Lesson 2018-08-18 Alteration as framework for creativity

Three promises:

  1. Nice dynamics
  2. Recognition of opportunities is better than recall of patterns.
  3. Framework for creating variations


  1. Base movement: dynamic change of direction with lots of circular energy.
  2. Variants: coming from in front and coming from behind.
  3. Opening variant of El Gato.
  4. Small space movement with big dynamics. (‘Pull’ with side furthest from axis vs push)
  5. Techniques as a framework for creating variations on things we already know.

1. CS Alteration FO F2B, 2AS

We use the term alteration to refer to a movement that combines a rock step with a pivot, sending us off in a new direction. For example, demonstrate — with hand-side pointing down line of dance — Alteration front-to-back, going to arm-side. The rock step stores energy, and the pivot sends it off in a circular action to create a surprising change of direction.

Tonight we’ll start with this one particular alteration. We’ll learn what makes alternations successful, and at the end of the hour you will learn ways to make variations, and have a chance to explore them. We will also use this as a vehicle to explore the power of recognizing opportunities to fuel your dance creativity.

It’s a lot to cover, so pay close attention, make notes and connections however you can. I may also ask you to show your work

Now… You know the Americana? We open to the hand-side (only rarely, in old movies, to the arm-side) like a book, then both step through with the inside legs. But for this figure the leader steps through with the outside, left leg. So we are in cross-system, both stepping with left legs, in a shadow position.

How many different ways do you know or can figure out to get into that position, going from here (facing toe-to-toe), to here (little side rocks to position us, then step)? Give that a try for this song, and raise your hand if you want hints or help.

Music ♫

has a slick way to get to this position? Demonstrate, please.

Followers — Filling out the frame-energy, occupy the space; Twist of legs together; Activate with energy of rebound from rock step; This is clearly a QQS timing-do that. This is a block movement for the pivot, not dissociation.

The important thing to notice is the matrix that starts the step. Here it is FO. My partner is in a front-cross leg position; I am in an open position. Even though it looks like my legs are crossed, too, if I turn toward my partner they open, but if my partner turns toward me their legs cross tighter.

The next thing to ask is, “If we back up one step, how do we get from that standing leg to this position?”

So our partner could be coming from in front of us, leaving a right leg somewhere in our NE-E sector, or maybe they come from behind us, say out of a molinete. For our creativity we can either create those conditions, or we can recognize when they just happen during our dancing and take advantage of them.

1A. Coming from in front

Simplest, merely lead a front ocho toward AS as you step back to create space. (You could do a neat little enrosque R behind L, to ready the L to rock forward.

1A’. Coming from in front, with a sacada

Alternatively, we would like that to be an overturned ocho, and we can nicely achieve that with a sacada to power the pivot. So…
El Gato, FsR

1B. Coming from behind

A molinete will achieve this. How about a standard 2-3 ROP entry?

 ♩ Music ♫

Variations framework:

  1. Substitutions from the O/F/B matrix
  2. Mirror images (F2B/B2F, L2R, R2L)
  3. Varying N-E-S-W placement

 ♩ Music ♫

These alterations will generally but not necessarily be in CS, and it usually works better to have our partner’s legs in a F or B, and us in an O. With their legs twisted, and with the pivot moving toward the twist they can more easily keep them tight together. Since we’re leading the figure we can know to manage our legs, and we need the greater O flexibility to help create the pivot.

Speaking of O, can you figure out the adjustment you need to make for an O2O alteration to work? (Leader must step inside partner’s leg when going toward them.)

Music ♫

Extra credit sacadas

  • CS BO F2B (for me) 2AS to provoke a follower sacada as I step across their path. That powers my L lápiz for a B-sacada.

Didactic demo


Helping a Partner Relax and Lower Their Hand

An excited or nervous partner** often pulls their hand (hand side of the embrace) up and in. This has the detrimental effects of increasing tension, weakening ability to send/receive signals, and misdirecting energy upwards rather than to grounding.

