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DANCE TIPS

Susana Domingues portrait
I've offered some hints to those of you who are diligent enough to read up on clues for your progress.



    
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~ Follower's Codes & Principles ~
Understanding step-logic for patterns should really be the leader's concern. He learns these in order to improvise from moment to moment using effects and changes of directions. For the woman it is best not to imagine what pattern her partner might be about to do. Instead she deciphers between 3 options: walking, turning, and transferring weight. Other effects are possible as a result of these three options and as a result of 3 codes that she must learn (described below). By a code I mean the woman must know what to do in a given situation without being lead. This is different from a basic principles for unison movement with a partner and different from situations where a lead clearly indicates what do to.

Basic Follower's Principles:
  • indication of her walking steps comes from his torso. Example: his torso straight forward indicates her walking step straight back, his torso straight back indicates her walking step straight forward, same for side steps

  • she keeps her back in contact (without pressure) with his right arm while he has it around her back. This allows him to walk forward without trampling her toes, to change the distance between partners when needed and to change the partner's relation from frontal to open when needed.

  • when she feels (not sees) the man transfer his weight she must do the same

  • she must attempt at all times to keep the centre of her torso in front of the centre of his during walking steps or during his turns and changes of front

  • she must at all times keep the angle of her right elbow the same, unless the lead lowers his hand.

  • from a proper lead she will only feel pressure in her right arm during his or her pivots. She must reciprocate the exact amount of pressure she feels in her arm in order to maintain the angle of her right elbow during these.

Followers Codes:

There are several codes a follower must assume which expand the range of effects that can be lead in salon style Tango. The first of the three codes has been widely debated, with some schools arguing it should be done away with. The second and third have not spurred such controversy.

  • 1) when he walks to her outside R (the open side of the embrace), she will assume a cross of her left over right unless he prevents it. Experienced leaders may augment this situation by providing a very slight leftward pressure with their right forearm.

  • 2) if he leads her in a circular manner around him she, unless prevented by her partner from doing so, she will employ a circular grapevine (called a Molinete) in which she alternates front and back steps from every side step, i.e. she may step front-side-back-side-front-side etc..

  • 3) if he turns her so that her hips are perpendicular to his, she must extend her free foot in front of or behind the other. For example if her weight is on her right and he turns her clockwise, she will send her left foot in front of the other without changing weight. If he turns her counterclockwise, she ll send her left foot behind. All is reversed if she stands on her L. By adopting this code, women find they are more ready to perceive boleos when he leads them, but it also make her a more subtle and responsive dancer when executing back ochos or front ochos..
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~ Leader's Arm Positions ~

  • Although both arms and hands will hold a certain tone consistent, it is not necessary to put pressure in either arm/hand. At times, some pressure may be felt as a result of opposition created by torque during pivots.

Leader's left Arm:

  • when holding partner close (both chests parallel and in contact), his left arm will stay back and in line with the shoulder or side-seam of his shirt. His left hand will face his head.

  • when executing a step which requires partners be held a little further away, his left arm will come forward between the partners. His left hand will face the two partners.

  • in both cases the left arm continues to hold a 90 degree angle (means left hand will never come very close to leader's left shoulder). That angle will remain 90 degrees even if he must lower or raise his arm for partners that are shorter or taller than he.

  • his left hand is held at the eye to mouth level of the partner that is shorter.

  • it is very difficult for leaders to keep left arm from moving too far forward if the follower allows her right arm to collapse backward. Yet, he can still retain the 90 degree angle in the left arm.

Leader's Right Arm:

  • when holding partner close (both chests parallel and in contact) his right elbow will point sideways and his right forearm will be parallel to the floor. His right hand will probably reach around the other side of her back.

  • when executing a step which requires partners be held a little further away, his right elbow will point slightly downward and his Right hand will no longer reach as far around her back.

