Adornos, Part I

“Pretty feet!”

That’s the second-best compliment I ever received while dancing. A woman I didn’t know tapped me on the arm as I left the dance floor at La Nacional when I passed her table. She smiled at me, nodded in approval and told me, “Lindos pies.” I almost fell over! I was not used to compliments from Argentine women on my dancing.

“You adorn with your soul”

A few years after that other compliment, I was dancing at Los Consagrados with someone I didn’t know, and even the first dance was amazing. I forget what orchestra was playing, but I was really enjoying the music as well as the leader, and my feet just did their thing as part of my dance. When we finished the first song, he accused me, “Hey, you are a teacher!” And I replied, “And so are you!”

After the second dance, he told me, “You don’t just adorn with your feet, you adorn with your soul!” That is the best compliment I have ever received on the dance floor in Buenos Aires, and I treasure it. I don’t think of adornos as a separate part of my dance: they are integral to my body and to my tango. I loved it that someone noticed.

I didn’t think adornos were important

I didn’t work on adding adornos to my tango for a long time. I started tango in 1995. There were very few tango teachers around, and if I wanted people to dance with in Eugene, I was going to have to teach them. I already had an M.A. in Dance and was teaching ballroom and folk dancing at University of Oregon. I jumped into tango, and most of my time was spent ensuring that I understood the lead and follow parts of each step I learned, so that I could teach it correctly.

Eventually, I realized that my feet were the part of my tango that needed the most work. I focused on my adornos, foot strength and elastic use of my legs for the next few years, and it paid off with those compliments about my feet.

Adornos are functional

I have come to understand that adornos are a functional part of my dance. They allow me to keep my body relaxed and ready for any movement the leader might suggest. They help me keep a dynamic balance, rather than trying to lock into a complete stop. They use the natural margin of error that we have for balance (the amount our feet and ankles can adjust to help us maintain balance) as an inspiration for small, but full-body, movement.

These days, I teach beginners adornos from their first day in tango. I find that people who learn this way feel more empowered to express themselves in the dance. They are more relaxed because their body is moving, which makes them breathe more fully. They understand that balance is dynamic, and that they don’t have to have a perfect dance.

I encourage people to use “too many” adornos in class to explore what a good level of movement would be. If someone is worried about movement being “wrong” they will dance more stiffly. If dancers are afraid to adorn, they struggle to find a comfortable balance between doing what the leader asks and what they hear in the music themselves. Finding a good balance and understanding that each dance and each partner will differ, is a huge relief to most learners: it’s ok to experiment! Plus, it’s fun to play with your feet and the music, and learning should be fun!

What adorno should I do?

This is the question most learners ask me. There is no should in adornos. I tell my beginners to write their name in the sand. Put energy into the big toes, but don’t spend a lot of time thinking of what to “write” or your time in the pause will be over.

Adornos are filigree to fill in and beautify the dance, commenting on the music/mood/partnership that is happening at that moment. We learn specific adornos in order to train our legs so that we can improvise in the moment.

What is in the video?

This video reviews the adornos we have been doing in my Tango: Toning and Technique class. So far, we have done linea (line), lapiz (pencil), front and back crosses (which I was taught as “amagues” but I just argued about this with a friend, so we will just call them whatever and move on; and an adorno I call “the elevator” because no one ever told me a name for it. When I say elevator, everybody gets the right idea :-)

Corridas and toquecitos: technique for milonga excellence

Milonga is perhaps my favorite dance in the entire world (tango, cover your ears!). I love the groove of the dance and the simplicity/challenge of playing with syncopation instead of the more varying syncopation, pauses and slo-mo possibilities in tango. Many dancers who come from other rhythmic dances, find milonga easier to approach than tango.

However, because of its speed and the need for smaller steps, milonga can be more challenging than tango to reach a level of excellence. It is SO easy to abandon technique and just clomp through the dance, panicking at the needed speed of each step.

I have just taught six weeks of milonga technique in my beginning, intermediate and advanced classes. The Body Dynamics class has been focused on small steps, elegance and speed for the session as well.

Corridas and toquecitos


Corridas, or "runs" are a series of fast, small steps that can be moving forward, backwards, or laterally. Corridas are also done in tango and vals, and have the same considerations there.

For forward or backwards steps, the main issue is making the fast (syncopated) steps feel comfortable. Remember:

  1. Take quick steps that are half as big as the regular steps.
  2. Get your heel down on each step to balance yourself for the next step.
  3. As you shift feet, keep your knee and hip alignment so you have cushioning.
  4. Core, core, core! Engage your deep core to make a dynamic step your partner can feel.

For lateral steps, a lot of people find the errors in their normal side steps are magnified by going quickly! Focus on:

  1. Rolling through your foot on both the step traveling to the side, AND on the step in place!
  2. Letting the natural shift in the hips happen when you change feet. Don't keep your hips flat to the ground!
  3. Keeping the knees soft.

