Algo de Tango

 (To most: “Some Tango”, to the others: “Tango Algorithms”)

Class: www.westchestertango.com

Contact: Laxmi Parida (tangoWNY@yahoo.com)

 

Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself”,  old Chinese wisdom.

 

0. Raison d’etre

A dance is always to music and a good dancer feels the music in himself/herself.  This “feeling” is hard to define and describe: as they say it’s an art and not science. However, there is a structure and a science to a well-articulated dance such as tango.  How does the intertwining of the limbs and the bodies of the dancers work and work with such ease and grace?   And, so easy on the eyes! The passion and the sensuousness aside, there is a method to this art and I will take the liberty of labeling it an algorithm.  I am tempted here to share what once my friend, philosopher and guide, Alberto said about engineering students who are not compelled to study art or Latin: they are like efficient blenders brrrring away monotonously.

 

As a lot of followers will agree, there are some dancers that are a delight to dance with and others not.  And, so say the leaders. I wondered why. It is not some inexplicable feeling, but with time and with thought, I have learnt that every “why” has an answer and surprisingly simple ones.  I hope in the class, I am able to communicate these insights and the following notes will help to reinforce them.

 

Roadmap: When I announced the milonga in upper Westchester, a performing artist from the Zydeco group, called me, and among other penetrating questions asked how is Argentine tango, a rather difficult dance, taught to otherwise busy and much less committed suburbanites.  The answer was and is: persistent drill of  (1) technique exercises and  (2) elementary dance figures.  So, shall the notes in this presentation be organized. Usually, depending on the gathering, a lagniappe is thrown in, which is documented in the last section of this presentation.

 

0.1 What is the origin of the word “tango”?

Tango historians and scholars are not in complete agreement about the origin of this word and a few possibilities are offered, amongst which are two of the following:

 

0.2 Who can tango? The good, the bad and the ugly

The only one who really can’t, is the one without a pulse.  Anyone who can walk, can tango.  Also, my good friend Rob told me that he often dances with an excellent dancer who is deaf. Some of the impeccable dancers that I have encountered have been Argentinean grandmothers and grandfathers, not necessarily in the prime of their shapes. Need I say more?

 

However, observed hard facts differ from the utopic conclusion of the last paragraph: Less than 5% of the social-dancing community can and will do the Argentine tango in their lifetime.  And, we are not even talking about the population at large but a very specific subset that indulges in social dancing. The lateral hip undulations, the flaying of the arms, the total abandon and ecstasy- this self-absorption that fetches cheers in a regular social dance, actually is a hindrance to tango. The person who said it takes two to tango wasn’t mincing her words. The connect between a tango couple is at the micro level- it is the maestro and the danseuse in perfect harmony!

 

So who can tango? Are you a sportsfan or a sportsman? Are you a patron or a poet? It is one thing to admire poetry and quite another to write your own.  Tango is a beautiful, sensuous dance that will stir your soul; alas it takes persistence, effort, commitment and most importantly the will power.  Need I say more?

 

0.3 The Asymmetric Roles of the man & the woman

Tango is very follower-centric: it is a dance to flaunt the female of the species.  While the follower adds to the dance, the leader can only take away from the dance.  So, all you ladies out there who are fuming and fretting about the unfair “following” role on the dance floor, rejoice in the bigger picture!  It’s all about the follower: the leader is the background and the follower the focal point!  Figures are designed around the follower, the leader merely enables it.  However, it is vital that the enabler and the enablee are in perfect coordination, no wonder it takes two to tango.

 

Yet another asymmetry is that most women optimistically estimate their skill level and the men pessimistically.  Perhaps a result of this is that the women prefer to dance with more advanced dancers whereas the men prefer the opposite.  My advise to every dancer is to attempt to reach the tango-nirvana: a state where everyone is an equally acceptable partner.

 

1.     Technique Exercises

There are two components to the skills one must acquire to be a good tango dancer:

 

 

The Stretch-Step Exercise:

Points to remember
  1. Weight on right foot and maintaining the axis of balance
  2. Stretch left foot to front and then feet together
  3. Stretch left foot to side and then feet together
  4. Stretch left foot to back and then feet together
  5. Repeat with weight on left foot

 

The Lapize Exercise:

Points to remember
  1. Weight on right foot and maintaining the axis of balance
  2. Draw an outward circle on the floor, then feet together
  3. Repeat with weight on left foot
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 with weight on left foot
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 by reversing the direction of the circle
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 by hooking one foot behind the other while feet together
The Lapize exercises are done in-place. If you feel you are moving back (while hooking in the front in Step 6) or moving forward (while hooking behind in Step 6), then rotate your hips slightly to aid in the hooking, keeping shoulders absolutely square to minimize any forward or back movements.

