"Improver's Tango" workshop notes

25th October 2010

Workshop Data and Time: Sunday 24th October 2010, 2pm - 6pm


This workshop was aimed at people who've been doing a small amount of Tango (up to for 6 months), who are familiar with the basic tango steps and movements, and who wanted to progress their tango dancing further.

Session 1: Musical interpretation

Musicality is siimply "dancing to the music". Leaders, you should aim to do this all the time, when dancing. Don't try to do "figures" and musicality. Get the musicality right first, then you can worry about the steps.

We started off by walking, in "practice hold" (hands on each others' shoulders), around the room to the music.

We then reversed-roles, with the women leading and the men following, for another couple of tracks.


We then attempted to work on "pauses", slowing down the movements of the dancing to create more effect, in time with the music. It's a good exercise to think of Tango dancing as being a set of pauses, with some steps added in between.

Pausing: Key points

  • Leaders, take your time - if you pause, you have more time to move, you look better and your partner has time to play
  • Followers, when there's a pause, you can interpret or decorate to the music - but don't get distracted from the lead
  • Pausing / restarting is the leader's decision; decorations are at the follower's discretion


We practiced walking in single-time and double-time, and varying between single and double time stepping.

Key points:

  • Your average "speed" should stay pretty much constant - double-time steps should be half-size.
  • So you don't lead a double-time movement simply by rushing forwards.
  • Whenever you change tempo - going into and out of double-time, for example - you need to clearly lead that change of tempo. Don't yank your partner around.

Session 2: Embrace, posture, dissociation

This session focussed on close embrace, open embrace, and dissociation.

Close embrace - posture

You should have a "forwards intention", for both leaders and followers.

For example:

Key points:

  • Always keep in contact with your partner
  • Don't lean back - if you do, your partner will feel off-balance as they'll have to lean forwards too much.

More information

Open embrace

We worked on open embrace, posture and leading.

Key points

  • In open embrace, followers get both tactile contact (from the arms) and visual clues (looking at the leader's chest) to understand the lead.
  • Leaders, please ensure you lead from your chest. No "arm rowing".
  • Similarly, leaders, don't pull or push your partner into position. Align yourself correctly, and your follower will align herself to meet you.


"Dissociation" is a "twisting" or "winding up" effect, where your upper body twists in one direction and your lower body twists in another. Walking along, we naturally dissociate, moving our arms / shoulder in oppostion to our legs / hips. So the trick is to recognise this natural movement, and to use it within dancing to power our pivots.

We worked on forwards and backwards ochos, first individually and then in partners.

We then did a set of variations with steps - men doing forwards ochos and women doing backwards ochos. Each time we were focussing on keeping the chest facing towards our partner.

Key points:

  • Followers: keep your upper body facing your partner when pivotting. This actually helps you pivot, and keeps you focussing on your partner.
  • The pivot is a separate motion - step, then pivot. Don't do both at once. Or, "Respect the pivot" :)

Session 3: Barrida, enganche, planeo

This session demonstrated a few specific moves - all achievable with minimal "setup movements" required.

Move 1: Barrida

We worked on a "barrida" sequence, as follows:

  1. Leader leads a sidestep to the left, then places his right foot in between the follower's foot.
  2. Leader leads a sidestep to the right, with his right foot in close contact with ("sweeping") the follower's left foot.
  3. Leader leads a sidestep back to the left, but this time the follower sweeps the man's foot back.

Here's an example video of this type of movement:

(See the barrida description for more example videos)

Key points

  • Followers: Simply take sidesteps. Don't get distracted by the man's leg.
  • Leaders: don't "push" the follower's foot - it's an illusion that you're doing this.

Move 2: Enganche (from sidestep)

  1. Man leads the lady to take a sidestep to the left, and takes a sidestep also..
    Note: the lady follows this lead, sidesteps and (attempts to) bring her leg together to collect. She must not pay attention to what the man is doing with his legs.
  2. After the lady transfers weight to her right leg, but before she collects, man places his right leg through the lady's legs (close to her right leg).
    Note: The man must dissociate here: his chest does not really move, but his hips and legs should rotate anti-clockwise.
  3. The lady, when she tries to collect to finish off the sidestep, will now automatically hook her left leg behind the man's right leg.
  4. The man can now pivot the lady anti-clockwise.
  5. The lady's left leg, as she pivots, can come free with the pivot.
    Note: the man can give this movement extra energy, by straightening his outstretched leg.
  6. The man leads the lady to take a back step.

Key points

  • leaders: Correct timing of the "leg through the legs" is essential.
  • Followers: don't anticipate this movement. All you're doing is a sidestep, a pivot, and a back step. Ignore what the man does with his legs; follow his chest.

Move 3: Calesita / Planeo

The Carousel ("Calesita") movement is almost a "reverse giro" movement - the woman stands in the centre, and the man walks around her.

There are some differences though; the woman stays on one foot throughout, and is rotated by the man, and the man simply walks in one direction (i.e. forwards or backwards, no fancy grapevine patterns).

Key points:

  • Men have to walk in a circle. If you don't walk in a perfect circle, you'll pull the woman off balance.
  • Men, keep your chest facing the woman at all times.
  • Women, keep your weight on one foot - the other foot trailing behind.

We then extended the carousel movement to the "Glide, or "planeo" - simply by the woman lowering herself a little and extending her trailing foot out, to a degree.

Key points:

  • Men, lead this "lowering" motion; but not by lowering yourself.
  • Walk in the direction (forwards / backwards) which is most comfortable and stable for you.

Note: you can use this "lowering to planeo" action on a normal ocho movement occasionally if you want.

Session 4: Social dancing

Dancing small

I "cordoned off" a section of the studio, and we had several dances, to both traditional and neo tango music, within that small section.

The idea of this ecercise is to simulate a busy "milonga" or social dance scene.

Additionally, I varied the style of music to demonstrate why, in a crowded venue, it works better to do small movements, in close embrace, and to traditional music.

Social dancing: do's and don'ts

A very brief overview of "Dos and don'ts" list for social dancing:

Advice for leaders:

  • Obey the line of dance.
  • Don't overtake, it's not a race.
  • Ask for dances courteously.
  • Above all else, protect your partner.

Advice for followers:

  • Be careful with your heels, they can be dangerous weapons.
  • Accept or reject dances courteously.

Advice for all:

  • Milongas are not practice sessions - if you want to practice, get out of the way or attend a practica.
  • Remember the "3-dance" rule - "tandas" are groups of dances separated by interlude music ("Cortinas").
  • "Thank you" means "Goodbye".
  • Respect the other dancers on the floor.
  • Use common sense - big steps on a crowded dance floor are Silly Things To Do.

More information

The follow-up to this workshop will be the "Intermediates workshop", on the 21st November 2010.