Toquecitos (little touches)

Toquecitos are adornos that work really well in milonga. BE CAREFUL to avoid overdoing them. I distinctly remember one woman who was dancing when I started in 1995: she sounded like she was tap dancing! Don't be that person ;-)

That said, toquecitos that are soft and get your feet under you can be used as what I call a "functional" adorno: something that improves your technique, rather than just an ornament.

Toquecito tips:

  1. As one of my teachers used to say, "Don't kill the cockroach!" Just tap lightly.
  2. Use the ankle muscles so that the movement is the whole foot.
  3. Think of using it just before you move, rather than step and tap. I think of it like a downbeat: "And, go!" instead of "Step, TAP!" which is too loud/harsh.


The video

Lapiz: Using lapiz as a simple adorno, and in turns

The lapiz, or "pencil" is an adornment for the leader.  When used in a turn, the leader draws a quarter circle (more or less) on the ground to mark the path of the follower's back cross, side and forward cross steps of the turn.

Exercises for disassociation (to prepare for doing the lapiz and other fancy stuff)

These are exercises from Oscar Mandagaran, Luciana Valle, and Chicho Frumboli. You can use them to develop the ability to move upper and lower body parts at different times, without falling over. This disassociation of the body refers to remaining on axis, but rotating around the axis: rotating the chest to turn the follower without moving the hips, or executing an ocho for the follower twisting the lower body more than the torso.

  1. Step forward with the right foot. I leave my left foot back to feel the twist of the body, but this is not necessary.
  2. When you are on axis, rotate around your axis to the right (clockwise, CW).
  3. After you twist to your maximum, let the twist resolve by allowing the hips to rotate until your body is in neutral again (hips/solar plexus pointing the same direction).
  4. At first, this may be only a quarter turn. Remember, the follower's movement in the turn provides some momentum for the leader's pivot in a "real" turn. Do not wind up with your arms, shoulders, butt, etc., in order to turn faster. Once the mechanics are working in slow motion in a small rotation, you will find it easy to turn further and/or faster.

After this is working, add another section (preparation for enrosques, drags, etc.):

  1. As the hips return to neutral in #4, don't stop them! Keep rotating your hips until they are ahead of the torso.
  2. Continue the torso's motion until it is neutral above the hip's position.

I use this same motion to prepare for some kinds of drags and enrosques. In these moves, I need to lead the follower with a consistent motion, but I need to get ready for another move for myself at the same time. Using these drills helps the body memorize the feeling of keeping the torso with the follower, while doing something else. After years of working on this drill, I can depend on my body to do the movement correctly in the heat of the dance, rather than just on the practice or class dance floor.

Lapiz Technique

  • The leader stands on one foot.
  • While leading a turn (if the leader is standing on the left leg, turn to the right, or CW), the leader makes a quarter circle with the free foot on the floor and collects it back under him/her. I think "Noon to 3 o'clock" to get the right shape.
  • For me, the lapiz does not change level.  That is, I don't sink into it and then rise again. I try to maintain the same level so that the follower's turn is not disturbed.
  • Because a turn is occurring while the lapiz happens, it FEELS as if the lapiz is much bigger. Do NOT make a bigger sweep ("noon to six o'clock") with your leg to get momentum: let the follower's turn make the momentum, based on your body's disassociation/rotation around the axis.
  • In the variation we learned last week, the lapiz ends with a front parada (stop) and stepover for the follower. In this case, the quarter circle gets a little tail, as the leader completes the lapiz and then extends the foot again to block the follower's path for the parada.

The lapiz itself is not difficult, but doing it while still leading the follower to turn around the leader can be tricky. The leader's chest needs to turn (as usual) to make the follower turn. The leader is standing on one leg during the turn and moving the other leg without disturbing the balance of the hips. In order for the movement to work, the torso and hips need to disassociate from one another, without losing the axis of the body.

Lapiz as an adorno

Using lapiz as an adorno is a very short clip from Body Dynamics class a few weeks ago. We learned this in the Next 10 Tango Moves class last session.

Lapiz in turns

You can also use the lapiz in turns. We learned this in the Next 10 Tango Moves class, and have been using it in longer combinations in the advanced class this past session. Here is a short clip from Body Dynamics class, reviewing what we've been working on.


Note to followers: The energy and precision of the follower's turn helps the leader to achieve an elegant lapiz. For me, the follower is the "motor" of this move, but does not take over. Give the leader your best turn, keeping the steps equidistant to the center of the circle (the leader). As the leader becomes more comfortable turning on one foot, this will become easier for both of you.

Adornos in Body Dynamics class

Last week, we worked a lot on adornos.  Here is the video summary of class--yes, I think I finally figured out how to convince my computer to talk to YouTube (by NOT using my video editing program :-() and YouTube to talk to my blog!




Adornos we worked on:

  • lineas (lines)
  • circles (circulos or firuletes)
  • amagues
  • "the elevator"
  • "shine your shoes"
  • "double Georgina"
  • "raise and lower" (sube y baja)
  • "floor caress"
  • toquecitos (little touches)

YouTube has refused to save my video as unlisted, so any of you who know how to convince it otherwise, let me know!