The Armpit Dancer
For most dancers their embrace is theirs and theirs alone. It's what separates them from everyone else. It is their signature. Regardless of whether or not that embrace is desirable or not. Mind you they may not realize that their embrace is not desirable, they may not realize that the quality of their embrace is desirable. We like to believe that our embrace is the finest thing since sliced bread, and yet it is that embrace that causes more problems than it's worth for a greater number of dancers. Take for example an aspect that is frequently passed onto dancers learning close embrace (which turns out to be a grand fallacy) that the Follower must apply 'Resistance' (which generally ends up as 'Rigidity') in order for the Lead/er to feel them. Or still another that the Follower should wrap their left arm around their Lead's shoulders.
Each of these issues, and many more that aren't listed here create physiological stresses on the couple that we don't want. And as a result we end up having to compromise our natural bodily structure to compensate for what essentially amounts to an uncomfortable embrace.
To be clear, and fair, the embrace is not the only problem child here. The other major component to nearly every issue that you can think of comes from one other place, it's the walk. Or more importantly, one's stability in one's walk. Do not discount what you'll hear in the videos above, and this article as "Ahhh I just need to fix my embrace and then all will be magical!". Nope. You must, must, must, must, must ... let's stress that one more time with feeeeeling -> you must work on your walk, and in specific, your stability in your walk. And there are loads of exercises you can do to correct for that, one of which has already been covered here "The Ballet Rise".
The Problem: The embrace is massive component to the dance being successful on any level, and yet there is another component is just as important but very infrequently talked about. What's that ? Body Position and Body Placement for both Lead and Follow! Body Position is where you place yourself within the construct of the embrace, Body Placement is what you do with it (e.g.: vocabulary). The issue is that getting this topic right is the dividing line between 'ease' and 'work', between 'pain' and 'pleasure', between "ouch" and "aaahhhhh". And yet, no one talks about this thing. So what specifically is the issue ? The fact that a good 90% of the time both Lead and Follow will enter into an untenable embrace structure based on their respective Body Positions right from the start of the dance where the Both dancers will quite literally either place the Follower into their Lead's Arm Pit, or the Lead will readjust to have the Follower there from the start. And in that we have what is known as "The Armpit Dancer".
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From a Following Perspective, this issue is as much yours as it is the Leads' issue! You either went directly to the Lead/ers arm pit or more importantly you drifted there by means of every cross, turn, and ocho you were 'asked' to execute. In short, you are just as responsible for this as the Lead is for allowing the problem to happen in the first place. Let's go on the theory that you went there by comfort, not by drift, that will happen later anyway. By comfort means that you don't know anything else. You went right into the armpit of you Lead because you don't know any thing different. It's all you know. And quite honestly no one has probably told you that you have a responsibility to be actively ontop of being in front of your lead, and being in their armpit is not that place. Placing yourself in the armpit is less then desirable on several levels: 1.) You're making work for yourself. 2.) You're instantly behind on everything that is being asked of you. 3.) You're more than likely going to end up in long forward steps because of your position.
Let's be clear about something, there are certain aspects to the Modern Follow that did not happen 50, 30, and maybe even 20 years ago that does happen today. One of those things is that certain pieces of vocabulary mentioned above are all yours. The Lead may ASK (operative word) for it, but you're the one that has to execute it with some degree of precision and awareness. And that means that while there's nothing that you can do about the speed of one of these pieces of vocabulary, there is something you can do to change how things are executed because you're the one that's doing the execution! Put simply you are responsible for Forward, Side, & Back, and just how much disassociation you engage to execute X, Y, and Z that is being asked of you. You must place yourself in the right places at all times to allow for these things to occur. That means a.) Execute. b.) Get there in a timely fashion (read that as being on beat). This part is optional, but mostly quite desirable c.) With elegance! Generally the problem is that you have allowed yourself to 'slip' in any one of those three steps, in specific the back and forward steps of your Molinete as well as the back step prior to the crossing step of the Argentine Cross.
