In 1915 dancer Maurice Mouvet (New York, 1889) wrote "Art of Dancing", a book that included autobiographical notes and a discussion of Tango in Paris and in the United States at the onset of the 20th century. For its historical importance we have transcribed its contents.
In 1915 dancer Maurice Mouvet (New York, 1889) wrote "Art of Dancing", a book that included autobiographical notes and a discussion of Tango in Paris and in the United States at the onset of the 20th century. For its historical importance we have transcribed its contents.
Maurice was well known for his performances of Tango, Apache and Waltz amongst others. He related that he learned to dance Tango with Argentine dancers in Paris before 1910, which surely is one of the earliest testimonies on the subject. His time in Paris coincided with the arrival en-force of the South Americans, including Enrique Saborido, the Gobbis, Florencio Parravicini, and Ángel Villoldo. The World was undergoing a revolution like no other in Dance, precipitated by the invention of the phonograph and cinema. New rhythms and dancing manuals proliferated, the common folk did not need a live band to join in the Dance craze.
Part 1 of Art of Dancing is autobiographical, and was co-written with his partner at the time, Ms. Florence Walton.
In Part 2, Maurice goes into detail about the different dances. In the 1910s Tango was played and danced at a different beat, and Maurice includes suggestions on what tracks to dance. We have embedded the audio of several of these tracks.
Maurice also published The tango and the new dances for ballroom and home in 1914.
PART II: DANCING, THE ART
DANCES OF EARLIER DAYS
"Dancing," the encyclopedia informs us, "is a form of exercise or amusement in which one or more persons make a series of more or less graceful movements with measured steps in accord with music."
There is, though it is doubtless unintentional, an ironical touch contained in that phrase, "more or less graceful," but this is largely due to the fact that most of us living in this period of enthusiastic performers have grown to expect, to demand, more grace rather than less. In the beginning it may have been different.
Dancing was probably unknown to the earliest ages. Savage man, prowling about tbe forest, his meagre intellect fixed upon food, his chief passion the ecstasy of devouring quivering flesh, knew nothing of those rhythmic postures which reflect sweet and caressing sensations entirely alien to his moods. The nearest approach of our extremely remote forefathers to dancing doubtless consisted in a series of leaps and bounds expressive of the joys and furies of their brutal life. There has been some little attempt to revive this primitive leaping by the back-to-nature faddists, and although they have drawn ridicule and disrespectful laughter upon themselves, they have had the satisfaction of complete expression. And, after all, is that not the one great thing for which every human is seeking?
Havelock Ellis, in an article on "'The Philosophy of Dancing," declares that dancing and architecture are the two primary and essential arts. He says that the art of dancing stands at the source of all arts which express themselves in the human person, while architecture is the beginning of all arts which lie outside the person. But dancing came first.
"There is one reason" says Mr. Ellis, "why dancing, however it may be scorned by passing fashions, has a profound and eternal attraction even for those one might suppose furthest from its influence.
"Dancing is the primitive expression alike of religion and of love-of religion from the earliest human times we know of, and of love from a period long anterior to the coming of man. Some of the most ancient civilizations have regarded the dance as the pattern in accordance with which the moral life of man must be woven. To realize what dancing means for mankind, the many-sidedness of its appeal, we must survey the whole sweep of human life, both at its highest and at its deepest moments."
There can scarcely be a doubt that Egypt has been for many thousands of years, as indeed it still remains, a great dancing centre, the most influential dancing-school the world has ever seen, radiating its influence south and east and north. Some historians have referred to Egypt as the "mother-country of all civilized dancing." We are not entirely dependent on the ancient wall-pictures of Egypt for our impressions of Egyptian skill in the art. Sacred mysteries, it is known, were danced in the temples, and queens and princesses took part in the orchestras that accompanied them. It is curiously significant that the musical instruments still peculiarly associated with the dance were originated or developed in Egypt; the guitar is an Egyptian instrument, as are the cymbals, the tambourine, triangle and castanets. This Egyptian art of dancing must have spread all round the shores of the Mediterranean and even beyond, for at Cadiz the dancing was essentially Egyptian in character. And Cadiz became the dancing-school of Spain.
