After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pet Peeve

I already did a series on the embrace:  Holds and Embraces
and Learn by Looking where the woman's left arm is discussed.
The above photo is a recent one of the ever-increasing trend for the woman to grip the man's back like there's no tomorrow, with fingers spread and her shoulder raised. I think it looks hideous--either like she's trying to touch his ass or control him. I see it more and more in the milongas, especially by foreigners and young dancers. When our students ask about it, I say it's just a fad, while hoping it's nothing more than an affected passing fancy.

The milongueros don't like it, and it looks ugly. Why do more and more women adopt this death grip?

The other night I saw a tall woman dancing with a shorter man, and I swear she could have picked his back pocket had she wanted to. Kind of a reverse take on the canyengue posture, which legend has it was used to prevent the woman from lifting the man's wallet.

Canyengue-style embrace
I know styles change in everything. When I began dancing tango in 1997, it was the custom for the woman to look to her right instead of straight ahead as now.

When Ruben dances with someone who tries to "grab his ass" (just kidding), he doesn't let her; he flexes his right shoulder until her arm rises. A woman's left arm should be soft and feminine as it rests without weight or pressure on the man's shoulders.

When teaching the embrace to beginners, I tell them to embrace each other as if they were in love. To me and to most traditional dancers, this is the tango embrace. It doesn't matter if you know the person or not, if you like them or not--it is the position to dance tango.

John y Tania


tangogeoff said...

Ah, yes...I'm familiar with it! They never learned to manage connection from the front so they use their hand to manage the connection from behind his back. Lovely. Just lovely.

Except that it's usually combined with pulling me off axis with every step.

I do the same as Ruben, I move my shoulder to encourage them to stop, but if they continue I ask them to do so. If they continue then that's our last dance. I tend to avoid dancing with women who dance like this.

Can you believe that at least one famous teacher actually teaches this kind of thing? "Just because they want your money doesn't mean that they know more than you."

Anonymous said...

I do sometimes put my hand over the man's right shoulder, as shown in the first picture. But no death grip in involved; the hand rests very lightly on his back and my arm and hand feel completely relaxed. There is no pressure or weight on the man and no question of pulling him off axis. Some men prefer this embrace and some even ask me to do it. (My usual default position is to put the arm round his shoulders, somewhat like photo 2). What's important about the embrace, after all, is not how it looks, but how it feels.

None of my teachers have ever taught a specific embrace, with the exception of Carlitos Perez (Carlitos generally likes the follower to cup the leader's right shoulderblade). Usually, they tell students (as I do) that it's a question of finding an embrace which feels as comfortable and snuggly as possible for both parties, without compromising freedom of movement.

If I were to dance with Ruben, I would watch first to see how you embrace him and then try to embrace him in the same way. This is a method I often use. The way a man's regular partner embraces him is probably an embrace he is comfortable, or at least familiar, with.

For an alternative view of this, you might like to compare my description here:

....... said...

Haha, the funny thing is that with my long arms, I feel like when I drape over my lead's neck, it looks more like I am trying to grab his man-boobs. Can I never not grope my tanguero in some way??

Usually when my hand is on my lead's back, it is as Terpsichordal explains - very very loose and because it enables me to slide into an open embrace easily. It is not as downward pointing as the photo there, but definitely at a gentle diagonal across the back resting on the center spine or shoulder blade and I never have any pressure from fingers to palms. In the around-the-neck version, sometimes my elbow can get stuck in odd ways with leads who want to go out into open quickly. Because I am tall, I don't have to get into that awkward position many follows seem to get into where they're popping their left shoulder up in order to get it over the lead's to put their arms DOWN his back. Of course, because I am tall I also am one of the few follow who can put her arm around the neck of the taller leads and it strikes their fancy to allow me to do so.

I agree that ultimately the real question is about feel. If one way causes me to pull on the lead, distort my body or in any way disrupts the connection, then I know I need to change.

But speaking of embrace pet peeves: mine from the leads has to be the limp fingers-along-the-rib-cage-and-occasionally-pressing-the-boobs hold. That can happen either in waaay to open on my left side or in waaay too closed (usually these are the leads that keep me from being able to adjust from a hinge like bear graps) on the right side!

Tango Therapist said...

I agree with you. I think of the woman's embrace as a way of getting great "data." So an embrace should allow her left arm to feel my navigation of the floor. I think your "love embrace" is the best way to explain it. Do you have a Pet Peeve List so I can sign my name?

Angelina Tanguera said...

Couldn't agree more Cherie. One of the couples currently here in Sydney for a Festival take this posture to the extreme - and so I see many disciples copying. She also sticks her bottom out at a most unnatural angle and the whole embrace looks most unpassionate! I too would like to sign up to a Pet Peeve List! Thank you for blogging on this - so many people read your blog maybe some will take note!

tangocherie said...

In the traditional milongas here, there is no "sliding in and out" of the close embrace. When the man embraces his partner, they don't move their arms, heads or torsos until the dance is finished. It is total commitment. Sigh. The tango is all about the embrace.

Anonymous said...

Every American who has lived in Argentina is a tango expert. Their style is the only way to dance. The milongas they go to is the only place in Buenos Aires to dance in. Talking about "traditional" and "close embrace" when dancing a form of tango which was invented less than 40 years ago.

Cherie Magnus said...

Not sure "anon" if you are referring to my opinions here on my blog or in general. Do you object to my use of the terms "traditional" and "close embrace"? Why not sign your name and we can have a conversation about this?

Chris said...

The 'crab claw' embrace! :)

Hereabouts it's pretty much confined to teachers of Tango de Workshop, such as here. It's an affectation as you say Cherie, but it does have a purpose. Look different, be noticed, and hopefully get hired. The question of whether it feels pleasurable is beside the point when the people doing it aren't dancing for pleasure, but for work.

Cherie Magnus said...

Here in BsAs it's pretty popular with younger foreign dancers and "hot shots" from Europe. I think the clutch somehow makes the woman feel more powerful and active in the embrace. They can't possibly think it looks elegant or attractive, the way their left arm and shoulder are distorted, and their hand looks like it's got rigor mortis. And the men say it's uncomfortable. So if women still want to dance like that, what can be done? The people who are watching can complain it's ugly and men can not allow it. It's just a fad anyway and won't last forever. There soon will be other ways to attract attention--I only hope it'll be with good dancing!