You might have recently attended a tango class in London, and wondered: “Why on earth do we spend time learning how to walk? I already know how to walk; that’s how I got here in the first place!” This is a fair comment; however walking is one thing, but tango walk, the elusive “caminata”, is another story!
It is like trying to write with your left hand if you are right-handed.
Or going through the alphabet backwards.
Or reciting time tables in a foreign language. Trois fois un trois. Trois fois deux six. Trois fois trois neuf…
Try it. It is somehow familiar but heck, isn’t it difficult! A complete mind tangle. No matter how tricky, one thing is certain however: we can free our caminata from the most common ailments – tango bobbing, tango spasms, bruised toes… and discover the beauty of walking together as one.
All great tango dancers have demonstrated and talked about the importance of tango walk – Geraldine and Javier’s performance on Poema by Canaro is a beautiful example.
Pablo Verón: A good dancer, you recognize by the way he walks, not by acrobatic figures.
Javier Rodriguez and Stella Misse:
Javier: When a man walks nicely, the woman dies in his embrace.
Stella: When a man walks badly, the woman wants to die.
The difference between walking and tango walk is conceptually quite straight-forward although it might take a while to master in practice: in life, you walk on your own; in tango, you walk with someone “stuck” to your chest. Light bulb moment! When you walk down the street, your brain communicates directly to your legs – right, left, right, left. Hopefully, this happens in a smooth manner (except after a few pints at the pub, naturally). In tango, it is all quite different; there are 4 legs in total!
Here are a few tips we found useful to improve the caminata. Mostly, try and resist throwing the toys out of the pram in frustration; it really is like learning how to walk all over again! We did it once and we can do it again.
The art of the caminata means leaders need to ensure all 4 legs move together. For a nice caminata, leaders basically need to “walk” and “talk” at the same time – their legs do the walking and their torso, the talking, because in tango, the torso is how the follower gets the “invitation” to move.
Our favourite furry friends knows it well – to walk, all 4 legs need to be coordinated. Put socks on a dog and watch… Well, that’s how tango walk can sometimes look (and feel) when the walking and the talking are not well coordinated.
For a smoother tango walk, the following tips might help:
Observe how you walk in day to day life. You should notice your steps actually start from the floor. We all use the foot of our supporting leg to push ourselves forward – except for those who work for the Ministry of Silly Walks. The foot acts like a spring and the floor is the source of energy. This motion remains in tango; it is actually called “first projection”.
Instead, some leaders tango-walk by extending their free leg first (and therefore hitting their partner’s thigh, or worse, stepping on her toes). It looks and feels odd because this way of moving is not natural.
To avoid this, leaders should try and start moving forward from their standing leg, pushing off the floor with the foot of their supporting leg – exactly like in normal life. This will ensure that the torso moves before the free leg does – hence signalling to their partner that she needs to get ready to move backwards. This is efficient tango walk where “walking” and “talking” happen seamlessly.
Another great tip that can have a massive impact is weight management. Nothing to do with miracle diets, but rather with where the body weight is distributed on the foot. All the best maestros in Buenos Aires are adamant: the weight needs to be mainly on the ball of the feet, not on the heels. It sometimes feels we are out of balance in this position but it needn’t be. You can try and lean forward (preferably from the waist) until the chest is more or less aligned with the toes, not beyond. To improve weight management, you can try a simple exercise: walk one beat. Stop one beat to check your weight is correctly positioned on the ball of your foot. Step with the other leg and repeat.
Let’s face it, walking backwards is a pain in the… hum, neck, but it gives nice strong glutes, a most welcomed side effect as we yearn towards the perfect beach body in this scorching hot weather. Keep at it and you will be beach-ready way before the sun is summer-ready.
Tango walk is powered by smooth communication between partners, a well-oiled “walking” and “talking” action. As followers, our role in this conversation is to feel the leader’s weight transfer and transfer ours with him – or to be more exact, ever so slightly after him. Transfer too soon and each step is cut too short; tango walk becomes jerky. Transfer too late and we are soon out of synch, hence moving the wrong leg, which leads to all sorts of ailments, mainly bruised toes (Ours, ouch. Not fun).
Bobbing is followers’ enemy number one. Tango-bobbing happens when trying and reaching out too far with the free leg (the ones which moves backwards first), which makes the front leg bends unnecessarily as a result. Tango bobbing creates a disconnection with the leader, as followers bob up and down with each step and he stoically tries and remains at the same height. This feels and looks strange, except if he is a bobber too – which I am not sure would be a blessing or a curse.
Although backward-walking is much less natural than forward-walking (for most people at least), the same principle still applies: we too need to find the source of energy in the floor, and rather than move using solely our free leg, start each step by pushing the floor with our supporting leg. This matches the leader’s move and ensures a seamless and smooth tango walk. A sight to behold (for the right reasons this time).
One last tricky trick: if followers drop the heel of their back leg too soon whilst walking backwards, their torso starts to move backward ahead of that of the leader. This creates the equivalent of tango spasms, which don’t look and don’t feel nice. For leaders, it is the equivalent of trying to catch a soap bar with wet hands: Yes, she’s in my arms. No she’s not. Yes she is. Oh, no, she is not.
For a nice walk, it is better to try and keep the heel of the back leg slightly off the floor as long as we walk backwards. When taking our last step back (before an ocho or another figure), you can return to neutral position and put your heel down (but keep your weight forward).
These are just a few tips of course; we found they worked for us. Try and see if they work for you too.
Miguel Zotto said: “If pupils walk at the beginning of a class, they get bored and want to learn steps and more steps – to show off at the dance hall. They don’t realise they are lucky when they meet a teacher who says: No. Look. You must walk. First walk.”
So if your next tango class in London starts with a walking exercise, enjoy it to the fullest: it might well be the quickest way to bend it like Zotto (and not Beckham).
See you soon on the dancefloor!
Have a browse at our Argentine tango classes if you want to give us a try!