The choreography of tango is often the first thing that attracts people to this dance. It initially strikes one as at once free, varied, and sensual. The legs and the feet move in precise coordination, as though belonging to one four-legged being, meet and follow each other in many different ways. By “choreography” I really mean choreographic possibilities, for at its best tango is an improvised dance, with no preset sequence of movements. This means that all pure tango steps can be led and followed spontaneously, without any special signals to be agreed upon by the partners. One only needs to be aware of the possibilities, after which all proper tango figures can be executed simply through a good connection within the couple, by either stepping, turning the body, or twisting the body. Some figures may also require a change in levels by slight bending or straightening the legs, but that is a relatively minor issue. THE MAIN CHALLENGE in choreography is to let it become more complex and varied while keeping it pure. This means keeping partner connection close, body movement natural, and all leading and following non-manipulated. By “non-manipulated” I mean such leading and following which does not involve any special hand or arm signals, and is effected with the movement of the whole body, while the embrace stays close and effortless. Examples of impure figures are volcadas and colgadas. These figures usually require a special lead, and inevitably violate the principles of balance and effortlessness (see Partner Connection and Body Conditioning sections).
Trying to explain the choreography of tango in writing is an ungrateful task. A video presentation can accomplish it much more effectively, and the best by far is to learn from someone in person. Eventually I may include a video in this website. But for now I will present the structure of this dance in diagrams and words, also because the diagrams may be good for showing how the choreographic possibilities of this dance can be explored in a systematic way.
Some tango purists in Buenos Aires claim that true tango is just walking together to the music, no fancy figures. I would not go that far, but I would agree that walking together is the very essence of tango, and that considerable depth of experience can be achieved through just such simple walking. Walking together while facing each other in a close embrace, in line with each other (meaning that the man steps straight forward essentially replacing the woman’s foot which moves straight back at the same time) is at once the simplest and the most difficult tango figure. Very few dancers can do it with ease. Over the years, I also discovered that learning how to do it well is a big key to many other figures. In my experience, the best partner connection is discovered through walking in line. The old-timers used to say that one should just walk for the most part of a tango, and do figures only sometimes, preferably towards the end of the song. But the most important point is that *all true tango choreography is accomplished through natural walking*. That is, whenever stepping is involved, it must be proper natural stepping, no special manipulation of the legs and the feet. This is to me one of the most beautiful features of this dance and the biggest key to its elegance. As I mention repeatedly, developing proper natural movement is most important for improving one’s tango (see Body Conditioning section).
The purest approach to learning tango would be to work on one’s basic movement and practice walking together with a partner until it feels as easy as walking by oneself. After that, many figures would feel easy. But most of us do not have the patience to do that – we want to have a few more choreographic possibilities at hand in order to feel like we are really dancing, really improvising. This is understandable – I myself have succumbed to this temptation many times and on many levels. But I have learned how to keep this drive to expand my vocabulary in check. I now use not more than 5% of all the choreographic possibilities which I am aware of – that is the portion of them which I can do with relatively good quality. The rest my body is not in shape for. I used to think that one could just practice those more difficult steps until they started to work, but I have since learned otherwise. There were figures, like for example the planeo, which I really wanted to learn. I went to three different teachers, all very highly regarded, and asked them specifically about the planeo. They all offered their theories of how to learn it, but it was to no avail. No matter how much I practiced, by myself and with a partner, I could not get it, until I finally gave it up. Some time afterwards, I began finding ways to improve my basic movement. After a couple of years of that work, the planeo suddenly started happening by itself, without much effort on my part. It suddenly felt natural. The same kind of thing happened with many other steps. I understood that tango choreography works best if it is reinvented by each dancer, if it grows organically as a result of improving body movement and partner connection. One should not work too much on figures which feel difficult, but rather focus on doing the simpler figures better. This applies mostly to the men, but in some respects also to the women, who can sometimes get too involved in executing as many embellishments as possible, as often as possible. The men, of course, are the most frequent victims of this desire for quantity instead of quality. The whole “open embrace” movement came out of the desire for more choreographic freedom than what seemed possible in a close embrace. A very frequent comment made by women is: “oh, he is a very good dancer as long as he dances close and does the simple stuff, but he is terrible when he separates and tries the more complicated steps.” The varied and sometimes flamboyant language of tango can be initially fascinating, but the truth is that the choreographic freedom of this dance is probably the least important for its deeper enjoyment. On the other hand, the various levels of difficulty of tango figures provide a good feedback on one’s progress – when one’s body movement and partner connection improve, more difficult figures become available without much effort.
