Tag Archives: The Elusive Embrace

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.

Advertisements

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.


The Embrace

The embrace is what makes Tango what it is.  You either have it or you don’t.  Take a look at the couples on the floor of the milonga.  Although you may see many women with their eyes closed while connected chest to chest with a man, you may also see an awkwardness in the embrace, or rather, the way the couple is holding one another.  Many women appear to have difficulty embracing the men they dance with (outside of Argentina).  Although women want their men to embrace them properly, we say it is absolutely critical to a man’s dance for the woman to embrace properly.  In other words, a woman wants it, but a man needs it.

Picture the typical North American Hug.  The one where people create as much space between themselves and the person they are hugging in order to avoid making any real contact.  The arms don’t truly wrap around one another, the heads don’t touch, the eyes are looking around, and the person is obviously not focused on that hug.  This is a commonly seen embrace in North America and shouldn’t come as a surprise considering we don’t live within a culture of touching.

Pre-Buenos Aires, K had the embrace on a technical level which means on a physical level it looked right, but it didn’t feel completely right and it definitely did not “dance” right.  By this we mean the following:  The embrace also includes constantly “looking for” your partner.  It’s not enough that you are “giving yourself” completely (a rather passive action), but you must actively look for your partner (your chest is always attempting to connect with your partner’s chest).  Which is also another important point.  The elusive “connection” people are constantly talking about is almost entirely a physical term.  It is easy to connect with your partner if you are both embracing one another and emotionally invested in that embrace.

As for Jorge, his embrace was O.K., but it was not the Elusive Embrace.


Are You a Leading Cheater?

The best dancers are supposed to be able to lead anyone, regardless of the follower’s level right?  Really?  We have always questioned this “fact”.  How is this possibly true?  If a woman does not know how to embrace the man, if she doesn’t understand what the lead feels like (in general), if she is lacking necessary technique, then what?  We’re not saying we haven’t seen all these “great teachers” lead women exactly where they wanted them to go.  We are saying that these “great teachers” are often totally cheating in doing so.

Jorge is not one of these “great teachers” and cannot, for the life of him, make his followers do “anything” he wants.  Apparently Jorge is not a very good leader then.  He must have been lied to over and over again in Buenos Aires because he was consistently told how clear his lead was and how he lead with his full body (by teachers and dancers).  The main criticism/feedback was to “increase the font size”.  That is, his lead was clear and good, but he could make it even clearer, even better, even bigger for those women who weren’t very sensitive followers.

Why can’t Jorge make the follower do what he wants?  The answer lies in the question with the word “make”.  It is not in his nature, his personality, or his dance to “make” a follower do anything (nor is it really in the nature of Argentine Tango).  If he feels that his follower cannot follow a certain movement, he simply will not do it again.

Entonces, what is meant by “cheating” in the lead?  Leaders can cheat in one of two ways: with the killer left arm or with the killer right arm.  Let us describe what we mean.

The killer left arm is popular among some in our Tango community.  It is actually taught by some as the proper way to lead in Tango.  And in all honesty, if the follower offers enough resistance with her right arm, the leader can basically lead the follower to do anything.  Does it feel nice for the follower?  Well that depends.  If you are a follower with an ego who just wants to be perfect at any cost, the answer is yes.  However, if you are a follower in love with the dance and the embrace, the answer is no.  And well, the answer is a definite no when the man uses his left arm so much that you are left with a sore shoulder after the dance (there are a few of these leaders in TO and many followers complain about it and don’t enjoy dancing with these men, but saying no is just too difficult).

The killer right arm, conversely, occurs when the leader crushes his follower.  In this situation, we are not speaking of the awful right HAND lead.  You know what we’re talking about ladies.  That evil hand you feel on your back pushing and pulling you through ochos.  Shudder!  No.  We are speaking of the men who cannot trust their followers (often with good reason) to embrace or follow the lead.  Therefore, these men crush the living daylight out of their followers so there isn’t a chance a step will be missed.

A good leader invites his follower to move with him and a great leader finds a way to invite the follower with little choice of rejection.  The use of arms and excessive muscle cancels out the chance for an invitation.  All we saw and felt of the good dancers in Buenos Aires were comfortable cloud-like (close) embraces that used the body (with arms being an extension of the body) to invite the woman to  follow.

Here’s the analogy: Tango is often compared to a language.  Therefore, if a woman visits Argentina with no knowledge of Spanish, can a man really make her understand what he wants her to do?  He can of course use body language, but if some of the body language is different between the cultures, this will be of little help.  Perhaps he’s asking her to join him for “mate” and holds an imaginary cup to his face with one hand while holding and imaginary straw to his lips with the other hand.  This could easily be misunderstood or not understood at all.  He could use “force” and drag her to his place and show her the mate gourd and straw, but is this really an enjoyable experience?  In other words, it does not matter how great his body language is.  If she does not have some basic knowledge of the language, he will either have to force her to understand or they will both look a little silly not being able to communicate with one another.

For us, the moral of the story is that women need to be taking “Spanish” classes before attempting to communicate with advanced speakers. Men who do not want to use force, have every right to speak only with women they feel comfortable communicating with.  When they both decide to show up at a “Spanish” practica, then they can attempt to communicate together because it is a place of practice.

To further add to the analogy and as a side thought… After one spends time learning, practicing and speaking a foreign language in a foreign country, it is usually the case that the foreign language will deteriorate when one returns to the home country.  When no one else is speaking that foreign language, it is quite difficult to maintain the level previously achieved unless one continues to communicate with others of the same or better language abilities.  So why is it so difficult for people to understand why we, for example, do not want to dance with people who do not dance with good technique and a proper embrace?


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).