Twisted Body Dance Theory of Argentine Tango

by Igor Polk, June 5, 2016 - May 19, 2014

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Origins of Poses: "Monkey" Model

What are the other ways a human body possesses to "hang from a tree"? It may hang on a tree branch with arms and legs. There are 4 combinations: left arm - left leg, left arm - right leg, right arm - right leg, right arm - right leg. For each of these positions, there are several positions of torso, depending, for example, where a free arm is trying to reach, twisted to the left or right. In each of these positions torso will experience different twists.

The large arc from a hand to a foot is the major form-defining element of a pose. The origin of it is "Monkey Model".

Origin of Poses: "Horse" Model. Three Kinds of Tango Walk

While upper torso is most suitable for climbing, the lower torso was transformed by evolution for the walking and running function. It may be better to call it "Dinosaur" model since we do use our "tail" in the same way running of two legs, but it does not sound nice. Let me call it a "Horse" model.

Upper torso, thanks to the monkey side of our functionality, is very suitable to support running function. There are four walking-running modes: Up-Hill and Down-Hill, Forward and Backward.

Let us consider the process of walking down- and up- hill in stages: see the tables below. If you want to try it yourself, the hill should have significant slope. Stairs will work as well, but slope is better.

Toe-First Short-Step Tango Walk

Stage Function Down-Hill Forward Down-Hill Backward
0 Neutral Knees are slightly bent. Knees are slightly bent.
1 Preparation Carefully lower the free leg forward by bending the standing leg. Standing foot is directed almost forward. Pelvis is kept back. Both knees must be under the torso center, touching each other. This will save energy. Torso stays over the standing leg. To help balancing, the center of torso moves to the side of the free leg. The body is stretched up helping to lower the leg without much bending of the standing leg. The body is held by the pelvis muscles. The free leg extends forward slightly and is straight. Pose obtained - Parada. Note that during Preparation, the body is charging with static energy. Carefully lower the free leg backward by bending the standing leg. Otherwise, it is the same, like the Forward step. The free leg extends backward slightly and is straight. Pose obtained - Liberty.
2 Step during down-hill exercise Start with pushing the free leg into to ground creating a line of force between the metatarsals and the torso center. The leg is ready to accept the torso weight BEFORE the moment of actual weigh transfer. Then, with minimal movement of the torso center onto the free leg, move the weight to the new leg, coming to a relaxed position. You are now at stage 0. Moving on the back leg is otherwise the same as the Forward step.
  Stepping horizontally Prepare in the same way, imagining the down-hill slope. Start stepping the same as in stage 2. Move onto the free leg with the hip-push (described later), still creating the line of force between front, stepping leg metatarsals and the torso center. The step can be short or long. After the free foot touches the floor, it is like stage 2. The energy used for the step, carefully controlled, is just enough to obtain a speed such that the body, under its own weight, can consume and completely neutralize the step energy, arriving to a neutral, balanced position at the zero speed. See more on this in the "Closer Look at the Step Algebra and Performance" chapter.
Moving on the back leg is otherwise the same as the Forward step.

As you can see the sequence is matching: there is a preparation stage and a careful step stage. The main body arc of Parada-down-hill and Liberty-down-hill are matching. If two people are placed torso to torso to each other and walk down-hill, they will be moving synchronously. What is described here is a sequence of "Short-Step Toe-First Tango Walk". This walk in a couples dance can be done forward and backward. An individual step will be called "Toe-First Short Step".

Abbreviation of the step is 1). To master the Toe-First step imagine walking on tip-toes.

Body-First Tango Walk

Stage Function Up-Hill Forward Up-Hill Backward
0 Neutral Knees are slightly bent, torso forward. Knees are slightly bent, torso forward.
1 Step Begin with a slight movement of the torso center forward, into an imbalanced position, stretching the whole body up. Then, the pushing leg straightens and propels the body forward and up even more. Especially important is the push of the femur bone (thigh) into the hip joint at the absolute last part of the leg straightening. It sometimes is called "hip-bump". The foot also pushes from the ground. The torso center moves to the standing leg side (opposite to the stepping leg) and stretches forward as much as possible. The free leg moves freely and is held under the torso center. If it is ahead of torso center, extra energy will be required by the standing leg to step on it. This should be avoided. The obtained pose is Liberty. The obtained pelvis position is Crossed Pelvis. The step is done without preparation, with one powerful thrust forward. Pushing leg straightens and propels the body backward and up. Otherwise, it is exactly like the Up-Hill Forward step. The obtained pose is Parada. The obtained pelvis position is Crossed Pelvis.
2 Completion The standing leg has now changed. The weight is on the other standing leg. The newly freed leg is now stretched. Now the standing leg diminishes the bend in the newly standing leg knee, bringing the free leg close to the standing leg. Body is rising a little. Torso untwists.
  Stepping horizontally Done very much the same way with one difference: the force geometry and timing should be such that the torso center does not move up. The step can be short or long. Moving on the back leg is otherwise the same as the Forward step.