The Nile and Cadiz were the two great centres of ancient dancing, and each of them supplied the dancers for Rome. This dancing was the expression of the individual dancer's body and art; the garments played but a small part in it, being frequently transparent and sometimes discarded altogether. It was, and it remains, simple, personal, passionate dancing.
The intimate association of dancing with love has always been loudly proclaimed. Dancing has been said to be as old as love. Among insects and among birds, for instance, it may be said that dancing is often an essential part of courtship. The male dances, sometimes in rivalry with other males, in order to charm the female; the female is aroused to share his ardor and join the dance; the final climax of the dance is the union of lovers. This primitive love-dance of insects and birds reappears among savages in various parts of the world, notably in Africa, and in a conventionalized form it is still danced in civilization today.
Among certain ancient peoples the same word meant both to dance and to love. By his beauty, his energy, his skill, the male must win the female, so impressing his image upon her imagination that her reticence is overcome. That is the task of the male throughout nature.
Song and Dance have been called the true children of Love and Leisure; but that they both were regarded much more seriously than this for many centuries is evidenced by the fact that among the Greek soldiers dancing as an exercise was compulsory.
As early as the year 2545 B. C. we find dances banded down by priests of ancient Egypt. Under the reign of the Pharaohs the dances were sacred and severe. Later they became more faithful expressions of popular life, reflecting the passions of man, translating the secret movements of the soul into physical action. Most of the Psalms refer to religious dances of the Hebrews. They had three great festivals, called the Feast of May, Feast of Harvest and Feast of the Tabernacles. They also danced about the golden calf. It is hard to believe that these dances were other than joyous, riotous and pagan.
From the solemnity of religious rites and the fury of warfare, dancing passed to the gaiety of pastoral sports, the dignity and grace of polished society. It certainly ran the gamut of emotions, even dolefully following funeral trains.
To the Greeks, supreme among the antique races, the art of dancing was really the art of expressive gesture, governing not only the hands and feet, but discipline of the body and all its various attitudes. Dancing was truly the language governing all movements.
And the Greeks danced everywhere and on any pretext. They danced in the temples, in the woods, in the fields. They welcomed the seasons with dancing. Every birth, every marriage, every death was the occasion for expressing through the medium of dancing the various emotions produced by these different events. They danced because it was harvest-time and because it was time for the ripened grapes to be pressed into wine. Some of their dances had delightful names. There were the "Dance of Noble Bearing"; the "Dance of the Flowers," in which the Athenians would ask each other, "Where is the rose?" "Where is the violet?" again and again, without expecting an answer. There were also the "Dance of the Tresses," the "Dance or the Glass Goblet," the "Dance or the Young Slave-Girls." In one of the dances sacred to Bacchus they hopped on inflated wine-skins, rubbed with oil to make them slippery. This last must have been a bouncing diversion requiring considerable muscular control.
Ancient Greek dancing was, in spite of this wine-skin exercise, essentially classic. On the Greek vases we find the same play of the arms, the same sideward turn, the same extreme backward extension or the body which had long before been represented on Egyptian monuments. Many supposedly modern movements in dancing were certainly already common both to Egyptian and Greek dancing, as well as the clapping of hands to keep tune, which is still an accompaniment of Spanish dancing.
Imitating Greece in all her arts, Rome also imitated her dancing, and the real germ of the ballet was found there. Theatrical dancing attained perfection among the Romans, who developed the pantomime, an art unknown to the Greeks.
It was alter centuries or folly -dissipations and degenerate pleasures which brought about the downfall of the great race- that the art of dancing temporarily disappeared. It seems to have been revived early in the eighth century, during the persecution or the Christian Church. Later it sprang up with forceful insistence.
