Walking to the cross in parallel system (Salem Tango I class)

This week, we worked on three related tango elements:

  1. switching lanes or tracks
  2. "maybe no" steps
  3. walking to the cross (maybe, yes, cross)

1. Switching lanes or tracks

In Argentine tango, you can walk in front of your partner, or walk on either side--creating three distinct tracks or lanes. As we mentioned in the first class, your hips and toes define the path of the couple, so this does not change, even when you are walking on the "outside" (follower is closer to middle of the room, leader has moved to his/her own right) or walking on the "inside" (leader is closer to middle of the room, having moved to his/her own left) compared to the follower. What, then, makes this changing lanes possible?

Torso rotation makes it possible to walk in the outside, center or inside track, without changing the direction of the couple in the room. This twist must happen while both people are on their axes, or the twist unbalance the step. Only after the rotation occurs, can the leader step through to the outside or inside: that movement creates the space through which to step!

If I want to step out to the outside track when leading, I twist my torso TOWARDS my follower while on my axis (to my left, or counterclockwise), and then step through to the outside. The follower's torso adjusts to my twist by rotating to face me, so the connection/energy of the couple is still between the partners. The focus of this twist/rotation is--you guessed it--the solar plexus.

To return to the center track, I step back into center, returning my torso to a neutral orientation (no twist). Remember, this is not done with arms or feet: the center of the body returns to center.

If I want to step towards the inside, or center of the room, I twist my torso TOWARDS my follower (to my right, or clockwise) in order to maintain connection and energy, as well as to make room for myself to the "inside" track. The "maybe no" and "maybe yes cross" elements come into play when the leader moves to the inside track.

Note: An experienced leader makes sure that the follower's dance is enhanced, not disturbed, by switching lanes. As a beginner, you can achieve this by:

  • making sure that you take your entire body along: don't leave your head in the center lane and take only your legs to the side :-)
  • focusing on leading even-length, clear steps for the follower. That means that your own steps to the outside/inside and returning to center, must focus on the forward motion, not a wide diagonal.
  • keeping the energy of the connection between the partners, rather than turning your chest to follow your own direction and having the embrace collapse. Imagine that both partners are responsible for holding a little pillow between them while doing this step: at no point should the pillow fall or shoot out the sides of the embrace! That pillow is your energy focus, and keeping it in the middle makes the dance feel smooth to the follower.

2. "Maybe NO"

As far as I know, this terminology is from Daniel Trenner (my first tango teacher). I think it works very well, which is why I've used it for thirteen years! Short ad: Daniel will be coming to Portland to teach for a week in February! Check him out on the Portland tango page: http://portlandtango.com/

When the leader steps through to the inside track, and the follower steps backwards onto the left leg, that is a MAYBE. If the leader returns to the center track immediately (with the next step), that is a NO. In other words, no, we are NOT going to the cross right now! Remember that the torso twist needs to happen before the leader steps to the inside track, while both partners are on axis. If you twist too soon, the follower will try to begin a turn or a grapevine (more on that in later classes) instead of walking. If you twist too late, there's no room for the leader to move through to the inside.

This step can be done to the outside track and returning to center, but it is not really a "maybe no" because we don't walk to the cross on that side. (Well, OK, sometimes you can do that, but it is unusual, and we'll save it for Tango III or IV!).

3. Maybe yes cross (walking to the cross)

When the leader stays in the inside track after the "maybe" step, the next step is "yes" and on the third step, the follower crosses the left leg in front of the right leg and shifts weight onto the left leg. The right leg will then be free for the next step in the dance.

In the current "high school math" version of walking to the cross, the leader will walk to the inside track with the right foot, lead the "yes" step with the left, and then step in place, putting the weight on the right foot while the follower crosses. That way, the leader's left foot will be free for the next step. Warning: this will change! There are many things you can do at the cross, once this is working. For right now, we are walking in parallel system and both partners are taking the same number of weight changes at the cross. More on that later :-)

Torso torsion: The cross is led by a combination of the leader's forward movement and the untwisting of the torso. When done correctly, this step brings the follower across the leader's "inside track" to make this the current center track. For the follower, this is a diagonal step, with an emphasis on the backwards direction. This means that the untwisting has to complement the leader's forward motion; it is a subtle movement of the solar plexus, not a shoving with the arms!

The follower's walking to the cross will be the same for all versions of the step. The back step with the left leg will always be "maybe" and the next step back on the right will either be "no" or "yes". If it is "yes" the follower will scissor the left leg closed in front of the right leg and transfer weight to the left leg, ready to move on the right for the next step.

This is a very stable position in the dance that is based on thigh and knee alignment, not toe alignment! Remember that we talked about leg shape and the shape of the cross. No two people will have the same look because their bodies are different. Keep your thighs together and stack your knees one in front of the other (like Pringles potato chips, both are slightly curved: no locked knees!). Your toes will probably not align with each other perfectly. For me, with my (well let's be nice) strong calves, I cannot get my left toes as far back as my right ones. However, because my knees and thighs are working hard, the shift from right to left is still in place and still on balance. Work up the center of your axis, from the floor to the ceiling, and let your axis support this move.

My two cents: lead the cross or the automatic cross: which is it?

Here's my opinion on this topic: the cross is a codigo, or a convention/rule. We all KNOW that the follower is walking to the cross after the "yes" step, BUT the leader should be allowed to interpret the move. In other words, the follower should not just do the cross automatically, but rather wait to see HOW the leader is interpreting the move vis-a-vis the music. Is it slow? Fast? Abrupt? Smooth? At no point does the follower go on autopilot!

Next week, we'll review this work, and also start doing steps at the cross: ochos and turns!!!!!