Decorations in Tango – do you really know why you use them?

Performing an improvisation at the Royal Festival Hall

Performing an improvisation at the Royal Festival Hall

A lot of ladies say the same thing to me – “Oh, I’d love to be able to use decorations in my dancing, but I don’t know where to put them in!” With the abundance of Ladies Technique and decoration workshops around you’d be forgiven in thinking that decorations are a necessity and the ultimate pinnacle of being able to dance Tango. To be honest I used to think the same way, I used to want to be able to do all the decorations I could because I thought it was what followers did. However, now I feel the truth is somewhat different.

I realise now that the decorations are there to help you with the technique and musicality. What they are not for is to demonstrate how flexible your legs are and how successfully you can probably kick ‘x’ number of fellow dancers on a crowded floor! I have actually been kicked by ladies a few times even when I have been sitting on the side talking to someone and it is not acceptable.

In a social Tango event there is not one good reason why high boleos or castigadas should be used by anyone. The ironic thing is, that now I am in a position to be able to do the decorations, I hardly ever do, because I prefer to feel the purity of the step with the music. For me, the absolute harmony of walking completely together with someone is an almost telepathic experience. However, working with decorations are what enabled me to get to this level in the first place.

When I first met Leo, he put me through a grueling exercise regime which involved hundreds of repetitions of the same exercises, probably the most annoying one being ‘the tap’ or ‘punteo’. Anyone who has been to any of our classes will know how difficult this very simple exercise can be. Dancers with several years of experience have been known to crumble when faced with what is a very simple instruction – to put a tap in between each step. To be honest, when Leo first gave me this to do, I didn’t see the point. I did it because I trusted him, but it wasn’t easy. What I came to appreciate however, is that this very simple ‘decoration’ is the beginning of understanding the musicality of Tango music plus it corrects the walking technique which is the most important thing. If you cannot do the tap, you are probably not walking properly. You can only do the tap if you are transferring your weight correctly. This is an excellent example of how the decorations help with the technique. Another one would be how the boleo or castigada help with the technique of the pivot. So many people think that the boleo for example is just a means to whip your leg around fast to look flashy and extravagant. But it’s not like that at all. The boleo is there to help the movement of the hip which in turn creates the pivot.

Another misconception is that the man controls the boleo so that the lady is not at fault if she accidentally kicks someone. Yes, the man can instigate the boleo, or the lady can use the boleo to help with the pivot but it is ultimately the lady who controls how high her leg travels. There is no excuse to do a high boleo on the social floor, there is nothing wrong in doing a low boleo, in fact, I think it often looks better and more elegant.

With regards to where you use decorations, this is a totally different matter. They are not there just to be flung in anywhere, it is not a competition ladies to see how many you can fit in! Less is definitely more in my opinion! To really understand when to use the decorations, I’m afraid we have to return to the dreaded ‘tap’ or ‘punteo’ exercise. By putting the tap into the moment of transfer of the weight, it automatically happens on the half beat and this is the magic moment when you can do boleos, castigadas, etc. It’s the moment when you can decorate or embellish without interfering with the mans leading and you will be completely ‘in the music’. Unfortunately, this ability to obtain the feel of the music can only be achieved through repetition of the basic ‘tap or punteo’ exercise. There is no short cut. However, the good news is that it doesn’t take long to get this feeling into your system.

When I dance now, I feel this musicality like a heartbeat in my head. Whether I choose to do any decorations at these points is then my decision. For me, learning the decorations through the musicality and the technique was the key to understanding Tango itself. Now, I can listen to all the layers within a typical Tango track and choose to express or not the musicality with my feet!

About Tracey Tyack-King

I'm a professional Teacher and Dancer of the improvised art form of the social Argentine Tango. Together with my partner, Leonardo Acosta, (Leo Fandango), we teach regular weekly classes under the name of Tango Fandango, mainly in the South of the UK. We also teach our own Teachers using our defined teaching methodology under the name of 'The London Argentine Tango School'. We believe passionately in the social art form of improvised Tango and dance as we teach - all our performances are improvised.
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