My tango myths

It’s been six months since I returned from Buenos Aires and I’ve definitely been writing less, dancing more and of course, working long hours at the office. I’ve had some time to think about my tango philosophy, which to me is just as important as my dancing or my technique. As a result, I’ve compiled a list of things about tango that in my experience are myths, and that I wanted to share with my readers. These are my myths, just like this is my tango journey. Yours may be different but, of course, I’m keen to hear what you think. Here we go.

It’s a myth that the man ‘leads’ and the woman ‘follows’. The man needs to ‘listen’ just as much as he ‘speaks’ and the woman is equally responsible in responding to craft the story that is created through the dance, rather than passively ‘nodding’ to whatever the man is ‘saying’. The man is not responsible for making the woman move, therefore he doesn’t need to exert force or nor worry about where she will go. He just needs to make sure he is doing what it is that he needs to do well and give her the time and space to respond. If she doesn’t, it’s a matter of her needing further training, not a matter of him overcompensating to the point of getting both the woman and himself into bad habits that are very hard to get rid of once they’re imprinted in muscle memory.

It’s a myth that there’s only one kind of ‘real tango’. Beauty can be found in many different styles and many different dancers. I tend to gravitate my favourite dancers but that doesn’t mean I can’t pick things I like from others. If Gavito had been alive when I was in Buenos Aires, I would have taken classes from him because I love how he interprets the music, and especially pauses. I took almost all of my private classes from salon dancers such as Sebastian Achával, Roxana Suarez, and Gabriel Angió but it doesn’t mean I stopped going dancing to my favourite milongas at El Beso, where the floor was so crowded that I could have never ‘practiced’ the long steps and the giros I’d learn during the day. Labels such as ‘milonguero’, ‘stage’ or ‘salon’ are useful only to a certain extent because this is a fluid art form and they all use elements from each other. Ultimately, I know tango when I see it. They’re never good when they’re used in a judgmental way.

It’s a myth that you can only have a connection in close embrace, with your chests touching each other. It feels much better than an open embrace and achieving a connection in the latter requires a lot of technique and effort but it is possible and it is the result of a number of things, some of which I can’t put into words. Again, you know connection when you see it, and sometimes, you can’t even see it because only the two people dancing will know. Moreover, it’s not true that close embrace is achievable only during a milonguero style or that in order to do fancier steps you have to break it. See one of my favourite couples for an example of how you can do this well.

It’s a myth that social tango is an internal experience only for you and your partner. While the main characteristic of it is that you create a dialogue between yourself, your partner and the music, by the very definition of ‘social’, you are dancing with other people. Every man on the floor dances with other men as well, in the sense that they are spatially aware of each other and collaborate to create that beautiful flow that seen from up above makes the dance floor on the milonga so appealing to the eye. To varying extents, every dancer on the floor knows that they’re being watched, and therefore there’s an element of exhibitionism in every dance. You want to look good to your dance prospects so you have better chances of being picked or picking later. Since its beginnings, the dance floor at a milonga has been where dancers from different gangs or neighbourhoods would show off their skills to each other, in a bid to attract the best ladies. So while I agree that beautiful tango doesn’t need to be about fancy footwork or complicated steps, there’s nothing wrong with performing complicated steps in perfect sync with the music and where appropriate.

It’s a myth that salon tango displays are not real tango because they’re rehearsed. The purpose of these displays is to delight, inspire, and showcase the skills of the dancers. They work hard at what they do and they want to please their audiences and also stand out from the myriad other dancers that operate in the very tough and competitive environment that is professional tango. This is why they add extra ingredients to make things more interesting. While they’re rehearsed, they’re still improvised. If they danced like they’d dance in a milonga, they probably wouldn’t get much recognition nor many students or festival invitations. The crowds demand a show and a show is what they get. But just because they go fast or do many steps, doesn’t mean these steps are alien. In fact, if you watch carefully any standard salon tango performance you can see that they’re using elements from an existing repertoire of moves, the same way as you’d construct complex sentences in a particular language. Just because the sentence is complex, doesn’t mean it’s foreign.

It’s a myth that you have to dance with the best dancers to have an enjoyable time or even to improve. Dancing with those old men at El Beso, who recycled the same three steps during the whole tanda or weren’t particularly comfortable in their embrace, taught me valuable things that I couldn’t learn from dancing with slick professionals at the break of dawn at La Viruta. Class isn’t always about beautiful enrosques. Making a woman feel wanted isn’t always about squeezing her and dancing isn’t always about stepping to the beat. It’s the old guys that taught me to take my time and enjoy the waiting pauses, and I’m thankful for that. Similarly, dancing with less experienced dancers can be a wonderful experience if you stop thinking about how they’re falling short and try to find at least one thing that they do well.

Finally, it’s a myth that the best dancers are worthy of your unconditional adoration. They’re people like the rest of us. They’ve got their fears, insecurities, things they’re good at, and things they’re not so good at. For some of them, tango is the only thing they know and you couldn’t imagine talking to them during a long bus ride. Moreover, it’s hard to know their motivations towards tourists. Are they friendly to you because it’s part of a carefully crafted image that is supposed to attract new business? When they ask you to dance is it because they want to dance with you or because they want to give you a taste of their honey, in the hope that you’ll go back asking for more. Of course, this is not always the case. I got to know all kinds of professionals, some of which are lovely people that I have the desire to stay in contact with. But at the end of the day, you need to dissociate (no pun intended) between their physical skills and their human skills in order to avoid disappointments.

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76 Responses to My tango myths

  1. Frank says:

    Thanks for that. I could not agree more. Especially the part about social dancing should be more in focus if we talk about Tango Argentino. For my experience even the best performers and dancers (also if they are very friendly and good teachers in technical subjects) leave the communities outside of Buenos Aires alone with that problem by teaching actually show Tango at festivals. And the dancers will only change if they have understood that they are not only dancing with one person and what a great feeling it can be to dance with many people together.
    Frank

  2. Tp says:

    Agreed ! Well said.

