Tangueras and Tangueros Let learn the Interdependency of the Various Tango Techniques

Published on by CMe



Tangueras and Tangueros: Let learn the Interdependency of the Various Tango Techniques 


El Tango es un pensamiento triste que hasta se puede bailar


A perfect example of the interdependency of the various techniques we'll practice in this class is between that of (a) "giving weight" to your partner, and that of (b) the man initiating the lead from his chest and the woman receiving and executing that lead in her pelvis and hips, as described in detail in previous dance notes. One technique without the other is worth the proverbial "bucket of warm spit." Together they are an amazing system. But just one partner cannot make it happen; it really does take two. Feeling or experiencing this connection is the first big hurdle for the novice tango dancer. Many teachers consider this (if they consider it at all) to be an "advanced" technique not suitable for the novice. While it is not totally easy to acquire, requiring at least as much patience as skill, it is fundamental, at least in my book, and is the basis for physically identifying with your partner (and for just about everything else). It is a technique that replaces and makes a thousand rules at once intuitive, superfluous, and obsolete. It's the case of "an ounce of prevention" being worth "a ton of cure". Further, this "physically connecting with your partner" will become the foundation and a prerequisite for mentally connecting with your partner, which will come in the weeks ahead.


In the real tango world you will meet and dance with a lot of experienced, well meaning and good people who will not only have not mastered, but who indeed are unaware, of these techniques, people who will have paid with a lot of effort and money to learn aforementioned "thousand rules" and who may insist they know more than you do (which, of course, they probably do).? I hope you'll keep the faith. I claim, and I hope you believe me, that the last rung out of tango purgatory and the first one into tango heaven is mastering these basic techniques yourself and then dancing with someone similarly inclined (as it were).? Leading and following is thus easy and natural.? It allows you to forget the mechanics of the dance and to focus on the music, your partner, and the pure joy of dancing tango.? You learn to dance from the heart and to master the technique of? "not thinking", of letting the music flow through you, and being one with your partner.

Acquiring these skills is not trivial, but also is suprisingly not that difficult.? The difficulty lies in their subtlety, in realizing the skills even exist. Thus having understood what it is you're aiming for, getting those skills "into your body" (or muscle memory) requires some time and persistent practice, but that's all. Having these skills enables a couple to move as one on the dance floor to a degree that far surpasses other more contrived systems of lead and follow (and there are many).? Thus investing by acquiescing to a certain interdependence with your partner actually liberates both leader and follower far beyond what they could otherwise experience.? Interdependence with ones partner and oneness with ones partner imply each other.? In this sense, perhaps paradoxically, interdependence thus enables true independence.? I've danced with some very talented dancers who simply never did "get it", who are otherwise fine dancers, but frustratingly it's like we are dancing "with one leg tied behind our back".? Conversely someone a lot less talented but who does "get it" can be a much, even an infinitely, better dancer--and more to the point, a lot more fun to dance with.? When you are privileged to witness both talent and proper technique coming together in a single person, and then watch two such people as a couple dancing, the result can be awesome.


My job as teacher is to (a) motivate you to practice, and (b) convince you that there is a reason to practice.? Getting these basic techniques is like watching water come to a boil.? You stand there for a long time, an eternity, not seeing much while the water heats up; but then inevitably, dramatically, the water begins bubbling and then it is boiling!? Point: the water, with the application of heat, is going to boil; it doesn't have to be talented water. The same is true with patiently practicing various exercises.? Seemingly not much is happening for a while, seemingly forever, but then with regular, patient, practice, you do have a breakthrough and it all comes together, makes sense, will have been worth it? a thousand bazillion times over!? You can dance, you can improvise, you don't need a bunch of (stinking, esoteric, prefabricated, contrived, artificial) rules and figures. It indeed is easy, obvious.? And that's the way dancing truly is; totally obscure until it's totally obvious, totally difficult until it's totally easy!? How could dancing be otherwise? In truth, if it's not easy, it's not dancing!? Learning to dance is a lot like learning to truly relax, or like attaining a genuine meditative state; it is easy, natural, (once you can do it) like falling off a log, but unfortunately not something a lot of people ever accomplish or experience.? To attain this we do exercises; we don't practice or memorize very many rules, nor memorize infinitely many figures.? The figures we do work on we "do 500 times, then forget".? As I'm fond of saying (and I'm fond of saying a lot), "There is very little in Argentine tango that is right or wrong; mainly there is just oriented or disoriented."


