Tango on ice

A style of tango is one of the most popular in a figure skating. Passionate spirit of this dance gives fertile ground for the inexhaustible creativity of the choreographers, coaches and, of course, athletes.

Let’s first look at what is tango as a dance on the floor. Tango dance is very popular in social circles and at parties and Tango dance moves are energetic, expressive of emotion, seductive and joyful. Tango is danced with partners and they perform the dance with precise yet passionate energy. Tango like various other dances also has a lot of offshoots which are equally popular. Some of the popular styles are Tango Argentino which lays emphasis on complex footwork and thence earning a name “war of legs”. 

The Canyengue is another Tango offshoot but fairly similar to the original dance. Then there is the Ballroom Tango which was evolved due to European influence and a quite a few more styles. The basic Tango dance moves will be similar in all these styles and the additional variations, twirls and sways as well as the music used differentiates the styles.

Some of things to keep in mind while learning the Tango dance steps are the expression, the posture of your body, the basic moves and the promenade moves and the arm holding technique.

The Expression: Your emotions of happiness, intimacy, seduction, passion should be expressed through the way the body moves in tune with the musical rhythm and the foot movement.

The Posture: Both partners should hold their body with a slight rigidity which will give a resistance that will maintain balance and help the lead to direct and the follower to respond. The hip movements should be well defined to accentuate the passionate energy and in comparison to the hips the upper part of the body will be fairly still.

The Basic Tango Dance Moves: The male lead takes three steps forward left, right, left for the first three beats, then follows up with a sideways move to the right with right foot on the fourth beat and on the fifth beat brings left foot to rest by the side of the right foot. In the complimentary Tango dance moves, the female follower takes three steps backward, right, left, right, follows up with a sideways move to the left with left foot and on the fifth beat brings the right foot to rest by the side of the left foot.

The Promenade Tango Dance Moves: This move is performed with the couple standing beside each other. They take 2 slow steps forward and then turn to face each other. The female follower does this by pivoting on her feet and turning 90 degrees. They finish by bringing both the feet close together. This move is performed for movement across the dance floor.

Hand holding: Female followers right hand resting on male lead’s left hand. The male lead’s right hand on female’s left shoulder and female’s left hand on male lead’s upper arm. Minimal eye contact is maintained and direction and response are only through fingers.

I asked several experts to give their vision of this music in relation to figure skating.

Hugo Chouinard – musical designer, former Canadian national ice dance team member, over the years he has worked with such renowned skaters as Yu-Na Kim, Qing Pang/Jian Tong, Joannie Rochette, Miki Ando, Akiko Suzuki, Jeremy Abbott, Alissa Czisny, Jessica Dube/Bryce Davison, Sasha Cohen, Jeffrey Buttle and many more:

“The tango is a dance that is basically made for couples. People are generally attracted to this style, because of his deepness, intensity and subtlety. The passion that is felt and lived during this interpretation is so intense, that an individual interpretation is an obstacle in itself.

The choreographer will have to create a theme, a story, a symbiosis with such a passionate internal or external energy to carry this style. The technical and emotional aptitude of the skaters that dare execute it, must be extreme in order to render the passion of the music, the state of being of The Tango.

This interaction and emotional work is already achieved when executed by a couple. Only the virtuoso of our sport will be able to immerse themselves, while being able to perform the required technical elements.”

Flora Krasnoshtein – figure skating judge with Skate Canada, Central Ontario Section:

“There are 2 types of tango: 1. Argentine (strong, dominant, male), and 2. Continental/International (softer and more subtle i.e. Habañera/Cuban). The time signature is 4/4 or 4 beats per measure or 2/4 time of 2 beats per measure often found in “cut time” (2/2). Type 1 – always 4/4; type 2 – may be either). Both tangos have a “1 2 3 4” count, the rhythm varies because the “and” accent is different in each type. Rhythm pattern and beat count for type 1 is 1 2 3 4 “and” / 1; and for type 2 is 1 2 “and” 3 4 (ISU rules).

The Tango in its present form originated in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina in the late 1800s. In the early 1920s, a refined version became popular in Paris nightclubs, and later it was further modified when dancers at a British ballroom competition introduced a staccato movement.
Understanding the nature of the rhythm and its origins is important for effective interpretation and presentation.

In my experience, I see skaters interpreting Tango with rhythmic hand clapping and body movements both characteristic of flamenco rather than tango.”

Romain Gazave – first professional ice skating pianist, former French skater:

“So, the thing with tango (as a dance) is that there is now in my opinion two major distinct styles even if the old roots of them have the origin. The European immigrants in Argentina in the end of the 19th century, but then it got named and develop as well by the blacks slaves, and also “appropriate” later by the middle and upper class in Western Europe.

Tango is actually a big “mix” in itself and represents the “nostalgia & memory” of the country that the immigrants left when they arrived in Argentina.

The French Tango (as salon or ballroom dance) is very strong (needs lot of expression) and is famous for showing a kind of “opposition” between the man and woman that are dancing it, the man is guiding and the women is suppose to let herself follow him without knowing the step she will have to do next! Both are the game of seduction, of course but the Argentinean one nowadays have a little different “beat” and way to be danced (more “soft” transition, using more the knees: more melodious in general)…”

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