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Steps for the Social Dance Floor

This series of classes focuses on popular steps for use on the social dance floor. We have compiled a list of popular moves that we have seen used by some of the very best Argentine Tango Dancers. If you travel to Argentina and visit some of the milongas, you will see these moves being used by the Milongueros. Here are some of the criteria we used for putting together these steps:

  • They keep you moving in the line of dance without disrupting others.
  • They are musical and express the rhythm of Argentine Tango.
  • They are full of expression without being flashy or dangerous to others.
  • They feel great to the leaders and the followers.

While these moves are great for tight spaces and crowded dance floors, they also require a high degree of skill, balance and communication between partners.

Leading and Following

Cute video with Sharna Fabiano and her partner Isaac Oboka about the roles of leading and following.

My feeling is that the term follower is much to passive, because to follow well, one must be active and engaged.  I like to think of the follower as my partner in the dance, that I happen to be leading. She is actively accompanying me, while adding her own voice. but not interfering with the direction, general rhythm, and steps that I am proposing. But notice that I say, "proposing," that is because more experienced followers CAN, from time to time, heavily influence all three of those things. 

Milonga I The Basic Steps

Milonga has two meanings to tango dancers. A milonga is a tango dance party where tango dancers gather to dance with one another, as in "Let's go to the milonga and dance." It is also one of the 3 primary rhythms that tango dancers dance to: Tango (4/4 time), Vals (3/4 time) and Milonga (2/4 time).

The milonga rhythm derived from the habanera rhythm and is in 2/4 time and is generally danced faster than tango. For more on the History of the Milonga Rhythm go here.

We use many of the same steps in milonga that we do in tango, but there are also many steps which fit especially well into the milonga rhythm. This class introduces students to these basic steps of milonga.

The box step is a very basic pattern used in Milonga and we examine several variations of this step in the milonga rhythm.

Here are two very popular steps used in Milonga. The first is the zig zag step or  "the grapevine." The second is the pendulum step.

Traspie means "stumble" and this step gives the illusion of someone stumbling down the street.

Class Notes for The Structure of Tango: Part I

The Structure of Tango
Part I: Cross Steps and Open Steps

Click Here to Download PDF of Full Class Notes

Introduction: At the end of this class, you will find that no matter which foot you are on or what system (Parallel or Cross) you are in that you will always have at least 9 steps that you can execute.

In Tango classes, teachers often teach figures or patterns. These can be fun and give students something to do when dancing. I think of figures as sentences and all the figures that we do during a song as paragraphs. In this class, we are taking a step back and looking at each and every step we take as a word. And each of those steps will have a beginning, middle, and end. Our goal is to make every single step that we take in tango count.

There are 3 basic steps of tango: the Open Step, the Forward Cross, and the Back Cross.

A Cross Step is defined by the orientation of the man and woman to each other. Whenever a couple takes a step, if they both stop in the middle of their step and turn (pivot) so that their hips face one another and their legs are crossed (twisted) then they are taking a cross step. If their legs are not crossed then they are taking an open step.

Cross steps can move in only two directions forward and back, but Open steps can forward, side, and backwards. In fact, Open steps have a 180 degree range of movement.

At any moment in the dance, both the man and the woman have these 3 steps available to them and when you combine these possibilities in both Parallel and Cross Systems starting on either foot you end up with 36 possible steps.

Switching Roles: Women Leading & Men Following?

I think it can be very beneficial for leaders to learn to follow and followers to learn how to lead. Exposure to the other role is good for learning what the other person might expect from you. I think both come away with more of a respect for the other role. I don't think one role is necessarily easier or harder.. they both have unique challenges to them.

When leaders learn to follow, it makes them more aware of the necessity to be clear and decisive (but not pushy or forceful) in their movements as leaders. It also teaches them to be more patient and to give the women time to finish their steps.
 
I would be interested to hear what women learn about following by learning to lead. I know that some when I have talked to say that they did not realize how much women depend on men for their balance. They also learn that it feels very uncomfortable for leaders if the followers are guessing or fidgeting during the dance.
 
