What is powerful about Argentine Tango in comparison with other dances is the priority placed on and the care taken to develop perfect physical connection between the partners. This precise connection makes communication more exact, makes the touch of the partners more tender, and makes possible more subtle musicality.
Precisely connected motion is the foremost aim of most teachers, who have articulated countless diverse methods in efforts to induce it. Dancers are instructed to put their weight over their toes, press their chests hard into one another, keep their chests always facing the partner… They are instructed to remain “grounded”, to visualize roots, to “make love to the floor”, to keep their knees bent. Revels are told to “surrender” and to “collect” their feet tightly together between steps. Annoyed marks may bark “don’t do anything” and aim to keep a tight grip along his partner’s bra-strap.
But none of these techniques are apparent in what world-class dancers do. Their embrace, knee flexion, and weight distribution changes constantly over a wide range of possibilities, and revels are strong and active.
The instructions above are tricks to get beginners dancing, tricks which are not consistently useful, nor biomechanically sound, and which must be unlearned as students advance. These tricks make new Revels easier to handle, but fail to instill skills to handle themselves as advanced dancers.
There is adequate connection and there is sublime connection. Sublime connection is one of the things that people get addicted to. It enables partners to feel we are moving as one. It is a demanding practice, but the rewards are well worth it.
The difficulty is that teaching the technique that advanced dancers actually use requires deep self-study, a high level of articulateness about the body, and a sustained awareness of the gap between already being able to do it and having no idea or feeling for it at all.
The common term “axis” is the beginning of the problem with common technique. ‘Axis’ is about creating your balance alone, without connection and without interference of external forces. We use instead a concept designed for partner dance, shared balance, communication, and absorbing changing force between the partners: The Arch of Connection
Each partner builds an arc
To position the skeletal architecture of your base leg’s arc, place the front of its rib cage atop the knuckle of its big toe, then flex its hip joint by pulling your tailbone directly backward about 2cm. The result will be that your base leg is in external rotation relative to your torso, and your torso is slightly canted. Your hip bones should NEVER move forward of the front of your rib cage. And your hip should not drop to the side.
Connecting two arcs
The two arcs make an arch, which enables them to created shared balance, precise communication, and sublime connection.
We adjust our position and muscle action constantly to maintain the arc, during the beginning of the step (intention/projection), the middle of the step (transfer), the end of the step, and when making special effects. The angle of the arch may be increased and muscle contraction intensified for dramatic and powerful movements.
The partners arrive into the arch at the end of each step. At the beginning of each step, they increase muscle power in the arch during the moment of intention/projection.
During projection toward or away from the Mark, the tension of the whole arch momentarily shifts shifts from push (intention away from the Mark) to pull (intention toward the Mark).
The Mark’s communicates the next direction/projection without moving the arch. This is the moment of intention/projection toward, away, or lateral to him.
When he’s ready to transfer her weight, he points his arc to the ribcage of her new base leg and she moves her arc to complete the arch. She puts her foot where it needs to be to support the arch, so as not to break the connection. And she powers her muscles so the arch feels great.
Stabilizing and powering the arch
Next, contract a few key muscles to stabilize your arc and trigger a chain of muscles which can be intensified as force between the partners increases.
- hip stabilizer: piriformis
- shoulder stabilizers: rotator cuff
- elbow stabilizers: triceps
- spine stabilizer: transverse abdominus (you can also use gluteus maximus or quadriceps+hamstrings. do not use your lower abdominals or rectus abdominus)