There is a real inequality in Argentine tango. There are almost always more women than men. How can we explain that? Despite what a lot of people say, men really have it pretty easy. Many teachers tell beginners, “all you have to do is walk.” Meanwhile, they are showing women how to do crosses, molinettes and ochos. Some men just stand there two footed, faking the lead for ochos while their partner works her bum off, staying on axis and powering through her pivots in spite of him… all in high heels, where one badly timed invasion of her axis could cause her free stilleto to slice across her big toe or impale her standing foot.
Often, our posture changes when we enter the embrace and it’s not always for the better.
We spend a lot of time here and in our classes talking about good posture and helping people become aware of their posture and where they should focus to improve it. We work extensively on individual movement and posture because when you step on the dance floor, your posture and movement are what you bring with you. But that is only the beginning.
Our tango, our life, and self perception are reflections of one another.
Tango! Life! blah, blah, blah. So many ways to relate the two. Metaphors galore! This isn’t that. This is about awareness. This is about getting feedback from your dance about your life. Tango can help you find your perception of self. Tango can tell you when your life is going right or wrong. When we begin to learn tango many of us have no idea that we are embarking on a journey to overcoming years of conditioning, belief of self, and our own perception of who we are in relation to the world. Our tango, our life, and self perception are reflections of one another. We must dance who we are.
But our tango, life, and self perception is not always an ideal relationship. Finding harmony among them might be one of the keys to finding harmony within ourselves. The relationships and experiences we have had in life shape us and condition us. The question is what do we accept, and what do we deny. What defines us? We may have bad posture and movement purely as a result of our self image. The largest hurdle many of us face in learning tango is not technique or music, but that of confronting our self belief in relation to the world. The image we have of our selves can beat us down, it harms our posture and our movement. Our life image can also be positive, it can elate us, create confidence, and strength. In turn, our movement in tango becomes clear, our posture healthy.
The flow of movement between partners can appear magical.
Every week in TangoLab, we start class with some exercise to create awareness of our partners through the embrace. Our goal is to encourage dancers to create and sense movement in response to one another. Beginners, even those that come from other dance backgrounds, are always amazed at how this internal flow of movement works to create a conversation between partners. When done very subtly, it can be difficult to see any flow of movement, yet we are speaking volumes, and responding to one another. It might seem like magic.
The way we think and what we think can either enable us, or hinder us, in our goals to create beautiful dynamic movement.
Explaining what needs to happen to internalize the flow of movement is difficult, however, which is why it is so important to choose our words and imagery carefully. There are many phrases and words that are commonly and casually used when teaching or learning Argentine tango. In our teaching, we have discarded many of them because they are vague or have multiple meanings. It is a careful practice to put these things away, not use them, and find a thorough and meaningful replacement when needed.
Asking ourselves about our roles in learning and teaching Argentine tango.
Eric and I have been busy writing articles for this website and are enthusiastic about sharing our thoughts and explorations. We thought that now would be a good time to reflect on why we approach our learning and teaching in the way that we do and our goals in writing what we do.
We have been so grateful for the positive feedback from around the world and would like to thank everyone for having open hearts and open minds when reading our notes, since they are sometimes a bit unconventional. We are constantly seeking to find innovative ways of coming to a noble dance, while honoring its foundation and canon.
We also understand that some people who read our articles, but have never attended our classes or who do not know us personally, might be skeptical. We often contradict very common modes of tango instruction. Our goal in writing these articles is not to say that there is a right or wrong way of learning and teaching tango. Indeed, it is quite the opposite. We feel that being exposed to a variety of teaching approaches is crucial in becoming a well-rounded dancer. It is very likely that the synthesis of several different instructors teaching the same thing, each in different ways, finally creates the connections that a student needs to learn a concept.
“Collection” was eliminated from our tango vocabulary for many reasons.
I’ve written about collection in other articles, “Moving with your line of gravity” and “How we think affects the way we move”, so it is no secret that I don’t like what thinking about collection does to our dance. When we started developing our TangoBreath vinyasa, “collection” was one the first things we eliminated in our teaching and in our descriptions of Argentine tango movement.
We wanted to avoid “collection” for many reasons. One of them is that it is completely unnecessary. We never mention it in our TangoBreath vinyasa class, yet everyone, complete beginners and advanced dancers alike, all do what “collection” is intended to instruct. Their feet pass each other nicely in every movement. Another reason to discard “collection” is that it is mostly harmful to our development as dancers. We do mention it as something that happens as a result of well executed movement, but collection is not something to which it is necessary to give any thought. A beginning tango dancer has enough to think about already. Later on, it will be essential to think about what it means to have pretty foot movement. But that is a topic far beyond collecting.
Bad posture is a common problem.
I recently gave a weekly challenge to create awareness of our posture, “Scrunch your shoulders, fix your posture!”. The exercise is specifically targeted at slouched shoulders and a forward head posture. After posting it, I received a few emails from tango dancers and non-dancers, all thanking me for the reminder. Many said that this particular exercise is something they’ve been told to do. As I was writing this article, it came time for another body awareness challenge, so I posted “Balance your head!”, which generated even more feedback. Clearly, bad posture is a problem that many of us are struggling with.
Moving the line of gravity literally covers more ground
In the last post I described how the relationship between the center of movement and the line of gravity created internal dynamic tension which is a part of what creates presence or intention within the embrace. Moving the line of gravity literally covers more ground, but is easier to explain than the micro movements that create dynamic tension.
Any movement starts by moving our center away from our line of gravity to create dynamic tension. Our center of movement can be imagined as being a spot at the top of our sacrum in the center of our body. Standing still, the center of movement is intersected by our line of gravity.
Dynamic Tension, done well, it is what one friend calls “Jedi Tango”
There are several terms that are regularly used when teaching or learning Argentine tango that are very ambiguous and at the same time very important. ”Grounding” and “Intention” are two of the hardest to comprehend or do, without some specific idea of what to do in your own body and without experiencing how they should and should not feel in a partner.
We believe, instead, that everyone has to learn the same things, regardless of role.
In the last post I talked about the common expectations and perspectives that new students of tango have or are commonly exposed to, a perspective that focuses on steps and isolating “followers” and “leaders” technique, claiming that they have different learning curves. This approach can often leave students frustrated and does not give them the opportunity in the beginning to feel the beautiful connection and expression that keeps us all coming back to the dance.