Chapter 11   Leave a comment

Myths and misconceptions

When one embarks on learning to dance Argentine Tango, one is encountered with as many teaching opinions as there are teachers. Since there is no generally accepted Argentine Tango syllabus, how the teachers themselves learn the dance and subsequently how they teach it, is at best varied and at worst a hodgepodge nightmare for the student.

The most asked question by students is “why is your instruction different from the other teacher (s) that I have had a class with.” We can only surmise that no teacher actually sets out to give conflicting information. Each teacher thinks their information is correct. However, since there is no standard, no school for teachers, the information is assimilated and understood subjectively. Some teachers get information by watching other dancers and videos and learn by imitating what they think they see. Some teachers take the flavor-of-the-month workshop, racking up an impressive list of “big name” teachers that they have “studied” with. Some go to Buenos Aires, this being enough of a credential. Some are the “better” and more outgoing dancers in their community and share their “style.” Others have a good memory for the figures another dancer has shown, and present these figures as a way to learn. Still others are star struck  and “adopt” a favorite dancer as a model, and only teach the star’s “style” of dancing. To be fair, most enjoy teaching for the sake of teaching and because the Argentine Tango has taken an important place in their life.

To this end, we present some of the most common myths and misconceptions that crop up. It is not meant as a critique, but rather as an observation that will perhaps be helpful to those that are receptive.

Show Me The Basic

The first misconception is that there is a basic step. Many other ballroom dances are taught using a basic step that never deviates, so it is useful to memorize. Given the premise that the social aspect of Argentine Tango is an improvised walking dance, a basic step or pattern would be limited in usefulness. The first teachers in recent years came from the show Tango Argentino. They were dancers, and many of them show dancers, and not teachers. When asked to teach, they adopted certain ballroom methods comfortable and known to their foreign students and created a basic step, commonly known as the Eight Count Basic. This pattern consists of side steps, forward steps for the man, side and backward steps for the woman, shifts of body positions culminating in producing the cruzada for the woman, ending with the now famous tango close. When taken as a figure, it is pleasing. When used as the way to start to dance on a social floor it is almost useless and frustrating. Seldom, can any one couple take eight consecutive steps to a prescribed completion on the social dance floor. You will simply be blocked by another couple at any step from one to eight along the way. The memorization of any pattern is contrary to the improvised dance. The possibility of using walking steps (forward, side, back), weight changes in place and changing body positions (in front of, off to either side, at an angle to each other), changing the angle of the side step, all marked by the man, responded to by the woman, is the base (not the basic as it is erroneously translated on some popular videos) needed by the dancers to create patterns and figures.

When Do I Cross, She Asks

The answer: when the man brings her back in front of him while he is on either side of her. This can be done before you even start moving. No side step. No three steps to the cross. It can be done with either leg. He uses his upper body, which is connected to the arm embracing her, and gently lifts the side of the woman’s body, under the shoulder that is attached to the side of the body that her free leg is freely hanging under, and places that free leg in front of the support leg. It even gets better. He can mark whether she puts her weight on the leg crossed in front, or stay with her weight on the support leg. He does this with his own body weight change. The more usual way to produce the woman’s cross, involves using body positioning created by using the side step (called the salida when used to start a figure) to walk on the outside of the woman. The man can walk outside for eternity. Remember the woman always walks in a straight line in the direction her body is going. It is up to the man to change the direction of her body, and to move in and outside of her space, or to bring her back in front of him from the walking on her side position. This bringing her in front of him produces the cross, because it is the only way her feet can fall under the direction that her body is being taken.

Gentlemen must remember that they are creating the cross by bringing the woman in front of them by placing her body weight to her back leg, and then to her crossed leg in front (so Ladies should not automatically clunk to cross by immediately throwing their weight onto the crossed foot. This is just another walking step, transferring the full body weight and line from one leg to the other, in this case from back to front, with a crossed foot on the front leg).The object is to bring her body directly and squarely in front of the man. Please be aware that these weight changes and alignments take time to execute, so don’t run the woman out of the cross you so carefully marked and executed.

Keep Your Feet Together

This is a misconception that women in particular, take to heart as some way of producing their first attempt at neat footwork. It seems easy enough. Feet together. Pretty neat feet. However, the feet are not the first things to be concerned with. Argentine Tango (and we wager all other dances) is danced using the body to displace and transport the legs and feet connected under it. As we walk, there is weight on one leg or the other. As we walk from one leg to the other the legs open and close, open and close. The leg with no weight on it, is free for the man to place as he directs and changes the direction that the woman’s body is being taken to.

