Patterns and more patterns

10th January 2010

The 8 count basic

OK first some history. When I first began to learn tango the 8 count basic was still fashionable (yes it was that long ago ). Back step for the leader, a step to the side, and a lead into the cross. Now of course this idea of having a "basic" tango step has fallen into disrepute. After all, we don't want beginners to think in terms of patterns. Instead the focus is on thinking in steps. Forward step , backward step and side step. That's where you start.

So what was so bad about the 8 count?

Well the obvious problem was step (count) 1. It meant the leader would step backwards in the line of dance. And possibly go into the couple behind.

That's fine. But what was less obvious was that the basic also meant the couple went two steps to the side. One step on count 2. And another step as you lead the cross. The second step is less obvious but it's there. Think of a set of three squares one on top of each other. As you're leading the cross you usually go from the bottom right point to the top left point.

If there are two lines of dance on the floor then two steps to the left can mean that someone on the outer lane goes into someone in the inner lane. Obviously not a good idea either.

Performers are not good examples

Fortunately the 8 count basic is now out of favour with those who teach. However it hasn't died altogether. Just go to Youtube and you'll find lots of performers start with a big step to the left. The leader will then lead into a cross. It's the 8 count. OK maybe it's now a 7 count. They've got rid of the big no-no (the back step) but the rest is still there.

Performers can obviously do what they want. The problems come when someone watching the video decides to imitate what they do. And they find out that yes there are other people on the dance floor too...

The dreaded box step

So are the floors safe now? Well - just when you thought it was safe to come out of the kitchen - another pattern has been rearing its ugly head. I'm referring to the milonga box step.

The box step is taught as a basic pattern in milonga. It's usually danced by leading two steps backwards , two to the side and then coming round in a box to the beginning. It's taught everywhere.

This pattern is actually worse in many ways than the 8 count. It has two steps to the back not one and then two steps one after another to the side. Potentially it's double the trouble.

The only positive thing that can be said for it is that the pattern is fairly self contained. So as long as the floor is not too crowded then you can get away with it. Probably.

What's the answer then?

Well obviously you can do any pattern you like when the floor is empty. But when there are lots of other dancers things are different. Then the ideal is to always move forwards in the line of dance. And to take no more than one small step backwards (if you have to).

There are two possible answers. One is to break up both patterns into smaller modules. Just do the cross (counts 3 to 5) from the 8 count basic. That's one step to the side and none backwards. Or alternatively step really small. The two side steps of the box step could become one step. You could even make the back steps really small and get away with them.

The second answer is to remember where you can step. Instead of going straight ahead you go diagonally forward. Then any side steps actually go forward on the diagonal. And back steps get diluted. The old boys in Buenos Aires do this all the time. It's a sneaky way of adding back and side steps into the dance.

Of course another option is to forget both patterns. But that's easier said than done...

~ Gromit, 10th January 2010