Ganchos . . . again . . .

(Image courtesy of Emilie Boudet:

From the Facebook comments on my "Expressing the music or dancing for tables" post:

"But adornments can become problematic when they interfere with something I'm trying to do. (I have enough trouble as it is). Some of these are basically harmless and don't really bother me that much. Like some ladies insist on doing a gancho whenever I lead them to step over my leg. I'm mostly amused by this. Some girls just like their ganchos and will seize any opportunity to do one."

Predictably, I have several problems with the above behavior.

First of all, they aren't "their ganchos"! The gancho for the follower is led. It is my (nearly fanatical) opinion that it should never be an adornment or something the follower just decides to do on her own. As someone who is now attempting to learn to lead, the last thing I want to see, or heaven forbid feel, is a stiletto heel near my crotch. Sorry to be so blunt, but that's how I feel.

In the follower's defense, however, I think I can explain why it appears to happen that way.

When a leader leads me into a well-placed gancho, it would actually take effort for me not to do it. He is, or should be, interrupting my step and creating the movement. When led that way, I hardly notice the move and it really doesn't bother me to do it. I also don't mind ganchos that really end up feeling like small or low leg wraps. Those can be slinky and take up very little room - they also don't usually require breaking, or contorting, the embrace.

However, most of the time what I get is the leader opening his legs and expecting me to figure out what he wants. There are teachers who actually tell followers that even if they're not correctly placed, or the interruption of the step isn't felt clearly - they should execute the gancho anyway. After all, we're always talking about how the leader "invites" a movement and doesn't force it. (There is actually one aspect that applies to this - I can chose, in certain situations, to perform an amague instead of gancho, depending on my leg position and that's usually my preference.) That particular principle, that you can simply invite the move, is tricky to apply to ganchos.

If a leader stands there with his legs open and his knee against my knee - that's not an invitation to execute a gancho, that's just him standing with his legs open and me wondering what the heck he wants me to do with that.

Fast forward to the milonga setting where we have dancers with the best of intentions trying to work out the gancho thing. Mostly I see one of two things happen:

1. The leader opens his legs, places his follower hurriedly and somewhat awkwardly and waits for her to "do a gancho." When she seems to hesitate, he frequently (I'm not kidding, it happens all the time) either verbally tells her "you're supposed to gancho me here" or pushes her harder until she "gets it". So the follower gets the idea that the gancho isn't a very precise movement and if the leader opens his legs, that means gancho.

2. The second scenario, depicted in the comment above, is the follower performing ganchos whenever she sees or feels the opportunity to do it - on her own - probably because she never got the idea from class that the move is supposed to be led.

I frequently fall in the middle. After a leader chides me several times for missing his gancho leads, or following it with an amague because it's more comfortable for my knee, I execute one when I think he wants one, and then get it wrong.

Which always leaves my wondering, why the heck I'm trying so hard to do a move I don't even care about?

A note on leader-ganchos . . .

I am now going to give up any pretense of writing about technique issues, and just state my (very unpopular) direct opinion. I am annoyed when a leader "ganchos" me. I don't like the way leader ganchos look, and I really hate the way they feel 99% of the time. (On the other hand, just to give a more balanced view, sometimes I barely notice them because they're very fast and light - so those aren't so bad. If I don't have time to really notice them, I don't have time to get particularly annoyed, do I?) Still, I have to wonder was there no other way the leader could express the music??

When I watch this, and similar videos, on leader ganchos - all I can think is that none of it looks elegant, or graceful. So often it just looks forced and uncomfortable.

Oh, and the "double gancho - trap my leg" move (especially if the leader is not supporting his own balance), makes me not want to dance with that leader again. It's personal, it's just me - I'm not making a judgment on the value of the move - I'm only saying I really don't like how they feel. Again, does this really express something in the music that couldn't be expressed any other (simpler and more comfortable) way?

From the super-brilliant Ghost Guide to Ganchos page - a video, with follower's comments) on the double gancho:

Quoted from the above mentioned page:

"As the Follower points out in the video, there comes a point where she's literally trapped. That's not really tango. At tango the lady should be able to step out of any position she's in easily. Also you end up in a position where your legs are tangled up, you're both balancing on one leg, she's pivoting and most likely in heels! If another couple crashes into you, you're going to fall over. There's simply no way to take avoiding action. Take a moment and imagine how painful landing in that position is going to be..."


