Internal Tango

12th January 2009

(Part of the Tango Fusion collection of articles.)


Yin and yang. There's a lot of that in tango. The male and female endlessly revolving around each other, but for it to work in harmony both must have a part of the other. The leader must also follow as he dances and there are times when the follower must know to lead the couple out of harm's way.

If you asked someone to dance MJ in a tango stylee, the most likely result would be one focused very much on the external, the yang. A different hold, a focus on making moves "look" a certain way. But what of the internal? The yin of tango.

An example: the First Move

Take the First Move. The open-out part of this has bothered me since day one. Much like Drizzt Do'Urden, I knew it was wrong, I just couldn't quite figure out how to fix it.

Simply put, the step before the open out has the man's right hand on the woman's left hip. And it stays there as she opens out to the side. Which feels clunky. The man's arm is almost trapped by the move. The woman's arm is trapped by the move and she has to replace it on his shoulder to make it more comfortable.

Now consider ochos. Most leaders learn these by placing their hand somewhere on the follower's torso and keeping it fixed there throughout the ochos. Likewise the follower usually keeps her left hand in the same place on the leader throughout. After a while, probably when he learns to lead a forward boleo, the leader learns to do a "bunny hop" across the follower's torso with his right hand to reposition it.

Eventually he learns to let the follower flow within this embrace. Hopefully the follower also learns to let her left arm flow along the leader's arm and torso. Combining the two gives a wonderful fluid feel.

Back to the first move. Instead of the leader keeping his hand on the follower's left hip, he can adopt a fluid embrace and let her flow as she turns out so that his right hand ends up on her right hip and not her left. Likewise the follower can flow her left hand up the leader's arm to his shoulder as she turns out.

Here's the question - what are they dancing in the second version?

A tangoista will say it's tango, the entrance to an Americana. An MJer will say it's MJ, the first move.

Internal and External

Herein lies the interesting part. It's tempting to think of tango fusions in terms of the external, the moves. How do you lead a cross or ochos on an MJer?

But consider instead the internal, the technique.

MJ has steps, pivots, hesitations, single and double time; the follower can be taken off her axis, moves can be interrupted, the follower can be raised and lowered and so forth. It's all there. What remains is to apply tango technique to it.

Physically it probably won't look much different. Everyone puts their own personal style on MJ anyway. But the feel of it is very different. That yummy tango connection is there for the taking.

 - Christopher O'Shea, 12th January 2009

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