A Tutorial About Argentine Tango Dancing 


Chapter 6: Once Upon a Tango

Last updated, 5/13/00

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A major transformation in the way Tango is danced began to take place in the late 1930s and continued well into the 1950s. It was a natural consequence of the changes that the music itself had undergone since the decade of the 1920s. Under the premise that Tango is also music, a new generation of musicians led by Juan Carlos Cobian, Osvaldo Fresedo and Julio De Caro set the stage for the Tango romanza, a style of interpretation rich in melody and sophisticated arrangements that attracted musicians with a higher level of skills. The popular allegiances were forever torn between the so called traditionalists, fanatics of the 2x4 beat, and those who introduced the 4x8 and the 4x4 rhythms.

Turning a Deaf Ear

For a long period, the dancers rejected the newer Tango and continued to march at the beat of 2x4 while the music sounded different. In this early style of Tango dancing, the role of the woman was secondary to the competitive display of skills and bravura of the men.

As times were changing, so was the social structure of the city. Dancing had spread to the neighborhoods social clubs and more and more decent young women were allowed and accepted to participate at these weekly bailes. Once thing that was becoming obvious to the younger generation of male dancers, was that seasoned veterans seemed to be dancing to the beat of a different drummer. By the late 1930s the influence of the De Caro school was overwhelming with musicians and listeners alike. For years, before the talkies changed the film industry forever, the likes of De Caro, Maffia, Vardaro and Pugliese, had been playing at just about every movie theater in town. Their sound, the sound of the new Tango had become familiar to thousands of middle class families, who alternated between the movies and the social clubs in search of entertainment.

A commonly accepted story talks about a group of dancers who began to experiment with new concepts for Tango dancing, trying to match the sounds and rhythms of the most popular orchestras. Carlos Alberto Estevez, who became known by his nickname, Petroleo (nothing to do with the black gold but with the dark color of the beverages he liked to indulge in), is credited as being one of the leading brains behind a totally new concept of Tango dancing that involved the full participation of the women on a 50-50 basis.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

The essence of the emerging style was based on creating figures for the women to move around the men, and for the men to move around the women, using circular patterns that required changes of front and a whole new set of body positions. The women loved it. The women loved the men who could do giros and enrosques. The men who knew how to do giros and enrosques got the attention of the women. Sometimes they also got beat up by the locals at clubs where they used to go to impress the women with their dancing skills.

Eventually, rather than fight, dancers from all over the city began to keep an eye on these guys, and gradually they began to incorporate their own spice into the new luscious recipe. That is why people from different neighborhoods developed a recognizable style of dancing, which was different in the shell but rooted in the same principles developed and perfected by names like Petroleo, El Negro Lavandina, Tarila, Kalisei, Toto, Mingo, and many others. What was important about all these and others innovators, is that they realized the importance of the woman's role in Tango dancing. They also recognized their intellectual capabilities and their capacity to understand the structure of the dance and appreciate the necessary technical skills to perform it at its best.

Don't Let Your Daughter Grow up to be a Follower

A giro is the technical name of a Tango figure executed over a circular trajectory that involves changes of front. Master Mingo Pugliese is one of the leading authorities on giros and he has been quoted as saying that the whole concept of Tango dancing is embodied in an eight count giro. Those who have had the privilege of studying under Mingo can easily understand why. We will attempt to delve into the fascinating world of the eight count giro, its structure, its execution, the mark and response and the freedom that its knowledge affords the Tango dancer.

The Anatomy of a Giro

Although an eight count giro can be entered and exited at any of the eight positions, from a woman's perspective, a complete giro to her right begins with her right leg stepping forward (Figure 1). The next movement requires that she pivots to the right over her right foot while passing the left foot in one swift motion stepping to the side so she now is firmly grounded in an open position with her weight in the middle evenly distributed on both legs (Figure 2). Next, on the mark, she transfers her weight to her left foot, collects her right foot and keeping both feet together she pivots to the right on her left foot (Figure 3). Finally, on the mark, she steps back with her right foot planting her metatarsus firmly behind and placing her weight in the middle again (Figure 4). On the mark, she brings her right heel down, collects the left foot and steps to the side into an open position again. To continue circling around the man, she now repeats the previous sequence, right foot forward with a pivot, left open to the side, right together, pivot to the right on her left foot, right foot back, collect with left and open to the side.
1.- She opens forward
with her right foot
2.- She pivots on right foot and opens left foot to the side 3.- She pivots on left foot with legs closed 4.- She opens backward with her right foot

If you recall last month description of the change of front, the giro completo is a version of the change of front on a circular path, a side step and another change of front (forward-side-back) following the circle.

To do a giro completo to the left, always from the woman's perspective, the procedure is similar but the leg sequence is opposite. First she starts with a forward step with her left (Figure 5), then she passes the right and opens to the side (Figure 6), she collects the left and pivots over right to the left, she steps back with left (Figure 7), she collects right and she opens to the side.

5.- She opens forward
with her left foot
6.- She pivots on left foot
and opens right foot to the side
7.- She opens backward with
her left foot

Successful execution of giros requires that the dancer carries her body along with the legs to insure the proper mix of balance and centrifugal force that is generated at the pivoting points. In a real dancing situation, the man must understand the structure of a giro, he must recognize the various body alignments and above all he must absolutely lean how to mark every step of the giro according to the particular figure or pattern he desires to execute. For the ladies to recognize a mark and respond with eloquence, it is important to work very hard in achieving positive and smooth body weight transfer, upper body alignment and a sense of balance.

Easier Said Than Done

Incorporating the concepts of giros can really enhance anybody's dancing, however it is important not to forget the fundamentals. Since the motion tends to be in a circular pattern, it is very easy to forget about posture, body positioning, and correct weight transfer. Conceptually, we can try to break down each movement of a giro into its basic components for the ladies.

One of the most common position where a giro can begin is at the cruzada. Hopefully you have been marked the cruzada correctly so you have moved into a space created by your partner. As you come out of the cruzada, you will walk forward into that space with your right foot, placing it firmly on the floor, elongating your left leg enough for the heel to come off the ground allowing your body to shift to the middle of the step. Without breaking a stride, you will bring your weight entirely on the forward foot flexing the knee and you will rotate your upper body to the right in order to provoke a spin on your right foot. The trailing left leg should now close naturally until the body has completed the turn and it will continue to move in a side direction to place your body in an open position, both heels on the ground, body weight in the center.

Next, you should transfer your weight to the left foot without twisting your upper body in anticipation of the next move. You will then close with your right foot and only then open your upper body in order to produce a spin to the right on your left foot. Once that the rotation has ended (this is marked by your partner, but more on that next time, this is your understanding of the movements), you will step back with your right foot opening your legs, planting the right metatarsus firmly on the floor without falling on your heel. Your body weight should shift slightly to be in the center of the open legs. The next move that should be marked is a body weight shift so your right heel goes down, your left foot closes and then opens to the left for another open position. If you are used to dancing on your toes, you should take extreme care to insure that in the open position both heels go the floor so your body can be firmly balanced vertically and not leaning forward (read falling on or hanging from your partner).

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