The Gauls and Franks were addicted to courtly and pastoral dances. But it was during the Middle Ages that the Court or France began to dance. Those were the palmy days or dancing for France: it seems to have been incessant, and one would think, from reading the old poems and romances, that the French bad nothing to do but dance at all hours of the day and night. This was the age of chivalry, replete with brave tales of warriors, who, without laying aside their coats of mail or suits of armor, danced to measures chanted by ladies and maidens. Feasting and dancing seem to have been closely associated, for there is an old French proverb, "Après la panse vient la danse" (after good cheer comes the dance).
Italy, under Medicean impulse, revived dancing, which is called by its old name of "choreography." The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw it at every court. They danced the Pavane and the Courant; these were solemn, stately and even haughty dances in which the partners barely touched each other, assuming airs of excessive dignity and cold reserve. Tabouret gives some humorous counsel to sixteenth-century youths and maidens. He says:
"Having mastered your steps and movements and a good cadence, do not, in company, keep your eye on your feet, bending your head to see if you dance well.
"Carry yourselves uprightly nod with an assured look. Let your speech be gracious, gentle and well-bred. Let your bands hang easily, neither as if dead or yet as if eager to gesticulate. Be neatly dressed, with your hose pulled tightly up and with clean shoes. You may, if you will, lead out two damsels, but one is sufficient, for as the proverb says, 'He who leads two, leads out one too many.'"
Some of Tabouret's advice might be followed to excellent advantage by twentieth-century swains and lasses.
When Catherine de Medici came to France she brought with her the principles of the Italian ballet. She organized and produced many allegorical ballets with poetry spoken by persons who were not dancing, thus laying the foundations or opera. Under her direction masked balls became popular, supplanting tbe early masquerades which bad formerly served as an opportunity for the greatest license aod undignified romping. One naturally believes that the dancing which she supervised must have taken on a certain quality of austerity and hauteur.
Louis XIV founded an academy of dancing, himself taking part in countless ballets, while spectacles and dances, less solemn, but more refined and exquisite, came during the reigns of Louis XV and XVI. It was then that the coquettish gavotte was invented, and the minuet, that stately dance which has come to be known as the apogee of elegance.
Those were the days of lovely leisure, of elegance, of artificial gallantries and affected refinements. Those were the days of dreaming, upon which the roar of the French Revolution broke so discordantly. And dancing was not crushed out, for men and women danced around the scaffold, their feet stained in blood. Twenty three theatres and 1800 public bars were open every evening after the Terror. The soldiers danced on the eve of battle, hoping possibly to shut out the fear of dangers to come, the pictures of horrors to be faced on the morrow. It was a mad time, and it produced a score of ugly vices without adding anything to the history of dancing as an art.
About 1830 the volté, transplanted from Germany and called the Valse deux temps, began its long reign of popularity. The galop, too, introduced from Hungary, was practiced with that enthusiastic whole-heartedness which the French have always put into their amusements.
About this period -1830 to 1840- there was what might be called a complete revolution in dancing. The middle classes developed a passion for balls. Shop-keepers and their wives had so many engagements they could scarcely find time to attend to their business. Hitherto, dancing had been confined almost entirely to the aristocracy, except for the rustic festivals. Now, however, students and grisettes took part in huge masquerade: they danced the Cancan, the Chahut, the Prado and the Mabille. Waltzing and galoping were practiced with furious energy. And then in 1844 the Polka mania set in. This craze, so infectious because so easy to take, spread all over Europe. There were various forms of the Polka and probably the most common one, which persisted when every one was proclaiming that that "nobody polkaed any more," was the figure which went "one, two, three-kick!" With the crinolines and subsequent hoop-skirts of the Polka period one can believe that the dancers made a very delightful spectacle, even when performing the "kick," which, like the much-censored "dip" of 1912 and 1913, was really an ugly contortion, particularly for women.
The Mazurka, the Schottische, the Sicilienne, the Quadrille, the Yorke, the Varsovienne, all followed the Polka, and in England and America the Lancers were enormously popular. It was possible to execute many charming figures in these so-called "square" dances, but they gradually ceased to attract dancers who preferred individualism in their recreations.
