Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Paso Doble: The Most Dramatic Ballroom Dance or Ice Dance

It is full of energy, strict and powerful. With his haughty, bold pride the dancer expresses his superiority like a Torero. He convincingly transfers this solemn appeal to the audience. The woman, on the other hand, generates a self-confident distance to him, without surrendering to the power of the master. She is the literal image of the “Capa”; the red cloth that the Torero uses to keep the bull under control, and is, like this, lithe, agile and elegant. Whether in professional dance or Ice Dance, the Paso Doble is one of the most dramatic, precise dances.

The Paso Doble is a Spanish pair dance, but assigned to the Latin and North American dances. The Paso Doble is the most secretive of competition dances. There is hardly anything written about it. In competitions it is only rarely danced and of its origin we can only make assumptions. But one thing is certain; it is characterized by easy, marching-like steps. Its origin supposedly dates back to a French military march with the name ”Paso Redoble“. This is a march with 2/4 beat with about 130 steps per minute. However, at this pace walking is hardly possible; it is more like running. That’s why the Paso Doble is the fastest Latin American dance. Every second step is emphasized and that’s probably also where its name comes from, meaning “double step” in English.

In Spain the dance is also known by the name ”El Soleo“; it was played during the Torero’s arrival in the bullring. This ritual was known already in the 18th century. Not far away from Spain, in Southern France, this practice was interpreted dance-wise and music-wise around 1910 by French competition dancers and dance instructors from the One Step. It is thanks to this French development that the Spanish dance has mostly French figure descriptions. Today it is danced as Two Step, mostly in 2/4 or 2/6 beat. But it wasn’t until the 1920s that a choreographed bull fight pantomime appeared. Here, the Paso Doble was the bull fight performed as a dance. The man played the Torero, the woman the read cloth, the “Capa, “or the “Muleta“– and not the bull. This way of dancing was a novelty at that time.

Because of its arrogant pride and its bold decisiveness, all characteristics of a Torero, the dance expressed the main features of the “master“. That’s why the Paso Doble is also called “the dance of the master“. The tenseness of his body can be felt by the audience and is decisive for its aesthetic appeal. The woman on the other hand, behaves toward him with a kind of self-confident distance, being lithe, agile and elegant at the same time. But also the lady takes on a dominant role in some figures, much like in the Flamenco. This dance, as well as the Spanish Fandango, greatly influenced the Paso Doble. This can be recognized in the mirror image way of dancing, so typical for the Flamenco. The Paso Doble has adopted some elements of the Flamenco in figures and steps. It is therefore sometimes described as a Flamenco-like march. The Paso Doble can be found in this stylized form in Latin America as well, where it also adopted the character of a folk dance.

In Central Europe, it lost its significance. It has been a competition dance since 1945 and is being taught in dance schools, but it is seldom seen in public. Only a few music groups include the Paso Doble in their repertoire. Its music is clearly structured, full of energy, powerful and seems very strict – thereby not very joyful. The preferred piece of music is Maria Andergast’s “The Master Torero”. The best known Paso Double piece of music, the “Espana Cani“ by Pascual Marquina, was written in the twenties.

The Paso Doble seems to be reserved for professional dancers only. In competitions, the Paso Doble is only danced by these dancers. It is the only competition dance acting out a story and the only Spanish dance included in the worldwide competition dance program. In Ice Dance, the Paso has been mainly used in compulsory dances or original set pattern.

Paso is always about the story of the matador fighting with the bull, it is about the gambling of life. Simply speaking, Paso is about bringing the bull- fighting scene on stage through partner dancing.Paso Doble paints a comprehensive picture of Spain; it enlivens a bull-fighting scene through the dancing. To dance the Paso, the dancers have to make it more Paso, i.e. the dancers have to present the different characters in the bull fighting arena and to make them more realistic to the audiences’ imagination through skillful dancing. There is absolutely no such  flavor in other Latin American dances. This is what makes the Paso Doble unique.

The Latin American dances all present the lady. Interestingly, the Paso Doble is the only dance that presents the man with much masculinity. In terms of visual image, the man is always proud of himself. In terms of the dancing, when the man raises his arm, the lady will response by approaching the man. When the man closes the hand-hold, the couple will dance together as in Surplasses (side walking steps). In other words, the man will lead the lady every step by step. The man plays an absolutely dominant role in leading in the Paso Doble.

In Spanish, "Paso Doble" means "two step" and refers to the marching nature of the steps. The dance consists of several dramatic poses that are coordianted with highlights in the music. The body is held upright with the feet always directly underneath the body. The basic "Chasse Cape"(chasing the cape) is the style most used.

  1. The dancers step forward on beats one and two.
  2. At beat three, the lead dips his right shoulder, as if lowering a cape before a bull.
  3. This motion is carried into a step back on beat four and a 180-degree turn on beats five and six, so that now the lead is moving backwards and the follow is traveling "outside" (i.e., her feet are positioned to the side of the man's).
  4. During the first four beats of the next measure, the man again dips his shoulder, moving the "cape" again until both dancers are again facing forward in promenade position.
  5. Beat five contains a small "leap" performed by both dancers, with a flick of the foot up behind them.
  6. Steps six through eight are spent collecting the feet together so that the dancers are facing each other as if beginning the basic position.

The cape, whether a real prop is used or the shaping of the "lady" also helps to cast a masculine image of the matador because the cape is always heavy to manipulate. Whether dancing it or not, The Paso Doble is always a dance with great artistic value for appreciation.

Although I'm referring to the Paso Doble dance, it's worth mentioning that in the world of Ice Dance, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were masters of bringing dance to ice. Their OD Paso Doble from 1984 is worth any dancer's time to study for the precise choreography, posture, and attitude that the Paso requires. Below is a video of their performance, a precisely edited arrangement of Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky Korsakov. In the OD at that time, a set pattern had to be repeated, thus the repetition of steps.

This video of a professional Paso Doble is a good dance interpretation

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