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.
She has also practiced endlessly at home in 3″+ heels, mastering her spiral and free hip, just so she can do this dance with a reasonable amount of grace and beauty. The first time she drew her own blood with her stilleto high heels she learned the hard way that honoring her axis and moving accurately from her sacrum was very important.
How is it that the only true bloodsport in tango belongs to the women? Even if the man is working at it, and not making the dance uncomfortable or difficult for his partner, can he do a front ocho? Does he do it with grace? Does he have a lose leg? Can he do a front ocho while leading, and end with enough stability to move in any direction? Maybe.
Has he ever drawn his own blood because he just practiced crosses and ochos for an hour and he momentarily lost his balance at a crucial moment? Has he continued to practice while the blood pooled, then dripped onto the sole of his precious high heels? Only to dab it dry and continue? Probably not.
Put some sport into your tango: Practice. Work. Sweat. Bleed.
This is a challenge to all you men out there. Put some sport into your tango. Do molinettes and ochos slowly, work your inner spiral, free your hip, let your free leg flow. Practice self-led front and back spiral boleos. Move gracefully with pretty foot articulation. And if you can, do it in a nice pair of Turquoise or Comme Il Faut high heels. Consider this as crosstraining for balance, grounding, axis sensitivity, a free hip, and pretty footwork. If you think you’ve got all this down, doing it all in high heels for an hour will be a humbling experience.
High heels are like an unforgiving race horse. They are fast and responsive and they will throw you at the first sign of ineptitude. Doing these movements on balance, with power, and ending in a stable place, ready to move in any direction, is a challenge. A challenge that, if you succeed, will make your dancing in flat shoes noticibly better and easier. You will have more stability, more precision, more spiral, and– I promise you– your partners will notice.
Notes on finding high heels
Finding high heels that fit might be a bit difficult, especially if you have a bigger foot. As a general rule, women’s shoes are 2 US sizes bigger. So a US men’s size 9 is a women’s size 11. For me, that is is a 41 in Comme Il Faut (Men’s 9). Turquoise shoes seem to run one smaller and I’ve onle seen up to size 40. 42 is usually the largest size available, although I have seen bigger sizes at DNI. If you are afraid of the stiletto, DNI also makes some nice lace up practice high heels which many women love. A banded toe box is going to be more likely to fit than a peep toe, and it will provide plenty of stablity. If a regular heel cup is too tight, a sling back will work better, but be aware, a friend of ours claims that a sling back is what separates the girls from the women. Slingbacks just don’t provide the security of a full heel.
Practicing in High heels.
Practicing in high heels will do a number of things for your dance that you may just not do on your own. Those shoes are pretty and you are going to want to do them justice. You can’t just drag your foot around flat footed anymore. You are going to need to find some grace in your footwork.
If you think it doesn’t matter because you’re a man, think again. Watch some videos of great tangueros and you will see pretty footwork. In high heels, your foot will already be pointed, but you are going to have to be careful of that high heel. Point them more, or the first time you trace your toe around your other foot to a cross you are going scratch the hell out of your standing foot.
That heel is going to make you think twice about putting your foot down. Likewise, standing two footed is just not going to be quite so accessible, and it’s not pretty. Be as pretty as your fancy high heel shoes are.
Another difference you will find is that relaxing your free hip and leg may be just a little easier once you find stability on one foot. The actual pivots are also easier, since high heels are fast, but really try to keep your pivoting heel down, just grazing the floor.
Your range of axis is going to be a lot smaller.
This is not going to be easy. Just walking could be hard for you. Your range of axis is going to be a lot smaller than you are used to in your flat shoes. Being solid on the ground is going to be both harder and easier. Smaller footprint means more pressure but less leeway, which requires more accuracy. Wearing hight heels will also make your foot tired if you are placing your weight over the balls of your foot, rather than over your arch. Pay attention to using your whole foot, including your heels to stabilize and move yourself.
Stand with your weight evenly distributed between your heel and the ball of your foot. When walking, be very aware of where your weight is on your standing foot, make sure it settles in the middle of your arch with each step. To pivot, bend your knee slightly to unweight your heel. It is not necessary to lift it off the ground, since there is very little friction because it covers such a small space.
In all practice, be sure that each movement or step ends with stability, your weight spread evenly from the heel to the ball of your foot so that moving smoothly in any direction can be easily accomplished. This is what we expect from our women and it is what we should expect of ourselves. Practice standing, play with your axis, move your sacrum and spine forward and back, and side to side. practice changes of weight, letting your free hip relax and drop.
Transition to practing forward and backward reaches as smoothly as possible. Let the movement ripple outward from your sacrum, let your hip start your reach forward or back. As you move your spine back and forth through your line of gravity, imagine a vortex swirling around your spine. Let your hips and legs internally rotate as you move through the center of it all and open, or externally rotate, again as your reach extends forward or back.
Try to keep your weight in the center of your arch
Begin to walk. Use your heel. Push off and roll through to the center of your foot allowing your body to unspiral and spiral through the step. Practice backwards and forwards and then add in side steps. Start practicing crosses, both sides, front and back. Make sure the cross happens because of the movement of your sacrum and spine relative to your line of gravity. Practice tracing your toe around the front and back of your standing foot. Practice smoothly moving your reach front to back, to center, to side, to center, to front, to back, to center. Try to keep your weight in the center of your arch. Relax your free hip and leg as much as possible, let your body spiral, and move from your sacrum outward.
Practice the molinette around a stool, or a circle or square on the floor. Square your hips to the room and only let them face directly at 2 opposite walls (angles and the other walls are not allowed except during the actual pivot). Do the molinette with 4 steps to start. That will give you a forward step and forward pivot, a side step, a back pivot and back step, and another side step. Do it in both directions equally. Do it with all front pivots, all back pivots and also alternating. Every step should end in a stable place, where moving smoothly in any direction is possible. Practice moving back and forth through a pivot. Notice that each pivot is actually 180 degrees.
As you become more stable, start mixing in ochos by taking a forward step to a forward pivot, and rather than taking a side step, take another forward step to another front pivot. Or take a back step, take a back pivot, and then another straight back step. Use ochos to reverse your direction around your molinette’s circle. If you need some inspiration, watch Juana Sepulveda dance with Chicho. Her pivots are textbook! They are beautiful, and her heel never leaves the floor during a pivot.
There is far more to practice.
This is just the beginning. There is far more to practice. There are nuances to the basic movement that need to be learned. There are stationary spiral exercises for balance and fluidity, there are enrosques, and lapiz movements. There are molinettes and ochos with crossed foot pivots, there are self-led boleos which can turn into enrosques. Practice our TangoBreath vinyasa flow for a full workout covering everything or just parts of it.
Just keep practicing! Practice in socks or ballet slippers (it’s surprisingly difficult, even without heels). Then, practice in high heels. It will definitely make you more aware of your axis, and it will most certainly make you appreciate all the women you dance with that much more. Even better, they will respect you. You’ve danced in their shoes. You can do ochos, and over rotated pivots in high heels, and just maybe, you’ve felt the pain of your own stiletto slicing, impaling, scratching or bruising your own foot.
Even if you never try practicing in heels, you should at least practice. The man’s part of Argentine tango is not missing anything. Everything that is required of the women is required of the men. Men should be able to do beautiful molinettes and ochos with a powerful internal spiral, all while being supremely grounded and stable with the express purpose of giving our partners the best dance possible.