Published November 2003

By Maestro Ive Simard

"People who talk too much have a bad silence." I.S.

Tango is a pre-flex dance; a dance dominated by articula­ tory tension. Knees are generally slightly bent or flexed and never hyper-extended or locked; they remain a slight tension, an intermediate state between flexed and locked. This is what we call articulatory tension. This is an alert position, where the dancer is always ready to move in any of six directions: forward, back, left, right, up, or down. Many animals, and in particular felines, move in this manner. When faced with danger, they can easily react in any direction, escape or attack, as needed. The same is true for tango; except for there being no danger.

We never use our feet as a whole, but in segments. The proper progression is from the toe (phalanges) first, to the ball (metatarsus), to a flat foot (ankle), and finally to the heel. Our heels are always our brakes. This progression allows the dancer to move at an even speed (cruising speed) while the legs are moving at different speeds throughout the range of the movement. If you watch an alligator in the Amazon, the speed of his nose peeking out of the water never changes as it swims across the river. However, you can say nothing about the speed of its legs, or which legs the animal is relying upon.

This progression is not true when you simply change foot, or when you change your weight. This is a different process that we will refer to as 'shifting weight'; we will return to this concept in the future.

Our legs are divided in four segments by a series of joints: the hips, the knees, the ankles and the toe joints. As was explained above, the foot should reach the floor part by part, not as a whole. Placing your foot in this manner takes place in two stages; the first is an impact moment, followed by a correction moment. The placing of the foot has bearing on the movement of the legs. Following this placement of the foot, your legs take 011 the weight, and you are ready for the next compression, fol­lowed by the next leg swing. (See last issue of La Sonrisa Latina.)

But let us go back to the moment of impact. Impact occurs when a part of your foot (the tip of your toe) touches the ground, let's say forward. At this moment there is no weight, only pressure. The ankle and the toe joint are the focus of motion, below the knee. Immediately after impact, the correction will follow, using the calf and the knee to correct the elevation of the body and bringing part of the weight onto the inside of the ball of the foot. At this point, the weight (center of gravity) is divided between two legs. The line of gravity is between the two feet (front heel and back ball). Up to this point we were focusing on acceleration. . (Here also you will need the assistance of your teacher.)
The second phase is that of deceleration; this is where we dance the tango, in this moment. This is a moment of compression that starts at your thighs. Your thighs should rotate slightly inward with the assistance or your hamstrings. At the end of the compression, the leg swing occurs when you release the leg in any direction from your hip joint. Tango dancers must develop leg swing. This is a difficult concept to master, but it is compulsory because it is the source of flow. You must master time, space, weight, flow and causation (cause and effect.)

Moving backward we don't enjoy the benefit (and disadvantages) of our feet. As a result, our legs move twice as fast as we can move forward. From the hip joint, you must swing your thigh, then your knee, your ankle, and finally your toe join't. This is a continuous walk, moving left foot and right foot (or vice-versa.) A forward walk is a delayed walk, for the reason explained above.

It is impossible to take a correct step, but it always possible to correct a step as it is being taken. As a single dancer, you must work on these concepts on your own-­ with the help of your teacher. Then, you will be ready to enter into a dance position with your dance mate.

Tango is not about distance or proximity, it is about relationship; it is a three-minute affaire.

Ive Simard is the president of the Argentine Tango Master Association (ATMA).

Next month: The dance compass.