I remember this as one of the rules taught when tango was danced open or partly open. But does it apply to tango danced close? I'm not sure that it does. I see couples on the floor who start their close-embrace dances standing completely upright, toe-to-toe. It looks awkward and stiff. Dancing on your axis, upright, makes perfect sense in open tango, but it looks uncomfortable when you dance close. I think it's a hangover from a different kind of tango, like the 'open V' embrace of the same era.
There's a teaching film by the late Tete Rusconi and Silvia Ceriani in which they say that '...the two bodies have one axis'. In other words it's a shared, rather than an individual axis. They illustrate it with that familiar gesture, the hands in prayer with the palms separated. Ricardo Vidort uses the same gesture (at 2:40) – it's the 'apilado mudra' – to illustrate the tango embrace. This shared axis, rather than two separate, individual axes, is much more practical in close embrace. Both films give clear and useful advice on the embrace.
(With thanks to Tangocaffe.)
I really like this photo. The colours are natural, good natural daylight, no obvious flash. It's a dynamic moment, Tete just stepping forward and Rosanna Remón about to shift to her left foot, their toes well behind a shared axis, which is almost visible: you could draw a line down the middle. It looks as if there's an exact symmetry of dynamic and energy, and nothing exaggerated or pretentious about it. Both are very upright in the torso. The curve in Rosanna Remon's lower back is beautiful, although it's not something many can achieve readily after the age of 11 or thereabouts. Sitting badly a lot changes that inward curve, and many of us end up slouched: the front of the body shortens, and the muscles of the back elongate, and the body wonders why it struggles a bit sometimes. But there are strategies to help re-align the body.
There's no slack in the connection between Tete and Rosanna, they've become a single unit and communicate precisely as one. To some extent they support each other with this position. & my impression is that a lot of the energy in the dance starts from this shared axis. Supporting, to some extent, your partner's weight means you need to step more firmly and clearly: the impression of energy comes from this slight resistance, rather than from just performing steps energetically. Of course, a shared axis can go beyond the point at which either partner alone is in balance. Gavito and his partners must be the extreme example of this kind of total trust, but that's unusual on the dance floor.
I remember chatting with one of the first porteñas I danced with. It was on the crowded floor of El Beso and we were standing close. Then the music started, we embraced – and then she literally fell into me, so I took a slight step back to hold her energy and weight. We ended up exactly in the shared axis and in the closest possible embrace, our feet somewhat behind an individual line of balance. It's a memory of a moment of surprise and pleasure I hope I share with other visitors who've danced in the milongas. Physical pleasure, yes, but also the pleasure of feeling so directly the trust of someone I'd known just a few minutes.
(Thanks to Florencia Bellozo.)
I hesitated a bit before including this video. I think it shows a partner 'falling into' a lead, and the lead taking a slight step backwards, but it's nothing like as dramatic as my description suggests. It's only a moment, and you have to look very hard to see it at all, but I think it's there. His step back clinches it for me, but the camera isn't close and the video quality is poor. What it shows without any doubt is how this distance at belt level is maintained throughout the dance. (Incidentally, the clip seems to have had a section edited out.) Personally I find it easy to start well, but without a lot of attention it all starts to sag as the dance goes on. I have to keep reminding myself to keep the lower back in, and the chest up.
Another big reason for including this is that the lead, Abel Peralta, is another of the older dancers who sadly passed away this year. It's good to remember I've enjoyed watching him dance with Florencia Bellozo, and I'm very glad of the videos that remind me of a way of standing and walking that is so effective in close embrace, and of that energy and enthusiasm for the music. Perhaps the best video of this couple is a long clip, starting with a very tender dance, also to the Di Sarli/Florio 'Derrotado', and showing parts of a vals tanda in Lo de Celia. (The floor is almost empty: I can't work out if it's late and everyone has left, or early and people are still arriving.) There's also a charming clip of this couple dancing a jive tanda at Lo de Celia, an improvised dance that's half tango and half jive.
(Thanks to Marina 2x4.)