 

 

The Tango Walk Exercise:

Points to remember
1.      Look straight ahead, not at your feet
  1. Feel the music, walk to its beat
  2. Move in the line of dance, counterclockwise on the floor
  3. Don’t bounce, keep upper body quiet
  4. Always step straight (not at an angle)
  5. Always pass through vertical neutral (knees & ankles tog)

 

 Walking with a partner:

1.       Leaders: Express your intent through upper body

2.     Followers: Follow that “sternum”

 

Contact-walking with a partner:

Leaders:  When she steps back with her left, make contact with the inside of her right foot with the inside of your right foot. Similarly, you can work on the left side. This will enforce a good balance in your walk as well as get you to lead her to take the back step with your upper body. Followers: Follow that “sternum” and do not anticipate the contact.

 

Corrida  with a partner:

Corrida is a little run: for example the rhythm could be  walk-walk-quick-quick-quick. This exercise helps you listen to the music and also helps in breaking the monotony of the walk.

 

 

The Forward Ocho Exercise:

1.      Weight on right foot

2.    Pivot, initiating from the hips, to the right by about 20 degrees

3.    Step forward with your left

4.    Bring right foot together (vertical neutral)

5. Weight on left foot, pivot to your left

6. Continue the step-pivot routine until tired, very tired Remember to keep your shoulders facing the front squarely (the so-called disconnect between your hip and the upper body)

 

The Back Ocho Exercise:

1.      Weight on right foot

2.    Pivot, initiating from the hips, to the left by about 20 degrees

3.    Step back with your left

4.    Bring right foot together (vertical neutral)

5.    Weight on left foot, pivot to your right

6.    Continue the step-pivot routine until tired, very tired

7. Remember to keep your shoulders facing the front squarely

 

The Boleo Exercise:

 First, practice balancing on one leg, and then practice the boleo by hooking the free leg around

 

The Molinete Exercise:

This is the “windmill” move, which is a little difficult, done in a circle. So, the first exercise is the grapevine on a straight line. Once, you have understood and mastered it, you can do the grapevine on a circle in four steps and then circle in three steps.  It is important to master this, since a lot of figures are built on this move. If the molinete is not executed correctly, these figures don’t work.

 

Sub-exercise 1 (along a straight line)

Keep shoulder and upper body square to the facing direction and in this exercise you move from left to right on a straight line

  1. Forward- Pivot around right leg and forward step to the right with the left
  2. Side- Step with right
  3. Back- Pivot around right and back step to the right with the left
  4. Side- Step with right

Continue this till you reach the right end of the line. Then repeat the steps by switching legs and direction to move from right to left

 

Sub-exercise 2 (along a circle – four points)

Keep shoulder and upper body square to the center of circle, move in counterclockwise direction and then repeat in clockwise direction

To facilitate equal-sized steps, mark four points on a square on the floor and step only on these points during the exercise

 

Sub-exercise 3 (along a circle – three points)

This is the hardest and do this only after mastering sub-exercise 2

Keep shoulder and upper body square to the center of circle, move in counterclockwise direction and then repeat in clockwise direction

Mark three points on an equilateral triangle on the floor and step only on these points during the exercise

 

 

 

 

2. Elementary Dance Figures:

 

The Central Dogma:

It takes two to tango & the follower is never wrong

 

 

Terms:

  1. General position: follower in front of leader
  2. Right outside position: follower in front and right of leader. Also called the outside position.
  3. Left outside position: follower in front and left of leader. Also called the inside position.
  4. Crossed system: Leader’s left foot synchronized with follower’s left a & leader’s right with follower’s right

5.     Parallel system: Leader’s left foot synchronized with follower’s right  & leader’s right with follower’s left

 

 

 

Basic Guidelines:

The leader and the follower should practice each figure in phases, moving to the next phase only after some confidence is achieved at the current phase.

