Class Notes: June 2010

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

4th July: Dissociation

This week's technique was "dissociation". This 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.

Beginner class

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" :)


Walk along, swinging arms and shoulders naturally - and look at this motion in the mirror. Understand how this walk is natural and where your arms / feet are. Now, do it whilst walking backwards...

Improver class: Using dissociation in steps

Dissociation is a key technique for open embrace movement - most of the steps in open embrace will only really work well if there's some dissociation going on.

As an illusatration, we worked on an "enganche" (hook) movement, to demonstrate how to use dissociation within such movements.

Move: 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.

11th July: Musicality and interpretation

"Musicality" is the skill of dancing to the music. That means you need to understand the music, and to use that understanding to drive the steps you take: the size and timing of those steps, and the types of steps (and, by extension, the embrace you adopt).

Bear in mind that in a traditional tango track, there are usually several rhythms going on, depending on the instruments and/or vocals of the track. It's possible to dance to any of those rhythms; so in other words there's no "One Right Way" to interpret the music - it's all quite personal.

That said, there are some key general principles to follow...

Beginner class: Walking, Pausing, embellishing

Stage 1: Walk and Pause

The fitst stage is to understand - and be able to walk to - the main beat of the music (in traditional tango, this will usually be driven by the "bandoneon" - basically a big accordion).

So, playing two tracks (one traditional, one more modern), we simply walked to the main beat of each track; simply walking, nothing fancy.

Next, with the traditional track (Bahia Blanca, by Carlos Di Sarli), we attempted to pick out the "phrases" within the music, pausing at the end of each phrase.

Next, we tried to insert pauses within each of these phrases, at appropriate points.

And ... we're dancing!

Pausing: Key points

  • Leaders, you should aim to do this all the time, when dancing. Musicality is "dancing to the music".
  • It's a good exercise to think of Tango dancing as being a set of pauses, with some steps added in between.
  • Don't try to do "figures" and musicality. Get the musicality right first, then you can worry about the steps

Stage 2: Embellishing (followers)

For both leaders and followers, simply pausing can get a little monotonous. So it's nice to occasionally embellish or decorate these pauses. Sometimes these movements can giving the illusion of continuous movement, even if you're standing still.

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. By contrast to musicality, a key point about decorations is exactly that - they're icing, they're not the cake. So these should not ever interfere with the connection or the basic step. If you're not comfortable doing a particular step, then don't decorate that step.

Embellishments can be led (for example, the "pulse movements" we did a few weeks ago). But more often, they're decorations initiated and performed by the follower.

An example of a decoration is a "Pencil" ("Lapiz") movement; basically a small tracing motion with the free foot.

Embellishing: Key points:

  • Decorations should not change the dance tempo, they should simply add to it.
  • Decorations are visual - a leader may not even see or know that the follower is decorating.
  • Don't over-decorate. A cake which is only icing will make you sick :)

Improver class: More embellishments, "carousel" and "planeo"

Embellishment: hook step ("Amague" / "Saludo")

For any forward or back step, both leaders and followers can "hook" their feet into a back or forward cross position, before taking the step.

We worked on this with:

  • Forwards steps
  • Back steps
  • Forwards ochos
  • Back ochos

(Gives 8 possible variations)

Carousel and 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.

18th July: Crosses and Timing

Beginner class: 4-track walking and the cross

Stage 1: 4-track walking

You don't always have to walk "mirrored" (in parallel, or "2-track"). There are several variations you can use.

The leaders walked the follower in a straight line backwards, but move from one side to the other whilst doing so - going into "4-track" on either side.

Key points

  • Leaders, keep the chest oriented toward the followers, not to the side. But keep your feet facing forwards; so dissociation again.
  • Also, keep a steady sure lead - don't jump about and vary the pace, just because you're moving your feet in a different way.
  • Followers, follow the lead from the chest, don't pay too much attention to what the leader does with his feet.

