Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating culture, idea, lifestyle, and philosophy. In many ways, tango is a metaphor of life. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit of connection, love, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a species. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. We are humanists. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation and compromise. If you share this conviction, please join the conversation and let your voice be heard, which is urgently needed and long overdue.
Together we can awaken the world.
November 29, 2013
Men's Common Mistakes in Tango
1. Not listening to music
For some men, failure to dance to the music is because they do not know how to listen to tango music. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.) For others, it is because they are so focused on leading the steps that they cannot hear the music. The former is a problem of musicality. The latter is that of attention allocation. Dancing tango requires the ability to allot attention to many elements simultaneously, including embrace, connection, posture, movement, partner, coordination, relaxation, decoration and music, etc. Among which listening to the music must be the priority, because dancing tango is dancing the music, not the steps. The latter is but an expression of the former. In leading, the man must first pay attention to the music. He must not only think of the steps that he is leading and forget about the music.
2. The steps are too difficult
Some men like to lead difficult steps that are beyond their comfortable zone, which require so much of their attention that they become heedless of the other aspects of the dance. Beginners often mistake complexity for beauty. But in fact one has nothing to do with the other. On the contrary, keeping the steps simple will be easier for the dancers to allocate attention, listen to the music, relax the body, perfect the movement, and enjoy the relationship. Unlike stage tango that features performance, social tango emphasizes the feelings and communications between the partners. Therefore, simple steps are more suitable. To dance social tango with difficult steps of stage tango could easily backfire. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)
3. Leading with the hands
Many men lead with the hands for a number of reasons. First, one's long-standing habit is hard to break. Second, it's easier to lead with the hands than with the torso. Third, with the help of the hands it is facile to do steps. Forth, many women prefer dance in open hand holds, leaving men little choice but using the hands. Fifth, beginners often see tango as steps rather than relationship, feelings and music interpretation, although the opposite is closer to the truth. (See Tango Is a Feeling.) Finally, in order to teach steps, many teachers encourage their students to use the open embrace, which reinforces the habit of using the hands. However, using the hands to lead conflicts with the essence of tango, that is, intimacy, sensuality, comfort, oneness and synchronization. Tango has been from its birth a dance of close embrace and torso leading, which distinguishes it from other partner dances. For the man, learning tango is primarily learning to lead with his torso, that is, to effect the movement of the woman's body with his body, not his hands. Beginners must overcome the habit of using the hands, and develop the ability to lead with the torso.
4. Sending mixed signals
The problem of hand leading is that it often contradicts the body. Those who rely on the hands usually do not know how to lead with the torso. When their hands put forth strength in one direction but the torso does not turn or move accordingly, that could send mixed signals. The fundamental solution to this problem is to supersede hand leading with torso leading. Arms and hands should be completely relaxed in leading and used only to form a supportive frame rather than to coerce the woman to submit. Unawareness of the function of the body often causes the man to lead with the hands while his weight is not completely transferred from one foot to the other. But, since the partners are connected, the incompleteness of his weight change means that she too has not yet completed her weight change. Asking her to take a step in such a position is demanding the impossible. She must complete her weight change before following the lead, resulting in the incoherence of the dance. Such errors caused by using the hands could be avoided if the man uses his torso to lead. (See The Functions of Various Body Parts in Tango.)
5. Bending over
I stress leading with the torso rather than with the chest, because the entire upper body is utilized in leading. Using the chest to lead could cause a tall man to bend over with his buttock sticks out, which not only looks inelegant, but may also add pressure on the woman, causing her to bend backwards. The correct posture is to keep the body upright and tall. In order to maintain an elegant posture, a tall man should use his stomach instead of chest to lead a short woman.
