You are NOT a Dead Squid: Detailed Observations about Argentine Tango

Two nights ago, at Argentine Tango class and social in Singapore, I had the opportunity to dance with ladies I have never danced Tango with, and to ‘experiment’ with my usual dance partner. Here I want to share a few new pointers I have learnt, and a few old pointers that I have seen some new significance in:

Leading the Argentine Tango: Framework and Momentum

  1. The strength is in your framework (and not your biceps)

In Argentine Tango, somehow it is impossible to lead properly using your arm power. It has to come from the whole connected framework of your arms and torso. Your framework is like a big clamp that is clamping your partner in place and moving her around! Of course you have to use strength, but the strength is in maintaining your framework and using the framework to “clamp” the lady, and not in using bicep power to pull her around. When your framework locks your lady to you, she will move when you move and where you move. (But please don’t make your framework so strong that your partner ends up with fractures!)

  1. The importance of controlling momentum

It is very important to know the effects of momentum. For example,  during class I led a newcomer into the “three entradas” step that we learned last year. Although, she had no problems following my lead, she became slightly off-balance because I gave her too much momentum. The importance of momentum is very clear if you try doing moniate fast and then trying to stop the lady suddenly: she will end up with too much momentum and her free leg will swing back even though your framework is good enough to stop her. Another way to try this is to do a very quick tango walk and then changing direction or stopping suddenly.

  1. Momentum can be controlled by lifting

However I learned that momentum can be reduced by lifting the lady. For example, when executing a walk and I want to stop my partner halfway, I learned to lift her up slightly. This transfers some horizontal force into vertical force, so that she won’t lose balance or feel uncomfortable. Once the lady is “lifted”, she will stop, and if the lift is strong, her free leg will naturally come to the side of her other leg, and you can move her in any direction after that.

  1. Lifting is not carrying

Of course when I say lifting I don’t mean suddenly stop and yank your partner off the floor. See it as you and your partner doing a fluid movement, like a playground swing gently going up.

Leading the Argentine Tango: Weight placement

  1. Place your partner where you want her to go

Another reason why having a strong “clamp” is so important, is that some ladies try to autopilot. One of the ladies I danced with stepped something like 20 meters away the moment I pushed her gently. Ok maybe not really 20 meters but you get what I mean. It really made me realize that I cannot compromise on my framework. If your framework is in place, she will have no choice but to stop where you want her to stop.

  1. Place your partner’s weight where you want it to be placed

This is highly, crucially important. If your partner’s weight is on her left foot, there is no way she can move her left foot unless you want her to fall down. It may sound simple, but it is sometimes difficult to feel where the lady’s weight is when you execute complex and subtle variations. The clearest sign of a “wrong weight” problem is when your foot crashes into hers.

  1. Solve “wrong weight” problems by slowing down

When I encounter a variation in which I placed my partner’s weight wrongly, I realized that the best remedy is to do the variation very slowly to see exactly where I went wrong. Also, if you are in the middle of a dance and you realize your partner’s weight is wrongly placed and you can’t do the variation you want to do, don’t panic! Just stop everything and sway her until you can feel where her weight it. Anyway it is romantic to sway with a lady on a dance floor with Tango music in the background right?

  1. Know when you can execute technical moves

There are certain variations in tango that need the lady’s weight to be on a certain foot before they can be executed. Much as I love to simply do what I want on the dance floor, I realized that I need to remember certain things. For example, the front and back ochos need the lady to be on a specific foot (go try it out!).

Following in Argentine Tango

  1. Feeling, feeling, it’s all about feeling

That night I also tried dancing the lady’s part, and it is actually quite fun because I don’t have to think! Ladies, don’t worry about being “bad” at tango, because as long as you have a sensitive framework, it is up to us gentlemen to make sure you do what we want you to do. You simply have to feel his lead.

  1. Feeling the lead comes from both your framework – you are not a dead squid

The lady in Argentine Tango needs to have a strong framework too. As mentioned above, the gentleman needs to form a “clamp” to move you. If your framework is very weak, he will have nothing to clamp because your right arm will just feel like a dead squid. It is not fun trying to clamp dead squids, I assure you.

  1. Neither are you doing martial arts

There is no reason for a lady to have a huge tension in her arm all the time. It is very strange to dance with ladies who seem to be trying to push my arm away from them throughout the dance. Having a good framework is not the same as showing off your bicep strength. If the gentleman gives you tension, return the tension. If he relaxes his tension, relax yours. If you don’t relax when he relaxes, you will end up either pushing his arm back, or looking like a statue. Also, there is no reason for a lady to use too much power in carrying out tango steps. When you feel led to move, simply step there naturally and do not “autopilot”. Don’t worry about taking too small steps, because how small or how big your step is should be entirely controlled by the gentleman. You just have to do what feels natural to do.

Dancing as a Single Unit- The Beauty of Argentine Tango

This is why I love Argentine Tango: when both you and your partner’s frameworks are in place, the two of you become a single unit. The lady will move wherever the gentleman moves, and the gentleman will know exactly where the lady is and how to lead her. It truly becomes a romantic, slightly flirtatious, and very emotional dance: it tests the lady’s trust in the gentleman, and it tests how well you are communicating with your partner.

Bring out the roses. There is no dance more romantic than Argentine Tango.

- Samuel Tan, 2006

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