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Paso Doble Styling

by Shirley Aymé ©

Paso Doble is a dance which interprets and portrays a bullfight. The many figures convey various phases in the ceremony. Originally, when a more simple form of Paso Doble was danced, the man would not release hold of his lady, just as the Matador holds onto his cloak. Although the bullrings are predominantly Spanish, the dance was developed in France. It first gained popularity in Europe and the United States in the 1930s.

Paso Doble atmosphere is powerful, intoxicating and intense with fierce drama and captive energy. It puts the audience under its majestic and magical spell. Danced at its best it requires both composure and stealth. Paso Doble was originally a dance simply depicting the actions of the Matador with the lady portraying the cape. It has now progressed from that style with the dancers enacting the role of the torero, picador, banderillero, bull, or Spanish dancer, interchanging their roles at will.

It also now includes many flamenco and Spanish dance movements. From early in history there has been Spanish supremacy as a country of dance.

The Matador is the most thoroughly masculine of all male dancers. He is the wielder of the cape. His arrogant stance displays bravery and defiance in the face of the enemy. He is ruthlessly in control and always shows off the lady to her best advantage. Paso Doble is a man's dance and out of the five latin dances it is only in this dance where the man is the centerpiece.

With an impregnable air he holds his body with his back arched from above the waist. His weight is well over the balls of the feet and toward the inside edges. He has a strong frame with a proud chest held in a high position, however not sticking out. There is an uplift through the abdomen, the hips are high, and the buttocks are locked. His head is always level, well poised and indicative of stature and dignity. The chin is held in a firm position, bullfighter fashion.

The hold for Paso Doble is high. In close hold the man's right hand is placed on the lady's left shoulder blade with the right arm held in a soft curve. The lady's left arm is placed lightly on top of the man's upper right arm following the same curve. The lady's right hand fingers are between the man's left thumb and first finger. The man's fingers are closed on the back of the lady's hand and there should be a light pressure between the two palms. The man's left hand and the lady's right hand are raised approximately 15 cm higher than eye level in a soft curve, the man's left hand exhibiting the proud bearing of the Matador. These lead hands are on an imaginary line through the central position between the two bodies. The man's right elbow is kept well up to create a balance.

His partner assumes the role of a Spanish dancer. She is not timid or coy, shaded or obscure; she is sensual, all woman and proud of it. She has artistic merit and creative innovation based on her deep knowledge of style. She is unafraid and her face portrays a degree of coldness, yet she dances with fire, passion, and a controlled ease.

She stands firmly on the ground with her weight well over the balls of the feet. Her chest is held high with the rib cage carried up from the waist. Her chin is slightly lifted on a long neck. The abdomen is held in, the hips are high and the buttocks are firm to avoid a hollow back.

In Paso Doble there is a closer top position than in other dances, and one should avoid lifting or bringing the shoulders forward. The body position must be easy and free on which to add arm, foot, and head movements.

Paso Doble is staccato and precise with clarity of action and a conviction of all moves. There is however, lightness of movement and it should not appear hurried. This is a down dance with the knees always readily flexed and sharp. There is a controlled squeeze power of the ankles giving strong footwork with exact timing. The feet are always worked strongly against the floor. The more contact the feet have with the floor the better the stability and control will be. Floor pressure should remain constant throughout all movements. The strength of action of the moving foot is taken from the standing foot.

As a general rule, when taking a step the body initiates the action, and moves fractionally before the step is taken. This is in stark contrast to incorrectly taking a step with the body following.

Paso Doble is all about shaping. All movements start from a shape into a shape. Square alignments are out. The arms and hands display roundness and strength when moving from one position to another, always helping to keep the line and rhythm.

The movements of the lady should never be divorced from those of the man. She always goes to the man; he never moves to her. All her shapes should be shaped up towards him, usually in a lower line than his as she is complimenting him. Body shapes are blended and the couple are totally synchronized and in harmony with the character and each other.

The man times and dominates the lady's moves, modifying and governing her actions. He has mastery of movement, free flowing and sometimes exaggerated with his arrogant and bragging gestures of bravado. From time to time he will make a sudden spin or unexpected stop. His movements progress from slow and intense to an adrenaline charged syncopated change of pace.

Both man and lady have the opportunity to respond and create in their own personal way in the structuring and coordinating of the line and communication of feeling. They feel they are in the bullring aware of what they are portraying, they are oblivious to the people or audience around, and only feel the intensity between each other.

The choreography could be a story of a highly charged passion between a female Spanish dancer and a bullfighter who have met and decided to fall in love. They could be enemies tormenting and reproaching each other as well as exhibiting and matching their prowess.


Appel — Taken from the French verb Appeler—to call. The Matador will strike the ground in order to engage the attention of the bull.

Banderilla — The joint hold or solo pose depicts the banderilleros casting their banderillas.

Basic — This is a poising movement of the Matador as he spars for a position to deliver a thrust.

Bravade or Whisk — To convey his boastfulness, the Matador stands poised with his feet crossed, ether in preparation for a thrust or to goad the bull into making a charge.

Chassés — Small chassés are indicative of sparring for a position in readiness for an attack. Large chassés portray escaping the rush of the bull.

Coup de Piqűe — This is the enactment of the thrust with a lance by the picador followed by an escape.

Deplacement or Attack — The long steps forward indicate moving rapidly to attack. The Matador then quickly steps aside by turning to avoid the rush of the bull in which case the arms are lowered to portray the lowering of his cape. Alternatively he may poise on the toes to prepare for a thrust towards the bull.

Huit or Cape Step — This represents the manipulation of the cape as the lady dances with strongly marked steps from side to side whilst the man adopts an authentic caping pose.

Parade or Grand Circle — In this figure, the lady represents the cape, which is held well away from the man's shaped torso as she makes a circumference around him.

Pas Battu — This is an action of bravado by the Matador after he has made the bull rush and miss him. It may be used while he is receiving applause from the audience.

Passes — These depict the actions of the Matador weilding the cape as the bull (el toro) passes. The Matador holds the cape with either one or both hands. There may be a high pass or low pass depending on whether the flourish is above or below the bull's head.

Sur Place — This marking time step depicts the Matador accepting praise from the spectators.

This essay was taken from chapters 1–3 of Shirley Aymé's Latin-American At Its Best — Paso Doble, © Shirley Aymé, 1996. All three of her books are available from IDTA. Click and search for Aymé.

this article was published in the
Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, March, 2008

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