Argentine Tango Dancing

Lesson Two

Music

In the early years of tango's popularity in Argentina bands played with a very clear, unvarying beat. You can dance to this kind of music with only la Caminata, the Tango Walk. By the 1940's, the "Golden Age" of tango when the music and dance were very popular in Argentina, bands were playing in more complex ways.

For instance, musicians might mark the beginning and ending of sections of music by changing loudness or tempo. You could respond to this in several ways. One is by using basic patterns that convey the feeling of a beginning or ending.

The Salida

A pattern that indicates a beginning is called a Salida. Literally translated as "exit," in tango dancing it means "the way out (onto the dance floor)." The most-often used Salida is a U-shaped pattern with two parts.
 
Begin in the neutral position (feet close together) with your weight on BOTH feet. In tango you can start a new step pattern with either foot in any direction. Your weight on both feet prepares you to do that. 

The first part of the Salida is the Backward Single-Step Walk: a single step against the line of dance. If you're a woman, step forward with your left foot. If you're a man, step backward with your right foot. Then -- as usual with any step pattern -- "follow through" with your free foot (the woman's right, the man's left) by bringing it up beside your other foot. Don't put any weight on your free foot. 

The second part is the L-Shaped Two-Step Walk. If you're a woman, step sideways with your right foot, bring your left foot near the right and step backward onto your left. If you're a man, step sideways with your left foot, bring your right foot near the left and step forward onto your right. Follow through with your free foot by bringing it near your supporting foot. 

la Salida (the Beginning)
Woman's
Man's
 

The Tango Close

After the Salida you can do other patterns, few or many. Then when the music suggests it, complete the complex pattern you've been making with an ending pattern.
 
The most-used is a three-step pattern called el Resolucíon (the Resolution). It's also called the Tango Close because it's very similar to the Tango Close of the American tango. 

If you're a woman, step backward onto your right foot, bring your left foot near your right and step sideways to your left, then bring your right foot near your left to end with your weight on both feet.  

If you're a man, step forward with your left foot, bring your right foot near your left and step sideways to your right, then bring your left foot near your right to end with your weight on both feet. 

Ending with your weight on BOTH feet is very important. It prepares you to begin the next complex pattern with either foot in any direction. 

el Resolucíon  (the Tango Close)
Woman's
Man's
 

Practice and Variations

Now you must practice these patterns. Do the U-Shaped Salida, stopping briefly in the neutral position after the Backward step and after the L-shaped walk. This will help you to remember that they are two separate patterns and to get them firmly in your mind. Then do the Tango close and stop again. Now repeat this several times without the stop inside the Salida. Then repeat a few more times with a pause only after the Tango Close. Remember to begin and end with your weight on both feet.

Now do the pattern several times with no pauses at all. You will begin to come near the edges of the dance area and other obstacles, so you'll have to begin curving your path to avoid these obstacles. You can do this by pivoting to the left or the right. You can pivot before or after any step (or before AND after).

Try this example. Pivot 45 degrees (an eighth of a turn) to the left (counterclockwise) before the first step of the Tango Close and another 45 degrees leftward after it, then do the last two steps of the Tango Close. This will turn you a total of 90 degrees, which is useful when you (for instance) come to a square corner of a dance floor.

Experiment by doing your pivots at various places in the Salida and Tango Close, and with varying amounts of turn. You'll probably find that pivots of greater than an eighth of a turn are more difficult and require extra effort to keep a good connection with your partner. Don't let this keep your from trying greater turns, but be ready to work a little harder to do them well.

More Variations

Besides pivots, you can make variations of complex dance patterns by adding and subtracting basic patterns. For instance, when you begin dancing to a new piece of music, you will usually want to delete the Backward Single Step of the U-Shaped Salida. This is because other people may already be dancing on the floor and not have noticed that you've just arrived there. If you step back against the line of dance you increase the chances that you'll bump into someone.

Also try deleting the L-shaped walk, so that you do just the Back step and the Tango Close. Pivot 45 degrees leftward after the Back step, and another 45 degrees leftward as you begin the first step of the Tango Close. This will turn you 90 degrees, making a U-shaped box pattern. This pattern is useful for turning corners. Or you can do more U-Shaped Boxes to make greater turns.

You can also make variations of complex patterns by adding basic patterns to them. In particular, between the Salida and the Tango Close you can add Two-Step Walks, and in any number and order since they all begin and end on the same foot. This includes the L-Shaped Walk as well as the Stroll, Cadence-Counting, Chase, and Rock steps you learned in Lesson One.
 

The Dangerous Back Step

It's dangerous for the leader to step backward, especially against the line of dance. There are several ways to handle this danger. One is to be especially alert when the leader is doing a back step and wait if that might cause a collision. This applies to you if you are a woman as well as to men. Following is not a passive activity and if you see that the leader is about to back into someone or something you should resist. Smart leaders will appreciate the help.