Stage 2: Leading the cross

We then covered how to lead and follow the cross step ("Cruzada"), from an outside walk and from a "salida" pattern.

Followers, if your free leg is relaxed, you should naturally cross the legs when a cross is led - you shouldn't really need to think about it.

Leaders, to lead a cross step, you need to indicate to the follower what to do; typically, this means you need to:

  • Apply a slight pivot as part of the step as a lead
  • Open up some space between you, for her to put one leg in front of the other

We did a standard entry to a cross step:
Leaders: sidestep left (to outside) > 2 forward steps > collect (and lead a cross step) > lead a weight change
Followers: sidestep right > two back steps > cross when led (left foot over right foot) > change weight to front (left) foot

Key points

  • In a salida, to lead the sidestep left, lead your partner to take a normal-size step, then once she starts to move, take an outside step. Don't lead a large step from the start, or you'll both simply take large steps!
  • When leading the actual cross, don't pull your partner to the side, simply straighten out your body - "close your chest"
    Note: there are other methods for leading the cross.
  • Followers: similarly, don't turn to the side, but keep your upper body facing your partner when you cross.
  • Leaders: start leading the cross from the second forward step - make this second step small, to give the follower space to cross.
  • Followers: don't anticipate a cross after 2 steps back. Wait for it to be led.

Improver class: 3-track and double-timing

The technique here is for the leaders to transfer weight, but without leading a transfer for the follower.

We also covered changes in tempo - either the leader changing feet by himself (so going into "3 track" or "crossed" walking), or the leader changing tempo (the "slow-slow-quick-quick-slow" stuff).

Stage 1: 3-track walking

"3-track walking" is when you're walking "crossed" - that is, when the leader steps forward on his right foot, the follower steps backwards on her right foot. The technique here is for the leaders to transfer weight, but without leading a transfer for the follower.

Key points:

  • Leaders, it's even more important to ensure your follower moves her leg before you step into that space.
  • Followers: follow the chest, not the legs.

Stage 2: double-time

We practiced walking in single-time and double-time - in double-time, walking to the left side (in 4-track( 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.

25th July: The Embrace, double-time, and boleos

There are two types of tango "embrace" (hold): open and close.

Key points

  • Leaders, chest lead: don't move your arms / feet first.
  • Followers, wait for the lead: if there's no lead, do nothing.
  • Always keep in contact with your partner
  • Ensure you have a "forwards intention" - for both leaders and followers. Don't lean back - if you do, your partner will feel off-balance as they'll have to lean forwards too much.
  • Don't pull down on your partner's arms / shoulders; you shouldn't rely on your partner for support.

Beginner class: open and close embrace

Walking and dancing in close and open embrace.

The close embrace:

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

Posture is fully upright, with weight over balls of the feet. But you have contact with your partner along the torso. Note that it's important to have space between your legs and your partner's legs; the more you have "forward intention", the more space you'll have.

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.
  • Don't force (pull) your partner into a close embrace - he/she may not be happy with that. Invite it, don't force it.

The open embrace:

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, don't pull or push your partner into position. Align yourself correctly, and your follower will align herself to meet you.

Improver class: double-time movements and boleos

To complement the topics covered in the Musicality and interpretation and Crosses and timing classes, we covered double-time movements, for both weight changes (side to side) and rocksteps (forward and back).

Note: both weight changes and rocksteps can be done in single time, and often are. However, both steps lend themselves to double-time movements quite nicely.

Key points

  • Keep it small - small subtle movements are much easier to control in double-time.
  • Don't "rock" - don't use your shoulders to shift your partner over from one side to another.
  • Move to the music - when there's an appropriate fast piece of music, use double-time for that.
    Note: typically, this is much easier when you know the music well, as you can plan your timing change in advance.
  • Lead slowly into, and slowly out of, the tempo change. Don't pull or yank your partner.

Step: Linear Boleos:

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

Key points

  • Leaders: get the timing of the halt right.
  • Followers: let your free leg be free in its movement.