Leader:

Follower:

 

Figure:  Six-count Box

This is a figure one can resort to, to make simple forward, back and steps.

Count

Leader

Follower

Comments

1

Left, side

Right, side

 

2

Right, forward

Left, back

 

3

Left, forward

Right, back

 

4

Right, side

Left, side

 

5

Left, side

Right, side

Feet together

6

Right, back

Left, forward

 

 

Figure: Eight-count cruzada  (left cruzada)

This is a foundational figure. Most later figures will be put in the context of this one, hence it is good to understand and internalize this one.

Count

Leader

Follower

Comments

1

Left, side

Right, side

 

2

Right, forward

Left, back

Right outside position

3

Left, forward

Right, back

 

4

Right meeting left

Cruzada ,(left front)

General position

5

Left, forward

Right, back

 

6

Right, side

Left, side

 

7

Left meeting right

Right meeting left

 

8

Right, back

Left, forward

 

Steps 5-7 called La resolucion or the salida or the exit

Cruzada troubleshooting:

  1. Leader: Why didn’t the follower cross?  Oracle:  The upper body didn’t convey and/or you were not in the  right outside position.
  2. Follower: It was difficult to cross in spite of a clear lead. Oracle: Take looong back steps.

   

Figure: Eight-count with forward ocho

When the follower is in cruzada (at step 4) the leader takes a back step, leading the follower to a forward ocho (to the follower’s left & forward direction) and back in 2 counts. After this the leader can use the exit steps (counts 5-8 in the basic 8-count cruzada figure).

 

Figure: Cruzada with an embellishment

The follower executes a boleo at the cross. So can the leader while bring feet together at step 4 in the basic 8-count cruzada figure

 

 

Figure: Double Cross - 1

In this figure the follower executes two crosses, one with right front and the other with left front. The second cross is the same as in the basic 8-count cruzada figure.  The first cross (step 3) is lead by the leader’s leg and the second (step 6) by the leader’s upper body.

Count

Leader

Follower

Comments

1

Left, side

Right, side

 

2

Right, forward

Left, back

Right outside position. Between steps 2 & 3, the leader nudges the follower’s right upper leg to cross

3

Left meeting right

Cross (right front)

Shift wt to right

The leader “settles” indicating to the follower to shift weight to right foot

4

Right, forward

Left, back

Right outside position

5

Left, forward

Right, back

 

6

Right meeting left

Cross (left front)

Shift wt to left

General position

Exit using steps 5-7 salida of the basic 8-count cruzada.

Note that if the leader does not nudge but gets feet together in Step 3, so will the follower, without crossing and will shift wt to right foot when the leader “settles”. The is also called a “check”.

 

Figure: Double Cross – 2 (left front OR left back Cross)

In this figure the follower executes two crosses, both with left front. Both the crosses are lead by the leader’s upper body.

1.       Steps 1-4 are the same as that of the 8-count cruzada, ending in a cross.

2.     Then the leader steps back with his left leading the follower to his right-outside position; the follower steps forward with her right (by gently uncrossing first). Next the leader brings his right foot together with the left (thus executing a check) and the follower does a left front cross to stay in front of the leader. The other alternative for the follower is to do a left back cross (instead of front cross) and for the following salida the follower must gently uncross before stepping back.

Exit using steps 5-7 salida of the basic 8-count cruzada.

 

Figure: Ocho Cortada 1   (cut eight)

Count

Leader

Follower

Comments

1

Left, side

Right, side

 

2

Right, forward

Left, back

Right outside position

3

Left, forward

Right, back

 

4

Left,  back

Right, forward

 

5

Right, side

Left, side

 

6

Left meeting right

Cross with left front

Leader may cross behind

Follow this with the La resolucion or the salida or the exit (Steps 5-7) of the basic 8-count figure

 

Figure: Ocho Cortada 2

The ocho cortada can be lead by the leader when the follower has executed a side step, following a forward step by getting the follower to retrace her last step ending in a forward cross. So, a simple variation is to take the follower to a cross in the basic 8-count figure, get her to do a forward and then a side while the leader does a back and a side and then get her to do the forward cross and exit as in the basic figure.  The leader could cross behind everytime he leads the follwer to cross in front.