  • for the best aesthetic, keep fingers together. Thumb can be together with fingers or pointing up.
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~ Consistency ~
In the beginning stages of learning Tango, consistency is extremely important. As with other disciplines, a lack of consistency can cause students' skills to regress rather than advance. This means something different to each person, since individual aptitude levels vary. For some, missing outside of classroom practice opportunities hinders learning. For others, the same effect is caused by missing the occasional class and then attempting to catch up on the new steps learned. For yet others, advancing to higher level courses too quickly can also cause the student to regress in previously established skills. A steady but not necessarily quick learning pace is preferable.
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~ Milonga Etiquette ~
A Milonga, is the term used when referring a type of music and dance which is an older cousin of Tango. It is also the term for the social tango dancing event. Here are some etiquette tips for Milongas:

  • If you are not dancing, it is courteous to stay clear of the dance floor.

  • Unsolicited teaching and/or correcting your partner is very uncool in a social dance situation. I recommend working out stuff at practices or classes, not at social dances.

  • Hygiene is very important if you want others to enjoy dancing with you. Bring breath mints too.

  • Optional: Although sweating is an accepted part of social dancing, some dancers bring a small hand towel or a second shirt/T-shirt if they know the first will soak with sweat.

  • Avoid uncomfortable accessories such as belt buckles that protrude or large key chains; or jewelry that may snag clothing.

  • Glasses should be removed while on the dance floor unless necessary for lead's navigation.

  • Talking while dance is not usual and may send the message one is bored with the dancing.

  • Switching partners is not required in the social setting, especially when one has brought one's own.

  • It is discourteous to shortcut or race someone else to the person you wish to dance with.

  • Avoid apologizing for dance mistakes that did not cause personal injury. Just dance your best. J

  • Some Tangueros' facial expression can be described as a look of angst or even a grimace. It is probably a reflection of how they are responding to the music. But, smiling is OK too. Really! J
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~ Floorcraft ~
The lead is responsible for protecting the follow from collision. While some small collisions are unavoidable it is ideal for followers to feel confident their partner will not lead them into collision or will know how to avoid collision when possible. However, it takes time for beginner leads to do this, and to also incorporate an awareness of the flow of movement, and to be able to move with that flow. Since follows are not to be preoccupied with what patterns come next, they can help their partner by being aware of those around. Here are a few guidelines:

  • movement flows counterclockwise around the dance floor.

  • leaders: leave enough space in front of you, for the couple ahead to do one back step.

  • follows: If a collision is approaching from behind your partner, a slight pressure of the left arm against his shoulder will surely indicate that someone has not left him enough room for a back step.

  • leaders: keep your chin straight (instead of looking downward) to better see who you are heading towards and who's heading towards you.

  • leaders: the more crowded the dance floor, the more linear your patterns must be. Another way of looking at it is to think that the dance floor has lanes. The more crowded the dance floor, the more lanes there will be. More lanes means each lane is narrower. Less lanes means each lane can be wider.

  • in crowded situations, both partners keep their heels near the floor for all moves.

  • leaders: during back steps that oppose line of dance keep your foot under your torso.

  • leaders: if you find it impossible to keep with the flow of traffic (avoid clogging flow), or feel compelled to do show steps, move to the centre of the floor. There you'll be out of the way of line-of-dance traffic although it may still be necessary to watch the space around you and avoid feet in the air.

  • Follows can do embellishments that are not lead, only when sure of their surroundings and that they will not hit other couples.

  • Follows: if you are sure that the lead is temporarily forgetting to incorporate floorcraft, you may want to indicate your discomfort about near collisions.
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~ Etiquette for Musical Curtain ~
The musical curtain and the etiquette that accompanies it, is a product of the Argentine culture. The musical curtain is a 30 second segment of non-tango music used repeatedly in an evening to separate sets by orchestra and by music type such as Vals or Milonga. Many North American Tango DJ's use musical curtains, but in Vancouver many people do not follow the etiquette that accompanies the musical curtain. Therefore one should not be offended if one's partner does not observe them. Here is the Argentine Etiquette for the musical curtain just so you know:

  • The musical curtain is used to clear the floor between sets. It is not meant to be danced to.

  • It is improper to dance more than one consecutive set with the same dancer. This allows one to graciously retire from dancing with that partner and return later only if desired. In Argentina it is perceived as very forward to dance consecutive sets after musical curtains, and may indicate an interest in that person, other than dance enthusiasm.

