From The Heart

29th September 2009

(More Next Steps articles.)

"The important things are always simple; the simple things are always hard. The easy way is always mined." ~ Murphy's Laws


"Semi circle to the left and lead her to step back"

That has to be the most basic Modern Jive "move" there is. Indeed most experienced dancers will scoff at the "semi-circle to the left" part. In an average night you'd probably lead the woman to "and step back" literally thousands of times. I dread to think how many you lead over the course of a Weekender.

But have you ever seen the leader step back and then lead the semi-circle? Nope, me neither. Certainly don't see it repeatedly on the dance floor.

"Turn your chest to the left and lead her to step back"

By contrast this has to be in contention for "most complicated tango move" there is. People spend years trying to do it properly.

Have you ever seen the leader take a step forward and then lead from his chest? Yup. Definitely. And you certainly see it repeated all night long on the dance floor.

So why is one so simple, and the other so hard?

Another fighting example

Imagine two guys doing tai chi. They stand with their feet planted and gently move each others arms around between them.

You can do this with Modern Jive. You both plant your feet and you do the same hand movements as normal, effectively tracing patterns in the air with the follower's hands. It's quite pretty. It's not Modern Jive though.

"Lead from the chest"

This I think is where the problems start. Clearly in Modern Jive you lead with your hand. And you move her hand. But if you were to think of it as just leading her hand with your hand, you'd end up doing the tai chi version above. Modern Jive works because you use your hand to lead her body, leg and foot to step back. It also works because the follower is told from the beginning of her first lesson that the convention is for her to step back when you do this and not to remain stationary.

In Tango, especially in close embrace, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking "leading with your chest" is about moving her chest. Which is why so often follower's don't step back. You haven't led them to! You're doing a weird tai chi version of tango by moving her chest, doing nothing with her hips or leg and then stepping forward into her.

What you need to do is concentrate on leading her to step back, but understand that you're using your chest to do it, in the same way you use your hand to lead her to step back in Modern Jive.

The Pause

"Semi-circle and step back"

If you do this, your hand moves before you step. Even if you use the shorter "and step back" version, your hand still moves first during the "and".

Same thing in tango. Either "turn your torso and lead her to step back" or "and step back". Either way the chest lead comes first.

An Exercise

Lead a normal Modern Jive step back.

Now lead it, but instead of you stepping backwards as well, you step forwards. Concentrate on the timing and the feeling of directing her to step back. Now alternate leading Modern Jive step backs (your choice whether the leader steps forwards or back) with leading the follower in a tango embrace to take a step back.

Things that go wrong

Now imagine only the follower thinks she's doing the tai chi version. You move her hand to lead her to step back. She lets you move her hand and stays still. You walk into her. Happens a lot in tango. Which leads to some unfortunate "fixes".

Anticipation: The follower stares at your chest and as soon as it moves she takes a step back. While this does solve the problem of you walking into her, it's ripped out the middle part of the lead. So if you want to lead different size steps, different speeds etc, you can't

Conan the Mighty!: The leader gives a really strong shove to move her torso (often accompanied by a rock hard frame). What you'll see here is the woman falls back slightly then steps back to recover, which is all messed up. It feels clunky (and not unlike being tackled by the FBI!) and certainly ruins any hope of leading subtleties. In the words of MsHedgehog, "More precision, less energy." Again you could do this in Modern Jive and the result would be pretty much the same, the follower would fall back off balance and then step back to recover. She may mutter about "yanking" too...


This is an idea in progress. Feedback is welcomed at the LearningTango email.

 - Christopher O' Shea, 29th September 2009

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