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American Tango

by Harold & Meredith Sears

4 beats/measure; 30-32 meas/min

Tango originated in Argentina during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and of course this was the Argentine Tango. It reached Paris ballrooms in 1909 and quickly became popular in England and in America prior to World War I. Vernon and Irene Castle were especially successful in popularizing an elegant and polite form of tango, and a craze developed for "Tango Teas," held at many fashionable hotels.

American Tango adopted features of both Argentine and International or English Tango. It is the simplest of the tango styles. Hollywood gratefully adopted the style so that leading men would have some chance of looking good. Rudolph Valentino danced the American Tango in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 1921, and Arnold Schwartzenegger sort of did it in True Lies in 1994.

Where International Tango is highly structured, American (like Argentine) is more loose. We make greater use of loose closed, semi-closed, banjo, sidecar, butterfly, shadow, even open position. We are apart from our partner more.

On the other hand, when we are in closed position, the hold is a close one. His right wrist should be placed on the woman's left shoulder blade, the fingers and thumb together and pointing down her back toward the floor. Her left arm wraps around his right arm and the ridge of her hand presses against the lower side of his upper arm. She might try to lock her left thumb into his right armpit. Bodies are offset to the left so that left legs can swing freely past your partner, but you are close, tight at the hip. Both look to the left.

Where International Tango emphasizes the use of quick steps and uses slow counts for contrast, American Tango uses more slow steps and uses the quicks for contrast. The basic timing is slow, slow; quick, quick, slow; over two measures. In most Smooth rhythms, we use the whole slow count to take the step. Movement flows steadily from one beat to the next. But in Tango, we take the step more sharply on one beat and then hold on the second beat. Place each foot and then stop; step and stop. There is no flow, no flight, no swiveling on the balls of the feet. In the other smooth rhythms, the body is always in motion, in smooth and graceful arcs. In tango, the body doesn't move past the foot. The foot and the body move together. When the foot stops the body stops. It is like a great jungle cat slowly stalking its prey.

In Tango, we walk with a little right-side lead. The man steps forward on the outside of the left foot and rolls to the inside edge, on the inside of the right foot and roll to the outside edge. The steps are a little bit crab-wise and curved a little to the left. The right-side lead does this. Walk heel to toe, skimming the floor.

Tango is sometimes described as the "Groucho Marx" dance because we flex our knees, and we stay down there as we move. However, you do not have to strongly flex your knees. Only maintain whatever degree of flex that you choose—there is no rise and fall. And above all, if you happen to think of Groucho, do not think humor, slapstick, or farce. Tango is usually pretty serious. You want to try to conjure up feelings of pride, distain, maybe anger. Put some passion into those fans of the leg, flicks of the foot, those flares, dips, and lunges. At the end of a slow count, when you are frozen in stillness, it is because you feel so intensely that you can do nothing else.

For further information on "CHOREOGRAPHED BALLROOM" please visit: 

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