Is this the highest praise that a tango dancer can receive from an old tanguero? I believe so; what do you think? Of course, the embrace and the dancer’s posture are all part of this judgment.
You would think that since walking is something that we do every day, that this would be the easiest part of tango, yet I am convinced that achieving a good ‘tango walk’ is the hardest. However, if you get this right, then everything else flows easily …. because so much goes with it – balance, strong axis, good embrace, clear lead-follow from the body, close stepping to your partner, effective contra-body rotation.
So why do people have so much trouble with the walk in the embrace? For a start, they are in an unfamiliar position physically and mentally – in front of and chest-to-chest with a partner. This in itself creates some anxiety, including the leader’s fear of stepping on his partner’s toes. Bodies become tense – shoulders, back, arms – defeating any chance of walking normally. On the other hand, with a relaxed body and a forward advance of the leader’s torso before he steps, there is little chance of him getting near her toes. A leader who leans back, or dances totally vertical, has more chance of clashing with his partner’s legs or feet, because he is keeping her in his space.
Walking in an embrace requires trust - trust that the follower will move with her partner’s lead, and trust that the leader will follow her. The embrace is something that shouldn’t be broken – whether it’s during a simple walk or a complex turn.
Musicality is the next level that needs to be built into walking; confident musicality and confident walking are mutually dependent. Apart from walking on the beat (but not necessarily every beat), musical walking means an injection of energy corresponding to the phrase of the music. It needs commas & periods, acceleration & deceleration, suspension & relaxation. If the movements correspond to the music, then you get good, confident walking. It will simply feel right!
There’s another quality that can be added to the dance - resisting the urge to step on every beat. This doesn’t imply that the dance stops at various moments, but rather that the ‘pause’ has value. It’s a response to the music, which can include small decorations or a gentle body movement into the next step. Think of a conversation – the silences can be powerful, just as the pause in tango can be.
In some ways it’s no different to a respectful conversation: I say something – she listens - then gives me her response - I pay attention and wait until she finishes talking - before I have something more to say, etc. Such are the essentials of a satisfying conversation, or a deeply satisfying tango.
A controlled and elegant tango walk, combined with a strong sense of where the music is taking you, contains the essential elements of a beautiful tango. Jorge & Samantha Dispari illustrate this in a post-class demonstration; the film quality could be better, but the impression that it made on me is indelible.