It is next to impossible to explain all the dynamics of a dance in writing, which is why this section is a rough sketch. The main reason I am writing it at all is that I know that understanding some general principles about how one can build one’s tango vocabulary ad infinitum has been liberating for me. The responsibility that comes with this knowledge is to use it in moderation, without sacrificing the quality of the more fundamental aspects: body movement, partner connection, and musicality. However, tango choreography is also an effective test of all other aspects of the dance. As long choreography is kept pure, the variety and the complexity of it will depend directly on the quality of body conditioning and partner connection. I will not try to explain exactly which figures a beginner should start with beyond simple in-line walking (this is best pursued with a teacher in person), nor will I attempt to cover the whole of tango vocabulary, which probably has no limit. For the most part, I would like to show how this dance is built around basic walking, and also to provide a structure for a serious student to explore its possibilities in a more or less systematic way.
The Overall Structure
As much as I dislike the so-called “new tango”, I must thank the originators of it for seeing the structure of the dance with an unprecedented clarity. Before them, tango existed as a collection of sequences which were invented by various dancers of the past, copied and modified. There had been no systematic approach to understanding the various choreographic possibilities. The ways to lead had also been unclear, and sometimes degenerated into outright manhandling of the woman. The originators of the “new tango” (Gustavo Naveira, Fabian Salas, and Mariano “Chicho” Frumboli) understood at least two very important principles. One is that one should lead not with the arms but with the whole body – the lead may transmit through the arms, but must be a communication through the movement of the entire body. The other is that the structure of tango is best explored literally one step at a time. (*Once again, I would like to stress that this approach is most useful for a somewhat experienced dancer; for a beginner it is best to learn several simple sequences and focus more on good partner connection, body movement and musicality.*) Following this principle, I will discuss the figures which act as the most fundamental building blocks of this dance, consisting of at most one step of the man and/or one step of the woman. The sequences that can be constructed out of these basic elements are too many to name or to count, and are up to each individual dancer (at the end of this section I will discuss some common sequences). However, the sequence actually matters a lot more than the individual figures. In spite of a good number of possibilities which I am going to discuss, the woman can only be led into three fundamentally different steps: back, side, and forward. Add to it the slight variations of the small cross and the close, plus some pivots and voleos, and that’s it! The great variety of combinations is created by the sequences that the man creates out of these few possibilities, what he does to accompany them, and how well both partners use it all to interact with the music.
I like to separate the figures by the type of lead used in there execution. As I have said before, pure tango does not use any special hand or arm signals. The hands transmit the lead, but the lead is sent and received by the center of the body. The main four leads are:
- Moving the bodies together in the same direction – “walking” figures.
- Moving the bodies around each other – “turning” figures.
- Twisting the body in order to lead/follow a turning or a twisting of the partner’s body (an example is the voleo which can be done by either stepping around the woman or by twisting in place) – “twisting” figures.
- Changing levels – sinking or rising; there are not many separate figures which depend on this lead – rather, it is used for certain transitions, amplifying certain figures, making the steps longer or shorter; the only figure which depends on changing levels that is worth noting is “the close”, as I will explain shortly.