  • If a dancer does not dance all of the 3-4 pieces in the set, it indicates that he/she did not enjoy it enough to continue and probably won't want to dance with that person later in the evening. Sometimes dancers will wait until the third piece of a set before inviting an unfamiliar partner to dance. This shortens the committment between the two dancers in case one of them is not enjoying the other.
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~ The Follower's Gift/The Leader's Gift ~
The Follower's Gift: So many of us are sensitive to the notion that something we do may displease another. Nervousness can easily occur when dancing. A genuine smile to indicate when you are smiling inside will certainly put your partner at ease. Clear your mind of any expectations or judgments of your partner. Perhaps instead, focus and work on your own challenges rather than those of your partner. If this is your partner's first evening out dancing tango, expect the initial "dance floor amnesia" that comes with the territory. Refraining from any final verbal assessment of/to one's partner, is a wonderful courtesy that too few dancers observe.

The Leader's Gift: With unfamiliar partners, start with moves she knows, and slowly, gradually introduce more difficult patterns. Don't insist on repeating steps she's having trouble with. This will not instill her confidence in your lead or in her own dancing. Protect her from oncoming dancers and avoid collision by being careful of the directions you lead her to. Be sure of every step she makes so you are sure she is still corresponding with you. Paying attention to your partner and her manner of executing steps rather than completely preoccupying yourself with what you will execute next, is the loveliest gift.
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~ Can You Dance Tango to Singers? ~
Some tango singing you can dance to socially, others not.

Tango music has had many phases, gaining and losing popularity throughout its history. It started out as small instrumental ensembles without singers. This is when Tango was more in its Milonga phase. In the 20's poetry was being written for Tango and Carlos Gardel, Argentina's most famous Tango singer, became an ambassador for Tango, exporting it through song, to the whole world. It especially caught on in Paris where he spent some time. Then in the 40's, during a resurgence of tango dance, Tango bands became much larger, resembling the big swing bands of the United States, and further popularised themselves by featuring Tango singers for pieces that one could dance to.

Piazzolla, a great but controversial innovator in Tango music (classical training and jazz sensibilities), had a very successful collaboration with poet Horacio Ferrer from 1967 to 1973. In some recordings Piazzolla plays bandoneon solos while Ferrer or vocalist Goyeneche recite lyrics. When the lyrics were sung, the singer's interpretations swayed the tempo so much, it made the pieces almost impossible to dance to on the social dance floor. The Tango of the period became something more for listening.

Today with the worldwide resurgence since the "Tango Argentino" dance production was on Broadway in 1985, we are seeing the emergence of new musical Tango groups that make music for dance. They include Tango songs appropriate for dancing.
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~ Who Decides on the Embrace ~
The embrace in Tango changes throughout a dance depending on which step the lead is executing. This means that the embrace is set by the leader not the follower. An experienced follower keeps her left arm relaxed in order to bring it further around the leader's shoulder for a closer or purpendicular hold, or further down his arm for an embrace with more space between the partners. Experienced partners make these transitions with ease and fluidity. With unfamiliar partners or with beginner followers, it may initially take a few seconds to find a comfortable hold to start with together. Although dancers must accept that Tango is danced close, in these few seconds the man can sense how comfortable his partner is and how much distance she might prefer at first.
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~ Advanced Women's Technique ~
The following are only a few aspects of advanced technique specific to women:

  • Increase torque: when possible, make your entire upper body and part of your hip face your partner. Only part of your hip will face the direction your feet are going in next. The reverse is not as good: to have your entire hip facing the direction your feet are going in next, and only part of your upper body facing your partner.

  • Examine turn-out: a little more or perhaps a little less turn out in the feet could be the next step in increasing the elegance and femininity in your walk. Too much turn-out on straight backwards walking will force the leader to also assume turn-out, otherwise tripping on your feet.

  • Examine extending leg during front steps: If you do not point your toe just before transferring, your step will often not be long enough. The inner edge of the foot that extends seeks to return to an imaginary line of travel, as soon as it has passed around the supporting foot. At the moment of full leg extension, the outer edge of the toe is more on the floor than the inner edge. Seek to minimize this slightly.

