The most common imagery used to describe the tango walk is that of a cat. The tango walk is smooth, it is grounded and there is a cat-like anticipation before every move. There are many different opinions on how to walk. I prefer the one which seems most natural – that is heels first – the way we normally walk. To minimize the impact when you land it is better to touch the ground with the outer part of our feet and roll inwards to the ball of your feet which is the last part leaving the ground when the feet takes off. Having said that, if you naturally walk on the ball of your feet, by all means do so in tango as well. But the critical thing is to make your walk smooth and grounded.
Smoothness: Having a smooth walk means to minimize the jerks – no sharp ups and downs. Remember, you want to achieve the stillness in your dance. Try to achieve a "meditative state" where lead and follow disappear. There should be least motion "between" the partners even though "together" they may be moving quickly as in milonga. Keep the same constant pressure between bodies regardless of the direction and speed of motion, soft landing, basically moving as one. You will need to employ not only all your leg muscles but more importantly your core muscles (abs and mid to lower back) to achieve this. [**See below]
Grounded: Remember the elephant legs and it does not mean heavy or slow. Even during a walk exactly one of your feet is in complete contact with the ground most of the time. During this time keep your toes relaxed and in complete balance (If you were to stop instantaneously you would not fall and can stay just on that foot). Imagine the energy from your belly button going down.
"The critical thing is to make your walk smooth and grounded."
Anticipation: This point is very specific to tango music. What gives the tango walk a cat-like look is the anticipation for the next beat. There is a sharp transition of feet just before the beat as opposed to uniform motion of the feet between the beats (in both cases you will be stepping on the beat but with a world of difference).
Since walking is the most natural thing, it is the hardest to describe. Any written instruction on walking is likely to be misleading. Try to interpret the following with the demonstration on the video above.
"To practice smoothness, try walking with a full glass of water."
Put some slow rhythmic music (e.g. Di Sarli) and practice walking to the music, staying mindful of the three points above. To practice smoothness, try walking with a full glass of water. Do not walk on tip toes. Walk normally – heels first – without spilling. Watch all the muscles used in this process. For each leg from landing to take off you should use anterior shin muscles, moving upwards through outside of the leg almost to the hips gradually. To practice anticipatory move, skip a few beats once in a while and try ‘catching’ the beat at the last moment while keeping your feet together in waiting. The intention of the forward motion starts with the torso and not with the legs. Imagine a forward force at the center of your torso and let the legs react to that force.
** Dancetutor had a question of the author:DT: Your reference to the use of "core muscles" brings to mind a local [Philadelphia] instructor who suggests that the development of muscles is underemphasized. In other words, is there a point where the most improvement can be gained by muscular strengthening and development (sit-ups, stretching, etc.) rather than repetition of figures or learning new figures?
Sridhar: Absolutely. I do some strengthening exercises in the beginning of the classes for this pupose. The role of back and ab muscles cannot be overestimated.
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