01 July 2010

Dialing in—to different heights

I once wrote about "Dialing in." I talked about adapting my dancing to match the dance capabilities of my particular partner (at the moment), in order to make the tango magic happen.

One of the challenges I've come across over and over again is dancing with partners of different heights. I like to dance a lot, and to limit myself with picking only partners who were of the same height, limited my tango time.

Furthermore, I see women sitting out most of the night regardless of them being beautiful dancers. I asked my veteran colleagues why this was. Their common answer:  "Because, they are (either) too tall, (or) too short.

I used to dance in open embrace. Height was not much of a problem. Since becoming a close embrace dancer, I was intrigued as the dynamics were vastly different. I experimented on the milonga floor for the next couple of years leading to some very "interesting" discoveries and results...

I. The challenge of varying heights

  • My ideal height range
Dancing close embrace, I found that a height difference of +/- 4 inches equaled my ideal height range. At this level, our bodies are hinged very similarly, allowing for dynamic movement. I could easily dance close embrace—apilado style. That is, with a deep lean, sharing a common axis with my partner. This is where the both of us would form a dance posture resembling the letter "A." Walks, turns, or any movement in tango is relatively easy.

  • My reality of  dancing with a partner who is too short
Dancing apilado style with a partner who was significantly (a head) shorter than I would cause my weight to lay on them. This would cause her to be most uncomfortable. Leading anything would be difficult as the pressure would be downward as opposed to forward.

I tried couching lower, but that just made my knees ache. I tried bending forward at the waist, but that made my bust stick out. In any case, a "Thank you" from any of my partners would be quite apropos at any point—I know this from first hand experience.

  • My reality of  dancing with a partner who is too tall
Trying to dance with a partner with a lean is like a defensive line-man executing a tackle. My center of gravity would be lower, and my shoulders chest, and head would drive into her upper chest, pushing her off her axis. This was tango. Not tackle football. 

Trying to lead would be awkward, as she is trying to stay upright and not get knocked over. I even tried to dance on my tip-toes. But, that just caused my leading to become vague and ambiguous as I was no longer grounded. 

Besides, NONE of this looked any good. The word "Goofy" came to mind. 

II. Lessons that work

  • Too short, try a torso lead
Something I learned from Patricio and Eva Touceda: If your partner is too short, stand up straight, always maintain your axis, and offer her your torso for leading!

That is, if her head only goes up to my chest, I extend my leading to my torso. That way, when I move my chest, I move my torso along with it. This is where my shorter follower would get her leads.

I tried it, and it works! It also has the side benefit of helping develop my core—which I am in dire need of...

  • Too tall, stand up straight and develop your giros
I stand up straight and ground myself, chest out, and lead with purpose. I maintain my own axis. By doing this, I find that leading becomes easier, as I do not have to compensate where the body hinges. I concentrate on where my (taller) partner's weight and axis are, and use that to time where and what I lead.

Leading a taller partner has an added challenge... My forward vision is majorly impaired.

With a taller partner, her chin would touch my temple. I can only see forward with my left eye. My right eye would be blocked by her neck, making me totally blind-sided on the right. To address this, I learned to develop my giros (i.e. stationary turns) to the left and to the right. That way, I turn either left or right before I move forward. It allows me to see, and helps make my dancing flow better.

I did this because I love dancing tango. By learning how to dance with either short or tall partners, I'm able to diversify, both to my, and my partners' benefit.

P.S. To my past partners, both short and tall, whom I've inflicted my past ineptitude... I sincerely apologize.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. For me the problem is always partners who aren't tall enough.

Absolutely right that you can't bend your knees or bend forward at the waist. Upright is the way to go. I have got the most minimal dance shoes that I can find, I probably lower myself about half an inch by not having a normal heel.

I'm curious, when you talk about a torso lead what is this exactly? With a short partner, her chest contacts my abdomen. This works reasonably well for walking but is unsatisfactory for leading pivots and turns. I can't dissociate my abdomen from my hips. So are you saying lead turns from your hips, or are you not talking about rotational leads at all ?

AmpsterTango said...

@ Anon: In Seattle, I frequent the milongas that are packed. This requires myself to pivot and turn a lot in order to produce small, continuos motion, even with a very short follower.

Bear with me, as I try to best explain what I do... With a short follow, I keep my center of balance about me at all times. I then use my legs/knees to initiate the turn, with my whole torso following. Much like initiating a reverse "enrosque" (corkscrew) where my legs rotate my body from the hips up. This helps give my follower a clear lead to follow.