This week, we covered a lot of new territory. Don't worry if you have forgotten some of the things we've done so far: there will be time to review and incorporate everything before we're done.
There are three orientations that the leader can work with in tango: in front of the follower (which I call center), walking with the leader's body towards the outside of the dance circle (which I call outside), and walking with the leader's body towards the inside of the dance circle (which I call inside).
To walk to the outside or the inside "lane" requires communicating to the follower to STAY in that center lane, rather than moving in front of the leader. The leader rotates the torso to face the follower, and the follower's body responds with a slight torsion to maintain the dance connection/energy. The leader's hips and feet still define the direction of movement, and do not point towards the follower in these positions.
It can be difficult to attain this "disassociation" between the hips and torso. For me, I make sure that I take a step, get on my axis, and then rotate my torso before stepping through to the outside/inside lane. This process can be done quickly, but it won't work if the separate steps of the process are mixed up, say, trying to pivot the torso WHILE traveling through space. Practice executing the lane change slowly, with the axis-rotate-travel idea, and speeding it up will prove to be relatively easy.
Although you can switch lanes with any step, it looks much more elegant if each lane change happens with a long diagonal step. Thus, moving to the outside lane (to the leader's right) looks better if you cross through from the center with the left leg, and move back to the center lane with the right leg; vice versa for moving to the inside lane (to the leader's left).
Walking to the cross
When the leader moves to the inside track, and continues to walk there, then the follower must cross. When the leader walks to the inside and the follower's LEFT foot steps, that is the signal that a cross may happen (a "maybe" in the vocabulary of Daniel Trenner). If a second step ensues, with the leader still walking to the inside, that is a "yes" because the next step will be a cross for the follower. If the leader does not want to walk to the cross, s/he must either step back in front of the follower (to the center lane), or lead into another step that does not continue line-of-dance. On the next step, the follower will cross in place.
There are several possibilities at the cross, but for now (remember I said this was the high school math version?), the leader will change weight in place while the follower crosses. This will keep us in parallel system for the moment, with the leader's left and the follower's right moving at the same time.
The actual cross of the follower's legs and feet, is led with the leader's torso. The initial torsion to walk to the inside lane must remain until the cross step. As the follower takes a backward step, the leader brings the torso back to neutral. In order to stay with the leader, the follower must cross one leg over the other, creating the cross step.
The follower steps back on the left, back on the right, and then scissors the legs together, crossing the left leg in front of the right, ending by standing on the left, legs crossed in place. The main focus should be the thigh and knee placement--knees fitting together like two Pringles potato chips, and the thighs connected as well. The shape of the follower's legs determines where the feet hit the floor during the "cross" step. The balls of both feet should be against the floor, as the cross step requires switching weight from right to left, with as little traveling as possible and without loss of balance. The cross should be one of the most stable steps in the dance. Don't try to line up your toes to the detriment of knees/thighs/balance!
Is the cross led?
In my opinion, yes--and no. After thirteen years of listening to folks argue this point, I have decided that both camps are approaching grey territory with black-and-white reasoning. This is a codigo, or a rule of the dance, so everyone knows that the cross is going to happen in a certain place in the dance movement. In my opinion, the follower should not automatically cross, but should listen for the nuances of the move: how fast does the leader want the cross to happen? with what flavor: sharp? soft? The cross has a lot of possibilities, and if the follower dances it on autopilot, some sweet moments of the dance will disappear. The leader's combination of traveling forward and returning the chest to neutral, create the cross. Followers: pay attention and enhance the dance!
Next week: turns and ochos at the cross (we began this week, but I want to wait until we've finished to review this as a whole). If you have a chance to practice, going over the walk to the cross is a good thing to review.