 

Figure: Titurn  (a tight 360 degree turn OR left giro)

In this figure the leader and the follower execute a 360 degree rotation. Steps 1-4 are the same as that of the 8-count cruzada, ending in a cross.

The left turn of the leader  is broken up into two  180 degree turns  and a step back, as follows:

1.       Then keeping the follower in position by closely embracing her upper body while she has her weight on her left (crossed) foot, the leader takes a small forward step with his left foot planting it close to the crossed foot of the follower, then he ratates by 180 degrees about this left foot, to his left, while moving his right foot behind and rotating the follower about her axis.

2.     Then he shifts his weight to his backfoot (right foot) and rotates the next 180 degrees around his right foot, forcing the follower to take a side step (she steps to her right and stays on her right foot).

3.     Now the leader takes a step back with his left getting the follower to lean forward since he is holding her in close embrace, pauses dramatically for a moment.

Exit using steps 5-7 salida of the basic 8-count cruzada.

 

Figure: Barrida-cruzada 1  (inside position)

This is a cruzada  that is thrown inside a drag or barrida (also called arrastra). The first figure begins by el retroceso ie the reverse start.

 

Count

Leader

Follower

Comments

1

Right, back

Left, forward

By the time the follower gets her feet together, the leader catches the inside of the follower’s left foot with the inside of his left foot

2

Shift wt to left foot, forward with right

Right back

Left outside position

3

Left, forward dragging follower’s left foot

Left back (arrastra)

Move the left foot past the the right foot into a stepping forward position

4

Shift wt to left foot and right forward

Right back

Left outside position

5

Shift wt to right, move the dragging leg to the outside of follower’s left foot

And side step with left gently pushing follower’s upper leg to a cross

Cross in front with left and shift wt to the left foot

While the leader does his side step, his weight is completely on his right foot and  he must immobilize the follower by holding her in place.

The follower shifts wt to the left foot since the leader solidly steps to his right in the side step

Follow this with the La resolucion or the salida or the exit (Steps 5-7) of the basic 8-count figure. This figure works well if the steps taken by the leader as well as the follower are long steps. Also the leader must stay in the left outside position until Step 5, when he moves squarely in front of the follower (general position). Steps 2-3 can be repeated a few times i.e. walking in the barrida mode

 

Figure: Barrida-cruzada 2 (outside position)

Mirror-image of the previous, this is easier as it is in the outside position which is more comfortable for the leader.

Count

Leader

Follower

Comments

1

Left, side

Right, side

By the time the follower gets her feet together, the leader catches the inside of the follower’s right foot with the inside of his right foot

2

Shift wt to right foot, forward with left

Left back

Right outside position

3

Right, forward dragging follower’s right foot

Right back (arrastra)

Move the right foot past the the left foot into a stepping forward position

4

Shift wt to right foot and left forward

Left back

Right outside position

5

Shift wt to left, move the dragging leg to the outside of follower’s right foot

And side step with right gently pushing follower’s upper leg to a cross

Cross in front with right and shift wt to the right foot

While the leader does his side step, his weight is completely on his left foot and  he must immobilize the follower by holding her in place.

The follower shifts wt to the right foot since the leader solidly steps to his left in the side step

Follow this with a left turn or simply walk to the cross (Walk to the cross is steps 2-4 of the basic 8-count cruzada)  This figure works well if the steps taken by the leader as well as the follower are long steps. Also the leader must stay in the right outside position until Step 5, when he moves to general position. Steps 2-3 can be repeated a few times i.e. walking in the barrida mode.

 

Figure: Zig-zag to left giro

This a left giro followed by  the cross and then the exit as in the 8-step cruzada.  The left turn of the leader  is broken up into two  180 degree turns- (1) a “pencil turn” about the leaders right leg and  (2) a turn in the straddle position.

Leader

Follower

Comments

Left, side

Right, side

 

Rotate by 20-35 degree about left leg to the leader’s left

Rotate about right leg, mirroring the leader

Zig

Left, front

Left, back

 

Rotate by 20-35 degree about right leg to the leader’s rightt

Rotate about left leg, mirroring the leader

Zag

Right, front

Right, back

 

180 “pencil” rotation or giro (to left) around  right leg with planeo

and hooking left behind the right leg

Molinete  (forward, side)

 

Step forward right leg and turn around by another 180

Pivot preparing for a back step

Sacada; the leader brushes the leg on the floor and could also invoke a leg wrap by staying towards the back leg

Right forward

Left back

 

Feet together

Right back, cross

 

Exit using steps 5-7 salida of the basic 8-count cruzada. In this figure you end facing the same direction that you started with.

