Turn-o-rama! (Salem class review 24Jul08)

Basic giro (turn) theory: In Argentine tango, a giro can begin on any step (forward, side/open, back) and the exit from a giro can occur on any step. The typical giro in tango consists of leader rotating on a point, and the follower describing a circle (or an arc of a circle) around that point; after that, the couple usually continue traveling line-of-dance around the floor.

The follower is responsible for maintaining the correct order of steps in the giro. This pattern of "forward cross, open step, back cross, open step, etc." is called the grapevine, or molinete. Once the turn has begun, the follower grapevines around the leader until asked to do something else. The hips rotate to make a smooth turn, with the most rotation to prepare for the back cross step. Each step should be uniform in size (unless directed otherwise by the leader), with the feet passing under the axis on the way to the next step.

A note on collecting the feet: The follower's feet collect ON THE WAY to that next step, rather than interrupting the flow of the circle to clutch the ankles together tightly :-)  If the follower's body is sufficiently balanced and elastic, there will be plenty of room for the feet to pass through the body's axis line. This looks much more elegant than other alternatives. If you are just starting to practice turns, focus on being on balance and making the turn flow. When that becomes easier, then focus on collecting.

The leader is responsible for clearly marking the beginning of a turn, continuing the motion of the turn, and then clearly indicating the end of the turn. To do this, the leader's body twists into a spiral, with the chest slightly ahead (in terms of rotation) of the hips--there will be changes to this as we learn other forms of turns, but this is the rule right now. The leader does not lead "forward cross, open step, back cross, open step, etc," but rather keeps a steady spiral so that the follower can dance a smooth turn.

"What do I do with my feet?" asked several leaders on Tuesday night. For right now, don't mess around with crossing your feet behind you or spinning around on one foot: these may be fancy, but they are harder to do well than they look. For solid social dancing, keep both feet under you for balance and for creating a clear center of the turn for your follower. Step in place as you turn until you are facing the direction you want to do, decide what foot you want to use to exit the turn, and go!

Turn timing: Traditionally, the default timing for a turn is a SSQQ pattern. The follower's front cross is a slow step (S), as is the open step after that (S). The back cross and the open step after that, are both quick counts (QQ). Therefore, the timing on the turn is contingent upon the step that begins the turn.

HOWEVER, there are exceptions. The leader can choose to turn with all quick steps (QQQQ), which can be difficult for most followers to complete gracefully. Another choice is to slow the turn down to make it all slow steps (SSSS). In general, a turn has SSQQ timing, but each turn must be led in terms of tempo: there is no autopilot in tango!

Specific turns: So far, we have done the following giros (turns):

  • starting the turn after a side step: For this turn, the follower will begin with a cross step. As the leaders gain leading skills, a front or back cross can be requested. For now, just note which step the follower did and work with it. Followers: many people suggest beginning this kind of turn with a back cross, but I have never heard anyone give a rule about this. When I lead this, I often lead it for a front cross, which is easier on the follower's body.
  • starting the turn from a rock step: This turn is very useful on the dance floor, as it takes only one step of preparation and then turns in place. The leader travels forward until the turn is about to begin (whether due to traffic or leader choice). The leader then takes one step reverse line-of-dance (backward) and directs the follower's free leg to cross over to begin the turn. Thus, this turn always starts "front cross, open step, back cross, etc.). The leader pivots the follower to lead that first front cross as the follower arrives on-axis, stepping towards the leader.
  • It is also possible to do a rock step, and then turn to the same side as the leading foot to turn, but that is technically a turn starting on a side step, albeit a rotating one! We'll do that next week in class.
  • We will focus on specific exits from turns in the weeks to come.

These turns can be incorporated into what you already know: walks, "Porteño" walks, corridas, etc. Don't forget pauses and adornos, too! These are what make the dance dynamic.

There will be many other forms of turns in tango as you continue with the dance. Think of tango as mathematics. In high school, you learn math one way, and then you arrive at college, and they say, "OK, this is the real complexity of that mathematical issue" and go on to give you five million more exceptions, details, etc., than you had before. What we are doing right now is the high school math version of tango. It is not wrong or dumbed-down; I am simply giving you several "constants" in your dance equation that will later be replaced by variables.