Finally losing the cross-system battle, and ‘the best you’ve ever danced’

cross system

Today I lost a long-running battle with Fede … He kept wanting me to use cross-system, arguing that it would open up a whole new world of possibilities. I kept resisting because I felt like it would open up a whole new world of complications.

But as what I wanted was more simple ways to turn, and he said the answer to this was to be found in cross-system, I relented …


The day started with the unofficial practica on the South Bank. My goal for this was to try the sequences we’d learned in the vals workshop and intermediate class, and get a sense of two things.

One, can I lead them with someone who wasn’t in the class? Two, how do they feel as part of dance?

The good news was yes, I could lead the vals sequence with a follower who wasn’t in the class and didn’t know it. Not perfectly, for sure, but it did work. It feels good, and definitely adapts well to tango as well as vals.

The cambio de frente less so, but we got a rough-and-ready version with a bit of work. I don’t think I’ll ever use it in a milonga due to the space it requires, but I do feel it’s a very good technical exercise, as it combines every step plus a leader pivot and leading a follower sequence from a static position. I do think for that reason it’s something I’ll practice at future practicas from a pure technique perspective.

David’s speaker did today have to compete with a bigger one playing hip-hop, and I think we lost that battle! We may be switching to the Barbican Centre, which says it’s happy for us to use a space there. We’ll test it out next week.

I was wondering whether the vals sequence might be good enough for use in dance, and I would soon find out …

Private lesson

As always, we began with dancing a couple of songs to warm up. Which, as well as being fun, also gave me a chance to try out the vals sequence. Which worked really well. Even Fede was happy with it!

I then said I wanted more simple ways to turn and– Well, you know what happened next.

Cross system has always confused me, because everything is different. Walking is different, as you need to be in three tracks, not two. Pivots are different, as the follower’s weight is on the opposite foot. A cross puts you into parallel system not cross system. Oh, and the leader effectively needs to do a double-time step to get into it via a leader-only change of weight, and I’m hopeless at rapid changes between single- and double-time. All of this explains my strict policy to date of carrying garlic and a silver dagger to ward off the evil spirits of the cross-system.

Fede, though, had a solution to both problems. First, he showed me a way to enter the cross system from the back ocho; no double-time required. Second, a rapid way to get out of cross system: the cross-system cross. So I wouldn’t have to deal with the complications for long.

There are certain things which work well enough in lessons but somehow fall out of my brain the moment the class ends. The cross in cross system had been one of those. I knew I’d done it before in a lesson, but my memory of it was that it was a mess and I’d wanted nothing further to do with it.

However, checking my blog posts, I’d had two group lessons on it, and it had actually been fine in both. It had clearly just come at a time when my step memory was full.

Today, too, I was able to do it from the first attempt. It felt like a really satisfying movement. The sequence was:

  • Back ocho to left
  • Back ocho to right
  • Pivot follower somewhat to bring her into the line of dance
  • Retain dissociation for outside cross-walk
  • Short forward step with left foot
  • Forward step with right and re-associate
  • Pause for a beat or two to allow the follower to uncross as they can’t just walk straight out of a cross-system cross

One issue I had with this was a tendency to lose my balance, falling forwards and leading a step before I wanted to. A simple fix for this was to not to collect, and keep just around 5% of my weight on the back foot to lend a bit of stability. This completely fixed the problem!

As to how this addressed my request – another simple way to turn – this approach allows for rebound turns in cross system, which you do in the back ochos. This feels quite different to normal rebound turns, so is a simple way to get more variety. Though personally I reckon Fede was just using that as a rather thin excuse to get me into cross system …

We then worked more on my ocho technique. Fede and Julia emphasised four things. First, completely separate the side-steps from the pivot. So:

  • Side-step in normal toe-out position
  • Then pivot
  • Then side-step

I was tending to blur them together somewhat.

Second, keep my hips forward. They’ve told me this before, but I felt my dissociation wasn’t enough so I needed to cheat a bit. When I stopped doing this, however, Julia said it was enough.

Second, keep my core strong to avoid collapsing it, which has my shoulder dip in the direction of the turn.

Third, maintain my frame. My hard-to-cure tendency to let my left arm creep in toward my body is particularly problematic in ochos, as the follower uses the hand to push and pull against in the ocho. (Julia said she would be careful about saying this to a beginner follower, as they tend to do it too much, but it was something I needed to know would happen.)

Fede then had me dance a couple of songs with Julia, focusing on the ocho technique points we’d covered, and including the cross in cross system. It felt really good.

I normally ask for Julia to give her feedback first, as I want to know how it feels before how it looks, but in this case didn’t get the chance. Fede rushed over, gave me a big hug and said:

“That’s the best I’ve ever seen you dance!”

Julia agreed, and said it had felt wonderful. So it seems this cross-system stuff might be worth the effort …

We had time left, so they asked me what else I wanted to do. I said I wanted to get feedback on the barrida-into-planeo. My one issue with this has been not always fully transferring the follower’s weight to her back foot – or not being sure that I’d done so.

We tried it, and both had great feedback. Fede said the solution to the follower’s weight-change was being sure I’d fully transferred my own weight, then use a very relaxed leg to drag rather than push the foot with my toe.

Julia identified that I also wasn’t pivoting enough also, so she wasn’t in the ideal position to transfer her weight back as it was somewhat out to the side. This again was solved by taking my time, ensuring I was only doing one thing at a time: pivot first, weight-change second.

For the planeo, to really reach around behind the follower. Fede said to think of it like I needed to protect my follower from being attacked from behind – to swing myself right around behind her.

Finally, in the parada (in my normal sandwich turn too), to keep my hips back but chest forward to stay connected to the follower while allowing her room to step over.

It felt like an amazing lesson. We covered so much in 90 minutes, and Fede and Julia said it had been incredibly satisfying for them to see me make such progress.

I have a bit of a crazy weekend schedule in October, so it’ll be a month before my next lesson with them – which feels like a long time, but I’ll have plenty to occupy me in the meantime!

This week, I have the Tango Space milonga on Tuesday, milonga workshop on Saturday, and then on Sunday the next practica followed by the 8th anniversary Los Angelitos milonga. Which, awkwardly, clashes with a friend’s birthday party. But she’s a tango teacher so will probably understand …

Image: Shutterstock

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