Tag Archives: Posture

Buenos Aires: Week 2

Buenos Aires Street

Although our intention was to blog every few days, we’ve come to realize it’s hard to post often when neither of you actually likes writing or has any real skill for it :)

We’ve definitely been enjoying our time here. It’s been great seeing friends, seeing faces from our last trip, and making new friends. We’ve been thoroughly enjoying our private lessons even though it means we feel like beginners again and there’s a decent amount of frustration involved. We’ve happily gone to new places for Tango and it has helped us to further solidify what Tango means to us.

Being Tall Sucks

This is nothing new, but of course K is being reminded how her height is such an issue here. With her heels on, she’s over 5″10 and that is taller than the majority of men who tango in Buenos Aires. Many shorter men are keen to dance with K, but she is not interested in having men’s eyes at the level of her bust (even if there really isn’t anything to see there). There are only a handful of men who are within her height range – of those, fewer still are nice dancers. Of those dancers, not all of them necessarily want to dance with K. Although K would enjoy dancing more tandas, she would definitely rather sit, listen, and observe than dancing some mediocre tandas (and she’s also had some of those).

Enjoying The After-Glow

Listening and watching are not the only reasons both of us often choose to sit down during a tanda. After dancing a lovely tanda with someone, we both enjoy taking the time to bask in the after-glow. An easy analogy for foodies like us: After taking a bite of some fabulous foie gras, why would you even consider putting another type of food in your mouth right away? No. You want to give yourself time to savour the taste and let the flavour slowly melt away.

Jorge’s Turn

During our last trip, it was K who danced the most in the milongas. Jorge was (and is) constantly working to improve his self-confidence and he often struggled with the attitude needed to draw the attention of new partners. This time around, he feels better about his dance, he’s accepting that not everyone needs to like his dance, and the organizers or staff remember him and have given him good seats at the milongas.

New Milongas and Practicas

A new friend invited us for our first (and last) visit to “Milonga en Orsay” in San Telmo. Stepping into this place, it felt like we were transported to an underground Tango scene. In all the ways the word “underground” can imply, it was dark, dingy, and rough around the edges. The floor was bumpy, uneven, and small, people chatted loudly, and others danced to music that was being played too quietly. A live band of six young musicians played one set. Aside from the bandoneonist nearing tears when one key of his bandoneon remained stuck playing the same note, they were quite interesting to listen to. The violinist was particularly impressive and we rather enjoyed hearing them play.

Today we made it out to practica “La Maria”. Without knowing it, we headed to the location “La Catedral” milonga is held. What a fantastic space – especially with light seeping in through windows high up near the roof! If Canadian children could see this place, they would think they’ve died and gone to heaven. It’s the epitome of a cool homemade fort. With lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, an old record player, a double-leveled stage, curtains held by clothespins, a mannequin, many chairs and tables that had no match, soft sofas, and bumpy wooden floors.

The practica is actually held in the room beside the large tavern (aka fort). The floor is flat and smooth, but very sticky. The music consisted of a half-an-hour playlist of Tangos by Fresedo, Calo, and Rodriguez, along with a few milongas of Canaro… on repeat. That was reason enough to never go back.

However, let us share how seeing some of the ugliest Tango we’ve ever seen at both the milonga and the practica made us realize we didn’t belong there. These places may very well be where young dancers are taking their first Tango steps – and for this we’re excited. But why are none of these dancers being taught or learning anything about posture? The majority of dancers weren’t standing straight – from hunched backs, to heads looking down, to overly bent knees – and there was some strange Tango being danced. Although we have seen for ourselves that Tango Nuevo is definitely no longer in style here, there are remnants of it left over in many dancers and being passed on to many new dancers.

Shoes

Finally, some pictures of K’s new Tango shoes purchases… because it makes many of us Tangueras happy. These are the NeoTango shoes. K has since bought a beautiful pair of Soy Porteno shoes (picture to follow in the next post).

Neo Tango Shoes

Neo Tango Shoes

Neo Tango Shoes

Photos by Jorge

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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.


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.


STICK YOUR BUTT OUT

That’s right.  You heard it here first.  Stick it out!

Often when discussing the Nuevo vs Traditional debate, we hear that Nuevo is an “evolution” of Argentine Tango.  We have already made it clear that we do not agree.  Nuevo took the concepts of Argentine Tango and CHANGED it.  CHANGE being the operative word and hence leading to the idea that Nuevo is a separate dance and not to be mistaken for A.T.

