tango with Flavio

Some Tango Technique

You will find below some notes on tango technique. They are not intended as a course but can be viewed as a supplement to Flavio’s classes. This is very much work in progress and will be frequently updated and expanded.

Some basic principles

Leader and follower

In the dance, there is a leader and a follower. Usually, men take the role of leaders and women of followers. However, that is not a necessity! Experiencing both roles is useful to become a better dancer.
The follower should not try to interpret or guess or even worse anticipate what the next move will be, the follower needs to follow the current lead, full stop. For example, if the leader starts to lead the beginning of an ocho, he will not necessarily finish the ocho, he could introduce another move instead. So after the forward step, do the pivot only if it is led, the same for the following forward. After any step, the follower should close feet (unless leaded otherwise) and not change weight (unless again leaded...) and wait for the leader to lead the next step. Trying to guess the next step is the worst thing a follower can do! In fact the follower should not think about steps at all while dancing. The follower should only think about going forward, backward or side using their free leg.

Weight of the body

Before starting a step, the weight of the body is on one foot only, therefore if the leader is leading in one direction, then there is never any ambiguity, it is only the free foot which can move in that direction. That is the principle which allows the Tango to work, therefore it is very important for the leaders to control properly the weight of the followers and for the followers not to change weight by themselves! (Specially after a front boleo where newcomers tend to change weight by themselves!) Let us phrase it differently: for the follower, unless there is a clear change of weight being led, it is always the arriving leg which will extend to do the next step. Got that? No, read it again then!

Balance

Both partners need their own balance. The leader is NOT a support for the follower!! Balance is not a gift but a skill and can easily be improved with some exercises (like standing on one leg and moving the free leg in the air in different positions; doing ochos without support..). The only steps I am aware of where the follower is off balance and needs full support are the colgada and volcada.

Music

It’s obvious but Tango is danced on Tango music!! Such music has a distinctive rhythm and sharp phrasing that is used in the dance.

Position

Knees relaxed, weight of the body above the ball of your feet, hips slightly backward, head up, chest and shoulders open.

The embrace

The right arm of the leader should go all the way on the back of the follower up to the right side of the follower, below her/his armpit. The couple is in a V shape. The posture is open to the left of the leader and closed on his right. This V shape is responsible for the “natural” cross of the follower on step 5 of the basic step.
This embrace is dynamic, it is not possible to keep it all the time; it would limit too much the dance. So, for many steps (ochos, sacadas..), it is necessary to relax this embrace: the leader slides his right arm along an horizontal line on the back of the follower, from the right side to the left side of the follower. As soon as the close embrace can be resumed, it should be done.
The left arm of the follower should go on the top of the right arm of the leader, hand on the neck. The follower should not exercise any pressure with his/her left hand, and should not resist an opening of the hold. When a relaxing of the hold is necessary, the follower should slide her arm along the arm of the leader, up to the leader’s elbow.

Extend & transfer

Extend and Transfer is a very very important part of Tango. That is the way you move in tango. It is what makes tango look nice. It needs to be practised, practised and practised.
It goes this way:
First, you extend your leg (the shoe sliding on the floor), the upper part of the body does not move. When the extended leg is fully straight,
Then you transfer your weight to this leg whose knee will now relax in order to keep a constant height (no bouncing, the head level should not change). When you transfer, the upper body now moves in a translation. To transfer, it is nice to add an extra nudge in order to slide a few extra inches.
It takes a good deal of practice to master this technique, and it is a good idea to start every session of tango (I will even say every day…) practising it.
You can bend the knees almost as much as you want as long as you still straight completely the extending leg and as long as you are not bouncing!
It should be noted that this way of walking is very different from the way of walking in our usual life... Indeed, usually, when we transfer the weight in the walk, we straighten the leg... here we do the reverse..
Try to do as big steps as possible, it is so much nicer and allow many more figures and variations. And as Paola, a friend of us put it nicely after her return from Buenos Aires: “The legs of the good dancers look much longer than they actually are. Giselle (Anne) is shorter than me but her legs look twice the length when she dances”.

Dissociation at the waist

In tango it is necessary to dissociate the part of the body above the waist, and the part below. In another words, the legs have their own life, and that is an important characteristic of Tango.

Rhythm & accent

A typical tango rhythm is x.x.xxx.(x) i.e 1,2,3&4,1…
You can use such a rhythm in your dance, for example in the basic 8, you can put 3&4 on steps 3,4,5. Notice as well that this basic rhythm can be easily mapped to giros…
The first beat is a strong beat, it looks much nicer if it is reflected in your dance.
The phrasing of tango music is sharp, it looks nice if you extend sharply as well.

Some basic steps

Ochos

Like all other steps of Tango, ochos need to be done with the extend & transfer technique, and must be long enough, otherwise no variations on it are possible and then ochos become the most widespread boring figure… Doing nice ochos is not easy, that is an exercise which should be practised a lot! (By followers and leaders…) Very good exercise to practise balance as well… And to also practise dissociation at the waist, you can do some ochos arms extended along a wall... Ochos are in fact forward (or backward) steps with a change of direction... But remember that on the dance floor, ochos are fully led..

Giro

Giros are extremely common, they happen every time the follower is turning around the leader (which mean very often! and any other step may be seen as preventing the giro from happening... exple: if the leader step aside while the follower do, it prevents the follower from going around the leader...) So Giro need to become a second nature…
forward step, pivot hips 180 degrees and side step, pivot hips 180 degrees and backward step (this step is often badly executed and the pivot and backward replaced by a side cross of the backward leg... avoid that at any cost!), side step and we are back again to the forward step, etc…
(Whatever the direction, clockwise or anti-clockwise, you always use the interior leg of the turn for the forward step.)
The steps need to be quite even, and form a square. It takes 3 beats in Tango, (the side and forward in one beat since there is no pivot)(4 in Milonga, the tempo is too fast to perform the side step and forward in a single beat) to complete a full turn.

Basic 8

The basic 8 is often used to teach Tango. It is just a basic framework to show some possibilities. It is more a pedagogic tool than anything else. The positions at the different steps are often referred to to teach new moves. It is not rare to hear things like Lets’ start this step in position 5 for example.
Alls steps (as always) start and finish in position 0, which means feet closed.

  1. Leader goes backward with the right foot
    Follower goes forward with the left foot
    Follower’s and leader’s feet are aligned.
  2. Leader goes on the left side with the left foot
    Follower goes on the right side with the right foot
    Note: The leader should overtake slightly the follower, so that he/she finishes with the follower a bit on his right side in order to prepare for the next step.
  3. Leader goes forward with the right foot
    Follower goes backward with the left foot
    Note: The leader steps on the right side of the follower.
  4. Leader goes forward with the left foot.
    Follower goes backward with the right foot and crosses the left foot in front of the right foot. (This cross is not led but is the result of going backward with the V shape)
  5. Leader changes weight from left foot to right foot.
    Follower changes weight from right foot to left foot (still in the crossed position).
  6. Leader goes diagonal forward with left foot.
    Follower goes diagonal backward with right foot.
  7. Leader goes on the right side with right foot.
    Follower goes on the left side with left foot.
  8. Leader changes weight from right foot to left foot. Follower changes weight from left foot to right foot.