Tag Archives: Followers

The Search for “Natural”

There are several unnatural body movements and concepts found in Tango. One of the obvious ones being the woman’s back walk. However, many of the movements are very natural (or can be) and that is how we teach our students to see Tango. It is also the way we believe Tango has evolved – giving women the ability to be stronger and more independent in the dance, and allowing the movement for both dancers to be more natural.  The problem is that many students are taught to dance in countless unnatural ways.

Collecting  Collecting one’s feet (or specifically squeezing the thighs) OBSESSIVELY is not natural (or necessary). Let gravity work its magic and the leg will fall naturally perpendicular to the floor, straight under the pelvis. Having legs that act like pendulums will allow the ankles to come close together or make contact between steps.

Pretty Feet In addition to being taught to collect legs obsessively, many women have also been taught that their feet aren’t pretty enough. In order to “pretty” up the feet, women are taught to pronate their feet. There are many dancers and professional tango teachers that now have completely over-pronated feet.

This is an example of an over-pronated foot in Tango:

This is an example of a more natural line:

Having natural lines mean your feet fall downwards when they are beneath you. When they are to the side, they can relax, but they should NOT be pushed downwards in order to get a more “intense” (pronated) look to the foot.

Some dancers coming from ballet may have developed this pronation in their feet, but it should not be taught and it should not be the expected norm.

Toe first How do most people walk in their daily lives? Do they land toe first? No. Humans walk in a way that has the heel hitting the ground first. Students new to Tango have enough to worry about without having to relearn how to walk.  Although toe-first can add an aesthetic variation to the dance, it is by no means necessary. Plus many who teach the toe-first technique often also teach the idea that the foot should lead (or move first) and then the body. We’re always fascinated by this. How on earth is a woman supposed to feel a man’s foot moving first?

Photo borrowed from  Simba Tango.

**We’ll always remember what one Milonguero told us: Toe first is for dancers; heel first is for Tangueros.**

Hips Forward Tango requires room between the man and woman’s pelvises. Otherwise, women, you are castrating the man. You are taking away his ability and liberty to walk forward freely. We will admit that at first glance, having your hips back is unnatural. However, if you want to hug, create space, and not lean on your partner (or have all your weight on the balls of your feet), then your hips will need to be pulled back so that your centre of gravity will be over your own feet. Having your hips back mean that your legs will be perpendicular with the ground. Leaning forward with the weight all in the balls of your feet is unnatural and painful…  and if you are not leaning forward, you are touching one another’s groins… and that is unnecessary in Tango and brings us back to the point that the man is being “castrated”.

One or Two Tracks Very few people naturally walk in one track (this being the equivalent to walking on a tightrope). Why? Because just like walking on a tightrope, it’s difficult?! We stand on two legs that are under us in such a way as to give us good, natural balance.

Over-Disassociation or No Disassociation We’ve seen students who have been taught to disassociate exaggeratedly when walking – especially when walking outside of a partner. The disassociation is so extreme that when these students dance with anyone who has not learned from their teacher, the entire balance of the couple is thrown off. On the flip side of the coin, we have (more often) seen students who have never learned to disassociate – in general or as part of the lead. These people move like cement pillars and wonder why they can’t lead any of the more demanding movements (without tension).

Overly-Relaxed or Full of Tension It is fundamentally important that dancers be relaxed in Tango. Teachers who ask their students to have firm (read stiff) arms and embraces, clearly don’t understand that Tango consists of an “abrazo” (hug). But again, there’s a natural way to be relaxed when dancing and it requires a little more muscle activation than what is needed when lying down. When it comes to being “relaxed”, here are two phrases to remember:

Hug your partner. Don’t turn your embrace into a frame.

Relaxing does NOT  equal collapsing


Javier Rodriguez, Castration, and More

Oh Javier… how we love thee.

If you haven’t been fortunate enough to have learned from Javier Rodriguez, let us share some of his wisdom with you. But first, let us give you a mini-summary of Javier in his role as a teacher.