  3. jantango says:

    Tango as a social dance is disappearing in Buenos Aires and being replaced with “salon dancers” who perform more than they dance socially. The recent winners of the city salon tango championship are examples of this. I hope dancers in other parts of the world will start to question those who teach choreography for exhibition rather than the basic social skills needed to survive on the social dance floor.

    • tangobora says:

      I think the lines of ‘performing’ are blurry. Anyone can claim you’re performing as soon as you throw in a little adorno. But I wouldn’t look at the competition as an example of how social dance is faring in Buenos Aires. Those people are displaying their skills as they’re being judged by a committee so they’re keen to impress. They don’t even go to milongas because they’re practising all day long for other championships, e.g. the world championship. The people who perform are professionals who earn a living out of this, or aspire to do it in the future so their motivations and skill sets are different. The rest of us do it for pleasure so clearly we have to pick and choose what works for us.

    • Brickster says:

      The demise of “true tango” has been one of the consistent themes of tango for decades. The tango “Adios Arrabol” written in 1930 laments “la milonga poreña nunca mas volverá.”

      Tango de Verdad is not going away. More people are dancing tango today than ever in the history of the world. Yes, Sturgeon’s Law holds up, and 90% of it is crap, but the 10% that is good is awesome… The best there ever was

      • Anonymous says:

        Very True!

        Perhaps the 40s was the golden age for Tango music – but I think the golden age for the dancing is today…

      • Anonymous says:

        “90 % of it is crap, but the 10% that is good is awesome…” Not many people able to precieve this.
        They are the people only dance one or two tandas in milonga here in BA. “The intelligent know each other(90%), the wise know oneself (10%)”. That’s verdad.

  4. “He just needs to make sure he is doing what it is that he needs to do well and give her the time and space to respond. I”

    Cany you explain this? What the leader needs to do? If not leading by force, what is leading then?

    • tangobora says:

      Leading isn’t pushing or shoving with the hands. Leading is ‘asking’ with your body for the other person to do something, and involves hearing an ‘answer’. Leading is saying ‘I will do this now, and I hope that you come with me,’ not ‘I will do this now and you must come with me at all costs or else…’ I don’t know how else to explain it. Maybe a man can do a better job at this than me.

      • So you think there is time for “asking” and “agreeing”? How in particular is the “asking” done? But explained in simple, not abstract terms?

      • Dieudonne says:

        You take the lead (initiate it) in inviting her, then if and when she accept, you open the door, she accept, and then steps in, then you follow after her, and close the door behind you and always give her the time to do what you asked her to do . As oppose to not asking her, grabbing her by the hair with one hand while holding the door open with the other one, and shoving her through, and slamming the door shut behind you.
        You know that she will not enjoy the 2nd method, and therefore neither will you.
        When you make contact with her body, practice listening to her body, it will tell you how she wants to be embraced (just be quiet and forget what you want, forget about everything and be with her for as long as it takes…let the other dancers fly by), listen to her heart, time it with yours, then very softly, invite her to shift her weight to the music, and before you move, let her know that you are about to move (how else can she tell?) do not make her guess, she wants to be with you. When you know that she understand that you are about to move, then move making sure that she gets “there”, and when she is there, you catch up with her, give her time to collect, and get on her axis, and then proceed.
        There is much more, but this hopefully will help for now.

      • Frank says:

        Bora, you have never written better or more truly. My mother described leading in this way: “A man invites his partner to take a step, and she accepts that offer, then he invites her again.” It is never an easy concept, and it does not describe the whole conversation. The “asking” is done by movement of the man’s body by the smallest possible hint of the intended step, and as the partner accepts the request, the “leader” becomes momentarily the “follower”. Some call that invitation “intention”.

      • Anon says:

        “Leading is saying ‘I will do this now, and I hope that you come with me”

        Bora, you make it obvious you have been learing to lead for a few months only.

        You’re already advertising yourself as a teacher. Isn’t that a bit premature??

      • tangobora says:

        I have a problem with your statement. Advertising oneself as a teacher means you’re positioning yourself as an authority and seeking financial compensation through classes. I have a full time job and do not intend to make a living out of tango. Whatever technique knowledge I share with my readers comes from things I learn myself, come to understand or that I find interesting or important enough to share.

    • Anonymous says:

      When teaching complete beginners I find that most leaders need to be encouraged to use a bit of ‘force’ or ‘push’ with their frame to make the followers move in the direction they intend. Otherwise their lead is usually so timid and hesitant that is really difficult for followers to understand the intention, direction or musicality of their lead.

      But over time as they get more confident and experienced we then guide them to be more subtle and precise in their lead so that they can ‘invite’ their partner into the next move not ‘force’ them. This is an evolutionary process. Skillful, subtle leading doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, patience and perseverance.

      When dancing with a skillful leader I feel a very clear precise lead, I understand where he wants me to go and how he is interpreting the music. Our minds and bodies have synchronised. We are attuned. The saying of “one heart four legs” applies!

      Now to answer the question as to “what a leader needs to do” all I can say is that he firstly needs to really want to achieve this state, he then needs find an experienced teacher who is skilled in teaching improvised Tango, and then most importantly he needs to spend many hours practicing. He needs to care a lot about the details and technique of leading, and dance with many dancers. Private lessons will certainly fast track the learning process.

      On a more specific and technical note, I notice that when the leaders starts to think ‘how can i move my partner’s free leg to move on the beat?’ rather than ‘ how / when / when should I step?” ie, when the focus is on his partner rather than himself, his dancing takes a quantum leap ahead.

      Another observation is that when the leader’s focus shifts from the moves to the music itself, i.e. when.he starts to think “let the music dance me” rather than “I dance to the music”, his musicality and dancing as a whole greatly improves.

