Top 10 class: Lateral ocho cortado

Although many people in the USA teach "the" ocho cortado, there are tons of variations of this step in reality. I use these a lot in my dance, and teach two variations in my Top 10 Tango Moves class, and four or five other ones in my Next 10 Tango Moves when I teach milonga.

The easiest version is lateral ocho cortado. This version does not require the follower to pivot, making it both elegant and easy to do, even as a beginner.

Lateral ocho cortado


Explanation in words:

  1. Leader does a rebound (rock step, traspie, whatever you like to call it) forward line-of-dance, beginning with the left foot, and comes back to place. Follower does a back-front, stepping back on the right and forward on the left, back to place. Remember that you each have your own "lane" instead of stepping in front of your partner.
  2. Leader steps back one step with the left. Make sure that you use contrabody (facing the follower) to allow both people to stay in their own "lane" and thus not step on each other. Follower steps forward with the right.
  3. Leader does a side rebound and returns to place (right, left). Follower does a side rebound simultaneously, starting with the left and returning to place on the right foot.
  4. Leader does contrabody to right (normal contrabody) and steps line-of-dance with the right. Follower steps back with the left.


  1. All slow counts. This takes six slow counts.  I prefer this way as it is more elegant for milonga and tango, unless the music is too slow. I also prefer this way for fast vals.
  2. Quick quick slow, quick quick slow, with the rebounds being quick, quick, and the steps being slow. This works well for slow vals (remember that in this case, the counts are not even), and for slow milonga, as well as for tango in a rhythmic tune.

Note on stepping back

Many of my students have looked alarmed and said, "Step BACK??" Yes, however, I often do this step on a slight diagonal, so that I can see over my shoulder. That way, if I am thinking of backing up, I know whether I have room to take a step back or not. This move works well with two walking steps to start, in which case, you are only backing up one of those initial steps. In a crowded space, remember that steps can be SMALL!


OK, go practice!

Buenos Aires basics (Popular tango moves 2)

Ocho cortado turn

Because ocho cortado has two distinguishable parts (rebound bk/fd and step; rebound sd/sd and step), it  lends itself to endless variations of the type that I call fillings: imagine the ocho cortado as really yummy bread with various things in the middle. A favorite is inserting a right turn into the ocho cortado:

  1. Execute the first rebound (bk/fd for follower, fd/bk for leader) and the step (fd for follower, bk for leader), so that the follower steps to the leader's right/inside track.
  2. Turn is follower's open, back, open, front steps. The traditional timing, which I advocate, is slow, quick, quick, slow.
  3. End with terminal rebound and close of ocho cortado (sd/sd rebound, with circular component): follower rebounds left/right and closes in front with left, like going to the cross; leader rebounds right/left with a VERY SMALL step, focusing more on making the rebound circular for the follower in order to aid in closing into the cross. If you want to exit in parallel, the leader shifts weight onto the right while leading the cross.

Ocho cortado with sacada

The step above can have a leader's sacada (displacement/replacement) through the first open, or side step, of the turn in step #2 above. This makes the turn have a more dynamic feeling. It may be sacrilege to suggest this, but I think that a lot of milongueros with whom I danced this move in Buenos Aires, did this move by accident! Some of the older dancers did not have very much flexibility, and instead of twisting to the right to initiate my turn, they stepped through my first step to build momentum :-)

  • The leader can do this with either foot, but it is easier to use right foot because it's already free.
  • Remember that you are leading a turn, and your torso needs to continue to tell the follower to travel around the perimeter of the circle; do NOT abandon the follower to move yourself.
  • The leader's step needs to go towards where the follower had been: towards the follower's right foot placement of the open step. 
  • Once you land in the new location, remember to remain upright! If your axis tilts, this makes the turn very hard for the follower to complete elegantly.
  • Followers: this version of the turn is a bit harder than a completely stationary turn because the center of the turn moves while you turn around it. Keep your own axis upright, and everything will go better.
  • End with the standard second half of the ocho cortado.
  • If sacadas are new to you, look at my posts about sacadas.

My favorite variation to end ocho cortado turns

If you are bored with the turn above, try removing the second half of the ocho cortado (rebound sd/sd and step) from the pattern, and exit the turn a different way. This is the step we've been working on perfecting in the Portland intermediate class recently. This truncates the follower's turn to the first two steps, open and back, and exits linearly

Exit on follower's back cross step

  1. As the follower lands on the back cross step of the turn, LIGHTLY (remember la marca?) lift so that the follower stays on that foot (her/his right).
  2. Allow the follower's hips to unwind. Followers: this is a fun place to play with an adorno!
  3. Release the lift.
  4. Exit.  I prefer walking to the cross in crossed system because as a follower, twisting back the other way is not very comfortable.

Trouble-shooting this move

As I watched the class learn this move, I realized that many people try to follow the steps exactly, even if the weight distribution and balance are not working. It is much more important to be on balance here than to remain perfectly in place. May I suggest:

  • Followers: Make sure your turn has strong, balanced hip movement. If you swing your leg to make turns, don't! Your hips are the motor of the turn, allowing you to keep a tight, elegant, on-balance giro around the leader. This will  keep you the same distance away from the leader, helping both of you balance.
  • Leaders: If you don't twist easily or you tend to fall over when you twist your torso, consider taking an extra step--or two, or three! When the follower lands on the back step and you lift lightly, move over in front of them (a baby calesita), rotating around the fixed point of the follower's axis, until both people are on balance and facing down the line of dance to exit.