I am sure there are many more things that could be learned by switching roles.
 
Of course, there are other reasons for followers to learn to lead, other than becoming better followers. They might just want to learn to lead because they think they might enjoy it and we often have more women than men, so it would be a chance to dance more.

Intro to Barridas, Pasadas y Paradas

A Barrida (a sweep, a drag) is the dragging of a partner’s free leg during a Caminata (walk) or Giro (turn). During this series, we will examine the proper technique for leading and following both external and internal Barridas in both open and close embrace. During the class we will also look at Paradas (stops) and Pasadas (passovers). Barridas are also known as, Arrastre (sweep, sweeping) and Llevada (carried, carrying).

4 Parts of a Step
Each step that we take in tango consists of 4 separate parts. Imagine that your supporting leg is your right leg, meaning that your weight is completely on your right leg:

  1. We send our free leg (left) to find the floor where we are about to step
  2. We begin to transfer our weight to our new supporting leg (left)
  3. We finish transferring our weight to our new supporting leg (left)
  4. We collect our new free leg (right) next to our supporting leg (left).

Practice finding and feeling all 4 parts of a step by taking slow, deliberate side steps. Feel every moment of the step.

Barrida Technique
Barridas are largely about positioning. While walking or turning the leader wants to stop his embrace while the follower is between her steps, so that she is mid-stride with her legs apart. He then positions himself over his new supporting leg, without shifting his embrace which might cause her to complete her step. He then uses his free leg to find the leg he wants to sweep. He leads her to transfer her weight to her new supporting leg and sweeps her free leg. Once he has completed the barrida he should lead her to settle her weight over her new supporting leg and to collect.

Tips:

  • Triangles - We are often forming triangles when we do barridas. Notice in the video, if you look at the 12sec mark, when the the barrida is being initiated we could form a triangle by drawing a line from the mans left to the woman's left to the two left feet. Then when the barrida is executed the triangle would simply flip, seen at the 15sec mark.
  • The leader wants to find the forward part (toe area) of her free foot with the forward part of his foot. He does not want to go in too deep. See Image 1 below.
  • The leader starts with his free leg’s knee bent and straightens it during the barrida. His supporting leg should be bent slightly, so that he can be grounded and very well balanced during the barrida.
  • Once the barrida has been initiated, the follower wants to apply just a tiny amount of pressure against his foot, so that she can easily stay with him. This would include going up into the air with the feet.
  • Technically the barrida is usually an illusion. The leader is leading her to step and it only appears as if her foot is being dragged, but it is nice to have enough pressure so that the drag is felt.
  • The leader should turn to get the hip of his free leg close to the hip of her free leg. This should result in his supporting foot being parallel to her supporting foot. See Image 2 below.
Image 1
Image 2

Figure 1: Simple Sacada

  1. We start out this move with back crosses (ochos). When I lead her back cross to the open side of the embrace, I initiate a barrida with my right to her right.
  2. I then lead her to take weight on her right. My weight is still on my left and I don't collect.
  3. I lead her to take a forward cross step, passing over my right foot (pasada) as I take weight onto my right. We pivot to return to our neutral position.
  4. We could do an arrepentida to return to line of dance.

Figure 1: His and Her Sacadas

  1. We start out this move with back crosses (ochos). When I lead her back cross to the open side of the embrace, I initiate a barrida with my right to her right.
  2. I then lead her to take weight on her right, while I collect my feet around her right foot (mordida / bite).
  3. I leave her on her right while I switch weight to my left and then lead a back cross to the open side of the embrace (my left side and her right side) for both of us.
  4. As we complete our back crosses, I lead her to execute a barrida to my left with her right and switch weight to her right. In the video, notice the triangle we create at 1:19. Also, leaders need to adjust their left foot at the end of this step to give her more room for the next step.
  5. Now, I lead her to take a forward cross step over my left foot, as I pivot and take weight onto my left foot creating a sacada to her right foot.
  6. We pivot to our neutral position as I switch weight to my right so that we end in parallel system with me on my right and her on her left.

