“Understanding the Structure
of Argentine Tango Dance”

The Embrace, Togetherness and Dissociation

The Connection

It is essential that partners always remain connected throughout the dance. The relative orientation of the upper bodies never changes. The upper body always remains directed to some common “center point” of the couple.

More into detail: it doesn't have to be exactly on the line in between partners. Thus strictly speaking, torsos don't have to face each other literally. By remaining connected, I mean there needs to be this point that is exactly in the middle and in front of both of your torsos, that also needs to be at the same distance before both of your torsos. So a shoulder against the middle of a torso is wrong. The torsos themselves may however be at any angle, even up to 90°.

And the distance is also free. The normal thing in tango is the torsos touching each other, which is called close embrace. If not, it is called open embrace. Once chosen, the distance is also more or less fixed, at least during individual steps.

The tango couple becomes one body on four legs.

Small Adaptations

Normally one remains more or less at the same distance of his partner. This is no iron rule; but changes are to happen relatively slow and in a comfortable way. They are to happen out of choice, not as an unexpected outcome of stepping direction and size. This could call for advanced technique.

Small adaptations however to the embrace need always be possible at any moment and is basic skill and courtesy! Sliding of the follower's left arm along leader's right arm must always be possible, but keep them in contact while in open embrace.

Arms

The arms are on the shoulders and the shoulders are on the torso. That is all there is to it. It is called the frame. There mustn't be any active relative movement here. This is extremely important. But there will be almost no force neither. You need a relaxed tone of muscle. You don't need your arms to dance tango, except to communicate (not to amplify) the torso movement in open embrace to a follower with closed eyes. Otherwise, just don't use them. If what you are doing feels like using them, it is wrong. Personally I believe many dancers would benefit vastly from dancing two years with their arms on their backs.

And any vertical movement of the elbows or the arms is a complete no-no! The rhythm is there, express it with the feet, not by using your arms as wings. And although I believe it is mostly the leaders abusing their arms, the common follower's mistakes seem to be pushing downward with your right hand and clenching your left elbow inward. Any force - if present at all - is purely horizontal.

I personally believe the best way to learn how to lead and follow - or at least how to avoid learning a lot of bad habits - is to not use your arms at all. It certainly is an interesting exercise that forces you to take your time and start with the smallest movements. They'll grow, don't worry.

Dissociation

Dissociation of the body in tango means: lower body and upper body don't face the same direction (very typical for tango). This allows for great freedom of movement with the legs, while staying intimately together with the upper bodies throughout the entire dance.

It is accomplished by torsion of the spine, up to 135°. Many call angles above 90° overturned. No worries here, though. The idea is to at least try to face that direction, to maintain the embrace as much as possible, as if you were talking to a person behind you.

 

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