A better image is that of the thighs coming close to each other as the legs open and close. If the woman concentrates on bringing the feet together, energy is produced in the free foot coming to connect with the other foot of the support leg. This energy in the leg that is supposed to be free, no matter how subtle, creates a heaviness and impedes the ability of the man to smoothly and freely place the free leg. It also makes the woman look as heavy as she feels to the man. Men are strong, and they can and will muscle a woman on the dance floor if it’s the only way that he can move her. It’s not a comfortable way for either one to dance, nor very pleasing to look at. Some women get so carried away with bringing the feet together, that the look like little soldiers coming to attention at every step.

On Your Toes

Many woman observe that many woman dancers seem to dance on their toes. Since most social dancers are not trained ballerinas, this would be an impossible task for the social dancer. It is true that the weight is placed forward on the metatarsus. But that can be the extent of it. However it is helpful when walking backwards, that she leads with the metatarsus and transfers her body weight over the support leg by bringing her heel down as he advances. Some women seem to be on their toes all the time, but they should transfer their entire body weight and line to the support leg. At this point the support leg should become longer than the non support leg, so that the non support leg can dangle freely from the hip with a straight leg naturally produced by its getting shorter than the support leg. This is produced by the body getting “tall” on the support leg, by lifting the rib cage, which lifts the body enough to make the non support leg get shorter. This applies to side steps, forward steps, back steps. The idea is to always bring you full body over the support leg under you. The line is head, breast, shoulder over the support leg. Try weight changes in place, standing with the feet together, shifting this body line from one leg to the other. This will show you how much the body travels even when standing in place. When dancing with the assistance of another person, it is easy to combine going up on the metatarsus while lifting the rib cage, to produce a clean, confidant line completely on the support leg, with the free leg available, dangling prettily from the hip (to be placed in the next direction by the man, to produce seamless, weightless and timely embellishments before the leg is placed by the man). If the woman uses her body (rib cage) to lift herself up, she will never hang on the man to achieve her balance or her axis. If both men and woman make their weight changes correctly and completely, they will be dancing “on the floor “which gives the Argentine Tango its specific look and feel, as opposed to flying like ballerinas in the air.

Cheek to Cheek

It is often observed that a couple has their heads together as they dance. It looks so intimate. If the woman places her heard on the man’s shoulder or leans her head on his head, it simply takes her off her center axis, and makes it impossible for her to achieve and maintain her line over her support leg. If she aggravates this by insisting that she leave her head glued to his head or shoulder, when he tries to produce the necessary body separations and displacements (subtle but present when dancing in the very close embrace), she will leave her head there, and her body will move away, often producing the effect that her rear end is sticking out. It also greatly inhibits the man from dancing freely to be able to create any kind of figure. So Ladies keep your head up on your vertical axis. If the couple wants the aesthetic of heads together, the man can lean his head in towards the woman’s, and move it away when he needs to create space and body displacements. And men don’t try to leave your head glued to her head when you need to make space, as you need to be on your center axis as well.

The Strangle Hold or The Sticky Woman

Many women will try to imitate a beloved teacher whom they admire. If she wraps her long arm around the neck of her man in the most sexy embrace, this is all that the student sees (sigh) and in turn tries to imitate. They do not realize that the woman may be a totally trained athlete and dancer completely on her own balance, no matter where she places her arm. For the woman, the point of contact of the embrace, whether dancing in an open salon position or in the very close embrace, is with the under part of her arm located directly over his biceps. She places this part of her arm on top of his arm anywhere in the vicinity of the top of his biceps, with her elbow positioned down. She embraces the man’s arm with her arm, and always has contact there. If there is any space under the arm, or if her arm does not make contact with his arm, it is very difficult to receive the body mark transmitted through his shoulder and arm. If you dance chest to chest in the very close embrace, this position is still valid. Also, when the woman feels the man creating space, by his opening his shoulders or sliding his arm away, she should in turn slide her arm out (while keeping contact). Do not hang on tight for dear life, and impede the effort of the man to mark the step. If he creates space, take it and make use of it.

It’s The Other Leg

When we see a woman or a man doing an embellishment, a boleo, a flick, a gancho, a planeo, an amague — whatever, it seems that the leg doing the embellishment has all the energy. In fact it is the opposite. Remember only one leg, the support leg has energy in it. The non support leg is always free. If you produce energy in the free leg to produce the embellishment, you will take yourself off your support axis  and that will create an unbalance. When you try to use the free leg to create the embellishment, you will also become heavy because you have energy in both legs. You will usually try to compensate for these two problems by using your partner for balance, often knocking not only yourself off balance, but also knocking your partner off balance at the same time. Another thing to consider is verticality. By remaining true to the technique of being tall on your support leg, you will be vertical on your axis. When doing embellishments, you remain vertical on the axis of the body over the support leg. The energy produced is produced upwards

Enjoy the dance and keep your balance.

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Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

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