Traveling turns in parallel and crossed systems (tango vals review 1)

I love doing traveling turns in vals, and having one parallel and one crossed system option means that you can start turning at any time: when the music says "Turn!" you will be ready.

Warmup: Tete's exercise

I had the opportunity to study with Tete for a few months in Buenos Aires, and to take his vals class. After he got over the fact that I wanted to lead in his class ;-) he provided me with a lot of useful information.

To get the idea of listening to the music and turning, Tete would have us walk around the room, to the music. He would shout, "Turn!" and we would have to turn halfway or all the way around WHILE traveling down the room. He wanted us to be able to turn clockwise and counterclockwise effortlessly, so that we could access all the feelings in the music and respond accordingly.

The leader's focus is the leader's axis traveling through space. Tete would tell us to imagine that we were able to flip 180 degrees at a time, rather than trying to gradually turn (keep this in mind when you have a follower attached, because it makes the dance work). Don't try to tell the follower what to do; just move your own body clearly. That clarity creates the lead. As long as you move down the room on each step, this works. Practice without a follower first, and then add a partner.

In this exercise, the follower works on being on axis and staying in front of the leader; the leader is focusing on the leader. There are no specific kinds of turns being done: the leader is listening to the music and turning. As a follower, you will find that this is easier than it sounds. There are no correct number of steps, no demands for how to follow the step. As long as you stay in front of the leader and upright, it works.

Hint: As a follower, sometimes it will be safer to step on the inside or outside track, rather than right in front of the leader until the turn finishes.  Use your common sense: just step where it makes sense.

Parallel system traveling turns

Tete's exercise helps you feel more comfortable walking LOD and turning.  Here is one specific traveling turn. Although it is possible to turn clockwise and counterclockwise, it is MUCH easier to turn clockwise, so that is what we learned in vals class.

Leaders: "Forward side back, back side forward" is your mantra, after getting set for the turn:

  1. Right foot moving into the "inside" (or "outside" track, depending on your descriptive terms), or to the right of the follower, line-of-dance (LOD) WHILE the follower steps back LOD on the left ("forward").
  2. Step onto the left, moving LOD, facing the outer wall ("side") WHILE follower steps onto the right, moving LOD, facing the center of the dance space.
  3. Step onto the right, moving LOD, facing reverse line-of-dance (RLOD) ("back") WHILE the follower steps forward, facing/moving LOD, with the left.
  4. Step onto the left, moving LOD, facing RLOD ("back") WHILE follower steps forward and through to the "inside" track (to the leader's right side).
  5. Step onto the right, moving LOD, facing the center of the floor ("side") WHILE the follower steps LOD, facing the outside wall, with the left.
  6. Step onto the left, in front of your partner, moving LOD, facing LOD ("forward") WHILE the follower steps back with the right, moving LOD, facing RLOD.

You can do this move in a very tight space with small steps, always moving LOD. You can do this with really big steps if you have room. If there are people in the way, you can always truncate the move by continuing the turn IN PLACE, or by abandoning the rest of the pattern and doing something else (improvise!).

Timing in the traveling parallel turn

We spent a lot of time in class practicing turning with different timings:

  • Stepping only on the 1 . . 1 . . 1 . . makes this simple, but sometimes feels too slow.
  • Stepping on the 1 . 3 1 . 3 1 . 3 has a nice lilting feeling (the brave Sir Robin count :-)
  • Stepping on the 12 . 12 . 12 . has a zippier feeling that fits some valses better (the tiptoe count--yes, this is silly, but you did it right when I said this!)
  • Stepping on all count 123 should only be done once in a row, and only rarely does it feel right; but I do use it.
  • And then there is the "Dan" (as in Dan Boccia from Alaska): I love dancing vals with Dan because he plays with all of these timings in the traveling turn, starting slow and speeding up into a 123! ending. Dan, you probably don't know that I've called this step a Dan for years, but I think of it as your signature step!

Crossed system traveling turns (the cadena, or chain, step)

If you are in crossed system when the music says "Turn!" you do not need to switch systems to begin. The cadena is harder than parallel system turns at first, but once you learn the movement, you will find it just as easy to do.

Leader mantra: "Through, around, through around" (this is a four-step repeat, rather than the six-step repeat of the parallel turn)


  1. Leader mantra: side-side, front-back. The leader's steps are right, left, right, left.
  2. Follower mantra: back-front, side-side. The follower's steps are right, left, right, left.
  3. These are the two sets of rebounds, rocks, whatever, that are involved in the chain step.
  4. ALL STEPS turn continuously, so that the dance travels on each step, down the line-of-dance; if you are ending up staying in one place, something is wrong.
  5. On the side-side steps, the person facing LOD is actually stepping forward straight THROUGH the step of the person doing the other set of steps, while turning. Yes, their left leg is in the way and touches yours; yes, the leg you touch does not have weight on it, so you are not knocking the other person over.
  6. The easiest way to start and end the move is in traveling back ochos; or experiment!
  7. This can turn both directions, but is easiest turning clockwise (once it's easy, then tackle the hard side).
  8. Although possible to do in open embrace, it is easier to lead this in close embrace because the follower must follow your lead, rather than try to extricate her/his leg from the center of the turn :-)


  1. Do not try and keep your legs touching while you turn: this ends up looking like wrestling or some kind of European pivoting couple dance ;-)
  2. Do not stop turning: it's much easier to just keep moving (which is why I made you do the Tete exercise first to get used to that idea).
  3. Do not worry about perfect placement. If you keep landing in the middle of the dance, pivot steps 2 & 3 more. If you keep ending up heading towards the walls, you may be twisting too far around on 1 and 3. Experiment and find the right amount of turn for you.
  4. Do not tighten your legs and knees to try to keep touching. If you relax your "free" leg while you turn, your legs will go into the correct place.
  5. Do not do more than one set of four steps at once UNTIL you get control of that sequence. Get in, turn, get out.


I tend to do cadenas in even timing: 1 . . 1 . . 1 . . 1 . . because I don't want my follower to panic when they feel a leg touch theirs! It is possible to do all the other timings, but I would not advocate the 123 version. Dance safely.