As a sort of second cousin to the Polka the two-step was developed. This immediately gained favor in Paris and in America because of its rapid motions and the simplicity of the steps. Very few English people danced it, preferring their Quadrilles and their own particular dizzy, top-spinning waltzes. The English waltz for several years consisted of whirling about, turning always in the same direction for the entire length of the room; then the couple made a quick reverse and unwound. Very likely much of the English reputation for level-headedness arose from this peculiar skill in rapid revolutions without becoming giddy. There is a story told of an American girl who went to her first dance in London. When she returned home, she was questioned by her mother about a young army officer with whom she had danced several times.
"What did be say to you?" inquired the mother, hopefully.
"My goodness!" exclaimed the girl, "I don't know. We waltzed all the time and I was so dizzy every minute I could not hear a word he said."
Waltzing in Vienna and Paris, suited to the temperament of the people, soon assumed a deliberate rhythm which made it the most beautiful round dance that Europe had ever seen. This same waltz is that which Americans have adopted and which, with the two-step and occasional innovations such as the barn dance, made up the American dance-programs for ten years -or at least until as if by some wave of religious mania the entire country became obsessed by the dance-desire.
This last dancing revolution began in the summer of 1911, and it has now (in the spring of 1915) abated its frenzy only a little. There has been a gradual swinging back to the waltz in its original form, and a distinct modification of the one-step; but the days of the two-step are utterly gone. Dancing -modern dancing- has come under the influence of the twentieth century's restless yearning for novelty. Whether it will once more sink back into innocuous desuetude is for the soothsayer to prophecy.
Dancing as an art, we may be sure, cannot die out, but will always be undergoing a rebirth. Not merely as an art, but also as a social custom, it is constantly emerging afresh from the soul of the people. It was less than a century ago that the Polka thus arose, springing from the brain of the Bohemian servant-girl Anna Slezakova. She invented it out of her own bead for the joy of her heart and she made it a permanent form, destined for worldwide popularity only because it was, by accident, observed and noted down by an artist.
"Dancing," says Mr. Ellis, "had forever been in existence as a spontaneous custom, a social discipline. Thus it is, finally, that dancing meets us, not only as love, as religion, as art, but also as morals.
All human work, under natural conditions, is a kind of dance. In the memory of those who have ever lived on a sailing ship there will always linger the echo of the songs which sailors sang as they hoisted the topsail yard or wound the capstan or worked the pumps. That is the type of primitive combined work, and it is indeed difficult to see how such work can be effectively accomplished without some such device for regulating the rhythmic energy of the muscles.
"In the narrow sense, in individual education, the great importance of dancing came to be realized. 'A good education,' Plato says, 'consists in knowing how to sing well and dance well.' And in our own day one of the keenest and most enlightened of educators has declared that the revival of dancing is imperatively needed to give poise to the nerves, schooling to the emotions, strength to the will, and to harmonize the feelings and intellect with the body which supports them.
"This art, which has been so intimately mixed with all the finest and deepest springs of life, has always been asserting itself afresh. For dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the arts, because it is no mere translation or abstraction from life: it is life itself. It is the only art of which we ourselves are the stuff.
"The dance lies at the beginning of art, and we find it also at the end."
DANCES THAT WILL LIVE
About the time that the modern dance-craze was reaching its maddest exuberance, in the spring of 1914, the comic papers were full of bits of dialogue, illustrated by caricatures, which ran something like this:
"Young man meets his friend rushing breathlessly from studio of well-known dancing teacher:
"YOUNG MAN: 'Where are you going in such a hurry, Tom?'
"TOM (frantically): 'Oh, for Heaven's sake, don't stop me! I must get to a thé dansant before the newest step I have just learned has become completely old-fashioned.' "
To a large portion of the non-dancing public these humorous bits were merely amusing exaggerations, but it is certainly true that for many months the variations, amendments and eccentric changes which afflicted all ballroom dances made of this supreme amusement something like very hard work. You frequently heard at the thé dansant snatches of conversation which would have been impossible three or four years ago.
