Often, we begin learning the molinete of Argentine tango in a way that goes something like this:
- Followers are taught the pattern of steps that form the standard molinete: forward cross, side step, back cross, side step
- Leaders are taught to lead the molinete by turning in place while keeping the chest turned slightly ahead of the hips. This opens space on one side of the body, which the follower will step into. As long as the leader continues turning, that opened space will stay ahead of the follower, and they will continue the molinete pattern.
The molinete pattern is so commonly understood by followers that this way of leading it works great, and also allows the freedom to create many fun and interesting leader embellishments.
But, let's take a closer look at one of the follower's molinete steps to see whether there is an opportunity here to create a more enjoyable and connected dance for the follower. Because better connection is better tango.
The follower's back cross
A follower using good technique is always stepping closely around their leader during a molinete, rather than stepping away from the leader. Simultaneously, the follower is keeping their torso rotated toward the leader as much as possible. Put these two ideas together in the back cross of the molinete, and you get a step which demands an extensive spiral through the follower's body. Beginning leaders may never have used such a full body spiral, but beginning followers must tackle it almost immediately to learn the molinete correctly. It looks like this:
Notice that the follower's torso is nearly facing the leader's chest, while the hips are turned a full 90-degrees. Her leg extends around and toward the leader, spiraling even further than her hips. While in this position, she must remain perfectly balanced on her weighted foot. Leaders, if you have never tried this yourself, then ask someone to lead you in a molinete. If your body is not spiraled enough when you execute the back cross, you will not be able to step around them sufficiently, or not be able to keep your chest facing toward their chest. Beginning followers face these same challenges.
You might also just fall over.
Accommodating the back cross
Now that we have an appreciation for the difficulty of this step, let's see what we can do about it. Keep in mind that the follower is striving to face the leader's chest. If the leader keeps the chest slightly ahead of the follower, as is done when leading the molinete, then the follower's chest can't spiral enough to face it squarely during the back cross. Followers will respond with as much spiral as possible, but necessarily fall short. Although this is typically fine, leaders have an opportunity here to create a nicer and more connected back cross for the follower by adjusting their chest position.
Leaders, as the follower takes their side step just before the back cross, allow your lower body to catch up to your torso as the follower finishes the side step and collects. At this point, this is what you would do if you wanted the molinete to end at this step. Your partner should be directly in front of you with your bodies facing each other. Do not stop the energy in this position, however. Instead, make sure your right foot is weighted (for a counter-clockwise molinete). Bend your knees more than normal and simultaneously move the right half of your chest forward and slightly rotated toward your partner in the direction of their back cross. What you are doing here is two-fold. The extra flex in your knees will allow your follower to do the same, which creates additional stability and a longer step length in the back cross. Simultaneously you are moving your torso slightly around the outside of your partner in the direction they need to pivot for the back cross. This is similar to what your chest does to lead the pivot in an ocho. This makes the pivot much easier for the follower without requiring as much body spiral. You have just created a position between the leader and the follower which ameliorates many of the challenging aspects of this step.
After you have led your partner to finish the back cross, you can square up your chest during the follower's next step (the side step), and then rotate your torso slightly ahead of your lower body to initiate the follower's forward cross. You are now back in the body position you started with and can repeat this process, if you like, for another molinete turn.
Bonus side effects
This method of leading a molinete not only affects your connection with the follower during the back cross. It connects the leader and follower through every one of the steps. Notice that you end up square with your partner during each side step, and you rotate your chest ahead of your partner just for their front cross. This is how each of these separate steps would be lead if there was no molinete pattern. Consequently, you are fully engaged with each of your partner's steps throughout the pattern. The difference in feeling can be dramatic.
Once you are comfortable incorporating this style into your molinetes, experiment with changing the energy you put into the follower's pivot on the back cross. If you give lots of pivot energy and bend your knees more, then you will get a quick pivot that adds a lot of momentum to the follower's turn. And if you maintain that momentum for the next steps, the follower will take them twice as fast. This can be a wonderful way to accent a traspie-like rhythm in the music.
This technique is best suited for a straight-forward molinete, rather than one with more advanced leader embellishments such as enrosques. It can be a useful aid when dancing with beginning followers to help them keep a tight back cross around your body. However, even for experienced followers, it communicates extra connection and is useful to indicate speed changes within the molinete. No matter who you are dancing with, it can turn an otherwise typical molinete into something much more exciting.