Ganchos and leg wraps 101

The big picture: a gancho is a hooking of one partner's leg around the other person's leg, and then releasing it. This can be done by the leader or the follower.

Technique pointers: Leaders

  • Create a tall, skinny window for the gancho.
  • Only use your chest rotation to lead a gancho: keep your hips anchored, or you will fall over!
  • The leader's arms help contain the follower: don't use them to push the follower into a gancho.
  • Correct foot placement is tricky, but makes the difference between almost doing a gancho, and leading a beautiful gancho.
  • It is OK to pause to ensure correct placement before completing a gancho: it's not about force or momentum as much as placement and timing.


Technique pointers: Followers

  • Keep your leg loose/relaxed, from the hip joint down.
  • Did I mention keeping your leg loose?
  • When doing a gancho/leg wrap, make sure to maintain your axis. Although some ganchos can be done off-axis, this is rare, and not a part of Ganchos 101; let's save that for about Ganchos 301!
  • Don't help the leader do the gancho: let it be led! Leading a gancho is a issue of timing, not force, and the leader needs practice to fine-tune it.

Ganchos from overturned back ochos

When I studied these ganchos in Chicho's teacher training class, back in 1999 or 2000, he told us, "Always make the follower come to you, rather than going to the follower." This is expecially true for the gancho from an overturned back cross: if the follower moves even a bit too far away, or does not pivot well, it is impossible to do this step. If the follower is rotated around you so that your bodies are touching, this step is easy.

  1. Set up the step. I prefer to use a side step into a back cross, rather than a big giro to wind up, because many followers assume the back step will be fast, and tend to rush the step, making it smaller and too far away.
  2. DO NOT PLACE YOUR FOOT UNTIL THE FOLLOWER'S FOOT IS IN PLACE! Preparing early will simply move the follower further away. Wait until the follower's back foot has touched the floor, and then adjust your body and leg to get in position for the gancho. You can always slow the follower down :-)
  3. Make sure the leader's hips anchor facing the follower's step BEFORE the gancho. This way after the gancho, the leader is ready to receive the released leg and be in charge of the next step.
  4. Wrap your instep and ankle as much around the instep/ankle of the follower as possible. You want to find the follower's axis so that you can ensure keeping the follower on balance during the gancho. We are not going to tackle any off-axis ganchos in this round.
  5. Gently rotate your chest with the follower's leg, to make it wrap around your thigh and unwrap. Remember, this is like a rebound: the follower's leg does not grab the leader and hold on!


  1. This move will not work unless you have a pristine overturned back gancho. Think "butt towards leader" as you rotate, in order to remain as close to the leader's axis as possible. This will make the actual gancho easier for both of you.
  2. Do not auto-gancho: wait for the lead. If you don't get a good lead, don't do a gancho!
  3. If the leader leans into your space, let your leg release across your other leg (an amague), rather than risk falling over.
  4. Let the entire leg stay loose. Think floppy. My first teacher, Daniel Trenner, once told me: "You are going to have to get messy before you get elegant" because I was not letting my leader use my leg. Face it, followers: you are not leading the step :-)
  5. Focus on your basic steps, not on the free leg. Roll through your heel on the back step. Arrive on axis. Work your axis, not your free leg.

This move is also fun using the leader's other leg (i.e., the right leg when turning the follower to the leader's left). In this variation, the leader needs to keep the same timing, but pivot to face 180 degrees away from the follower to accept the gancho through the BACK of the leader's thigh (the outside of the thigh in my thought process, as opposed to the inside of the thigh for same side/same leg version).


Ganchos from a rebound/rock step

These appear to be the most used type of gancho in Portland. I prefer the other versions I taught in this class, but these can be a nice thing to do, too.

  1. Lead into a front parada and front pasada. I suggest using the same kind of setup I listed above, with the leader's instep wrapped around the follower's axis like a grapevine up a pole. If you use a different kind of parada, you will need to adjust the leader's foot in order to get a good gancho.
  2. When the follower has COMPLETELY put weight on the front step after the front pasada, lead a back rebound.
  3. Because the leader's leg is in the way, this creates the gancho, rather than a back-to-side step.
  4. Remember: tall, skinny window! Do not squat to lead this move!

This move can be done to both sides, using either leg of the leader to create different effects.


Leader ganchos

There are a ton of leader ganchos, most of which are used in stage dancing or open embrace. A few are also possible in close embrace, as long as you dance in the V embrace I prefer, with a rolling point of connection, rather than a static point.

We only did one leader gancho in Ganchos 101:

  1. Walk the follower to the cross, BUT leader does not change weight onto the right foot; stay on the left!
  2. Make the follower walk forward with the right (make sure the cruzada gets untangled!), and the leader steps back with the right. Try to make the follower step almost against the inside of your left thigh. Stay close!
  3. Take another step RLOD (leader's left, follower's left), but don't let the follower complete the step. Use your embrace to put the follower into a bit of a lunge. Do NOT lower your own body, or the gancho will be difficult!
  4. Standing on your left leg, pivot your body until your right leg can gancho through the follower's lunge (the leader turns away slightly from the follower).
  5. Return to regular position and exit, perhaps to the cross.

Remember that a gancho is NEVER about getting your ankle up, or you will kick your partner in tender places. The knee drops down and the leg swings gently as a whole, not just from the knee. You could theoretically kick your partner in the lower back here if you are flexible enough; but most of us are not.


Leg wraps

As this is Ganchos 101, we only did one leg wrap. To me, a leg wrap is a gancho that then travels somewhere to make the hook unwind. The easiest one (in my opinion as a follower) is led from the circular ocho cortado.

  1. Lead the first part of the ocho cortado. I cannot stress enough times that the circular ocho cortado does not rotate in the first three steps of the move!! Yes, some folks teach it that way, but this works much more easily for the follower, so stay in a linear formation.
  2. In the second rebound of the ocho cortado, lead the follower to do the regular rebound and close in the X EXCEPT that the leader's leg will be in the way, creating the leg wrap.
  3. As the follower does the second rebound, the leader places the right leg in against the follower's right leg, with ankle and knee relaxed: you are trying to get as close to the follower's axis as possible, on the inside surface of the follower's leg. Do not stop the follower's rebound!
  4. Stay in place while leading the follower to cross. This should wrap the follower's left leg around the leader's right leg. Immediately, the leader should complete changing weight onto the right leg in place, which should release the follower's leg, allowing both dancers to have the left leg free for walking to the cross in crossed system (my favorite ending to this as a follower).

Having said that, many of you leaders have told me you are having trouble getting the follower to do this. I've watched you on the dance floor, and here are the main two problems:

  1. The followers have their hips IN rather than OUT in the correct alignment. This sends their leg behind them, even in the regular ocho cortado. They are used to being cued, "Hey, this is an ocho cortado!" and then auto-leading themselves. Give them a chance to get used to the correct lead :-)
  2. The leaders are stopping, not doing a rebound to get into the leg wrap. This makes the followers tighten down the hips, knees and ankles. This does not result in a relaxed leg wrap. Make sure you are leading at least the follower (and hopefully yourself) into a rebound step.


Other little notes

As many of you noted, ganchos and leg wraps are easiest with someone about your own size. If your follower is a lot taller, go for the leg wraps. If they are a lot shorter, go for the ganchos.

I am going to leave the crazy double gancho for both people out of this entry, as no one in class is ready for it (sorry, my bad!). Let's focus on more social dance floor types of ganchos. Go practice!