The complexity of simple



Listen to this article
Share it like your embrace

One of my favorite dancers (in terms of leaders) is Carlitos Espinoza. Guess why? His dance looks so complex when in reality it is very simple. If you pay close attention you will realize that sometimes all he really does is… walk. However, he manages to make it look so complex that you forget its simplicity! Now, how can a dancer who mostly walks survive in show business in today’s world where everyone strives to present something fancy and shiny to amaze the crowds? How does he manage to unravel how complex simplicity can be? Yes… I know… you are probably also asking yourself how something simple can seem complex. Well, it’s all a matter of… maths!

A bit of maths

Let’s start simple. Let’s assume that in any given moment when you dance and one of your legs is free, you can move it to make a step forward, backward, or on the side (assuming you are using only one side…this of the free leg). This means that at any given moment you have 3 options.

If you know a little bit of possibilities then if the song only had 2 beats and therefore two steps… you would have 9 different possible sequences because the number of possible moves on the first step is 3 and then you multiply with 3 for the number of possible moves on the second step. But a typical song consists of 5 sections with 4 phrases and each phrase usually has 8 beats that you make a move. So a typical song has 5*4*8 = 160 beats which mean 160 given moments to make a step. Given the 3 options in each step, the total number of potential sequences (or maybe better choreographies) for the same song goes to 3 in the 160th power… my calculator says this is… 2,18474501E+76 which means approximately 2 and then 76 zeros. I don’t even know how you call this number!

Of course, this is a simplistic analysis. One might not move to all the beats (remember to pause), some other times you might dance to the weak beats too. But even if you make 80 steps then you end up with 1,47808829E+38 potential combinations which is still a huge number. Now we only calculated the possibilities for one person. But it takes two to tango. So instead of 3 options you actually have the double 6 for each step (parallel and cross-system). So the actual combinations are 6 in the 80th (or whatever power based on the steps you make) depending on how many beats you will dance.

The point

I won’t bother adding the possibilities of moving in different directions, sharing axis, ganchos, barridas, etc. All these add even more possibilities to an already enormous amount of possibilities you already have just with the 3 simple steps. The point I am making is that there are so unbelievably many possibilities of combinations one can create in sequences just with those 3 steps. Even if you just take a sequence that has 8 steps for a phrase the number is 1.679.616. I mean figuring all these out can be a lifelong exploration!

Most of us think in very basic combinations and patterns. We have learned, practiced, and memorized just a number of them and use them in our dance. But the possibilities out there are endless to be able to dance to each and every song in our life in a completely unique way even just by simply using the walk. Somehow however we still search for the new fancy move, how to make the perfect colgada or ganchos or whatever else we see out there. Like we have already mastered all those possible 1 million combinations. Why?… Because the walk is not shiny enough. It doesn’t attract attention! It’s not like porn!

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango comes with a performance. A performance that I have seen many times and exhibits how the simplicity of those 3 steps can go a long way especially if you add some simple sacadas and some superb musicality following the phrasing of the singer!

How about you? Have you ever thought about how complex can simple steps be? Have you explored this complexity yet? Are you a fan of such complex simplicity? What is your dance like? Complex? Simple? or… simply complex? Let me know with a comment below, an email, or a PM on Facebook… oh… and if you liked it… don’t forget to share it with your friends.


4 responses to “The complexity of simple”

  1. Niki Xenodimitropoulou Avatar
    Niki Xenodimitropoulou

    This special kind of walk you mean is very rare. Among the international tango stars I notice it more often, of course. But in the local tango community I discovered it only two times yet. One of them was my first tango teacher. The other one is a unpretentious and peaceful hobby dancer. There must be definitely more than just biomechanical processes. Such dancers have a kind of special energy that creates this simple-complex walk. Sometimes it seems as if they are not just moving through the space, but as if they are moving or forming the space itself. I don’t think we could completely explain this phenomenon with maths or physics. Well ok, perhaps with quantum physics. As long as we don’t have the horizon to understand, it’s the best to call it magic!

    1. chris.kourou Avatar

      Well… The best magic tricks are often quite simple in their explanation.
      I like the “it’s like they form space itself”
      I think it all boils down to the speed of making decisions. When we dance we constantly need to take into account so many factors like the available space, the music, the current position and alignment etc. in order to decide the next move.
      When you have to decide among 3 options things get much easier and quicker than having to choose between 5 or 10. So the process is much easier… quicker and feels more natural… like magic. Right?

  2. Andreas Maier Avatar

    Correction. From each single free leg you do have left, back, forward, dioganally left forward, right diagonally forward, the same diagonals backwards….. endless possibilities 🙂

    1. chris.kourou Avatar

      Well… Of course there are variations in the direction as there are also in the length of the step, the intensity of the step, the way you step, your embrace during the step, etc. If you add all these in the mix the number of possibilities for one step alone gets infinite.
      My main point however was to say that even if you strip down all these variation elements and leave only the bare basics you are still left with a huge number of possibilities.

Leave a Reply


Skip to content