Saturday, April 05, 2014

Ask Helaine: Leading a smooth transition from front ocho to sandwich?

Today’s question comes from Uwe in Germany, regarding his latest assignment in our private coaching program.  We are working in a very focused and structured way on how to keep dancing and not get stuck when the floor is crowded and there’s no room to move forward!  

I thought that many tangueros could find this interesting.  If you have other solutions or observations on Uwe's question from your experience, please tell us in the comments below this article.

"Hi Helaine.

"This came up in my practice yesterday: How do you get from a front-ocho into a sandwich in a smooth way?  Back-ocho to sandwich is  no problem, but front-ocho - reversal of direction?

"Thanks, Uwe"

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Uwe, I liked your very specific improvisation question so much I decided to share it with the Tango Mojo community!  

You can solve this in two ways.  I think you were mainly interested in the second, but also looking at the first option I offer can give you a lot of flexibility in connecting these two figures "in a square meter". 

The details depend on which foot you're on when your partner finishes her front ocho.  If you do a parada you may be on the opposite foot from when you do no parada.  

OPTION 1 - Use a transition step between the front and back pivots.

I'm going to describe this so you can apply it whether she's returning from an ocho to your right or to your left:

1) Complete the front ocho so that she returns to standing squarely in front of you. That requires that you lead a small pivot.

2) Whatever foot you have your weight on, depending on
   - whether she's coming from your right or left, and 
   - whether or not you did a parada, 
take a rhythmic beat or two (as little as half a beat - the upbeat - when you're practiced in this) to decide what weight changes are necessary for you to be in crossed-system, with both your left foot and her left foot free

Note about timing on that weight-change decision:   If the music is more lyrical, you can probably easily afford that 1-2 beat interval - or more, because both the forward ocho and the sandwich lend themselves to calm intervals.  But if you're dancing to very rhythmic music, like Biagi, you'd probably want to be able to decide in an instant and react to the rhythm. However, with such rhythmic music as Biagi, D'Arienzo, Rodriguez, etc., you probably would use an ocho cortado  rather than a smooth forward ocho. With an ocho cortado this transition to sandwich will work the same as a with a regular forward ocho from your right, because your partner also ends the ocho cortado in front of you with her weight on her left foot.

If you've led her ocho to your left side, she will return with her left foot already free, and transitioning to the back ocho to your right will be easy. (Details below*).   If she's coming from your right side, you'll need to change her weight to free up her left foot.  

After you've done this on-the-spot calculation a few times, knowing what weight changes you need (her weight change only, yours only, or yours and hers together) will be automatic, like shifting gears when you're driving a car.

3) Now that you're standing in a crossed-system position with both left feet free, you can begin the whole sandwich sequence.  

I would recommend when dancing in tight spaces to start the first step of the back ocho of the sandwich forward instead of to your left, to keep the  figure more compact . . . UNLESS you have no room to the front and there is room to the left. But the forward step will help keep you in your lane.  If you have no room either way, you’ll have to go into Option 2, below.

* As I mentioned above, if she's coming from your left it will be easy for her to go next into a back ocho around your right. After she pivots to face you, she'll just need a connecting side step with her free left foot to your right, and she'll be in a perfect position to pivot backward into the figure.  

* * * *

OPTION 2 - Use no transition step between the front and back pivots.

It sounds to me from your question like you were trying this option.  You're having her come from an ocho to your right side, and you're wanting the transition between figures to be just the change of direction between her front ocho coming from your right, and her back ocho going into the sandwich.  That is, she's coming from your right side, and you want her to immediately reverse and go back to your right.  That could be fun!

Here's my suggestion:

1) If she's come from your right, she'll end the last step of the front ocho on her left foot. You simply have her finish the final step with a small pivot so she faces you again. 

2) Important:  Observe a micropause to articulate her movements.  Keep her on her left foot, while respecting and protecting her axis all the time. 

3) Next, use torsion to lead a back pivot - still protecting her axis!  
3a) While she's pivoting backward and still in axis, make sure your own weight is on your left foot, shifting if necessary. 

4) You lead her back step with her right foot, as if she were starting a molinete around your right side.  But you stop her at the end of her step.  Make sure to “put her down" with ALL her weight on her back foot (right), guiding her to her axis!

5) Then you can do your first parada of the sandwich.

It is super critical with this change of direction in the pivot that you remember this rule:

A pivot and a walk are two distinct movements, done in two distinct moments.  They cannot be done simultaneously, or the dancer will lose his or her axis and start to fall.  
- A pivot can be done only and entirely with one's axis in one fixed location.  
- A walk is the the transition between two locations, when the axis travels. 
So these two elements have opposite characteristics: one is always stationary, the other is always transitory. They are antithetical to each other.  So always “articulate” when you lead a pivot and a walk (a.k.a. an ocho), by observing a micro-pause between these two components.

Of course this rule is critical to observe with every movement of your tango!

Have any observations or feedback?  Please share it with us in the comments area below this post!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Do you have a question or a challenge in your tango that I can answer for you in our no-cost weekly program "Ask Helaine?" 

I invite you to submit your question on any tango topic today!  Just copy and paste the form below into an email to  Please use "Ask Helaine" in the subject line.

The fields with an asterisk (*) are required to be completed if you want your question to be chosen.

* * * * * *

First Name *
Last Name *
Email *
Phone *
Website (optional)

Do you prefer to remain anonymous? *  (yes/no)

Your Burning Question: *


  1. No additional pivots are necessary. Stop the follower's forward movement as she's transferring her weight (when her weight is split between both feet). Step into the sandwich position around her forward foot with your closer foot stepping first. Then release the follower so that her weight is on her back foot.

    After you step back and lead the follower to step over, you can repeat the sandwich with her other foot (formerly the back foot). Carlos De Chey taught this in a pre-milonga lesson a couple weeks ago.

  2. Cool shortcut, Bruce. Thanks! Lucky timing that you recently had that class in NYC.

    One question, Bruce. Don't you have to guide her weight from the halfway position to getting her weight on her back foot? How does releasing your partner get her weight to shift back?

    So Uwe, and everyone else, Bruce suggests an efficient way to transition. I think what we are accomplishing with the longer versions is lingering and potentially playing in each figure a little longer, as one is restricted for a while to dancing in a square meter.

  3. When the leader steps into the sandwich position, he moves into the follower's space. She'll shift her weight back naturally if the leader lets her move.