Tag Archives: Technique

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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Gabriel Who? Gabriel Missé!?

We’ll be perfectly honest.  We were undecided about taking the workshops. Our technique in Tango couldn’t be any more different. That’s why, to help us make up our minds, we decided to email our friends in Seoul to get their opinion. Their opinion was that although our styles are completely different, taking lessons with Gabriel Missé is like taking a little trip to a Tango Museum.

That little piece of info combined with the fact that when Miguel Zotto was flown in for the same event* last year, we noticed (in pictures) that not many people had attended the workshops.  And so, we thought, why not?! We registered for three workshops on one night – each of which was an hour and 15 minutes long with 15 minute breaks in between.

*See below for more information about the whole Toronto Tango Summit event.

Small Class Size – What Up Toronto?!

We couldn’t have been happier that only a few other Toronto tangueros came out for the workshops on Friday.  It meant that we received a ton of individual instruction.  However, it was mind-blowing to NOT see anyone else there.  We couldn’t understand how people who have specifically said they love Gabriel’s dancing weren’t there.  We couldn’t understand how people who normally flock to any visiting instructor weren’t there.  We couldn’t understand why Toronto tangueros who have been learning from other “V-embrace” teachers weren’t there.  We just couldn’t understand… but we kind of did.

Why Missing The Workshops Made Sense (For Us and/or You)

TECHNIQUE

As we already mentioned, the difference in technical style was a big deterrent for us. EVERYTHING was different from what we’ve learned and from what we teach. From walking toe first, to leading 90% with the right hand/arm, to an embrace that barely touches… It just couldn’t get any more different. That’s why this was more of an academic and let’s-try-it experience than a let’s-change-our-dance experience. As teachers, we can’t be wishy-washy with our technique/style or our students will be confused – and we’ve been on that side of the coin as students! We’ve made up our minds about how we dance Tango, but that doesn’t mean we can’t expand our knowledge.

STAGE vs SALON

Aside from technique, it seems that every youtube performance we’ve seen of Gabriel is a choreography. We have not been interested in learning from dancers whose priority is Stage Tango. We truly believe that if you want to learn how to dance socially, you should learn from teachers who primarily dance socially.  Analogy: It’s like taking photography lessons from someone who shoots with film when you want to learn how to shoot digital.

BODY AWARENESS

The general tanguero with very little previous dance or body movement background often lacks a necessary sense of body awareness to learn from various teachers with differing technical styles. And yet it has almost become a cliche for people to say and believe they have the ability to pick and choose the essential points/technique from each Tango teacher. Given our extensive background in dance, body awareness is not a major issue for us and we are able to understand what our bodies are doing when we try different techniques.

However, body awareness is only one factor. The other factor is the idea of the “complete package”. We cannot use only one or two technical aspects of Gabriel’s dance and make it work within our technical style. When you learn the technique of one teacher, you need to learn it all.* These two factors are legitimate reasons why tangueros learning a different technique were probably better off missing these workshops.

*We would say that many people incorrectly believe that by learning every aspect of one teacher’s technique, it will make you a clone. It’s possible to look very different and have the same technique.  In fact, most people wrongly assume that our main and most influential teacher is Javier Rodriguez (due to Jorge’s similar body-type more than any other reason) when in fact it is Andres Laza Moreno.

Why Taking the Workshops Made Sense (For Us and/or You)

BECAUSE IT WAS GABRIEL MISSÉ!?

Gabriel is from Buenos Aires and learned from the Milongueros starting when he was a small boy. Many of the Milongueros he learned from have passed away and are considered icons in Tango.  He enjoys teaching specific movements that he learned from these Milongueros and he is very clear to tell the class that he teaches social tango and what he does in a performance is different.

Gabriel does not apologize for telling you bluntly that REAL and AUTHENTIC Argentine Tango is this, this, and this.  He also has no problem mocking current techniques and styles of dancing Tango or saying that many of the old dancers currently being called Milongueros are NOT Milongueros. He told the class to learn Spanish and respect Tango because it’s a dance from HIS culture. All things which would cause many North American tangueros to have a conniption fit.  We, on the other hand, found it honourable and respected him for it.

All this to say, we really enjoyed the workshops.

THE EVENT

Let us add that this event, the Toronto Tango Summit, entailed more than just workshops. In fact, the main event was the Grand Ball on the Saturday night which included dance exhibitions by Gabriel Missé & Analía Centurión and Roxana & Fabian Belmonte (the organizers of this event), and music by a live Tango orchestra. This year’s and last year’s Grand Ball were both very successful and were a good time for many dancers and non-dancers alike.


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!


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.


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.