At this point, the body is supported by both legs. The upper torso continues to rotate left as both legs elongate to keep the heels off the ground. Most of the man’s weight is now on the right metatarsus. That serves as the initial rotating axis. The woman brings her eight to her left leg and turns on axis to face the man. At the end of the turn, their bodies are facing opposite to where they started.

At the end of the media vuelta the man takes a back step with his left marking the woman a forward step with her right on his right. The video clip shows various ways to return to the line of dance, and some improvisation using the media vuelta as a theme.

Posted September 12, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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Turning is something else   Leave a comment

Turning is something else

In 1889 Mark Twain wrote in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: “she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one way to skin a cat”, that is, more than one way to get what she wanted. This proverb, which suggests there are always several ways to do something, applies to the ways we teach people how to dance tango. Argentine tango is not just another social dance. It cannot be learned in one evening or a series of one evenings. It cannot be faked on the dance floor. You either know how to dance it or you don’t. Its historical and cultural context makes an intriguing and rich counterpoint in the learning process. Its music and poetry, in the form of lyrics, are unique and powerful. No other music sounds like this, and no other dance looks like the Argentine tango. Anything else is a version of choreographed ballroom lead and follow dancing. Some call it empty geometry, organized chaos, or a zipless tango.

Our success in developing good social tango dancers relies in the belief when you listen, hear, and process what we say in class and what we wrote in our book Gotta Tango, you learn the same way you have learned many other things that require coordination and knowing what you are doing. You probably forgot how you learned to use the gas and brake pedals in your car, but you go around in your car every day without having to call somebody every time you get in your car to asking him or her to show you “one more time how and when to move the feet in order to stop and go.”

During the new session started on the first week of August, we have been working with one of the rules that are embedded in the structure of the dance. The idea of taking two steps and doing something else. The two steps in question are either both forward or back, one with each leg. Something else so far has been crossing the feet, closing the feet, or opening the feet.

In this lesson we show that after taking two forward steps, one with each leg, something else is taking two back steps, one with each leg. This leads to another rule that is embedded in the structure of the dance. The woman dances around the man, while the man dances around the floor. As soon as the man stops, the woman goes around the man. She goes around by virtue of taking two forward steps one, with each leg, two back steps, one with each leg. If nothing changes, she would continue walking endlessly around the man like a windmill. Every time she takes a back step after the two forward steps, she is doing a change of front or cambio de frente. That is she turns herself around as she continues to advance in the same direction. As she does that on a curved trajectory around the man, the figure sometimes is called a media luna.

Observe at the 9″ mark that after starting with a simple salida, the woman takes two forward steps, one with the leg inside or closer to the man, and another with the outside leg or farther from the man. To mark and match her movement, the man takes two back steps, one with the outside leg, farther from her, and another on a diagonal, turning to her, with the inside leg or closer to her.

At the 14″ mark, the man brings his feet together (something else) while the woman takes a back step with the outside leg (something else) to the left side of the man. The man changes weight in place while she takes her second back step inside. As a result of the man staying in the same place, the woman’s second step is a wide back diagonal that places her body back on the right side of the man, at the same exact body alignment as the beginning of the sequence.

At 15″ initial two step sequence repeats, and at 19″ the man does something else, he interrupts the turn, he rocks back to his left foot, marking a similar rocking step for the woman to her right foot. The man closes right to left while the woman crosses left over right. This is a back alley Sally to get back to the cruzada position. The sequence resolves to the resolution.

The rest of the clip shows us dancing from various angles the linked sequences, salida simple to cruzada, media luna, turn with interruption, cruzada, resolution.

There is a very comprehensive Glossary at the end of our book, and you can have a look HERE.

Two steps and something else   Leave a comment

Two steps and something else

Very few people accept the proposition that there is an underlying set of ideas that support a structure  and provide a foundation for the proper learning of the dance, and the true freedom of improvisation. Even though sometimes it seems that a drop of water will pierce a rock faster than we can persuade people to understand the “rules” of the dance, we take good pride in teaching by challenging people to use their adult intellect to have fun like young children.We introduced one of those rules of tango dancing at the beginning of the current session, Every walking sequence consists of two steps, one with each foot, and something else other than repeating the first step. We have explained the basic patterns everyone learns by imitation, and described how the rule applies HERE

After the initial lateral opening of the salida, the man walks two steps forward, first with his right, then with his left, and then he brings his right foot next to his left, and closes changing weight. The woman matches by first stepping back with her left, then with her right, and then she crosses her left foot over her right foot.

From the cruzada position, the man man walks two steps back, first with his left, then with his right, and then he opens to hos left with his left. The woman in turn walks two step forward, first with her right, then with left, and then she opens to her right with her right.

In this session, we learn another option. At 12″ and 22″ the woman will take two steps forward, (one with leg), first with her right to the right shoulder of the man, then change direction with a rotation to her right, and take a second forward step with her left to the left shoulder of the man. She then does something else, she crosses her right behind her left while turning to face the man.

To make this happen, the man will first take a back step with his left, hold on his left axis while changing the woman’s direction with a slight rotation of his shoulder (“Come to my left shoulder now, please“), and then crossing his right behind his left on her second forward step.

At 22” we show how to concatenate the sequence learned with a resolution to create an apparent longer combination.

These and many other rules and concepts are thoroughly explained in our book Gotta Tango, which you can buy HERE

Posted August 29, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango