"You've got to accentuate the positive . . ."

Gavito: "It's tango y nada mas. Tango and nothing else. And that's the tango..."

"This is for those who use the Internet for a lot of hanky panky things, okay? If you use the Internet, use for the positive basis of tango, not negatives. Talk about the ones who dance well. Don't talk about the ones you don't like. Ignore them."

I know it has always been this way, and this is probably wasted breath, but there is just so much negativity in the discussion of tango when it comes to the issue of styles and embrace etc.. I've reached some kind of critical mass and can't bite my tongue anymore.

I am a fairly conservative tango dancer. I strongly prefer close embrace/milonguero/apilado embraces. (Or, as my teacher put it, I just like to be 'buttons to buttons'.) If you lead me a high boleo at a milonga, I'll follow it low and on the floor. It takes a pretty sparse pista to get my heel off the floor. So I'm definitely not one for advocating big or flashy moves on the dance floor - quite the opposite.

What I don't understand is why people post pictures and videos (on blogs, forums, news lists, Facebook etc.), of tango dancers, both famous and anonymous, and then ridicule them? When the idea is to illuminate problems of posture, or suggest more comfortable alternatives, as Tango Cherie does here, that's actually very helpful - and not the sort of post I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the posts that start out as thinly veiled advice and then just get mean. The idea should be to educate but sometimes it goes much further than that, to making character judgments about the dancers shown. Is that really necessary? This happens again and again, and then ironically, sometimes in the same post, the poster criticizes dancers for "dancing for spectators". Well, it might be because they've seen their video on your blog along with a list of the 40 things they did wrong in the 3 minutes they danced.

Some of the especially irksome posts are about the follower's embrace (note above, there are good posts about the embrace as well.) First, I am curious as to why so few of these posters bring up the man's side of the embrace? Isn't he just as likely to have his arm to high, or too low, or worse, digging his fingers into her spine? Where is the outcry (with pictures) over that? I'm not endorsing meanness over that either - I'm just curious as to why there are 5 posts about the woman's embrace, to every 1 post about the man's. Next, and most importantly to me anyway, there are so many assumptions made about the follower with her "poor embrace," without taking into account the most basic things.

Perhaps the leader simply prefers that embrace and she is doing precisely what she's supposed to do as a follower, she's adapting to him. Or perhaps his embrace leaves no other comfortable alternative. Instead of assuming she's "dancing for the tables", or "would rather be leading" or "doesn't care about connection" or she "wants to control the man" - maybe consider that there could be (and probably are) loads of other factors of which others would not be aware. And others are not aware of them because they're not really anyone's business. The embrace should be negotiated between leader and follower and what's needed for their comfortable connection. Isn't that what we're here for?

Cripes, now when I dance I'm worried that my fingers are too spread apart on my partner's back, or not relaxed enough, or my arm is too low, or too high, or my ankle might appear too flexed, and what about the angle of my head??? Like I don't have enough to think about trying to "keep my energy up", collecting my knees and ankles, not pulling down or putting my weight (unless invited) on my partner and the myriad things followers always work on. All that to worry about, plus my fingers, my hands, my butt, my ankles - and people wonder why a dancer may not "look relaxed"?

God forbid someone snaps a pic, slaps it up on their blog, and makes me poster child for bad tango. A beautiful dancer was photographed (with permission) by another blogger and dancer. That picture was then used by a different blogger to criticize her embrace - the most personal, intimate part of tango. If she's not embracing you, then why is it your concern? If her partner has a problem with it, he can let her know that he needs to adjust the embrace to be comfortable. No harm, no foul. Leaders have adjusted their embrace for my comfort and I've adjusted mine for theirs.

I care about what other dancers are doing if they're affecting my dancing. If they're not kicking folks, being rude, or disrupting the line of dance or the milonga, I don't really care what they're doing inside the embrace, how well they're connected to the music, their partner, or to the context and history of tango or anything else.

That is, until they're dancing with me. That's when it becomes my business.

Why not focus on posting the embraces, posture, ankle alignment, head alignment etc. etc. etc. that you like instead? Keep things positive. Wouldn't a beginner tango dancer especially get more from that? I know I did (and do).

And just to make sure I take my own advice, and keep it positive - here are some embraces I love:

Tina Ferrari and Pedro Sanchez

Cherie and Ruben: http://www.argentinaindependent.com/culture/balives/cherie-magnus-tango-instructor-and-writer-/

Murat and Michelle Erdemsel: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lukaszb/3633826113/

And for the record, here's me with one of my favorite dance partners . . . with my fingers spread, my head facing "the wrong" angle (or so I'm told) and goodness knows what else. I just remember that was an amazing dance. (I'd give credit for this one if I could remember who took it, sorry! Eduardo C. maybe?)

Another night, another leader, different music - and a different embrace. (Actually, I think I was in the middle of an ocho cortado.) (Thank you Neil Liveakos for this one.)

Anyway, the point is I have no idea from one dance to the next if I'm displaying the proper tango embrace, or the proper foot placement, or head alignment - or anything else. Right now in my dance experience, that's just too much for my brain to keep track of.

"You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between."

- "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive"


AlexTangoFuego said...

Great post, Mari, with a refreshing alternative viewpoint about embraces, and that ultimately they are nobody else's business.

