The Mysterious World of Cross System

Unlike any other dance Argentine Tango is deeply submerged into two overlapping worlds – a world of Parallel System and Unknown-To-The-Other-Dances the Mysterious World of Cross System.

The Mysterious World of Cross System

Remember the beginning of your tango existence? Life was simple. She was standing in front of him. He was standing in front of her. The mirror image of each other. He walked with his left foot forward. She walked with her right foot back. Easy.

You've never foreseen that, but Tango is a dance that requires a higher degree in mathematics plus a driver's license for a manual car. Coding skills are not necessary but hold a significant advantage.

I am just kidding.

If you are an artist, cosmetologist or fashion designer or professor of literature or psychologist, dietician, or… student, or retired - you will still learn. If not through logical analysis, then through sensations.

The Leader behind me, Followers behind her

If you ever got to any dance class (before you became addicted to Tango) that involved two partners – you may recall one side of the room with Leaders and the other side of the room with Followers. If there is only one teacher – when s/he is showing the steps to one part of the room – you can quickly figure out the counterpart's steps. That's because they are a mirror image. Parallel system. I'm not saying that you never encounter this in your Tango lesson  – but, honestly, very rarely. The movements are too correlated with the partner. We may use this trick more often in the Beginner lessons – knowing that this is kind of expected, but it dissipates the higher you go.

What are the parallel and cross system?

In partner dancing, two partners are standing in front of each other, facing each other, and ready to dance; one partner's right foot faces the left one of the other. Dhaaa. So what? That's obvious.

Now you are supposed to move. And so - the two systems come in place.

1-Paralel systemIn Parallel System, the left foot will move with the right foot. In the Cross system – The left foot will move with… the left foot. Yes, you read it right. Left with left. Right with Right. That's the Cross System.

2-Cross system

So, what's so unusual about it?

To figure out the consequences of having two walking systems in a couple dancing, try to walk (yes, with your partner or with two sticks – one for each leg). Let's make it super easy. Just move on two tracks. Track #1 for Leader's left foot and track #2 – for Leader's right foot.

We are going to go where the Leader is facing. The Leader will be walking forward, and the Follower will be walking backward. Both of them, as a couple, will be moving forward in line of dance. For now, the Line of Dance (LOD) will only have those two tracks.

Ready? Go!


That was easy, wasn't it? So now – let's try the other system. Remember – left with left and right with right. We will explain in the second how to make this happen when you are actually dancing, but for the moment, let's just agree that both partners are starting with the left leg and that we are still respecting two tracks.

Nooooow… Wait. A. Second!

Yep! You cannot move because your partner's foot is EXACTLY where you want to go. No, no, no, no, no – do not cheat, do not walk around – we are respecting the two tracks!

If we are to keep the two tracks, someone must start crossing to step not straight forward, but where space is – on the two tracks.

It looks a bit like a catwalk, or what we imagine it to be. Slight crossing over, just barely, and trying to keep the same length of the steps while doing so. No pivoting.

Since the Leader is walking forward, and the Follower is walking backward, and – only one of the partners needs to be crossing while the other is preserving the original walk – we have two possibilities.

5-CROSS SYSTEM walk-leader crossing forward with his LEFT4-CROSS SYSTEM walk-follower crossing backward

There are two more possibilities, a little more advanced, as they require the whole couple to change the direction. To stay in Line of Dance and navigate correctly – the Leader would have to walk backward and Follower forward. If we can achieve that, the two additional possibilities are: Leader crossing backward and Follower crossing forward.

The nomenclature

The cross system and parallel system nomenclature originated with the 'Naveira/Salas Investigation Group'.

Early on, they used 'even/uneven' to describe the legs' arrangement in the walk or turn. By the mid-1990s, they began using 'parallel/crossed' and later 'normal/crossed'. The process of changing from the parallel system to cross system (or vice versa) by having the leader change weight without the Follower changing weight (or vice versa) is named contrapaso, or "contra-step". This change can be made off or on the normal beat.

How to switch from parallel to cross system

As seen above in our illustrations, the idea is quite simple and easy to understand when demonstrated in walking – in theory. In a normal/parallel system, the Leader's left foot follows the right foot of the Follower, and the right foot of the Leader follows the left foot of the Follower. This results in two partners walking on two tracks only. If we are to respect the two tracks in a cross system where the Leader's right foot goes with the right foot of the Follower (the and left goes with left), one of the partners will be required to start crossing.

But to fully benefit from both systems – one needs to be able to switch somehow. One of the ways is mentioned above - contrapasso. Sometimes, mistakenly described as: 'A step produced when you lock one foot behind the other'.

Crossing one foot behind the other would be one possibility. Changing weight in a more straightforward manner – would work too. It does not always have to be done on double time. But the answer to changing the system is in there – whatever you choose, it has to be done BY ONE PARTNER ONLY.

The 'by one partner only' does the trick.
If one of the partners takes an extra step
– the system will be changed.

So, what is worth remembering here?

One thing – it does not have to be a weight change, although when you are first starting – that's the easiest one. It does not have to be on double time – though paradoxically – when you were first starting, that's the easiest one and most likely the first one you learned (or will learn).

Sometimes – since in Tango mostly everything is named and analyzed for Leader's perspective, the system can change by Leader's extra step or by the suspension. Suspension – is a fancy word for lack of action or awaiting an action, and in this case, translates into lack of Leader's action while the Follower is being led to that extra step.

So – extra step or suspension – would be the two ways of changing the systems.

Ahh – and of course, it is fundamental to state that it works exactly the same when changing from parallel to cross or from cross to parallel.

It's all about relationships

In Tango nothing can be done without the partner. Even when you practice solo – it's all with your partner in mind. To the point – that some practice, and become masters, in dancing with tango sticks – watch here in the class , or small demo, and exciting performance.

Why two sticks and not one – well, the Follower has two legs, not one. And why it's beneficial? Because the sticks will not help you out, they will not back-lead you or guess the movement for you. You need to know what you are doing. But that's just the digression. We were talking about partnerships.

The systems (parallel and cross) only exist in a relationship to the partner. If there is no partner, no matter how many extra steps you take – you are still walking or... walking. In what system – nobody knows, but you. And you only know it if you are very, very, VERY aware of where your imaginary partner is and what she is doing.

The crucial thing to remember is that you cannot say 'she is in a cross system and I'm doing…'. You are always BOTH in one system or the other. It's not possible that you are in one and she is in a different one – as systems are based on the relationship to the partner.

So here you are walking in one system, and bum – extra step, and you are in the other system. Just like that.

Get in – get out or… change

When we first learn about the cross system it is such a novelty, that it is often seen as a big thing (and honestly – it is a big thing). And that's how we practice it – we go into the cross system and then out of the cross system. Like we go to the other country and then out of it.

However – the more of the Tango you learn, the more you progress, you'll realize that most of the movements happen in cross system or in fluid transition between the two. Once using the cross system becomes a second nature – you really have to analyze some of the sequences step by step, because the system can change multiple times within one sequence. It's like changing the gears in manual car. You just do it - kind of subconsciously.

Door, door, more doors - unending array of possibilities

The Cross system opens a totally new perspective for partner dancing. First, it eliminates the need for continues linear movement and introduces circularity. That in exchange enables an additional great component – the asymmetry of the dance patterns that, even though related and dependent on both partners, are NOT the same. It also introduces opposition and timing. And so – the same movement will never feel the same – even if you are dancing and practicing with just one partner. Just like in life – nothing ever happens twice in exactly the same way.

Ready to Tango?

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