"Do you do the Marcel wave?" a girl would ask her partner, whose chief accomplishment seemed to be a dogged walk round and round the narrow space.
"No," he would reply, not at all embarrassed by his lack, "but here's one -the Peruvian pivot. You go back two and then forward one..."
And nobody laughed-at least, nobody who was dancing laughed. And certainly the reason for the gradual change, the sensible reaction which has come about almost imperceptibly, is not due to any comic paper ridicule. Its cause lies solely in the well-advertised brain and common sense ol Americans. Dancers are beginning to long for reality to replace the silly, often stupid, series of unsubstantial novelties.
At a New York thé dansant the other afternoon more than half the dancers were putting the old two-step into a figure of the fox trot and one-step. The same people who a few months before would have been doing merely a one-step to waltz-time were drifting into the waltz-rhythm which has of recent years grown to be known as the "old-fashioned waltz." You might just as well speak of the old-fashioned sun or the old-fashioned water. The waltz, since its inception, has always been the waltz, a dance in which the performers suited their movements, their steps, their emotions, to a tempo and rhythm which is filled with deliberate grace, no matter how cheap the melody or how poor the music.
It is because of my belief in standardized dances, and in a permanent form for the waltz, the tango and one-step that I shall now describe the different figures which in my opinion will remain practically unchanged for several years to come. I describe the Viennese waltz, to which I have added the hesitation step; indeed, I should be very sorry to see the waltz return so completely to its original form that the hesitation step would be eliminated. It is that pause, that almost unconscious deliberation, which gives to the waltz its charm, its poise and its essential dignity.
THE VIENNESE HESITATION WALTZ
Since the days of the "Merry Widow" tbe Viennese waltz has been adapted for ballroom use until it is, with the hesitation figure, virtually ideal. Like all dances for which the music is the true inspiration, a long description is difficult to follow and to put actually into practise. I shall, therefore, make use of four distinct 6gures; they need not be followed in the order given, however.
FIGURE I. Assume ordinary waltz position. Do not stand too close to your partner and do not anticipate the music. Wait for the proper beat before you begin to dance, as in "Dreaming," for instance. Many people start to waltz on the first note, which is B fiat. This is absolutely wrong, but it is a fault persisted in by dancers whose sense of rhythm is not well developed. It is better to hesitate several beats, even if you are blocking traffic on the dance floor, than to start on the wrong note. The correct note in the music above is F.
FIGURE II. MAN: The man steps back with the right foot, lilts the left foot in air, then brings it to the floor even with the right; he crosses the right foot in front of the left, does this step twice, and then is ready for the beginning steps again; i. e., he steps back with his right foot, etc.
GIRL: The girl steps out with her left foot in front, raising her right slightly; she then brings her right foot to the floor even with her left; she crosses or slides her left fool behind her right, does this twice, then steps out to side with right loot, bringing left and right together. This is, of course, simply the reverse of the man's step. You make the turn just after crossing the feet the second time. Practise this to any waltz music with which you are fairly familiar and count 1, 2, 3. For instance:
MAN: Right foot back (1), left loot brought even with the right alter being raised slightly as right foot went back (2), right foot crosses left (3).
GIRL: Left loot forward (1), right foot brought even with left alter being raised slightly as the left foot went forward (2), left loot crosses behind right (3).
FIGURE III. This is the real Hesitation Step; at least, what bas come to be accepted as the standard Hesitation. It is difficult only because you start every time with the same loot.
MAN: Right foot back, left back of right at side; be then di·aws his right foot to his left with a quick, short step, sliding almost at the same time his left loot one step back. This leaves him with his right loot forward and his weight on the left foot upon which he hesitates.
GIRL: Left loot forward, right loot forward ahead of the left at one side; she then draws her left loot quickly to her right with a short step and at the same instant slides her right forward. This is her hesitation step, her weight being thrown upon her right foot and the left foot ready to start forward again.
