Thursday, December 19, 2013

The truth about chest contact - part 1

A few months ago in Miami, I had a late night conversation with a tanguero friend with whom I had danced earlier that evening.  He’s a real tango “apasionado”, with 6-7 years of experience.  

That evening I found his tango simple and enjoyable, for a combination of reasons:  
  • his arms embraced me comfortably,
  • he was well grounded, 
  • his feeling for the music was strong and clear, with good, basic phrasing and attention to pauses,
  • he was very present and we had a lovely communication. 

But one thing had bothered me as I danced with him:  the sensation that he was physically dragging me down. I kept  adjusting my posture whenever his right arm gave me a bit of freedom, and I’d trying to subtly uplift him as well. But he wouldn’t budge. It puzzled me that, although he and I are the same height, it felt like he was bending over me, almost forcing me to collapse my upper body. Sometimes I just gave in, and let our musical communication be the most important thing.  He’s a good friend, but not my student, and he hadn’t asked, so I had no thought of offering any feedback later on.

In our conversation that night after the milonga, we spoke about his favorite topic - tango.  I did not raise the subject of downward chest contact, and I don’t remember how it came up. But suddenly it was as if an angel had intervened to answer my question about his downward drag.  My friend declared, “Chest contact in tango happens HERE”,    making an adamant gesture against his chest with both hands, marking the top of his sternum and the level of his heart. 

Bingo! There was my answer.  I asked, “Did you learn that from anyone in particular?”  He told me that it was common knowledge and that many teachers had confirmed that to him over the years.

I said, “Ohhhh!  That explains it!”  

His eyes opened wide.  Men tango fanatics are often eager to find out if they’re doing anything wrong, so they can fix it and get better!  That’s one of the things I love about them.  He asked, “Explains what?”   I told him how pleasant his tanda had been for me that evening, and he agreed that he had liked it too, especially for the connection.  (Whew!  He’s such a critic of connection!) 

Then I shared the “but”.  I told my tanguero friend that I had the sense that his upper body was pulling me down.  And I told him how until about 6 years earlier, I was unwittingly doing the same thing. My turning point came when a well-known Villa Urquiza-style professional couple visited me in Perugia. The day after my milonga, this bailarin had said to his partner, right in front of me, “Helaine’s got great musicality and I love her embrace.  But there’s something in her upper body that pulls downward . . . kind of collapsing, as if she were dancing Milonguero Style”. (*Note:  Dancing Milonguero Style does NOT mean dancing with one’s upper body collapsed! But I know some otherwise wonderful milongueros who do let their upper bodies sag or hunch over their partners.)  

I’ll always be grateful to my colleague for his comment, because I immediately began to study the matter, and within two weeks my close-embrace posture had changed, making me feel lighter, more powerful, freer, and more connected.  

My Miami friend asked how I did it.  

From my chair, I demonstrated that if we seek each other’s body with our upper chest, it makes us bend over.  But if we seek each other with our solar plexus, we reach upward.  (Whether you are sitting or standing right now, try connecting with the upper torso of an imaginary partner in front of you in each of these ways - through your upper chest, and through your solar plexus. See what each does to your upper body alignment.)

When I enter a  tango embrace reaching to connect from my solar plexus, I feel as if I’m offering my “highest and best” to my partner.  It enhances the spiritual dimension of my connection. Physically, with my upper body stretching upward, while I stay grounded below, it’s as if I’m lifting my entire torso out of my hip sockets, which makes my legs feel very free.  

When my partner and I present ourselves to each other in that way and maintain the upward focus in our embrace throughout the tanda, to me it’s one of the most beautiful sensations in tango.  

If you’re not already doing this, I’d like you to give it a try, and see if what this postural attitude in the embrace does for you.

A whole week's module of Tango Improvisation Mastery online home study system (now in Beta mode) is devoted to the embrace. In one of the videos in that module, I give step-by-step guidance to help keep your torso reaching upward in the embrace, without muscular effort and fatigue.

Next time, in Part 2 of “The truth about chest contact”, we’ll talk about the other side of the tango embrace.


  1. like very much !
    I'm definitely going to make some experiments in the coming milonga :-)

  2. Let us know how it goes, Shlomo!

  3. In a recent workshop in England, Osvaldo and Graciela, from BA, but now in Barcelona, made similar points about the solar plexus. I look forward to that TIM module on the embrace!

    1. Don't know how I missed this post, Gary. In an email today, I wrote that that module will be released in March! Tango dancers seem to divide into different stylistic camps: for example, Juan, whom I write about in my Episode #6 in late January, also gestured that the contact is at the upper sternum. At the same time, there's a division between Salon Tango dancers : those who keep their weight over the centers of their feet, (entire foot), and those who insist that the weight belongs forward over the balls of the feet!

  4. Such gems are priceless. A concise bit of information that can so readily be understood and felt, and which when used makes such a difference to one's dance.

    1. Sorry to respond so late, David. Have you experimented with chest contact at different points of your upper body?

  5. It is interesting how that 'downward' feeling can ruin a dance for me. I think that many men believe that they should lean forward, creating this sensation. On the other hand, even a short dancer can make me feel really tall if he leads from the right place. thanks for this post!

    1. So true, Rachael! Thanks for sharing your perceptions. Our tangueros really appreciate hearing a woman's point of view. Generally they want nothing more than to please us on the dance floor.