Class Notes: August 2010

Previous months: June 2010 | July 2010

These are the class notes for August 2010 Tango classes in Berkhamsted.

1st August: Free leg movement

The main theme for the two classes here was "Free leg movement".

We did some revision of the embrace, and a couple of tracks reverse-role dancing (women as leaders, men as followers), then moved onto working on this technique and a couple of steps associated with it.

Beginner class: "swinging" and linear boleos

After warming up, we spent some time working on leading free leg movements.

Followers did some "leg-swinging" exercises, standing on the mats and getting used to feeling our legs swing, in as "free" a matter as possible. We then got the leaders to start to try to influence this "swing" - feeling the way the follower's legs moved, and trying to enhance / damp down this movement.

The idea of this exercise is:

  • To get the followers used to free leg movements,
  • To get the leaders used to being able to effectively lead and change these movements.

Movement: linear boleo:

This movement is designed to get the leaders used to interrupting a movement, and to get the followers used to having free leg movements.

  1. Step to the (leader's) left, leader stepping further than follower
  2. Take one or more forward steps, then bring the follower's upper body to a halt, as she starts to move her free leg back
  3. This will result in the follower's leg "sweeping" back.

Key points

  • Leaders: get the timing of the halt right. You need to lead the follower to start to take a step back, and give her enough time to start to move her leg, before you apply the "emergency stop".
  • Followers: let your free leg be free in its movement. Don't tense up if the leader stops you.

Improver class: Boleos and barridas

Using the free leg movement we worked on in the beginner class, we then worked on a particular movement using that technique - a boleo, followed by a barrida.

We used a practice sequence, as follows:

  1. Leader sidestep left, change weight, pivot follower anti-clockwise, then start to lead a back ocho step
  2. Follower starts to take that step, leader then interrupts the step with an emergency stop; follower's leg sweeps back.
  3. Follower completes the movement, then collects as normal.

This movement can be done on the back step of any ocho - we demonstrated on it on the leader's right side also.

Key points

  • Followers: the movement is exactly the same as with the beginner step - you're simply facing a different direction.
  • Leaders: again, the lead is exactly the same, as is the timing.

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

(See the Boleo description for more example videos)

Finally, we demonstrated 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.

8th August: Practice session

For the 8th August, we had a practice session.

15th August: "Giros" (Turns) and Barridas

A "Giro" (pronounced "Hero") is a turn. Typically, the leader stands in place, and the follower is led to walk in a circular path around the leader (either clockwise or anticlockwise).

Beginner class: introducing the giro movement

Exercise: grapevine

We did a grapevine exercise - walking in a straight line, for both leaders and followers:
Forward -> pivot -> Side -> pivot -> Back -> pivot -> Forward -> etc.

Key points:

  • Step then pivot - as with ochos, these are two distinct movements. Don't try to do both at the same time.
  • Dissociation - keep shoulders facing the same direction. Facing the mirror helps :)
  • Collect at each step - always collect at the end of every step.
  • Don't change weight during collection.

Follower exercise: "walk around chair"

We grabbed some weights, and used the "walk around a chair" exercise, to practice doing the grapevine movements in a circular pattern.
Forward -> pivot (180 degrees) -> Side -> pivot (180 degrees) -> Back -> Side -> Forward -> etc.

Key points:

  • Dissociation - keep facing the centre of the point you're walking around.
  • Again, collect your legs in between every step.

Leader exercise: Be The Ball...

Leaders, holding a gym ball in front of you, slowly rotate your upper body around a 360-degree turn, letting your feet "catch up" with your chest. Ensure that the upper body is always ahead of the feet in turning.

Key points

  • The rotation is a smooth and continuous motion, not a step-stop-step-stop movement.
  • There's no mandatory footwork - feel free to simply shuffle around - but don't move your feet too much, as you want to try to keep a single rotation point for your follower to walk around.
  • To lead the rotation, open up the shoulders whilst rotating - keep the chest moving ahead of the feet.
  • Keep upright - balls of the feet.

Using Giros in dancing

We then partnered-up and worked on the giro in couples.

The lead is to start rotating around. This can be done from any point, in either direction.

Key points:

  • Followers, don't overtake leaders - take your time on the walks
  • Leaders, wait for the pivot to be done, before leading the step. Don't try to lead both at the same time.
  • Followers, as always, follow each step as it is led. Don't try to anticipate the next step.


Improver class: More on Giros, and Barridas

Mix and Match: ochos and giros together

We briefly discussed using giros in combination with other steps, mixing and matching.

Key points:

  • Giros can be done in either direction - simply by rotating in that direction. Typically, clockwise might feel more difficult than anti-clockwise because of the nature of the embrace.
  • Giros don't have to be full 360-degree, 4-step patterns - it's perfectly OK to just lead a few steps.
  • You can reverse a giro from a pivot step - turning that pivot into an ocho movement, then reversing the rotation direction.
  • Followers, please don't anticipate that the next step will be part of the giro pattern - it may not be.

A Barrida movement within a Giro

We briefly did a barrida as part of a giro movement, sweeping the sidestep after the backstep of a giro.

