A Tutorial About Argentine Tango Dancing 


Chapter 24: Picking the lock (step)

Last updated, 10/04/01

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No Fault Tango Dancing

The one and only undisputed fact about the Tango, is that it began as a way to dance existing rhythms, and over a couple of decades, the music morphed into a distinctive rhythm to match the choreographic challenge of the early dancers. Time passes and people change, as the progress of civilization moves apparently forward. It is now about one hundred and thirty years since men and women began dancing what it would later become the Tango. Yet, Tango is still danced to Tango music, written and arranged for dancing.

The best Tango music for dancing is still the music of the nineteen thirties, forties and early fifties. In almost four decades of creativity by the most talented musicians of Argentina, there is enough variety and styling to make every average dance party a non stop hit parade of the best of the best. There is a reason for that: it takes a great pair of Tango dancers to dance Troilo, D'Arienzo, Tanturi, Di Sarli, Pugliese, Biagi, Calo, just to scratch the surface of the great orchestras of Tango.

We agreed from the beginning of our Tango experience to approach the dance from a no-fault-perspective. It saved us from pandering to each other with falsehoods such as, "If you made a mistake, it is because it is my fault," which results in grandstanding male cavalier attitudes, and a female failure to assume responsibilities for their part of the dance. The core structure of the dance requires specific skills and an understanding on how to use them. It is a process that can be learned. Contrary to what has become the latest fad among celebrity-teachers, who shamelessly affirm that they didn't learn to dance Tango from anybody, we owe our fundamental knowledge to a variety of teachers, but primarily to, Mingo Pugliese, who taught us how to think so we could dance and teach others to do the same.

Those who drill men and women separately until they memorize a pattern, are actually impairing the ability of dancers to learn how to dance Tango, the way those who know how to dance Tango dance: connecting, communicating, each contributing one hundred percent. They are also setting the stage for wasting time in glorifying mistakes and blame sharing, which in turn brings the unpleasant judgmental approach to the choices of partners.

If you run through the list of recognizable problems we mentioned earlier, it seems that the majority of things that go wrong have to do with the lady. They do. However it is not as if the object is to find fault, to highlight mistakes, and to enter into the blame game which people bring from their outside life.

There are no mistakes in Tango dancing because in the purest and truest definition of improvisation, there is no certainty as to what the next move will be, and therefore there can be no mistakes, because by definition a mistake is doing something wrong or contrary to what it is expected.

We propose then, that improvising a Tango requires a sophisticated and committed body language between the couple, where the responsibility for the results fall squarely on the man's role inasmuch as the captain sinks with his ship, and the car driver is the one charged with any moving violation.

Only one thing is certain when we dance: we are quite capable of knowing exactly where we are, and which axis each of us have our weight on. What comes next, is a change of axis in any anatomically possible direction which the man MUST execute as technically perfect as possible in order to MARK clearly the position where the lady will change her axis to. Yes, it takes two to Tango, and it is done one step at a time.
This has been the subject of every chapter in this series, and we believe in reinforcement for success: balance, clear axis changes, and total commitment to partner connection and understanding.

We have established previously that the Salida  is a component of a turn to the left, the degree of the curvature of the trajectory leading to the position where the lady's left leg crosses in front of her right, will dictate how she will position her feet in order to continue the flow of the dance without uncomfortable interruptions.

If the trajectory chosen by the man is pronounced in its curvature to his left, the crossing of the lady's left leg in front of her right leg will require a larger rotation of her grounded right hip to bring her weight change to her right by letting the leg cross in what appears to be a lateral motion (as it is the case of an ocho cortado).

More often than not, the trajectory of the salida will tend to be more of a straight displacement, especially when the dancers are not aware that the salida is a gentle giro to the left, and perhaps are working the Eight Count Basic without consideration of the alignment of their bodies.
Be that as it may, the end of the salida results in what is most commonly known as the cruzada, that is the lady's legs are crossed at the end of three back steps. Focusing on the crossing of the feet as a figure, adornment or step, leads to significant problems which affect dancers of all levels.