I am very sincerely sorry for the leaders who have led those with me and are reading this now. I have tried to tell leaders at practica, but when I do they tend to look at me like I just insulted their mother and kicked their puppy. I actually feel guilty that I don't like them when they look at me like that. So I comply and hope they don't lead it more than once in the tanda. I'm sorry I don't like them. I have tried - really, I have. I even worked on them in a private lesson. I just don't get the attraction at all.

If a leader leads it at a milonga, I'll try to make it work so that we don't both fall down. I will suppress the urge to say, "knock that crap off" and just do it. But depending on how uncomfortable the leader makes me in completing the move, he may be getting an early thank you. There are loads and loads of followers who love it - so by all means, lead it to them. Go crazy. And during practica, sometimes I'm game to work on them for a little bit (for many of the same reasons listed at the bottom of Ghost Guide to Ganchos, linked above.)

Leaders have been telling me for two years that some day a light will just turn on and suddenly I'll love ganchos.

I'm not holding my breath.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for expressing and sharing your journey with us! I love that you have your own thoughts and preferences and do not see any reason you should force yourself to like something that you sincerely have opened your mind to but have found is not your cup of tea. Who cares what people think, sometimes we just like what we like (or don't like).
If you have to be told or forced into a step in a milonga setting it seems the whole essence of what is meant to be is lost- ugh- definitely not fun, no matter what the step is. With this step especially there should be no guessing, it should be a natural interruption that flows and brings an element of surprise and connection and without that again, it seems the essence is lost.
I admire your willingness to be open to everything as well as your strength to voice your boundaries. Boundaries truly give us freedom.

The Accidental Tangoiste said...

I get so uncomfortable when leaders appear to expect me to read their minds and do a gancho (or maybe forward ochos? or back ochos?) without his actually bothering to lead it. A-men!

I also don't need ganchos to be happy with a dance. They can be fun if they are nicely led and go with the music--but at least as often as that happens, the other thing seems to happen. It makes a girl wary. Meanwhile, most of the loveliest dances I've ever experienced have not used ganchos of any variety.

Thank you for writing this--and speaking up about your opinions!

Anonymous said...

I can assure you that you will be able to forget everything you've learned about ganchos when you come to dance in Buenos Aires.

Keno said...

I really have to agree with this one -jantango said...
I can assure you that you will be able to forget everything you've learned about ganchos when you come to dance in Buenos Aires.
When I was dancing in Buenos Aires I never saw one lead in a milonga. I just don't like them so I will never learn how to lead one.

Kirra said...

Ganchos...what are those? {tongue firmly planted in cheek}.

It is so hard to lead them well so they feel natural. Whatever the first Anonymous said...I concur.

Anonymous said...

I have to defend ganchos. Although they are not a move that's often led in BA, I don't have a problem with it when they are.

The philosophy of ganchos that I was personally taught was that if there is space to do a gancho the follower should do one. However, the important word here is IF. IT REALLY DOESN'T HAPPEN OFTEN -- the leader has to go in very deep (in which case, your foot is nowhere near his groin). I can't explain this adequately over the internet.

The only time I've actively practised ganchos a lot, I was rehearsing for a performance. Otherwise, I dance them only once in a blue moon, frankly.

The problem with the videos you post, for me, is that the dancers in them are not very experienced. The first couple are beginners. It takes a lot of practice to make the ganchos feel comfortable and stable (particularly the one you dislike). And I think they should be used sparingly and, on a crowded floor, probably not at all.

But if there are no technical problems with the ganchos, I don't mind if people spice up their dancing with them now and again. And that includes leader ganchos. But leader ganchos are especially hard to get right. And, as they are rather a flashy, stagy move, they are not often danced. So perhaps your dislike of ganchos is actually a dislike of badly-led ganchos or ganchos that followers put in that shouldn't be there.

Anonymous said...

I told one time a leader, who just "ganchoes" me, that I think gancho is the most overrated and overused move in Tango.
So don't worry Mari, you are not alone on the gancho thing.

Anonymous said...

I think I didn't express myself terribly clearly in my last comment. Here's what I think:

Ganchos are a showy, flashy move. They can be technically difficult. And as a matter of taste, while I think they are fun to watch in performance, in social dancing I would advise leaders to avoid them if in any doubt, because of space and collision issues.

