Hi to All I've noticed often when dancing a backward walk in the Tango, with a side leading, the following backward walk feels natural to release the front heel and not the front toe from the floor. Any comments? PS Happy New Year.
Your feet are made to roll as you move across them in a forward or backward direction, which is why we take heel leads on normal forward steps and toe releases on backward steps. When stepping sideways, however, you move off of and arrive first on toes, cushioning your arrival over the foot. Now between forward and side is a sizable range of diagonal movement, the majority of which, from the standpoint of foot mechanics, falls under the realm of the side step. In other words, a step has to be pretty close to straight forward, perhaps forward and slightly side, to warrant a heel lead/toe release. Once you approach diagonally forward, the body naturally abandons the rolling action in favor of toe cushioning. You can still force a heel, but its at this point that a rolling foot stops being advantageous, as it is no longer rolling in the direction of the body weight.
In Tango, the forward and back steps mostly fall within the range of what our bodies should interpret as heel lead/toe release. The "side leading" shouldn't change this fact, save one exception: The man's LF backward step with a left side leading, which according to the ISTD, should be taken with the right toe maintaining contact with the floor (i.e. a heel release).
I've spoken with many top ranking pros about the reason for this exception, because I agree with you, it does "feel right". But it's an interesting point to consider: Why the man only, and not the lady? Of all of the people I've spoken to, including a few world finalists and at least one who has studied "old school" with some of the biggest name of the previous generations, there has been no absolute consensus -- only theories. Some of them are decent, however. Here are two of the best:
(1) Whenever it comes to matters of footwork differences between man and lady, you should look to two sources: The difference in poise and the difference in heel height. In the case of the LF back walk in Tango, the former is more convincing. Her backward and leftward poise sends her across the heel slightly earlier on the previous step, therefore to release the toe on the next.
(2) Although he ISTD book may describe this step for both man and lady identically -- "LF back, left side leading" -- It is not in fact an identical direction in actual practice. If you think of the circumstances in which you find this step, for the lady it's usually a true basic curving backward walk. How often is the man taking a series of basic curving backward walks? His version of "LF back, left side leading" is typically found in figures such as the Back Corte, where one tends to dance this walk with a bit more of a sideways component... enough to affect the mechanics of the foot.
I'd certainly love to hear other people's theories, too. Anymouse?
The Guy Howard (IDTA) technique is in line with those theories Jonathan and specifically mentions the more forward poise and the fact that the man is in control of the movement in the back corte or reverse turns, resulting in the heel release.
So the next question is: What does the right foot do during a rock back on the left foot? The technique says it is replaced on a heel but what happened to the toe?
When you're dancing the LF back rock as man, you have what amounts to two footwork choices: (1) Release the heel of the front foot as usual, then replace to a ball-heel, or (2) release the toe of the front foot, and then replace to heel.
If you were wondering about a third choice, don't. Releasing the heel of the RF, then quickly flipping up the toe to replace to a heel is awkward and unnecessary. While there are most certainly circumstances where we might begin a step with the toe in contact with the floor, and then flip up the toe at the last moment to take a heel lead (first step of promenade being a fine example), the positions and timing of that second step of the rock make it a poor candidate for such a foot action.
So assuming we all agree that's not an option, we are left with the first two. Now the ISTD specifically wants you to replace to a heel, suggesting that choice #2 is in fact the correct one. So I would recommend using that for your next exam, and probably also a competition. But I think you would be forgiven if, in other situations, you were to take that step in a manner consistent with all other LF back steps with left side leading in Tango, thereby replacing to a ball-heel. Me? I actually prefer it.