Tag Archives: Technique

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.


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 ;)