Tango Priorities…#1: Embellishments..! ;)

Originally written for bautanz.com by Chrisa Assis

A friend and student recently told me this:
“I want to change my Tango priorities. Maybe do some work on embellishments.I would like to focus more around the dance itself instead of myself IN the dance.”

hey hey… I know… You are probably thinking:
Embellishments? This is the last thing you should be practising on…instead you should focus on blah blah blah…
I know I thought of that myself, but instead of rushing to answer her request, I asked her to explain it to me…I wanted to hear her out

And she said: “I feel I have been very egoistic in my dance, trying to show people all the great moves I know. Now I feel it is the time to focus on the dance itself, on its subtleties, on its internal rules.”

But isn’t this the reason why people avoid embellishments?

Why we REALLY avoid embellishments?

I used to believe that people avoid practising embellishments for two reasons:
  1. Because their teachers have made it clear to them, that embellishments are secondary in Tango. Therefore when they practice, they want to use their time effectively, focusing on Tango priorities, like balance, posture, disassociation, walks, ochos…
  2. Because they are fed up with all these dancers on the dancefloor, doing nice embellishments and then sucking in technique.
There might be some truth in the reasons above BUT my friend’s request made me think, of a more important, underlying reason. Tango is serious dance, and people don’t want to sound superficial by saying:

I want to make things look nice on the dancefloor!
Seeing all these followers doing these beautiful embellishments makes me jealous, I want to learn how to do them too!
I want to make things look tidier, prettier

What is wrong with these statements?
Well if you are asking me…NOTHING!
It is a dance for God’s sake, you are supposed to look good while doing it and most importantly you are supposed to feel good and not guilty!
We are feeling guilty though, either because we are afraid of what other people might think of us and our commitment to Tango or because we judge others with similar criteria…
C’mon, we have all done it…
Looked around to check out the “show off” walking in the cafe on Sunday morning, too awesome to be real!

The truth is though that our practice can benefit a tons from embellishments, if we use them strategically.

How can embellishments, help us work on priorities for Tango.
When we say priorities in Tango, we mean balance, alignment, posture, walks, ochos, musicality. As you get better, you’d probably have to fit improvisation in there too.

The question is can you work on all these elements, through an embellishment?

YES, you can!
And here is the video to prove it:

Most importantly, though embellishments can help us discover new
ways of creating movement, where the outcome might be the same but the quality of the movement is completely different.

And this in itself is a very important element in every dance!

Toe- taps. An opportunity to work on Tango priorities

As you can see, I chose one very simple embellishment, toe-taps.
This was a deliberate choice!
I didn’t want to have a very difficult embellishment to work with, because then naturally, all my focus would be on the embellishment itself.
So, if you don’t want to work on toe-taps, you can choose something else, but make sure it is not too demanding.

Toe-taps, usually happen, before a side step, and the dancer will bend the standing leg for the free leg to extend and tap, before taking that side step.
That in itself might a bit difficult for some of us. So try it a couple of times, staying strong over the standing leg. Without, letting the free leg just flop around, but directing the movement from the standing leg. Nice and controlled.
A great way to work on balance, and on the side step that follows. For which, you will not throw yourselves over. Instead you will control the swing of the free leg, bring it in to centre, and the push your way over.

So already you have practised on:

  1. The embellishment
  2. Balance, proper alignment and posture
  3. Side steps.
Things are about to get more challenging though! Because now you will go into a back step instead of a side step…
Why is it more challenging?
Usually because our hips are not properly aligned, for us to execute the back step and stay balanced.
So, FIND it!
With your focus on the standing side, and with the help of your tailbone, try to find the proper placement for the hips in order to smoothly exit into a back step.

So this time you are working on:
  1. The embellishment
  2. Balance, alignment, posture
  3. Understanding your movement and how your body can create smooth transitions
Things will get a bit tougher, when you will create back ochos from the embellishment.

Before you even think of pivoting, notice the twist created in your core because of the embellishment. Try to feel how it is created from the movement of your hips and your free leg. And notice how it affects your upper body.
When you are ready, activate the standing heel, and bring it around, taking the free leg and the hips with it.
Here too everything is directed by the standing leg. So DON’T hop into your step, bend your knee, extend the free leg, push to step, pivot by bringing the heel around and repeat.

This time therefore you are working on:

  1. The embellishment
  2. Balance, alignment and posture
  3. Disassociation
  4. Back ochos
  5. Understanding your movement and how your body can create smooth transitions

But it is not over yet…Lets break some rules!

This is where things get interesting.
As you will see in the second part of the video, I am ONLY moving from the free leg.