Good luck and have fun!

Buenos Aires basics (Popular tango moves 1)

The advantage to both leading AND following tango, is that I can steal moves from folks I danced with in Buenos Aires, and bring them home to YOU! My intermediate tango class on Wednesdays at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (5340 N. Interstate, Portland, OR) will be learning these moves during this six-week session. We'll do a new one each week, so feel free to come drop in and dance!

Ocho cortado

There are many ways to do ocho cortado, but there are some fundamental elements that must exist for the ocho cortado (or ocho milonguero) to happen:

  1. Follower is led in a back-front rebound step (R foot back, L forward). This is ONE movement, like a basketball hitting the ground and returning. Does the ball stop for a moment at the ground? No! It flexes and returns (just like the follower's body).
  2. Follower is led to step through to the leader's outside track (leader's right) with the right foot.
  3. Follower is led in a side-side rebound step (left-right), ending in a front cross/close. This should have some circular motion around the leader to make the move easier for the follower and conserve space.

Notice that the ocho cortado is based on the follower's footwork! As the leader, I could hop up and down, as long as the follower gets these messages: rebound, step through, rebound, close. However, most of us prefer a bit more structure, so here are the leader's steps for the linear ocho cortado:

  1. Leader does a forward back rebound (left, right).
  2. Leader steps backwards with the left, while leading the follower through to leader's right side.
  3. Leader does a tiny rebound side-side, but most of the movement is circular, so that the follower's rebound goes around the leader, not away, out into space.
  4. Leader completes move by stepping in place (or near there, depending on the variation) with the right foot, ready to begin another pattern in parallel system (or doesn't switch and is in crossed system).

Most of the arguing about how to do the ocho cortado here in Portland centers around whether the ocho cortado should be circular or linear. THERE IS NO CORRECT VERSION; linear vs circular is a decision made on the dance floor, depending on the space available.

Common mistakes in performing an ocho cortado:

  1. Abandoning the follower's first rebound step to "make room for the follower" by tucking your free foot behind yourself. Your follower doesn't need you to get out of the way, s/he needs you to lead clearly.  Easy Fix: If you are going to make a circular ocho cortado, make sure the follower is completing the rebound (i.e., headed back towards you) before you pivot. No fix is needed for the linear version: if you were walking correctly, your foot is already behind your other foot, ready to receive the rebound.
  2. Pulling the follower to your side to make sure they know this is a forward step after the rebound. Your follower needs to stay connected to your center, not your shoulder, so this pulls the couple off balance.  Easy Fix: Check your first rebound. You get the momentum to carry the follower forward by completing the rebound. Don't think rock step; don't think check step: think REBOUND. Stay connected with your energy, but allow the follower's body to rotate against yours if she needs more room for her hips.
  3. Stepping open to catch the follower and send her back to the other direction to close. This usually makes the follower's "rebound" step into a yee-haw cowgirl, knees locked attempt to finish the step.  Easy fix: Make your own rebound step TINY (if you tend to fall over here, stand on both feet and just rotate!), and focus on making the follower's side-side rebound have a slight circular quality to it, around your center. Use the follower's momentum from the rebound to catch him/her and reverse direction.
  4. The enormous, yee-haw! version of the ocho cortado seems to start from a big, enthusiastic first rebound. A lot of guys have complained to me that they feel the followers charge through the middle (creating the "on the shoulder" orientation of the couple), and that they are forced to take a big step to catch the follower, in order to save the move. Yes, sometimes it is definitely the follower's auto-ocho-cortado that creates problems. But if you are leading, you get to choose to fix that!  Easy fix: take a small first rebound step. This should make the follower's forward step through smaller, AND result in a smaller side-side rebound. Whatever the energy of the beginning of the ocho cortado, the rest will mirror that. YOU are in charge, leaders!

Linear ocho cortado

Having said there is no correct version, full disclosure time. I prefer the linear version of this move as a follower. Too many folks have abandoned me in the middle of my first rebound in order to tuck their right foot behind and start turning, without having told me what to do! Yes, I can SEE where they want me to go. Am I being difficult in requesting that the leader LEADS me to dance? I don't think so. When I follow, I want to feel clarity, not see it :-)

As a leader, I don't even think what shape I need. I focus on making the first rebound the right size for my space on the dance floor, and then only move circularly when I have no space behind me. I rarely plan ahead for more moves, but let the end of the ocho cortado dictate what comes next (and yes, fourteen years ago, there was often a pause there because I couldn't figure out what to do next!). The energy of the dance makes the choreography, adjusted for space.

Where to find more information

An excellent source of review of some basic variations on ocho cortado is Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas' Rhythmic tango DVD. I like their explanation of the basic ocho cortado as well.  I think it's Chapter 11 on changes of direction, traspie timing and the ocho milonguero; and several chapters after that for the variations.

If you are coming to my class April 4th in Eugene, we'll learn three to five new variations to add to your dance. I just realized today that I'm teaching on Easter. Hope some of you show up anyway!