The Ghost Guide to Social Tango 2nd Edition: Walking

Original: 2nd March 2010

Revised: 4th February 2011

"Solviture ambulando" (It is solved by walking) ~ St Augustine

Musicality and floorcraft

For social dancing it's worth experimenting with small steps. It's truly amazing how small it's possible to step in tango. There's a variety of benefits. It's easier to stay in balance and you won't eat up floorspace so quickly. Bear in mind you have the option to simply walk around the room, pausing / stepping place when traffic dictates. This is a good default position. If you're going to do something else then it should give you a definite benefit for doing so. So how do you walk around a room for 15 minutes without getting bored? Musicality. Vary the rhythms, add pauses. Change the length of the steps.

For example:

Also, see here:
Walking is not dancing

Happy endings

A lot of endings in tango music frankly don't make sense. They finish too earlier or add another beat. I suspect that tango musicians are simply evil. You can study the different orchestras and how they play.

Be ready to continue into another step.

MsH: Or you can just work with what feels like the end to you, and let your partner take care of it. She quite often will, and even if she doesn't, she might appreciate having the opportunity.

Common elements

Walking is simple - just do what your teacher tells you. The problem, like the embrace, is actually doing what you're told. Much like the Embrace, there are a lot of different approaches to walking. Again watch a teacher dancing socially to see what it is they want from their dancing.

Some common ground appears to be:

  • Keep stepping to her centre, don't zig-zag. If you're unsure where her centre is, it should be in line with your centre.
  • Brush your knees on the "and"
  • Push off rear foot / land on front foot on the beat
  • Hips stay facing forwards - dissociate torso
  • Balance is important. If you want to pause do so either in pose or with both of you collected. Don't do it with your rear foot out behind you, as balancing is a pain.
  • Don't look down
  • Lead from the chest

In parallel system walking, on each step you should be able to kiss the follower's foot (your right to her right and your left to her left). To do this without looking down you need to be able to feel where her feet are. It's worth practicing this in front of mirror with a partner to give yourself realtime feedback. Also try it in socks so that

  • You can easily feel when you've touched her foot
  • You don't have to worry about hurting her

When leading a follower who leans back it's a good idea to flex you knees more and step instep to instep.

(See Dances with beginners)

If you lose balance, turn it into a pose and re-balance. Then carry on. Otherwise the lose of balance accumulates. Corners - just walk around naturally, don't lean in towards the centre of the dancefloor as if you were on a motorbike.


Collecting is very important. Unfortunately the follower can't do it unless you put her axis in the right place. Again practice getting a feel for where the point of collection is.

Leading steps vs. leading weight changes

You can differentiate between leading a weight change, and leading a step. And the good news is that it works on side, forward and back steps. The trick is to use the "Up over and down" version for a change of weight, and the inverse ("down, under and up") version for a step.

Note: bear in mind that this is a tiny motion, the smaller the better, as long as you can clearly differentiate the two movements.

Final thoughts

In tango it's a good thing to simply walk for a tanda. And most women can follow walking at a tango class. But this means if the leader chooses to lead anything other than walking, it's his responsibility for doing so. If he leads boleos and the follower doesn't follow it, it really is the leader's "fault" - not so much the first time as after all there's a "feeling out process" at the beginning, but if he persists then yes, fire and brimstone await...

MsH: It can take the follower a while to tune in, especially if you have not danced together before.

- Christopher O'Shea, 2nd March 2010

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