That’s the second-best compliment I ever received while dancing. A woman I didn’t know tapped me on the arm as I left the dance floor at La Nacional when I passed her table. She smiled at me, nodded in approval and told me, “Lindos pies.” I almost fell over! I was not used to compliments from Argentine women on my dancing.
“You adorn with your soul”
A few years after that other compliment, I was dancing at Los Consagrados with someone I didn’t know, and even the first dance was amazing. I forget what orchestra was playing, but I was really enjoying the music as well as the leader, and my feet just did their thing as part of my dance. When we finished the first song, he accused me, “Hey, you are a teacher!” And I replied, “And so are you!”
After the second dance, he told me, “You don’t just adorn with your feet, you adorn with your soul!” That is the best compliment I have ever received on the dance floor in Buenos Aires, and I treasure it. I don’t think of adornos as a separate part of my dance: they are integral to my body and to my tango. I loved it that someone noticed.
I didn’t think adornos were important
I didn’t work on adding adornos to my tango for a long time. I started tango in 1995. There were very few tango teachers around, and if I wanted people to dance with in Eugene, I was going to have to teach them. I already had an M.A. in Dance and was teaching ballroom and folk dancing at University of Oregon. I jumped into tango, and most of my time was spent ensuring that I understood the lead and follow parts of each step I learned, so that I could teach it correctly.
Eventually, I realized that my feet were the part of my tango that needed the most work. I focused on my adornos, foot strength and elastic use of my legs for the next few years, and it paid off with those compliments about my feet.
Adornos are functional
I have come to understand that adornos are a functional part of my dance. They allow me to keep my body relaxed and ready for any movement the leader might suggest. They help me keep a dynamic balance, rather than trying to lock into a complete stop. They use the natural margin of error that we have for balance (the amount our feet and ankles can adjust to help us maintain balance) as an inspiration for small, but full-body, movement.
These days, I teach beginners adornos from their first day in tango. I find that people who learn this way feel more empowered to express themselves in the dance. They are more relaxed because their body is moving, which makes them breathe more fully. They understand that balance is dynamic, and that they don’t have to have a perfect dance.
I encourage people to use “too many” adornos in class to explore what a good level of movement would be. If someone is worried about movement being “wrong” they will dance more stiffly. If dancers are afraid to adorn, they struggle to find a comfortable balance between doing what the leader asks and what they hear in the music themselves. Finding a good balance and understanding that each dance and each partner will differ, is a huge relief to most learners: it’s ok to experiment! Plus, it’s fun to play with your feet and the music, and learning should be fun!
What adorno should I do?
This is the question most learners ask me. There is no should in adornos. I tell my beginners to write their name in the sand. Put energy into the big toes, but don’t spend a lot of time thinking of what to “write” or your time in the pause will be over.
Adornos are filigree to fill in and beautify the dance, commenting on the music/mood/partnership that is happening at that moment. We learn specific adornos in order to train our legs so that we can improvise in the moment.
What is in the video?
This video reviews the adornos we have been doing in my Tango: Toning and Technique class. So far, we have done linea (line), lapiz (pencil), front and back crosses (which I was taught as “amagues” but I just argued about this with a friend, so we will just call them whatever and move on; and an adorno I call “the elevator” because no one ever told me a name for it. When I say elevator, everybody gets the right idea :-)