If I seem long winded, I am.? Please indulge me this one time. This is a critical, delicate, and often a "sticking point" issue for people.? Getting it right and then moving on is essential for future success and experiencing the experience of a lifetime.



Leader stands with feet apart sideways.? He shifts weight to his left as she back ochos onto her left.? At the same time he is twisting his chest--just his chest, not shoulders and arms--clockwise as she twists at the waist rotating her hips clockwise.? Repeat but with opposite direction and footwork: he shifts weight from his left to his right as she back ochos onto her right; as he does so he is twisting his chest counterclockwise as she likewise rotates her hip counterclockwise.?


Considerations: Her hips, although rotating in the same direction as his chest, rotate a lot more than does his chest.? The rotation of his chest simply creates a tension in their (weighted) frame which she feels and reacts to.? By twisting at the waist she keeps her chest toward him as much as possible.? He is leading her, not vice versa; remember the four phases of the lead discussed in previous dance notes.? Arching the upper back both horizontally and vertically ("like a kite"), and attempting simultaneously to straighten the lower back will help; we'll talk about posture soon.? Repeat above exercise except she does forward ochos.? Same principles apply.? The feeling in leading back ochos is that he is "pushing" with his chest, whereas in leading forward ochos, the feeling is as if he is "pulling" her to do the ocho.? You can grotesquely exaggerate the process in the exercise; in the dance it is subtle, relaxed, natural, and unobtrusive. Do this exercise using various frames: hands on hands; her hands against his chest; joined hands (her right, his left) with her left hand against his chest; and the "normal" frame of being connected in his upper right arm and her upper left arm on one side and joined hands on the other with his right hand on her shoulder blade and her left hand on his shoulder blade (approximately).? While doing this exercise, and after having gotten the gist of it, focus one at a time on the following as you do it: the connection and her balance, especially as she pivots and brushes thru; on her brushing thru; on the four phases of the lead/follow; bending and extending (esp the follower); and, finally, on what your partner is feeling each moment throughout the exercise.? Switch (leader, follower) roles and repeat above exercises.? If you don't have a partner, Followers: practice follower's role by leaning against a wall and doing ochos; imagine the lead and what leader would be doing and feeling; Leaders: do the above exercises as if you do have a partner, imagining everything she does, how it feels and looks to her, as you lead her.? And if that isn't enough, followers you can focus on him focusing on you, and leaders you can try to simultaneously see and feel what you're doing through her eyes and perspective.? It never gets boring.


In class we did the following:

We reviewed (in the "follow the leader" warmup) walking, ochos, box figure, with and without a partner.? To reiterate (see previous "notes"), carriage should be even; minimize your up and down movement, you can either skim your non supporting foot over the floor or even drag it somewhat, but, especially when brushing thru in an ocho, don't momentarily give it weight.?


Try tango-walking on a treadmill with a spotty mirror (or dirty window) where you can see you your reflection while you walk.? The idea is to stay even with a spot on the mirror, if you get my drift.? You'll quickly find you really have to flex your supporting leg and extend your non-supporting leg to accomplish this, that if you do it's relatively easy and that if you don't it's impossible.? Then turn around and do the same thing walking backward on the treadmill!?


Walk (or ocho, or grapevine) robotically, emphasizing the "brushthru and pivot (if any)", and the "extend and shift (as you straighten one leg and bend the other)".? It is important then to practice walking "fluidly" and not get stuck in "the robotic mode". Yet another walking exercise: planting one foot well in front of the other, merely shift forward and back from one foot to the other, bending and extending appropriately, and minimizing up and down movement.? The non-supporting foot should slide some with your forward or backward movement as you shift.? See previous notes on these exercises.? Repeat some of the other walking exercises mentioned in previous dance notes.


