Chapter 4   Leave a comment

Mark me, she said

In between the Tangos of a set (tanda), a lot of conversation goes on among the dancers standing on the dance floor. The topics of the many conversations that ensue, cover anywhere from flirty interchanges to the latest gossip in the neighborhood. When the next Tango begins, the sound of the conversations blends with the music for a few seconds.

Gradually the couples assume the embrace, the spoken word dies and a new dialogue begins. It is an unspoken interchange that goes on between the dancers and it is based on a language that it is unique to the Tango dance: la marcacion, a corporal communication between the dancers that carries the rhythm and melody of the music from the loudspeakers into the displacement of their bodies on the dance floor. This fundamental aspect of Tango dancing has been systematically ignored, misrepresented or mistakenly equated to certain aspects of ballroom dances. As a result, many people learn to dance Tango without the benefit of understanding the ever so important concept of la marca.

There are several translations of the Spanish verb marcar, the favorite being “to mark” as in tagging, branding or stamping. Another one is “to lead” as in leading and following. They’re both way off the mark.

Left, right, left, right

The Spanish language is rich with words that have several meanings. Add to that the colloquial expressions found in different regions of Spain and in many countries of South America, and you may begin to understand why our young Tango communities sometimes don’t understand the origin of the expression and its application to Tango dancing. To understand the meaning of the word marca, we look back into our early childhood when we used to admire the young soldiers marching down Avenida de Mayo on Argentina’s National Day, to the beat and sound of patriotic songs. As we entered school, we learned to march in and out of class and school. The action of walking to the beat of a drum at a parade or to the stern “left-right” command from an old spinster at school is known as marcar el paso, to accentuate the way one steps while following a rhythmic pattern.

When a couple readies to dance, an experienced female dancer expects her steps to be marked by her partner. Most of the times, if there is no mark, she will not move. More than once an Argentine woman dancer has been heard to say no me marcastes, or no te entendi la marca, to indicate that he did not mark or that his mark was not clear.

She was not asking to be branded with an X on her forehead or to have finger marks on her back at the end of the night. She was demanding la marca. She was requesting that he contributes his fifty percent to the dance. Since it does not seem to be a fair translation for la marca, we might as well add the new Tango word to our vocabulary and to our dancing technique.

Gentlemen, on your mark

To properly understand the concept of marcacion, we need to review the concepts of good posture and the dynamics of the embrace. In adopting the dancing posture, the man surrounds the woman with his right arm creating a space where she will dance. The points of contact are her upper arm firmly set on his upper arm, his upper arm in full contact with her body and his right fore arm and hand gently holding her back. To complete the frame, his left arm extends out in line with his left shoulder holding his right palm slightly upwards.

Her right arm extends out and up and her hand rests palm down on his palm. He gently cups her hand by closing his fingers over her hand. Shoulders lock so any motion of the upper bodies can directly be transferred to the arms.

The man’s left arm should not be used as a pump to force her motion back and forth. If he pushes with his left arm, she will open up when stepping back with her right foot and her body will dance in a V-frame moving sideways while going back, instead of fully facing his upper body. Because her right foot will point at an angle while she steps back on a V-frame, her cross, left over right, will leave her body at an angle instead of being directly lined up in front of him. If the couple dances in a V-frame, their dancing possibilities are dramatically limited, as certain movements, such as walking on her left or turning to the left are difficult to execute without exerting a toll on the spinal cord of the lady.
A.- Her arm and hand rest on his shoulder. The pressure should not inhibit the free movement of his upper body.
B.- The main point of contact between the dancers. It helps
to communicate body weight changes.
C.- His right arm defines a clear and secure space where
she can dance with confidence.
D._ His right hand holds her firmly to complete the
boundaries of the embrace.

The mark of a good dancer

The purpose of la marca is to indicate when, where and how the lady moves into the space created by the extension or contraction of the embrace.

For example, while doing a four-count salida to the cross, his body moves slightly to her right on the first side step. On the third step, (her right, his left) he may subtly extend his right arm to create space for her to cross left over right and reassume a full frontal alignment. If the intention is to continue with a forward ocho, he must indicate the change of direction by applying a slight pressure on her back with his right arm. This creates space in front of her so she interprets la marca and advances with a step forward into the space that was created just before she went into the cross.

