Twisted Body Dance Theory of Argentine Tango

by Igor Polk, June 5, 2016 - May 19, 2014

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Book:  Dance Theory of Argentine Tango
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Concept: A Move

Side Step Left From Cunita

From the Liberty while finishing movement backward toward Parada, a man can step immediatelly side arriving to a Side Pose, L><SS for the man, or an opposite R<>SS for a woman: the couple makes a step back and side, to the left as shown on the drawing. Man's directions are understood as a couple directions.

On the diagram, on the right drawing, there is a familiar position of the Cunita when the man is in Liberty and the woman is in Parada, on the left you can see the drawing which corresponds to the Side Pose of partners facing each other.

Two steps where made, but there are only two poses, Liberty for the man and Parada for the woman at the beginning and Side at the end. The whole thing is made in one swoosh, in one energy wave. I will call it "in one move".

Like in Cunita, the torsos of dancers have made one twist only releasing the energy into the move. For the man, ending position of torso is like in Cunita's Parada, for woman, like in Cunita's Liberty, as if they are performing Cunita. Pelvis was twisted at first, then released the energy into the move and came to the side position. To make the step longer and the pose more elegant, the hip-push is executed while going into the side step. Stretch the free leg.

Definition of the Move

While performing this two-step figure, the position in the middle while a man was on his R is intermediate. At this moment, the dancers are "on the move", torque in their torsos is Neutral, which corresponds to the "arms to the sides".

Summarizing, one move is one transition of torso or/and pelvis releasing an energy wave. It can be done in one as in cunita or a regular step, two as in this figure, and three as in a fast tango turn steps. There could be a slight slow down at the neutral point (on the man's R in this case ) or the neutral point can be passed with high speed. Musically, one move fits nicely into one measure. A Move, not a step is the structural element of the dance.

Think about this figure as a development of cunita: upper body does exactly the same movement, while lower body is using pelvis twist and makes two steps instead of one.

Pay attention to the alignment. The side step is done in the direction of the twisted pelvis - diagonally side-backward. It is the same direction the upper torso is in. In the neutral position, the feet should pass close to each other, "brushing feet", but even more it is important for knees, "brushing knees". If the back and side steps are done separately, in two individual moves, they usually are taught with the straight angle between them, not diagonally.

From the side position, it is possible to make an opposite move: side step, then forward step coming to initial position. And repeat. That is why on the small symbol in the middle of the large picture where a number 2 is there are no arrows: the moves are symmetrical and form a "Cyclic Figure" which can be repeated over and over again, back and forth. It is yet another elementary Pattern Generator. 2 means two steps. But one energy wave!

While performing the Side Step Side From Cunita and back, confidently arrive to an end position and fix the body twists, charge it if it is not charged enough, take your time. For men, doing the move in four counts, start the movement on one, arrive to the R on 2, arrive on L on 3, spend the whole forth count fixing the pose. How the movements fall on the rhythm, specifically in tango, is a topic of the future articles, there is some background material on it in this book. While starting from the side position, make sure you are using your body twist to propel you to the side. Start with with it, with uncharging the torso twist. As the result, the center will start moving to the side. Obviously, legs are used for the steps, they should "support the center". You will find that keeping the standing knee slightly bend, helps. Going side then forward is more difficult than going back then side.

Side Step Right From Cunita. Other Simple Figures

A small Pattern Generator of the "Side Step Left From Cunita" is shown left drawing on the top.

Similarly, one can make a step forward from Parada while moving to Liberty and then side step to the right. It will be also one move per two steps but done to the right. It is shown in the middle of the drawing.

We can unify the both generators as shown on the bottom. This is a guide to many simple tango figures. Other figures you can do which follow the same pattern are Side Cunitas. Using this four points and three line segments drawing, with one or two-step moves one can create a large number of dance combinations.

Moreover, all the small figures can be infinitelly chained into one- and two-steps moves going forward, backward, and sideway. In order to do that formally, we have to consider at least one more elementary transition: barrida. See later.

The described transition, one-move-two-steps is

<-3X->, where 3 means three points of contact with the floor during the transition which means 2 steps. By default the passing pose is Neutral.

