Elegant walking in tango

My teachers, Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas, have a sinuous, elegant, sexy walk. They call it "walking like a porteno" but I call it "walking like Oscar" to avoid all the arguments about how portenos do and do not walk. In Buenos Aires, everyone agrees that there are many different ways to do tango, but here in Portland, we seem to spend a lot of time arguing about the one way to do something . . . 

In Tango Fundamentals, we've been working on this walk a lot, but many questions have come up that I think are more easily answered here.

1. How many "tracks" do I use for the "porteno" walk?

Don't you hate the "it depends" answer? In this case, there are two tracks for dancing, but the leader is on one, and the follower on the other. Compared to the "two track" walk, the leader is actually slightly offset compared to the follower, but not enough to be leading to the cross. As each person walks in a straight line, each person steps in front of him- or her-self.

This walk works best in a slight V embrace, close embrace, but not square to the partner.

2. Why is this better than two-track walking?

This walk is simply more elegant than what I see on the dance floor most of the time. Two-track walking is not wrong, but it doesn't look as nice. I'm not going to walk up to you on the dance floor and ask why you aren't doing this ;-) Your walk is a personal choice; mine is to do the walk this way when possible.

There are as many ways to walk in tango as tango dancers. The reason I teach the version of tango that I teach, is that this style uses the body efficiently, and reduces injuries, as well as allowing me to dance for hours with less fatigue and foot pain.

3. But what if the person I'm dancing with tells me I'm not walking right?

What I am teaching you is not what "everyone" is doing in the tango community. You will find people who think that different=wrong. You have two alternatives: improve your dance, or conform to local habits of dance, whether or not they are good dance choices. I like to think that, in a few years, we will all be dancing better and more fluidly, and many more people will be doing this style of walking. I've noticed that all of you who are in my classes look more elegant and balanced. I get a lot more comments about my good dancing since I've switched to this style.

By the way, when I am offered unsolicited advice on the dance floor, I respectfully suggest that I will ask for feedback when I want it.

4. What is all this about contra-body motion?

Part of walking like a porteno is using natural body locomotion. When you walk, your body uses a slight rotation around the spine to help shift the weight of the body from leg to leg. You can see this if you walk and pay attention to how your arms swing gently as you walk. When your right foot is going to step forward, your body rotates slightly to the right BEFORE you step; when you step with your left, your body rotates to the left first. When you step backwards, your body twists away from the free leg.

Using natural contrabody motion also allows you to stay connected to your partner. If the leader is stepping forward with the left, s/he rotates counter-clockwise before stepping. The follower steps back on the right, also rotates counter-clockwise to the left. That means that both people move together, allowing both more freedom of movement AND more connection in your walk.

5. Why do I have to move my hips to make this walk work?

When you walk down the street, your hip releases slightly to help you shift weight from one foot to the other. The hip shift moves your weight directly above your support foot without grabbing with the muscles that surround the hip--more mobility, less work! This is an active, lifting movement, not like doing the "bus stop." This is one key part of having a lithe, sexy tango walk.

To find the right amount of pelvic movement, stand in front of a mirror. Locate the inside edge of your hip joint with your fingers, and move your pelvis until that point is over the center of your foot. Each person will have a different amount of movement here, as a woman with wide hips will move differently than a woman with narrow hips or a man. Instead of copying the look of your favorite dancer, take time to figure out what is right for your body.

6. Why did you tell me to stick out my butt?

Many people stand with their pelvis tilted forward, but the femoral joint (hip joint) works better if the pelvis shifts back further. This settles the femur into the hip joint and helps use your bone alignment for balance so that you use

7. How can I find out more about my body and how it moves?

There is an excellent reference book, designed for the average person, that shows the bones and muscles of the body, as well as explaining what motions the body can perform at each joint. I HIGHLY recommend Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain (ISBN 0-939616-17-3 for paperback). It has great pictures and lots of information without being overwhelming.