Anyway, this is not the point of this post.  What we want to talk about is the EVOLUTION of Argentine Tango; the very little of it that we’ve seen and come to understand as Tango dancers and lifelong dancers.

STICK YOUR BUTT OUT

Throughout our readings of blog posts and websites, we’ve often heard how women should NOT stick out their butts when they dance.  We’ve heard that women should stand straight with their pelvises directly under them – their backs should be so straight that they may even come into tummy contact with the man.  We do believe that this once was the expectation for women and yes, you can see it in many videos of the milongueras.  Take a look at this one and pay particular attention starting at 1minute 11 seconds where you’ll see Adela’s shoulders actually surpassing her back and butt:

We do want to clarify that we love the dancing in this video.  We are only trying to point out what we are talking about.

One of the ways Tango has evolved is the role that women play in the Tango partnership.  Although we understand that Tango has always involved the man taking care of and showcasing the woman, older videos seem to tell a different story.  It’s not that the woman wasn’t showcased or held dear, but rather that the man was the one who really knew how to dance and the woman was a by-product of the tango partnership.  Where there exceptions?  Of course.  Was it a rarity?  Absolutely.

If it is so that men practiced with men, what about the women?  The level of dance for women, it seems, was not expected to be very high.  This doesn’t mean women couldn’t dance extremely well, but there was little focus on her technique.

Oh no.  That “evil” word: TECHNIQUE.  Technique, in our books, does not entail learning how to do adornments or “performing” with your legs.  Instead, technique provides different methods to ensure your body feels comfortable, is properly aligned for the dance, and as a cherry on top, looks good.

When women decided to take control of their role in the Tango partnership, this is when we believe Tango EVOLVED.  If a woman is interested in being on her own feet, maintaining her own axis, and providing space for the dance, then a woman will “stick out her butt”.  On a purely physical level, women have pelvises that naturally tilt in a position that causes their behinds to stick out slightly.  Secondly, putting this type of pelvic-tilting body onto a pair of high heels will create an increased tilt.  Therefore, asking a woman to flatten her back/behind is in fact asking her to do something completely unnatural for her body in that situation (if her body is “naturally” aligned to begin with – and many bodies are not “naturally” aligned).

So what does it mean to “stick out one’s butt”?  It does NOT mean arching your back or tilting your pelvis more than it naturally tilts.  What it does mean is pulling your hips back over your ankles so that the line from your hips to your ankles is perpendicular with the ground.  How else can a woman expect to maintain her own axis if this line is slanted towards her partner?

This idea was a huge “AHA” moment for K in Buenos Aires and combined with two other concepts (to follow) were groundbreaking for her.  To give you a hint, there are four concepts that most tangueras are taught which were all proven to be wrong for K in Buenos Aires.  The first one: don’t stick out your butt.  The second one: put your weight forward on the balls of your feet.  The third one: collect your feet/knees/thighs.  The fourth one: don’t move your hips.  All four… WRONG.  Or in other words: not beneficial to one’s dance if what you are seeking is a comfortable and efficient Tango.

Stay tuned…


Waiter Hand Hold

Waiter Pose

The waiter hand was observed numerous times in Bueno Aires… and there were numerous times that we heard teachers (of Argentine Tango) mock this kind of hand hold in classes. We have never liked this hold and have never understood why any man would want to hold his hand this way. On a purely esthetic level, it’s visually ugly. On a male ego level, what are you trying to say?

In a culture that prides itself on its machismo, we came to understand why this hold is disapproved of and we were given this explanation: The man’s left arm represents his virility. What are you saying, men, if you let your hand flop over into that “in-fashion” waiter hand? Is your manhood not functioning properly? Similarly, if some of you men are raising your left arm far above your head… Keep dreaming. No one believes you ;)

In addition to this, we were told that the positioning of the man’s hand speaks to the equality between the man and the woman.  That is, the arm should be in a comfortable position for both the follower and the leader.  When a man places his left hand folded over the woman’s hand, it makes you wonder what he thinks of women (i.e., lesser than?) because he obviously does not want to provide her with comfort.  Perhaps one famous exception was Gavito who was known to say that the woman plays an equal part in the dance and yet he had an “I’m-Above-You left arm hold and he was famous for putting women in back-piercing leans.