Some of the most recognizable problems are: the lady is leaning off balance against the man; her right foot flies immediately behind her pulling the man with her; the man rams the lady's legs into a frenzy by rushing in and out of the cruzada; the lady takes an agonizing amount of time to go into the cruzada, sometimes dragging her feet heavily against the floor while leaning on the man for balance; the lady brings her left shoe to the cross ahead of time and with a significant amount of power; the man rushes his steps so he is literally on top of her feet making it anatomically impossible for her to cross her feet.

Legs cross, feet lock

Let's look at the lady's natural sequence while the couple does a salida simple advancing into the line of dance. 
Let's assume that the last chapter made it clear that the dancers don't line up in front of each in the line of dance. Rather, the man always places the lady slightly outside of him, closer to the outer edge of the floor, while he stands with his back mostly facing the center of the floor. Referring to the video clip illustrated below, observe the yellow lines parallel to the far wall, and consider them to be invisible lanes in the general direction of the line of dance. The red lines indicate the relative orientation of the dancers' bodies with regards to the line of dance. This should make it obvious that the correct way to move around the floor, is by progressing gradually on a gentle turn to the left, and if the salida is repeated constantly, the couple will go around the floor, without falling into the center, or randomly changing lanes in the line of dance.
Frame 1
Frame 2
Frame 3
Frame 4

In Frame 1, the man has begun moving to his left by dropping into an inner lane. Assuming that his axis was on his right, he does a natural opening with his left leg, creating a mark for the lady to open naturally to her right (or as it should looked from the point of view of the lady: to the man's left). The axis for both dancers has now changed to the other leg.

In Frame 2, because his axis is on his left side, the man continues moving to his left by crossing his right leg. The lane which he chooses to land his foot on, is totally his decision. It is a navigational choice whether he chooses to move relatively straight in the direction of the line of dance (he stays as in this case, on the same lane), or whether he wants to move up a lane and move to the outer side of the floor. Regardless, the crossing of the man's right leg into his left, marks a cross behind of the lady's left leg, so she also move in the direction of the man's left.

In Frame 3, he uses his left leg to open naturally to his left. In the example, he has decided to stay on the same lane, thus keeping a straight trajectory along the line of dance. Had he wanted to veer sharply to his left, he would have gone down as many lanes as required by the radius of the turn (turning at the corner of the dance floor could be such a case). Conversely, had he wanted to shift towards the outer edge of the dance floor, he would move up the lanes. In any case, the placement of the man's opening step, marks where the lady's opening should occur. This is perhaps one of the most convoluted puzzles for the Eigth Count Basic Lead and Follow practitioners, because following the memorized pattern, many times the lady will actually cross her right leg behind forcing her weight to her left. Since he is marking her weight change to her right, suddenly she is hanging at an angle because her feet are in one direction and her upper body is asked to go into another. Little may she realize that the reason she does not fall, is because all her weight is resting heavily on the man. Trouble ensues, and the connection begins to dislocate.
In Frame 4, the man brings his right leg to a close, shifting his axis. Up to here, the man has been slightly ahead to the right of the lady, so the closing allows her to complete her natural sequence, that is, a cross of her left leg in front, which brings her right back in front of him, as they were when the sequence started. Since in this particular trajectory her left leg is moving back, the crossing of the leg is produced by a slight turn to the left of her right hip. The tip of her shoes point to the man. Both feet are together because the legs are crossed virtually on the same axis. The lady's legs are "locked" in place. This is what technically is called the Lock position where her legs are cruzadas left in front of right. Her weight must transfer to her left leg to be ready to continue.

Notice that all along, they have moved along different lanes. The lady on a outer lane, and the man on an inner lane. This is what makes possible a flawless and comfortable alignment, and it sets the starting point for a change of direction to the right of the man.
Although very few make an efficient use of the salida, there is no reason not to repeat the entire sequence again from the Frame 4 position.
This in itself is quality dancing, and it beats the overstated cliche about "walking" being just for beginners.

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