Oftentimes, too, a shorter partner will feel that they are being helpful or considerate to a taller partner by holding their hand well above their own shoulder in an effort to “meet” their partner. As a taller partner this makes me feel uncomfortable on their behalf, and it does not contribute to an improved dance. Rather, it takes energy away from movement, and it directs energy away from their core.

Generally the shoulder level of the shorter partner, with upper arm and forearm forming a roughly 90 degree angle, results in a relaxed, resourceful position for the hand.

We can in one of several ways cue our partner to relax and lower their hand. While recognizing that different partners may respond better to one cue or another, we want to consistently use the cue we choose for a partner for a dance.

Pressure and Release
A. Put gentle downward, outward pressure on the partner’s hand. Don’t jerk.
B. Keep steady pressure and release it as soon as they relax their hand, even slightly.
C. Then ask them (nonverbally! and as a suggestion, not a command) to lower the hand a little more, rewarding any downward movement with release.

Short Tugs
A. Give rhythmic and regular short tugs on the hand. The tugs should be gentle, more of an annoyance than a pull.
B. A natural reaction is to move in the opposite direction, away from the annoyance. If they pull their hand up, allow that, then continue with the gentle tugs.
C. As soon as your partner begins to lower their hand, even just a little, stop tugging and give warmth in your embrace.
D. Then continue tugging until the hand rests at a relaxed, comfortable level and distance from the body.

Back “Rubs”
A. With a relaxed, open hand at the arm side of the embrace give gentle, short downward pressure (not strokes) against the back or arm.
B. Beware of creating pressure points, such as with fingertips, that call attention to themselves and distract from the calming effect. Beware, too, that this not be seen as (or actually be) a too familiar or intimate move. This move differs from comfortable, clear dance connection only in its specific intention to feel as a calming presence.

We leave as an exercise how these cues might be adapted to address the related problem of a hand-side elbow that floats upward.

(Adapted from Storey’s Guide to training horses, by Heather Smith Thomas, pp 164-167)

** In this, as with most of our writing and teaching, we intentionally avoid speaking of Follower or Leader, for the advice applies to either role.

Abbreviations, glossary, terminology, vocabulary

On the Austin Tango website you will find an extensive collection of Tango Terminology.

Here we have a simplified list of the abbreviations and words used in the Tango Tribe group classes, private lessons, and writings.

Note:  this does not tell you how to dance any movement; it only describes the effect.

Abbreviations, notation

This is a shorthand system I have found useful for my note taking.

= – used in an O/F/B pair (see xy below) to indicate follower/leader position held.
# – Step(s) of 8-Count Basic, in PS unless noted as CS
<, > – Left, Right; counter clockwise, clockwise
<m, m> – Molinete left (CCW), right (CW)
xy – where both x and y are one of =, O, F, or B (see below) and x is the follower’s step, y the leader’s step; e.g., 3 PS is BF
A – against, as in against LOD
AS – arm-side of the embrace
CS, PS – Cross System, Parallel System
fw – follow, follower
HS – hand-side of the embrace
ld – lead, leader
LOD – Line Of Dance (counter clockwise around the edges of the dance floor)
LOP, ROP – Left Outside Position, Right Outside Position
O, F, B – Open step, Front/Back-cross step. In lowercase represents a ‘small’ feet together (o) or crossed together (f, b) step.
Om, Fm, Bm – Open/Front/Back move where m is one of: b-boleo, c-colgada, e-enganche, g-gancho, o-ocho, s-sacada, x-cruzada, v-volcada
p – partner
R, L – to the right, left


8-count basic – a teaching tool. A mini-phrase in length, it includes steps in each of the cardinal directions, plus walking outside (in ROP) and the cruzada. (Often step #1 is omitted to avoid stepping backwards against line of dance.)

