Monthly Archives: April 2010

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.


Weight in Your Heels

This concept is for women only.

Continuing from our posts, part I and part II, on pulling hips back, we move onto this other crazy concept.  In order for women to properly maintain a posture that includes having her hips over her ankles (while simultaneously maintaining chest-to-chest contact with her partner), she will want to put all her weight in her heels.  “Blasphemy!” you cry.  We promise you, it isn’t.  “But how am I supposed to pivot on the balls of my feet?” you ask.  The beauty of this concept is that you are able to have your weight in your heels (i.e., your centre of gravity over your heels) while at the same time lifting them.  When the heels are down, your weight will be there, but when your heels are raised, your weight will not literally be in your heels, but your body will experience it as such.

Here is an exercise to test what we’re talking about:

(To best experience this exercise, do this in heels)

  1. Stand straight, sideways to a mirror.
  2. Lean forward (not down) as though you are searching for your partner’s chest with your own (“show off your breasts/chest”).
  3. Your weight will now be in the balls of your feet.
  4. Pull your hips back over your ankles (no arching of your back required) until the line between your hips and ankles is perpendicular to the ground (if you are wearing pants that have a seam down the side, make that seam completely vertical).
  5. Consciously put your weight into your heels
  6. Maintaining a constant level, bend your knees while lifting your heels off the ground (if you have to shift your weight, it should be extremely minor)

No need to point out just how awful these diagrams are, but we thought they might be helpful… if only a little bit :)  And yes, they are slightly exaggerated.

This is it.  You have experienced the concept of having your weight in your heels while lifting your heels.  What does this mean?  It means so many things!!!  It means:

  1. No longer gripping the floor with your toes
  2. No more excruciating pain in the balls of your feet
  3. Longer nights of dancing
  4. Dancing on your own two feet
  5. Being able to maintain your own axis

This concept was something our maestro told K during a lesson, but only in passing.  We wouldn’t say it is something you would generally hear, but again, this is a gem.

Let us add a few more clarifications though.  Firstly, if a woman does not know how to properly embrace a man (including “technically” and emotionally), pulling her hips back and putting her weight in her heels will likely result in the woman running away from the man during the dance.  That is, she will be back-leading with her upper body.  So if the woman is not “showing her breasts off” and maintaining contact with the man’s chest, her focus will be on her bottom half and the embrace will be ignored and possibly sacrificed.

If this concept still seems crazy to you, we understand.  However, the idea of putting all your weight in the balls of your feet is just as crazy.  It is impossible to put your weight in your toes and actually stand on your own two feet unless you are standing completely straight… like a BALLERINA.  That said, your weight, at a minimum, should be equally distributed between the balls of your feet and your heels.  Furthermore, the pain you are inflicting on the balls of your feet is unnecessary and torturous.

Finally, to touch on the “hips back” idea one more time…  You cannot stand straight as a woman and actually make contact with a man’s chest unless you pull your hips back and reach for the man with your chest.  That, or you can bend over at the waist – which low-and-behold has your butt sticking out in a BAD way.  Secondly, if you do not create some version of “hips back”, there will be no space between the men’s and women’s feet.  You’re damn right K doesn’t want to make contact with the man’s groin.  Hello!?  Ewwww!  That is what ballroom dancing is for – where contact is made from the sternum all the way down to the knees (we speak from our past experience as competitive International Ballroom dancers).


STICK YOUR BUTT OUT – Part II

Now that we got your attention with the last post, we can add some clarifications.  The phrase “stick your butt out” was used only because it is the most used comment to refer to women whose butts APPEAR to be sticking out.  We never learned, nor do we teach, women to stick their butts out.  What we learned, and it was from MEN (we never learned from Andrea Misse, but we can guarantee you she does not teach women to “stick out their butts” either), was the concept of pulling your hips back.  There is a HUGE difference between the two.  If you stick out your butt out, you generally lean forward and bring your chest downward.  You are also arching your back if you have managed to keep your chest upright.  However, if you pull your hips back (and maintain your chest position), your back does not arch or collapse.  This is the way women can create space “downstairs” so that there is space for the legs and they can eliminate the incidence of chipped toenails and self-mutilation (often happening during plain old walking, crosses, ochos, and adornments).

Take a look at “everyone’s” favourite dancer and you will see that Geraldine is doing it too:

We’re not telling you blog readers what to do or believe.  But we are sharing a major gem with you – a gem that comes from women taking control of their dance and allowing Tango to evolve slightly.  Since learning this (along with a few other concepts that will be shared in future posts) and applying it, K now owns her axis, her balance, and her dance.