Ganchos: a primer on leading/following ganchos from a deep pivot

We have been working on perfecting ganchos ("hooks") and leg wraps in my advanced class this session, so I wanted to underline what technique needs to be in place for the follower to have a loose leg and good axis; and the leader to have the timing of the step perfected.

Followers: the secret to a good gancho is a good back step

The best gancho comes from making the best back step that you can do. When I see people preparing for ganchos, what I often see is abandonment of solid, basic technique. We get excited about doing a "fancy" move, and forget we know how to walk.

Also, when a gancho comes from an overturned back ocho, the angle of the pivot that prepares for the step is very important. The leader does pick the angle, but when I feel the extreme twist the leader provides, as a follower, I give my best, on-balance pivot. I try to pivot so that my butt is almost facing the leader.

Keep your legs collected during the pivot to get maximum rotation. Make sure that you are not sneaking the free foot out to get started on the back step of the gancho: that slows down your pivot and prevents you from getting the most you can out of your preparation. If you are even an inch or two further away from the leader, a gancho won't work.

For your back step, feet, knees and hips are in flexion and soft. As soon as you roll through your heel, the free leg needs to be elastic all the way to the hip. Let your foot brush the ground: holding your leg "ready" will only topple you over. The leg is heavy.

Think of your free leg as one of those wristbands that SNAP around the wrist. Your thigh makes contact, and the lower leg wraps from that contact down through the entire leg, and then releases. If you pick your leg up and try to gancho, the effect is not the same. Risk making a sloppy gancho rather than a tense one!

Above all, focus on your axis and stretch of the body: the strength of your axis makes the free leg's movement even more dramatic. It's not really about the gancho; 80% of your work is always about keeping your axis.

Last word of advice: keep breathing! A leader can't do anything with a stiff board as a follower.


Leading ganchos from overturned back ochos: let disassociation work for you

Disassociation, controlling the twist in your body so that hips and chest can maintain different angles, is the most important aspect of preparing to lead a follower's gancho. Disassociation allows you to stabilize your hips and use your torso to help the follower pivot.

I originally learned to lead these ganchos from turns, but many followers don't have strong enough turn technique to make this work well. I suggest: salida, (leader changes weight), one or two back ochitos (tiny ochos) to get the follower's hips pivoting, and then leading a stronger pivot to overturn the follower against your body, ready to gancho.

Stabilize your own hips: if you pivot the follower using your hip motion, the follower gets less of a pivot. When I follow, I prefer less torque but with stable hips. If the leader's hips turn, I get less help from the leader. Also, it brings the follower closer to the leader's body, so that the leader doesn't have to fish for gancho placement.

Adjust your angle AFTER the follower's pivot. I want to be facing perpendicular to the follower if I am going to do the gancho with the "same" side leg (i.e., using my right leg to lead a gancho on the right side of my body). I want to be facing opposite the follower if I am using the "other" leg (i.e., using my left leg to lead a gancho that was originally on my right side). Hint: I can sometimes get a secondary adjustment to the follower's pivot after I adjust myself.

Place the follower's back cross step/foot BEFORE placing your foot and ankle for the gancho. For best placement, turn your leg out at the hip, and lift your knee so that your leg is in an S-curve shape. I find that I usually get my little toe down on the ground, but I focus on connecting my instep with the follower's ankle, so that I know the location of the follower's axis/balance point. When I use the "other leg" I am aiming the back of my knee/thigh towards the spot where the follower is standing.

Keep your hips back over the support leg. Otherwise, the follower will not have space to allow the free leg to hook with your leg.

Continue to twist your torso around your own spine and rebound back to neutral in order to lead the follower's free leg. This not a wrestling match: don't pull or push with your embrace to make something happen.

As the follower's leg completes the gancho, gauge the space you have to move, as well as the force of the gancho, and use that energy to create the next step in your dance.

The principal error I see on the dance floor, is to make the gancho a move about momentum. True, a good gancho can be fast and snappy, but a slow-mo gancho feels better to me as a follower, and is no less of a hook. The gancho is about TIMING.

The best exercise I have ever seen to practice ganchos comes from Chicho Frumboli. In his teacher training workshops, he had us practice ganchos, without using an embrace (balance work), in slow motion (timing practice), over and over (motor memory). By the end of the two-hour intermediate class, followed by the two-hour advanced class, my brain was fried, but I really understood how this move works!

Volcada technique: make volcadas easy to follow and elegant!

In intermediate class last week, we started to learn volcadas. A volcada is a "tipping" or "dumping" motion, where the follower is tipped off-axis and then returned to axis. Usually this includes the manipulation of the follower's leg--a sweepy movement that is created by the off-axis motion.

Because a good volcada is not an easy move, many people cheat to make this happen: the leader indicates a move to the follower, lets her do the move, and then tries to get back to leading after the follower has managed to get on-axis again. Can you tell I have a pet peeve with this strategy? Leaders! Make this move work for your followers! Lead it!

What does a volcada look like?

There are as many different shapes for a volcada, as there are tango partnerships. The follower's free leg is used to draw a shape on the floor, BY THE LEADER. This can be a V-shaped wedge; a big sweeping C, ending with going to a cruzada shape; a big sweeping circle if the leader also rotates the couple; or (in what I call a reverse volcada), an unwinding into a an of a circle, ending in a plain back step for the follower.

