Monday, January 2, 2012

The Canasta Tango

Ice Dancing was a social phenomenon in the US from the 20's to 40's. Men and women skated together, to live bands, and there was a form of synchro-like ice dance for charity ice carnivals. But back then, people who learned ice dance started with the Fourteenstep(!) which is now a Pre-Silver dance. You were expected to know how to skate, and have done extensive work on compulsory figures before learning dance.

Ice Carnival 1940's. All Amateur Skaters
It wasn't until 1948 until that warhorse of the beginning ice dancer, the Dutch Waltz was introduced. Four years later in  1952 in the November issue of Skating, the Canasta Tango (even then called the "Nasty Tango") was presented to the skating public. It was invented by James Francis of the Toronto University Figure Skating Club as a dance to develop new ice dancers.

The Canasta Tango has progressives, swing rolls, slide chase's and a cross roll. It's all forward skating, but the steps are quicker than the Dutch Waltz. I'm told that the Canasta Tango requires strong pushes on every. single. step. No slacking off here. It requires good edge control and more power than the Dutch Waltz. Fortunately for me, it's skated in Reverse Killian with the woman on the left. That's my good stroking side.

I've done the dance to music maybe a half dozen times. I didn't have a feel for the steps and the rhythm of the steps until about the 5th time when it finally clicked. I also found that watching videos of other skaters doing the dance helped a lot.

USFSA has an ice dance app on the iTunes App store. It has videos and patterns of the Preliminary and the Pre-Bronze dances. While I wish the demonstrator would not have worn an asymmetrical dress (it occasionally makes steps hard to see on a small iPhone screen), I was able to watch the Canasta Tango in detail over and over as it was performed by a solo skater. I realized I simply didn't grasp a couple of points, and seeing the dance over and over was helpful.  In particular,  I was having trouble visualizing the dance as a whole, and anticipating the edges and stroking necessary to meet the pattern requirements. Being able to use the USFSA app allowed me to review the pattern lay down and see a skater doing the steps.


  1. James Blake Francis was the father of Charles Merrick Francis 1948 to 2010 who was both an Olympian in the men’s 100m dash as well as a famous coach of several Canadian Olympic sprinters.

  2. "Nasty"? More like "insane". Who in their right mind designs a 7-bar dance pattern to go with an obviously 8-bar tango?