Chapter 22   Leave a comment

Riders of the man’s mark

It seems that Argentine Tango dancing is the most talked about pastime because of its free form nature and the many opportunities to dance that are now available everywhere we go. Unfortunately those doing most of the talking are the ones who are socially challenged, tend to be mechanical dancers, and find in their eloquence a way to justify their frustrations on the dance floor.
The predictable target of these talking heads are women who follow all kinds of advice, most often contradictory. Facing the “addiction” of Tango and the “seduction and passion” that it promises, many women accept situations which they would not tolerate in the course of their daily lives. In the process they develop bad habits and attitudes that makes the progress towards total fulfillment of their desires difficult, painful and frustrating.

The Luxury of Letting Go

There is a method for learning to dance Tango from the woman’s point of view. It is part of a process of work and improvement by emulation and recognition of excellence in dancing.
As communities grow, there is the potential for excellence as men and women take a more discriminating approach to learning, understanding the concepts and as a result of their work, they begin to stand out on the dance floor. It is a time proven fact that what drives aspiring Tango dancers to excel is the incentive to learn the techniques and understand the concepts of Tango dancing in order to better themselves without the rhetoric and the pitch for the latest fad, the phony claims of new secrets discovered, or the promises of instant gratification.
Tango dancing requires that people embrace and move to the rhythm and melody of the music executing the most simple and the most complex patterns without loosing connection to each other; without disturbing the path of others on the dance floor, and hopefully enjoying the moments shared together.
The first step in the learning process for women is to find and recognize their axis and to manage their weight changes and center of gravity, in order to have their bodies ready for the motions that the man creates. The underlying corollary here is to accept from the word go, that in Tango the man drives and the woman rides. The analogy does not do justice to the actual experience of dancing, because the implied passive role of riding, as in a car, adds a sense of unfairness to women accustomed to being discriminated against in every other order of life.
To the contrary, riding the Tango is a luxury that presents women with the egalitarian challenge of having to assume responsibility, making decisions that count and accepting the consequences of their actions. Crediting a partner for the goodness or blaming him for the badness of their dancing is no longer an accepted option for the woman who wants to become a Tango dancer.

First Find Your Axis

We define axis as the vertical line formed by the head, shoulder, hip, knee and foot, which means that the axis can be on the right or the left side of the body, as the weight is transferred to either side. In other words, when you find your axis, you’ll be standing with your full body weight favoring either leg. In order to improve the equilibrium while balanced on one leg, the upper body must elongate upwards, and the other hip must be relaxed in order to have the leg attached to it hanging loose and ready to swing from the hip in any direction indicated by the motion of the man you are dancing with.
Favoring either leg on your axis grounds the hip on which your weight is resting in such a way that the only possible motion for that hip is circular. What produces the circular motion is the result of your upper body rotating enough that eventually makes the hip turn, which in turn forces the foot on which you are standing to pivot. Pivoting has the main purpose of pointing the grounded hip into a different direction. This is very important to understand since the embrace does not allow the upper body to fully turn. Therefore, the connection between the upper body and the hips must be fluid so the plane of both parts of the body can be broken – thus the commonly used term of quebrada, which literally means “broken” as in the line between the upper body and the hips is broken.
A training exercise that helps develop a good sense of axis is to stand up straight, feet together, weight on the ball of the feet. Gradually begin to shift your body weight to the right as you take a deep breath. Tighten the hip muscles so there is solid support for the weight of your upper body and elongate upwards as if standing on top of a pedestal. Feel the other hip relax, and the other leg literally hanging relaxed as its heel almost gets off the ground.
Next, shift your weight to the left hip while exhaling and repeat the tightening of the hip muscles. Inhale and elongate your torso at this time on your left leg. Do this swaying motion that results from weight changes in place while listening to Tango music. Gradually, synchronize your breathing and axis shifting with the beat of the music so you shift on a beat, elongate on the next and shift again on a beat and elongate on the next. Two weight changes should equate to four beats. You are already dancing Tango.
Once you make it clear to your partner that you are on the axis he placed you on, you will be in a position of dynamic balance where you can wait as long as it takes for your partner to initiate the next movement. This is what it’s meant when a talking head tells a woman, without actually knowing what they are saying, “wait,” “don’t think,” or the classic “shut up and follow.”
Things change dramatically when a woman on her axis confidently waits for the mark to continue. This is the moment when you can tell the men from the boys, and the time to become discriminating about who you accept to dance with, and why.
In summary, find your axis, allow your partner to shift your weight from axis to axis, understand how your grounded hip can only rotate, and be ready to have the ride of your life.

