Thursday, 25 September 2014

It can't happen here?

Since 'It can't happen here' turns out to be such a good predictor of what is actually going to happen I can't resist putting forward an 'It can't happen here' of my own.

'A regular workshop/guided practica concentrating on posture, walking and embrace. No way! It can't happen here!'

When I started we were taught something called 'the tango basic'. Later we were told, well, it's not really the tango basic, it just combines all the possibilities of stepping, and anyway it gets you on the floor right away. (It did that: I remember getting onto the floor right away after my first class, with a brave partner, trying to practice our 'tango basic'. & we're still on speaking and dancing terms!)

Later we were told: there's absolutely no such thing as any 'tango basic'! Well, I'd like to contradict that: there is. It's called 'walking' or 'THE WALK'. The tango walk isn't quite the same as the everyday walk. Slightly unusual, but absolutely fundamental. It should be taught from the first lesson, taught repeatedly thereafter, and practiced until it is second nature.

It's always said that the older dancers are completely individual, since they learned by dancing rather than by going to tango classes. That may be true, but only up to a point. You could never mistake Ricardo Vidort's dance for that of Osvaldo Cartery, even if they were identical in stature: it's said they grew up together and learned together, but their choice of 'steps', the way they use their energy, the way they dance, is different. But when you look at them closely you find that in many respects their dance is identical. The way they and their partners stand, walk and embrace is the same. Minor differences arise because people are slightly different in size, but basically the posture, the walk, the embrace are the same. If you want to dance like them, memorising the 'steps' they use is secondary: the priority is to learn to stand and walk like them.

I don't think this similarity has anything to do with some abstract concept of 'style'. The reason for the similarity is that when two people hold each other close and start to move around in a crowd and with music there's going to be an optimum posture and way of walking. (This doesn't apply if you dance Nuevo, since there's no continuous contact: walk and posture hardly matter in Nuevo.) People who teach 'milonguero style' are missing the point: Ricardo and Osvaldo, and many, many others, dance the way they do because it works so well that way. Close embrace tango will still work if you don't practice the optimum, but it doesn't work so well. For instance, if a lead is round-shouldered and stoops, that lead can still dance tango. However, it means that his/her contact with the partner is going to be relatively high up. If you stand straight, like the older dancers, then your lead is from the sternum, and most likely from the belly too, so it is much more effective and comfortable, partly because the centre of gravity is lower. It's more stable, so it's more comfortable.

It seems incredible that this 'tango basic', the walk, hasn't been taught here much, particularly now that close embrace is widely practiced. As a result we see, for instance, people dancing with constantly bent knees. This is particularly a problem with follows: if a follow doesn't reach back, his/her knees will be too far forwards and will be in the way of the lead. If a follow doesn't reach back, there's also no forwards pressure from his/her torso, and the dance lacks energy. It lacks energy and it just doesn't look good. The 'tango basic', the walk, looks elegant, and it has energy. It's efficient in terms of communication and energy, and it looks elegant too. Too many dancers slouch round the floor together, knees bent, which looks feeble and uncomfortable. It looks feeble and it feels feeble, so there's the temptation to spice it up with wild moves, to make it into a performance rather than an intimate dance between two people.

Trouble is, not many people are really qualified take a workshop in posture, walk and embrace, and almost all of them live in Buenos Aires. The trouble is, too, that when you start talking to someone about their posture and walk, it starts to sound personal, whereas little that might sound personal needs to be said in getting someone to perform mechanically a step or choreographic sequence. Moreover, old habits die hard. It's not difficult to change posture: many techniques, including Pilates, Yoga and Alexander are helpful. But it takes time, although it's beneficial not only to tango. Even in Buenos Aires, not many teachers will deal with posture and walk. Two I remember are Cacho Dante and Myriam Pincen. I danced whole tangos in private class, with Myriam continually glancing at me in the mirror: no! you must straighten the leg you step on to; do that turn again, and make sure you step onto a straight leg! Cacho pointed out the same problem but casually, as if it was something quite simple and basic, like pointing out that your shoelace is loose. But things like this can be part of a lifelong habit of posture, and not easy to change.

Jorge Dispari, another great teacher of 'the walk', has been here recently. See him here a few days ago with Claire Lowe. Of course, milongas rarely give us the luxury of simply walking, but at least we can watch this walk. It's easy and relaxed, but full of energy.

So I'd love to see Cacho or Myriam or anyone else as well qualified holding regular posture, walking and embrace workshop/guided practicas in London, something you could go to regularly, or pop into for a quick checkup. But it can't happen here!


tangogeoff said...

Well said, TC.
I differ on the sternum connection detail, although I used to agree for a long time. I try to connect at the chest whenever possible, now.

Pros Van Heddegem said...

Very good to write something about posture and walk (and abrazo)! It was after a very basic workshop with Dispari and his wife in Brusels - where I live - that I said to myself: this is precisely what I was looking for , this is what I want. It took quite a lot of time before I changed my 'bad' habits of walking, posture, anbrazo. Thanks to my teachers to who learned it from the Dispari's and thei 'pupils' adrian and Amanda Costa from France. Now I enjoy fine walking, sometimes a figure, a traspiè...
Pros Van Heddegem

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks, Geoff. I think we're talking about the same thing: as I understand it, the sternum reaches from the collar-bone down to the beginning of the lower ribs, in other words, it is 'the chest'.

Thanks, Pros. Tango can change us completely! But it can take time and effort.

R. Bononno said...

Very good post. I couldn't agree more about the importance of posture and the embrace and the amount of time it takes to learn how to walk in tango (often seriously underestimated).

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks, R. Bononno. Yes, far more teaching time needs to be spent on walking! But it occurred to me that perhaps time needs to be spent on forgetting too. You learn something step by step, and while you dance step by step it looks unnatural. Perhaps it's when you forget the classes (but not the steps!) that it starts to become part of you, and starts to look 'normal'.

Cara Fea said...

I agree, you learn many many things over the years that can conflict & mess up your dance - who wants to dance every figure under the sun?
The more you can take out of your dance the better, to reveal the real you, really dancing!

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks, Cara Fea! But walking is something you can't take out of your dance! It's the foundation.