This session, I am teaching a class on using steps that use the "outside" of the dance. That is, the leader is walking on the follower's left side, in close embrace. I looked around and saw that very few people are using this, and fewer are using it effectively :-)
I really like dancing on the "outside" because it provides me with more play-space in the dance. A lot of the moves I do on the outside are things that I learned by dancing with the old milongueros in Buenos Aires milongas back more than fifteen years ago, and in classes with Jose Garafalo and with Tete Rusconi, also way back then.
Although the moves are not difficult, the perception that there is not enough room to move, causes some comical coping strategies. I showed a few to my students, who giggled, but said that was what they did to try to avoid running into the follower. So, here are some pointers for "walking on the wild side" of tango.
The best thing about my favorite way to switch to the outside is that it is communicates clearly to the follower AND takes up no space on the dance floor.
- salida: Complete the move! Collect your feet and make sure the follower did too.
- suspend: I think about keeping my hands with the follower and stabilizing her/his balance as the most important parts here. A light, teeny lift, small enough so that onlookers can't see it, but the follower can feel it, is my goal.
- slide to the outside: Although it is theoretically possible to just change weight in place to get into crossed system, I have never danced this move where taking a small open step onto my right foot did not improve this move. You really have to slide your chest across the follower's chest (so get used to it!) to get all of your axis on the outside lane.
- walk forward: That's why you switched over here anyway! I don't see a point to doing all this work in order to move back or sideways. If you do, PLEASE tell me what you do here, and why; all of my moves on the outside start with at least one forward step, I think.
Follower happy, everybody happy!
Don't rush the follower! A lot of people do an approximation of the above instructions. When I am following, I get thrown through more in a "you-know-this-so-do-it" mode that I hate. A lot of teachers teach this as a double-time step. They say that, if you do it before the follower knows you are heading, s/he won't move into your way.
Take your time on each part of the move. Make sure the follower is on balance (and you are on balance) before doing the next step of the shift to the outside. Balance equals elegance and beauty. Rushing makes you and your follower look bad. Sacrifice your musical plan to the comfort of the follower, and you will see a difference.
After you master this as a slow move, of course you can speed it up, but focus on the follower and making them stable and comfortable first, or you won't have a lot of choices of how to use the outside lane.
Other variations that work
What I learned from the old guys
In the milongas, sometimes the older guys would do a variant of this move that takes even less room (no salida). I didn't ever hear a teacher teach this version, but I find it works well with a follower who follows, rather than trying to figure out what move I am going to do :-)
- Stand on BOTH feet: You are the tree!
- Shift the follower over to your left so that you are have room to walk forward.
- Walk forward.
Many dancers are not used to moving just the follower, but I find this move easy to do. One of my students watched me do it, and then had me lead her, and said, "But how do you DO that?!"
It's all about intention. When I lead, I imagine where I want my follower to do, and then I accompany that step. A follower who is tuned in to energy moves based on my intent, not my pushing/shoving. I almost don't need to lead with my body because my energy has already moved her/him. This is very woo-woo, but this is how I lead. Be clear with your intentions, and this move is easy.
Change at the cross
This takes more room, and I originally learned it in open embrace. I do not usually use it, but it's kosher.
- Walk to the cross. Instead of maintaining your positioning, allow the follower to move slightly in front of you as the cross is done (often they do this by accident, so then I take advantage of the "naughty toddler" move and go to the outside).
- Leave a step out: both people now have the right foot free.
- Walk forward. If you did not get a shift over at the cross, you need to so a slight shift here.
Change on the fly
This takes the most room. I remember learning it my first year in tango, probably from Daniel Trenner the first weekend I ever danced tango. Again, I learned it in open embrace, and I don't think it works very well in close embrace. However, since it takes so much space, it may just be that I avoid it because I have improved versions to dance.
- Walk regularly. For me, this is in a slight V, with the leader on their own "track"--what some of you call the inside track but I call normal.
- Walk in front of your follower.
- Walk to the outside of your follower.
I see a lot of people try to do this, but they usually twist their hips to the right and walk off in random directions, rather than forward in the line of dance. It's just harder to know where your partner is when you switch on the fly. I suggest not doing this in close embrace.
Now that I am here, what do I do?
Next week, I'll go over my favorite things to do from this position. Since one of the best things I learned from my excursion into learning theory is that posing a question and trying to answer it before being given a solution creates more brain connections and stronger memory when you DO figure it out, I'll give you some time to go play.