The first thing that everyone should learn when they first go to a Tango class is posture. Posture is important to Tango as there is often chest to chest connection and the lead mostly originates from this contact. Therefore normal posture must be adapted to become the “tango posture”.
In order for us to achieve this chest to chest connection and still allow room to dance the only solution is for both dancers to lean in against each other and form an A-frame. This raises a couple of questions: how much should each dancer lean and what should the rest of the body be doing to maintain the tango posture?
Before I continue with my own thoughts on posture, I want to first look at the development of tango and pick out a few trends. I will point out now, I am not an expert historian on tango but have spent the past couple of months watching a lot of tango YouTube videos which cover the best part of a century as well as some videos that talk about tango development. The main trend I’ve seen is that the posture of the men has become much straighter and less hunched in the shoulders and more leaned. While the women’s posture does not seem to have changed that much, and going through the videos there have always been followers who stand up straight and those who lean. This view has also been picked up by many others who have commented in blogs and videos.
So back to my own thinking. Tango is mainly danced as a social dance, although there are competition and show varieties. However, very few tango dancers that I have met do anything other than social dance. Therefore, to me, it makes sense to have a tango posture that mirrors this social nature. In my eyes social dancing is about having fun and improvising with someone you may never have met before. Social dancing also has an element of ‘showing off’ by demonstrating what you can do, both to your partner and those watching around the floor. I particularly enjoy watching and being inspired by those who look different and unique while social dancing.
The tango posture should accommodate these three aspects: enjoyment, showing off and interaction with a partner. To do all three it would seem sensible to suggest that your tango posture should be comfortable and it should not restrict self-expression of the music or steps for both yourself and your partner. The issue is that the current overly leaned and straight posture does not seem to accommodate these aspects and I feel limits my ability as a tango dancer. I’ll explain why.
When I first started tango I was told to find my tango posture by standing up straight, putting my shoulders back, leaning forward till the point of losing balance, stretching my neck up then slightly bending my knees. This gave me a position very similar to those I’ve seen in modern videos but first of all I do not find this posture comfy! My general posture isn’t the best but an osteopath has told me it is not bad, so putting my shoulders further back and stretching my neck is quite unnatural and puts a lot of stress through my shoulder and neck area. Also preventing falling forward in the extreme lean puts a strain through my core and lower back. Trying to maintain this posture while dancing is not enjoyable, since I am concentrating more on my posture rather than the steps, musical interpretation or having fun with my partner.
Secondly I find this tango posture prevents me from doing some steps completely and stops me from doing others in a way that I wish. I find the extreme lean makes steps such as reverse sacadas impossible as the distance my leg has to travel is too great and my balance goes. Also I find the stretched out posture prevents any form of rise and fall while dancing, severely limiting expression. Also both myself and Alison find that this stretch, leaned posture prevents natural movement, most likely caused by the body fighting to maintain balance. Finally this tango posture seems to encourage leaning against your partner restricting their space and movement.
So what’s the solution to these issues? The way I teach posture is simple and only involves two concepts. I assume that most people’s postures are fine, if the shoulders are rounded and will interrupt the chest contact, and restricts the partners space then this needs to be addressed. I will then ask my student to stand naturally, lean forward until their weight is over the balls of their feet (this should cause a strain in their core) and finally ask them to flex their knees until they feel the strain disappear or feel balanced. This method results in a posture that allows the chest to chest connection without being over leaned, therefore avoiding the balance issues stated earlier. Since shoulder position hasn’t changed this posture is usually comfy and can be held without effort. This posture also allows for rise and fall giving freedom of movement during the dance and as a side effect allows easy adaptation to dancing with partners of different heights. As a final thought, this posture seems very similar to those used in the 1940’s and still used in Nuevo tango. Perhaps Nuevo and salon tango aren’t that different.