Changing from Axis to Axis

When clearly standing on her axis, the woman can now be moved in any direction. It is the man’s responsibility, to the degree of his own skills, to clearly mark the direction and extent of the movement required from the woman.
It is very important and fundamental for a woman to understand the process in which her movements are marked, created, dictated, suggested, whatever makes it clear to her that a man is required to know how to move her from position to position on the dance floor.
Standing in front of the man, with her weight on either leg, the woman should only be aware that she can be moved away from the man’s chest (back step), towards the man’s chest (forward step), to the right shoulder of the man (lateral opening if standing on the right leg or forward or back step if standing on the left leg), or to the left shoulder of the man (lateral opening if standing on the left leg or forward or back step if standing on the right leg).
The man moves the woman’s body to the new position. At the new position, the woman must again stay on her axis with the weight on the leg used to move to the new position, and the other leg hanging relaxed next to it.
The man moves the woman away from his chest by gently stepping forward displacing the woman with his upper body so her free leg extends into the new space behind her.
It is possible that in sending the woman away, the man may choose to move into the woman’s right or left shoulder with a slight counter body rotation of his upper body so as to keep their hips facing each other. This is part of a previous chapter on the man’s role.
The man moves the women towards his chest by gently stepping backwards and bringing the women with his upper body so her free leg extends forward into the new space.
The man moves the woman towards his right side by rotating his upper body to the right thus opening the space where he wants the woman to go. Whether the resulting step is a lateral opening, a forward step or a back step, it is important for the woman to see the opening, to understand the mark and to allow her whole body to go deep into the right side of the man, and NOT just her leg.
The man moves the woman towards his left side by rotating his upper body to the left thus opening the space where he wants the woman to go. Whether the resulting step is a lateral opening, a forward step or a back step, it is important for the woman to see the opening, to understand the mark and to allow her whole body to go deep into the left side of the man, and NOT just her leg.
It is the responsibility of the man to finish all the woman’s motions by clearly placing her vertical on the leg she used to move, thus establishing her new axis.

Rotating at the Hip

Allowing her body to be moved from axis to axis keeps the woman’s center of gravity vertical over either hip facilitating her ability to pivot. Pivoting has the main purpose of pointing the hips in such a way that the motion of the trailing free leg is natural, relaxed and follows the direction of the body.
Generally the woman will pivot when the man moves to her right or left side while holding her on her axis, or when he moves her to his right or left while rotating only his upper body.
In other words, when the man accompanies with a step in the same direction the motion he created for the woman, the resulting figures fall under the general category of WALKS. When the man doesn’t move or move into the space where the woman was, the resulting patterns fall under one of three categories, FORWARD OCHOS, BACK OCHOS or GIROS.

Learn Well and Dance Better

Tango dancing is no different than anything else requiring knowledge, understanding and application.
The history of the Tango seems to show peaks and valleys that occur every forty years, that is the span of two generations. The earliest heyday dates back to 1870 as documented by the chronicles of Viejo Tanguero in 1913. About this time, during the centennial celebrations in Buenos Aires (1910), the second wave of Tango dancing took place fed by the furor that had taken Europe by storm, with the appearance of the first European-style cabarets in the city. Then, in 1950 we had the most documented period of renaissance of Tango dancing, the so called Golden Era. Many who lived through the forties and fifties are still alive and some of the details of the times trickle down colored by the characteristic trait of the habitant of Buenos Aires to embellish the facts with their biased opinions on any subject that reaches wide attention.
We are now at the peak of another wave that started around 1990. If history repeats, we are in for another decade or two of great dancing and indescribable enjoyment.
What has not changed is the anatomy of men and women. We each have two legs, two arms, one brain and one heart, along with the humility to accept the nature of a timeless dance and the rules and codes that have kept its purity in spite of many attempts to corrupt it, deface it, or morph it into fads that eventually disappear.


Posted January 8, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Tutorial

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