Tango Topics | Exploring Your Dance


Tension. You’ve more than likely not heard this word in relation to Argentine Tango. However it is present in most people’s embrace when they dance, more on that later. The English word ‘Tension’ comes from the Latin word ‘tensio’ which means ‘to stretch’. The English word means essentially the same thing. According to Webster’s Online Dictionary, the word is defined as “The Act of Stretching or Straining”. There’s a noun form and a verb form. The verb form is a bit closer to what we’re after. “To subject (a cable, belt, tendon, or the like) to tension, especially for a specific purpose”.

Usage. With regards to Argentine Tango almost no one talks about Physiological Tension in any way, shape, or form that exists within the Embrace (all forms of the Embrace). Most people use a good deal of Tension in their embrace whether they’re conscious of it or not. (See Tango Haptics, Level 4) More than likely they’re not, but it is used anyway. To be clear, there are very few teachers that discuss Physiological Tension, or show it, or even mention it. And even those that do have the awareness of the Tension being present in the dancer’s embrace, usually attribute it to resistance, instead of something else (more on that later).

For the most part the idea of ‘Tension’ is wrapped up in the idea of ‘Resistance’ (see link). The general idea is that in order to dance with someone you must engage in resistance, and in specific one must place that resistance within the construct of the embrace. And within this resistance is the physiological tensile stretching of the muscles and body parts listed below. While it is not true, that you must have resistance in order to dance, this is the current misbelief. However if we separate these ideas for just a moment, Physiological Tension usually happens in the embrace in the a.) fingers and thumbs. b.) hands.  c.) wrists. d.) fore arms. e.) elbows. f.) biceps. g.) shoulders. h.) and scapulas. It occurs in these places as a means to create a frame for one of four possible reasons. 1.) To create the iconic look of Argentine Tango. 2.) To be able to communicate the intent to dance with one’s partner. 3.) To control one’s partner.  4.) Lack of awareness that there is another way to dance (see opinion).

To be clear, Tension is also a part of Rigidity in the embrace. One might say that the rigidity comes from the Tension and not the other way around. The rigidity is there because one is holding tension in their arms.

Lead, Follow, or Both ? Both Roles.

Tango Topics Videos: All Tango Topics videos discuss this most basic element as not needing to be there at all, in any way, shape, or form!

The Tango Topics Opinion: As indicated above, there is another way to move and to dance. And it does not require Physiological Tension within the Embrace or Tensile strength in the embrace, anywhere at all. However, most people believe or think that they do need it. Further still they’re completely unaware that they’re generating this stuff to begin with.

One reason why Tension exists has everything to do with your walk, and more importantly the fact that you are unstable. You don’t realize you’re unstable. You don’t feel that fact that you’re wobbling. You don’t recognize that you’re gripping your partners body parts to stabilize you (even Micro Tensions and Micro Stabilizations – This one usually occurs in the hand-to-hand embrace), BUT you are and you do all this stuff. This is as much as a Lead (the person, not the action) problem as it is a Follow problem. The role does not matter. Both roles will end up using their partners for stability, and as a result, they’ll end up either gripping with their hands, and/or clamping down with their arms (forearm and/or bicep) and/or elbow all at the same time without fully realizing that they’re doing it in the first place.

Still another reason why Tension exists has everything to do with ‘Resistance’ (see the link). Some people believe that in order to dance that you absolutely must have resistance so that you can ‘feel’ your partners. While that may be true for them, what they may not realize is that a.) that line of reasoning is a fallacy. and more importantly b.) in order for the property of Resistance to function, one person has to OVERPOWER the other in order to communicate the intention of what is desired! Meaning the initiator of said resistance (lead) must use MORE FORCE than the person receiving that force (follow) in order for the vocabulary being suggested (ahem) to be executed! 

Still one more reason why Tension exists has everything to do with a lack of awareness. The simple fact is that you get used to pushing and pulling so often that it becomes second nature to you, and as a result you’re going to use it wherever necessary. It’s not required. Ever. The hard part is learning to dance without it. Just as a side note: Tango Topics Intensive Study teaches this way of dancing – that you don’t need Tension, Resistance, and/or Force.

Lastly, one more place that it’s used is entirely intentional: Performance Based Tango. Or stage tango, fantasy tango, as it is sometimes referred to. Sometimes performers MUST employ tensile strength to do certain movements or to maintain a very specific position, or a very specific iconic look for the 15th row (assuming they’re dancing in a theater or for the stage). However, what you may not be aware of is that a good 8 out of 10 times, they do not need that tensile strength at all, it’s there for effect. Nothing more than that. 

So while you may think that Tension is used everywhere, it is not. And while you may believe that X, Y, and Z performance is tension everywhere, it’s more than likely not. There are certain movements which do require a certain amount of Physiological Tension and/or tensile strength such as an Egregious and Extreme Colgada (which should never be done on a social dance floor, ever). Or an Egregious or Extreme Volcada (same sentiment). However, for the most part, not so much with that. You don’t need it, ever. In other words, drop the Tension from your embrace. You don’t need it. #SocialDance #ArgentineTango #TangoDancing

Scroll to top
Hide picture