It is noteworthy that the same step of the woman can sometimes be led in different ways. For example, to lead her side step, the man can either step to the side or turn his body. The voleo can be led either by stepping around the woman or twisting in place (more on this shortly). Eventually, a dancer can find him- or herself executing moving, turning, twisting, and changing levels all at once. Ultimately, one is no longer aware of the precise dynamics, but leads with a direct intention from the center of the body. Nevertheless, to begin with, I believe this breakdown is helpful.
Same Direction Figures
a) Parallel System
Parallel system is also known as “natural opposite”. It means that when the man moves his right foot, the woman moves her left, and vice versa. It is the most natural way to coordinate the steps in any partner dance. But tango also sometimes uses the so-called “crossed” system, which I will discuss a little later.
Below are the diagrams of all the fundamental possibilities of stepping in the same direction in parallel system. I will denote them with the letters W (for “walking” figure), P (for parallel system), a number (quite arbitrary), and R or L depending on whether the man moves his right foot or his left. All diagrams use the point of view of the man.
Walking in Parallel System
I have arranged these fundamental figures more or less in the order of increasing difficulty. I always recommend that beginners start out with WP-1R, WP-1L, WP-2R, and WP-2L, meaning just making side and forward steps, combine them into various sequences, move with them around the room, getting used to the rhythm of the music and to moving in harmony with other couples on the floor. After that, WP-3R (back step) and WP-4R (outside forward step) can be added. WP-3L and WP-4L can be added, too, but they will usually feel uncomfortable to most beginners (even most advanced dancers have trouble with those) – because of the asymmetry of the embrace, many figures feel much easier on one side than they do on the other. WP-5, WP-6, and WP-7 belong to a more advanced realm, mostly because none of the simple figures can easily follow them. WP-0 is of special interest. It is just a shift of the weight from one foot to the other while standing with feet together, often referred to as “the close” (el cierre). It is one of the deceptively simple figures – the difficulty is in communicating it to the partner (it usually requires straightening the body, rising with respect to the walking level). It can be introduced to beginners right away, but it will usually take a while to learn how to lead and follow it well. Once again, because of the asymmetry of the embrace, WP-0L ends up being easier for most people than WP-0R.
WP’s 4, 5, 6, and 7 can be done at different angles, sometimes requiring a pivot, but that does not really change the basic logic of the step – the way it ties in with other figures.
It is interesting to note that with just these fundamental walking figures one can already dance a nice tango. If these steps are performed with good quality of movement and partner connection, and with a subtle enough musicality, even an experienced female dancer will not be bored with this vocabulary.
a) Crossed System
In the so-called crossed system, when the man moves his right foot, the woman also moves her right, and when he moves his left, she moves her left. This is a less natural way of moving together, and should be used sparingly, in my opinion. It is, however, very helpful for certain figures such as back ochos and turns with sacadas. The following are the walking figures which use the crossed system (W for walking, X for crossed system).
Walking in Crossed System
The most common one of these is WX-5, both R and L, which is used most often in leading the back ocho. WX’s 1 through 4 end up being used for some transitions, but they do not feel as natural as their parallel-system counterparts. WX-6 and WX-7 are already in the realm of intellectual exercise – they will not feel natural until one is at an extraordinarily high level.
In the fundamental turning figures the man steps somewhere in the vicinity of the woman’s “previous” foot, as she is taking her weight off of it. He thereby “replaces” her body, and the whole thing can feel very smooth and rhythmical, though it takes some time to learn the coordination (all sacadas are done in this way). In other turning figures, a man can step close to the “next” foot of the woman, thereby preventing her from transferring her weight on to it – that usually results in a parada – a stop.
Both of these patterns can be reversed, meaning that the woman can be led to step close to the man’s “next” or “previous” foot, but that is much more difficult to do. I can only do a couple of such variations with any decent quality.
Then there are one-footed turning figures, in which one of the partners stays on one foot, as the other one walks around. These are harder to do and are somewhat less rhythmical, but are still relatively pure when done well. I will not provide any diagrams for those, but will discuss them briefly a little later.