The girl always starts either backward or forward with her left foot and the man with his right. This is the great difference between the hesitation step and the original waltz. In the latter you started forward first on your left and then on your right.
For the turn in the hesitation there are two very graceful figures. You may turn either on the foot upon which you hesitate, or you may pivot, executing a half-circle. For the pivot, the man fixes the toe of his right foot firmly on the floor, swinging his body about by lifting his left foot from the floor. The girl's position is naturally exactly the reverse of this.
We have all had the experience, in strolling along the street rather aimlessly, of having our pace suddenly quickened, of feeling a sudden elasticity, a jauntiness in our step; it came because some boy just behind us was whistling the latest popular exquisite music, feeling himself in some way an artist, imbued with the creative instinct.
Moreover, dancing has afforded occupation for hundreds of young men who, unsuited to desk work and unable to find any professional substitute, have found the shining-floored life the one thing for which they bad talent. I overheard a mother talking rather anxiously about her son the other day. "He's taken up dancing," she said, "dances in private houses and restaurants, and although we bad always hoped for a career in a publishing business for him, I must confess that he is successful now for the first time in his life. Dancing seems to suit his temperament, and he works at it much more conscientiously than be ever did at anything else."
There was apology in her tone, but there need not have been. Dancing has solved one of her problems, just as it has fulfilled the destiny of a thousand other people.
THE FOX TROT
"What particular resemblance to the gait of a fox has this new dance?" one man asked another as they stood watching the crowds of perspiring trotters at a well-known watering-place last summer. His companion laughed. "Well, what real likeness did the turkey trot bear to the gait of a turkey? There was in the beginning of that famous (and infamous) dance a certain waddle, a certain awkward swaying from side to side, shared in a slight degree by all the barnyard fowls, as well as peacocks, pelicans and ostriches. But 'turkey trot' had a crisply attractive sound: it was easy to say, easy to remember. I can't trace the fox trot to its birth."
Possibly the people who invented the title belonged to that rather slender class of persons who have leisure to hunt, and it may be that in their swift glimpses of the fleeing fox... but who can say accurately? And does it really matter much, anyhow?
As a variation of the one-step, as a legitimate successor to all the objectionable trots, the fox trot has attained a form which is in a fair way to become permanent. Like the one-step, it is popular because it is easy to learn. It has the charm of being an absolute fit for many of the most alluring transient tunes; and it can be danced, without self-consciousness, by hundreds or people who never pretended to be graceful or dancefully talented.
There is a routine (if anything so delightful can be called by so dull a word) for the fox trot, and I submit the one I prefer. It is not, of course, necessary to follow this exactly in the order given.
FIGURE I. Begin with eight walking-steps, the girl walking backward, starting on her left foot. Do these steps rather slowly, allowing two beats to each one, and swaying a very little from side to side.
FIGURE II. Take three running-steps, a step to each beat of music, then walk eight steps. Repeat this twice.
FIGURE III. Take four slides to the right, then four slides to the left, then four slow walking-steps. Repeat this four times. Whenever you get into a corner, or when the floor is crowded, change into the slow walking-steps until you have space again to do the slides.
FIGURE IV. Polka four times. The polka is really the old two-step, and is the figure which opened the Maxixe. It is simply two quick, sliding steps, first to the right and then to the left, and this also is a very good step to use in getting out of corners or when traffic becomes congested. You can take four slow walking-steps before and after you polka, and repeat twice or four times just as you like.
FIGURE V. This is the real fox trot step. It consists of eight running-steps, a step to each beat. Do not lift your feet from the floor or kick violently backward. Just run smoothly on your toes as quickly as the music takes you and as evenly as you can. Some very ugly dancing has resulted from this fox trot step solely because it was done by persons who fancied themselves free to indulge in any light-hearted antics which suited the quickened beat of the music.
It is possible to run swiftly and beautifully, as every one knows who has seen the Russian dancers or even the ordinary ballet. All you need to do is to adapt your body to the required rhythm and remember to keep your shoulders quiet without making them rigid.
