Walking Is Not Dancing: Revisited

11th November 2009

(More Next Steps articles.)

"I would like one grain of rice for the first square of the chess board, two grains for the second, four grains for the third and so on doubled for each of the 64 squares of the game board" said the mathematician. "Is that all?" asked the King, "Why don't you ask for gold or silver coins instead of rice grains". "The rice should be sufficient for me." replied the mathematician. The King ordered his staff to lay down the grains of rice and soon learned that all the wealth in his kingdom would not be enough to buy the amount of rice needed on the 64th square. In fact the whole kingdom's supply of rice was exhausted before the 30th square was reached."


There's a very simple problem with tango. If you want to dance in sequences, you need rather a lot of them to dance for 15 minutes.

Captain John Painter suggested an interesting solution. In the martial art of Bagua, there are a small number of elements. However it's simply not physically possibly to perform every single combination of these elements in a lifetime even once (in the quote at the start, you'd need over 18 trillion grains of rice to fill the board).

A similar idea can be applied to tango. Take leading a step backwards. You can vary the speed and the distance. Or Lead them on the spot as weight changes. Or you can choose to not fully complete them so they become rebounds. You can vary the dynamic - sharp, soft, fluid, elastic.

So even taking only 4 steps, there's a lot of different combinations. You can choose fr one or both of you not to step at all for one or more of them. You can syncopate and step off the beat. You can lead them in a straight line or curved. The woman can add even more variation by adorning them. You can adorn your own steps. And then there's parallel and cross system!

The Cross

Now consider the cross. You can combine the cross with all the ideas mentioned for the back step.

So by leading nothing more than back steps and a cross you suddenly have a huge repertoire.

It gets even better... :o)

If you were to lead the same sequence say 10 times in a dance the follower might start to notice. Some of them are pesky like that. If on the other hand you lead a slow step for the 10th time, do your really think the follower goes "Oh no, not another slow step?". Quite the opposite.

By fitting all these options into interpreting the music, the follower is focused on following. As long as your slow step fits the music it simply feels right to her.

This is a simple but highly effective way to focus both you and the follower on the connection, syncing up more and more as the dance progresses and prevent either of you getting bored.

Experimenting with this last night I was finding that I was literally leading an ocho maybe once or twice a tanda.

Smooth and sneaky does it

There's another sneaky benefit. Say I'm whirling around like a hurricane and then either freeze, or start doing single time weight changes. It doesn't take a great deal of imagination for the follower to realise something's wrong, especially if the floor is crowded. On the other hand if you've been interspersing weight changes through the dance, then if her eyes are closed they won't notice. Remember with the above options you can lead weight changes on the spot or take tiny steps forward in a lot of ways.

So if you're stuck behind a log-jam you can keep dancing quite happilly. While this is an obvious benefit (because standing still and cursing the people in front of you isn't quite as much fun) the less obvious one is that the follower won't tense up.

Simply put, any sane follower who thinks she's likely going to be kicked shortly will tense. Which means that the kick will hurt more and it will be harder for you to get out of the way. It was quite strange last night upstairs at Negrachas watching the bumper car style dancing around me, but being largely unaffected by it because I didn't have to go anywhere specific. I could stay in place, take small steps, large sudden steps, straight, curved, whatever I wanted. Indeed I got on the spot praise from one follower for a lead that in reality was just me floating around 4 or 5 manic couples to the music. To her with her eyes closed it felt lovely.


Yet another benefit is musicality. Once you understand how tango music is basically structured, you can dance "simply" to the first time a phrase is played. Once you have an idea of the feeling and composition of it you can start to add in more of the above. As an added benefit is you dance random elements the first time it's played, they'll actually work a lot of the time too.

If you get a song you really know well, you're laughing.


Not all followers will be able to follow all the elements / variations above. Who cares? You've got way too many as it is. Stick with what works. Bear in mind the above is literally just walking. Add a fluid embrace, apply the above principles to ochos, giros, boleos and so on, give the follower some room to add to the dance and you've got an insane number of things to play with! Certainly you're not going to find your self doing the same dance over and over again. Although you may look a bit dazed afterwards.

There is one catch however. Tango teachers hint at it when they talk about how important the foundations are. Before you can cleanly start doing all of the above to the back-step and the cross, you actually need to be able to do them reasonably well in their basic form. Unless you have that skill in place, your mistakes will also compound geometrically turning your beautiful tanda in a horrible jerking stumbling mess :(

 - Christopher O'Shea, 11th November 2009

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