Thursday, February 04, 2016

Video analysis #2 - Alicia's footwork!

First, I’d like to address “the elephant in the room”.  

I had predicted that yesterday’s article featuring a 4-second segment of a performance by Alicia Pons and Luis Rojas would be controversial. In it, I called the main figure I analyzed "an Ocho Cortado”. Three of my readers promptly challenged me on it, and I suspect that many more of you either doubted my sanity or were simply perplexed.  If that’s the case, I wish you’d speak up!  I invite you to go here to share your opinion below that blog post. The figure is absolutely not an academic Ocho Cortado.  I promise to write next about why I defined it as “a modified” and “a loose, yet clean” Ocho Cortado, rather than describe it by its component movements.

On to today’s new topic!

In yesterday’s article, I mentioned that leading into that figure is a 7-second walk that I want our tango ladies to observe.

I think that analyzing the walk will be valuable for our tangueros as well.

Tangueras, in the segment we’ll look at today, Alicia’s pivoting, forward walk is so strong and full of character that she is the protagonist in this 8-count phrase, although she’s following Luis’ lead.  There’s an embellishments lesson here, and we’ll also weave in a musicality lesson . . . without which an embellishments lesson would be meaningless!

Please watch the video again, focusing on this 7-second segment:
0:41-0:47 - Luis leads Alicia to walk forward with pivots for a whole phrase of 8 counts. 

Let’s count it and see what they do.  

To give us a baseline, in my system we’d count the musical phrase starting at 0:41 like this:
“1 - and - 2 - and - 3 - and - 4 - and - 5 - and - 6 - and - 7 - and - 8 - and”. 

Right now, please take a moment to listen carefully to the audio of the segment 0:41-0:47, and count it as I’m suggesting. The rhythm is slow and steady.

We can hear the bass playing the integers (1, 2, 3, through 8) as downbeats, or strong beats, and the “ands” between them as upbeats, or weak beats.  (If you can’t hear the difference, try listening to the tango with a headset or earbuds.)

Now let’s go back to 0:41 and watch the dancers.

On every downbeat, Luis leads a walking step - a full weight change. Most of us naturally feel called to step or change weight when we hear a downbeat, even those who claim not to know much about music.  Small children do it.  It’s pretty universal - except for those who have somehow learned not to trust themselves. (Happily, trusting one’s innate sense of rhythm can be relearned!  Email for more information.)

Between the downbeats, Alicia is free to interpret all the upbeats, or weak beats (which we’re counting as “and”) . . .  except the first one.  There, Luis leads and accompanies an extra step on the upbeat, something I call a “simple syncopation”.  We’ll count and break down the sequence, below.

Alicia interprets the remaining seven upbeats in the phrase with two types of small, rhythmic embellishments:

1) In the first half of the phrase, Alicia taps on her free upbeats.  So the count for her walking embellishments starts like this:

1 - and = walk - walk (led by Luis) 
2 - and = walk - tap (taps are her own)
3 - and = walk - tap 
4 - and = walk - tap

2) In the second half of the phrase, she alternates her taps on the upbeat with two quick, syncopated steps after counts 6 and 8.  

5 - and = walk - tap
6 - and-a = walk - step-step (syncopation)
7 - and = walk - tap
8 - and-a = walk - step-step (syncopation)

On the counts where she syncopates, Alicia is using artistic license to play, because the bass is still playing the same, simple upbeats through all the counts; it is not playing any syncopations. (For comparison, notice how in the next musical phrase of 8 counts, 0:50-0:57, Luis syncopates his steps at counts 3 and 5, choosing from a series of syncopations by the bandoneons. *)  

When I show you a performance video, I like to extract a lesson that you can use in milongas.  Well, there’s rarely room for such a walk in milongas; the man’s walking backwards for 8 steps is risky and improbable.  

So why am I highlighting this walk today?  Because it’s an especially good example by Alicia of the union of autonomy and connection that’s a hallmark of women who are great tango dancers. In fact, in this video, Alicia does nothing that you couldn’t use in a milonga. As you watch the rest of the video, look for other examples of her own, distinctive musical expression as she communicates with Luis. There are many!

With Luis, only his directional choices and long walks make this tango most suitable for a performance. Otherwise, his improvisation is milonga-appropriate too!

Please share your thoughts below, about Alicia's walk and her embellishments, or about any other part of this video! 

* Musicality Note: If you’re wondering what happend to the two downbeats and upbeats of the figure between the two phrases I cite above, 0:41-0:47 and 0:50-0:57, watch for my upcoming article all about this piece of music and why I call it an “Irregular” tango!


  1. I am in love with Alicia's footwork. The articulation of her feet is beautiful and that, combined with her musicality and artistry, just sends me to the moon. She is fantastic.

  2. Thanks for your words of appreciation about Alicia, dear Anon!