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Paso Doble: The Beginning

by Sandi & Dan  Finch

Paso Doble is the most theatrical of all the rhythms, and you need to get into the story line or you may feel a bit silly doing the steps. The rhythm depicts the drama of the Spanish bullfight, as envisioned by the French in the 1920s. They created the rhythm for show primarily but it is now one of the international Latin rhythms seen in competition and social dancing, as well as exhibitions. It came into round dancing in 1987 and begins at Phase IV.


The man dances the paso with a commanding air, as a matador. He is focused on the bull because an error in movement means getting gored. The lady dances many parts. She most often portrays the matador's cape, so her movements are softer, but she occasionally is the bull, a flamenco dancer, or even a horse. Understanding this background gives you a clue to the shapes and attitude useful to having fun with the rhythm. Shaping is an exciting part of the paso. Picture the matador stretching one side of his body, then the other, as he entices the bull to charge. The closer the bull comes, the more excited the crowd becomes.


One step is taken on each beat of music usually, although a few figures are syncopated. There is no shuffling or sliding the feet on the floor. Each step is taken with deliberation. Unlike other “Latin” rhythms that use ball-flat type of footwork, paso figures begin mostly with heel leads.

The most distinct difference between Paso Doble and all other rhythms is how most of its figures begin — with “the wrong foot,” man’s right and lady’s left foot. That first step on “the wrong foot” is often a preparatory step in place called an “appel,” meaning “attention.”


Shapes are important in Paso Doble. The man’s posture is very erect with the stomach pulled in, weight over the balls of the feet, hips forward, and ribcage “lifted” to elongate the spine and depict the prideful stance of the matador. There is a sense of walking forward while the body is turned slightly. This depicts the matador walking around the arena twirling his cape, looking up into the stands to acknowledge his cheering fans.

Arms are an extension of those strong body lines. Men have a variety of shapes — arms in strong arcs in front of the body, behind the body, at the side, bent at the chest as though holding his cape, or overhead. Lady’s arms can mirror the man’s but are most often gracefully extended with a slight bend at the elbow.


Paso music is very stirring, like a march, written in 2/4 timing, which would be counted 1,2; 1,2; (hence its name — Spanish for “double step”). Choreographically, in round dancing, paso is danced as though it is in 4/ 4 timing, counting figures in multiples of four steps — 4, 8, 12, or 16. For many years, it was danced to only one piece of music, “Espana Cani,” done in different orchestrations but always with the same phrasing. True paso music has an extra 2 beats to be dealt with somewhere in the middle of a dance, usually with a crescendo designed for a choreographic “splash.”


Paso uses all of the normal Latin positions and “paso closed position,” a more open version of the Latin closed position, to create more space between the partners for caping-type figures: With lead hands joined, man puts his right hand on the lady’s upper left arm and she grasps his upper right arm with her left hand.


Well-designed choreography tells the story of the bullfight. It can begin with the pre-bullfight fiesta and some flamenco action. Then the matador performs with his cape to show the crowd how skilled he is. The bull is then let into the arena, and the matador begins challenging the bull with his cape and with short spears called banderillas. (One advanced figure is named Banderilla depicting this maneuver.) A crescendo in the music tells you the drama is building as the bull appears to be winning; then the matador gets the upper hand. The music may change at the end to be more upbeat, signaling the matador’s victory as he takes his bows.

Appel: Attention “1”

One step, going nowhere, on the wrong foot. This is like a child stomping a foot to get attention. It is a firm, flat step done on man’s right and lady’s left. There are many acceptable ways of doing this one-count step, but try to do it with a flat foot, starting as though you are flicking a rock from under your foot and putting the foot back down where it was. Some like to stomp, but true matadors make only a scuffing sound as the foot returns to the floor.

Sur place: Steps in place “1,2,3,4;”

Steps in place on the toes with knees slightly bent, like you are pressing the ball of the foot into wet sand on each step. Usually done in place keeping time with the music but can turn using small side-close steps.

Huit (also called The Cape): Working the cape “1,2,3,4; 5,6,7,8;”

Pronounced like “wheat,” this figure is counted 1 through 8, with the man standing in place or sur placing for most of it, arching his body and shaping as though he is moving his cape from side to side (as the lady is moving across in front of him). A more advanced version is called The 16, danced to 16 beats of music.

Elevations: Side, close, side, close, with attitude “1,2,3,4;”

These will be cued as elevations up or elevations down. They are advanced versions of chasses to the left or right, done on the toes but with bent knees and body shaping. This depicts the matador taunting the bull.

Press Line: A pose “1 and hold”

This is a foot placement with split weight in which one leg is in front with bent knee and toe touching floor (heel is off the floor), while the other leg is behind and straight with a turned-out flat foot. Weight is split between feet. One arm is usually up and the other rounded in front. Foot placement with less weight on the front foot and a more upright stance is called a Spanish Line.

Separations: Think “taunting the bull” “1,2,3,4; 5,6,7,8;”

Partners begin in closed position and over eight steps they separate and come back to closed position. Begin with an appel, then the man steps forward, closes, and sur places 5 counts; the lady appels, takes two steps back and closes, then returns to the man in closed position in four steps. This is like the matador’s challenge to the bull (the lady), who backs away then recharges. (We warned you, you have to get into the drama for this to make sense!)

Note: Some paso choreography useful in learning basic figures:

El Pico IV by Sandi & Dan Finch, 2007
Viva Espana by Tim (& Nana) Eum, 2007
Punta Prima by Jeanne & Warren Shane
Clavelis by Ruth & Max Mandel, 1995
Paso Quatro by Bill & Lee Howell, 1990
Real Madrid, Bill & Maxine Ross, 2009

Dan and Sandi host two weekly Carousel Clubs and teach a weekly figure clinic on advanced basics in Southern California. This article comes from clinic notes prepared for the ROUNDALAB Convention, June 2012 and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, October 2013.


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