In praise of boleos


When people are introduced to boleos, they usually think of those curling "teardrop" shapes. But boleos - to me - are simply interrupted steps where the momentum of the leg carries it moving, despite the rest of the body having stopped.

(I realise this is just my off-the-cuff interpretation, others may and will disagree on definitions.)

For example, if you look at the linear boleos - such as in the 2005 Strictly Come Dancing AT demonstration from Kicca Tomassi:

At about 2:28, you see that this momentum is quite applicable in any step.

Linear boleos are quite possible, for example.

(Note: for the moment I'm not talking about how to use boleos - or indeed, whether to use them - in dancing. But I'd recommend the Ghost Guide to Boleos for some advice in this area.)

Now, the reason I referenced Kicca previously is that when she was teaching boleos, I distinctly remember her classifying them as "advanced" movements - that is, you needed at least a couple of years' experience dancing to attempt them; they required a resaonable level of base technique to achieve.

That view was echoed in the recent Tango workshop I attended, by Stefano and Alex of Tango In Action; they had originally intended to teach them, but decided that boleos would not be appropriate to teach to that audience.

So, some highly-repsected teachers are clear - boleos are not for beginners.

Well, we love controversy, so I'm going to raise a dissenting opinion here. At least in part.

What is a boleo?

If you think about it, a boleo can be thought of as simply a step - any step, in any direction - where some extra energy is applied by the leader at some point, so that the free leg movement reflects that energy.

For example, look here:

In this, you can see that there are some simple but lovely "swinging" motions, in several directions. You really don't need any rotation as well - you can simply swing the legs back and forth.

What do you need for a boleo?

One thing you don't need is a new step. A boleo can be any step - in any direction. For example, a follower back step.

What you need, in my opinion is:

  • Leaders: Timing amd judgement.
    To get a correct "whip" effect, leaders will need to have correct timing. For example, in a backstep version, leaders will need to stop the follower at exactly the right point - that is, whilst she's moving her foot, but before she's transferring
  • Followers: Dissociation and free leg movement
    Followers require this, because energy applied by the leader needs to "travel" down the body of the follower to create that whip effect, and the leg needs to move freely to create that effect.

So, we have a requirement for timing, judgement, dissociation and free leg movement. All in a single step.

None of these things are easy - in fact, they're all quite tricky. So you can see why teachers think that boleos are for advanced students.


Why are boleos good for beginners?

No to (big) social boleos

Firstly, let me be totally clear here - large boleos are not really appropriate in social dancing - by definition, a free-swinging leg can take up a lot of space, and of course none of us really want to be kicked. So for safety's sake, I'd say this as a general rule; no-one should be doing large boleos in a traditional milonga.

And I would say that teaching big-boleo-based steps and sequences is a Bad Idea. To, well, anyone.

But, small boleos such as shown in the Ghost Guide are perfectly fine - in fact, they're lovely - to do as adornments and suchlike.

Yes to Practice boleos

However, I think boleos are excellent movements for exercises and practicas. Simply because doing them right requires good technique and timing, they help to get people to use these things.

To me, a large part of open-embrace, pivot-based Tango dancing (which we'll call "nuevo" for the sake of brevity) is a bout exactly those factors: timing, judgement, dissociation and free leg movement.

If you have acquired these techniques, then the whole family of "wrap" movements (for example, ganchos) become both natural and smooth - you almost don't need to learn them as steps, they just happen as a result of movements.

Of course, beginners will not have these techniques - but that's why they need to work on them. And a boleo allows you to work on all these techniques in a single step.

So I think if you can get a boleo movement to work, in any direction, for any step, the world's your crustacean-of-choice.

- David Bailey, 19th June 2010

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