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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In Favor of The 8 Count Basic (especially the "dreaded" backstep) as a Learning/Teaching Tool

After a great deal of thought and consideration I have come to the conclusion that the 8 count basic is an extremely valuable tool in the teaching/learning of tango, ... Why?

  • The basic gets the students used to many of the basic elements used in tango;  forward step, backstep, sidestep, weight change in place, and the cruzada in one easily remembered secquence. (4 four steps, plus the cross if you are counting).
  • It also teaches countrabody positioning needed when the leader walks outside the follower.
  • Followers are not learning the proper technique for taking a linear forward step because most teachers leave the "dreaded backstep" out, while using the rest of the learning figure. (position/step 1)(examples of common faults could be failure to take a full sized step or stepping with weight on the ball of the foot first rather than using the heel to center weight over the entire foot)(of course in reality most front steps taken by followers will be circular around the axis of the turn, nevertheless, good technique is required and you must walk before you run).
  • Leaders need to respect the personel space of the couple in front of them in the rhonda by giving them enough room to take one medium sized step an any direction (especially a back step,  following too closely is the single worst floorcraft error that any leader can make, in my opinion).
  • Followers need to learn to trust the leader, even if they do something "wrong" (like going against the line of dance), and to go where he takes them, after all the leader has the responsibility of navigating and managing the movement of the couple, and this is very difficult without the trust of the follower.(and it makes things much easier if moves such as follower sacadas are asked for by the leader).
  • The 8 count is very useful for musical phrasing (most phrases fit into this format easily).
  • Followers must learn the feeling of the lead for a weight change in place (step/position 8 without any side motion) (note that many teachers will use the 8 count basic eliminating the first/back step and that by doing this they eliminate the need for step 8 the change weight in place step and effectively teaching a 6 count basic, or possibly a 7 count basic if they substitute a weight change for the back step)( I suppose that a weight change at step  8 and at step 1 would make the the count back to an 8 count).
  • Followers and leaders need to realize that the sidestep can take only 1/2 of a full count, and that during the step the feet must brush the weight bearing foot. (position/step 1-2 and 2-3).
  • Followers should be taught that when the leader is outside of the follower to the right (as he is in position 2) that a cross will occur after the next step unless the leader walks through (blocks)  the cross (yes I do believe that the cross should be led, however for the brand new follower this lead can be very subtle and is a somewhat unnatural thing to do as it is almost never done outside of the tango.  The basic "gets the follower used to" crossing and teaches how to follow this very subtle lead, it also teaches the leader the necessary skills to lead a linear cross)(as opposed to a circular cross as used in the ocho cortada). 
  • Leaders need to learn to recognize the many possibilities that exist from each of the positions in order to learn to effectively improvise and navigate. (for example from position 5 after the weight change they might lead the follower to take a circular front step around them clockwise to create a turn or front ocho to the closed side, or from position 7 they might lead a circular front step counter clockwise around them to create a turn or ocho to the open side).
  • Leaders need to learn how to translate from linear movement to circular motion.  (for example by modifying step 1 from straight back to a crossing step behind the standing leg they can create a circular lead with very little disassociation of the upper body). 
  • When leaders start learning to improvise away from the basic it very strongly teaches the followers not to anticipate the next movement (even though they know what is coming next, they will learn to wait until the lead is given before rushing through, this is in reality the nature of following and part of the very character of tango...lead comes before, and waits for, follow).
  • For the followers of the "matrix" line of thought it can be done on either side proving the therory that what can be done on one side of the embrace can also be done on the other side (with added difficulty due to the dynamics of the assymetrical embrace, this is a lesson in itself)

Leaders should also be taught to switch between crossed and parallel systems while doing the basic by taking extra steps without leading them and by leaving steps out while leading them.  It is equally important that all students are taught the walking as well as the turning phases of the dance as well, in both crossed and parallel systems.

It is very important that when showing the students how to do some movement that they are shown from which position of the basic that the movement starts (in this way the student learns that this is a point at which they may start to improvise, with the desired effect that they eventually realize that this basic contains most of the possible positions, and think of the positions as the main goal of using the basic as a tool) They should also  be given two or more options from every position even if only one is to be used to produce the figure that they are learning at the moment.

It is also helpful to teach the student to curve and vary the steps of the basic at some point so that they realize that they are not locked into some sort of invisible grid and that they are in control of where the steps they lead take them (this will serve to begin to teach navigation, the single most important role of the leader.)

Students should be drilled over and over again that the basic is a teaching/learning tool only and that it should Never    be used in the rhonda.  (this gets the leader started improvising right away.)