November 5th 2008

Ask someone to define the different styles of tango and they invariably start with the embrace. Then the favoured type of music. Then the "look" of it - is it slow and graceful, or a hurricane on acid?

Strangely, specific sequences don't get mentioned much at all. Yet if you go to a class on "xyz" style it's a safe bet they'll teach some of the signature sequences.

There's a particular sequence where the follow goes into a deep (and I mean deep) anti-clockwise planeo, and at the end, rises up dramatically into a castigada. Thing of beauty to see or lead. There's a couple of ways to approach it. You might simply be leading a deep pivoting planeo and realize the sudden sharp rise fits the music beautifully. Or if you know the music well, you might feel the whole sequence fits the music. It's like a basket comb. Do you just add the comb on the end to hit the break or do you lead the basket comb as a whole from the beginning to hit the break?

There's an element of "to each their own" I feel.

Dancer Beware

But there also be dragons here.

If you're dancing "show tango" then you probably have the whole floor to yourself - if you want to go in the opposite direction to the line of dance it really doesn't matter. The catch with a lot of sequences is they often contain moments of vulnerability. In essence you're doing something risky, but because you know the risk it's less dangerous. Unfortunately a lot of teachers don't point out these moments and the inherent risks.

A good example is when the lead is travelling with his back to the line of dance. If the follow has her eyes closed, it's very easy to back into someone. If you know this is a danger you can either tack at an angle backwards, use mirrors on the wall to see what's behind you etc.

You also need options. What are you going to do if something does go wrong in your moment of vulnerability? Again this doesn't often get taught. For a great example of this watch any class when the teacher tells them to practice the sequence. Some of the leads will charge blindly through it regardless of the people around them and some of the leads will have to keep aborting it at the second or third step because of the first group of leads.

And of course the classic Basic 8 teaches the poor leader to begin by stepping backwards, against the line of dance.

Good thing? Bad thing?

So are sequences a thing of evil? Well, no. They are easier to teach and generally more appealing to learn and so they have more of an emphasis than they probably deserve. But they can be very effective ways to learn new ways to move and to explore the various concepts that make up tango. And there's nothing wrong with "signatures" either. In fact they can be an excellent way of summing up a style. Much in the same way the Blues Basic pretty much sums up Blues.

Bear in mind though that tango has a much stronger emphasis on connection. You really do need to be present in the "now". The more you're focussing into the future the harder you're making it for yourself.

If you want to use sequences you really need to be able to do them without thinking. (Hey it's not that bad, when was the last time you actually thought through all the elements of a first move as you lead it?).

Of course it might be easier to just learn the concept instead....

 - Christopher O'Shea, November 5th 2008