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Simple Steps to Tango! (The Body Dance)

by Kristine & Bruce Nelson

Origin: Originally a solo dance of Gypsy rhythms of Andalusia in Spain, the dance style was imported into Argentina where the Gauchos began to influence the style (“the dance with a stop”). It has developed many flavors -- “habanera” or sultry, smooth Argentine style, American tango (phase 3/4), and the staccato of the International (or English) style (phase 4/6). It has been called an arrogant dance. It’s definitely a dance for the MEN.

Rhythm: (Timing is 2/4 or 4/4) The basic rhythm is Slow, -, Slow, -; Quick, Quick, Slow, -; (SS QQS -- in two measures). Some figures are danced with 2 slows or 4 quicks. Many figures are done in QQS rhythm such as whisk, telemark, reverse turn, etc. Frequently a figure will cross over measures -- beginning on the last slow of the previous measure or ending on the first part of the next measure. The tempo is about 33 measures per minute.

Dance Position: Closed dance position is similar to the other smooth dances but is more compact and with a more rounded hold of the partner. The lady is more to the man’s right side. The man’s right hand is further around the woman’s body, being careful not to come forward with the right shoulder. The joined man’s left and woman’s right hands are held similar to standard closed position but are lower and closer to the bodies than in waltz or foxtrot. Because of the compact hold, slight movements by the man are amplified by the lady.

Stance: The body is lowered into a relaxed stance with soft but firm knees, and both dancers maintain strength and control in the legs. The upper bodies are erect to help create a tall look but still in a lowered stance. In International or American style, the lady places her left arm over and around the man’s right arm and uses the back side of her flat hand between the index finger and thumb to connect with the under side of the man’s arm near his armpit (not in). From closed position, dancers slightly veer their lower bodies to the left which tends to tuck the right knee slightly behind the left knee so that the ball of the right foot is about even with the instep of the left foot but slightly apart. Tango has a wider base than other dances because body weight is centered between the feet.

Movement: All forward steps are heel leads; steps back are ball then heel; closing steps are flat whole foot; side steps are on the inside edge of the foot. Each foot is picked up and placed deliberately. While maintaining good balance, the free foot is placed to the side, forward, or back, with the body moving quickly to take weight. There is the feeling of a quick, strong, controlled push or drive from the weighted foot to the free foot followed by a pause or stop. Forward or backward or turning steps are accomplished utilizing contra body movement. The body is never outside of the feet. Tango figures have no flight, no rise and fall, no sway (including all turns and picture figures).

Leading & Following: As in many rhythms, the man’s role is to display the woman and direct her actions. The woman’s role is to respond to the man’s directions and to add flair and flavor to the dance actions. To really experience tango it is absolutely necessary for the man to lead and the woman to respond to his lead. The tango dance position facilitates this by use of a more compact, secure, controlling hold. The man’s body movement, amplified by the woman, defines position (closed, promenade, etc.), direction (forward, back, side), rotation, head position (open, closed), and speed. The man must be firm and clear in his directions, his lead. The woman must be responsive and light. It definitely takes a partnership. When it all comes together it is an exhilarating experience!

Teaching the Tango --

Layering Technique: We start with a basic walking step to begin to feel the tango music. Each person walks individually. We then stop the group and ask them to take each step deliberately and quickly with staccato action. We repeat the walking steps. We again stop the group and have them lower their stance and repeat the walking steps. We again stop the group and have them place their feet and legs in the correct alignment and repeat the walking steps. We will again stop the group to have them take a right side lead and explain how their feet should be striking the floor. They then repeat the walking steps. By now they begin to look a lot like TANGO DANCERS. This whole process takes no more than 5-7 minutes. Our approach is to make it fun and make them laugh while learning. We remember to frequently praise their efforts.

Here are some sample Modules: Use these for LOTS of practice to different pieces of music – vary the timings used to get the dancers accustomed to different tempos. Stress the techniques described above. Remind them to stand tall but keep soft knees and not to “pop-up”. Show the good – show the bad – show the good! For those having difficulty dancing with soft knees try to dance the basic step with them.

  • Walk 4 Slow;; Walk 2 slow; Walk 2 quick 1 slow; It’s okay to use different feet give them a chance to learn to use both feet

  • Walk 2; Tango draw;

  • Point forward point back; Tango draw;

  • Walk 2; Tango draw; Corte recover; Tango draw; Corte recover; Tango draw; Walk 2; Tango draw;

  • Walk 2; Tango draw; Forward stairs; Tango draw;

  • Walk check; Back Rock 3; Back ½ box; Dip recover; Walk 2; Tango draw; Corte recover; Tango draw;

  • Walk BJO check; Back Rock 3 (Outside swivel); Thru, face, close; Turn Tango draw LOD;

  • Corte recover; Tango draw; SCP Criss cross;; Corte recover; Tango draw;

  • Walk face; Serpiente;; Rock 2 pickup; Tango draw;

  • Walk check; Rock turn w box finish (back corte);; Walk 2; Tango draw; Corte recover;

  • Walk 2 ; Open Reverse Turn; Open Finish;


From clinic notes prepared for the 2005 Roundalab Convention, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, December 2014/January 2015.


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