How to do the fan step in American Tango

Published on by CMe



How to do the Fan Step in American Tango


El Tango es el producto cultural más auténtico del país de los argentinos


The Double Fan combination is a difficult pattern that I half learned when I started doing Tango. Ever since, I have found that sometimes I could lead it and make it work (all the while knowing that I was leaving a few steps out), and the rest of the time I would fail miserably.

I believe I have now mastered the step (I don't claim to have perfected it yet). My mastery of this step can be linked to a fundamental finding from learning theory.

If we take a close look at the Double Fan combination in the American Tango, we see that it is composed of the following steps (from the leader's perspective): {slow slow quick quick slow slow quick quick slow slow quick quick slow}. If the steps outlined above are counted, it becomes apparent that there are thirteen steps in the Double Fan combination. This is four more steps than the maximum of 9 that can be handled in short term memory. The Tango Basic, by contrast, has only five steps: {walking steps [slow slow], tango close [quick quick slow]}. Thus, learning theory confirms what is apparent from experience: the Tango Basic is easier to learn than the Double Fan.

Since there is no effective way to simply cram thirteen bits of information into a short term memory system that can only handle seven plus or minus two, we need a method which will reduce the number of bits of information about the Double Fan down to a number short term memory can handle. 



Fortunately, such a method exists.
This method is called "chunking". To make chunking work, you need to recognize that some bits of information can be grouped together in a logical and repeatable way. We call such a group of bits a "chunk".

To apply chunking to the Double Fan, a good place to start is the realization that most Tango steps can be divided into three components: a base, a middle composed of extender units, and a cap. The base is usually a [slow slow]. The middle is composed of units which can have a variety of rhythmic patterns, but which are usually either [quick quick slow] or [quick quick slow slow]. The cap is the Tango Close [quick quick slow]. This reduces the rhythmic complexity of Tango to a [slow slow] unit followed by a series of rhythmic chunks. 

If the above method of chunking steps into rhythmic units is applied to the Double Fan, where we originally had thirteen steps, we now have four rhythmic units. The Double Fan can now be written as {walking steps [slow slow], an extended fan [quick quick slow slow], another extended fan [quick quick slow slow], tango close [quick quick slow]}. The information in the Double Fan has now been transformed so that it can more easily be stored in short term memory.

The Double Fan is a sufficiently difficult move that just knowing there are four rhythmic units is not going to be enough to lead it properly. It would also help to know that each rhythmic unit ends in a specific direction relative to a diamond: walking steps (facing in from home), first fan (facing in from first), second fan (facing in from third), tango close (facing out to line of dance). This additional information brings the total information needed for the Double Fan up to eight bits, which is still within the limits of short term memory.

An alternate way of chunking the Double Fan requires six chunks. What I describe above as an extended fan can also be thought of as {quarter turn to the left [quick quick], fan [slow slow]}. 

The part of the double fan that I still have some difficulty with is the fan itself, and particularly leading the woman to fan with my hip while keeping my frame intact. If you have the same trouble, try working on just the two steps of the fan itself, then add the quarter turn to the left, and finally rebuild the entire Double Fan pattern.

It is true that the Double Fan is greatly helped by technique such as balance, small steps where appropriate, and keeping the frame intact as one rotates the body. These aspects of technique can be transferred from short to long term memory (in other words, learned) separately from any particular move, and thus should not make the Double Fan any more or less difficult to learn than any other step in the Tango. Moreover, knowing that you can break a complex pattern down into smaller units may help you refine such technique where you need it most.

Tango is a more staccato “Smooth” dance. Although we dance it following many of the rules of “Smooth” dancing, the movements tend to be very stylized with the QUICK’s being taken very sharply.

Heel leads should be used on every forward action, and we try to keep the spine pointed directly to the floor (in other words; DON’T drop the hips back or tilt them forward, or lean backward or forward).

The dance position is very similar to other Smooth dances with the major difference being in the Lady’s left arm; she will place her left hand behind and under the Man’s right upper arm.

Progressive Basic:

(This figure usually begins with Man facing somewhere between Wall [W], and Diagonal to Center [DC] – We will dance TWO of these basics in a row, and will, therefore, begin facing W)

Beginning with the left foot, Man takes two walks forward curving to the left
Lady walks back for two steps (rt., lt.) S, S
Man dances forward, side, together (lt., rt., lt.) [”Tango Close”]
Lady dances back, side, together (rt., lt., rt.) [“Tango Close”] Q, Q, S

Note: There are many variations of a “Tango Close”. Some rotate more – some less. Some end up in Promenade Position, and some don’t really even close at all. Some instructors prefer to teach a “Tango Draw”, in which the closing foot is pulled slowly to the standing leg. If danced correctly, any of these variations could be correct. However, for the purposes of this class, we will dance a basic “Tango Close”.

Right Side Swivels (Fans): (Begin with Man facing DC)

Man dances forward left (HEEL) – Lady dances back right – Begin to turn to left Q

Continuing to turn to the left, Man dances side right – Lady side left (w/turned out foot) – Couple is now set to move down the Line Of Dance (LOD)

(Man backing), and the Lady prepared to step outside partner along the Man’s right side with her right foot Q 

Man steps back left leading Lady to step forward outside partner along his right Side – Lady steps forward right (HEEL), outside partner along Man’s right side S

AFTER the Lady steps completely onto her right foot, Man will turn his body slightly toward the Lady to lead her to swivel on her right foot with her free foot (left) held in CBMP. This movement does not receive a count of it’s own – it is still part of the SLOW that got us there. This is the actual Fan. At the end of the Fan, couple will be ready to move forward in Promenade Position (PP), Against the Line Of Dance (ALOD).