On the whole, I think they are like a strong spice which should be used sparingly. I am amazed that you are being led a gancho several times in one tanda. I suspect that is overkill. The gancho you mention I rarely get led more than once in an entire evening.

However, if there is plenty of space on the dance floor, the dancers both have technical expertise and the music seems to call for ganchos, why not? They can be playful, fun and appropriate in certain situations. I love to dance a giro around the man and feel him flick a playful gancho in between every step I take, without restricting my own movement in the slightest (I feel only the lightest touches and a whisper of air). But guys usually practice for years and years to get those ganchos right. They are f******** tricky!

But if I were a teacher in a scene outside Buenos Aires (where, as a general rule, dancers are less experienced) they definitely wouldn't be one of my teaching priorities, for all the reasons I've mentioned. There are so many other things to work on first!

PS Even after practising the ganchos for an improvised performance, on the day my partner decided not to lead or perform a single one.

happyseaurchin said...

(what's your facebook link?)

Tricky one this because I don't lead ganchos and have often wondered how they occur. Well, not that often because they are rather... gauche. It took me over a year year of milonga dancing, having fun and whatnot, before I learned how to control my foot enough to actually touch another foot. A very sensual thing, but sadly is often just looked over and interpreted as a move, stepping over, or an automatic rubbing up my calf muscle. Very odd. So you can imagine when I was "ganchoed". It is very invasive.

I have never done one to a partner, and perhaps the occassion will never arise... it belongs to a certain... style... constellation of movements or moods... that i seldom get near to... ho hum...

ghost said...

Thanks :o)


"The problem with the videos you post, for me, is that the dancers in them are not very experienced."

In the case of the Ghost Guide this is actually deliberate :o) . Basically I looked around London and saw the standard that most people capped at. So I got two dancers of that level to be filmed doing the various things people do at milongas precisely to point out what works and what doesn't at that level, particularly to give people staring out a clearer idea. (Everything looks wonderful when your teachers demo it!)

I've no argument that advanced dancers can do ganchos well. But I do argue that both dancers need to be pretty darn good to do them well (as the above videos demonstrate). And in my view too many people in London try to do them when neither person involved has anywhere near the necessary skill.

I would really have liked someone to have told me when I was being taught ganchos in intermediate classes "Relax, this just ain't gonna work socially yet. Don't worry about it. Stick with the stuff that does work".

Quite why ganchos are considered an intermediate move and are even taught in some beginners classes (!) is a mystery to me.

Anonymous said...

@Ghost Thanks for the clarification. I totally agree with you. If I'm dancing with someone who is not a very advanced, experienced leader and they try to lead me a gancho I am not a happy bunny! And I know how to follow a gancho -- but only if it's lead well.

Marika said...

Anonymous #1: thank you for your comment and for saying it far better than I could - "Boundaries truly give us freedom."

Accidental Tangoiste: I think you're right on the money. After getting the less than stellar experiences with ganchos, this girl just got wary. And more than a little tired. :/

Jantango and Keno: that's a great relief.

Kirra: agreed.

ghost said...

I will admit that done properly ganchos can be enjoyable. They have a quality that I now realise is an absolute nightmare to express in text :( I guess the closest I can say if they have a surprising elegance but in a tango way rather than a ballet / irish dancing / martial arts way! Having said that, "done properly" is a very different feeling from what you're probably experiencing at the moment so I'd say that you're right. You'll never love ganchos as they are right now. But at some point you might love what they can be :o)

I also follow sometimes and I can totally symapthise with "If a leader stands there with his legs open and his knee against my knee - that's not an invitation to execute a gancho, that's just him standing with his legs open and me wondering what the heck he wants me to do with that."

@ Terpsichoral

Np. The Out-take at 26 secs is also another good reason not to try it at this level :o)

Marika said...

Terpsichoral -

So many good points in your comment! You're right, the foot should be nowhere near the groin. The key phrase is "should be". I've even seen leaders get "gancho'd" in the thigh by a woman (dancing with someone else) behind them. ::facepalm::

Another point, the first video of dancers doing ganchos was actually a teacher I believe and student. Which really made my heart sink. I know it was done slowly, and somewhat awkwardly because it was a teaching demo - but really, that looked terribly uncomfortable.