Instead of bending the standing knee, to release the free leg, you will swing the free leg out and around to tap, and then let it lead you to a side step.

That in itself, if you haven’t tried it before, will challenge your balance, alignment and posture. Plus it will make you feel a bit weird, especially on the side step, where you NOT allowed to push!

Is it wrong? NO!
It is just a different way to do a side step. Reacting and directing it from the free leg, instead of the standing leg.
Doing the embellishment right before, will help you understand how
the free leg can help you move without losing control, and will give you great insight on how you can isolate the axis without creating strain on the leg/hip/shoulder.

So what have been working on here:

  1. The embellishment
  2. Balance, alignment and posture
  3. Side steps
  4. Understanding the power of the free leg
  5. figuring out different flavors of movement and how your body can create smooth transitions
  6. Noticing where there is strain on the standing side–look for it at the femur
You will then, just like before, do back step and then back ochos, directing them from the free leg.
This is quite demanding and will make you rethink your posture, especially on the ochos.
Just like before though, feel how the swing of the free leg, can move your hips back for a back step and around for the ocho. How that energy makes its way up to your core and what effect it has in your upper body.
This prep- work will help you a lot in your back ochos which you will
be directing FULLY from the free leg. DON’T PUSH! haha


Travelling back ochos! What you will be working on?

  1. The embellishment
  2. Balance, alignment and posture
  3. Disassociation
  4. Connection between upper and lower body
  5. Back ochos
  6. Understanding the power of the free leg
  7. Figuring out different flavors of movement and how your body can create smooth transitions
  8. How much do you really need to pivot!
So what do you think now, are embellishments a waste of time?



Well-Known Member
..It's not even clear what you're embellishing.
First of all, it's an ad. But for an ad it's too long on the other hand.
Answering your question as a leader, there are too reasons I´m embellishing for: First: there are some pretty girls in the first row near the dance floor. Second reason: the music forces me to do adornos.
I like the spirit to create reasoned posts and videos.
But tango is a couple dance, there is not a wall in front of me, and reclusion disturbs me.
So I prefer to watch the whole process of an item from theory to training to practicing in a couple to finally dancing with tango music.
It's interesting how much pushback these posts get. I for one am grateful for people sharing a fresh perspective--I can only wonder why other people would feel threatened by its mere presence.

I am just one member, and my words carry no weight. But destructive criticism doesn't add anything helpful to the dialogue. If people who are criticizing decided to channel their energy into creating their own informative posts, I think it would be more helpful for everyone. $0.02.


Well-Known Member
My perspective on embellishments (and tricks in general) has changed quite a bit over time. Currently i tend to think of them not as things in themselves, but as an example of some dancer showing off their technical skills some time in the past, and other people emulating them.

So, what does the toe-tap demonstrate?

1) physical attributes - which is what Chrisa is focussing on (and which is most amendable to solo training)
2) musicality - which one can also work on solo (can i do the toe tap without having to steal a beat from the side-step? If i steal the beat how do i realign myself with the beat? do i syncopate the tap?)
3) understanding of the couples geometry - which is really hard to work on solo. if i don't steal the beat, can i still do this when i am being lead a sidestep and my axis is being compromised by the lead? if i steal a beat can i identify when the leader is committed to the sidestep, but still balanced so that the connection will not suffer when i do it? If the leader is not committed and actually leads something different can i maintain the connection and my own and the couples geometry? To practice this with as a couple we usually try stepping up the complexity. For this is would probably go something like this: the leader only leads sidesteps. the leader walks, a sidestep to the right, a sidestep to the left. the leader walks, and does two sidesteps, but starts either to the right or to the left. And then something similar for ochos, and then for giros (which are just like ochos and sidesteps combined, just more difficult). And then the leader dances all these freely, and the follower continues trying to put in as many toe-taps as possible.

I think the hardest challenge for embellishments is not to maintain ones own geometry, but ones partners geometry (that is true for both leaders and followers). We tend to talk about embellishments being invisible, but that is never true - of course our partner feels when we are doing stuff - what we are trying to do is to not compromise our partners geometry, so they can just ignore what we are doing if they choose to. Even if a follower takes a beat for themselves that the leader does not expect it will be no problem if they maintain the leaders balance.

