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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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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