6. Bowing the head
Many couples stick their cheeks together in tango as a sign of intimacy. However, if the man is much taller than the woman, this could cause him to bow his head, curve his torso, hold his chest in, stick his buttock out, and bend his knees, which not only look awful, but also add pressure on the woman. A tall man and a short woman would be better not tango together. If they choose to dance together, then the woman may rest her head on his chest, but the man should not bend over to meet her head with his. Rather, he should stand tall, keeping his torso upright, chest out, head up, and knees straight.
7. Coercing the woman to submit
An immature leader may think of follow as unconditional surrender and obedience. However, the surrender and obedience in tango is not unilateral, but mutual. Tango is about intimacy, empathy, adaptation, comfort, harmony and freedom. Both lead and follow should be gentle, thoughtful, moderate and comfortable. To lead is not to coerce, but to guide, support, collaborate, adapt, protect, and help the woman to unfold her skills and beauty. Just as the woman should submit to the lead, the man, too, should submit to the need of the woman. There must not be any coerce in leading.
An inexperienced man often thinks from his own perspective and fails to take into consideration the balance, axis, time, space and support that the woman needs in her dancing. Examples of his self-centeredness include taking care only of his own balance and overlooking hers, leading her to take a step while her balance is not yet in place, letting her rotate on a tilted axis, leading her to move but blocking her path, not giving her enough time to finish her step, leading her to do things beyond her ability, and so on. Such could cause her to feel coerced and uncomfortable. The man must think from the standpoint of the woman, constantly adjust his position, embrace, posture, weight, speed, movement, etc., to adapt to her needs and facilitate her dance, so that she can feel free.
9. Not giving her support
Letting her be free in the dance does not mean letting her dance alone without your support. An inexperienced man often just sends a signal and then waits for the woman to follow, but fails to provide the support that she needs in her dancing. In fact, such support is crucial because she is leaning on you. If you withdraw your support, even if you lean back only slightly, that could cause her to lose balance and compromise the quality of her dance. When she moves away from you, you have to follow her to maintain your support for her. When she moves into you, you have to retreat while not lose the support for her. Otherwise, she will feel falling away.
10. Overlooking ancillary actions
The lack of understanding of the structure of the movement is another problem of a beginner. Most steps in tango are not composed of only one action, but a combination of several actions. For example, dancing the ocho from the crossed position includes five actions: unwinding, taking a forward step, pivoting and swiveling the hips, taking another forward step, and pivoting and swiveling the hips again. Thus, the entire sequence needs to be led in five action steps. If you do not break down the sequence and attempt to bring out two actions in one lead, that will make it hard for the woman. Beginners tend to focus on the main action and overlook the ancillary action. For example, the man may directly lead the woman to take a forward step without unwinding her crossed leg first, or lead her to step forward while she is yet to complete her pivot and hip rotation.
11. Lacking of sophisticated musicality
The tendency of overlooking ancillary actions is reflected especially in the beginner’s handling of music. The musicality of the beginner is often raw and untrained. He may be able to identify the rhythm and lead the woman to step on the beat, but his handling of the ancillary actions is often crude and unmusical. Still use the example of the ocho, in which the beginner tends to focus on the main action, i.e., the forward step. Once a forward step is made, he immediately moves on to lead the next forward step. While both steps may be led on the beat, the transitional action between the two steps, namely pivot and rotation, often is led without smoothness. Such lead cannot satisfy a mature follower, who wants the leader to handle all aspects of the entire sequence in an exquisite way that every detail of the sequence meets the rhythm, melody, speed and mood of the music perfectly. Only in such a fashion dancing tango becomes truly a treat.
We sometimes see men short of good taste use their partner as a foil for their own self-display. Such men have invented more and more exhibitional steps for themselves, showing off at the milonga and drawing eyeballs to their performance. In my view this is a bad trend in tango today, because it is against the essence of tango. A man does not need to compete with the woman for attention. On the contrary, his job is to display her beauty. Instead of drawing eyeballs to himself, he should focus on making her feel pampered in his arms, shining her, and letting her be the center of attention. A leader's maturity is measured by how his partner dances, not by his own exhibition.