Tango Basics: Walking

29th May 2009

The second in a series of discussions of the basics of Tango - also see Tango basics: posture.


For me walking is at the heart of the dance. To dance AT well you need to be able to do this well. Walking is just one foot in front of the other, right? As is often the case the simpler the concept in AT the harder to perfect.

With such common (overreaching) parts of the dance you will hear lots of opinions of how it should be done. Now you may find the more classes you take, the more conflicting advice seems to be on offer. For the teachers I think they are trying to describe the same object but can only describe one bit at a time (see parable: Blind men and an elephant).

This is since they most often present the advice that addresses the most prominent issue in the class group. If they were to mention everything they see, not all of it would be relevant to you, but it would also give you a major brain overload. I have found that after a long time it does click and you do see the whole of the picture you are aiming for. I am sure it will take me another equal length of time to be able to do it consistently right.

What is also true in AT, to a greater degree, more so than in Modern Jive is you revisit common components of the dance and do learn them differently as you progress. For the Modern Jivers, how many of you do the First Move exactly how it was first taught to you? No one.

Changing advice over time

The issues you have change over time so the advice matches that concern.

For example, a beginner follower may be told to stretch their leg back as far as she can. he beginner lead is pleased since he is frustrated with a follow who takes tiny steps and fearful of treading on their partners foot.

However, the advanced lead may be frustrated as he is less able to lead short steps if the follower blindly reaches back a long way regardless of lead. And the follower may at a later point be told to judge the impulse in order to know the distance to step, rather than just stretch.

Some early advice

Some advice taught early in tango classes:

  • Ankles together
  • Follower reach back
  • Follower takes bigger steps
  • Lead from chest, keep it up
  • Always collect (often sharp and instant)
  • Head up pulled by a string
  • Be grounded

Some later advice

Some advice taught later in tango classes

  • Bring thighs together
  • Follower only move leg as far as required
  • Follower keep pelvis under when reaching back
  • When feet together can lift free toe up
  • Use a whole beat to collect your feet
  • Place your foot, then you both move your weight together
  • Flexing standing leg gives you balance and keeps you grounded
  • Decelerate your collecting foot so it flows into next direction without having to wait
  • Flex your leg as it receives weight

Some things that have helped me

  • Keep your solar plexus looking up
  • Keep chin up, so you are looking across the floor not down toward your feet. You cannot leave your feet behind they are glued to your leg. Don't look down
  • Feel which foot your partner is on, see there shoulders for reference.
  • For practice you can dance with eyes shut, so long as someone warns you where the floor ends.
  • Use your breathing to signal start and stopping. You can direct your energy up or down.
  • Do not step longer than my partner can comfortably reach, with their heels down toward the floor. If not the follower will rock back on their heels with each step and lurch the embrace with it each time.
  • Use call and response. Send the partners foot, understand where they have gone and then take your couples weight to the new location.

For me the call and response is the most crucial thing to have a walk that feels nice. It allows you to play with the music, and feel as one. It is only possible if both people are balanced and on their own axis. The frame needs to be stable but can change shape if required. It does not need to be a close embrace but that feels way better. The energy does need to be conveyed through it with no delay and the response felt by the lead. Noodle arms will not do but a vice grip can be an equal disaster if either person is not balanced. Moving with sureness is key.

Heel or toe?

Some debate can exist on whether you tread on your heel or toe first. For me, the answer can depend on what you're doing so at some point one can be right but not both at the same time. Walking is natural and AT is supposed to be natural without strain. When you walk forwards you walk predominately heel first. The quicker and longer the stride the truer this is. When you walk backwards you tend to move toe first. So in AT depending on which direction you are walking decides which you do.

Walking fun

Have fun with walking without the tricks. Walking can be interpretive of the music.

Some ideas:

  • Change the pace up and down
  • Alter the stride lengths
  • Alter your height
  • Make little runs at great speed (first go up and signal end with down energy)
  • Stop and start
  • Walk in cross system
  • Leads switch from one side of the partner to the other
  • You can keep your follower at one pace and walk in double time, you will need to be outside your partner for this.

There is just so much you can do with putting one foot in front of the other in harmony with your partner.

- Marcus Wormast, 29th May 2009

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