We introduced a figure, several actually, the first being the "sandwich":

The Sandwitch Figure





Side on L to left

Side on R to right

1 and

On R next to L



Side on L to left

Back 8 onto L


Touch R next to her L

Back 8 onto R


Take weight on R and sandwitch with L



Take weight on L, step away onto R



Hold but transfer weight across to L as she steps

Forward 8, stepping across onto R over joined feet, tapping or touching joined feet before doing so


Close R to L taking weight on R

Forward 8 onto L pausing and reversing direction during brush through (fake)

8, 9, 10, etc

"tango close"

"tango close" (or whatever)

Notes on sandwich: This description is just to remind you of what each partner does, not why or how they do it.? The leader is leading the follower, i.e. if the leader makes a "mistake" and varies from the above sequence the follower should do as the leader leads, not what she has memorized or what is notated above.? The counts are not necessarily to anything in the music but only indicate the sequence of events.? The leader's weight shift on count "6" is subtle, interesting, and something we mentioned but didn't emphasize in class.? The "tango close" is described in the first set of class notes under "the box".



Practice the above figure.? Integrate it with a walking sequence.? Try leading it "unpredictably" i.e. at a time and place where she doesn't expect it.? Like try alternately leading a "box", then a calesita, then just some back ochos, then a sandwich, then a sandwich with a calesita in any order. Did it work?? Were you able to lead/follow not knowing what's coming next?


You can also try leading a "mirror image" of what we taught and demonstrated in class by simply leading a side step and a back ocho and stopping her on that first back ocho instead of leading (and stopping on) the second back ocho.? We'll probably do this in the next class.? Just as a matter for future reference, virtually any figure we teach can be mirror imaged, reversed, or inversed, mirror imaged and inversed, etc., to yield at least three (or more) new figures, and often one of them will feel better, be easier and more fun than the original. So experiment!


Also, and this will be emphasized later on: it is a huge advantage, even necessary, to know intimately what your partner is doing.? We will have much more to say on this topic.? For now, on the above and subsequent figures we teach, learn and practice your partner's steps as well as your own.? Learn to "dance in your partner's shoes".


We played "the sandwich game" which is just a game--not tango per se--as a means of loosening up and realizing that tango can be very original, individual, and improvisational.? This exercise relates in a practical way to the figure just taught: "the sandwich".? In this figure, both the leader and follower have ample opportunity to embellish.? We showed some traditional embellishments, adornments, and things you can do.? They include, but are obviously not limited to: "in and outs", taps, little circles, big sweeping circles, boleos both in the air and on the ground (by either leader or follower), ganchos by leader or follower (whether led or "stolen"), "shoe shines", drags, stepping (usually by the leader) back and forth or in and out, and many other things.? Originality, and good and sometimes even questionable taste count, as does listening and responding to the music.??



Repeat the above sandwich exercise, except this time let both leader and follower offer embellishments (similar to in the "sandwich game"), the leader going into the sandwich and the follower coming out of the sandwich.?


We worked a little on the calesita.? In the normal course of the dance the follower is especially circumspect (particularly being aware of her own axis, balance, and "giving weight) during the "brush-thru" as this is usually when the leader will initiate the next lead.? It is like she is in "neutral", uncommitted, for a fraction of a second during which he can lead, and she is ready for,? virtually anything.? One of the things the leader can do is nothing in which case she does the same: nothing.? If for any reason he wants to emphasize that she do nothing--for instance he wants to take her off her axis but he wants her not to take a step, or maybe he just has a nervous follower who is prone to doing something--he can signal this by exerting a slight pressure upward against her back with his right hand.? In any event, this doing nothing is called a calesita (approximate translation: "merry-go-round").? Often the calesita is rotated, by the man backing around the woman's position but keeping her on her axis.? She does however offer him a little weight which he can decline or accept.? Two common ways to exit the calesita are (1) for the man to give the signal for her to not take a step (described above), taking her off her axis toward him and supporting her weight, then walking out to cruzada, or (2) similarly taking her off her axis toward himself but instead not giving aforementioned signal, thus she does step toward him, he then steps back on his left and ganchos with his right.? We will work on ganchos in a couple or three weeks. There are only a bazillion other ways to get out of a calesita. There is also a "standing" calesita where the leader merely pauses, usually half sandwiching her supporting foot with his right foot, which we will work on soon.? The calesita is useful in tight situations as a "holding pattern" waiting for space to open up on the dance floor, or for a "right" moment in the music.? The calesita can be done anytime the follower is taking weight on her right foot and can also be done when she steps on her left.? But traditionally it is done, and practically it usually works better, on her right.


