Nailing the Quicks

In tango we step across one weak beat—but in vals, we step across two weak beats:


Stepping Naturally across the two weak beats of vals


Most valses have 70 to 80 strong beats per minute. That means the two weak beats each take about one fourth of a second—and that's pretty fast. It can be a challenge to hear them clearly, and an even bigger challenge to step on the first one cleanly when they're only 0.25 seconds apart. It takes a lot of practice and concentration—but first, you need to be aware of where the beats are, and how to step. Let's look at it first in slow motion, with a red spot for the strong beat, and two blue spots in between for the weak beats. Our goal is to nail a quick step onto the first blue spot, and then step over the second one:


Vals cadence under the microscope:  Nail the first weak-blue beat, and then step over the second.


Here it is at normal speed:


Vals cadence at normal speed with a red spot on the strong beat, and two blues on the weak beats.


Now we'll look at it with the music, the spots,—and a tick-tock added to the strong and weaks:


Vals cadence with the music, the spots... and a tick on the strong beat, and two tocks for the weaks.


Desde el Alma, the vals in this demo, isn't especially fast. It comes in at about 72 beats per minute, but some of the faster ones are crazy. Alej and I love Biaggi's Dichas que Vivi, and they play it all the time. It's around 80 bpm, and while it may not sound like that much more than 72, it seems to fly.

I've filmed lots of vals, and when you look closely at the film, you find that most people have two problems. One is that they don't exactly hit the first weak beat on a quick step. They come down somewhere between the two weak beats. The other problem is that the step is so fast that their technique breaks down and they bend the knees and begin to shuffle their feet a little. But to be good in vals you need to try to get right in the cadence, and stay tall with your weight over your feet. And you should use a good straight leg into the floor to mark the compás. Let's add a pause to look at each step:


Vals under a microscope:  Pausing to look at the quick steps.


All of this may seem technical and picky—but I think it's extremely important. If you take the time to learn how to use the weak beats cleanly in both tango and vals, you'll be doing much more than just tapping out the compás on the floor with your feet. Doing it correctly creates the foundation for expressing the full range of the music and melody with the both the upper and lower bodies of both partners.