Category Archives: Technique

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!


Cheek to Cheek

The embrace or “el abrazo” in Tango is really a hug.  And just like a hug, it is made up of more than just arms and chests/torsos.  The embrace also includes the head.  When you hug someone, really hug them, your heads will touch and you will be in a cheek to cheek position.  Of course, this will not be the case if there is a disproportionate height difference or you use an open head position.

Some people say that having an embrace where the arms are nearing shoulder level (for the man) is very “ballroom”.  We definitely don’t agree with this statement.  We previously wrote about being concerned before our Buenos Aires trip that our posture and embrace would give us away as ex-ballroom dancers.  Yet no one commented on it and we were, in fact, often told that we look/dance “muy milonguero”. You need only look at some of the best milongueros (past and present) to see that they dance(d) with “high” embraces.  As examples, the milongueros Gavito, Vidort, Osvaldo Cartery, and Jorge Garcia all dance(d) with their left arms high up and they definitely do not look like ballroom dancers.

Argentine Tango Embrace

A sweet hug with lots of body contact

 

 

Ballroom Tango Hold

Ewww... yuk... don't get near me!

 

What really looks and feels like “ballroom” to us is if there is a lack of contact between the heads.  Ballroom posture is all about keeping the top part of your body (from the sternum up) away from your partner.  Even in a toned-down social posture, the heads are absolutely not supposed to touch.  However, in Argentine Tango, whether cheeks are touching or a chin is in contact with the top of the head, head contact is ‘muy importante’ and the cherry on top.


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.


Tango is FUN!

In our previous post, we wrote about a special moment that rarely happens in an embrace.  It involves laughing.  Perhaps this will lead many to think it is not a rare occurrence… because Tango is FUN!

There is a “North American” Tango mentality that exists; a mentality that does not exist in the Tango of Buenos Aires.* In Buenos Aires, Tango is serious business.  It’s a passionate affair of the heart, the mind, and the body.  Portenos who Tango are in love with the dance, the music, the embrace, going to milongas, and yes, the nostalgia of it all.  They radiate intense energy while dancing and while listening to the music at their seats.  But are they smiling much?  No, not really.

We have been asked often why people don’t seem to smile while dancing Tango.  “Isn’t it enjoyable?” Our answer comes in the form of an analogy which coincides well with the horrible Tango media sound-byte: “Tango is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.”  The analogy is this: When participating in sex/love-making with a partner, how many of you are smiling while doing so?  We think it’s safe to say that most of you are not smiling.  Does that mean it isn’t enjoyable?  No! Sex/love-making is serious business.

This brings us to the point of this post.  Regardless of the “style” or version of Tango being danced, we have observed the North American Tango mentality to be completely different from the Buenos Aires Tango mentality.  Looking at it from the North American Tango mentality (NATM), we have narrowed these differences into three groups: the “Enjoyment Factor”, the “Connection Factor”, and the “Being Nice Factor”.

Enjoyment Factor – the NATM requires Tango to be “fun”.  There is almost an expectation that we should smile while we dance.  There is a tendency for the cortinas (the interlude songs between the groups of Tango music) to be really upbeat and “fun”.  Finally, there is a need to make one’s dance “fun”.  In order to do this, one should “play” with the moves and the music, and your dance should be “unique”… and fun.

Look at that “fun” boleo!

Connection Factor – the NATM has an almost obsessive fixation on “connection”.  This is not in reference to the straight-forward glue-your-chests-together embrace connection, but more to do with the “elusive” connection talked about, blogged about, and “workshopped” about.  It remains elusive because it isn’t so elusive!

It has been our experience as students and teachers that the reason for this may have to do with the fact that the embrace is not being taught well, or more importantly, at all.  When students are taught to give their chests to their partner at all times and they are taught to “chase” each other’s chest at all times, “connection” becomes an almost obsolete term.

Being Nice Factor – Finally, the NATM is all about being “nice”. Forget about going out to dance Tango because you would like to have a lovely evening.  No, the milonga is the place to put your desires aside.  There is an expectation that you should dance with everyone and with as many people as you can, regardless of the dancer’s level/ability.  In some communities, you are also expected to hug your partner after the tanda (although the man may nevertheless leave you standing in the middle of the floor afterward).

We have said it before, but we’ll say it again: Tango is more than just a dance; it is a culture.  If the two are separated, we are left dancing a ghostly version of what Tango is.  For this reason, we do our best to live and exude the culture in our dance.

*We cannot speak to the mentalities that exist in Asia, Europe, or other places in the world.