Key points:

  • Leaders, don't force the move - no pushing of feet please. The feet simply happen to be in contact when you lead a step - as normal - with the body.
  • Followers, similarly, move your feet as normal when led to do so - ignore the fact that the feet are touching; don't react differently based on this.

Note: barridas are not essential parts of Tango dancing, so don't panic if you don't get the hang of them immediately. Also, this step is simply an example of a class of steps; it's not something vital to memorize.

Examnple video of barridas and giros:


22nd August: Close embrace and Milonga

Beginner class: close embrace

Description: The close embrace is like an airport hug where you are meeting someone special after a long break.

Posture is basically: fully upright, weight over balls of the feet, centre / chest forward, and contact with your partner along the torso. Note that it's important to have space between your legs and your partner's legs.

Close embrace is best for traditional-style tango dancing, without too many pivots.


Walk with your hands behind your back (both partners), and try to keep constant contact between you.

Key points

  • Close is close - yes, it's intimate, but if you don't press against your partner, it doesn't work.
  • If you do it right, close embrace makes leading and following easier, because you have more contact - at least for the steps covered so far.
  • Don't force (pull) your partner into a close embrace - he/she may not be happy with that. Invite it, don't force it.

Some more information about the embrace.

Improver class: Milonga

"Milonga" is the name of a specific dance style, with many similarities to Tango.

Confusingly, "milonga" is also the name for a social dance evening. So you can dance Milonga at a milonga - or you can dance Tango at a milonga :)

Typically, one in every 6 "tandas" (groups of dances) is a Milonga. So up to a 1/6th of the dances in a milonga evening will be non-Tango.

The good news is, it's fairly easy to get started with - step on every beat, take small steps, keep it simple, and you'll be OK. The bad news is, it's typically a much faster rhythm, so you'll need to move quickly and lead / follow correctly, all the time; there are no real chances to pause in milonga.

We played a couple of milonga tracks, and danced to each of those, and we then worked on a couple of simple steps.

Step: side-and-change. This is a simple sidestep, followed by a weight change. The key point it to keep the steps small - tiny, in fact. An extension to this is to do the same with forward steps: step forward, weight change, and repeat.

Step: grapevine Extending on the "grapevine" pattern we did last week for the giro step, we adapted this pattern to a milonga style. Again, the key is to take tiny steps.

Key points:

  • Take small steps
  • Step on the beat

29th August: Posture, Ochos and adornments

Beginner class: Posture and pivots

We covered posture in close embrace, and worked on pivots / ochos

We worked on an example ocho-based sequence, to show how this might work:

  • Leader takes a sidestep to the left, follower sidesteps to the right.
  • Leader changes weight, follower does not.
  • Leader pivots to the left, follower pivots also.
  • Leader takes another sidestep to the left, follower backsteps.
  • Leader reverses pivot (pivoting to the right)
  • "Rinse and repeat"

Key points:

  • Leaders: always lead the pivot first, then the step. Don't try to do both at the same time.
  • Leaders: the step after the pivot is in the same direction as the pivot. Forward ochos are taken with the inside foot (the foot closest to the leader), back ochos with the outside foot (foot furthest from the leader).
  • Followers: pivot first, then step. They are two separate motions - don't rush into one before the other.
  • Followers: keep your chest facing towards your leader (that's the "dissociation" thing).

There are two simple ways to change from a forward ocho to a back ocho and vice versa.

  • Reverse the pivot: lead a pivot in the reverse direction, then lead a step in that direction.
  • Reverse the step: lead a step in the reverse direction, then lead a pivot in that direction.

Improver class: Ocho variations and adornments

We did some more work on the ochos, and looked at various ocho enhancements and adornments.

Using Adornments with ochos

Followers can do adornments during the pivotting part of an ocho movement. These adornments can be "led" (typically, by the leader providing more space and time for the follower to play with), but are usually done by the follower independently.

We covered several possible variations:

Adornment 1: Wide step ("Lapiz")
This movement involves tracing a circular motion on the floor (with your toe or inside edge of the foot), as you're being pivotted. The leader can invite this motion by lowering the follower slightly during the pivot, which allows the follower more extension.

Adornment 2: Hook step ("Amague" / "Saludo")
For any forward or back step, followers can "hook" their feet into a back or forward cross position, before taking the step.

Adornment 3: Tapping ("Fanfarron")
You can simply tap your foot to mark the beat, just before the pivot, for effect.

Note: Adornments (or "Embellishments" or "decorations" - all the same thing) are general actions which make the dancing look and feel better - they're the icing on the cake.

Ochos - sizes of steps

Because of the dynamics of the steps, it's much much easier if followers and leaders adjust their step sizes, depending on whether the step is a forward or back ocho.

For forward ochos, followers can (and possibly should) take large steps - larger than the leader. Leaders should not take large sidesteps when leading forward ochos.

For back ochos, followers should probably not take large steps. Similarly, leaders should take large sidesteps, to ensure they are in front of the follower's axis when she pivots.