For the accomplished dancer, most of the Tango steps are easily applied to the fox trot by a slight change of rhythm. The Cortez, the Promenade and the Scissors can all be done with good effect. For that matter, many people use some of the Maxixe figures very well, and truly it does not matter much what actual steps one uses if one has the true musical instinct. An intuitive sense of rhythm and time will make the most ordinary step seem a marvelous achievement.
And, although I began this description of the fox trot by disclaiming any knowledge of the origin of its name, I can give one bit of advice regarding the fox. The next time you go to the zoological gardens, or to the menagerie, or to the circus, observe the unaffected grace with which this subtle animal moves; you may not learn anything about trotting, but you will learn one supremely important thing about dancing, and that is, a lack of conscious effort. Dancing is the one art where deliberate, painstaking care and conscientious, worried performance destroy instead of creating. I do not mean that thoughtful practice is unnecessary; I simply mean that you should never attempt to dance unless you feel comfortably natural and totally free from doubt as to your skill. Place yourself entirely at the mercy of the music, whether it issue from a Victrola-born or an elaborate orchestra, and you will dance well.
It was, as I have stated in the early chapters of my life in Paris, a group of young South American boys who really introduced the Tango. While they were frequenting Maxim's, dancing their national dance whenever they could bribe the orchestra to play their music, I went there to dance with them. Unable, very often, to find a girl who knew the Tango, I would dance with one of the men, causing a good deal of critical comment both among the dancers and spectators. But I did not mind this in my eagerness to learn, to become proficient in a dance for which I foresaw a tremendous vogue.
The original eight steps of the Tango were: Promenade, Cortez, Media Luna, El Paso, L'eventail, Les Ciseaus, El Pados, and the Single Three.
I soon learned from the South Americans that the quality of seductive allurement which rapidly enthralled every one who saw the Tango danced arose almost entirely from the ability to pass from figure to figure without changing the rhythm of the body. And it was when I could do this that I danced the Tango at the Café des Ambassadeurs with Leona, winning the distinction of being the first professional to perform this dance in Paris.
A good many people have criticized the Tango because they have seen it improperly danced, and a great many others because they concluded at once that it was too difficult ever to become popular. However, in its present form, with only six steps and four figures (instead of the original eight), it is no longer intricate. Occasionally, in exhibition dances, you see an eccentric performance called the "Somebody's Tango," and this dance usually includes a great deal of kicking, stamping and wriggling of the shoulders. I am always sorry to see this, because I believe so sincerely in dancing as a beautiful art and I love the Tango for the simple harmony of its movements.
If there is any receipt for the proper execution of this dance, its two chief ingredients are poise and digility. The centre of movement lies in the knees; above the waist the dancer should be relaxed, plastic, but not dissolved into a series of hunches and twists.
Now that the Tango has been standardized, a description of its figures is comparatively easy to follow: It is danced to two-four time, though with a peculiar rhythm which is at once a guide and an inspiration to the beginner.
There are eight measures and sixteen counts to each figure. The waltz-position is the accepted manner of beginning the dance, the man's left hand extending with the palm turned partly upward and the women's right resting lightly in it. The arms are always curved. The man's right arm is around bis partner's waist, supporting her slightly. The Tango is the exception to the rule that all dances begin with the left foot for the man. In this case be starts with the right.
The Promenade. The man walks forward four steps, beginning with his right foot; the woman walks backward four steps, beginning with her left.
The Half Cortez. The man steps forward on the right foot, points the left loot in front, slightly turning the body to the right. Count two and go back with the left, slightly bending the left knee and raising the right toe.
The woman steps backward with the left foot, pointing the right backward and slightly turning the body to the right. Count two and go forward with the right, slightly bending the knees and raising the left heel.
Repeat the Hall Cortez twice.
Pas Chassé. The man steps forward with the right foot and forward with the left, pointing the left toe diagonally to the front, then drawing the left up to the right.