My biggest gripe about embellishments is if they are being talked about in terms of taking turns dancing - it is not the leader giving the follower space, and the follower filling that space, but recognizing that the leaders dance is full of spaces that can be used, and that these spaces can be used as they are, or the follower expand the space that already exist if they want to fit in more. So when there is suddenly this huge space where an a follower does a 5 minute solo what happened (what should happened?) is not that the leaders put that space in front of the follower, stopped, and said "here, fill that", but that both the leader and follower were ready for something like that to happen because it was set up in the music, and the follower set up the embellishment so that the leader was comfortable in balance and the connection supported him when he lost the beat(s) that he expected to have.

Basically there is a huge difference between a beat being stolen when the geometry is right, and when it isn't.
It is by no means criticism on the shared info itself, and it is of course up to moderators to decide whether it has a place here. In other internet communities it is considered a bad form, as people are supposed to share such content on their own pages and websites.
Public attention is a valuable resource nowadays, and it shall be treated with more respect.
It's interesting how much pushback these posts get. I for one am grateful for people sharing a fresh perspective--I can only wonder why other people would feel threatened by its mere presence.
I'm not surprised, anyhow. Whether we should do systematical training, how we should do systematical training - that touches the question what the "right" tango shall be and who can teach that "right".
Or more compact, as I got told at a workshop: "A milonguero is not equal to a dancer." :cool:


Well-Known Member
....In other internet communities it is considered a bad form, as people are supposed to share such content on their own pages and websites..
As I said above, it´s simply tooo long a text. Forum comments, blog entries, or YT clips all require different styles and implementations. And @Chrisa Assis actually didn´t care much about these stylistic differences. So it´s quite clear that some will find it boaring or bad form.

..as I got told at a workshop: "A milonguero is not equal to a dancer."
But that´s rather an ideological approach and I would find it difficult to draw a line. And I´m in good company: Oscar "Cacho" Dante, co-founder of the "milonguero-style" once said "I´ve never been a milonguero, I was a dancer"


Well-Known Member
"A milonguero is not equal to a dancer." :cool:
"And that day I learned a new meaning of milonguero: stupid"

I think it's somewhere in Rick McGarrey's writings that I found this long ago. The said milonguero was trying to drive to a certain milonga, was not finding the path, not wanting to admit he was lost in his own city, and too stubborn to stop and ask someone.
So yes, dancer is not equal to milonguero, it's only the bright side of a milonguero.
Rick McGarret said:
I have talked about some of the older dancers who dance here in Buenos Aires that are know as "milongueros"- which is a term of respect in the milongas. They are not stupid, and they often use their status to dance with the beautiful young tourists who come to BA, and also attractive young local women who may be new to tango. There is also a group of women here who dance well, and are accepted by the milongueros, and dance with them on a regular Basis.

Daniel Trenner said:
Argentine milongueros, in my experience, are like the aged members of youth gangs from 40 years ago.
It’s easy to meet them and to encourage them to talk, unlike when they were younger and more secretive. They reflect selectively on their histories, like any older folks, first putting the best spin on their own individual roles, then on the roles of their family and friends, and finally on their neighborhood and gang related loyalties. Maybe some of them are telling the absolute truth, but we will never know. It is impossible for us to relate to such truths, because they really don’t exist anymore, having been made pale by their own stupidity, as well as by the violent history of Argentine politics. People were punished by death and exile for their social alliances.


Well-Known Member
It's interesting how much pushback these posts get. I for one am grateful for people sharing a fresh perspective--I can only wonder why other people would feel threatened by its mere presence.
I'd be surprised if anyone felt threatened.

However it's valid criticism to complain that Chrisa
is rather blatantly reposting her own blog post
unchanged and untailored to this forum. Personally
speaking it comes over as rather one sided and dictatorial.
It takes some gall to be so self-assured and so certain of
being correct with no attempt at qualification.

Again, personally speaking, she appears to me to be
demonstrating (I can't call it teaching) how to dance
with a wall. What she shows has nothing to do with
dancing with a partner unless he/she is to be used
merely as a prop.
This is going to be short...I promise!
I started practicing on my own when I lost my partner and my only way to manage the loss was being in the studio all day.
After some time of practicing and working out I realized I was becoming better at my dancing. Now 4 years later with a new partner I still practice on my own because I see great difference in my dance.
I apologize for assuming you would be interested in a few new ideas on how to practice in order to progress and keep your dance and classes fun and fresh. I won't make that assumption again I assure you.
For those who have found these posts interesting and have any Tango trouble don't hesitate to send me a message I will be more than happy to help!


Active Member
I dislike it when people shotgun blast tango ads across multiple forums with no thought.

However, Chrisa actively engages in discussions about her posts, as well as uses discussions to influence future blog posts. For me, this engagement is the difference between a useful an appropriate method of getting views on your blog vs. an inappropriate way.

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