 

 

Figure: Double-cross to left giro

This a left molinete followed by  the two  right-front cross and then the exit as in the 8-step cruzada. 

Leader

Follower

Comments

Left, side

Right, side

Count = 1

Rotate by 5-10 degree about left leg to the leader’s left

Rotate about right leg, mirroring the leader

This helps in the cross that follows

Right front  gently contacting follower’s upper right leg

Left, back

Count = 2

& left cross behind

Right front cross

Count = &

Right front gently contacting follower’s upper right leg

Left back

Count = 3

& left cross behind

Right front cross

Count = &

Rotate in place getting the follower around, starting with her back step

Molinete  (left back, right side, left front), and pivot around left to squarely face the leader

 

Exit using steps 5-7 salida of the basic 8-count cruzada. In this figure you end facing the same direction that you started with. During the two right front cruzada, the leader can rotate around by a good 90 degrees or more to his left shortening the span of the molinete.

 

Figure: Drag and contra-drag

This is a  series of rapid drags (barrida) that take the follower by surprise, ending in a 360 degree turn for her.

To describe the steps, I give relative directions, so the reader has a reference point at the tricky steps.

(1) The leader leads a couple of back ochos.  He begins facing South and she is facing North.(2) When she is stepping back with her left, he freezes her in position while her weight is  on her back (left) foot.  (3) One option is to “nudge” her upper right thigh to get a “right front” cross. A more porteno  option (contra-drag)  is to counter-drag to the front cross as follows: He places is right foot next to her right foot. The insides of both the right feet alongside each other, but his foot his on the opposite side of the direction of the drag, so he locks his right knee with her right knee, but to the left of her knee and then gently “pushes” her knee back to a front cross.  This is a great move but needs a lot of practice and attitude to execute it well.  (4) As he does the contra-drag cross, he shifts weight to his right leg, getting her to shift weight to her right (crossed foot). She is facing West at the cross.  (5) He makes an inside turn of 180 while she pivots on her right foot. He is now facing West and she is facing South ready for a forward step. (6) She steps forward with her left (moving Southwards), he drags her right trailing foot for a “right behind” cross and gets her to shift weight to her right and turn around by 180 degrees so that she is facing North now and he has turned around to face South.  Then execute the usual exit or salida.   This looks more complicated than it actually is. A textual description just makes it tedious and difficult-looking.

 

 

 

 

 

3. Lagniappe of the evening: (for seasoned dancers)

 

Figure: Sacada-to-molinete

Leader

Follower

Comments

Left, side

Right, side

 

Shift weight

 

in crossed system

Left, front

Left, back

 

Right, front & sacada follower’s left leg 

molinete, starting with back step

 

180 rotation (to left)  using both “stepped feet”

molinete

 

180 “pencil” rotation or giro (to left) around  right leg with planeo

molinete

 

Lead  forward ocho to right & back

Forward ocho

 

Exit starting with left foot

Exit

La resolucion

In this figure you end facing the same direction that you started with.

 

Rising above the competent fake

Most of us dance well-established figures. Though tango is an improvised dance, yet we tend to draw from known sequences. Like in mathematics, most teachers can teach established theorems, but how about stating and proving new theorems? How does one do it? It takes a thorough understanding of state-of-the-art and a curious mind, whether it is math or tango.  Here are some valuable steps for inventing new figures: (1) First identify the focal element(s) [E.g., a legwrap or a series of gancho or…] (2) The dance is follower-centric, so focus on the follower’s role, the leader’s will most likely fall into place. (3) Finally, field-test your idea to some music that you love.

 

Cadena: This is a chain of more-or-less identical units. If you need to come up with your own cadena, work on a few steps that bring you back to some identifiable initial position and then the units can repeat themselves.

 

Of course, you could challenge yourself to discover/invent a new element, say a serpiente sinous!

 

Acknowledgments

Without Gustavo’s creative suggestions, the title of this presentation would not have been as interesting. I owe the technical correctness to the diligence of the students. Their feedback has also helped tighten the presentation.