What unites all these options is that one partner moves as though in a circle centered roughly around the other partner’s “previous” foot. This allows the partner who is in the center of the circle to get close to his or her partner’s feet with the free foot, creating a multitude of interesting possibilities.
To begin discussing these possibilities, I will at first point out that there are three fundamentally different ways to step around a partner: a side step, a back cross, and a forward cross. In this context, by a “cross” we traditionally mean a step, not the cross used in the basic, but a step that feels like a cross-over when one is facing the partner. For example, if a woman steps forward to her right with her right foot, that is not a cross-over, and is logically equivalent to a side step. Of course, all three options can be done with either foot, which makes for a total of 6 ways to step around the partner.
3 Ways to Step around the Partner
These fundamental possibilities can be easily strung together into the sequence front cross – side step – back cross – side step – front cross, etc., which is referred to as the grapevine or molinete. It is the most common pattern used in turning sequences.
In order to keep my presentation as concise as possible, I will show all the mutual positions of the feet – in each of these, the woman can be moving either to the right or to the left. For example, in T-6 through T-10 the woman can be doing either a forward cross to the right, or a back cross to the left, which would produce different actual figures in each position (I will give some examples shortly). In addition, each of these can be reversed so that it is the man who is stepping around the woman. As I have said, the latter are much harder to lead, and I will not be discussing them in detail. For an advanced dancer, it is enough to be aware of this possibility in order to begin experimenting with it.
Discussing all the figures which result from the above positions would be very cumbersome. I will just give some examples.
Consider the diagram showing T-6R through T-10R. If the woman is moving to the right, meaning it is her forward cross, then
T-7R is a sacada – a seeming “take-out” or a “displacement” of the woman’s foot by the man’s;
T-6R is a replacement of the woman’s body without a sacada;
T-8R and T-9R are possible paradas, or “stops”, in which the man’s foot seemingly stops the woman’s;
If the woman is instead moving to the left, meaning that she is in a back cross, then T-10R can produce a gancho. Ganchos or “hooks”, when the partners’ legs wrap around each other, are controversial figures for several reasons. First, it involves more than just the feet, and based on that can be considered impure. Second, it is a figure that can sometimes be done without a lead, in which case it is in the class of embellishments. Finally, if it is to be led, it is not clear how to do it well – opinions differ widely on this issue. I believe that the cleaner gancho is the one for which the man does not need to shape his leg in any particular way for the woman to do the gancho around it, but even so, a special placement of his foot seems necessary. If the woman is moving to the left, the placement of the man’s foot which can produce a good gancho is somewhere between T-7R and T-10R, depending on the school of thought. All sources seem to agree that the man must in this case pass the line between the woman’s feet. In addition, a precise timing of the weight transfer and a certain orientation of the upper body are required. In other words, a gancho is a questionable figure which is hard to lead well, which is why it is looked down upon by many in Buenos Aires. The reason I discuss it at all is that I sometimes like to do it, and it often feels quite rhythmical and fitting into the flow of the dance. Ganchos can also be led from a one-footed position of the woman, but I will not be discussing that in detail.
In all the turning figures shown so far, the man makes a forward or a side step. But, at least theoretically, all the same positions can be achieved as the man does a back step, as follows (I will only show these possibilities for the left foot of the man – doing them with the right foot is even more difficult because of the asymmetry of the embrace. Dancers with extraordinary flexibility are welcome to try. So far, to my knowledge, this is only done in an “open” embrace.)
Turning Figures using a Back Step
The “new tango” enthusiasts really had a ball with this – so many more things to do! The truth is, most of these require an extraordinary flexibility and/or the loss of a good partner connection. However, a few of these are doable even in a close embrace. One can experiment starting with B-3L, B-8L, and B-13L as the woman is moving to the left (back sacada with the left foot), and B-4L and B-9L as the woman is moving to the right (parada). I rarely use even these, for I feel that most of the time they interfere with either my good walking or my partner connection. In addition, all these back turning figures can also be reversed, meaning that the woman is led into a back step as the man walks around her. This is even harder to do, and is another “new tango” favorite.