In PS starting standing on hand-side
2 OO to ROP
3 BF4 OO
5 fo (cruzada)
6 OO
7 OO to arm-side
8 oo

In CS starting standing on hand-side
2 OO to ROP, =o
3 BO
4 OF
5 f= (cruzada)
6 OO
7 OO to arm-side
8 oo

adorno – “adornment”; ornamental movements

alteration – couple’s change of direction from a rock step plus pivot

amague – “threatening movement”; feint

arm-side, AS – the side of the embrace where the arms go around our partner. May be used to indicate the direction of a giro/molinete.

axis – the concept of a body structured in a long line from the ball of the foot of the supporting leg, up through the leg, hips, mid-section (core), thorax, and head. Typically vertical, but may be tilted toward (volcada) or away (colgada) from our partner.

B – back-crossing step, back, backward, backing. The leg farthest from my partner crosses the center-line extending from my partner to beyond me. In lowercase is a feet together cruzada move. Movement is in LOD or toward our partner unless noted otherwise.

barrida – “sweep”; the effect of sweeping your partner’s foot across the floor with your foot.

boleo – “to throw”; a ‘whipping’ action of moving leg

cadencia – “cadence, rhythm”; rock step

colgada – “to hang”; our partner’s axis tilts away from us

confront – to be with and facing our partner. Typically our hips face the direction of travel (or right angles to it), while the upper body and head want to turn toward our partner.

core – the mid-section of the body that includes the abdominal and oblique muscles that let the body twist around its spine. May also be used to refer to the deep structures of the body.

corrida – running steps

cross system, CS – where each partner steps with a leg on opposite sides of the body. That is, one partner steps arm-side, the other hand-side; or vice-versa. This forms three tracks and has the benefit of bringing the partners closer together than parallel system (see) when outside partner.

cruzada – “the cross” (also, el cruce). When a dancer’s feet cross tracks and come to a stop side-by-side with one leg crossed over in front of or behind the other. E.g., #5 of the 8-count basic.

dissociation – an Argentine tango term of art referring to positions and movement in which the upper body does not face in the same direction as the lower body.  Consider Right Outside Position (#3 of the 8-count basic), for example, where the hips face straight ahead to the direction of movement, while each dancer’s upper body is twisted to face their partner.

enganche – “hooking”. A leg wrap or a catching of the partner’s foot.

F – front-crossing step, front cross, front, forward, facing. The leg closest to my partner crosses the center-line extending between me and my partner. In lowercase is a feet together cruzada move. Movement is in LOD or toward our partner unless noted otherwise.

gancho – “hook”; dancer’s moving leg hooks around a leg of their partner

giro – “turn”; turning step or figure

hand-side, HS – the side of the embrace where the partner’s hands embrace. May be used to indicate the direction of a giro/molinete.

landing leg – the leg receiving the body’s weight, becoming the new axis (often, ‘standing’ or ‘supporting’ leg)

lápiz – “pencil”; tracing a circular figure on the floor with toe or edge of the free foot

leaving leg – the leg giving up the body’s weight as we move to a new axis on the floor. (often, ‘free’ leg)

matrix – A modern understanding of Argentine tango movement possibilities tells us that when we step with, around, or even away from our partner we have but three step directions. See The Tango Keypad.
Open: in one direction (which could encompass up to 180 degrees), such that when you twist to directly face your partner, your legs are still open;
Front: a leg goes between you and your partner, such that when you twist to directly face your partner your legs twist together; and
Back: a leg goes behind you and across an imaginary line extending from your partner through you, such that when you twist to directly face your partner, your legs twist together.

media vuelta – “half turn”; often 3 BOF with follower’s turn around leader ending in an overturned pivot.

molinete – “windmill”; a grapevine figure that one dances on a circumference around their partner (or both dance around a common center) where F and B steps alternate with O steps, as in OBOF.

notation, notes – We have found it helpful throughout our tango career to have a notebook and pen with us in every class. We record our interpretation of the central messages of a teacher’s class, and sometimes direct quotes we like. Using abbreviations from this glossary we notate sequences we want to remember. At each step we list the Follower’s move, then the Leader’s, the same order in which we dance them.