      • Angel says:

        No sure how I end up here??
        Quickly read thought all the comments, another tango blog full of “confirmation bias” (both the writer and feedbacks??). There are more blogs written by more mature dancers. My favorite is
        http://tangocherie.blogspot.com/
        Hope everyone will enjoy it.
        Happy tangoing.

      • tangobora says:

        Thanks Angel for reading the bits that you did. Maybe one day you’ll find interesting reading material here. Until then, happy dancing 🙂

  5. hub says:

    Applying force is not always necessary when leading. For example when you take the usual first salida step to the side, you do not need to push or pull the follower to stay connected at all. When you sink or rise you also don’t need to lift or press the follower up and down for them to follow you.

  6. Frank says:

    Well said. As far as I have understood dancing Tango Argentino is about communication. If someone wants to make the step from the more sportif beginning of dancing Tango into that unexplainable deep connection you have to start to listen to the music and to the body and soul of your partner. (that is for both partners)

  7. Hear, hear. Bora, this list is phenomenal. I couldn’t agree more with each of your observations, thank you for taking the time to put all of this into words.

  8. Times have changed a lot since I was a Finalista (#15 out of more than 500 couples) in the Championships of 2006.
    We danced for the judges at La Rural the exact same way we dance at milongas. We never practiced, or had any idea of “adornos” or special steps to Wow the judges. We danced who we are, and did just fine.

    Nowadays, the Competition is more about money, fame, and overseas teaching contracts.And the sad truth is that foreigners demand patterns, steps, adornos, choreography a la “Dancing With the Stars.” Then when these same folks come to BsAs and dance in the milongas, they are lost.

    We just need to remember that there are many ways to dance tango–and the “twain” usually never meets.

    • I’d like to add a clip here, one of my favourites, of Cherie and Ruben. It really makes me smile and cuts through a lot of over-intellectualising about tango.

      There is no time for Cherie to ‘interpret’ or ‘move herself’ because this is fabulous music with drive. They are one body with four legs, with a leader and a follower, and they move utterly as the music drives them.

      Cherie, maybe we’ll meet you both in August 2011, maybe not, but I’m really glad that someone posted these videos of you!

      Tangogeoff

      • Bora Tango says:

        I’d love to see this clip…but where is it?

      • Geoff Nicholls says:

        Hmmmm….my link got dropped out, I’ll try again

      • “Geoff Nicholls says:
        June 12, 2011 at 12:52 am

        There is no time for Cherie to ‘interpret’ or ‘move herself’ because this is fabulous music with drive. They are one body with four legs, with a leader and a follower, and they move utterly as the music drives them. ”

        Could not agree more. As an experinced leader, nothing frustrates me more than a lady that blocks the movement until she understands where she is to go. This is very boring way to “dance”. I do not consider it dance at all. This is the very guessing everyone advises against. Dancing with no guessing means that the lady should not wait for a clear signal from the man and then respond – no, the lady waits for signals within HER body – where it is and where it is going, no matter for what reason – leading, or just inertia, craftfully used by the leader.

        Pablo Rodrigues once said – “The lady should not try to undersand the movement and then do it herself – she should just let the movement enter her body”. This is the very same idea. Don’t block the movement until you know what it is – let it enter your body first. This is the very contrary to “invitation” and “responce” idea – the movement is already inside her body (her body already in motion), then she she knows it is happening.

        People who do not understand this way of dancing think that it requires a lot of effort (force). On the contrary, if done properly, it requires so little effort, that the lady does not perseive it as force acting on her.. For her, things just happen somehow, without effort from her side. And the leader does not lead her, he leads “the whole” – that is why this is not an ugly, primitive forcefull leading. It is something completely different.

    • Bora Tango says:

      So interesting what you say Cherie. Most of us never got to see that. And it’s true that the crowds need ‘more’ to get excited now. Even when I watch couples that used to dance simply, I can see that they’ve sexed up their dance only in the past year. And it’s not just the steps, it’s the clothes, the attitude…everything is there to impress. But these are professionals. We don’t have to dance like them. I have a desk job that keeps me busy 10+ hours a day. They have no choice but to be this way. The market asks for it.

  9. “You take the lead (initiate it) in inviting her, then if and when she accept . . .”

    ok, every one is telling the same mantra. but how is the invitation done?

  10. Bora Tango says:

    You won’t understand it in your head if you read explanations. You need to have someone show you so you can feel it. I suggest you ask an experienced follower to give you some feedback in this respect, as well as an experienced leader to show you how it’s done.

    • Do 11 years count as enough experience?

    • El Ingeniero says:

      Hey Krasimir, I’m not gonna pretend like I can read Bora’s mind, but it seems kind of simple what she talking about. Basically, if you are trying to lead something and the lady doesn’t follow completely, then you don’t drag her along, forcing her to do the exact step you are leading (I hope you don’t. You have been dancing for 11 years now). Instead, you adjust or change what were trying to lead to match her movement so that she stays comfortable. This is obvious when you are dancing with a beginner follower who isn’t following very well. The same applies, and that’s what you seem to be missing, when you are dancing with an advanced lady who is listening to the music and actively participating in the dance. Her feeling and her movements should influence the way you are dancing, so it’s not a one-way dictation, but a 2-way conversation.

      Bora, does that sound about right?

      • Bora Tango says:

        Very well said. It’s a state of mind above everything else.

      • I did not say a leader has to force a movement irrespective of anything. What I say is that there is a better way to dance tango than riduculous “invitation-agree to move-move” stuff. The lady should follow, anyway, why not using the drive of the leader to ease her movement, instead of blocking it, and then recreating it herself, with the involved delay and imprecision?

        People, it is not my fault that yyou can’t understand what I’m saying. You can’t critisize something before understanding it. So first understand, then critisize.

  11. cecil says:

    It took me a long time to understand tango. ‘Lead and follow’ is incorrect. It should be ‘lead and follow and follow.’ The man leads, the lady follows (responds) and the man follows her (acompanar). It is only then that you have a real exchange, a conversation a tango.