I want to at once expose the reader to such possibilities and discourage him from getting to far into them. Getting excited about such intellectual exercises has the same effect on tango as bebop had on jazz music – it robs it of a general sensibility, takes the art off the “ground” of the senses into a more abstract intellectual realm. The easiest way to avoid this is to simply say “no” to all the figures which seem to interfere with good walking, partner connection, or musicality, as I say again and again. Each dancer will have a different “cut-off” point, according to his or her body conditions – it is best if one is humble and honest with oneself, and also mindful of the limits of one’s partner. As I said before, I use at most 5% of all the steps which I “know”, and I have seen no one who is able to take advantage of all the theoretical possibilities.
The Small Cross
In this figure, one foot is placed side-by-side with the other one, but on the side opposite to where it normally goes:
The Small Cross
It can be viewed as a shrinking of the regular back or front cross. A big difference is that in the small cross the feet and the hips are usually facing the partner. This figure can be led either with or without a pivot prior to it. In either case the lead must be very precise, for the center moves a very small distance. The small cross is the least natural way to shift one’s weight from one foot to the other, and is therefore a very advanced figure. It is unfortunate that nowadays it is taught to beginners as part of the “basic” step – in most cases, they are incapable of leading or following it well, and end up doing it from memory, from a cue rather than by a true lead (more on this below).
I will not attempt to discuss precise ways to lead the woman into the small cross – to do this in writing would be an exercise in futility. Once again, it is enough just to mention the possibility, and let the dancers experiment with it or learn about it from teachers in person. The man can use the small cross in his own movement in order to shift his weight from foot to foot. An example of this is the enrosce, in which a small cross is combined with a pivot. For both men and women it is important to learn how to cross well, placing all of the foot on the ground before the weight of the body goes on it.
One-footed Turning Figures
One-footed turning figures are difficult to show in a diagram. Many of them are accomplished through a combination of turning and twisting the bodies. I will not discuss them in detail, for my goal is just to mention some possibilities, not to create a comprehensive catalogue of steps, which would be next to impossible. What makes these figures different in principle is that one of the partners keeps all the weight entirely on one foot as the other partner steps around. Most barridas (foot sweeps) are done in this way. The advantage here is that there is one foot that is completely free to do things, for it does not have to be supporting the weight of the body. The man can be turning on one foot, leading the woman to walk around. His free foot can then either swing around, helping to propel the turn as a tail of sorts, or it can accompany the woman’s foot in her step (barrida), or it can touch the partner’s feet in the way of embellishment, and sometimes do quick hooks even as she walks around (though I have yet to see one social dancer do that well). None of those things should be arbitrary – they should fit the overall dynamic of the lead, which is usually accomplished by some degree of rhythmical twisting of the body. Alternately, the man can walk around the woman while keeping her on one foot. He can be leading her to twist, producing front and back voleos, or not. In the latter scenario, the woman can do embellishments with her free foot.
By twisting I mean the movement in which the upper body and the lower body of a dancer turn in opposite directions. The most common example of this is a voleo, in which the twisting culminates in the foot swinging around back or around front. Twisting and turning often happen at the same time. For example, a basic way to lead a voleo is for the man to step around the woman at just the right moment and just the right direction so as to lead her to twist. Or, as I have already mentioned, a man can be twisting on one foot leading the woman to turn around him. But there are also purely twisting figures, most of them voleos, in which the twisting of the woman’s body is led by the twisting of the man’s body. The reason I mention these separately is that such a figure is a different dynamic in principle. For most other figures, three of the four feet of the couple are supporting some weight, whereas in purely twisting figures, only two feet are required – each of the partners is standing on one foot, the lead is accomplished by mutual twisting. These figures are challenging – they require a good balance on both sides, and a good sense of the dynamic of the twisting. But once mastered, they can feel very natural while providing a different sensation from most other steps. Experienced dancers can explore the possibilities by simply staying on one foot while in the embrace and twisting. Different patterns will emerge depending on which foot is used for support on each side.
