Paso Doble is a beautiful dance form popularized circa 1930. Based on the Spanish bullfights, it bases the choreography on the character of the lead portraying the Torero (bullfighter) and the follow - not, as might be expected, the bull, but rather the torero's cape. While it grew to popularity in France, it fell into relative obscurity until the movie Strictly Ballroom featured it as the climactic dance scene. Since that time it has returned to dance halls and is regaining popularity, especially through shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and the Dancing with the Stars Tour.
The Steps to the Paso Doble
Paso Doble is a dance of posturing and high gestures by the man, and flowing circular steps around him by the woman. Because the dance was developed in France, the steps to this Spanish dance actually have French names, such as chassez cape (to chase the cape). While most of the steps are technically led with the heel, because of the high posturing there is quite a bit of moving on the balls of the feet.
Because of the arrhythmic and staccato nature of the dance, it is usually danced as part of a highly choreographed performance, but it is possible to dance as a social dance using the basic steps as follows.
Lead Steps to the Basic
With the dancers in a rigid and closed dance frame, lead's left hand clasping the follow's right held out from the body, and his right hand at her back, her left hand held at his bicep, the dancers need to keep a rigid and close hold throughout the steps.
The lead begins facing line of dance and steps forward with the left, letting the body rotate to the center of the dance floor as the right foot steps ahead. Remaining on the balls of the feet, beats 3-8 are stepped in a chasse.
The next eight beats begin with one of the "cape" moves, as the man takes three steps in a tight, counterclockwise circle, finishing off the last beats with side steps back against the line of dance.
All of these moves should be sharp and quick, with the chest and head held up and out epitomizing "pride and dignity."
Follow Steps to the Basic
The follow basically mirrors the steps of the lead, moving backwards in the tight circle, using the motion to lend the impression of a flowing cape to the traditionally long skirts worn by the woman for the paso doble. The dance is very intensely connecting between the two, with eye contact and physical contact lending an urgent tension between the two dancers.
As mentioned before, many of the other steps in the Paso Doble have French names. The chassez cape is one of these, and is a good example of the way the dance mimics the traditional Spanish bullfights. After the dancers have gotten into promenade position, the steps proceed as follows:
- The dancers step forward on beats one and two.
- At beat three, the lead dips his right shoulder, as if lowering a cape before a bull.
- 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).
- 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.
- Beat five contains a small "leap" performed by both dancers, with a flick of the foot up behind them.
- Steps six through eight are spent collecting the feet together so that the dancers are facing each other as if beginning the basic position.
It can be seen from this example that not all steps in the paso doble can be blended into each other. In order to get from the basic step into the promenade position of the chassez cape there are tiny "surplus" steps taken to get the dancers into position. These steps are highly stylized with the same staccato motion as the rest of the dance.
While not the most popular of the ballroom dances, nor the easiest to learn, it can be a beautiful part of any dance fan's repertoire.