Tango: starting all over (again) with technique

How frustrating and exhilarating to pull apart my tango technique and rebuild it--again. What does this make: third time? fifth time? tenth time? Sometimes it is hard to "walk the talk" because it would be SO easy to just stop taking classes and keep teaching one way. However, I am a proponent of life-long learning, and here I am, learning to walk again.

It's all Oscar & Georgina's fault! Well, I guess it's my fault, since I'm the one who said, "I want to look elegant!" when they asked what I wanted from my lessons. Georgina videoed two dances with Oscar, and then they gently sat me down to watch, pointing out what each step lacked. I hate the stark reality check of video, but they were right. Several private lessons and a week of group classes, and here I am, practicing walking, ochos and turns AGAIN. At least I can feel solidarity with my students.

There were many aspects of their style that I had chosen not to adopt when I studied with Oscar before. As most of you know, I have been a strong supporter of a body-to-body, non-V embrace. I have worked very hard to build a parallel-footed balance. I have eschewed the current fad of butt-swaying tango that looks silly and not elegant to me. For each element of style that differed from mine, I asked O & G to explain why they do what they do. In each case, they were able to explain--and more importantly demonstrate--how their method worked so clearly that I had to put aside my viewpoint and try it their way.

By the way, this is obviously my own interpretation of a week of discussions, lessons, hanging out eating, etc., and Oscar and Georgina may not agree with what I'm saying 100%. Also, my Spanish is now back up to about 90-95% comprehension without repeats, but I may be mis-translating some of what we discussed; I hope the main gist serves in this discussion.

The slightly V-shape embrace
I have never seen someone use a V-embrace and successfully navigate to the leader's right (or to the "outside") of the couple. As far as I could see, a V-embrace cut 50% of my dance out. Oscar took me in his V-shape embrace, and easily transitioned to the "outside" repeatedly, even when I played beginner and tried to make it difficult.  OK, point to O & G: you don't have to dance face-to-face to use the entire spatial vocabulary of tango.

But what about energy? So often, I dance in a V with someone, and their energy is way out to the open side of the V, or way ahead of me, already trying to lead the next step, hoping that I am catching up. Obviously, this is energy work needed for any embrace. However, Oscar & Georgina focus on the solar plexus, just as I do. The shape of the embrace need not affect the connection of the couple.

The turned-out foot position
I have had a lot of teachers who insisted on parallel foot position and a lot who insisted on turned-out foot position for tango. Generally, the ones teaching turned-out foot position also suggested locking knees, sticking the bottom out, and all sorts of anatomically dangerous practices. As I focus on learning to dance in a way that protects and strengthens the body, I chose to dance parallel. However, Oscar and Georgina's style also focuses on using the body properly and safely--and they look nicer doing it. The jury is still out on how turned out I will eventually choose to dance, but for now, I am working on learning their styling better to see if my goal of elegance will be reached.

The important parts of foot placement that are shared in both camps, are stretching the legs but not locking  the knees, in order to have a long line; placing the foot so that the body's axis is supported by the foot; and grounding one's energy, rather than popping up in the air. The new part for me is how my foot hits the floor, and how that affects my weight shift. Actually it seems to help, imagine that ;-)

And the biggie: letting the hips move
I have been VERY VERY VERY against this new fad, as it looks like hula or salsa dancers trying to tango. However, it does not look like that with Oscar and Georgina. I believe they approach this technique very differently than anyone else I've seen doing this, and they are the ONLY ones who have been able to prove to me that it not only helps technique, but can also look elegant.

For Oscar and Georgina, the energy of the axis is very grounded and very lifted. So much energy is dedicated to the axis and the balance foot/leg, that some amplitude of movement can be accommodated in the center of the axis to help adjust balance and add elegance. I think visually, and the picture that helps me is a musical instrument with strings. When you pluck the string, both ends are tethered, but the string in between the fixed ends vibrates to make the sound. In tango, the foot is on the floor and the energy pressing up from there to the head creates the line of the "string" while the movement of the pelvis and hip are the vibration of the string, allowing a specific note to sound. The hard part of the technique is the breath, energy and balance needed to stretch and ground at the same time. If that is working, the motion of the hip adds elegance and balance. When I work this way, it feels amazing.

On the other hand, this is a lot harder than just walking on the dance floor. You can go out and dance, and never worry about technique. The "shut up and dance" school of thought works just fine--or does it?

I've been watching dancers in the Pacific NW for thirteen years of tango, and I have to agree with Oscar and Georgina that more passion/energy/feeling could come out in the dance. Much of our dancing does look the same, whether to Pugliese or Canaro, whether milonga, vals or tango. Yes, I've had many discussions with local dancers about this, and yes, we are NOT Argentines. We DO have a different culture, different male-female interactive rituals, different dance roots. On the other hand, we are choosing to learn a dance that is from another culture: do we search for what is important in the dance, or do we choose to make a new dance that is our cultural adaptation of their dance? I think we have both camps of folks in any given tango community. I can't say if one is better than the other, but I know that I want my dance to feel and look the way dancing with Oscar feels (I didn't get a chance to lead Georgina). I'm spending time in all my summer classes working on boosting energy and musicality to see if a new awareness with take us to the next level of tango.

In the meantime, I am (gulp) teaching new techniques that are not 100% dialed into my body for the first time in years. I do my daily exercises to make my dance more beautiful, and I'm sharing my insights with my students. We are truly all learning together right now, a humbling experience for me. And--it's working! I have had some of the most rewarding lessons I've taught happen in the past three weeks. I have more information to give, even if I can't dance it perfectly myself. I see dance musicality and energy flowering all over the place! THIS is why I teach.