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Giros in tango

Giros I see sometimes turn me off

Gyroscopic considerations; revolving or revolting?

Watching people dancing in  a milonga makes me wonder if enough attention is being paid by tango teachers to the giro. Why do I think this? It’s because I see so few giros and the ones I see look uncomfortable or lead to a collision of some sort. Well, we could live without giros couldn’t we? Not if we want to dance vals properly. Because vals derived originally from viennese waltz it runs at the same tempo and retains the overall characteristic which is of elegant turns. A lot of people at milongas merely dance tango to a vals tune with no obvious difference from how they dance tango (or if I want to be fair, milonga either). If you see a video of couples dancing at a Milonga, if you mute the sound, you ought to be able to tell whether the music was Tango, Vals or Milonga you would think, wouldn’t you? Not a bit of it. I wish it were so.

One great thing about the genre we call tango is that we actually have the advantage of being able to dance three distinctly different dances with different characteristics, all for learning the same skills, more or less. After all, if we think that a tanda of vals is played for every 3 of tango, there’s a lot of vals about. And the tunes are to die for. Flores del Alma, for example, or Pabellon de las Rosas. Just bringing the tunes to mind makes me want to dance. If I just think of those two valses alone, they each have their own special characteristic. ‘Flores’ is soft, romantic and swoopy whilst the D’Arienzo version of ‘Pabellon’ is chippy and bouncy. What about another pair from the same stable, ‘Amor y celos’ and ‘Lagrimas y sonrisas’, each with a subtly different feel that makes me, for one, want to move in a different way?  And those wonderful, wonderful Dante and Martel duets with De Angelis; what can you say? Who hasn’t been propelled by ‘Soñar y nada mas’?

So, to really enjoy Tango vals (or vals criollo as it was once called) to its utmost, not on stage but day to day, at a Milonga, we need to be able to turn and turn. And it’s not easy; not by a long walk. Just think for a moment about the implications of turning in a group of couples, all progressing around the dance floor. If the man, (let’s call him the leader) stops moving down the line of dance and swings his follower around him, she ends up behind his axis and is effectively moving against the line of dance towards the couple behind. If the couple effecting the turn have their joined hands at ear level and stuck out far enough, the back of the leader’s hand could make contact with the ear of the unsuspecting woman behind him. The result? Embarrassment at the least and an unseemly fracas at worst. Then what effect will the rotating woman’s stiletto heel have on the advancing heel of the woman behind?  Hardly bears thinking about, does it?.

You do see some antisocial giros being led at Milongas and the swift lesson learned by the surrounding tangueros is to give such couples a wide berth. The flash couple are having a ball and, since they are narcissists, they imagine their skills are being universally admired. Not so. There is a significant chance they will induce those around them to hate them.

So what is the solution?  Pretty simple really. The man only leads his partner to giro once he has made the space for that to happen. The ideal place is in a corner of course but better than that is to fix the follower on her axis and move around her along the line of dance before bringing her round to her conventional position. This demands that the leader is as skilled in that useful movement called the ‘grapevine’ sequence as most followers become. What is it? It is that ancient series of steps that goes back before recorded time incorporating, from any starting position, side,back, side, front and so on. Think of Greek dancing or Jewish. Imagine all linking arms and trying to dance round  camp fire, in step.

Now, this sequence is, to my mind, about the most useful sequence to be able to pull out of the bag without mental gymnastics that we have. It takes a bit of learning to do a second nature so most of us have to go at it over and over again until we can do it without a pause or having to ask ourselves which step comes next. The biggest skill is to be so able to dissociate at the waist that your legs, the undercarriage, can go one way whilst your heart faces the same way all the time. It’s useful to practice it whilst facing a wall and processing along it but the fact is, we need to keep our hearts close to our partners while our legs do something else. This takes some waist flexibility, beyond the natural ability of the average couch potato but it comes with practice. One way to work on waist flexibility is to fix the pelvis by sitting on a chair then attempting to twist round to look behind you. Even the oldest least fit individual could manage this a few times a day, even in a sedentary job

In a giro, this is awfully tricky because we are trying to stay in the same relationship with a much smaller target and one that moves about too. However, it makes sense to practice to begin with with a wall as our partner. Once we’ve got that achievement under our belts, Judith and I found we could both perfect our giro holding a broom upright in one outstretched hand. If this concept is hard to grasp, I’ve fully illustrated it in ‘A Passion for Tango’.

The big message I want to get over is that most people do this movement badly and men usually can’t be bothered with it at all while demanding that the women in their arms do it perfectly. Actually, we all need it, particularly for good giros.

What is the biggest problem with the giro? Why the back step, of course; forward and side steps are so easy, but that back step! The common outcome is that as the partner performing the grapevine takes their back step, they actually step away from the leader. As a couple, they become unglued. now, for those who dance in an ever flexible embrace, this may not matter a lot and they won’t necessarily even notice. I’m guessing that many people dance in this free embrace for this reason; they aren’t actually competent to dance in a closer embrace which is more demanding. But, if your idea of tango is that it’s about a couple dancing heart to heart and totally connected one to another – and that’s definitely mine- then you need to be able to move freely even in a close embrace.

Let’s consider that backstep. It’s hard enough at the best of times. After all, we don’t step backwards too frequently in ordinary life, let alone to musical cues and elegantly. All of us can benefit from practising elegant backwards walking as part of our general work up for tango. I wonder how many of my readers bother? Consider it seriously. In my experience, it really pays off. In the backstep of the giro we are asking our follower to step backwards in a curving way around our bodies. This means that the back pivot that’s essential before she takes the step is more than 90 degrees. For that back pivot to work, the follower has to be perfectly balanced on her weight-bearing leg and there has to be a moment of time for the pivot before the back step. If we consider the sequence again, I’d like to propose that the timing be side, forward, side AND back, with the word AND reminding us to take that moment for the pivot. This is particularly important for the leader because,if he leads the giro without realising this moment is needed, at the very least he’ll forbid a good back step and at the worst, he’ll unbalance his follower. She won’t enjoy that one little bit.

There’s another way a leader can mess up a good giro at the backstep to his left. That’s if he allows his left hand to cramp his follower’s right arm. If he gives time for that pivot and takes his left arm to his left, her back step can be very close to him and the relationship at heart level is preserved. And that’s so important to me, I’m prepared to work on the giro so that I can incorporate it into daily dancing without losing my connection with the music or my partner.




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