Back to School Immersion
By Valorie Hart and Alberto Paz
Excerpts from Gotta Tango. Copyright (c) 2007-2013. All Rights Reserved
Nobody is born knowing, but studying we learn, as long as what we learn makes sense and can be explained in clear and logical terms.
Introduction to the parada
The term parada is the past participle of the Spanish verb parar, which literally means to stop. The name is shorthand for 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 an inside or outside cross but never laterally). A man should never stop the woman while she is in the process of executing a lateral opening because it is not flattering for the woman to be seen with her legs open.
Parada With Sandwich
This popular sequence is done in the cross-feet system and occurs when the woman is executing an outside cross to the man’s right. The recognizable feature of the parada is the illusion that the man stops the woman by placing his right foot next to her left foot when she has crossed her right foot outside. This parada is the result of interrupting the outside cross of the woman with the man’s right shoulder when she has both feet on the ground. As her transition to her right axis is interrupted (that is, stopped), the woman flexes her front leg and elongates her right calf, pressing against the floor with her right metatarsal and keeping the heel off the ground.
The use of the parada must be handled with the rest of the dancers in mind. Gentlemen, stopping for no other reason than to do a parada just because you learned how to do it may create circulation problems for the other couples coming from behind you. It is accepted dance floor etiquette to drop toward the center of the dance floor before engaging in any figure that may otherwise block the flow of traffic on the edges of the dance floor. After you play and have fun, rejoin the line of dance anywhere that doesn’t interfere with the flow.
Introduction to the gancho
Another way to interrupt the motion of the woman for the purpose of changing her direction is the leg hook, commonly known as gancho
. The position where the gancho
takes place is the same sixth position of the eight-count giro (clockwise giro 6 and counterclockwise giro 6); in other words, it is when the woman steps back with her outside leg using a cross behind her support leg. In this case, the man interrupts and stops the woman’s motion by extending his outside leg to block the thigh of her inside leg. Next, he changes her axis to the outside leg with a gentle forward lunge into her, flexing his support knee. Then he marks a backward motion of her inside leg. Since the man is blocking that leg at the thigh, the woman can move only her inside leg until her thigh presses firmly against the man’s thigh. She continues moving her leg from the knee down, wrapping the upper part of her leg on the man’s thigh, thus hooking her leg into the man’s open stance.
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Floor craft is learning to exist in a prescribed space with other dancers, whether there are only 2 couples on the floor or 500 couples. You now know that the dance moves in a counterclockwise manner. You know that there is no literal line of dance; couples do not follow each other in a regimen of one after the other. Tango is not a conga line. You are not on a train. The dance is circular. The man dances around the floor, and the woman dances around the man. There are large circles and smaller ones. The dance floor resembles rings of an onion: There are multiple tracks. If the dancers apply the theories of moving in diagonals and dancing a few movements to the left and a few to the right, always alternating, they will have fewer problems.Common sense rules, too. Compare your dancing to good driving. For instance, you can see the couple in front of you. If you see that couple stop or slow down, do you accelerate and crash your car into them? Floor craft, common sense, and good manners dictate that you tailor your movements to the couple dancing in front of you.
A commonly held belief is that good dancers prefer to dance on the periphery of the floor. Like most belief systems, this one defies the rule. Many dancers move to the inside to execute a fancy figure and then move out again into the flow. Many dancers get caught in the inner circulation and dance well there. The point is to dance well where you are and dance well enough to go where you want to go, inside or outside of the floor (or anything in between).
Full responsibility for circulation rests with the man, because he is generally moving forward, controlling the dance and marking the woman’s movement. Of course, the woman must do her part to have control of herself (balance, axis, and connection). She must be sensible and not do inappropriate embellishments on a crowded floor or back herself into a collision. Still the general consensus is that the man needs to have the skill to mark everything and smoothly guide and control the woman’s movements.
The idea is to carry the personal space created by the two of you as if it were all the space you have. Consider that the dance was formed in very tight conditions in Buenos Aires. You might reason that if the dance floor on which you are dancing has more space, why not spread out and do big movements? We like to think that the goal is to dance an authentic Argentine tango for the very reason that we are attracted to its unique posture and look. Lack of space dictated the formation of the shape and size of the embrace. Even if there is only one couple on the floor, Argentine tango is danced as if there were no extra space around a couple.
So logic will tell you that if you are going to use figures involving boleos or ganchos, you must keep them within the space you have. This means no big kicks or movements that can affect another couple. You can do boleos and ganchos if you understand alignment and keep in mind that the man keeps the woman hidden within the embrace. This goes back to the formative years of the tango, when a man hid the woman from the eyes of other men and protected her from any other bodies touching her, whether on purpose or by accident.
For every tradition there is a contradiction; for every effort to preserve the intrinsic values of the dance and foster its values, there is a teacher or a dancer pleading young and pushing the envelope to promote changes in posture, embrace, and the look that is so unique to the tango. It is not unusual to run into couples who dance so separated that they occupy the space normally occupied by four couples. Some movements are exaggerated cone shapes with the partners breaking the embrace in order to fall away from each other. These movements and postures occupy much more space than movements and postures from the past. As new things come up, they make their way onto the dance floor. If you are attracted to these designer moves, by all means do them with a skill that will not disturb the space of other dancers. However, nothing can take the place of the tango truly embraced—dancing close is dancing Argentine tango.