As you can see, there is a step stage and a completion stage. What is described here is the second tango type of walk: "Body-First Tango Walk". An individual step will be called "Body-First Step". Abbreviation of the step is 2) on the diagram above.

Rhythmic Opposition of Toe-First and Body-First Steps

One step of these walks will shortly be called Toe-First Step or Body-First Step, Forward or Backward. Mechanically, these steps are very different. One more difference I want to turn your attention to is the different rhythm of these steps. There are two stages in both, but the Toe-First has the Preparation-Step sequence with the actual step in the second phase, while the Body-First has the Step-Completion sequence with the actual step in the first phase. In a dance, especially if you start combining these steps and dance to music, it does matter very much! More about this later.

"Knee-Lock", "Hip-Bump", and "Hip-Push"

It looks like a human leg has two similar mechanisms which are called "knee-lock" and "hip-bump". They transform a leg from an "unlocked", "flexible" state with maximum sensitivity but high load on muscles, to "locked" state with minimum sensitivity and readiness for movement, but preservation of muscle energy for balancing, because the leg is stiffer.

It seems that the during the transition from the "unlocked" to the "locked" state, an ample amount of energy is used and a push is produced. The transition moment itself has a specific "click" feel, and it is easily felt by a dancer himself and his partner. If one steps with large steps, this click is the last stage of propelling forward, following the release of energy from a twisted pelvis. It is possible to step relatively small, like going uphill, and produce the "click" without very much muscle effort. The FEELING is like stepping large, but the step is actually small. This property is valuable for crowded-floor social tango. The "click" does not happen by itself. An effort must be made to produce it.

During steps, the moment of the click is approximately in the middle of the step, so if a step is 1/4 (4 steps per measure), a click will be in 1/8. For tango, this timing is important in ones ability to facilitate a synchoronization with the characteristic rhythm of "syncopa". More about this later. The click may not happen. The leg can also come to the same position gradually and smoothly, with a forward push into the hip joint propelling the pelvis and therefore the body, forward. In both ways, I will call the push from the thigh into the hip joint which propels pelvis forward, a "Hip-Push".

A similar mechanism is at work when stepping Up-Hill Backward. In this case, a "Hip-Push" happens in backward direction. When stepping sideways up-hill, a similar hip-push happens. Hip-Push is an extremely important energy producer in dancing. Mastery of this is paramount, but it does not happen by itself. It needs practice and guidance. I hope the "up-hill" analogy will help in understanding.

There are "standing" and "dramatic" positions of the "unlocked" leg. They are presented in the Parada chapter.

Tango step and Latin step

Side step can also be done in two ways, Body-First and Toe-First. Side-step Body-First can be done not only stepping to the side, but also stepping Forward and Backward. It is the basic dancer's Latin Step.

Toe-First Long-Step Tango Walk

Stage of the step Function
0 Neutral
1 Preparation like in Toe-First
2 Step like in Body-First
3 Completion

A step of this walk is a combination of the Short-Step Toe-First Tango Walk step and the Body-First Tango Walk step. The stages are noted in the table. You can take stage descriptions from previous tables. This walk is the most popular walk in advanced tango, especially in stage performance. Short-Step is the most challenging, since it is difficult to train people who are used to "stepping" off and landing on a heel, to move the body to the same place where the foot is touching the floor and move their weight onto the ball of the foot. But this walk is invaluable when dancing in confined surroundings in apilado and milonguero styles. Body-First Tango walk is used in traditional, old styles of tango. They often can be seen on stage. This step lands on the heal and can be large. It is possible to make a large Toe-First step. An individual step will be called "Toe-First Long Step".

In short , this step begins as if one prepares to step down-hill and subsequently steps up-hill.

The description given in this chapter does not include mechanics of torso and pelvis twist. To find this please, refer to descriptions of tango poses like Parada and Liberty, and figures like Cunita, Corte y Quebrada, and others. More on these steps will be given later.


The existence of two major types of walk, up-hill and down-hill, correlates with well known notions of two types of running. It may be that what I describe here is a key to understanding their differences and advantages.