“Understanding the Structure
of Argentine Tango Dance”

In Between Steps: Collecting

In tango you collect your feet in between two consecutive steps. Always. Ankles together (or sometimes: outsides together, see cross-step). This happens in a relaxed way. It is a bit more correct to say you should always collect your knees in between steps, and as a result, the free foot will do the right thing if muscles are relaxed around there.

You don't step on the free foot after collecting, certainly not automatically. You don't even put any weight on it at all (yet). You just prepare for the next step. If you are armed for the next step (standing knee bent), the free leg can't wait to stretch in some direction (nothing at all changes in hips or upper body meanwhile!). Once this direction is clear, it will happen, but no stepping yet, just projection!

The main goal is to always reach an island of perfect balance in between steps, from where the next step can be negotiated on in all calmness.

Foot Speed

This can be very different from normal walking, especially rhythmically. When walking normally, once a free foot stops moving, you put it down, because its movement was calculated to arrive on the moment that landing was planned.

In tango, you step on the beat. So far so good. But then you normally immediately collect. This collecting process is not dictated by the rhythm! It is dictated by your arrival in balance. It often sort of happens too early rhythmically, and is very typical for tango. The collected free foot might have to wait before it can be put down again! You will “arm” yourself to reach with it, and it will only be put down (in accordance with the lead, and the lead with the rhythm of the music) after this reaching for the next step.

As a conclusion, tango might be about smooth body movement, but there certainly is not such a thing as smooth free foot speed (as there is in normal walking). Quite the contrary!

Remark: this is more of a technical observation than something to focus on, certainly when stepping in a steady rhythm. But these consequences of rapidly collecting become more prominent when dancing more complicated rhythms. It simply means your free foot might have to wait often while already having arrived.

Consecutive Steps

Because of this, there is confusion on what exactly is a step, or at least on when it starts and ends.

  • Rhythmically, you'll want to step on the beat, and you'd like steps to begin and end precisely there, on the moment when starting the weight shift on an already reached out leg, i.e. when landing.
  • Structurally, tango becomes much easier to understand if steps are separated at the moments when collecting.

These really are two very different ways of looking at the same thing.

Step Length Confusion

Same thing here.

  • Rhythmically, it might seem logical to define step length as the distance one leg travels between landing points of that same leg.
  • But we define steps as weight shifts, and we always collect our feet immediately in between those weight shifts. When analyzing tango structure, step length will always be from the point were we collected - which is our standing leg - to were we will land with the free leg.

In both cases we have left and right step lengths alternating. But in the first case they both measure out your body traveling distance separately, while in the second case you'd have to add step lengths together.

An Example: the Chassé Step

A chassé step occurs when while walking normally, we suddenly don't overtake the standing leg with the free one, but instead land close to the standing leg, and then continue normally.

  • Rhythmically speaking, we could say that we interrupt normal step lengths left and right with half a step left and half a step right. If we maintain body speed throughout the process, indeed two of the time intervals between the landing of the feet will suddenly be half as long as before (see traspié).
  • But a tango dancer collects his feet very quickly, which makes it more logical to think structurally, and say that somewhere in between consecutive steps of normal size, he did one very small step (a weight shift in place).

It is actually the same thing.


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