O – open step (often, ‘side’ step). In lowercase is a feet together move. Movement in in LOD or toward our partner unless noted otherwise.

ocho – figure-eight (or a half of one) drawn on the floor by the feet. Can be in a F or B direction.

ocho cortado – “cut ocho”. Most often refers to a specific figure, but more generally refers to when a molinete or an ocho-like movement is stopped and sent back on itself.

parada – “to stop”; placing my foot alongside my partner’s, giving the appearance of having stopped them in their tracks

parallel system, PS – where each partner steps with the legs on the same side of the embrace. When the partners are in front of each other this forms two tracks; when outside four tracks.

pasada – “to pass”; my partner steps over my parada

rebote – “to rebound”;  as when a partner rebounds from a suddenly stopped pivot

salida – “exit”; step #2 of the 8-count basic

sacada – “to take (away the partner’s leg)”; to step under and close to your partner’s leaving leg, giving the appearance of having displaced it

spine – beginner dancers tend to think of moving their partner with the front of their own body; advanced dancers think of moving themselves around their spine, and their connected partner follows.

spiral – rotational twisting of the body along its axis. May begin at the floor and continue up to the upper body, as when leading our partner; or begins in the upper body and spirals down to the floor, as when performing an ocho. Note that the amplitude of the spiral increases as it progresses along the axis in either direction.

tijera – “scissor”; a leader’s (typically) leg crossed position as an adorno or a way to coax the partner’s free leg into a cross

torso – from hips to head

volcada – “to tip over”; our partner’s axis leans toward us

zarandeo – “to sift”; a shake to and fro

A recipe for beginners??

Does a Recipe this rich and filling seem like something you would feed to a beginner??

This is what we are doing in group classes over August 2018 at Tango Tribe.

52. Alterations With Overturned Forward Ochos With Sacadas

by Christy Coté for DVIDA | Makes 2 phrases | One month of weekly two hours of classes | Gluten-free


Cross System
Ochos (optionally overturned)
Sacadas (optional), including back sacada (more optional)
Tuck and lapiz (optional)
Parada, Pasada
Colgada (optional)
Gancho (optional)


Congenial partners
Nice dance floor
Dance shoes (or dance socks on shoes)
A Chef de Cuisine committed to help you succeed


Salida (#2) to LOP in CS
Walk, Displacement B/F (R2L)
Alteration f2b FO turning CW BO
Oo, F/F sacada with R
Overturned F ochos: F/Fo sacada with L, F/ Oo sacada with L, F/B sacada with L
Molinete CCW: O/O sacada with R then tuck and lapiz as: BOF
Parada, step-over Colgada to Gancho
FO to Parada


  1. Brief warm up for ankles, hip rotators, and core, plus special attention to movements used in the evening’s special ingredient.
  2. Demonstrate the final product.
  3. Demonstrate the evening’s special ingredient.
  4. Everyone shadow learns the follower’s part.
  5. Everyone follows the part from a visual lead.
  6. Everyone shadow learns the leader’s part.
  7. Everyone leads the part from a visual back lead.
  8. Pair up and practice.
  9. Switch roles and practice.
  10. Apply individual and group guidance.
  11. Switch partners and repeat until done.


  • Experienced dancers have an opportunity to learn their opposite role in a systematic way.
  • Both followers and leaders experience equal attention to their role and to the complete dancer.
  • We encourage and teach partners how to give each other feedback and help in a supportive way.
  • We find that the richness of the material encourages close attention to instruction and practice work, without demands from the teacher.
  • The first class, Ingredients, pays attention not only to movement mastery, but also to options for entering and exiting, as well as modifying it. This lets novices focus on essentials, while experienced dancers expand their awareness of creative possibilities. Tuesdays 7:30-8:30 p.m.
  • The second class, Recipes, goes deep into dancer principles to successfully blend individual ingredients into a visually appealing product with a great feel. Tasty! Tuesdays 8:30-9:30 p.m.
  • Recommended: make your own notes after class.
  • Recommended: use the practice time Wednesday 7:00-9:00 p.m. at Tango Tribe (and/or other Austin prácticas).

This is what we are doing in group classes over August at Tango Tribe.
Tuesdays 7:30-8:30 Ingredients
Tuesdays 8:30-9:30 Recipes
Wednesdays 7:00-9:0 Practice