    • What if those lead-follow-follow are not separate in time? What if the do occur in the same time? Both parthners follow “the whole”, ALL THE TIME. And from time to time, someone, usually the leader, inserts some “leading” into the said whole?

      • cecil says:

        lead – follow – follow happens in time, continuallally on every beat, in every movement. The man always leads, the lady never leads. The man follows the lady after his lead, he does not follow a lead from the lady.

  12. Drunkard says:

    The easiest example of invitation is how you use cabeceo to invite a girl to the dancefloor without physically come to her and ask for. First, you initiate a thought of going to dance with a girl, then you generate the ‘eye’ connection with her. Until then, you could send her an invitation through that connection; and wait for her acceptance. With her acceptance, you could follow her or ‘lead’ her to the spot you want to start the dance. That process does need ‘intention’ energy to send invitation but not a force. Try to apply same process in the dance before you make a step. With the salida, you should try to connect with her first, make sure she is ‘ready’ for a move, then try to initiate a thought of direction with your eyes, but not move her with force, then wait n see her acceptance. You could tell her try not to accept ur invitation by making another lapiz/adorment n waiting for the next phrase of music.
    Happy dancing with her. 😉
    To Bora: connection between 2 ppl sometimes might be just the same fav0rite colour or flavor or music. But i love apilado close-embrace, the closest connection for physical core energy n also easier to ‘flow’ sometimes. I love the list of myths. And wish to hear more from you the myth of waiting pause.
    Many thanks for great post.

    • If the invitation is some abstract “invitation energy”, why is the good connection in open embrace more difficult? If hte invistation is just moving your body “somehow”, letting the other feel this and waiting for responce, why is the distance between parthners important? It should not be if the leading is just an information channel, not a physical one.

  13. Drunkard says:

    Dear Mr technique, so sorry i don’t know how to spell your name. Im trying to use physical movement here to answer all your question through this information channel ‘Bora’s blog’. Could you received my lead or my invitation energy? That’s why the distance does affect the understanding/ receiving energy flow from one person to another. I don’t think Bora or all the readers would understand your abstract theory about dancing without invitation and response. And base on my 10yr being drunk on the dancefloor, i understand your statement about the movement in her body, man only need to lead the ‘whole’; that is what I meant by invitation energy that leader needs little effort to invite the ‘whole’ to move but not force it move. I think movement might be ready in her body but she is not moving by herself, but have to be a response to leader which might be the man or the music or the ‘whole’. My question for you is if no lead and response, how you could define partner dancing. Even dance by the movement ready built in herself, does she need the music to lead her to move? Or if her movement lead the musicians play the music? Or if the dance does not need a physical energy /movement? Or if Bora would let us asking for more ‘Ifs’?
    Many thanks to Bora who spent time to build this blog for us to perfect the technical questions. It might come to my last question if one question + another question = 2 answers ;). Happy dancing.

  14. terpsichoral says:

    Wonderful, Bora! I couldn’t agree more with every one of your points.

    http://www.tangoaddiction.wordpress.com

  15. Angelina says:

    What a great discussion you have started, Congratulations. Bora. It is interesting how so many people have thoughts about how tango is danced and when there is a posting like this it focuses them to write them down.

  16. terpsichoral says:

    Incidentally, on the theme of leading and following, I personally don’t really believe in the idea that there is a separate thing called the “lead”. I think, in most cases, a skilled leader’s own movements — in particular the way in which those movements are initiated — already incorporate a lead within them. To give a really simple, non-tango example: if you are boogieing with someone at a party and start walking straight towards them, they will start walking backwards. This seems to me like a case of simple and natural leading and following (in this case, probably led and responded to visually, more than anything else). Tango often works in much the same way, except that in the specific case of tango, the leader almost always initiates his (or her) movements in the upper body, where the dancers are usually physically closest (which is one reason why it’s often easier to feel the lead in close embrace) and he anticipates very slightly. Movements themselves have a natural dynamic, which includes a moment of intention, in which you can intuit their direction, speed, cadence, etc. This is not unique to tango. This is just a theory of mine and it’s not really possible to explain it fully in writing (I’d need to actually demonstrate it physically). It would explain why, in the arms of a good leader, when I do a back ocho, for example, I don’t feel as though I was “led” to do one, more like I just wanted to do a back ocho at that moment, it just felt right. Having said that, I find it almost impossible to learn something about how to move by reading instructions. And I find that tango people spend a lot of time arguing over terminology and believing they disagree when they are actually describing the same thing.

    http://www.tangoaddiction.wordpress.com

  17. terpsichoral says:

    I also wonder how much mirror neurons might have to do with this. When an ape (including homo sapiens) sees another ape making a movement, there is increased blood flow to the cerebellum and other parts of the brain associated with movement, just as if the spectator were moving the same body parts him or herself. (This is true even when the watching ape stays completely still). Of course, in tango, we tend to feel rather than see the lead, but I still find it interesting. Maybe there’s someone reading this with more knowledge of neuroscience than me.

    http://www.tangoaddiction.wordpress.com

    • Drunkard says:

      dear Terpsichoral, i was commenting by phone so its hard to spell name sometimes. But, come closer to me, and “please embrace me”; then we whisper the secrets through the embrace ok!
      I found that alot of readers in here seems to understand well all the abstract theories in tango. I dont have much exp as well as classes in Tango as all of you; but might discuss more about your example of Apes as a joke.
      In Psychology, animals make movement when seeing others’ movement might be in contrary with Tango people. When an animal sees another making a movement, as a basic survivor instinct, it will measure and might make the same movement as if the moving object is getting close to its secure area. Where as, in tango, people want to get closer each other to the limit that they want to join together in the movement / even in their mind. And “closer” we are getting there, the more additive to tango arent we?
      I dont have enough knowledge of neuroscience to explain how much mirror neurons relate to movement in dancing,esp in Tango. But ill write a little later relate to body movement.
      happy “embracing”. 😉

      • Drunkard says:

