Tag Archives: Technique

Copycats and Being “Unique”

 

This intro comment is going to confuse people slightly:  We’ve had our fill of hearing how everyone should learn and discover their “own style” of Tango.  “Be unique”, “don’t copy”, etc, etc.

Please read on:

Back in the good old days in Buenos Aires there were plenty of dancers to watch and learn from.  It was possible to absorb bits and pieces (aesthetically, technically, etc) from multiple AMAZING dancers.  No one went to a class with ONE role model; the milongas with all its dancers were the role models.

How is a student supposed to do that now?  Especially a student outside of Buenos Aires? All one can do is look to their teacher as a role model and (consciously or not) copy them in the beginning.  Only after years of dancing and feeling at peace with the dance can one begin to take an individual path.  Otherwise, dancers end up spending more time trying to look “different” and “unique” instead of actually dancing nicely with their partner.

The whole idea of finding your own “style” is quite ridiculous to us.  Firstly, we dislike the word “style”.  Ultimately, you can only  truly dance who you are – you can only dance “you”.  So if “style” means the way you stand, embrace, tilt your head, etc. (i.e., the external package), we repeat:  ridiculous.  There will be copycats, but you will see it right away when there seems to be more effort in replicating favourite steps rather than just dancing.   It will probably look soulless or forced.

Here is a very recent example of what copying looks like.  There is no denying that this couple (especially the man) is dancing someone else’s dance and not their own (and we all know whose dance it is):

This is an unfortunate example of how trying too hard to look and dance like your role model results in a completely unoriginal and soulless dance.  There is plenty of talent here, but it has been severely sacrificed.

Some people claim to have their own “style” – simply because the outer package looks different – but these same people (international and local dancers alike) are the ones you see doing Javier’s “moves”, Julio Balmaceda’s “moves”, Gabriel Misse’s “moves”, Osvaldo&Coca’s “moves”, or any other “youtube” move, one after the other.  That is far more average and dull than the people who may have similar postures as their favourite dancers, but actually dance their own dance.

It is the responsibility of a Tango teacher to teach proper technique (i.e., providing students with natural and comfortable postures and movements) so that partners don’t hurt each other or themselves.

It is the responsibility of a Tango Teacher to teach the concepts of Tango (i.e., embracing fully, taking care of the woman, dancing with masculinity/femininity, etc).

It is also the responsibility of a Tango teacher to teach the culture of Argentine Tango (which includes the music, the codes of the milongas, and more).

Withholding any of these or expecting your students to find them on their own is a sign of neglect and makes us wonder if these teachers even like Tango (and/or teaching it).

ANALOGY: Dear student, we want you to learn the Finnish language.  We won’t tell you what real Finnish language is, instead we’ll let you find it on your own.

Good luck with that ;)

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Dissing Good Posture?

We’ve all seen these “poor” postures in Tango.  We usually refer to them as the “E.T. head” and the “Leg Humper”.

Having good posture in Tango often translates into looking elegant.  We are often told that we have nice posture and dance elegantly. But honestly, this is not something we try to do.  It is something we are.  With a background in ballet for K and years of ballroom training for Jorge, good posture and elegant movement are just part of the package.

We find it interesting to note that young tangueros tend to be dissed for having good posture.  You won’t hear milongueros being dissed for their good posture.  Milongueros such as Jorge Garcia, Nito Garcia, Gerardo Portalea, to name a few, stand straight and look great!

Perhaps then, you can understand why attempting to change our posture in Buenos Aires was something we did not like and decided against.  We tried it for a few months and realized it simply was not working for us.  We did change a lot about our posture, but we did so following our Maestro’s advice in a way that only enhanced our dance.  What happened (and it was an exception) was that a milonguero we love and respect wanted Jorge to hunch/bend over and the both of us to really bend our knees.  To this milonguero, bending over and bending knees is where Tango is found.  Unfortunately, it’s not where our Tango could be found.

On a purely aesthetic level, picture two thin individuals who reach 5’11 (once shoes are on) bending their knees a lot and hunching over.  Add to that a “v-embrace” with a slightly open head for K.  Keep in mind we are the same height with heels on so the result is that our heads get in each others’ way.  Add to that K’s lack of chest “endowment” and the result is a lot of space between our chests. Since our heads are in the way, it creates extra inches between our chests, but the lack of “boobage” means we are no longer touching chests unless K arches her back!? We promise you, it is not a pretty site (or a comfortable embrace for either one of us).

People everywhere are dealing with the results of having bad posture in everyday life.  It’s not a surprise that many of the problems dancers deal with in their dance are a direct result of having bad posture (ex: balance issues, sore backs/necks/etc, difficulties walking with a partner, etc). Why would anyone purposely teach people to Tango with bad posture?  Or why would teachers, especially teachers with an understanding of the body, allow their students to continue dancing with bad posture without correcting it?  One answer we’ve come across is that teachers want to let students find their “own” Tango.  Now that’s just crazy.


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.


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…


The Foreigner or The Porteño

After a private lesson, our Tango teacher stated how it is a difficult decision to make:  Do you dance with the Porteño/Porteña who is more likely to embody the “feeling” of Tango?  Or do you dance with the foreigner who generally has far better technique?

The “feeling” is beautiful, indescribable, and almost impossible to find outside of Buenos Aires.  However, the “feeling” can only carry the dance so far when it exists within three fixed series of steps (for example).

Technique allows for so much more in the dance.  More creativity, a more elaborate expression of the music, and more freedom to enjoy the dance.

We hope to find, learn, and integrate both the “feeling” and the technique.