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.
A Detailed History of the Paso Doble
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 performing 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. Surely, it has been a competition dance since 1945 and is being taught in dance schools, but it is rather 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. Ernst von Garnier even wrote in his book, “Berthold, Beat and Bossa Nova:” “The dance should be removed from the professional dance program. In 98 % of the couples the bull would be standing in the ring shaking its head uncomprehendingly, refusing any sportive comparison with the well-behaved Central Europeans.”
On public dance floors this dance also appears rarely. It is an artificial dance which, contrary to the Flamenco, doesn’t originate from the people. This dance teaches discipline and gives the couple rather little artistic freedom. It requires a lot of practice on the other hand, and should be taught regularly and early in the dancer’s career because it demands a lot of expressiveness and musicality. Furthermore it is very exhausting and requires the use of every single muscle. In the closed pose the dancers have continuous body contact from chest to thigh. This leads to the touching hands being held much higher than in all the other competition dances. In the promenade position the body contact is released and the Paso Doble danced with great distance. The structure is always the same: after the introduction two main parts follow with strictly defined peaks. On the dance floor it is the Spanish march “Espana Cani” that is almost always played. It has been a competition dance since 1945 and part of the World Dance Program since 1963.