Changes of direction

To my taste in tango, “simple” changes of direction can be some of the more interesting and elegant things we do. I’m talking about changes of direction within the framework of stepping, whether in the context of walking, mostly, or even any step within a figure. The benefits are the variety of feeling and direction they give, they way they facilitate moving into and out of spaces on the floor, and the opportunity they give to observe the space around the couple.

Changes of direction can be simple not only in apparent effect, but also more simple in execution, without needing an advanced understanding of physics, geometry, and timing that things like sacada, colgada, volcado, and gancho require. But the effect can still leave an observer wondering, “What just happened with their feet?” Furthermore, changes of direction can be done all in close embrace, and they are safer than moves with flying limbs.

A step — the moment a foot commits to the floor — is a wonderful kind of thing. Sure, there are lots of things to think about, appreciate, and do in the moments leading up to a step and departing from a step, but in that moment of contact, arrived at with some amount of inertial energy to be managed, there are so many interesting possibilities.

One can conserve the energy, letting it continue in the same direction, or the energy can serve to load the muscles and make them rebound, sending the energy back in a direction from which it came.  The linear energy across the floor can be converted into rotary energy in the form of a pivot that can be either over-rotated or under-rotated, depending on the desired effect and navigation across la pista. (I learned a great deal about managing inertia from Luciano Brigante and Alejandra Orozco. The bad follower exercise was a lot of fun.)

Imagine, or better yet, grab a partner and try, all the possibilities that can flow out of the 8-count basic. (So much, even, as to make it unrecognizable as an 8-count basic.)

  • To begin with, the Count #1 side open starting step can be taken in practically 360° of different direction. Indeed, as a starting point for your experimentation, put on some music and under or over turn every single step of the 8-count basic as you perform the pattern repeatedly. After a pivot you can also include a rebound, where you collect the energy of a step, using part of it to pivot, and part of it to help push off in a new direction.
  • You can place yourself outside, in front of, or inside your partner.
  • Parallel or cross-system stepping.
  • Parallel or cross-system direction. Cross-system direction is where you send the follower in one direction while you move in a different direction.

Now here is one technical detail to be aware of. In many situations you may both be pivoting in parallel by the same amount, with no special consideration required. But in many other instances one of you will be orbiting about the other partner. The partner inside the circle — sometimes the leader, sometimes the follower — will be like the axle, and the circling partner will be like the wheel laid flat on the floor. The axle must make a tighter, smaller turn than the wheel. If you are the axle it may mean that your step is a hook behind the standing leg to minimize the distance you cover, or even only a pivot on the standing leg. Whereas when you are the wheel on the outside of the circle, you may need to step beyond the follower so that you keep them in the center of the wheel.

Note, too, how this approach could be seen to simplify musicality considerations. In essence every figure boils down to an open or cross step, a close, and a pivot (which can be zero degrees). So rather than worrying how your pattern will fit within, or multiple patterns across, a phrase, you are “merely” concerned with observing and respecting the beginning and ending of phrases, and with seeing that your step-pivots within the phrase reflect the music in some way (cadence, size, dynamics, etc.).

These class notes are what prompted me to think further on this theme . . .

April 23rd, Kara Wenham and Javier Antar completed the last week of a month of classes as guests of UT Tango In Orange. This workshop was on redirecting her steps. Any time she takes a step, if he has good position with his feet forming a triangle on the floor with her stepping foot, then he can turn that step into a pivot, including an overturned pivot, or into a rock back in the opposite direction.

First example, he leads her into back ocho to his right, and as she steps back he steps forward on his right to follow her leg from the front. He and she pivot clockwise so that he now backs line of dance. Then he rocks her to a forward cross, stepping beside him with her right leg. As she steps he collects and pivots clockwise, returning to line of dance, and finally changing weight to his right foot to prepare to walk out.

Second example, again he leads her into a back ocho to his right, but this time he steps BEHIND her, blocking her from closing and rocking her to go back forward. This was also demonstrated to the left, open side – harder, and in cadena (chained) fashion with alternating left and right figures.

Last example, starting her molinete to his left, she steps back cross, side open, forward cross. On that last, forward cross step, he steps side open and slightly forward, blocking her, then leads her back the way she came, with back cross, side open, forward to his right, while he hooks his right foot behind left to help with opening his right side to get out of her way and lead her in that direction.

The lesson also included alternate timings. Straight S, S, S timing. For example one, the reversed ocho, 1-3-1, S to enter, Q Q to exit. The molinete, Q Q S, Q Q S.

Felices caminando!
—David

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