Embellishments or adornments are optional movements which are not led, but are done in passing, in the space found within the sequence of whatever is being communicated between the partners. Sometimes one’s embellishments can go unnoticed by one’s partner, and other times they may even go unnoticed by oneself! These are the best kind – the ones which come out of one’s movement so naturally that one barely even notices them. I do not recommend that anyone – men or women – try hard to do embellishments. That would be defeating their whole purpose. They are meant to develop naturally, as one gradually becomes more comfortable moving in partnership, freer in one’s interpretation of the music. Embellishments are done more often by women then by men – they can be a big part of women’s choreographic freedom in this dance. But some even very advanced women choose not to do them at all, putting all their creativity in the quality of their movement, partner connection and musicality. Embellishments can be as pronounced as a figure – they can look like a voleo, for example – or they can be very subtle – a slight change in the path that the foot takes while stepping or slight lingering before it moves. Certain common patterns of embellishments do exist and can be picked up by watching others, but they are best if they come out of each dancer’s individual movement, which is why I’d rather not discuss them any further.
Some Common Sequences
It is very unfortunate that what is nowadays referred to as “the basic step” is an 8-step figure that involves the small cross, which is one of the most difficult things to truly lead. In addition, the small cross in this sequence is lead from a very uncomfortable and I would even say unnatural place. As a result, most people learn a cue instead of a true lead: when a man does two steps “on the outside”, meaning with his body slightly misaligned with respect to the woman’s body, she goes into the small cross. The difference between a true lead and a cue is easily discovered by trying to lead the same step out of a different situation. Very few dancers are able to lead the cross not in the “basic”, and even fewer can lead it on the other side. In the recent years, as I started to get into more subtle musicality, I began feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the “basic” – it somehow felt less and less natural to me as compared to most other figures I was using. I still use the “crossed basic” (the one in which the first two forward steps of the man are done in the crossed system), for it feels more organic to me, but even that feels a little off. As to the regular basic, I have almost stopped using it altogether, or rather I have gone back to the more antique, original form of it, in which instead of the small cross the woman is led into the more natural forward cross. I prefer to lead the small cross out of a different place and in a different way. I hope that one day the practice of teaching the small cross to beginners can be left behind. It is hard to do at this point, because most people will expect each other to know it.
An ocho is a sequence of either forward crosses or back crosses tied together with pivots on one foot. They are good beginner-intermediate figures to learn. How to lead them and how to do them well should be learned from a teacher.
This is the “grapevine” pattern of front cross – side step – back cross – side step – front cross, etc., which is most commonly used when the woman moves around the man in a turn. The molinete can also be “straightened out” and used for corridas (runs). The most usual timing of the molinette is the quick-quick-slow for the back cross – side step – front cross, followed by a slow side step. Another way of looking at it is that the side step that follows the back cross is the only step in the sequence that falls on the 2 or 4 in the music, everything else is either on 1 or 3. But the molinete can also be done with a slower timing – all on the 1’s and the 3’s – or with a faster timing – on the 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4, etc. A clear lead is required for both of these, for by default most women will do the quick-quick-slow.
