2nd December 2009

"Pop quiz, hotshot. There's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?" ~ Howard Payne


One of the big problems with dancing tango is doing so when the music is faster than normal time. It's not uncommon to see a kind of high-speed three step shuffle in these cases. But if you've got two phrases of fast music, that's not the most eloquent solution.

So what are alternatives?


Get really good

If you're good enough, you can lead whatever you want, at whatever speed you want. Worth mentioning, but let's assume you're not there yet.

Do the shuffle

If "getting really good" is the best, then personally I think the aforementioned shufle is the worst option.

Modified shuffle

Rather than shuffling in a straight line, put a slight curve vertical in the lead. You can further accentuate this with the following footwork. Leader's left foot forward. Then Leader's right foot to collect. The left foot forward. But take smaller steps. Put the curve over the collect.

Use the Music Luke

It's much easier to syncopate when it actually makes sense to do so in the music


One of the strange things about orchestras is that the Conductor isn't actually conducting what's happening - he's slightly ahead all the time. The same applies here. You have to decide to syncopate about a beat or two before you actually do it. Otherwise the pre-lead gets messy.

Take a run-up

Use something simple to end the phrase, pause. Then you're nicely in balance and set-up to go into a syncopation rather than on the fly. It also is a nice solution to the pre-lead problem just mentioned.

Rocksteps - another Thing of Evil

On the surface rocksteps are a very simple effective way of marking double-time. The problem is they take a remarkable amount of skill to both lead and follow. Otherwise the follower invariably ends up impersonating a crash test dummy. Personally I'm coming to the conclusion they should rename it ending in "ada" and just accept it's "advanced".

But what about when the violinist goes completely berserk?

Shoot the hostage. Actually better yet, do nothing. Stand in a macho way and let the follower do all her cool adornments till someone else shoots the violinst.

Leader syncopates, follower doesn't

A really easy version is to step to the outside of the follower lead her to step back at normal speed and the leader takes lots of small fast steps. (Stepping to the outside prevents any possible collisions). An alternative is to lead the follower to step back normally, collect and step back again (this works particularly well if you lead her to cross and uncross at the collect) - you step forward on the first left step normally, but then at faster speed step your left foot back to your right, weight transfer twice still at faster speed, then step with your right as she takes her second back step.

Run away, run away!

Most women aren't all that good at following when it comes to being led to walk towards the leader. You can take advantage of this. Lead her to step towards you as you step backwards, but led the steps to be tiny and fast. It works remarkably well. The obvious problem is that you're walking against the line of dance. Well for a start even 8 of these tiny steps is probably about the same space an ocho cortado would take up so it's not unreasonable. Alternatively get your self set up with your back to the chairs, centre of the floor, or line of dance before you start leading this.

Warp Speed, Mr Sulu

Some moves inherently want to go faster. Giros and linear giros are good examples, especially if you do them with a small lifting upwards lead and small steps. Also once you've got the follower moving faster, it's much easier to keep her there

The mathematical solution

Caveat - this may be completely wrong, but I like it. If you ask sane people how many sides a circle has they will say "one". If you ask mathematicians they'll say "an infinite number of infinitely small lines". Riiiiiiiiiight. However it is useful in tango. If you lead the follower to do something curved say a boleo, an enganche or walking around in a planeo - it works (in my opinion). Likewise the leader can do curved adornments and it also works. Or both.

There does seem to be a gradual increase in the interest in musicality lately. Classes are actually being run a bit more frequently now, so it's worth looking out for them.

- Christopher O'Shea, 2nd December 2009

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