 

Part II:

In this second part, we look at paradas which are stops and happen whenever we stop our movement for any length of time and pasadas which happen whenever one partner has to step over (pass over) the other partner's foot or leg.

Figure 1: Basic Parada Sequence
We started by looking at a very basic parada sequence.

  1. The sequence begins from back crosses (ochos). When the leader leads the woman to a back cross to his right side he stops her (parada) mid-step and extends his right foot to find her left foot. He wants to put the forward part of his right foot to the forward part of her left foot, not going in very deep, just right at the toes. 19 sec of video
  2. He then takes weight on his right and steps around with his left to face her. His feet collect around her left foot creating a mordida (bite). Again, his left should not go in deep and the contact should only be at the forward part of the foot. 40 sec of video
  3. He then switches weight to his left and steps back and around with his right bringing her forward onto her left. At this point she should have her feet surrounding his left foot (mordida). Notice in the video that when I step back Shelley just comes straight forward onto her axis but no further and the I don't lean back, but rather keep my upper body over my hips while I settle my weight onto my back leg (right). 52 sec of video
  4. At this point, she is facing me so if I were to lead her to take a forward step she would have to walk into me, so I pivot her counter-clockwise. She is still on her left foot. Then I lead her to take a forward cross step over my left (pasada) and around me with her right as I take weight on my left. 54 sec of video
  5. Then I lead her to pivot and to take another forward cross as I return to my right. We are back in parallel system and can walk out.

Figure 2: Basic Parada Sequence with Barrida
This figure is the same as the one above only we add a barrida (sweep) at step 3. To accomplish this, at step 1, we must make sure that we stop her (parada) with her weight all the way back onto her right leg, so that her left is free to sweep.  1.30 mark in video. Then we step around with the left and sweep her left with our right. 2.07 mark in video.

Tips:

  • Triangles - We are often forming triangles when we do barridas. Notice in the video, if you look at the 2.38 mark, when the the barrida is being initiated and when it is completed.
  • The leader wants to find the forward part (toe area) of her free foot with the forward part of his foot. He does not want to go in too deep. See Image 1 below.
  • Once the barrida has been initiated, the follower wants to apply just a tiny amount of pressure against his foot, so that she can easily stay with him. She should also keep her foot on the floor and not to take it up into the air unless the leader takes his foot up in the air.
  • As the follower's foot is being swept, she should pivot on her supporting foot to keep her hips and upper body facing in the same direction as her foot that is being swept. 3.03 mark in video

Figure 3: Basic Parada to the Leader's Left with Barrida

This move uses a very similar technique as the other moves only we are starting with a parada to the leader's left (open side of the embrace). Then we are stepping more around her so that we can sweep her right foot to our right foot. 4.02 of video

 

Part III:

Figure 1:
Parada and Barrida from Follower's Forward Cross

Tips

  • At the 1.19 mark, the leader stays on his left foot while leading the follower to switch weight to her left at the cruzada.

Figure 2:
Forward Sacada to Forward Cross to Parada and Barrida

Tips

  • At the 1.47 mark, notice the proper barrida technique of finding the forward part of her foot with the forward part of your foot. Don't go too deep with the drag.
  • At the 1.54 mark, notice that as I rotate my chest that my left foot pivots with me to provide stability.

Figure 3:
Barrida to Colgada

This figure is for more advanced dancers who already know the proper technique for leading and following colgadas.

Sacadas I: Forward Sacadas

A Sacada (displacement) is when one dancer steps into the space that their partner just vacated. In this class, we will look at Internal and External Forward Sacadas for both men and women. We will also look at the difference between Low and High Sacadas.

4 Parts of a Step
Each step that we take in tango consists of 4 seperate parts. Imagine that your supporting leg is your right leg, meaning that your weight is completely on your right leg:

  1. We send our free leg (left) to find the floor where we are about to step
  2. We begin to transfer our weight to our new supporting leg (left)
  3. We finish transfering our weight to our new supporting leg (left)
  4. We collect our new free leg (right) next to our supporting leg (left).

