Dance Points

"The mechanic that would perfect his work, must first sharpen his tools."

Some kinds of dancing may involve walking softly on a bent knee, or even getting up on the toes—but it's not part of tango. The tango of the milongas is danced "into the floor". That means we move by stepping solidly and firmly onto a straight leg, and we normally stand with the entire bottom of the foot in contact with the floor. But we are also constantly moving, and our center of balance is constantly shifting—so we need to be aware of the subtle changes taking place in the balance points beneath our feet.

The final diagram on the last page represents nine points where we can center our weight: the front, back, and middle of each foot, and the front back and middle of the mid-line between them. It's important to be both relaxed and balanced over each point, and also to become aware of how it feels to move from one to the other. Of course they're somewhat arbitrary, because when we dance, the center of our weight moves all the time.

But even though our center is always moving, there are three points that are especially important in tango. So let's simplify our diagram. We'll get rid of six points, and leave the three in the picture below. The diagram becomes simpler... but like everything in tango, it also begins to get more complex. The three points are the two forward points near the ball of each foot, and the zero point in the middle. They are the three most important balance points in tango. We return to them again and again when we dance, and we need to know them:


The three dance points of tango.


[Note:  It may seem like we’re lingering a long time over these diagrams and exercises, but they’re the most important technical part of tango dancing. You may know steps, and you may know the music well, and you may even be able to listen to it and feel it while you're on the dance floor—but if you’re handicapped by poor basics, you’ll never really be able to say what you want to say. You’ll never reach your full potential. Getting used to these balance points beneath a good, relaxed posture is the only way to free the music you feel inside.]

The two forward points are important, because they are literally the foundation of the man's ability to lead, and the woman's ability to follow. These are the points we stand over when we communicate with our partner. This is the main place where messages are sent and received. When you're over these points, you are not only responsible for your own body, but your partner's as well. Learning to relax and control what you do over these two forward points is at the core of tango dancing.

The Zero Point in the middle is important because it is the place you return every time your heels pass each other. Between each step you take, in whatever direction, your heels and ankles should come back together. They don’t need to touch, but they should always be pulling back in, as if small magnets are attached to each one. Every time this happens, you re-balance and prepare yourself to lead (or to follow) the next step.

Finally, knowing these points is crucial for the most technically difficult part of tango. If you aren't comfortable over your Zero Point, and the points at the front of each foot, you will never learn to walk tango correctly. This is a very complicated subject, and we'll cover it thoroughly (and I hope clearly) later. For now, let’s just say that if your not comfortable staying balanced over these points with good relaxed posture, you won’t progress any further. On a bike, you can either do a track stand or you can’t… and if you can’t, everyone in the velodromo will see it when you begin to wobble. In a milonga, you’ll still be able to dance without good basic balance, and you’ll probably be able to fool some people—but you’ll never really be able to express the music the way the best milongueros do. So let's get to work.

Start with good solid string posture again—chest up, shoulders down and back, legs straight and relaxed. Stand in front of a mirror and look for left to right symmetry, and then tip forward so that your weight is over your two front balance points. Get comfortable, and then go back. Return to your Zero Point.



Next, well tip smoothly forward again, but this time will go forward and right a little, to arrive over the Right Front balance point:



Then we'll move across to our Left Front balance point. The picture above shows about how it should look in the mirror. The forward lean may be exaggerated a little, but the point is not how far you lean. The object is to get your weight centered and comfortable over the two front points, and to learn to move accurately between them. So practice moving around the triangle of the three points:  Zero... Right Front... Left Front. Move in both directions. You should look and feel like a tall tree swaying around in the wind, moving between the three points. Get used to how it feels to do it right.

Being too far forward can stress your feet, and put too much weight into your partner—but being too far back, can cause problems with stepping and leading.

Remember, it's not a contest. Don't go until you get tired, and don't try for an extreme position. Listen to some tango if you want to. The goal for now is to get just far enough forward to lead comfortably. Standing tall, with the chest up, and the shoulders down and back, should give you plenty of chest for leading without needing to move the center of your weight forward past the ball of your foot. If it's awkward, or if it feels like you're trying to grip the floor with your toes, you’re probably tipping too far. Consciously check to make sure your toes are relaxed. The distance you move your weight forward from the Zero Point is only a few inches—from a spot near your heel, to a spot closer to the ball of your foot.






Question by Dieudonne Dang — April 21, 2008

Great Job and thank you for helping me decipher this dance of ours called Tango. After taking classes for about a year, I developed a strong feeling that there had to be more to Tango than prancing around, trying to copy what an instructor was trying to teach. So thank you for a lot of the answers to my questions provided in your writing about Tango. Do you know of any good instructional Videos that one can use to soak up/get what you describe as the "NUTS & BOLTS OF TANGO" in Chapter 6?  It would help if as I study Chapter 6, I could visualized people doing it.

One of the things that I have learned as I get ready to step, is that as I stand on my heels, I can lean forward until I feel my toes begin to engage. So I lean forward from my heels to that place just before the toes engage (I am still maintaining the integrity of my own axis) providing my own side of the "A" that you talk about. I am still a novice when it comes to Tango, but determined to make it mine, so please feel free to correct me at will.
      A bientot,

Thanks for your questions. It's nice to know that you're interested in our new pages on technique.

Question 1: “Do you know of any good instructional Videos that one can use to soak up what you describe in Chapter 6?  It would help if I could visualized people doing it."

Ans: I’ve looked at a lot of instructional videos over the years. Some of them display great technique (one that comes to mind is the one Pepito Avellaneda did just before he died), but I haven’t seen any that do a good job of breaking down and teaching the details of standing and stepping. Most simply demonstrate patterns and step combinations. [UPDATE:  I just found a video by a fellow who seems to know what he's doing! It's a video of slow motion walking that you might find helpful. We just posted it at the end of Chapter 6.]

Question 2: “…as I get ready to step, I stand on my heels… and I can lean forward until I feel my toes engage. So I lean forward to that place just before my toes engage…”

Ans: It's great to know someone is thinking about these things!  We just posted page 7 of Chapter Six. The next two pages will be up in a day or two, and I think you’ll find the beginning of your answer there. We’ll discuss working with your forward weight points, which is the preparation for stepping. Then we're going to post a section on using the compás, and after that, we’ll return and finish stepping technique in detail. We’ll also put the two halves of the embrace together. So please hang on—we'll try to clear it up for you over the next few months, and we'll include some video.

Weight on the heels: While our first exercises include finding a balance spot on your heels, that's really mostly for practice. It's not common to have your weight move onto your heels when you dance tango. It's done occasionally, but most tango is danced with the weight centered near the three balance points shown at the top of page 8. As far as your toes, I understand what you mean when you talk about your toes “engaging”. When I was trying to figure out how to stay forward, sometimes I would tense and curl my toes, like I was trying to grab onto the floor to hold myself back. For now, read through the pages we post in the next few days, and think about consciously relaxing your toes. Let your weight center on a spot just inside the ball of your foot, but no further forward. If your toes begin to tense up, you’re too far forward. You want to keep your chest just far enough forward to lead. Good posture, with chest up, and the shoulders down and back, should give you plenty of chest for leading without moving the center of your weight forward past the ball of your foot and onto your toes. As far as stepping, give us a month or so and let’s see if we can clear it up. And don’t hesitate to write again if you have any more questions after we post more.