Wednesday, 23 March 2011

My right arm

Talking with a partner recently who's not danced long, but has a lifelong (literally) love of tango music: 'In one class I was told to hold my hand like this, and in another...' A not unfamiliar story. I reply: if you ask me, classes can be useful, but don't take anything you hear as scripture. What matters is what works on the floor, what's comfortable for you and your partner, what helps you dance together with the music. Hard advice, since if you pay for a class you expect to get The Truth, and it takes a while to realise that what you pay for isn't necessarily any use whatever. It happens. Perhaps the only 'scripture' in tango is that there is no scripture.

The embrace is a particularly complex area since every body is shaped differently, is a different size, has different habits of movement even within a similar pattern of steps.

My right arm has discovered this of its own accord. It's sometimes been blamed for holding a partner too tightly, which is uncomfortable, and I realised that, curiously, the complaints increased with the height of the partner. Shorter partners never had any problems, while a tall (taller than me) partner I danced with found it the most uncomfortable. All the same, other tall partners were perfectly comfortable.

I've also danced with one of the older generation of UK tangueras, one of that fabled generation who found their way to Buenos Aires in the late '80s, a generation with more than two decades of tango under their belts. (There aren't many of them, and they know each other well.) & when I dance with this lady my right arm finds it's completely redundant. I don't need it at all: it simply floats off her back, when we're walking and even when we're turning. True, she's not tall, and she moves very easily, although no longer young. I'm guessing that it's a matter of trust; I know from the embrace that she'll follow effortlessly, and this makes for great dances. So perhaps it's not entirely my fault after all!

I wonder about other dancers' experiences of right arms: your right arm or your partner's right arm. I'm curious about our collective experience of right arms.

PS. When I said that there's no 'scripture' in tango, I was thinking of the embrace, which is going to vary with every partner. I wouldn't want to suggest that everyone is entitled to do as they please on the dance floor! & there is scripture in the form of videos, particularly of the older generation.


Elizabeth said...

I am tall-ish. I notice when I dance with shorter men, that their right hand may be lower on my back, and tight, which means it is harder for me to maintain a nice posture since I am trying to stay forward to his chest. I love it when the hand is moved up to my center back so that I can move, both for the connection and the swivel of the lower body. I think it is about being connected but leaving room for her to move, no matter what the height difference?
And yes, no scripture.

Chris, UK said...

"In one class I was told to hold my hand like this, and in another..."
Indeed a common story. And somewhat inevitable given class teachers who've learned by copying and can teach no other way, but are each copying different sources. Most beginners soon have to face the question: which is teacher is correct? The answer is: none of them. You don't find what is right for yourself by copying what is right for someone else. Least of all by copying what is right for a class teacher.

Anonymous said...

Where the dancer places his right arm on the vertical line of my back is very not important to me. I'd say it depends on the height of both dancers and on what feels more comfortable. I am a tall girl and had wonderful dances with the dancer's right arm high or low on my back. What really makes a difference is how tight I'm being hold and whether I'm given freedom of movement or not when necessary. A too tight embrace makes it imposible to keep a nice posture and can destroy your back very quickly. So I'd say the most important would be to keep the embrace "dynamic" or "flexible", and then most options become conceivable :-)
Un abrazo, OliveTango

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with OliveTango. The leader’s right arm position on the vertical line of the back is very important: when the arm is to low on the back it puts a strain on the back and hence destroys the back. It’s not the tightness of the embrace which is the culprit but the combination of a low arm with a tight embrace.
I danced one time with a man with an embrace which was like he was trying to crack my ribs with his arm. At the end of the dance my back was fine because I asked him after 10 seconds of dancing to move his arm higher on my back, it’s obviously save my back. I should add that we were dancing close embrace “ milonguero style”.
I later learned about the experience of a friend tanguera with this dancer: she didn’t ask him to move his arm and had a back destroy.