You can sometimes do away with the Back Step in the Salida but not totally; it's too widely used. Also it's useful because it helps make complex patterns fit into smaller space, a tactic needed on a crowded dance floor. It's customary (as you know) to delete it entirely when you start dancing to a new musical selection. You may also delete it by converting it to a Forward Single-Step Walk, the woman stepping back with her left foot, the man stepping forward with his right. Practice this now, alternating beginning the Salida with the Forward and with the Back Step.

Another way to handle the Back Step is to begin with the man facing back along the line of dance. This way the Back Step moves the two of you along the line of dance, which is usually safer than moving against the LOD.  It also helps the leader see the other couples coming (though you must still be alert to ensure no one has stopped behind the leader after passing him).

Try this: pivot an eighth turn (45 degrees) to the left (counterclockwise). If you're a woman, step forward with your left foot (moving you at a diagonal toward the floor center) and pivot left another eighth turn. If you're a man, step backward with your right foot (moving you at a diagonal toward the floor center) and pivot left another eighth turn.  You've now turned 90 degrees counterclockwise, so the next step of the Salida is sideways along the line of dance. Finish by pivoting another eighth turn before and after the last step of the Salida. This will turn you another 90 degrees so that the man is facing along the LOD.

Style

With the few simple step patterns you've learned so far and all the ways to combine and vary them you know enough to impress onlookers as knowing many different complex patterns. But you won't look good if you dance in a poor tango style, or in the style of another dance -- say, the polka or the jitterbug!

In the previous lesson, you learned to step on the balls of your feet when dancing tango. You should also keep your knees and feet closer together than in other dances. This will make your stance less stable, which has two side effects. It forces you to become more sure-footed and better balanced. And it makes it easier for you to begin a step and to change directions while taking a step.

There are exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles and habits behind sure-footedness. Here are two, and you can probably invent more: Rise up on your toes a bit then lower your weight back onto your feet. You can do this waiting in line and no one will notice if the rise and fall is slight enough.

If you're in a situation where you can do something a little more obvious, stand on one foot and cross your free foot in front of the other so that the outside edges of your feet touch, then change your weight from the supporting foot to the free foot. Let your new free foot and leg swing around behind your supporting foot into the neutral position. Now repeat this cross-stepping action with your other foot so that you're doing an odd sort of marching in place. Do all this slowly at first then faster as practice makes it easier.

Now practice your tango walk, trying to step on the front of your feet but focusing more upon keeping your knees and feet close together. Brush your knees and ankles together as they pass near each other. Walk backward as well as forward, in circles as well as straight lines. Think of yourself as strong, graceful, and beautiful as the great jungle cat you most admire.

Leading and Following

The style exercises you've just learned exagerate the closeness of your knees and ankles to quickly engrain in you this part of tango style. But when dancing your feet should have some separation. This helps in leading and following, because it makes clearer the leader's shift of weight from one foot to the other before taking a step. This lets the follower know when to take a step and with which foot.

For similar reasons when you're leading a dance, let your upper body sway forward or backward before you step forward or backward. Then (at the same time or slightly later) move your leg forward or backward to take a step. This is the way you normally walk, of course, so it shouldn't be difficult. But it needs to be mentioned because you might have come to tango from another discipline where you move your feet before you move your body. In this case, you may have to work a bit harder than most on this aspect of leading and following.

Slow Steps and Pauses

The bass line of tango music usually supplies a steady and obvious beat. To this you would normally dance with a SLOW SLOW rhythm. But some selections are played in a more sophisticated way. Perhaps the melody line or the singing will overpower the bass line, and have a different rhythm. It may give a feeling of slowing, or even stopping. So if you're leading, you may choose to slow or stop for a few beats of music.

You shouldn't have any trouble doing this, since you often slow or stop when you are simply walking. But it may take a bit of practice to do it in response to the music, so put on selections that have this: almost any tango music recorded in the 1940s or later. You will probably find that it feels more natural to slow down on side steps rather than forward or backward steps, and to stop when your feet are together after a Chase or a Tango Close. But try other possibilities as well.

Pauses are an important part of the Argentine tango. Tango is not just an athletic but also an emotional and social activity. The slower movement and the pause give you time to glance or gaze at your partner and let your face express real or play emotion -- tenderness, anger, passion, sadness, contentment, or anything else. This includes silliness if that's the way you feel! Tango doesn't have to be somber.

At a stop you can also do a decoration such as a Zarandeo (Shake). Twist your upper body slightly to your left using your spine as an axis, twist it to the right slightly, then end by returning to the straight-ahead position. You can do a Shake slow or fast, gently or energetically. You can do more than one Shake in a row.

Here is where a woman could improvise. As you feel your partner begin a Zarandeo lift your free leg straight back from your knee (keeping your knees together) so that the Shake waves your lower leg back and forth. (Look behind first to ensure you won't kick someone!)

Dancing

As explained near the end of Lesson One, you must not only study theory and practice technique, but also dance -- even if you only do it at home, even if you do it alone. Now this lesson is done. Relax and forget it for a time, letting it settle into your long-term memory. And get out on the dance floor and let the music take you away.
 
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Lesson One <== ==> Lesson Three
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copyright ©1997 by Larry E. Carroll
 
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