First Pass at Performing Tango - Why They Look Good and We Don't

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It's remarkable how much clear intention influences both the experience of lead/follow and other's experience of how beautiful you are as a dancer. When we say clear intention, we mean two things:

  1. 1. You have already decided which step you will take.
  2. 2. Your body knows exactly how you will execute that step.

In a nearby town, there's a fairly common bumper sticker which says, "pray for me, I drive Apache Trail". And what it's talking about is the incidence of people in that town who really don't know what they are going to do (when driving) until they find themselves doing it. They'll start in one direction and then, in the middle of that, they'll get a different idea and turn suddenly and then change that turn so that it looks like their cars are just wandering around.

Appearing to wander around the dance floor is really suboptimal. And the same is true inside each step.

  • If you're going to take a side step, know what motivates the extension of your leg out, how you will transfer your weight and how you will stop when the movement is complete.
  • Pick one simple movement and think about each little element that goes into making it.
  • When you step side, do you feel your calves, your low back, your butt? Do you feel those muscles engaging? Do you feel it anywhere in your legs? Are you clear about the direction?
  • Does your mind say, "I'm going side" but, when you look at your foot, do you find you're 10 degrees off?
  • If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else. --Yogi Berra
  • How does the embrace influence the side step? Do you feel it in your back and your arms?
Artist Name:
Astor Piazzolla
Song Title:
Finale (Tango Apasionado)
Album Title:
The Rough Dancer and The Cyclical Night
Artist Website:

(Paraphrased from wikipedia): Piazzolla's tango was distinct from the traditional tango in its incorporation of elements of jazz, its use of extended harmonies and dissonance, its use of counterpoint, and its ventures into extended compositional forms. As Argentine psychoanalyst Carlos Kuri has pointed out, Piazzolla's fusion of tango with this wide range of other recognizable Western musical elements was so successful that it produced a new individual style transcending these influences.

Now, this is, actually, a chapter that I've been looking forward to.
And that's because, not that we're nuts about performing, although we like it, but, rather, that
When you talk about good performers, that becomes sort of very purely about great dance and great technique.
Because the difference between "Meh" and "Wow" is not what they do, actually. It's how they do it. Right? It's all this technique.
So, what we're going to do is have a case study. We have a little bit of choreography.
And, originally, I was going to have Malakai and Jessica do this badly,
And then we'd evolve it, until it was incredibly wonderful, so you could see the difference.
But they couldn't do it badly enough. They can only do it well.
So, I'm going to do it badly, and they're going to do it well, and then you'll see the evolution.
Come in, come in.
And so, I'll be, I guess, the leader first. And I'm going to be a bad leader, and you can watch how that changes.
So, here's the bad leader. Back up, back up.
So, we're here. And this isn't real bad, I'm going to try not to exaggerate. It's hard not to exaggerate.
And a lot of people looking at that, would say, "What's wrong with that? That looked perfectly nice."
And, maybe, it looked perfectly nice, but the point is it wasn't smashingly magnificent.
So, if we do the same thing... And I'm just going to pause, at the beginning, I just walked in.
Which is not particularly useful. It doesn't have presence, or activity in your body.
So, instead, you make your body alive. You grow like 4 inches, depending on how much you slump.
You go to your partner. The air becomes thick, and you take a step.
Jessica is like, "Wow, David, that was a big step!"
And it's a very different effect. Right? You step side, and on this lunge, instead of doing this,
Which is mini me. I'm letting my butt go back. I'm letting my head jut forward. I'm invading her space.
Instead, we're long and tall.
And I keep my spine vertical, and I go into the lunge. And it's much better.
Instead of being here, when I take her back, it wraps around, and I stay to her.
Right? In the wrap, instead of just being here, which is sort of "Blah",
Do the wrap again.
It's here. Which is very active.
Right, so there's this idea, that I want you to lengthen your body in all directions.
I want you to... Have your core be this fiery engine that emanates out to your extremities. And then you move.
And, likewise, it's true not just for leaders, but for ladies too.
So, if I'm the follower, poor Malakai now, this is what you might do, right?
And he's beautiful, and I'm, "Eh, OK". But we want more than OK.
And, literally, people do it like this.
And he was doing it really well, and I was doing it really badly.
So, let's take that first step. Once again, I want you to emanate in all directions. You take this first step towards each other.
You see a lot of energy there. On this lunge, you'll notice that I keep the body very vertical, before I let my butt tilt back.
I really point with a toe, before I let it flex. But really notice the energy and the verticality in the body.
Even when he turns me, I'm keeping that line of the body.
As he pulls me up, with abs in, I let that relate to the lift of the leg.
Thank you, very nice.
So, if you watch the good. Give it a go, guys.
So, we'll end with this thought: when you think about performing, it's not about what you do.
Because you can do anything, and it will look bad. And you can do anything, and it will look good.
Right? So it's about looking good and bad. Or bad. And we choose good.
Instead of, "Oh, I can do all this cool stuff".
I mean, we want you to learn the cool stuff too. And there are lots of chapters on cool stuff.
But, right now, this chapter is about the idea that you elongate the body, you energize.
You sort of make the energy that comes from your core, emanate, like an engine, outwards.
You stay towards your partner. You keep this going.
And, if the body alignment is right, then... And texture's thick, we'll also have a chapter about that.
Then it makes the performance work. And otherwise, who cares what you do it.