        I forgot to mention that in tango, we should “sense” the energy flow or at least body movements from each other rather than just see or feel the “lead” only. And of course, donot forget to “sense” the energy from the music. In that sense, you would know better when there is lead or follow or take turn.
        Personally, i dont think mirror neurons have been activated in partner dance like tango. Partners dont imitate each other in the dance. But mirror neurons may be important for learning new skills by imitation. I found this might help better in body movement:
        “The central nervous system (CNS) is the part of the nervous system that integrates the information that it receives from, and coordinates the activity of, all parts of the bodies of bilaterian animals… It contains the majority of the nervous system and consists of the brain and the spinal cord.” Central nervous system
        From Wikipedia.
        In short, i would not discuss more about the information between the brain and the spinal cord but the spinal cord. “The spinal cord has three major functions: A. Serve as a conduit for motor information, which travels down the spinal cord. B. Serve as a conduit for sensory information, which travels up the spinal cord. C. Serve as a center for coordinating certain reflexes.” from Wikipedia. So basically, it would sensor the movement from those reflexes, send information to the brain, then receive response from the brain for coordinating certain reflexes for reaction. The human spinal cord is divided into 31 different segments which in pairs of sensory and motor are functioning at (from top down to bottom) Neck flexors, Neck extensors,the diaphragm, then Shoulder movement, raise arm flexion of elbow, externally rotates the arm, extends elbow and wrist (triceps and wrist extensors); pronates wrist, flexes wrist, small muscles of the hand,Intercostals and trunk above the waist,Abdominal muscles,Thigh flexion and adduction, Extension of leg at the hip, Extension of leg at the knee, Flexion of leg at the knee, Dorsiflexion of foot, Extension of toes, Plantar flexion of foot, Flexion of toes.
        For more details:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinal_cord
        Very interesting discussion to read. I have never been to BsAs since tangoing last year, so hope to see more basic tango instructions like from HUB, Dieudonne. TF is so keen to discuss on all of Bora’s list of myths. So i would like to comment on the tittle ‘My’ tango myths : how to ‘invite’ the follower to express her own interpretation of music? especially ‘invite’ her change from the strong rhythm to the melodies and vise versa? or technique to actually lead her to super fast movement like few mini steps/ quarter-beat changing weight in 1 beat. Should leaders stop or use less disassociation in movement to let her ‘know’ his changing weight in fast movement or some purposes? In musicality, should leader makes ‘noise’ within the connection / the embrace to express some sound effects?

        Thanks to Bora who let me perfect my questions again. Its hard to please you in the dance sometimes ;). Last question : how to lead a beautiful girl like Bora to make a ‘kiss’ figure?

      • Anonymous says:

        My comment can be wrong due to my lack of tolerance of reading the whole post.
        @Drunkard, you gave me a “chicken skin” with your last paragraph about the ‘kiss’ thing. This is not tango at all. If you really interested about “analysing” tango with neuroscience, my advice would be, look up “hippocampus” and spent no more than ten minutes. You will find one of the biggest mistakes Bora or other beginners are making is “analysing” tango too much with their ‘mind”. Tango involved completely different part of the brain. In order words, the more you try to analyze it, the more you losing it. Mastery teachers like Gavito, Dispari or may be Javier have a very good understanding of this principle.

      • Drunkard says:

        @Anonymous, Sorry, it was my bad English as a second language. I wrote that comment as a joke of misleading people analyzing tango techniques to the level of neuroscience which i had no clues/ conclusion to relate it to Tango. Except if you are nervous or frustrating or his “frustrates me more than a lady that blocks the movement” that could activate those system to send more signals and “tension” to some muscles and joints without awareness; and that state of mind really blocks the movement/ energy flow. We might have the same thought if i understand you well. As you might be the first one here bring up the discussion of feeling in tango, so i share some of my experiences instead of analyzing yours.. Most of my questions started from the technique, transformed to musicality, and ended with question in feeling. That might be the common tango journey that tango lovers have to experience. After my first tango bliss and others’ tango crush’ in my arms, i analyzed my ‘tango bliss’ through 4 states of challenges to ‘flow’. Lately, i found it is just the magic connection in musical appreciation and some personal values, but not really the bliss in the full embrace. I failed once i tried setting up a 1st-time dance to the state of ‘flow’ for someone like ‘her’, a strong mind girl. I should had learned ‘mind control’ to clear her mind first ;). I forgot about the ‘trust’ should come before the full-embrace. Fortunately, i gained her trust after 2 songs in open-embrace, again connection in musicality; but didn’t have enough technique and experiences, only 6 months dancing in milongas, to transform half-embrace to full-embrace in the last song. i wished the DJ would play 4th song… :(.
        Anyway, back to my last question about the ‘kiss’ figure which is actually my big myth: how to, in a tanda, persuade/ make ‘technique people’ to fall into the deep feeling of tango? As Gavito said, ” nobody can teach you the feeling” …
        …..
        Gavito, himself is my answer. I like to use science to analyze things, but also believe in spiritual energy. His spiritual energy could make his partners as well as his audiences, students to understand the deep feeling of tango.

        Thanks again to Bora for the great myths and discussion.

  18. frank (jay Jamush) says:

    A very nice article.
    A woman’s posture has a certain projection. That posture allows the man to lead and gives him a spectrum of choices. So yes it takes two to tango. Whenever I have had the experience of dancing with a good dancer, It has been a great experience. On the other note I enjoy when a beginner like myself has a good connection and dances with me.
    I find that the open embrace needs more experience and the extra distance creates more tensions in the beginner’s mind and arms. The easiest thing is to say “relax” and the hardest thing is actually to learn to relax.
    proficient dancers are connected without holding each other. The music and the look can connect I suppose.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Bora, excellent post, and I think all the responses are so great….
    The one asking all the questions….. I think it is great to see if someoneone can actually describe it,. Bora is right, it is all very abstract unless someone can take you through it, and show what they mean. Tango is tangible, and experiential. Again, congratulations on a good post, would love to hear if you have any more myths that you have discovered.