Tango in Buenos Aires (Part IV)

The Elusive Embrace

Now the mother of all dances was the one K had the night she had 5 dances. This far older man (maybe mid 70s) came in much later. He danced maybe one tanda, K saw him and thought, “Shit!  I wanna dance with him.” :) His posture was amazing, he was so smooth, and so musical. Well K couldn’t believe that when she looked at him, he said yes (with a bit of surprise on his face :). The minute they went into the embrace, K knew that THIS was The Elusive Embrace she has been looking for and only felt (slightly) once before.

An Argentinean was visiting Toronto and he went out dancing one night.  K had the pleasure of dancing with him three times that night.  He was not a very advanced dancer, but he had “the” embrace… an embrace that is not felt in Toronto.  It is this embrace that Jorge & K are on the hunt for and plan to discover before leaving this Tango land.

So as we were saying, K knew that this was going to be THE dance of the night.  The embrace and the dance were like honey… It was like dancing on clouds. K felt so protected. The embrace was so soft, as was his core. He didn’t use his left hand much with K, but it’s likely that he uses it with the women he needs to. He definitely uses the right arm (using the elbow to lift or place) and he uses the right hand which in all honesty, was more than K needed or likes, but it was fine by her :) He complimented K after the first dance and then asked if Jorge was the novio or esposo. Then he said Jorge’s dancing is muy lindo… muy milonguero!?!? Holy crap! That was such an amazing compliment coming from him. After the second dance, we were stopped right in front of Jorge’s area and Carlos (the milonguero’s name) looked over at Jorge and gave him a thumb’s up regarding my dancing!! After we finished dancing, he then spoke a bit with Jorge and he kissed us goodbye at the end of the night.

We also experienced the same Elusive Embrace in our private lesson with our very young Tango teachers here.  One dance with each one of them and we were in Heaven… and truly determined to find this embrace for ourselves.

More about “The Elusive Embrace”.  The best way we’ve been able to describe it is this way:  A leader with The Elusive Embrace feels soft and light, but is very strong, is very present, takes care of the follower completely, and leads gently, but with 100% intention.  A follower with The Elusive Embrace also feels soft and light, is very present, is always right “there” never anticipating the next step, and has a soft strength in her core.  The Elusive Embrace is pure Tango Heaven.

Posture

In Toronto, Jorge (and also K at times) have been told that everyone in BA would call us out on our dance background.  We were warned that our posture would be slightly criticized for being so straight (hmm… like Todaro?!) and being “ballroom-like” (we have been criticized in Toronto for our posture… as well as complimented).  We are happy to report that Jorge is being told over and over again by locals at different milongas that his posture is really good. Not one single person has asked us if we have a background in dancing or ballroom especially.  We are truly happy about this because we were slightly worried that something was “wrong” with our posture.  Our private lessons here also confirmed that our posture is good – only that we need to relax the tension in our arms and shoulders, keep our cores activated and strong (but soft tummies!), and continue to be soft in our leading/following.

Overall Comparisons Between Hometown and BA Tango

Truth: No one owns Tango.  Truth: We, in particular, do not own Tango.  Truth: Tango comes from this city – the city of Buenos Aires (no need to nit-pick and bring up Uruguay).  We are currently in this city and we have danced at (only) six different milongas.  Here is what we are observing so far:

1)      American/Alternative version of Tango do not exist here, except by foreigners and young dancers who like dancing at places like La Viruta (a post will follow soon on our thoughts at viewing the dance floor at La Viruta)

2)      Nuevo Tango is either not being danced at all in the traditional milongas or it is being danced by one or two couples in the middle of the floor (while the older locals look on in disgust)

3)      SOS musicality does not exist in the traditional milongas

4)      Local dancers who have been dancing for years respect the dance.  Even the younger locals who have obviously been attempting to truly learn Tango are respecting the dance.  What this means is that dancers are not trying to create their own personal version of Tango (which is seen over and over again in North America).  They all dance ARGENTINE TANGO.  They dance musically, they dance for themselves, all to the best of their ability.

We have only been here for 2.5 weeks and we are baffled by the amount of dancers in our own tango community who have been to Buenos Aires and return home only to continue dancing the way they do.  They have witnessed how Tango is danced here.  Did they not take in anything while they were here?  Or was their goal simply to come here and watch how other foreigners dance and then pick and choose what they wanted to take from their observations?  That said, after having spent a night at Canning followed by La Viruta where the floors are packed with foreigners, we have a better understanding (since so many foreigners spend their time dancing only at these places).

Read more about our experiences in our previous posts: Tango in Buenos Aires (Part I), Tango in Buenos Aires (Part II), Tango in Buenos Aires (Part III).