  • Examine trailing leg during front steps: slightly turn the instep inwards, as the weight is removed from the trailing leg. The inner edge of the trailing foot seeks to return to an imaginary line of travel, as soon as weight is removed.

  • Examine extending leg during back steps, particularly on the back step of the woman's molinete (grapevine) during the man's lapiz. It is made endlessly easier for both partners when the woman places her extending leg exactly behind the supporting leg before transferring. To increase finesse and elegance, turn the heel of the extending leg inward so that the instep of the foot turns toward the floor. Then as she transfers weight onto that foot it must be transferred onto both sides of the ball of the foot -- not just the instep. Also, the inner edge of the foot that extends, seeks to return to an imaginary line of travel, as soon as it has passed around the supporting foot.

  • Examine trailing leg during back steps: during back steps the trailing leg is considered to be the front leg. After the weight is removed from the front foot, point the toe while keeping the foot along the floor, just before collecting in preparation for the next step. This will avoid the unflattering "showing the sole" of the front shoe during back steps. The inner edge of the trailing foot seeks to return to an imaginary line of travel, as soon as weight is removed.

  • It goes without saying that the woman's right elbow must not change its angle (about 135 degrees) - as if in a cast. However a little trick for dealing with leaders who put unnecessary pressure downward and force the woman to offer unnecessary resistance in her Right arm, is to turn her elbow just slightly more straight down. This at times can very subtly shift his arm to its proper position where it rests without pressure and tension.

  • Left hand on his shoulder or back: the amount of pressure the woman places on left hand and/or arm should be minimal - like touch or as light as a billowing scarf. Keep it in check. Examine the position of the left hand (angle of hand to arm). Keep the line from the arm to hand soft and without sharp angles.

  • Monitor movement in waist and hips - avoiding a "wobbly" torso by keeping the abdomen strong and intact during weight transfers. In general, hip and waist movement should be minimized, although responding to different dancers and styles will sometimes create very subtle but lovely cadences in the hips. The key is to avoid involuntary movement that cannot be controlled.

  • Persistant attention to 1) increasing her torque, 2) strengthening her torso during weight transfers, and 3) keeping her upper body facing partner whenever possible, will create the most relaxed, elegant beauty in the upper quarter of the body.
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~ Performing Tips ~
Although it is my focus to facilitate students in their social dancing, you may find yourself doing a dance demo for your friends, or in situation where you are asked to perform. Here are some simple tips:Argentine Tango Vancouver

  • Breathing can become very shallow during performances, due to nervousness. This will fatigue you very quickly, increasing nervousness all the more. Be aware of this. Breath through your nose if you can.

  • Nervousness occurs for many dancers regardless of how much performing experience they have. Arriving late & feeling unready only adds to nervousness. Arrive early enough to have time waiting in costume.

  • In the first 30 seconds, don't show all your best moves. Save a few of your very best for just before the ending.

  • Whether improvising or choreography, give the audience breaks in the tension, building towards difficult steps and then releasing tension with simpler elegant moves.

  • Move around the dance floor to use the entire dance space available. This provides another layer of entertainment to the audience.

  • Accidents can happen. If you slip or even fall, continue dancing as quickly as you can. Most audiences are very encouraging of the idea of "getting back on the horse" right way and usually applaud you for doing so.

  • Avoid loosely sewn hems of dresses or skirts. The woman's heel can get caught inside. On a knit fabric skirt any hem at all can be dangerous for the same reason.

  • Patent leather grips to patent leather, so patent leather shoes need greasing otherwise they will trip you and/or your partner. Use Vaseline to grease them. In an emergency, lip balm, butter or hand lotion.

  • Bring two pairs of shoes to compensate for sticky or slippery floors. One with a leather or suede sole another with a hard rubber sole. Although not ideal, sprinkling baby powder on the floor can help with a very sticky floor.

  • Expression: Although smiling is not appropriate during all Tangos, keep an 'aliveness' even to the most serious of expressions otherwise it can tend to look too morose.

  • Select your Tango piece(s) based on questions such as: Has this crowd seen Tango before? What age group is the audience? Were tickets paid or is the performance a surprise? Will you be competing with the surroundings for their attention.
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