Part of the fun of a volcada, is that the leader gets to play with the shape of the movement. Although I don't 100% agree with the technique shown here, I like how the "regular"--ending in the cross, and "reverse"--ending in walking out of the move, look here: volcada demo  Although they may be out there, I didn't see volcadas done by the three people who have taught me the most about them: Oscar Mandagaran, Luciana Valle, and Florencia Tacchetti; if you find them, please comment and attach them to the blog!

Having said that, I think that there is only ONE way to approach volcadas in terms of technique, and that is to create as much clarity as possible, good balance, and control over the step, as possible.

Leader technique to make volcadas work

  1. Stay as much on axis as possible: I think that the volcada is most striking when the follower does most of the tilting. Accordingly, when I lead this move, I try to remain almost completely on axis myself. 
  2. Tell the follower not to switch feet by a subtle lift of the embrace (no one else should see it).If you keep your solar plexus energized and lifted, this gives the follower's leg room to swing, even if s/he is not performing good technique.
  3. Think of the follower's support leg/foot like the point of a compass: all the other motion is happening around that main focus or anchor, and returns to that location before moving to another place on the floor.
  4. Once the follower is lifted, move away from her/him to create the tipping motion. Remember to take relatively small steps away, but with your entire axis (don't take your feet and leave your head). I tend to move directly away from the follower with my solar plexus, which means quickly stepping back and to the side with one and then the other foot (I end up with my feet apart).
  5. Catch the pendulum swing of the follower's leg (depending on the step before the volcada, this will be swinging around and towards you, or dropping directly towards you), and draw a shape that ends with the follower's free foot passing by the support foot. If you are doing a regular volcada, it is your responsibility as a lead to ensure that the follower is in the cruzada, and can switch weight to exit.
  6. Note: In my opinion, it is OK to play with Body English (a student of mine calls it Body Castellano) to get the follower's foot where you want it. It is NOT OK to be off balance or out of control as the leader.
  7. Release the "marca" and the lift before asking the follower to take another step. Do not release the lift early, or the follower's free foot gets stuck out in the swing and can't be collected elegantly under her/him.
  8. As soon as you feel the follower's weight change at the cruzada, you can step forward. There is a lot of argument about when to step forward, and I see a lot of leaders stepping forward IN ORDER TO lead the cross step. As a follower, this does not feel as balanced and safe as when the leader places my foot with the chest, and THEN steps. We talked about this in class, and I led both variants on some of you who are taking the class as leaders: you can feel how much more stable it is to wait to step until the follower's feet are anchored; but you can do as you like when I'm not watching ;-)
  9. Exit: Usually, I assume that we'll need one-two steps for the follower to completely regain being on axis. It is especially important during those steps that the leader is on balance and grounded for those steps, IN CASE the follower needs help.
  10. Pet peeve: As a follower, I personally don't like the leaders to move in a circular path WHILE making my leg swing. Usually, this results in me falling into my cross step, and falling out of it to catch up with them. I want to feel protected and supported: wait for me!

Follower technique to make volcadas work

No matter how clearly a leader leads this move, if the follower is not paying attention to technique, it won't work. The follower has the same setup as for a boleo or a gancho or any tango move: correct posture and balance.

  1. Keep your spine energized and stretched: a lot of volcada injuries occur when the follower sags into the move (and yes, I know some teachers say to keep your hips with the leader, but I don't think it's smart in terms of protecting your body). I think of doing a pushup, with my core muscles and abdominal muscles lifted and strong.
  2. Keep your hips aligned over your support leg. For me, I follow Oscar Mandaragan and Georgina Vargas ideas of alignment: my hips need to shift slightly in order for me to be as on balance as possible. This means that my hips are released a bit, on top of my support leg. DON'T hitch up the hip for your "free" leg, or it won't be free.
  3. When the leader tips me forward, I try to be even longer and more elastic than when on axis. I don't let my heel come off the floor on my support leg unless the volcada is so big that I have no choice. I spend perhaps 80% of my energy maintaining the groundedness and stretch of my axis (40% up, 40% down; 20% on the actual volcada).
  4. Release your "free" leg as deeply in the center of your hip joint as possible. The shape of the volcada is determined by the leader's path of your leg (you can make it pretty after you've learned to let the leader be in charge of your leg). If you stay stretched and elastic in your spine and support leg, your "free" leg will naturally have space to slide on the floor. If it gets stuck, go back and look at steps 1 and 2: are you REALLY doing them? (If you are, check to see if the leader has dropped the solar plexus in the middle of the move).
  5. Note: All volcadas are determined by the step that precedes the volcada. If you do the version that we learned that starts with a side step, the volcada will be V-shaped. If you start with a small boleo (this week), the volcada will be more circular. Try to give up guessing where to put your foot, and focus on your support leg and body. Let the leader worry about your free foot.
  6. When the leader places your foot and releases the lift on your body, make sure that you stay in contact with the leader. It's not necessary to immediately return to on-axis; it may take a step of two.
  7. By being stretchy and maintaining your axis even off-axis, you make this move easy for the leader. Even a follower twice my size is light if s/he follows correct technique.

Note: Because this move requires being off-balance and supporting another person's weight, is it VERY important to safeguard the back. Leaders: lift from your legs, not your back. Followers: work your abs to save your back. If something hurts, talk to me: nothing in tango should not hurt! If you feel that another person is injuring your body, make sure a teacher watches to check.

This week: More volcadas, more on vals, and improving your embrace to make moves work better. Still to come: ganchos, posture and balance exercises, and musicality games. See you Wednesday!