Navigation on the dance floor

tango teaching Sep 29, 2021
tango dancers

26 September 2021, by Mariano Diaz Campos

"When should we start teaching navigation on the dance floor to our beginner groups?" This is a question we regularly get from Tango teachers who join our lessons. Navigation on the dance floor is a special skill to learn, that can be supported by the teachers. 

For us the answer is undoubtelty: from the very first step. With an elegant balance and a caminada the navigation can be practiced really well from the very beginning. The caminada helps to dance in the ronda, and the balance is great to use to dance on the spot. Next is the cunita, a simple turn on the spot. This is useful for the leaders to learn to scan the dancers around them, and get a sense of the flow on the dance floor. Depending on the flow of the group of dancers, the leader can decide to walk forward, or to stay on the spot (turning or not). It is just as important to be able to fill in the gap ahead of you, as it is to not push the couple in front of you and dance on the spot.

It is absolutely crucial that dancers learn to dance in the ronda from the very beginning. We prefer to teach less steps, and focus more on body awareness, connection, musical interpretation and navigation (in that order). Every tango step or combination that we use, is a tool to practice these subjects. Another criteria for a selection is style. We have the building blocks - the elements - and we have the danced poems. Some combinations are danced since the 20s, 30s or 40s of last centrury, are so beautiful, and have proven themselves, through the passage of time, to be great to use on the dance floor: danced poems.

No matter how advanced the level of the dancer is, we always continue to teach navigation. When we decide which elements we will teach in a class, we always make sure that the combination we choose starts and finishes in the dance direction, and we avoid movements that take us outside our dance line, or bring us against the dance direction. Ideally, we also suggest improvisation tools to the leader, to be able to navigate and respond to the situation on the dance floor in a relaxed way, that feels comfortable to the follower.

We explain the followers about their responsiblity for safe navigation, and how they can use their free leg in such a way that they use the space around them and not hit or kick other dancers.

Professionals dancing socially

I vividly remember how impressed I was when I saw the legendary maestro Antonio Todaro dance in the salón. He created the most amazing steps for tango, in a style that is called Tango Fantasía. These steps were meant to use in a tango show. Although Antonio knew so many amazing tango show combinations: in the milonga he danced an elegant tango caminado, with beautiful pauses and turns. With his dance in the salón he made a big impression on me.

Let's acknowledge all the professionals who also give the right example; who dance in the ronda in a responsable and social manner. This is absolutely the big majority of professionals, who give a good example, and practice what they preach. Who only dance high boleos when there is more then enough space on the dance floor.

Unfortunetely we have occasionally seen professionals giving the wrong example on the dance floor by dancing with big high boleos in a crowded milonga, taking up too much space, or not even following the ronda, not adapting their steps to the space that is available. This sends the wrong message. I don't think a professional can get away with it by saying 'do as I say, not as I do'. Better practice what we preach, instead. And save the high boleos for the training room or when the floor is almost empty.

Tips for teachers

The challenge for each tango teacher is to not be tempted to focus too much on the steps as if it is a goal on its own. The time you have with each group, and with each student, is always limited. As tango teacher we have to use this limited time well, by paying attention to the different pillars that make tango such a wonderful art: body awareness, connection, improvisation with elements and combinations (poetry), musical interpretation and navigation.

The other day I spoke to a beginning follower who wanted her beginning partner to learn faster. I explained to her all the different aspects a leader needs to learn, and I adviced her to be patient, and to also practice on her own and dance at milongas. But she was sure that would not make a difference, all she needed was 'to learn more steps' ;-)

This is just a small example to show, that if tango teachers focus too much on what the student wants, we can get into trouble. Instead stay true to your values and know your own niche and develop it: every tango teacher has their own unique speciality.

La Ronda

La Ronda (Spanish for "the round") refers to the line of dance in Argentine Tango. The traditional ronda requires the dance couples to move counter clockwise around the room.

The ronda consists of imagined concentric lanes on the dance floor. A medium floor has usually of 2-3 of these lanes. In each lane couples are dancing only behind/in front of each other, never next to each other. The couples move with roughly the same pace, leaving a similar distance between each other. When the floor is particularly crowded the couples move effectively with each step into the space where the couple in front of them just had been. The ronda enables the dancers to move in a predictable way. This helps the couples to feel safe, to relax, and to dance freely within the social setting.

Esquineros

Thanks for reading the blog until here :-)
Fun fact: round rooms have a much more nervous energy comparted to dance rooms with corners. Do you know why? In round dance rooms there is never a break from the circle. In a room with corners, dancers have a moment to dance in the corner, relax a bit, make a nice turn. A giro with lapiz can often be easily made in the corner, whereas often in the middle of the line there is not enough space and time. Some dancers love the corners so much, that they stay there for too long, which gives the other dance couples no other option then to pass them. These dancers are called esquineros (esquina = corner).  


Photo: Thames Valley Tango