  20. Jack says:

    Красимир Стоянов is right that, at least after the beginner and intermediate stages, there are no separate actions that can be described as ‘lead and follow’, even less this absurd idea of invitation and acceptance. When the man and lady can both dance tango, what actually happens is that the man dances HIS tango and the lady accompanies him with HER tango. Together, they produce THEIR tango. How does it happen? Simple; they both know how to dance tango and they have respect for each others dance.

  21. When teaching complete beginners I find that most leaders need to be encouraged to use a bit of ‘force’ or ‘push’ with their frame to make the followers move in the direction they intend. Otherwise their lead is usually so timid and hesitant that is really difficult for followers to understand the intention, direction or musicality of their lead.

    But over time as they get more confident and experienced we then guide them to be more subtle and precise in their lead so that they can ‘invite’ their partner into the next move not ‘force’ them. This is an evolutionary process. Skillful, subtle leading doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, patience and perseverance.

    When dancing with a skillful leader I feel a very clear precise lead, I understand where he wants me to go and how he is interpreting the music. Our minds and bodies have synchronised. We are attuned. The saying of “one heart four legs” applies!

    Now to answer the question as to “what a leader needs to do” all I can say is that he firstly needs to really want to achieve this state, he then needs find an experienced teacher who is skilled in teaching improvised Tango, and then most importantly he needs to spend many hours practicing. He needs to care a lot about the details and technique of leading, and dance with many dancers. Private lessons will certainly fast track the learning process.

    On a more specific and technical note, I notice that when the leaders starts to think ‘how can i move my partner’s free leg to move on the beat?’ rather than ‘ how / when / when should I step?” ie, when the focus is on his partner rather than himself, his dancing takes a quantum leap ahead.

    Another observation is that when the leader’s focus shifts from the moves to the music itself, i.e. when.he starts to think “let the music dance me” rather than “I dance to the music”, his musicality and dancing as a whole greatly improves.

  22. tf says:

    Re the myth of “man leads and the women follow”: I think this is mainly a semantic issue. If you define leading as giving commands and following as passively obeying said commands then of course you are right. But very few would understand these terms this unidirectional way (references?) and so this is more of a straw man than a myth. The disadvantage of setting up a straw man like this is that, _unless_ it is replaced with another explanation driven terminology, merely denying the existence of leading and following obscures the existing asymmetry in the dance and is unhelpful both from the perspective of learning as well as from the perspective of understanding what many good dancers actually do.

    Re the myth of “there is only one kind of real tango”: I certainly agree, although my agreement is based on my conviction that “what is” questions are usually quite useless, and so “what is real” and “what is authentic” per se carry little value; “why” questions are more important. But this does not mean that one should not pay close attention to long lived traditions, because quite frequently there is a “why” reason for the ways their rules and boundaries are set, and these reasons are not always apparent without having been exposed long enough to the psychology and to the social dynamics of dancing. For instance internal consistency does carry such values even though many dancers who profess a “free mixing of elements” ideology do not recognize this. Clear labeling of different traditions becomes quite important to help to avoid false marketing and misrepresentation of what some group of dancers actually do, and to help guiding the learning process for leaders. What these labels are is not important, but that they exist is.

    Re the myth of “you can only have connection in close embrace”: true, it is _possible_ to achieve similar connection in other forms of tango, but as you yourself notice it is much more difficult and requires much more training. This is not a matter of “getting better”, though. It is a matter of choosing _different_ activities to generate the psychological state of “flow” (flow in the psychological sense, a la Csikszentmihalyi). You can also reach flow If your high skills and high challenges get in balance by focusing on aesthetic elements of the dance, but there is a difference is in the likelihood of getting to that level, in the amount of technical work put in, and in the ready availability of similar minded partners with similar aesthetic taste. So it is more difficult, however the outcome is not “better”. Why focus then on achieving flow this way if one only has social goals with the dance, as opposed to focusing on achieving flow through the quality of the embrace and through the quality of exploration of the rhythmic elements in the music? This latter approach works with even relatively beginner partners who know how to embrace another human being (practice coming from other parts of life) and how to listen to the music. The chance of getting burned out after a couple years of dancing, due to the lack of partners with whom one can “push the boundaries” in the aesthetic realm, also seems much lower. The important question is not whether it’s _possible_ to achieve connection in ways other than close embrace simple dancing which focuses on musical exploration and on the quality of the embrace, but whether these alternatives are equally conducive, equally stable, and equally accessible to dancers who don’t have 10 hours/day to practice technique. The answer to that question is: no. (Of course if you also have goals other than social dancing – performance on the stage, trying to develop a visually more attractive look, etc. – then the answer is different. There is nothing wrong with that answer, but it is important to make it clear to ourselves what our goals are, and to not come up with bad reasons for doing what feels right to us.)

    Re the myth of “social tango is an internal experience only for you and your partner”: you mixed two quite different things under this heading which should not be conflated. The first was that there is a spatial awareness and collaboration among the couples which makes social tango dancing a non-isolated activity. With this I completely agree, although it is mainly the task of the leaders to be aware of their surroundings and to negotiate the dance with each other while taking care of their own partner. The second part mixed to this was again the aesthetic component: that other people are watching and you want to look good to them to increase your chances of being picked or picking. I think looking good has some undeniable effect in the short run for the chances of being picked due to the correlation of looking good while dancing and having put in enough time and effort to tango to make it feel good (and also in cases when one is picked/picking with a lateral intent), but it’s importance is fairly diminishing when one becomes a regular in a local milonga; on the long run dance partners are going to be chosen less on the basis of how they look when they dance with others and more on the basis of how good it feels to dance with them.

