Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ask Helaine: Where should I position my head in the tango embrace?

Today’s question comes from a Canadian tanguera who prefers to remain anonymous:

Dear Helaine,

I have been dancing tango a little over a year.  I find myself experimenting with where I place my head, looking either over the lead's shoulder or looking inwards to his chest. Trying to understand where/how does my head rest against his head. Sometimes my head bumps or I feel like I'm pressing too hard. Can you advise me?

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Thanks for the question, tanguera, which I'm sure is on the minds of many tangueras . . . and tangueros.  Most of what I say here is relevant to men as well.

My #1 rule about head position in the embrace:  Be comfortable, and keep your body’s alignment

Head position is the result of many other factors that occur in the rest of your body and in the embrace, so talking only about the detail of the head and face would answer the question superficially.

I’ll share with you what determines my own head position.  When I receive a partner’s embrace, I keep my head exactly where it is naturally. That's usually looking over his shoulder, if he prefers a frontal embrace as I do.  If his embrace is more of a “V”, I’m looking toward his cheek or his neck.  As we dance, the direction of my head may change naturally and comfortably, according to changes in the embrace as we move. 

But what about the head- or facial-contact that’s so characteristic of close-embrace Argentine Tango? The contact is the result of a slight modification to our posture when we enter a close embrace.  We modify our posture when our upper bodies connect, while our feet maintain a tiny distance. In Tango Salon, think of this postural adjustment as “telling him a secret”.  It's your chest’s connecting with your partner’s chest (your respective solar plexuses, actually) that brings your head forward - usually, but not always, into contact with his. 

Meanwhile, your pelvis remains over your standing foot.  That’s how you keep your axis.  So in close embrace, your infinite, vertical axis will be passing downward through the center of your lower body, and upward toward the sky through the back of your head.  In an open embrace your axis passes through the center of both your upper and lower body.

People new to tango sometimes ask why the women in Tango Salon are “sticking their butts out”.  That’s the visual effect of  keepig our pelvis over our standing foot, while our upper body is on a plane slightly in front, in the space we share with our partner’s upper body.  You can see this 2-plane alignment in the videos of the tango divas on this blog.  Note: None of the women in the videos on my blog is leaning in a plank toward her partner with her weight over the balls of her feet, as many teachers advise.

Regarding resting our forehead against our partner’s cheek or forehead, which many women seem to find more intimate, I don’t like this position because 1) it often causes both of us to perspire at that point of contact, and 2) I find that this position can promote in the woman an attitude of dependency on her partner!  I’ve heard it called, “the telepathy position”, as if she were receiving the lead (his thoughts) through her forehead. 

Regarding looking at my partner’s chest - that happens only if he is very, very tall.  (More on the chest-gaze below.) I do not dance on my tippy-toes to be closer to his head; I complete every step with my heel on the ground and my weight distributed over my entire foot, as I advise my readers and students to do!

Sometimes, if my partner is close in height to my height in heels, and if the embrace is frontal, if he steps into the embrace looking straight ahead, his nose might end up right next to my nose, and his mouth very close to mine. If I want to accept that degree of bold intimacy, I maintain my head position; this gives him the message that I’m not afraid of his “seduction”, and I might even like it!  After all, at the end of a tanda, we say “thank you” and the "10-minute date" is over.  If I don’t welcome that, I turn my head a tiny bit to my left, establishing a little distance.  I have enjoyed when a good dancer was this bold - I’ll never forget an exciting tanda like that with the late, great Omar Vega. My students who were watching said when I returned to our table, “OMG! That was so elegant!”  I responded, “The truth is, that was so hot!”

When we find our most comfortable, natural position for our embrace with our partner of the current tanda, we may then adjust our heads a few millimeters to be more cuddly, such as finding a comfortable place where the contours of our face fit nicely with each other’s (cheek bones, brow ridge, etc.). 

Of course, never press your head toward your partner's!  Head-pressure from either partner creates strain in both your necks throughout the dance.  If head/face contact doesn't occur easily, don't force it!  Enjoy the embrace as it is.  Don't force anything in your tango!

One final comment about looking at your partner’s chest, and I believe that by “looking inwards to his chest” you meant facing inward to the center of the embrace:  I’ve heard that many teachers advise women to focus on their partner’s chests in open embrace, to help them “follow” better.  Beware of this kind of advice!  Looking at the center of the man’s chest can make you a nice and OBEDIENT follower!  Some men prefer that, because it simplifies their leading.  My advice?  Yes, focus your attention to the energy that keeps forming between you in the center of the embrace.  But don’t be an obedient follower.  Follow beautifully, with great focus . . . like a tiger!

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Please comment below.

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