Friday, February 12, 2016

Ocho Cortado? Have I gone bonkers?

When I published my article on Alicia and Luis' "Ocho Cortado transition" last week, I received several challenges on my calling the couple’s figure at 0:48-0:49 an “Ocho Cortado”.  You can see those challenges in the reader comments at the bottom of the blog post.

I acknowledged that it is absolutely NOT the complete, traditional figure I call the "academic Ocho Cortado”, which is taught in all beginner tango courses and commonly used in milonguero-style dancing.  I also promised to explain next why I identified the figure as an Ocho Cortado. So here we are.

Here's the video again for your convenience:

Two factors made me classify the figure at 0:48-0:49 as a “modified” Ocho Cortado:  1) the shape of the figure as it begins, and 2) the timing.

Let’s look at these two factors.

1) The shape of the figure as it begins - as it begins, because Luis distorts it in the second part, which is the main lesson in that article.

I’ll explain what I mean by “the shape of the figure”.

Leading into the figure:
0:47 a. Alicia steps forward with her right foot around Luis’ right side. Shape-wise, that’s the equivalent of the forward walk after the woman’s backward rebound step of the academic Ocho Cortado. That she embellishes this step with two syncopated mini-steps doesn't change the shape.

0:47 b. On the last mini-step of Alicia’s syncopated walking embellishment - on the “a” of “8 - and-a” - Luis leads a small turn on her right foot, which puts her body almost perpendicular to his, as if she had pivoted. (It took looking at that fraction-of-a second-transition with a microscope!  I had thought it was a pivot at the start of the next beat on 0:48.) 

Next, the two seconds of the figure itself:
0:48 a. Her next is a short side step with her left around his right side.  That step takes one beat, a downbeat, just like in a traditional Ocho Cortado. (More about timing in #2, below.) 

0:48 b. During the same second, on the next upbeat, Luis leads Alicia back onto her right foot to return in front of him. Here Luis has already started morphing the figure with greater upper body torsion than is normally used on the return of a traditional Ocho Cortado.

Some of my readers claimed that the steps “a.” and “b.” that I have just identified are NOT Ocho Cortado steps:  
  • “a.”, because Alicia transfers her weight fully to her left foot, rather than leaving her weight in the middle.

    My repsonse: 
    Some teachers teach that this step is stopped mid-weight. Others, myself included, teach, and I've experienced through many years of dancing with milongueros and other expert dancers, that the woman, in her weight transfer on the side step around her partner's right, goes as far as she's led to go. Often we're brought fully, or almost fully, to axis on our left foot for that one beat, allowing us to play with our free right foot on that beat.

  • “b.” because her next step with her right is a forward walk rather than a returning side step to get in front of Luis.

    My response: I’ve embraced the school of tango thought that says there are two kinds of steps in tango:  an opening (
    apertura) and a crossing (cruz or cruce).  Any normal side step is obviously an opening. But a forward or back step can be either an opening or a crossing, depending on whether one’s legs are in an open or crossed position in relation to one’s partner.  For example, in Alicia's forward walk in the preceding sequence (0:41-0:47), all of her steps with her right foot would be cruces, and all of her steps with her left foot would be aperturas. (This may be new to you, and if it's confusing, comment below and I'll explain further.)  So whether Alicia takes her right step to return in front of Luis side-ways or forward, it’s still an open step.  Side-open and forward-open are interchangeable.
0:49 - Alicia's final step of the figure is a cruce, a crossing step, in front of Luis.  No, her feet are not crossed tightly against each other as they would be in the academic version of the figure.  And she has traveled way more than 90 degrees around his axis.  But she is still in a crossed step (see paragraph above) directly in front of him. It's Luis who has changed his frente (facing direction) by pivoting on this count of the figure.

2)  The timing.  A full, “academic Ocho Cortado” is danced in what I call “simple syncopation”, that is, with equal rhythmic emphasis on downbeats and upbeats, the two parts separated by a rhythmic hold:

1 and 2 (hold) 3 and 4

The complete figure fits the rhythm like this:
- First, leading the woman’s back rebound step - "1 and 2".
- Second, her side step 
around man’s right and return in front of him to a cross - "3 and 4".
- Between the two parts is a rhythmic hold where the "and" after "2" would be.