The 8-point turn
The 8-point turn is a classic way for the man to accompany the woman’s molinete when it is done with the regular quick-quick-slow timing. The name is deceiving, for in reality there are only 6 distinct positions for the man’s feet, though there are 8 steps done by the woman. This is because the man’s steps in this sequence are all slow (on the 1’s or on the 3’s) which means that he does not step as the woman does the quick side steps, and she does them twice. Using the notation for the turning figures in the above section, we can write the sequence as T-6L(or T-7L) – T-2R – T-11L(or T-12L) – T-6R(or T-7R) – T-2L – T-11R(or T-12R) – T-6L(or T-7L), if the woman is moving to the man’s right. The seventh step in the sequence is the repeat of the first one, but the woman does her second quick side step, which is number 8 for her, right before it. The options given in parentheses represent simply placing the man’s foot on the other side of the woman’s “previous” foot. It is up to the man to decide which one to use – the logic of the sequence stays the same regardless. We can reverse the sequence for when the woman is moving to the left, but it is not worth it: most people will have a much easier time learning this sequence from a teacher or a friend than from my notation, and those who like my notation can reverse it easily themselves. The main reason I discuss this figure in detail is that it is a good survey of the turning figures in one sequence. It is a great learning tool as well as a test of one’s facility with turning figures, one’s balance and sensitivity to the partner. Many known teachers, such as Mingo Pugliese, for example, use the 8-point turn as a base of the whole choreographic structure. This sequence is also a good test of whether one has taken the closeness of tango embrace a little too far. The so-called “close-embrace style”, in which the partners “glue” their chests to each other and press their heads together right side to right side, is the opposite extreme to the “open embrace” or “new tango” – it sacrifices most of tango’s choreographic possibilities for the sake of an exaggeratedly “close” – more like glued – embrace. Even such a classic tango figure as the 8-point turn turns out to be extremely uncomfortable in the “close-embrace” style. The tango embrace should be always close, but the bodies should at the same time maintain their freedom of movement. The only parts which may be “glued” together are the hands (more on this in PARTNER CONNECTION section).
Cortes and Cortadas
There is a whole class of steps which are based on arresting a weight transfer somewhere in the middle of it and bringing the weight back on to the previous foot. Such steps can feel very rhythmical and can add an extra dimension to one’s dancing without going into anything very complicated. All the “rock steps” and “ocho-cortado’s” are in this category, and milonga with traspie is based mostly on this principle. There is no general name for this type of figures, however – I have used “cortes and cortadas”, for these are the words which may transmit the gist of it.
Almost any figure which involves a woman’s step can be turned into a “corte” (cut). One must simply lead the step enough for her to move the foot and put it down in a new place, but not enough for her to bring her center on to it. This, of course, requires a good sensitivity to the partner. An example of how one could do it with walking steps is WP-2L – WP-5L. In the first step, the weight is not fully transferred, but brought back to his right (her left) foot, to be immediately followed by a step in a different direction, in this case back-outside. This type of step can be used both in tango and in milonga with traspie. Most paradas are also such “cortes”, with the difference that in the parada the feet of the partners usually touch, seemingly stopping each other. In reality, what stops is the body lead for the “corte”.
I cannot stress enough how corrupting it can be to get carried away in the multitude of the choreographic possibilities of this dance. The quality of the dancing can suffer greatly. On the other hand, it is good to have a vision of how one can expand one’s vocabulary. The challenge is to control oneself and not reach for anything that one’s body conditions and/or experience are not ready for. I occasionally get outside of my comfort zone to try a thing or two, but I do not stay there very long. Rather than mastering a new figure, it is much more satisfying to me if I can get to a new level of creative flow while using the figures which I have already incorporated enough for them to come out spontaneously. One cannot “fly” if one is burdened with figures which feel too complicated.
Another way to look at it is from the point of view of purity. By purity of choreography I mean the freedom of it from any artifice – any special way of stepping or any manipulations in the lead. There are some figures which may be considered generally impure, for they grossly violate principles of good dancing in general, (volcadas, for example, rob the woman of her balance). But most figures which I have discussed are not pure or impure in themselves – rather they can be executed with more or less purity. I will not get tired of saying it: a figure is pure if it can be done without sacrificing the overall quality of body movement, partner connection, and musicality, all of which are more fundamental to good dancing than choreography. This means that if there is stepping involved, all the steps are allowed to be natural as in simple walking, that a close and seamless connection is maintained between the partners, and that the step can be used easily in the interpretation of the music.