A Few Notes On Paso Doble, “The Other Two-Step”
by Dan and Sandi Finch
This is the dance of the matador, depicting the drama of the Spanish bullfight. The French are credited with creating the original choreography in the 1920s, bringing the movements of the matador onto the dance floor. That’s why so many of the steps have French names. For instance, the “huit” is an eight-count figure (from French for “eight”) and “sur place” is marching in place (from French for “in place”).CHARACTERIZATION
Because this is the most theatrical of all rhythms, you need to understand the “story line” or you may feel a bit silly about the steps. The man’s steps are powerful, taken with a commanding air—as a matador. He is focused on the bull because an error in timing or movement means getting gored. The lady, on the other hand, dances many parts. She is most often the cape, so her movements are softer, but she occasionally is the bull, or the horse, or a flamenco dancer!
A former world champion dancer has described Paso Doble as being about “challenge.” The matador challenges the bull, the bull returns the challenge, the crowd challenges the matador to be more daring. Voila, all the drama you need to picture a story as you dance.
There is no shuffling or sliding the feet on the floor. Each step is taken with deliberation. Usually one step is taken on each beat of music, although a few figures are syncopated.
The most distinct difference between Paso Doble and other rhythms is that most figures begin on the man’s right and lady’s left foot—the “wrong feet” compared to other rhythms. That first step is usually a preparatory step in place called an “appel,” meaning “attention.”
Shapes are important in Paso Doble. Man’s posture is very erect with the stomach pulled in, weight over the balls of the feet, hips forward and ribcage “lifted” to elongate the spine and depict the prideful stance of the matador. There is a sense of walking forward while the body is turned slightly. This depicts the matador walking around the arena twirling his cape, looking up into the stands to acknowledge his cheering fans.
Arms are an extension of those strong body lines. Arms for the man are in strong arcs in front of the body, behind the body, at the side, bent at the chest as though moving his cape, or overhead. Lady’s arms can mirror his but are most often like a flamenco dancer’s—gracefully extended with a slight bend at the elbow.
Paso music is very stirring, like a march, written in 2/4 timing, which would be counted 1,2; 1,2; (hence its name—Spanish for “double step”). The tempo is fairly fast.
Choreographically in round dancing, we dance as though it is in 4/4 timing, counting figures in multiples of four steps—4, 8, 12, or 16. Paso was designed for show and competition. For many years, it was danced to only one piece of music, “Espana Cani,” done in different orchestrations but always with the same phrasing. True Paso music has an extra half-measure of music (2 beats) to be dealt with somewhere in a dance, usually with a crescendo designed for a choreographic splash.
Paso Doble is categorized as one of the five International style latin dances. “Paso closed position” is a more open version of latin closed position to create more space between the partners for caping-type figures: Man’s right hand holds the lady’s upper left arm and Lady grasps the man’s upper right arm with her left hand.
Well-designed choreography tells the story of the bullfight. It can begin with the fiesta and some flamenco action. Then the matador performs with his cape to show the crowd how skilled he is. The bull is then let into the arena, and the matador begins challenging the bull with his cape and with short spears called banderillas. (One advanced figure is named Banderilla, depicting stabbing with the spears.) A crescendo in the music tells you the drama is building, as the bull appears to be winning; then the matador gets the upper hand. The music may change at the end to be more upbeat, signaling the matador’s victory, as he takes his bows.
Appel: Attention “1”
One step, going nowhere, on the wrong foot. This is like a child stomping a foot to get attention. It is a preparation step in place to start many moving figures. It is done on “the wrong foot” (meaning man’s right and lady’s left). There are many acceptable ways of doing this one-count figure, but try to do it with a flat foot, starting as though you are flicking a rock from under your foot.
Sur place: Steps in place “1,2,3,4;”
Feel as though you are pressing the ball of the foot into wet sand on each step. Not marching with knees up, but picking up the feet from the toes. Usually done in place keeping time with the music, but it can turn.
Huit (also called The Cape): Working the cape “1,2,3,4; 4,6,7,8;”
This is counted 1 through 8, with the man standing in place or sur placing for most of it, arching his body as though he moves his cape from side to side (the lady moving across in front of him). A more advanced version is called The 16, danced to 16 beats of music.Elevations: Side close, side close, with attitude “1,2,3,4;”
These will be cued as elevations up and elevations down. They are advanced versions of chasses to the left or right, done on the toes but with bent knees. This depicts the matador taunting the bull with his cape.Separations: Think “taunting the bull” “1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4;”
Partners begin in closed position and, over eight steps, they separate and come back to closed position. Begin with an appel, then Man steps forward, closes, and sur places 5 counts; Lady appels, takes two steps back and closes, then returns to the man in closed position in four steps. This is like the matador’s challenge to the bull (the lady), who backs away and then recharges. (We warned you, you have to get into the drama for this to make sense!)
Dan & Sandi have other essays and helps on their site.
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