The woman steps backward with the left and backward with the right, pointing the left toe diagonally backward and drawing the right up to the left.
Repeat three times more. Then repeat the Half Cortez twice.
Repeat the Promenade four times.
The Half Moon or La Media Luna. The man steps forward on the right foot and forward on the left, drawing the right to the left; count 1 and 2 (three motions to two counts); then step backward with the left foot and backward with the right, drawing the right foot to the left. Repeat once more. The woman steps backward with the left foot and backward with the right, drawing the left foot to the right; count 1 and 2 (three motions to two counts); then step forward with the right foot and forward with the left, drawing the right foot to the left. Repeat once more. Repeat the Half Cortez once more.
The Cortez. Although this is placed as the fourth figure, because it so naturally develops from the first three figures, it is really the fundamental step of the Tango. To begin all figures you should go into the Cortez or the Half Cortez and then proceed into your new step. And because the Cortez is the moving spirit of the Tango itself, it is the most difficult to dance properly. The steps are simple.
The man steps forward with his right foot and points the left diagonally in front, drawing the right to the left; he steps forward with his left foot, raising the right heel; he pauses and then repeats.
This sounds simple enough and it is only when you attempt to dance it to the insinuating strains of the Tango music that you have any doubts as to your grace. As the man raises bis right heel he points with the toe of his right foot; and it is this pointing which you should practise until you can slip into it with unconscious ease.
The girl steps backward with the left foot and points the right diagonally backward, drawing the left to the right; she steps backward with the right foot, raising the left heel and bending the knees slightly; she pauses and then repeats.
A great many girls to whom the spirit and the rhythm of this semi-tropical dance has seemed to be instinctive have ruined their performance by moving their shoulders and swaying their bodies above the waist. Practise the Cortez again and again, humming to yourself if you have no Victrola or obliging pianist, and watching your movements in the mirror.
A proper execution of the Cortez will not only make either a man or woman a pleasing Tango dancer, but it will give to all their walking, sitting and moving about a lithe suppleness. And in these days of much motoring, to attain a supple carriage is a gift for which one should pray to the gods!
Chassé. The man points the right foot diagonally forward and draws the left loot to the right with a little click-a sort of military step. He repeats it three times.
The girl points the left foot diagonally backward, drawing the right foot to the left, with the same little click, which is only a suggested sound in the case of a girl's satin slippers. She repeats this three times. The conclusion of this figure is the Half Cortez, or, it the dancer prefers it, the Cortez.
For the benefit of many dancers who will choose to insert the Single Three in place of the Pas Chassé or the Chassé, I will describe that step.
Single Three. The man steps backward with his left foot; he brings his right foot back slightly behind his left; he then steps back once more with his left foot, drawing his right loot up to his left.
The girl steps forward with her right foot; she brings her left foot slightly ahead of her right; she steps out again with her right foot, drawing her left foot up to the right.
In this Single Three there is the same martial little click as the feet come together. Perhaps the click is taking the place of the rather unpleasant stamp that was a conspicuous feature of the Tango two or three years ago. The word itself suggests something jerky, but there is no motion in the Tango which is not smooth and even languorous. Certainly no folk-dance, adapted to ballroom use, has ever possessed the compelling charm of this one-no dance-music has ever bad the power to guide the body into rhythmic pliancy.
The Scissors. Though I do not include Les Ciseaux in my standardized Tango, a large number of dancers will wish to use it, and while it is likely to throw the body into awkward and angular postures, I give it for the benefit of those who realize this danger and know how to overcome it.
The dancers do the Promenade or El marcha once, and then, instead of continuing with the left foot, the man does a half-turn inward; he crosses the left in front of the right.
The girl, in doing the half-turn inward, crosses her right foot before her left. Then they do the Promenade Step, the man with the right turning inward, crossing the right in front of the left, and the girl doing the reverse. This can be repeated as often as it is desired, finishing with the Cortez.
Maurice Mouvet - Art of Dancing - Part 1: Autobiography (1915)