You wrote, "So perhaps your dislike of ganchos is actually a dislike of badly-led ganchos or ganchos that followers put in that shouldn't be there." - that really gets to the heart of it.

Marika said...

Anon #2 - thanks for your comment and your support. :) :)

Marika said...

oh, I almost forgot Happyseaurchin - my facebook page link is:[slash]marijohnson

The Accidental Tangoiste said...

Wary and weary--yup, that's about right. :)

Nancy said...

Agreed on the gancho. It is intrusive and ugly. My second least favorite move is the leg crawl on demand. After the third very swkward demand that I lift my leg like a dog, I said, "I don't do that shit." That stopped it.

Dieudonne said...

They can look nice when well done, and in the right place in the music during and exhibition by well trained dancers.
I think that in my community, there is maybe one dancer with the technical ability to perform them and look good doing so. The rest who I see trying them most nights look terrible while attempting to do them. I am embarrassed for them, and find myself often time begging leaders in my heart to not dare attempt ganchos on the floor.
I thought that the "holly grail" of Tango was to connect so well with my dance partner that I would lull her to a comfortable "near sleep experience". If that is the case, then here is the question that I have been asking myself for a long time:
I think that most leaders (men) use ganchos the way they use their mouths with women; they have a hart time being with the emotion of the connection, so therefore they start running their mouths to gain some kind of imagined countenance instead of shutting up and enjoying the ride. Gancho indeed! Do not get me started.

Dieudonne said...

Nancy, thanks for the laugh.

Anonymous said...

PS Please of ganchos here. And I think this is beautiful:

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that should read PLENTY of ganchos here.

Anonymous said...

And, for good measure, here are some leader's ganchos. I have to admit, Fede isn't the most elegant dancer. But he is so musical and fun. And he feels lovely to dance with.

Marika said...

Terpischoral - both videos of F&A are beautiful performances. I always love watching them dance because they express the music so beautifully and have very playful performances. The ganchos fit there - in the timing and music - but more importantly in the space and situation - performing on an empty floor.

Federico's leader-gancho in the second video was very fluid and quick, and if it did "trap" her leg - it was damn fast! I think I alluded to that earlier, or I meant to - maybe I only hallucinated that I wrote it - the best ganchos are the ones I hardly notice.

There are two leaders here who I practice with quite a bit (so that might be why they're easier with them) who lead ganchos as a piece of something else so smoothly that I hardly notice that I hooked my leg. It's the sort of thing we do at practica and when the floor is practically empty.

But then, when I stop, I have that fear that now other leaders have seen me do crazy gancho-combos, so everyone's going to think it's my new favorite thing. This is what gets me into trouble actually. One guy actually asked me why I followed ganchos with Leader X, but not with him. How am I supposed to answer that (at a milonga) politely?

Sorry, that was a bit of tangent . . .

Anonymous said...

Regarding "sitting out" - what kind of dancer really only likes 3 tandas of music the whole night? I love tango music so much I rarely hear any tandas I wouldn't want to dance to. Maybe this guy needs to switch to Salsa or Swing if he really dislikes tango that much. Talk about picky!

Anonymous said...

After all the ink that has been spilled over this, I have to say: I still think only advanced dancers should do them at the milonga. And probably elsewhere, too. And I'm not usually so judgemental about a particular step.

But they do just feel so crappy and look so naff when beginner/intermediate level dancers do them that they seem to drag down the whole level of the person's dance.

Dieudonne said...

Mary, your instincts are correct!

In the salones ganchos or sacadas were not allowed, if you made them you'll never get back in there again. And that condition becomes strict in the tango salon.
This is a statement from the late "Tete" to be found at

Anonymous said...

Dieudonne: ganchos are not allowed in the main annual tango salon competitions in Buenos Aires: the Mundial & the Metropolitano. However, many salon dancers will dance them in performance and even at the milonga, if the floor is not crowded.

Sacadas are a different story. It's perfectly OK to dance sacadas in the two main salon competitions and they are a staple of the dance floor, unless it is extremely crowded.

In BA where, on the whole, leaders are much more experienced at floorcraft and the general standard of dancing is a lot higher, some dancers are able to do more flamboyant moves like ganchos without disturbing other dancers.

