On the last page, we talked about how bending the supporting leg can lead to a flat, creeping kind of walk, and a soft, "walking on eggs" step. But one of the biggest risks is bouncing. Bouncing up and down seems to be a natural response to rhythm, and it's common in all sorts of dancing—but it doesn't belong in tango. To lead efficiently, the man’s energy needs to be directed forward, rather than upward. He needs to signal which way to move, and how far—and, he needs to do it quickly and unambiguously. (The average tango has around 70 beats per minute, which means that more than one signal per second often needs to be sent, received, and followed.)

Let’s look again at the right way. The man should begin his step standing tall on a straight leg, and tip down into the direction he wants to go. Then, if he elects to do it, he can add a small amount of leg bend to drop down even further—but he shouldn't straighten the leg to come back up. He needs to wait until the other leg contacts the floor, keep it straight, and then ride it back up. Continually click the right arrow to see it:


After you go down, you need to come back up, but the "up" part should never come from straightening your supporting leg after you bend it. It comes from landing on a straight leg, and letting it carry you back up! 

Now let's look at the wrong way. In the video below, we start tall, but we immediately bend our supporting leg. The forward energy is diverted downward, and we end up low, early in the step. At this point, we can't go any lower, so the only choice is to straighten the leg again, and start back up before our weight is firmly over the other foot:


The wrong way:  Adding leg bend is risky, and it can lead to all sorts of problems.


This walk is a mess. It's exaggerated, but if you develop an eye for it, you'll begin to spot elements of it everywhere—including in the background of some of the videos we've posted here. The forward energy is diverted downward by early leg bend, and then we begin to rise back up before the other foot strikes the floor. Instead accelerating smoothly forward, we take a detour down, and then back up in the middle of the step. And instead of finishing strongly into the floor, and riding back up on a straight leg, we end up reaching forward with our weight back, taking a light step, and then rising up by straightening the knees.

So by adding leg bend in the wrong way, everything that can go wrong, will:  A drop and rebound before the strong beat of the compás, and a light, reaching step with the weight back. It's not exactly out of the compás, but it's backwards. You go down when you should go up, and you go up when you should be going down into the strong beat at the end. It's a step with an unattractive, inefficient bounce, and a timid finish that looks like you're testing the water with your toe before jumping in.

Step Aside

So far, we've been discussing the man's forward step, but of course in tango, we take steps in every direction. All of the things we have discussed in this chapter are the same for a step taken to the side as one to the front. In fact, problems often show up even more clearly in a side step. One problem is landing weakly on a bent knee without picking up the feet, and the other is the kind of bouncing we've just looked at. Here's the bouncy side-step:


Here's a bad side step with early leg bend. All of the problems we've discussed
with a step to the front show up even more clearly in a step to the side.


Instead of leading his partner into the step by tipping first with the upper body, the man's energy goes down, and then bounces back up. This kind of side step is common, and it creates the same problems as using improper leg bend in a forward step: Sinking, coming back up too early, and running out of "up" halfway through the step. You end up floating for a moment, reaching for the floor, and then making a soft, pisando huevos landing. The only thing right in this demo was stepping onto a straight leg... but it could be worse.

The bouncy side step is often done by people who want to take a big, dramatic step to the side, but the side-step shuffle is usually done by dancers who are thinking about other things. We'll look at that on the next page.