Many people would say it’s “quick, quick, slow . . .  quick, quick, slow”.  But I don’t think that’s quite accurate.  All 3 counts have the same intensity and duration . . . and 3rd count ("2") is followed by the micro-pause or “hold” of the silent upbeat. The hold is usually where the woman’s pivot takes place.

In 0:48-0:49, we see only the "3 and 4" part of the figure.  

In this tango, although the shape gets distorted by Luis' big torque and pivot, 
Alicia’s “left-side-step-to-cross” part of the figure follows the “3 and 4” of a simple syncopation, and she does cross on "4".  (The segment does not occur on counts 3 and 4 of the musical phrase.  I’ll explain that in my next article about the music in this video.)

So I've shown you why the both the shape and the timing of this 2-second figure made me read it as a "loose" or "modified" Ocho Cortado.

Had Luis stayed frontal on Alicia’s return from the side-step around his right side, she would have crossed in front of him at 90 degrees' distance from her side-step, and all of my readers would probably have called it "an Ocho Cortado". But by his continuing to torque left and then pivot on both feet as he led her to return, he stretched out Alicia's next two steps ("and-4"), creating a much greater turn. 

I had said in the original article:  
"I wonder how many of you are in the habit of working through the various possibilities of a common figure to allow you to move with freedom within the space you have in the line of dance, and especially to respond to unexpected blockages in the ronda. 

"So here's a variation on an Ocho Cortado that helps you change direction, even on short notice, in a round and fluid way."

I'm suggesting that it's sometimes helpful to think outside the box when observing a figure you don't immediately recognize!

In the comments area below, please let me know if today's analysis makes sense and was helpful to you.


  1. Helaine, I didn't see the ocho cortado the first time you presented this either. Honestly, I think anything you are teaching us in a course like this should not require the lengthy explanation you have provided above. I hope as we move forward, you can simplify your lessons. This was WAY outside the box and too complicated.

    1. I see your point, Anon! Thanks for making me aware that this kind of analysis is probably not for most tangueros. Though this post is not part of any course, just an article I sent out to share my thoughts, I'll choose simpler topics in the future. If you're new to my newsletter and blog, you might enjoy going back and reading some of my older posts. Thanks again for your sincere comments!

  2. Will comment more later, hopefully, but there's a clear view of what appears to be Alicia's "cross" at the 50 second mark. However, the more I look at this the less I see an ocho cortado (modified or otherwise). She's pivoting on her left foot and it looks like a cortado when her right leg passes in front of her left. It really looks like a pivot (on her left foot) and a kind of rock step, then a wide open step to Alicia's right. I'll have another look though.

    1. I appreciate your earnestness in trying to see it as I do, Robert. From my first viewing till now, every time I get away from the video and come back to it fresh, I still see a loose ocho cortado. The rhythm has a lot to do with it.

      Three other tangueros have said, "I don't see it at all". You're the fourth who has spoken up, but with a willingness to view it differently. Nobody has stepped up and said, "I see it that way too". Hundreds have read the two articles and haven't commented. I only hope that some people received the value I intended for them.

      We can all agree to disagree, and I'll move on to another topic.

    2. P.S. Robert, I remember that you'd been going to a 2pm practica on Saturdays. It's too late to reach you as I write this today, but I wonder whether you'd enjoy trying to over-torque (with two-foot pivot to keep up) in an ocho cortado when you lead the woman's return from your right side to the cross. (I'm definitely going to experiment with it next time I practice with a partner.)

  3. Ah! Finally I see it after downloading the video and stepping through it slowly frame-by-frame. Not your Academic ocho-cortado, but yes a slightly modified one, and something useful. Initially I viewed it at normal speed as a simple forward ocho, but now I see the cortado.

    1. Thanks for doing that and letting us know, Stevito. Kudos for taking action to figure it out for yourself! :D

    2. Ah! And after further viewing, check out 0:28 - 0:35 where they repeat the same sequence twice. Nice!