Walking (Part VI)
Heel or Toe?
The first questions about technique I ever received on this site were about whether you should step heel first or “toe first” when walking forward—and I still get them. I understand why, because any man who is serious about tango will bump up against this problem sooner or later. It used to drive me crazy, and like many things in tango, there is no easy answer. But I think I've put in enough miles to finally take a shot at it. First, let’s see what stepping onto the heel looks like:
Landing on the heel instead of on the Front Balance point of the foot.
The heel is exaggerated a little, but the walk still looks okay. You can see that the step flows smoothly over a straight leg, and if you look carefully at the path of the hips as they move along the top of the frame, you can still see the classic roller coaster ride that lets you and your partner rise over the weak beat, and then surge down through the strong one. So it looks like you can still find a nice musical expression of the compás when stepping onto the heels—which is, of course, the whole point. If you can accomplish that in your walk, you've got it. Like everyone else, I step onto the heels all the time in the milongas—but still, I never felt very comfortable doing it in a situation like the one above. The video shows a walking corrida—and although I never knew why, something always bothered me about doing them on the heels. It turns out that by editing the videotape, I found the answer!
When I took the video sound track and begin to add tick files to the strong beats, I found that there are 5 frames of video between the one where the heel strikes the floor, and the one where the front of the foot hits. We want to step exactly on the beat—but there are thirty frames per second, and 5 frames means 1/6th of a second difference between the heel strike and the front foot landing! It doesn't sound like much, but it means you can't sharply mark the beat with the Front Balance point of your foot. I thought I was always marking the compás with the front of my foot, but this video shows that's not what happens. In heel walking, it's natural to mark the beat with your heels, and have the front of the foot strike the floor a fraction of a second later.
To do a walking corrida with long steps, you need space—but space is sometimes hard to find in a milonga. The result is that many of the steps we take in social tango are shorter—and that's fine. The music doesn't always call for long steps, and everything in tango can be expressed well with very short steps. In fact, it can all be expressed beautifully on a single baldosa—which is part of the real art of tango. But when there's a little room to move forward, you can say a lot with only one or two surging steps—and that's a situation where it's nice to land on the Front Balance point of the foot. And when there's a lot of room, I use the front of the foot for forward corridas on Alej's right side. That's where the best opportunities occur to go with very long steps, and a front landing seems more elegant and musical. More tango-like.
During shorter steps, the couple is closer together and more upright, so their bodies are positioned more vertically over the feet. In that situation, stepping onto the heel doesn't make that much difference. The feet will naturally hit flatter, so there's not as much time lag from heel to the front of the foot as there is when we stretch for the bigger steps of a corrida. You can see that the corrida in this video has a sort of two beat ka-plop landing that's not quite the same as the sharp way we mark the compás by landing on the Front Balance point of the foot. If you compare this walk with the video on the previous page, you should be able to see the difference.
Back in the last century when I started dancing, everyone was doing a thing called a rulo. We were taught to stick our foot out to the side with our toes pointed like a ballet dancer, and trace little rulos (curls) on the floor. It was one of the many Todaro- Dinzel- Copes- Forever Tango steps that was exported around the world—but I doubt that it was ever done in the milongas. It may be okay for stage dancers, but for dancing in the BsAs milongas, it's just not very... uh... manly.
Stepping forward onto the Front Balance point is good, and a heel-to-flat landing is okay also—but stepping onto the toes is bad form in a milonga. It's usually the result of poor technique, like dancing with the weight back and reaching with the foot, or of straightening the leg too early (like in the early leg-snap demo on the last page). For now, let's just say the man's half of tango should be danced tall with the chest forward, and the step striking sharply and solidly into the floor to mark the compás. (The woman's back step is a little different, and we'll talk about that later.)
As far as whether it's more "correct" to land on the heel or on the front of the foot, I think the best way to look at it is that they are different tools. Like a lot of the techniques in this chapter, they're just different ways of expressing the music. If you learn to use them both well, you can select either one whenever you need it.
Flying in vals: Follow the path of the hip along the top of the picture.