Javier is blunt, has no shame, and shares all that he has learned and knows about Tango without apology. We’ve heard that (North) American Tango dancers/communities have found him to be too abrasive and too frank (ex., he has no problem telling women to stop squeezing their “chichi“) and he doesn’t work as a teacher so that he can lie to you and tell you how good your tango already is.

In North America (and we’re starting to think in all English-speaking countries) everything needs to be sugar-coated and oh-so-positive. That’s why anything goes in North American Tango. We don’t want to be told what Tango is or how to do it. We’ll tell people to follow Gavito’s advice when he tells a class to only speak positively about Tango and to only say what we like  about a person’s dance (although we don’t know the circumstances behind that comment and in fact, he has told dancers to also notice what they don’t like),  yet we won’t listen to Gavito when he says the embrace and the walk are what make Tango what it is. We think we can do it better and we think we should change it to make it our own (while calling it by the same name).

Meanwhile, in Asia, many of the cultures may be more direct (How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children? Why not?). However, they sure as hell aren’t used to hearing about “chichis”. Yet it’s these same Asian communities that embrace the traditions of Argentine Tango and will happily do as they are asked. They respect and look up to their teachers.

With that said, let us divulge some wonderful insights Javier and Andrea shared with the class in Seoul:

Don’t Castrate Your Partner Women, pull your hips back and make room for the men. When you keep your hips flat, you castrate the man you are dancing with by stripping him of his freedom to walk forward without restraint.

Javier demonstrated this with multiple men and we don’t think there was a person left in that class that doubted this assertion.

Hierarchy Among Dancers  Javier & Andrea were asked about a problem that exists in various communities. What happens when the best dancers only want to dance with the best dancers, the mediocre followers only want to dance with the best leaders, and the mediocre leaders are left wanting? Javier responded (in a way that most of us North Americans don’t like to hear) that this is the way it is everywhere around the world… and this is the way it should be. If the mediocre dancers want to dance with the best dancers, they need to become better dancers. If the best dancers are already dancing with them, the mediocre dancers have no reason to improve.*

* There are too many dancers who no longer take lessons OR who only take lessons that teach new sequences rather than those that improve (BASIC) technique (which is where the problems lie).

Hierarchy on the Dancefloor  Many dancers understand the dancefloor setup now. There’s an outer lane and one or more inner lanes. Javier & Andrea told all of us what many people learn after going to Buenos Aires: The outer lane is for the best dancers. It’s for those who understand floorcraft and who can dance well. Those who cannot follow the rules of floorcraft and, more importantly, are not very good dancers, should dance in the inner lanes.*

*Swallow your ego and place yourself accordingly on the dancefloor. In the same token, deal with the crappy floorcraft and try to dance in the outer lane if you’re one of the better dancers in the community.

Our Thoughts on What Others May Consider IDOLIZATION

We’re not sure where the loathing of “idolization” has come from. We understand that some people take their idolization too far… and obviously a teacher is not a god. But it seems that people are loathing the fact that some dancers look up to their teachers as mentors – with respect and adoration. Those dancers who respect and learn from/follow one or two professional teachers tend to be the best dancers in a room. It’s those dancers who learn from anybody and everybody who CLEARLY show no progress in their dance.


My Hips DO Lie

This post has been a long time coming.  We previously wrote some posts on women’s technique.  These concepts were mind-blowing lessons we learned in Buenos Aires that positively altered our dancing in a dramatic way.  As a reminder, they included:

  1. Pulling your hips back or “Sticking your butt out
  2. Putting your weight and/or centre of gravity in your heels
  3. Keeping your legs apart (i.e. enough with the obsessive collecting)

The missing concept we promised to discuss:

4.  Allow your hips to move

An unnecessary and damaging myth exists outside of Buenos Aires that is perpetrated by many people teaching abroad.  The myth is:

Women’s hips should not move in Tango.

