The 8 “S” in the Close Embrace Tango First Step (for beginners)

 After 7 years teaching beginner’s level tango lessons, I have devised this mnemonic to help students memorize
the preparation for, and the execution of, the first step in close embrace tango.

** I am going to use “he” for the leader’s part, and “she” for the follower’s part.

1) S for SMILE
Bring your smile to the floor and be open to the experience. Nobody likes to dance with a sad or angry person.
Natural selection in the humankind is heavily dependent on the power of the smile!

2) S for STANCE
Project your chest up and forward. Feel how tall you are. Relax and open your chest to your partner.

3) S for SEPARATION
For a beginning leader, it is common to step on his partner. One way to reduce this problem is
having about 2 to 3 inches between his shoes and hers.

4) S for SURROUND
This is when you literally surround each other with your arms. The close embrace has many contact areas,
but the important ones are:

  • The front of your torsos (wherever the contact is, without compromising your stance).
  • His right bicep with the her left side ribs. This contact area is a reference vertical axis for her
    around which she may hinge depending on his lead.
  • His forearm and her back (no pressure is required, but this contact defines her “working space.”)
  • Her forearm and his shoulder (or back). No pressure is required, but this contact help her to detect his moves.
  • (optional) Heads contact each other. Again, no pressure required, but this contact helps her to feel his lead.

The goal for him is to make her feel comfortable. She has the final word on how the embrace will be.

5) S for SMELL
This is the time to enjoy the embrace before the dance. Feel his/her perfume, his/her warm arms, his/her
firm embrace, his/her pressure, his/her steadiness, his/her trustfulness. And then fall in love for the next three minutes!

6) S for SWING
Beginning leaders may have hard time finding out what foot she is standing on (she should always be 100% in one foot).
By swinging his chest side to side, no more than a few inches (without stepping!), he will find out whether her weight
is on her left or right leg. Swing to more than 2 times.

7) S for SINK and STRETCH
Once he knows where her weight is, he will initiate a sinking-forward motion of his hips what will project his chest forward
by less than an inch. This little motion of his chest is enough for her to start stretching her legs in anticipation of his step.
She should not step before the music hits the beat. This means that his sinking motion has to happen before the beat to give
her time to stretch and step. This is very important, otherwise you both will dance off-beat (delayed).

8) S for STEP
This is the consequence of the previous move. It happens because of the sinking/stretching combined with his forward motion.
The hard part for her is to maintain her chest pressing up and forward while stretching and walking backwards.
The hard part for him is to maintain a steady chest, with steady speed that won’t send mixed signals to her.

The most standard way to step with your shoes is:

  • forward walk: heel -> arch -> toe
  • backward walk: toe -> arch -> heel

But there is no rule on how to step other than being “flexible” with you joints (foot joints, knee joint, hip joint).
Stiff joints reflect vibrations on your chest that your partner will be annoyed by.

Having said all this, the truth is that the best way to learn tango is by dancing it!
Nobody learns swimming without jumping in the pool.

In one line, the 8 “S” are:

Smile, Stance, Separation, Surround, Smell, Swing, Sink/Stretch, and Step.

C.A. Soto Aguirre©