“Understanding the Structure
of Argentine Tango Dance”

The Giro and the Molinete

The Giro (the Turn)

One partner doesn't step and pivots on one foot. The other partner steps around in a “molinete”. Even when the non-moving dancer starts to step as well, many people would still call this a part of a giro as long as the couple turns. A follower stepping around a (sometimes) moving leader could be compared to a moon orbiting a moving center. By remaining well in connection, the follower feels the influence on her stepping direction. She must be very aware of where the leader is. Once you are good enough to dance in shared balance (also called shared axis), you'll simply have to. But it is important to remember this when dancing in own balance.

The Molinete (the Little Windmill)

One partner stepping around the other. This could have been accomplished with all sideways chassé steps, but much more elegant and twice as fast is to curve a sideways grapevine around the partner in the center. The stepping pattern is open, cross back, open, cross front, and then repeating. Typically, one can do one complete rotation in 4 steps, but it can be more or less, depending on step length and distance to partner. It can be reversed onto itself at any time (with a rock step, or after a cross back or front even with half an ocho, meaning a cross front or a cross back respectively). See also ocho cortado.

The upper bodies remain facing at each other as always, and will thus be turning around in a slow and continuous fashion. The lower body of the satellite dancer however will pivot only in between steps and in a remarkable manner: in a straight grapevine it would pivot in between steps the following amounts: +90° +90° -90° -90° and repeating. In a curved grapevine that completes a turn in say 4 steps, we'll have to add 360°/4 = 90° every time! Or subtract when turning in the other direction. This yields pivots of +180° +180° 0° 0° and repeating.

In Detail

Clockwise molinete: stepping around partner in 4 steps goes like this (when starting with weight on right foot and partner left in front of your feet, and thus an upper body dissociation of 45°):

  • open step sideways with left (upper body relative to lower body goes from facing front left to front right)
  • collect feet and pivot half a turn clockwise with lower body (while keeping absolute orientation of upper body, since partner doesn't move) (upper body relative to lower body goes from front right to back left, which is 135° of dissociation!).
  • back cross step backward with right (clockwise around partner) (upper body relative to lower body from facing back left to front left)
  • collect feet and don't pivot lower body
  • again open step sideways with left (upper body relative to lower body goes from facing front left to front right)
  • collect feet and don't pivot lower body
  • front cross step forward with right (clockwise around partner) (upper body relative to lower body goes from facing front right to back right, which is again 135° of dissociation in the opposite sense!)
  • collect feet and pivot half a turn clockwise with lower body (while keeping absolute orientation of upper body, since partner doesn't move)(upper body relative to lower body: from back right to front left).

and repeat.

This is intermediate technique for both leader and follower and should be practiced in balance, for instance around a chair or broomstick. A common mistake is to not dissociate enough before the back cross step, and as a result stepping away from the center, and pulling partner off balance.

The Rhythm of the Molinete

The Molinete in Straight Rhythm

Of course the slow version of the molinete will always be perfectly legal: one step per beat. We could try it twice as fast, but often the music will be too fast for this. There is another faster option however, with fastness somewhere halfway in between.

Pivoting can always happen very quickly. This is possible because the feet are collected, as always between any two steps. It does take a little time however, and for this reason it is possible to do the two non-pivoting steps even faster. Or more precisely: since collecting and pivoting happens right after the landing of the foot, it is the next step that can come faster if there's no pivot. This is precisely what we mean when we label a step quick or slow: it's the time till the next step.

So a natural rhythm for the molinete sequence above is sloooooooow-quick-quick-sloooooooow and repeating.

bar bar bar bar bar bar (the bars)
123412341234123412341234 (the count)
b b b b b b b b b b b b (the heavy beats)
o b o f o b o f o b o f Molinete steps (open back open front) for the slow version
b o f o b o f o b o f o Molinete steps (open back open front) for the slow version
o bof o bof o bof o bof Molinete steps (open back open front) for the fast version
bof o bof o bof o bof o Molinete steps (open back open front) for the fast version

One of every two open steps will fall on a light beat. This means the entire molinete takes the duration of 3 heavy beats, whereas there are only two heavy beats in a bar for non-waltz music. This doesn't feel 100% logical, but it is not important at all to do one molinete per bar. Besides, you mostly won't even get to do two full consecutive molinetes, rather one and a half or much less.

The Molinete in Waltz Rhythm

There is an important difference for waltz rhythm, as bars are now divided in three beats instead of four beats. Or more generally, there are always two lights (instead of one) between the heavies now. The quick open step will have to be on one of the lights (the early one gives an echoing feel, the late one a preparing feel). Well, it doesn't have to really, but failing to do so is clumsy and not very musical. Only if the music is very fast, there simply might be no other option than doing it halfway the heavies, in between the two light waltz beats.

barbarbarbarbarbar (the bars)
123123123123123123 (the count)
b..b..b..b..b..b.. (the heavy beats)
o..bo.f..o..bo.f.. Fast molinete steps (open back open front), echoing version (because it echoes the preceding strong beat)
o..b.of..o..b.of.. Fast molinete steps (open back open front), preparing version (because it prepares for the next strong beat)
o..b.of..o..bo.f.. Fast molinete steps (open back open front), a mixed version

It seems to me that the “echoing version” is much more popular than the “preparing version”, but I really suggest you try them both and feel the huge difference.

Milonguero version

When dancing very close, the steps become so small that the pivots become less necessary. That is, you'd better only try this after mastery of the large step molinete, because dancing very close is harder. See also ocho milonguero.

 

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