Some of our theories for the existence of this myth are as follows:

1) Ballerinas no longer move their hips naturally because they have learned to keep their hips still.  With the proliferation of ballerinas that emerged when Tango regained popularity, the visual representation of hip movement died out.

2) Stage/Exhibition Tango dancers have excessively entered the realm of social Tango teachers.  These dancers are normally performing choreography (or perhaps improvised choreography – more on this oxymoron in a later post) and they have learned to maximize their speed and efficiency.  Women do not have the time or the need to allow their hips to sway.

3) Local teachers in various Tango communities have not experienced Tango the way it is danced in, or spent time observing, the milongas of Buenos Aires.

What does it mean to move your hips in Tango?  It does not mean collapsing/breaking your sides, but rather allowing your hips to move naturally in a relaxed state.  When your hips are relaxed, your body has time to sit in the supporting leg and there is a sway that occurs.  Oftentimes, women actually pull up on the standing leg (another ballet concept) which causes the hip of the free leg to sometimes rise higher than the hip of the supporting leg.  This is something K used to do in Tango too!

There you have it ladies. Allow your hips to move freely!  Don’t force it, don’t try to turn your Tango into salsa, but allow that natural sway to take place!  And now that we’ve been speaking specifically to women, let us also stress how important it is for MEN to also allow for natural hip movement. By relaxing the hips, you can relax your back.  By relaxing your back, you can relax your hips.  So… RELAX!


Women Leading

It should come as no surprise to people who read this blog that we do not like it when women lead in Tango.  To preface,  let us say we are feminists.  We believe in equal rights.  We are very open-minded and very liberal. Anyone who has been to our classes can attest to the fact that we don’t appear to have a traditional/stereotypical relationship.  K does the majority of the talking in front of a group.  She is outgoing and loud (and a little crazy).  Jorge, on the other hand, is quiet, calm, and very easy going.  Leaving our personal relationship aside, let us put it this way: If ever there was a woman you would guess would start up leading in the milongas, your first bet would be K.

However, K doesn’t lead in the milongas and here are the main reasons why we don’t like women leading (in general and especially in the milongas):

1) lack of culture and tradition

Tango is a traditional dance that calls upon a man to lead a woman.  It is part of the dance and it is part of the culture. In the same way that neglecting to use the cabeceo or proper floorcraft are a disrespect to the culture, so is a woman leading.

2) lack of “manliness” or male energy

Men are on average bigger and taller than women (Jorge is taller, but not always bigger – and there are plenty of men that are bigger, but not taller :)  Men are more likely to emit a male energy when they dance – women are not as likely to do so.  A woman is more likely to look wimpy and dance in a “feminine” way (not to mention often in heels!?). She is also likely to feel wimpy. As such, “wimpy” men are not very enjoyable to dance with either.

3) lack of reason

Yes, it may be important for female teachers to learn how to lead (although if you teach as a couple, this may be less important). That said, the majority of dancers on the floor are not teachers.  Yes, there are often more women in a milonga (but K has no interest in getting up on the floor to lead those extra women and has no problem dancing less). Yes, K practices leading (and has yet to lead a better follower than Jorge ;).  Although it definitely benefits a man’s dance to learn how to follow, it does not help a woman to follow better. It may indeed give her insight into the minds of and problems faced by leaders, but it will not do much to improve anything in her dance.

___

Traditionally, Tango is a “man’s” dance, but this does not negate the fact that the woman has an equal role.  The culture and tradition of Argentine Tango can be respected and followed even while it continues to evolve.  For example, we teach our male students how to embrace a woman so that both parties are comfortable.  Perhaps it is safe to say that in days gone by, the man chose his embrace without any input from the woman… and no woman would dare tell him to change his embrace.  Our students are taught that they will eventually find an embrace that is theirs, but they are also taught, for example, that having a left arm that bends at a far steeper angle than 90 degrees in going to put strain on a woman’s right shoulder and her back… and so not to do it.