One of the most dreaded experiences is attempting to execute a turn only to realize that she “runs” away losing the beat and possibly her balance. This could be caused by one or both of the following reasons: her technique may not include the concept of keeping the pace of the music or he has no clue of what marcacion is needed to create space so she can move around him.

Before we digress any further, we would like to review several concepts that affect the coordination of motion between the Tango dancing couple.

First, the lady always walks in a straight line. Better yet, she walks forward into the direction that her body is facing, or backward into the direction that her back is facing.

Any change of direction is marked. There are two distinctive ways to mark a change of direction.

To mark a side step to her right, he applies a gentle pressure on her left side with his right arm at the same time that his right hand firmly placed on her back stops any further motion in the direction she was walking. This is marked as her right foot comes together with her support leg (left in this case) on her way to a back step. The momentum of her motion towards the back step transfers into a side step once that her feet have come together.

Another way to change direction is by marking a pivot, a rotation of her body while it is vertically loaded on the support leg. If the intention is to mark a change of direction so she will turn to his right while going back, then his right shoulder will open to the right so the enclosure of the embrace will expand in that direction and she will interpret that marca as an indication to pivot on her left foot while opening her upper body into the space that the opening of his right shoulder created.

Once that the spin is finished she will once again continue to walk in the new direction that her body is facing. To mark her a turn to his left, his upper body will turn to his left, creating a space behind to her right. Combining these two marks produces the familiar back ocho figure.

The purpose of this segment is not to describe in detail the various marcas for common movements of the dance, but to introduce the ever so important concept of marcacion against the backdrop of important aspects of the dynamics of the dance.

Follow me, please

So, after we established that she moves on a straight line, we want to add that she moves into space created by his marcacion. In case it is not obvious yet, in Argentine Tango, she leads the way and he follows. She moves, then he moves.

This is a paramount principle voiced by many masters but poorly translated or plainly ignored. If you apply this concept to the simple walk that typically allows dancers to progress around the dance floor, as the man marks the next step, he must wait until she begins the leg extension and only advance with his body when he has felt her metatarsus firmly placed on the floor. At this moment the transfer of weight takes place. Her extended leg elongates and her heel touches the floor.

The subtle delay between the motion of the dancers is what creates the much sought after feline elegance of the dancing couple. You can’t walk like a cat because you only have two legs. An embraced couple, combining both sets of legs can.

In essence, understanding the concept of “I move, then he moves,” if you are a woman, or “she moves, then I move,” if you are a man, is a significant step towards developing the natural sway and sensual motion characteristic of the Argentine Tango.

It Takes Two

To sum up, the dissection of a step shows two parts: the contact of the metatarsus with the floor on the beat, and the elongation of the leg that places the heel in full contact with the floor in between beats. When you take the time to travel with confidence in the execution of each step, you are contributing to the quality of the dance.

The person moving forward must wait for the person moving backwards to firmly set foot on the floor before transferring the weight forward and moving into the space created by the back leading leg. In this fashion, “rock and roll” jumping is replaced by  a slick and dense horizontal displacement.

The forward advancement of the foot should reach the nearest foot of the person walking backwards and not the other way around. This also creates the natural Tango lean where the upper bodies are in full contact while the legs are free to move. More important, each dancer is comfortably balanced on his/her own axis.

Here is another myth revealed: it is not necessary to open the frame in order to execute the most intricate turns and patterns. If a man knows how, when and where to mark, and the woman is technically prepared to move with confidence on the dance floor, then as a dancing couple they only need the space their bodies occupy to dance at any level of complexity.

In summary, the man creates or changes space with the action of his right arm (in case it is not obvious, the right arm is attached to the upper body at the shoulder).

We saw earlier that he can create space for her to cross, for example. She could then, step forward into that space to initiate a forward ocho. If after the cross, motion continues with her walking backwards, he can move into the space to turn left or right into a Tango close.


Posted January 7, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Uncategorized

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