Tag Archives: Embrace

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

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Ballroom Dance Studios

Ballroom dancing and Argentine Tango are two entirely different beasts (we’ll also post about the different beasts within the world of Argentine Tango eventually). Having a background in Ballroom dancing allows us to fully appreciate just how insane it is that instructors/studios of primarily ballroom dances are teaching Argentine Tango.

In Toronto, those ballroom studios who teach Argentine Tango (and most of them do since it is all the craze) have instructors who have never set foot in our city’s milongas!? Plus they offer this definition of Argentine Tango (which we stumbled upon on the Arthur Murray Dance Studio website):

“Argentine Tango: (arrabalero) A dance created by the Gauchos in Buenos Aires. It was actually an attempt on their part to imitate the Spanish dance except that they danced it in a closed ballroom position. The Tango caused a sensation and was soon to be seen the world over in a more subdued version.”

What, what, what?!

The history of Tango is a blur and that seems to be the only historical guarantee. The other guarantee is that Argentine Tango is NOT danced in a closed ballroom position. A reminder of the difference between a hold and an embrace can be found here.


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.


Tango is found in the embrace… not in the fancy footwork

Although a strange way to begin anew… A posting of the following comment on our Facebook generated so much positive feedback that we decided to make it our “first” post.

“…like all learning, the early years of tango are crucial. And the early years of tango are often a sea of unknowing. We don’t know what tango really is, we don’t know the music, we don’t know what constitutes a good leader, we don’t know about different styles of tango, we don’t know whether a tango teacher is any good. We bounce like a demented ping-pong ball from teacher to teacher, from leader to leader, from close embrace to open hold, from milonga to milonga from country to country seeking enlightenment without knowing what it is we really need to know. And our eyes beguile us and we fall in love with followers who dazzle us with gorgeous footwork and foolishly believe that our goal is to mirror their tricks and look exquisite and be able to perform at will with anyone and dance to any music. And at the end of all our seeking, and if we’re very lucky, we begin to understand that no, that’s not it all. That there is a still, soundless, timeless, eternal centre to this dance and that the way to this centre is through the embrace. And that, above all else, our own part in the embrace is where our focus needs to be.”

Lynn’s comment on Melina’s post


Hugging Technique

Tango is, without a doubt, found in the music and the embrace.  It is a dance of the people – for the people.  We understand that and we only truly learned it and understood it after 8 months of living (and inhaling Tango) in Buenos Aires.  We also understand, as people who have danced the majority of their lives, that having good technique only enhances one’s Tango.  There is no debating that having better posture and good balance are going to make the dance feel better for both yourself and your partner.  Having “perfect” feet – well, that isn’t so important.

In Tango, we can all understand that the embrace is a hug and that we’re giving our partner a hug that lasts a whole song.  However, it has been assumed by some that there is no technique to hugging and people don’t need to learn how to hug.  If students need to learn to walk (and they do), hugging (which is something they do far less than walking) is definitely going to have to be taught.   If you think that hugging and walking are easy for Tango students, go observe a beginner class to see how the majority of students end up walking on bent legs (something they didn’t do before arriving to the class) with their hips and feet leading the way.  But this is a topic for another time.

We previously wrote about the “Culture of Touching” that exists in Argentina and how living in a country that does not have this type of physical interaction leaves many at an “embrace disadvantage”.  There is a reason that many people mock the North American hug with its minimal touching.

This might be a bit of an exaggeration…

We have been the recipient of innumerable awkward hugs (in and out of Tango).  Hugging may be natural, but it is NOT normal or comfortable for many people.  We have been given crushing hugs, limp hugs, half hugs, and soulless hugs (to name a few).  The truth is, many people DO need to learn how to hug – especially how to give consistent hugs in Tango to friends and strangers alike.