In conclusion, let us make it clear that we are NOT referring to, nor are we against, couples in a homosexual relationship wanting to learn and dance Tango. We would only suggest that each person in the dance partnership embrace the expectations of whichever role they choose, be it leader or follower.


The Tango Embrace: “V” vs “Square”

Clearly, there are many “styles” of (personalized and/or marketed) embraces.  There are embraces that mix and match various chest, head, arm, and body positions.  For the purposes of this post, we wanted to write about the two embraces that seem to be at opposite ends in the traditional Argentine Tango embrace spectrum (i.e., the V-embrace and the Square-embrace) and why we prefer (and use) the Square-embrace.

The Square Embrace

 

The V-Embrace

Chest Position: We want to feel an embrace (un abrazo… a hug) that actually feels like a hug.  A hug in the normal sense of the word; one that is chest to chest.  One of the biggest reasons we simply could not continue learning to dance in an extreme V-embrace was because we were longing for the feeling of a real “abrazo”.  The mechanics of the V-embrace ensure that a couple are in a “V” shape.  This means the left side of the man’s chest and the right side of the woman’s chest are open.  Attempting to connect only one boob to one pectoral muscle simply left us longing for more contact.

Head Position: We have been observing the cloning effect that is taking place recently… where females around the world are doing their best to copy the “intense head position” that looks towards the man.  Besides this being a completely unnatural head alignment and an open invitation to smell one another’s breath, this brings us back to our love of the “abrazo”.  When people hug, they don’t look in the same direction!

As an important aside on head positions: A leader who may enjoy a follower with an “open” head (i.e., her head facing him), is unlikely to find a “closed” head to be intrusive to his embrace (unless he uses the head as a point of contact to lead through).  However, a leader who enjoys a “closed” head follower is more likely to feel that an “open” head is intruding into the space of his embrace.

Body Position: With the combination of the chest position and the head position in a V-embrace, the woman is often working her way into the man’s armpit.  Her body is not facing the man straight-on and she is slightly turned on an angle towards the man.  While this can work for someone who has excellent body awareness or body conditioning, it is an unfortunate goal for many adult learners who have enough difficulty aligning their bodies straight in a natural state.  Many women will not be able to dance backwards in a straight line when their upper body is not facing straight back and this can lead to an awkward dance (at a minimum) to physical pains and injuries.

Arm Position: The position of the woman’s left arm is very flexible in a “Square” embrace (although there tends to be a preference for a draping arm around the shoulders).  However, there seems to be a very set position in the V-embrace.  That is, the woman holds/pushes against the man’s right shoulder blade with her left hand.  The result is a jutting-out elbow that can be very dangerous in a crowded milonga.  In any case, this is another example of how this is less like a hug, more like a dance position, and simply something we prefer less.

All of this is not to say we don’t like the way the V-embrace looks.  There are numerous couples who look absolutely beautiful dancing this way.  As a follower, K enjoys dancing with leaders who dance in this way and she does her best to adapt to those leaders.  Which is a good point to stress: It is up to the woman to adapt to the man’s “style” and embrace.  As a “square-embrace” follower, K should not go up to a V-embrace leader and plant herself squarely on his chest.  Similarly, a V-embrace follower should not position herself in a V-embrace when she dances with Jorge.


SPREAD ‘EM (YOUR TANGO LEGS)

That’s right.  You heard it here first.  Spread ‘em!

This post follows our previous posts “Weight in Your Heels”Stick Your Butt Out, and Stick Your Butt Out – Part II concerning specific techniques that we believe are important concepts evolved in Tango and specifically in women’s Tango.  Read it if you like.  Believe it if you like.  Comment if you like :)

Almost every tanguera out there can relate to K’s utter confusion when she was told to stop collecting her feet/knees/thighs.  However, that is exactly what she was told and it was exactly what she stopped doing.  The idea of collecting your feet (specifically in the psychotic and obsessive way women have been told to do in North America) is completely unnecessary and often kills the movement (and lead) coming from the leader.  It likely stems from the proliferation of ballet dancers that came to Tango.  What one dance requires a woman to obsessively keep her thighs together?  BALLET!

