Monday night at Tango In Orange, the first class of a beginner series, Avi and Marina introduced la cruzada in a way—a highly effective way—that I’ve not seen before. (Avi attributes it to Kara Wenham and Javier Antar.) It seemed to have several benefits.
After introducing and practicing weight changes, walking to/fro and side-to-side, and rocking I think, they then introduced the cross something like this, While walking forward, as the leader is takes a step with the left leg, instead of stepping directly ahead and underneath the follower, step forward
and slightly left right of your left side track in a “gorilla walk” fashion, with left arm, side, and leg stepping together sideways down the left track. This is done Then as you lead the follower to take the next step back with their left leg (your right), you bring the follower’s body — still matching and parallel to yours — back in front of you. Since you the leader previously displaced yourself slightly to your left of the follower the follower’s right leg to their left track, and since they have weight on their left right foot and can’t move it, the only way for them to line up in front of you again is to cross their left leg over the right. Then in the next step when they uncross by stepping back on the right leg, everything lines up again.
Benefits: This exercise and explanation introduces the cross as a functional movement rather than as some arbitrary part of a fixed figure, the eight count basic. I have actually heard teachers say, “This is just a rule, whenever the leader takes a second step to the outside on your right, you cross; they can take as many steps as they want on the closed side and you never cross.” Never?! Maybe that explains why some followers will actively resist crossing right over left. Why do I want to have them make a weird cross on that side? Just because I can … or should be able to. Similarly, Always?! Many followers always cross with your second step on the open side even if they are not lead to one. Perfectly legal and useful movements are foreclosed by teaching the cross as an arbitrary rule.
More benefits: Since there’s no set placement or timing of the various leaders’ use of that left step, followers aren’t developing the horrible habit of following the teacher instead of following their leader. And, leader and follower get the idea of movements as atomic units that they can creatively combine in many ways. Plus, it gets right to the essential and basic cross without the added complication of walking outside and contra body movement.
Hurray for understanding. Down with rules. Rules, especially in tango, are made to be broken.
The Tango Queer milonga in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires gave me food for thought, and I enjoyed my dances there. The composition of the dancing couples seemed to include every combination of gay, straight, male, female, lead, follow, young and old. I saw seemingly committed same-sex couples that appeared to have defined roles whenever they were dancing together, but when asked or asking to dance outside their couple, they danced both roles.
Here the traditional Argentine cabeceo — asking from a distance with a head nod — didn’t seem to be observed. So I went right up to the person who looked to me to be the best lead dancer, and coincidentally and helpfully, the tallest dancer in the room, and was pleased when he accepted my invitation without hesitation. It was my hope to find good leaders (regardless of sex) who could teach me something about the dance and musicality by feeling it from the other side.
Tangos are danced in tandas or sets of three songs for vals and milonga rhythms and four songs for tangos. We followed the formula that seemed to prevail throughout the room, where the person asking for the dance leads on the first song, then they alternate the lead with each song.
The thing that made the biggest impression on me was that everyone danced both lead and follow. Some of the dancers in nontraditional-according-to-sex roles were exceedingly good.
The experience gave strong support to my thesis that: a) Anybody, regardless of sex, should be free to pursue whatever roles they desire — of course! And b) Everyone can benefit, not only in understanding of their primary role choice, but also in understanding of others, by learning and dancing both roles.