Practice finding and feeling all 4 parts of a step by taking slow, deliberate side steps. Feel every moment of the step.

8 Parts of a Step
Now let's imagine that for leaders there are actually 8 parts to every step. Why? Because leaders must also lead the follower in all 4 parts of her step, while he is executing his step. This concept comes into play with many moves such as sacadas.

Practice with your partner, leading her to take a side step around you without you taking a step. Then lead her to take a side step while you take a side step with her, but stop in the middle of your step and then practice leading her in one direction while you go in another direction.

3 Basic Forward Sacadas
In the video, you will see that we show three basic forward sacadas. We can perform a forward sacada with either the right or left feet to the follower's side open step, forward cross step or back cross step.

Basic Sacada Technique
A sacada is a displacement, meaning that we are taking the place of our partner. We are entering the space that our partner has just vacated. To accomplish this, the leader leads the follower to take a step and as she is taking weight onto her new supporting leg, he steps in to the space she is leaving. He should step just inside of her free leg just after the moment that it becomes 100% free of weight. To resolve the step, he should take weight on the leg he executed the sacada with and both partners should return to face one another.

Tips for Good Sacadas:

  • Respect her axis - Do not step in the middle of her step or towards her new supporting leg, as this will disrupt her vertical axis and cause her to loose balance.
  • Don't kick her - Step inside of her step but not on her toes and do not worry about making contact with her leg. There should be little to no contact between the leader's and follower's legs. You are not pushing her leg out of the way, you are taking the space as it is leaves.
  • Hips - The hips should go straight in the direction that you are stepping. The upper body should turn towards her but the hips should go straight and then pivot after the step is complete. Also, when executing a forward sacada to her forward cross or back cross, get your hips positioned behind her hips to give yourself room to step around her. See picture below.
  • Protect the toes - For the women, take a look at the picture below and see how Shelley has the toe of her right foot pointed. She does not leave it on the floor flat to be possibly stepped on. When watching the video, watch how she lifts her toe the moment her leg becomes free.
  • Complete the step - Leaders, finish your step by taking weight on the foot that you performed the sacada with. Don't just stick the foot out and then pull it back. Finish the step by taking the space that she just left.

Figure 1:
Simple Sacada

  1. We start out with the weight on the leader's right and follower's left. We take a side open step for him and a side open step for her. The leader double times this step and switches weight to his right as she completes her side step. Now we are in cross system.
  2. He steps forward with his left as she steps back with her left.
  3. He steps forward with his right inside partner as she takes a back open step with her right. He then leads an arrepentida by bouncing her off her right foot as he rocks back to his left and leads her to take a side open step to the open side of the embrace (leader’s left).
  4. He returns to his right creating the sacada to her open side step. He pivots on his right foot approximately 180 degrees to come back in front of her. He is on his right and she is on her right.
  5. Steps 5 - 8 use our basic turn (giro) to the left to get back to line of dance.

 

Part II:

Exercises:

We start with an exercise by leading the woman in forward crosses (ochos). We want to take our time and lead them very slowly and deliberately.

Exercise 1: As she steps forward with her left foot and takes weight on her left, we extend our left foot as we lead her to pivot on her left. We pause momentarily creating a parada (stop) and then repeat on the other side.

Exercise 2: This is the same as the first exercise, except as she commits to her left foot we extend our left foot into her stride towards her right foot and repeat on the other side. So, when she steps onto her left, we are extending our left towards her left (the foot she is leaving). We are not committing to this step, we are only extending our leg/foot to find the correct placement and timing for our sacadas. We must practice so that we can comfortably lead her to take forward crosses while we extend our legs and remain balanced. All the tips below are things to look out for in this exercise.

