Practicing in high heels will make you a better man.
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 beginning men, "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.
In reality the men should be learning the same things as the women, and the women should be learning the same things as the men. Tango movement is not gender specific.
High heels are like an unforgiving race horse. They are fast and responsive and they will throw you at the first sign of ineptitude.
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 relaxed free hip and 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 require more precision and better control of your axis. That precision will lead to more flexibility and control when dancing in flat shoes.
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.
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.
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 (below) of great tangueros and you will see pretty footwork. Men have a powerful grace that is not at all like a womans. But it still requires thought and practice. 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. Point your toe down as you swirl around your neutral center on the way to your next reach for a step.
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.
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 the line of movement created with 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. This will require you to bend your knee as your torso moves forward, back and side relative to your standing foot. Your torso must also spiral in relation to your movement. Relax your free hip and leg as much as possible, let your body spiral, and move from your sacrum outward while keeping your spine stretched upward. You should feel completely stable in every position.
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. When the walls are no longer necessary for reference (your pivots are easy and smooth) try doing a full molinette in 3 steps.
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. This accuracy translates to amazing control when wearing flat shoes. Control that can lead to tiny volcadas, and expansion/compression in the embrace. Wearing high 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.
This smaller range of axis is also why women in High heels have a bigger/faster response to the lead for a step. Their range of axis is smaller. To stay where they are and not fall into their step they must extend and spiral to increase their range of axis and maintain balance and stability on their one foot.
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 with so little contact with the floor.
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 (your whole vertical torso) forward and back, and side to side. practice changes of weight, letting your free hip relax and drop.
Transition to practicing 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 in response to your torso. 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.
If you need some inspiration, watch these videos.
There is no doubt that Juana Sepulveda and Mariano "Chicho" Frumboli are amazing. Her pivots are textbook! They are beautiful, and her heel never leaves the floor during a pivot. Chicho is so powerfully connected to the ground it sometimes feels as if the earth should shake. He's got all the power he needs in the ground. But don't forget his pivots. They are everywhere and he is precise and powerful!
Roxana Suarez and Sebastian Achaval are known for their amazing spiral and pivots. Roxana's pivots are beautiful and very grounded. Again you will see that her heel is very much on the ground during her pivots. Sebastian is a prime example of why all men should strive to do amazing pivots and harness the power of the internal spiral. All of their video's show great examples of beautiful footwork and spiral. Start with this nice slow one so you can take it all in.
Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes dance many styles, this conservative dance shows nice footwork and some beautiful enrosques.
Horacio Godoy has beautiful footwork, spiral and a strong connection with the ground. Watch this video of Horacio Godoy and Cecilia Garcia. Their style is completely different than the other three. In some ways it is easier to see the relationship between the ground, the reach for steps and the use of internal spiral which drives their movement. You can easily see how every movement involves their entire body, their feet move because their body moves. Dancing is not steps. Dancing is movement.
A smooth fluid dance takes two.
While I am sure that these men have practiced solo spiral exercises for hours on end, their dance could not be as fluid as it is without a partner that accepts equal responsibility for the flow of movement in the dance. Having a good technique and stability on the ground, will make their movement beautiful, but it will not be fluid and seamless unless their partners are also taking responsibility for themselves and the fluidity of movement in the dance. Men must be able to pivot as easily as any woman, and women must be able to move from the ground through their movement as powerfully as any man. It is all the same. Be balanced and stable, be relaxed and yet strong on the ground. Let your internal spiral power your movement.
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. We give these movements names, but in reality they are only variations in pivots and how your body winds up in a spiral and releases the spiral. Naming them molinette or ocho, boleo or enrosque may help you catergorize them, but giving them names only allows them to gain power over your learning. These are not individual things to be learned. They are all the same thing to be learned. Fundamental tango movement. The molinette is only the very beginning. It is why we have our TangoBreath Vinyasa, and these ideas are why we teach tango the way we do. Practice our TangoBreath vinyasa flow for a full workout covering everything or just parts of it. Covering everything takes time, and cannot be done all at once. Get the fundamentals, then add in variations according to what you need or how you feel. You will not get bored.
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. The ladies that practice these same things will also be much appreciated by their leaders.
In all seriousness, man or woman, high heels or not you should 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. The dance can only realize its true potential when both partners can do all of these things and do them well.