The formula of the described Side Step Left From Cunita and back is

L<>LB  <-3X->  L><SS   for man, from Liberty to Side and back;
R><LF  <-3X->  R<>SS   for woman, from Parada to Side and back;

A rule of changes for this figure is

    Changes to and from
Standing leg stays the same
Torso twist <> ><
Pelvis twist twisted Side
Leg direction F or B S

Try this! Try this variation when torso twist is opposite, but everything else stays the same, it feels totally different:

L><LB  <-3X->  L<>SS   for man
R<>LF  <-3X->  R><SS   for woman

A Pivot While Pushing From the Leg to Change the Couple Orientation

Pivoting on a foot is essential. There are many ways to produce pivots. They are used widely and especially there are a lot of them in Argentine Tango. Here, to start with, I will describe how two-step moves can be modified with pivoting.

While performing Side Step From Cunita it is possible to pivot left. Here on the picture, a pivot before the side step shown after man is stepping back. It is done in line, so that woman's forward motion is preserving energy. A man may even give her way. The direction of the couple is changed as it is shown with a "nose" on the diagram.

This is a reversible move.

The formula for the transition with pivot has the form -3PL90-> which means "pivot left 90 degrees in the middle position of 2-step move without torso changing in the middle"

The pivot is done on the ball of the foot, pushing from the floor while going into a side step. In order to produce the pivot, despite that the torso torque is supporting it, a special preparation should made.

First, for the man, the pivot will go well if the leg is twisted to the right. It will allow the foot to push from the floor by un-twisting energy of the leg while going into the side step.

Second, the pivot will go well, if the pelvis is charged, in Crossed Pelvis position. It will turn body to the left when going on the R leg.

Twisting of the leg right directs the foot line to the right. Crossed Pelvis must compensate that so that his foot is directed toward the partner. The final position of the foot before the pivot is strictly parallel to the line of the dance as it is shown on the picture. Then you have maximum energy for the pivot and no obstacles made by wrong foot position.

Not everyone can make this pivot. In order to do it almost without a pivot, it is possible, before the back step, to turn the free leg countra-clockwise, opposite as it is shown on the picture. Than the foot will be directed "inside". Positioning the leg slightly to the right of the line of the dance gives her way. She should direct her L foot outside and step with the man. Her velocity for the forward and for the stide steps does not change direction. Than, a nice step to the side can be done almost without pivoting. It is an easy way.

For a woman this is more interesting. She goes from the F step to Side step, and her pivot feels bigger. This is an example of one pivot out of many others which I call "going on straight leg". If a leg accepting the weight is kept straight, while weight goes on it, the pivot is easier. Keeping the leg straight will increase the level of the center of gravity, the foot will go to the foot while passing the neutral position making the body more compact. The compacter body has the smaller momentum (in physical sense) and therefore requires less energy to pivot. With the same energy, the pivot will go faster. This kind of pivot is suitable for a move when it is done in the middle of a move.

Her foot before the pivot should be directed straight.

I must mention one more way to do it because it is known and widely taught at group classes when a man steps back then strictly side without any pivot. This way encourages tightness in pelvis and may serve as teaching tool to learn the hip-push. It is shown on the top picture. It must be done with bringing feet together while passing the intermediate position. Formula for this transition is -3AR90-> "A" means "angle" here, no pivot, from previous step. It seems to me this is the only direction when it is possible without a pivot. R means right, because the direction is changed clock-wise (without pivoting) from the the default straight line.

It is possible to turn right during the same figure while stepping back like it is shown on the lower abbreviation. Instead of going side or side-backward, a man, while pivoting to the right goes into forward direction along the line of the dance! Back-Pivot-SideForward. Crossed Pelvis allows it to happen. This is a surprising, unusual move for a couple. It is easy to do when dancers know what they are doing. A woman does a similar thing on a step forward. It is done together with her partner. Transition formula is -3PR90->

This is a pivot while moving forward with the right leg making it 270 degrees to the side step. The L foot touches the floor where it was before. This is a good way to practice. If you make it on the left leg, turning right, it is possible to arrive twisting more to the right into Closed Twisted to the Right pelvis position. Transition formula is -3PR270-> . Try both of them!

Let us come back to the beginning of this chapter. Not everyone can make this pivot. In order to do it almost without a pivot, it is possible, before the back step, to turn the free leg countra-clockwise, opposite as it is shown on the picture. Than the foot will be directed "inside". Positioning the leg slightly to the right of the line of the dance gives her way. She should direct her L foot outside and step with the man. Her velocity for the forward and for the stide steps does not change direction. Than, a nice step to the side can be done almost without pivoting. It is an easy way.

There are many ways to pivot going on any leg or while standing on a leg in both directions with energy obtained by various ways from every part of the body with different rhythms. In Tango, pivots are essential and they are parts of many figures the simplest of which are Back and Front Ochos.