K was told one pivotal statement (in Spanish) that helped create the change in her mind… and her legs.  “Stop squeezing your ‘chichi’!!!”  Certainly you can figure out the translation of “chichi” :)

We challenge you to find a milonguera who is squeezing the bejeezus out of her thighs… or “chichi” for that matter.  No, you will not find one.  You are likely to find a milonguera bringing her ankles together, but otherwise, her legs are falling straight down from her hip joints.  Nada mas.

As for men… men need to stop squeezing their packages as well.  It is so common to see really tight “culos” among North American tangueros.  Men, if your pants are being eaten up by your butt, you have got a problem.  RELAX!  There is supposed to be room between your thighs, your butt should be relaxed, and your knees should not be locked (i.e., pulled up thighs).  You will most often see gobbled up pants in tight-”culo”-men when they are paused with their feet together or during giros/enrosques.

Now K was not only told to stop the collecting and squeezing, she was told to keep her legs as far apart as possible… as often as possible.  It’s not an easy concept to put into practice after spending the past couple years doing the exact opposite.  However, the result is not only beautiful, it also provides another groundbreaking concept for the woman’s dance.  We are not ballet dancers trying to dance Tango (although many of us may have been ballet dancers once upon a time)!  Then why are we keeping both legs under our body and trying to keep our balance on one foot?  Does this not reflect the image of a ballerina balancing on one point shoe exactly?  And why should the woman provide so little distribution of weight for the man to feel?

SPREAD YOUR TANGO LEGS!

When a woman spreads her legs she distributes her own weight across a larger area (not because she has any weight on her spread foot, but because her free foot is far away from her standing leg) and she can begin to understand and feel the concept of being truly grounded.  In order to separate your foot as far away as possible, you will need to relax the thighs and hips, and actually relax into the standing leg – thereby becoming grounded.  This is how the woman gives her free leg/foot to the man.  At this point the man can really feel the woman’s free leg in his hands (specifically his left hand) and lead that free leg.

The big question is: When?  When do you keep your legs apart?  The answer is: during pauses, during paradas, during giros, and during ochos (to name a few).  When a woman squeezes her thighs together and collects her feet, she removes any option of a man entering/stepping between her legs (the speed at which a woman collects also contributes greatly to the problem).  Not to mention that she is also neglecting the music that her free leg could be dancing (we are not even referring to adornments, but rather to the idea that when a woman closes or collects her feet, she should be doing so to the music – Tango Pilgrim shares the idea well HERE).

The main issue is that the majority of female dancers have been taught or have learned to collect their feet (obsessively) by squeezing their thighs together.  If you have learned with the “squeeze-the-thighs” concept, it carries through in all your dance.  This means, for example, when you are doing giros, you are not opening your legs enough during all your steps and you are probably hurrying to get your feet together.

Here are 3 videos to get an idea about what we’re talking about:

Andrea @ about 1min 51sec

Stella @ about 40 seconds

Geraldine at almost every “parada”

Although we are only showing 3 young dancers, you can also find the same concept danced among some of the older tangueras and milongueras.  Once you know what you’re looking for, you will spot it often among many of the great dancers.


Great Quote

“The mastery isn’t that this Maestro can lead any move to an (sic) absolute beginner – it is that when she doesn’t follow what he has led, he adjusts to her. Meets her where she is. Makes something beautiful with what she provided for him. On the fly.”

- via My Tango Diaries

EXACTLY!!!!

We would only add that the Master does this all in a gentle embrace and without force.  This may seem obvious, but we have often heard beginner followers rave about a leader who led them through many complicated movements even though we had observed her being held in a killer embrace by that leader.  Unfortunately, in the beginning, many followers are more excited about dancing through a bunch of difficult moves than being held in a wonderful embrace.  Although, it isn’t only the beginner leader who gets obsessed with steps and “fancy” moves.


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