    Re the myth of “salon tango displays are not real tango because they’re rehearsed”: again I don’t care too much about “what is real”, nor have any reasons to doubt that many of these exhibitions are more or less improvised. However this myth again feels a bit like a straw man, because the typical criticism from advocates of social tango is not directed against how much of these performances is rehearsed, but they are directed against the implied usefulness of what we see in these performances for social dancing purposes. These performances are very entertaining, they do carry artistic value, they are worthy subjects of admiration, not less than performances of, say, well trained classical ballet dancers or circus gymnasts. No-one really denies this and it would be unfair to paint the criticism of social dancers as such. However, if we had performances of circus gymnasts in intermissions of milongas, no-one would draw the false conclusion that they should adopt what they see on stage to their own dancing. However these tango exhibitions are too similar to what we do on the pista, and this similarity leads many people to try to mimic what they see on the stage in the social environment, which then leads to all kinds of troubles (…), the criticism goes; even more so since these performers typically teach in their workshops the same fancy stuff. This is the criticism which needs to be addressed in my opinion, not the question whether the salon tango displays are “real”.

    Re the myth that “you have to dance with the best dancers to have an enjoyable time or even to improve”: absolutely true, this is a myth. Especially if one prefers to focus on elements of dancing which carry over from real life, like on the warmth of the embrace or on the musical appreciation, which even beginner dancers can do very well (see above). I would add one note to what you write, though: many of the old dancers in El Beso and other places are just that: old, but only dance tango for a dozen years or so, having started in an already advanced age. The long-time-dancer milongueros hailed by many are few in number, many of them avoids loud touristy milongas (just to make it clear: Chachirulo is counted among these avoided milongas by the many of the few who still dances from the generation of Alberto Dassieu and up, irrespective of how traditional its home rules are; I heard this from the man himself) and one needs to be careful about drawing conclusions from having danced with uncomfortable old Argentinians.

    Re the myth that “the best dancers are worthy of your unconditional adoration”: absolutely true, although I don’t know whether I ever met anyone who would profess this myth. We are all humans with our mistakes and pitfalls, and everyone who is not blind to him/herself knows that; falling into such myth is not tango-specific but is probably a sign of a more general personality issue which also extends to other areas of life.

    Good discussion, keep them coming!

    • Drunkard says:

      Very interesting discussion to read. I have never been to BsAs since tangoing last year, so hope to see more basic tango instructions like from HUB, Dieudonne. TF is so keen to discuss on all of Bora’s list of myths. So i would like to write here ‘My’ tango myths: how to ‘invite’ the follower to express her own interpretation of music? especially ‘invite’ her change from the strong rhythm to the melodies and vise versa? or technique to actually lead her to super fast movement like few mini steps/ quarter-beat changing weight in 1 beat. Should leaders stop or use less disassociation in movement to let her ‘know’ his changing weight in fast movement or some purposes? In musicality, should leader makes ‘noise’ within the connection / the embrace to express some sound effects?

  23. Anonymous says:

    Bora, it is important to love WHO you really are. I got an impressionn you try to justify why you like dance technique and like being looked at more than researching for deepen feelings via tango. I found your writing self-contradicting. You really like Gavito…and you are learning from Sebestian. Your words and your heart appeared fragmented. Be true to yourself. You will see the true beautiful of tango. I admire your writing skill.

  24. tangobora says:

    Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks for your comment about my writing skills. I have to disagree completely with your interpretation of what I wrote, what I feel and what I’m trying to achieve. But ultimately you take what you want from my writing and there’s nothing I can do about the fact that you understand it that way.

    However, to respond to you: I don’t justify anything about what I like. I am simply sharing my views to see what people think. Gavito and Sebastián have very different styles and I was saying that one can learn from different styles without pigeonholing themselves into a particular one and sticking to it as if that were the only ‘way to dance tango.

    What I’m trying to say here is that there isn’t this or that. Technique OR feeling. You don’t need technique to feel but it does allow you to take things to the next level. I want to see what the next level is all about. Others might not.
    It’s a choice.

    Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment!

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi Bora,
      Sorry if I upset you as I did not mean to trigger any defensive feedback, as everyone else reader like to leave thier comment as an opinion as much as you share your feelings. Well said, life is a matter of choice and intrepretation, So I guessed you would be quite comfotable to take comments without feeling upset.
      My friend always tell this joke about reading, or interpretation if you like to call: ” a religious man said he could stone a woman to death… because.. (it is how he interprets Koran).” Of course, “interpretation” give you the freedom, if you use it skillfully it can be a good tool of hypocricy or underminding collectively.
      Everyone read differently, some people read and write take words on face values, some people read the emotional behind the words, some people percieve thousands meanings in one single good written sentence. Finally, there is no need to explain yourself if you think people is wrong about you. I enjoy very lucky some of the above feedback indeed very insightful. Thank you.

  25. terpsichoral says:

    One tiny, pedantic niggle I have (sorry!) is that I love the video of Sebastian and Roxana. But I don’t think they are dancing exclusively close embrace in it. They are definitely opening and closing — just subtly and without ever losing a sense of intimate connection (that’s one reason why they are one of my personal favourite couples).

    http://www.tangoaddiction.wordpress.com

  26. Wilmer Cheda says:

    Do you have a Facebook page or Twitter? Would love to follow you there, I’m on my iPhone and love reading your stuff!

  27. Drunkard says:

    Hi Anonymous, i totally agree with Bora, and admire her beautiful writing. Everyone got their own definition of beauty, more obvious in arts. And their definition is changing by the time, the age, and more often with the experiences in their life. Bora is always a Beautiful Girl if you could see her in person. I used to like to feel alot in tango, but still have to learn the techniques to express it beautifully. So, there is no contradicting if Bora loves Gavito’s feeling and admire Sebastian’s skills and dances.
    Further in the myth of real tango, I think they found the value of it when they found the real happiness for themself. It might come to some people that the real happy tango is no more tangoing, because they got their happily-ever tango and happiness at home. Wish i could find my real tango in life. Where are you now Tango, please come and embrace me!