To 'slip' means that you are out of alignment with your lead. While the video above talks about the Follower's Molinete where this occurs repeatedly, it also occurs in the Argentine Cross, and you as the Follower need to take control so these things don't happen. One of the things in your way, unfortunately is a Lead's embrace that is restrictive that won't allow you the freedom to move across and around your lead's body. If the embrace isn't restrictive, you have the tools you need to accomplish your goals! Technique, and Space! Now the only thing you need to do is execute.
From a Leading Perspective, this one is as much your issue as it is the Followers! Why are you responsible for this issue ? 1.) It's your embrace. 2.) You have control. 3.) You're the one that's choosing vocabulary, not the Follower. 4.) Navigation! 5.) One of your jobs as a Lead (you have 3), is Music. Your job is to select the beat that the couple is dancing to and on. That is why you are responsible.
Put simply, the Follower has a ton of physical work to do. You, my friend, have a different kind of work to do. While the role of the Follower is all about the physical, your role is intellectual - it's all about planning. You think, they do. Mind you if you think and do for them, there's not a whole lot for them to do except look nice and smile. Which is precisely what Tango was for many decades. That's not the case in today's Tango world, it's changing...slowly. The role of the Follower has expanded more over the last 2 decades. And as a result, they have more to do, and you have less to do. The more ? They're essentially being asked to execute a turn - the how the turn is done, but not when that turn is done (that's still your job). Still another instance is that they cross their feet automagically because you're not leading it 90% of the time. Still another is that in traveling ochos (what you call 'back ochos'), they're deciding how to ocho and how far that ocho goes, constantly. Put simply, they're doing the heavy lifting, while all you're doing is thinking about what should be done in time to the music.
Those three things (and there are more, these are just the prominent ones) are physical labor for the Follower. Specifically the 1st and the last. Why ? Because they require disassociation and applied disassociation (what you mistakeningly think of as a 'pivot') on the Follower's forward and back steps of their Molinete, and their ochos. 9 times out of 10 you'll start a turn to the Open side of the embrace (Lead left), using the Follower's backstep as the opening step either from a stop (bad idea by the way, see a future WHIC video on this topic), or from an ocho (better idea). That disassociation (from you) and applied disassociation in your follower tends to land them right in your armpit and thereby makes it difficult for them to get around you (for a variety of reasons which are not discussed here) for the remaining steps of the turn. The same is true of the ocho! In short, this stuff is work for them, and every time they move from the armpit, they're having to stretch to go further around you just to end up in the same place. What makes that even more challenging is that you compress the embrace, you turn away from them in turns and in crosses you place them in your armpit deliberately, and you move the center of the circle or you close the distance in crosses, and/or pull them with your left arm, your head is in the way of the turn or cross (watching their feet). Each and every time that you do this it makes their job harder and harder.
The Dancing Reality. The reality is that this stuff is going to continue to happen. And these words will make no difference. You'll keep doing this stuff and stressing your heads, bodies, and dances to the breaking point. The reality is that you like dancing like this. You like dancing in pain. You like working harder than you have to. You like force, tension, compression, and resistance. That's the reality. You see other people doing it and seemingly having fun and think, that's what I should be doing. What you may not realize is that these people are ignorant of what's supposed to happen. It's only after they start rubbing muscles and tendons, that are seemingly strained for some odd reason (!!!!!), and they need a massage or a chiropractic visit the next morning that they realize that Tango is the cause! So 'no' you shouldn't be doing that. What you should do is fix it!
Paying For The Soup. Change can happen, but only if you want it to happen. And 'want' is the key word. First and foremost you have to see that this is an issue. If don't, then so much the better, that means less work for you. But the reality is that this is a ton of work for both Lead and Follower. Further still you are contorting your bodies to make it happen, and then you wonder why you're paying a chiropractor every few weeks for an 'adjustment'. There's a reason for that, and that's because you're contorting your bodies to dance like this. Here's a helpful hint - STOP DOING IT! As arrogant as that may sound, and quite frankly the whole thing is arrogant, the fact is that it's not arrogant if you see it as a helpful bit of advice that can stop you from being in pain.
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