Right Side Swivels (Fans):
Man now dances forward right in PP – Lady dances forward left in PP, and closes strongly to Man at the completion of that movement S Couple has now returned to Closed Dance Position, and is facing ALOD.

Couple now repeats the Right Side Swivel Combination as described above to End with the Man facing Diagonal to Wall (DW) Q, Q, S, S

Couple finishes the movement by dancing a Tango Close – rotating ¼

Turn to left to end with Man facing DC Q, Q, S

NOTE: As with most Tango Closes, more or less turn can be made as desired. For example: if following this figure with Progressive Rocks, NO TURN will be made on the Tango Close, so that the Man will end the figure facing DW.

Progressive Rocks:
(This figure usually begins with Man facing somewhere between W and DC – We will begin DW, and curve to left)

Both dancers dance their two walks as in Progressive Basic described above S, S

Man now rocks forward with his left foot – back right – forward left

Lady rocks back with her right foot – forward left – and back right Q, Q, S

Man now rocks forward again with his right foot this time – then back lt – for. rt.

Lady rock back left – forward right – back left Q, Q, S


Basic Walk & Progressive Link & Closed Promenade

NOTE: each rock will be taken with a strong turn of the body toward the first step. Therefore, Man will turn to his left as he takes the first step forward in his first rock with his left foot, and then the dancers hold that “Shoulder Lead” position for the rest of the rock. Man will then turn his body to the right as he steps forwards with his right foot into the second forward rock, etc. This also means that each foot movement for each rock will be in CBMP (Contrary Body Movement Position). CBMP is a foot position. It refers to the moving foot entering into the line of the standing leg.

Dancers finish pattern by dancing a Tango Close to PP. Q, Q, S

Promenade Basic:
(This figure usually begins with Man “aimed” between W, and Center [C] – We will begin heading down LOD)

Man takes two steps forward in Promenade (Lt., Rt.)

Lady steps forward on the right foot, forward on the left foot,

Then she turns ON the left foot to close to the Man S, S (&)

Man now steps directly into Lady as both partners dance a Tango Close Q, Q, S

NOTE: Although the Man began this figure “aimed” down the LOD in PP, his feet were pointed toward DW. This is correct for Promenade. (Likewise, Lady’s feet will be pointed DC.) Normally – although this could change -- Man does not turn when Lady closes to him. Therefore, he will be facing DW when she closes, and will begin his Tango Close facing DW. (Of course, the amount of turn the couple gets on the actual Tango Close may vary a great deal – as we have already discussed.)


How to Promenade in American Tango


Contra Rock to Continuous Left-Turning Rock & Contra Check:

The Contra Rock is an important element of Tango. It is a normal rocking action wherein one dances forward, then back (or back, then forward). However, at the initiation of the rock, dancers will “twist” their bodies toward the moving foot. In other words, a dancer dancing a Contra rock forward on his left foot (then back right), will turn his body strongly to the left first, and then hold that twist as they take the second step. This twisting action should come only from the legs – never from the torso.

Both dancers dance a Contra Rock – Man: forward left / back right –

Lady back right / forward left Q, Q

Man now dances back left, and turns his body strongly to the right

Lady dances forward right, and turns her body strongly to the right S

Turning his body strongly to the left now, Man steps back right to begin a

Left-turning rock

Lady dances forward left – turning strongly to the left – to begin a 

Left-turning rock Q

Both partners continue in the left-turning rock for three more steps Q, Q, Q

Couple will turn approximately ½ turn to the left over the four steps of the turning rock (although more or less turn may be acquired).

Continuing to turn to the left, Man now dances a Back Tango Close;

Back right / side left / close right to left

Lady dances forward into her half of the Back Tango Close;

Forward left / side right / close left to right Q, Q, S

Note: In International Tango, the Back Tango Close movement we just did is called a Back Corte’. This understandably may create a little confusion as it doesn’t resemble in the least the Corte’ (Lunge) that American style dancers know. And, just to make matters even more confusing, in International Waltz, we have a Reverse Corte’ which doesn’t resemble either of the other two! Go figure….


Doing the Promenade in Tango Dancing


Couple now dances a Contra Check to finish the pattern off:

Man lowers more than usual, and rotates his body (through the legs) to the left

As he extends his left foot forward “under” the Lady

Lady rotates and lowers as she extends her right foot back S

NOTE: as soon as the feet receive weight, both partners use their rear feet to press the thighs forward at one another for support. This will result in the Lady feeling as though she is stopped on the toes of both feet. At this point, both dancers are between feet, and have “checked" their forward movement. Lady will extend her torso further back and leftward. Couple is now in the actual Contra Check at this point.

To recover from the Contra Check, Man steps back on his right foot,

And places his left foot slightly to the side to establish a static PP

Lady dances forward left, and places her right foot slightly to the side in PP S

This method that has been applied to the Double Fan in American Tango can also be applied to other steps, both in Tango and in other ballroom dances. Analysis, of course, is no substitute for quality private instruction, but it can help you get the most out of that instruction.

How To Do a Fan Step in American Tango

Gentleman's Step for the Fan Dance in Tango Dancing

Fan Practice for Ladies in Tango Dancing



The Tango Fundamentals - Volume 3: Basic Giros
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