  28. Call me stupid, but I don’t see ANY invitations here, I see driving force, although very precisely tuned, from the leader:

    Of course not everybody dances this way. But the best do. Of course “the best” according to me, are not the best for everybody else. But dancing this way is a totally different thing, both visually and sensually. Your problem if you don’t see or understand it.

  29. El Ingeniero says:

    Krasimir, fine. Don’t invite or ask. Just move the lady. Use your driving force. Whatever works for you. How about you start a blog of your own to investigate all these ideas that no one explains to you and misunderstand your explanation of them? Just stop trolling on other people blogs.Thanks!

  30. Drunkard says:

    Wish i could read your technique articles in English, especially how to dance/ follow the driving force. They definitely help readers improving techniques. I’ve sometimes read a blog named “movement invites movement”. Love the title itself. Happy discussion :).

    • http://movementinvitesmovement.wordpress.com/category/technique/

      All this corresponds nicely to the things the lady should do to put her body in a condition for following “the driving force”. Believe it or not.

      • Hi Krasimir & Drunkard,

        Thank you for mentioning/linking to our blog. Since you’ve brought us into this discussion, let us say that we are major proponents and teachers of the man’s lead being an invitation. It’s actually what our name is based on: Movement INVITES movement : ) Perhaps we understand what you mean by a “driving force”, but let us be clear that a driving force comes through the body and NEVER through the hands and arms.

        We guarantee that we could show you (i.e., have you feel) the difference between being forced/pushed and being invited. A lead that uses force is PUSHING (or PULLING with the right arm) with the hands and arms, whereas an invitation is opening space with the body and closing off the space where the woman should be moving away from. An invitation allows the woman to say no, however, she’ll have to say no with force and strength. An invitation can still make it next to impossible for the woman to say no to. Offer her an invitation she can’t refuse! : )

        Some people have also brought up a really important point that Tango is made up of a man that leads (aka an invitation), a woman that follows, and then the man following the woman (lead-follow-follow). If a man leads by force, we are certain (and we’ve experienced it) that that man has no idea how to then follow the woman… and this is what makes Tango the conversation it is… as well as what makes a good dancer, amazing.

        By the way, wee absolutely see invitations in Carlito’s dancing. Just because it is done quickly doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

  31. cecil says:

    The way we look at tango change all the time. After 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, my understanding of tango have changed. I have finally chosen my own style which fit my body type, my personnallity. I can only dance who I am. We have to be aware that the tango journey for ladies and men are very different. A lady can learn and dance tango very quickly but for the man it takes years. It took me about 12 years to learn to ‘lead and follow’ the lady, within a beat. In this video Carlitos is following Pamela after each lead. As they are performing there dance may not be improvised. A choreograph dance is always a fake tango.

    • “A choreograph dance is always a fake tango” – I do not agree, if the steps are led and followed tje same way as in an improvisation, it is not a fake tango. Of course, improvisation has some unique charm, that is very substantial feature of tango.

      About the following of the lady in the step, yes, it takes time to learn this. Strange thing is that it is kind of impossible to explain this to someone. I tried to teach this, noone understood. Tried to tell them “lead the whole couple, not the lady”, lead her and your body in the same time – this way you both lead and follow in the same time” – but for some reason this sounds abstract, although for those who know, it is very concrete. I can’t explain it simpler. Obviously people need to feel this themselves, it cannot be taught.

      In an intervuew, Javier says it took him 4 years. It took me some more time. Other people may need still more time. But hopefully, eventually most leaders will learn it..

  32. “An invitation can still make it next to impossible for the woman to say no to. Offer her an invitation she can’t refuse! : )”

    So how this is different than a force? A force can still be resisted with a force. And I never said the “driving force” is a big one. The good follower can put their bodies in a state, that can easily follow very slight forces. a.k.a. “invitations”. But this is still something that drives the movement.

    I see some political correctness stuff here. For some reason you English speaking people put a negative meaning of “force”. I use it in its pure meaning in Physics. If I need the lady to follow me instantly and with a speedy,do I have to send her a letter of invitaion, or simply move her. Of course 99% of the time this is not done with hands.

  33. chiri says:

    I think I’m with Красимир on this. First of all an ‘invitation’ is something that has to be processed by the brain in order to come up with a ‘reply’. Secondly, an ‘invitation’ implies that I, as follower, can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with equal validity. These are not true for a follower in tango (most of the time).

    Tango is an agreement. We agree that the leader will initiate the movement and that the follower will continue it so that they complete it together.

  34. chrisjj2 says:

    When teaching complete beginners I find that most leaders need to be encouraged to use a bit of ‘force’ or ‘push’ with their frame to make the followers move in the direction they intend

    That’s a sign of a thorougly broken teaching model. I’d guess you are teaching a) in class setting, b) pairing people who can’t yet dance with each other c) giving demos of steps to be copied. b) in open hold

    But over time as they get more confident and experienced we then guide them to be more subtle and precise in their lead

    Too late. Your pushing/forcing has already eliminates from the class the most promising students – guys that don’t want to treat girls like that and the girls who won’t take it.

    Please don’t teach in my town, Anonymous. Unless it is Ballroom dance.

  35. chrisjj2 says:

    I wrote: “Please don’t teach in my town, Anonymous. Unless it is Ballroom dance.

    Oops sorry – the push/force advice in question was from Sophia not Anonymous.

    • tangobora says:

      Hi there,

      While I respect and thank everyone who takes the time and effort to engage with my blog, I do not appreciate personal attacks like these. People are entitled to their opinions and they teach whoever they think is best. If you don’t like it, just don’t go to them 🙂 Please do not let the discussion move away from ideas.

      Thanks!

      • Anonymous says:

        I do very much agree with chrisjj2’s points. Sophia is a teacher, she was not here to state her opinion, she sounded very much like teaching. Beginners have low immune to suggestion, you can state your opinion, but please do not preach. It is really up to the individual teacher or blogger wants to improve themselves I guess. Students need to know what is good for them, and be aware tango at the end is business all over the wrold.

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