Combine doing the calesita with doing the sandwich exercises (above).? The best and easiest way to do this is in the very first step of the sandwich sequence.? As she steps onto her right foot, take her into the calesita, then exit the calesita by leading her into a back ocho (onto her left foot) to continue the sandwich sequence.? As a variation, try leading a few back ochos before going into the calesita, initiating it when she steps into a back ocho onto her right foot, and then continuing as above completing the sandwich (e.g. (Her steps): side, back ocho L, back ocho R, Back ocho L, back ocho R, calesita, back ocho L, and then finish the sandwich sequence starting with the 3rd count as notated above.) .??

Continue putting on music and simply moving to it improvisationally.? You might consider limiting your improv vocabulary to just ochos, side steps and grapevine sequences, but whatever.? Continue to spend at least as much time with just this exercise as you do with all other exercises combined.? If you are just getting started doing tango exercises, I suggest that you start doing a very little bit, but religiously and every day, and then gradually building up timewise over a period of weeks.


We've had three weeks.? I'm very pleased and proud of the way people are dancing and learning to dance.? To offer some perspective, we are now in about the "Dick and Jane, See Spot Run" phase of learning to tango.? A lot of the more tedious aspects, e.g. "Learning how to walk" have been covered.? From here it starts to get more interesting. This is a time to be patient with oneself and to "stay the course".? It's also never too late to start practicing, if you aren't already.


Learning to execute choreographed figures with proper technique is an important tool and aspect of learning to tango, less so in actually doing it.? A parrot can have an impressive "vocabulary" but it is not really a vocabulary because it is not really speaking. It merely mimics. So it is, say, with a couple, highly trained in technique and movement, who choreograph and perform a "tango" on stage, having never done tango before in their young, vivacious, (oh, do I sense envy, hostility?) lives.? Maybe they even receive a standing ovation from the audience, and their performance lauded an "artistic achievement".? And maybe it is, requiring years of hard work.? But in my definition of what dance really is, it is not dance.? Call it "performance art", "theater", or whatever, but not dance as I see or define it. Dance is more subtle, more dimensional.? Dance grows in a person organically and over time, as much a process as an achievement.? There are fundamentally two aspects of dancing: first, knowing the syntax and vocabulary and, generically, how to use it; and second, knowing what it is you want to "say" and then "saying it". Being able to dance is less a technical achievement than a life achievement.? And as fun, satisfying, and spectacular as "performance art", gymnastics, or theater may be, dance is infinitely more so.? Dance is like reality, performance art a caricature.? And there are degrees.? As a parting shot, I do have a higher regard for perform an original choreography but who also actually know how to tango (improvisationally), and I have the highest regard for those rare few who genuinely perform tango improvisationally.

Among things that will be covered in class and/or notes next time: posture and exercises for good posture; and strategies to combat and even defeat two of the most common complaints of dancers (and people in general): sore feet, and lower back problems.

One other issue: There will not be a class on Monday, July 5.? Although a majority of us can make it that day, a large number of us cannot. Instead there'll be have a practice (or "practica") starting at the regular time of? 7:00 and going until whenever, about 9:15 or so.? I'll play tango music the first hour+ then tango music interspersed with waltz, swing, merengue, salsa, etc. This means that again this month I'll have only three classes.? I will be charging $50/person/month but with the usual rebates (there'll not be a rebate for the practice, although it is free).? Hence if you come to all the classes next month you end up paying $20 for the month again, which I maybe should feel a little bad about but I don't.? There'll still be months where it'll not cost you anything (months with five Mondays and no holidays), I think $20/month is not exorbitant, and I hope you think we're worth it.? Even with this large a class I don't make a lot, and what I do make will mostly be reinvested in the class in the form of new music, equipment, computer repair, etc.? If, however, for any reason you do have any problems with payment, please talk to me.? I'd much prefer your presence and continued participation and will bend over backwards to be accommodating.??


That's about it.? We may not have covered as much this week, but I think it was enough, and more thorough. I will continue to try to include in these notes comments I either didn't have time to make in class, or that need emphasis or explanation.? But please do not be afraid to ask questions in class.? I and the rest of the class need them. Thank you for reading.? Until next time,































































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