File this one under "must read".

I would say "see you out on the dance floor soon", but I've stopped saying that...(grin)


Marika said...

Thank you for your comment, Alex, I really appreciate that. I held off publishing for about a week and a half, thinking I'd stop being so irritated at some point. When that didn't happen, I figured it was time to hit publish.

In a very timely coincidence, Jantango has published a post on the gentleman's side of the embrace here: http://jantango.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/hold-me-in-your-arms/

Kirra said...

Great post, Mari. I stopped reading Tango-L because I found it too negative and attacking.
I agree we have so much to think of with our own dancing that to think we will be judged by our embrace is a little ridiculous.
I say that each person will be different, how can the embrace be the same with each man? It needs to just be comfortable and connected.

El Ingeniero said...

As my tango mentor told me when I first started dancing, "there's look good tango, and there's feel good tango". What I think she was thinking but never added is that the two are not always the same.

Also, I think your embrace looks just beautiful in those pictures you posted. I'm not saying this as a member of the vast legions of fake niceness on the internet, but I genuinely think it looks fine. Sometimes it's funny to categorize embraces and give them funny names if it's all in good jest, but again the most important quality in a dance is how it feels, not how it looks to everyone else.

As an aside, Jantango is kind of hard to please (or so is the impression I get from reading her blog), and she has posted (multiple times) previously on "bad" women's embrace.

My take on all this, is make sure I'm offering a comfortable embrace to my follower and ask the same from her. If my shoulder/s hurt during or after a dance, then the follower should optimally do something about that. The same is true of me too. But I haven't heard any complaints about that recently. But bringing that up with someone you barely know might be kind of tough

Debbi said...

Bravo. People are mean because it makes them feel better about themselves. Period.
And if my concern as a follower is the spread of my fingers on my left hand... well..... I obviously am not dancing.
As long as the comfort and connection is happening within the embrace I don't give a rat's ass who thinks what about it. My embrace alters according to my leaders - I have over the shoulder, across the shoulders as well as on the back. It all depends on what is comfortable and connected. As you write - there are a whole slew of factors not apparent to those sitting on the sides casting judgment. Well Said. :-)

Jane Prusakova said...

Internet is a mean place, whether it concerns tango embrace or anything else.

Overall, I am surprised how much tango community is about "doing it right", as opposed to enjoying the dance and letting others enjoy it too. But that's a subject for another discussion.

Anonymous said...

Thank You! Last night I found myself checking the fingers after reading such a blog and missed a lovely pause in a Di Sarli...no more.

Simba said...

Great post, Mari! Let's concentrate on the positive!

I have to confess to ranting every now and then myself, but I try hard to be constructive and positive. I will keep Gavito's and your words in mind. Thanks!

And your embrace looks very nice!

Marika said...

Kirra - I have to admit, I don't keep up with Tango-L for the same reason. It's gets downright ugly.

El Ingeniero - thank you so much for your comments. You're so right - the looking good stuff and the feeling good stuff, frequently aren't the same. And it is tough when you're dancing with a total (or nearly total) stranger to say, umm.. could you lower your shoulder a teeny bit? I've kept quiet before, but regretted later. Another tanguera told me, quite firmly, that it's my responsibility to take care of my comfort. It was easier when I looked at it that way.

Debbi - thank you so much. It's funny, until I see pictures I don't have a clue what my embrace was like during a particular tanda. I hope I never have to perform - my brain will explode from the effort of keeping track lol

Jane - You're right about meanness on the internet, but thankfully there are pockets of fabulous-good-vibe-tango on the internet and in tango communities. You just have be patient and find the right people to listen to (and ignore the rest).

Anonymous - Exactly!! For me it a Biagi piece that I got distracted in and I was so annoyed with myself. So right - never again!

Simba - I think all tango bloggers have had a good rant now and then - especially when we're nursing a stiletto piercing in the calf of something. I've never read anything that was just flat out mean on your blog (which I love, btw) - quite the opposite. Being annoyed is very different from belittling people. (And thank you for your kind words - I really appreciate that.)

Mark Word said...

Great post. I wonder what possessed you to have so much energy about this? :-) Let me explain to your readers: Mari got slammed for her comments on my blog from a man who was smart, knowledgeable, probably a great dancer maybe even a father of 5 (??) but was not at all a gentleman to her. I love your positive approach with a clear but lady-like opinion.

Marika said...

Mark - I must admit part of the inspiration was from that exchange. Truthfully, this has been building up for awhile, though.

When three different tangueras told me about finding pictures of themselves posted around the intarwebs as examples of "bad tango" (and one of them actually considering leaving tango because of the hurtful comments the author made) - I knew something had to be said. We all rant and rave on our blogs - it's the nature of the beast. But there is never a reason to get personal or mean. We need to be better than that.

Anonymous said...

The bottom line here is:

Is the embrace uncomfortable for any of the dancers?

If not shut up and dance, if yes speak up.

I have already told some man, to move their left arm higher in my back because they were putting a strain on my back by positioning it too low.


Marika said...

GaL: ♥ ♥ ♥

Anonymous said...

Darn! I mean their right arm, not their left arm

The Accidental Tangoiste said...

Love the way you're glowing with happiness in both of the pictures of you! Looks like you should keep doing whatever you're doing! :)