I want to add Tango-y moves / footwork to my MJ

2nd December 2008

Back to Fusion

"If at first you don't succeed, try a craftier way" - Winker Watson.

Choice: Moves or Footwork?

There's two approaches to this.

You can focus on learning tangoesque moves that are leadable in MJ. Or you can focus on learning actual tango footwork that's leadable in MJ (or both if you're so inclined). In practice you'll want to take a different route depending which you want to focus on.

Learning Moves

On the one hand it's possible to use fusion moves that work with MJ. You can get away with lacking quite a bit of proper tango technique too, which makes them much faster to learn. For example in the recent River Tango event, the workshop on volcadas was "advanced".

Simply put, an average MJ follower isn't going to know advanced tango following technique, which rather limits trying to lead certain moves "properly". Fusions have a certain amount of leeway in fudging things so that the move looks right. As an aside I've noticed a considerable number of "advanced" tangoistas shaking their heads at people who do "advanced" tango moves at a milonga without proper technique. Fortunately at an MJ freestyle, they're not going to be there.

However there's only a fairly limited number of moves that will actually work on a partner who doesn't already know them. Unfortunately the distinction between these moves, and moves that require prior knowledge, isn't often clearly drawn in practice.

On the whole, the more "basic" the move is in tango (e.g. ochos, the cross), the harder it is to lead on an MJer. The more "advanced" it is in tango (e.g. volcadas, colgadas, or lunges), the easier it is to lead on an MJer.

Set yourself a reasonable amount of time to learn the move - at most 4 times as long as it would take you to learn a new MJ move. If after that it isn't working, I strongly recommend that you ditch it.

Who's teaching leadable fusion moves currently?

Learning Footwork

Well the most important thing is this - It Can Be Done!

But as always there's a catch. The dynamics of leading walking changes depending on the music.

On the whole, MJ is much closer to milonga than salon tango. But most teachers only teach milonga here and there. In fact you're more likely to learn about boleos than milonga by going to most schools. Which is strange given that they can constitute a third of the dance at well, milonga. (Just in case this is getting totally confusing, those crazy Argentineans have helpfully named both "tango freestyle" and a rather un-tango-like version of tango, as the same word - "milonga").

The Rule of Threes

Make your own life easier. Either lead one step forward / back or three.

Don't play in traffic

While it seems like you should stand directly in front of her in say a manhatten / tango hold, it's a really bad idea if you want to lead more than one step.

Get slightly off-centre to your left so that your right foot is actually between her feet. This means lots of wonderful things happen.

Say you're leading her to take 3 steps backwards. The first one is kind of a given because she's going to step back on her right foot as part of a manhatten anyway. It's the next step that's the problem, specifically you crashing your right foot into her left. By being off-centre, you'll actually slip by her left foot (even if she doesn't move it) into a natural sacada, not to mention having an incredibly obvious "Step Back" lead at this point.

Likewise when led to take 3 steps forwards, a lot of women adopt a wide-legged stance and try to step outside your feet rather than risk stepping on them. Being off-set helps mitigate this a lot.

Who's regularly teaching milonga?

Some moves


Unless the follower already knows how to do a sidestep, I reckon your best hope for leading one is to be in close embrace. Circular sidesteps are a bit different - if you look at a rotating armjive, the woman's natural footwork bears a resemblance to that of a giro.

Columbians / Linear Giros

I was once following a guy and he said 'Columbian!' I said 'no, New Zealand actually, but I do use sun beds a lot.' I was pleased he had noticed my dark smooth tan, and forgot all about it." - Amir Giles

As I said earlier - It Can Be Done! (Without whispering "Columbian").

OK, firstly it's easier to lead Americanas instead; this is a good starting place to practice, and also to see how the follower responds.

Secondly bear in mind you're going to want some way to stop your Columbian at some point. As for the how - pay attention when you're taught ochos, particularly backwards ochos. It's really likely you'll learn a version that starts with a sidestep left. Then pay attention when you're learning a giro. Then change the amount of rotation so that instead of going round in a circle you just go in a straight line.

Having said that, if the follower isn't familiar with sidesteps you're probably going to end up with an Americana.

Lunges / poses

Lunges are your friend. They're probably one of the few times a MJ follower will actually remain still with her weight on one leg for as long as you want (or until she gets really tired). You can make them easier to lead by using a barrida to sweep her free foot where you want it to go. If she won't sidestep, you can still lead a lunge where you're both facing the same direction


Forget it! Well ok, if you must, go to close embrace and do milonga style backwards ochos. Read this article for more info.

 - Christopher O'Shea, 2nd December 2008