You don't see many people dancing ganchos at small, crowded El Beso, except in the last hour of the night, when the floor often opens up considerably. But you do see a lot of the younger salon dancers now dancing a fast-paced, amped-up, dynamic style which can include ganchos. (And definitely includes plenty of boleos and sacadas). To see this in action, go to Practica 10 or El Yeite. (I'm pretty sure Tete would have abominated this style but, much as I loved Tete's dancing, I LOVE the racy, pacy salon many young Argentines are now dancing).

But again we're back to the truism that experienced dancers simply have the skills to be able to do things that less experienced dancers can't usually pull off. We are not talking about the kind of beginner-level dancers shown in Ghost's videos. You can't run before you can walk. But I wouldn't jump to too many fixed conclusions about what is and what isn't done in BA.

I live in BA and there are many different scenes there. And the scenes are always changing.

Unknown said...

Do you remember the first time you saw a tango?

For most of us it was in a performance, the sort of performances (Forever Tango, etc.) that broadcast the tango around the world and made millions of people drop their jaws and say "I want to do that". I remember leg wraps, ganchos, dips, the lady sliding down her partner's leg to the floor. I did not start taking tango lessons to learn the ocho cortado, or subtle weight shifts. I started because it allowed such a brilliant range of expression from subtlety, sweet affection, angry duels of blazing feet, and overwhelming desire.

And then I took lessons. Slow going at first, but I saw that my teacher and one crazy older lady loved that brilliant display of movement from sweet to explosive. I hoped that if I paid my dues, someday I too, would be permitted to do the brilliant things that attracted me to tango in the first place. The crazy older lady scooped me up and ran with me. I kept working for my teacher's respect and eventually she started to teach me the fun stuff. Young, strong, light, flexible, and brave dancers would see me doing the fun stuff and seek me out. The older ladies would say no, no, no. So I danced with the young ones.

Tango is in danger of cutting its own throat. What is beautiful about it, what attracts us to it is its powerful range of expression. Unfortunately many older people who lose the ability to do the more explosive parts of tango, sometimes occupy the cliques and blogs of tango communities. They don't like ganchos or volcadas or colgadas or dips, etc.

They are reactionary. They would try to preserve some imagined golden age, to impose their rules and restrictions. To make sure there are "no new movements" as they say in "Strictly Ballroom". They will kill tango by putting it in formaldehyde and preserving it.

Tango is scandalous, dangerous, and explosive at its very heart. It was a mix. It grew and changed. If it is to survive it must remain scandalous, dangerous, and explosive and it must be flexible enough to change. Viva el gancho!

Unknown said...

Dieudonne, Nietzsche says "Blessed are the sleepy ones, for they shall soon drop off."


You are right that part of Tango's territorial range includes dreamland. However, it is not fair or historically accurate to confine it there. The deepest roots of tango run to choppy, strenuous rhythms of candombe that arose from the first "tangos" where Africans mocked the genteel pretensions their white former masters.

Unknown said...

Of walking and running. Young people who are flexible, light, strong, willing, and quick to learn may learn to run much sooner than we give them credit for.

I have found many of the movements that are physically more strenuous are mentally less so. Most young people and many older people have the physical capability of more strenuous moves. I teach beginner tango to college students. They start learning to walk, embrace, etc. but they can do dips and sentadas by the second or third class. They usually need more time to master basic tango footwork than the supposedly advanced techniques. Like most of us they need to keep polishing the footwork over weeks, months and years. They can learn ganchos if the teacher takes time to teach them. Classes are pretty boring if all they do is walk. It's better to combine polishing basics with the dramatic moves. It's an abuse of youth not to let them do the more strenuous moves when they are most capable of learning them just because some old lady's back is too stiff.

Generally, we are too fussy. Dance is fun. I had some contact improvisation before I took tango. In contact people play with many ways of giving and taking weight. They don't worry about looking ridiculous. They almost embrace it. By learning these general ways to give and take weight dancers become more comfortable with it in specific techniques (e.g. a double gancho). Contact improv certainly lacks the elegance and rich heritage of tango. But once students get comfortable playing with giving and taking weight, they can apply greater refinement and elegance.

Tango can be a dreamy transporting moment, but it can also just be fun. It's ok to laugh. If you mess up a gancho or an ocho its not the end of the world. Laugh about it. Try it again if you want, or not. You can even share a word or two, if you don't disturb other people and if you're both ok with it. It's only dancing. Enjoy it.