Tips for Good Sacadas:

  • Respect her axis - Do not step in the middle of her step or towards her new supporting leg, as this will disrupt her vertical axis and cause her to loose balance.
  • Don't kick her - Step inside of her step but not on her toes and do not worry about making contact with her leg. There should be little to no contact between the leader's and follower's legs. You are not pushing her leg out of the way, you are taking the space as it is leaves.
  • Hips - The hips should go straight in the direction that you are stepping. The upper body should turn towards her but the hips should go straight and then pivot after the step is complete. Also, when executing a forward sacada to her forward cross or back cross, get your hips positioned behind her hips to give yourself room to step around her. See picture below.
  • Protect the toes - For the women, take a look at the picture below and see how Shelley has the toe of her right foot pointed. She does not leave it on the floor flat to be possibly stepped on. When watching the video, watch how she lifts her toe the moment her leg becomes free.
  • Complete the step - Leaders, finish your step by taking weight on the foot that you performed the sacada with. Don't just stick the foot out and then pull it back. Finish the step by taking the space that she just left.

Figure 1:
Simple Turn to the Leader's Left with Sacadas

  1. We start this turn on the leader's right and the follower's left. We lead the follower to change weight to her right and pivot 90 degrees forward. The leader stays on his right putting us into cross system.
  2. As we lead her to take a forward cross with her left, we step forward with our left creating a sacada and pivot to face her. The leader must pivot very quickly here to be ready for the next step.
  3. We then lead her to a side open step while stepping in with our right creating another sacada and pivoting to face her again.
  4. We are still in cross system at this point so we can exit to the cross system basic or back crosses.

Figure 2:
Simple Turn to the Leader's Right with Two Sacadas

  1. We start this by going to the basic cross in parallel system and the leader crosses his right foot behind his left as the woman crosses her left in front of her right. We then lead her to pivot counter-clockwise on her left and to step forward with her right, as the leader steps forward with his left creating a sacada.
  2. We then lead her to a side open step with her left and we step forward with our right creating another sacada. We pivot on our right to return to line of dance.
  3. The leader then switches weight to his left without leading her to switch weight and leads a back cross.

Figure 3:
Simple Turn to the Leader's Right with Three Sacadas

  1. We start this by going to the basic cross in parallel system and the leader crosses his right foot behind his left as the woman crosses her left in front of her right. We then lead her to pivot counter-clockwise on her left and to step forward with her right, as the leader steps forward with his left creating a sacada.
  2. We then lead her to a side open step with her left and we step forward with our right creating another sacada. We pivot on our right to return to line of dance.
  3. The leader then switches weight to his left and leads the follower to a back cross while he steps forward with his right creating a sacada to her free leg (left).

High and Low Sacadas
We also discussed the differences between high and low sacadas. A high sacada is when we displace her free leg above the knee and a low sacada is when the displacement happen below the knee. We always want to make contact either above or below the knee to avoid injury. Also, the contact that is made is very very light and should not be thought of as a push or kick. In fact, often there is no contact at all in low sacadas and a little more contact in high sacadas.

 

Part III:

Figure 1:
Forward Sacadas for Leader and Follower

Tips

  • At the 16 sec mark, leaders tuck their left leg behind their right leg. Don't worry about tucking too deeply. Your left knee should be sitting gently behind your right knee. You should be able to bend your knees slightly while in this position and easily switch weight between your feet without having to displace either of your legs.
  • At the 20 sec mark, I switch weight to my left and do a lápiz (pencil) with my right foot. A lápiz is an embellishment which is done with the leader's free foot and is usually a circular movement which looks like he is drawing a circle on the floor with the inside part of his foot. Lápiz can vary in size from being very tiny to very large. Lápiz are also sometimes called Rulos or Dibujo (drawing).
  • At the 25 sec mark, women should notice how quickly Shelley gets her back toe up off the ground as soon as she completes her forward step. This creates a nice line for her legs and protects her toes from being stepped on.
  • At the 42 sec mark, women should not be afraid to step forward. Often women hesitate when asked to step forward, but they should trust that the man knows what he is asking for and to step straight.