A number of techniques are taught as explanations to how the cross is lead. Perhaps most common is to explain that the cross is lead from a position of disassociation, and what makes the cross happen is that the disassociation is dissolved. More precisely, the situation is most commonly as follows: the man walks on the left side of the woman seen from his perspective (this would be step three and four in the basic step). Their torsos are turned on top of their hips and legs so that the dancers’ chests are facing each other (both turn right to meet each other). To lead the cross the man dissolves the disassociation. She follows his chest and crosses her legs. Also, as she crosses they will now face each other directly.
We agree with what happens here, but the explanation is off the mark.The disassociation is less important than in the above description. This short blog post is a discussion about which role the disassociation actually has in the cross.
The nature of the cross
There is only one task that must be accomplished to make the woman cross, and that is to change her line of walk. Why? When we walk, in tango and in everyday life, we place our feet under our bodies to gain maximum balance. The cross happens when her balance is shifted towards her right (the cross could be reversed, which is an interesting subject deserving a blog post on its own). Unless she resists due to lack of experience or mediocre technique, she will set down her foot in a cross (we will from here assume that the woman has perfect technique). This happens as a necessity as she wants to maintain optimal balance, which in this case is obtained through crossing her feet.
We have taught workshops specifically on several of the techniques mentioned in this blog post. Some of our course descriptions are very elaborate, so we advise you to check out our pages for workshops and seminars (only in Norwegian).
A disassociation, on the other hand, is a rotation. Disassociations are indeed valuable tools to change the line of walk, but disassociations are not solely responsible for making the cross happen. In addition, they are so versatile that much else may happen when we disassociate. The torso does not indicate which direction the couple are supposed to walk; this is rather the task of the legs and hips. Instead, the torso is mainly responsible for connecting the two dancers. If he walks on her left (seen from his perspective), the torso’s aim is to acknowledge the presence of the partner whereas the legs and hips squarely walk in he direction they are headed. Dissolving the disassociation will therefore change her line of walk. She will step in front of the man because that is where the torso indicates that she should walk. It must happen for her to maintain the communication between the two. What must also happen is that the man must be consequent with his line of walk, and invite the woman to return to his “tracks” in the floor. A common mistake is that the opposite happens, that is that he changes his line of walk to her “tracks”. Dissolving the disassociation will in that situation not render a cross. Sometimes it may produce a rotation on her right foot that changes her line of walk in her next step, but it does not make her cross.
Changing the line of walk
There is no particular line-of-walk-technique to be used to lead the cross. The disassociation is indeed the most powerful tool the dancer has in his toolbox, but it is necessary to understand that the disassociation is subordinate to the task. The task is to change her line of walk, and he leads it by dissolving the disassociation at the moment when she has landed her right foot. To maintain connection with him, her line of walk must be shifted towards her right. Changing direction in this way, it will be natural to cross if she sets down her left foot under her body to maintain balance.
A cross can also be lead without any disassociation whatsoever, which proves that the disassociation is not the fundamental technique at stake in the cross. You could walk in parallel system in front of each other without any disassociation, and the cross is lead by the man shifting his own line of walk. This will make him cross his own legs from behind, and his dance will be a mirror image of her cross. This is the simplest cross there is and it can be performed with the dancers in absolute parallel to each other.
The disassociation is only used when the dancers are not walking on the same lines. Still, even in such disassociated positions you can use the technique in the cross elaborated above in at least two ways. One is to actually move with the woman and cross from the disassociated position. The disassociation will thus be maintained and static. It was the man’s changing line of walk that also changed the woman’s line of walk. Basically, this situation is structurally the same as the above mentioned simple cross, but it is done from a disassociated position.
We find the second technique more interesting. This applies to the first cross we discussed, the cross that is part of the basic step where only the woman is supposed to change her line of walk while the man maintains his. In this situation, try to ever so slightly, almost as if you were only imagining, shifting your abrazo to the left when you lead the cross. This may have a much more decisive impact on your partner than actually unravelling the disassociation (you must still dissolve the disassociation, though). The technique must be used with care. If you overdo it, it will feel manipulative. Always when we lead, there must be room for the woman’s expression in our arms.
Arms are heavily underrated in tango. Check out our article Silent Arms. We have also written an article about communication which discusses what a lead may be where we advocate the very important role of the woman. It is called Invitation to Movement.
We hope the cross may become easier to perform with increased awareness of what the task is, that is: to change the line of walk. We will nonetheless mention a few problems that often occur in conjunction to the cross.
The most fundamental mistake, which regrettably is very common, is that there is no disassociation to start with. If there is no disassociation, there is nothing to dissolve. In this situation the man can only hope and pray that she crosses anyhow. Well, he could also embrace the all-too primitive alpha male in himself and simply push her into the cross with his right hand. Although most tango dancers ought to understand that one should not treat a Lady with such manners, many men intuitively push theirpartners like this (if you overdo the technique where you think that you shift your abrazo, you will actually push her in a manipulative way).
There are also problems with timing. Dissolving the disassociation too early will shift the line of walk for both her feet. The right foot will land in a new direction. This will make her left foot land next to her right as if she was in ordinary caminada rather than landing her in a cross. Conversely, being too late there is no time to cross, and the lead will be understood as a disturbance of the balance rather than as leading an element of repertoire.
Similar to being too late is if the two are dancing with tiny steps with little or no flow and energy. In such cases there will not be space enough between the feet to cross. Also, if the energy is lacking, if each step is heavy or decelerated, changing the line of walk will require lots of effort.
What we have not said
There is more not said than said in this article. We have spoken from the perspective of the leader, but many followers lack the appropriate technique to go into the cross. There are also other techniques that are useful for performing crosses with ease, and there are many other types of crosses than the standard ones we have discussed here. Those subjects will perhaps be topics for future blog posts. Thanks for following us!