The 'Hand Pressy Arm' Thing
Most people start out learning to communicate in Tango using their hands and their arms. The chances that you learned one of the 3 ways detailed below and in the video above is pretty much a certainty of how we learned to communicate through the embrace with our partner. The author learned pretty the same ideas in varying different forms. However, as you’ll soon see, nearly all 3 of those methods (one is a variation on a theme of the other) not only hinder your development into a much more refined dancer that you want to be, it also creates a need in both partners for gauche physiological contact that we not only don’t need, and more importantly, we don’t require it! Gauche ? In this instance, the word is used to outline a lack of ease, or unsophistication, and awkwardness that lacks refinement. It is coarse, like sandpaper. Harsh and overly physical when it is not required at all. This particular topic is a necessary first stepping stone towards a topic that is the basis of nearly everything that Tango Topics talks about. It’s either implied, or overtly stated but always there: Intention-Based Dancing.
Oh and before we take a deep dive into this stuff, there’s one thing you should not call this, and that’s “Connection“! Uuuuuugh! Nor is it anything close to that. As you’ll soon see below, it is anything but that. However, some folks persist and like to call this ‘Connection’. We call it something entirely different which you’ll see for obvious reasons below. If you’d like to understand why we do not and will not ever refer to this stuff as ‘Connection’, there’s a good reason for that, which you can find here. Be forewarned when reading and watching the accompanying video, that the information contained therein will challenge your beliefs about how you perceive the dance, and how you understand the nomenclature of the dance. You’ve been warned.
That said, let’s dive into The “Hand Pressy Arm” Thing.
What is the ‘Hand Pressy Arm’ Thing ? It’s a descriptor that was, at the time of shooting, a way of talking about the three most common methods in which someone learns to communicate with their fingers, hands, and arms in an attempt to transmit and receive physiological information to and from their partners while dancing with them.
Method #1. In this method, the Follower places their Palms on the Lead’s Chest either directly at the belly line or the breast line. In either case, the Follower is tasked with keeping firm pressure AGAINST the Lead’s chest by pushing into the Lead with their arms while at the same time, the Follower is taught to walk backward while the Lead is told to push into the Follower and to quite literally push the Follower. (See Pic)
Method #2. In this method the Follower and the Lead raise their arms out to their sides, and then bend their arms at the elbow upwards and towards their partner, with their palms up, touching each other. Both Follower and Lead are told to push into each other while learning how to walk. (See Pic)
Method #3. In this method, it’s a variation on a theme, of #1 & #2, only both partners create a half circle enclosure with their arms where the hands are placed on the biceps of the partner, and both partners are told to create a ‘frame’ and then to resist, and then push and pull. (See Pic)
These three methods by all accounts are the most common ways in which people are taught to communicate with the embrace.
This is the Hand Pressy Arm Thing!
From a Learning Perspective, these three methods of creating physiological communication have a monster flaw built into them for both roles which we get into below in the specific role and why it’s an issue. But from the 50,000-foot view, the flaw is that both roles are taught to ‘push’ each other. Both roles are taught to engage physiological ‘resistance’. As well as forearm to back or forearm to forearm pressure. Bicep tension. Hand-to-hand, or hand-to-bicep, or hand-to-back pressure, tension, and force as a way to communicate one’s intent to engage something and how and what to respond with and to.
Why is it a ‘Flaw’ ? What’s wrong with pressure ? Why is that less-than-ideal ? Several reasons. Here’s just a few.
a.) Arm or Hand Pressure stops movement! If you compress the embrace, then it quite literally stops someone from moving within the embrace in say or turn, an ocho, and or a cross. This is true of both roles, not just one. If the Lead compresses, the Follower, then it stops the Follower’s ability to move. If the reverse is true then it stops or inhibits the Lead from moving within the embrace.
b.) It is work. It’s actually physiological work to engage tension and force to keep a ‘firm’ embrace.
c.) Pushing or Pulling to Direct someone isn’t asking them, it’s telling them. And no one likes to be told what to do. Not to mention pushing or pulling someone to do anything just isn’t nice. Ok, this one is a bit soft, but still it’s valid. No ? Do you like to be pushed or pulled ? Probably not. So why would you do this in the dance ?
Ok one more, and it’s probably the biggest reason that we can come up with that affects your dancing skills on every level: At no point does the dancer learn that less is more. The dancer essentially is relying on their partner to either move them or be moved by them. This generates physiological ‘lag’ or ‘drag’.
One more ? The partnership’s stability is in question where both partners rely heavily on the stability of the other person for their balance and their own internal stability. This has been shown in Tango Thought #138 – Closing Your Eyes. It’s a flaw because self-reliance, self-control, and self-stability, and not to mention but we will anyway, self-awareness, and really hyper self-awareness, are never encouraged or developed! And as a direct result, you have potential partners that quite literally feel like they’re moving through quicksand, that hang, that pull, that push, that use their arms to either direct the dance, and/or worse compress the dance so that it cannot breathe!
This is why this stuff is a flaw!
From a Following Perspective, ok…so it’s a flaw. Big deal! You’ve gotten past it. You’ve grown up now, and you don’t need to do that anymore. Really ? Wanna bet that you’re not past it ? Wanna bet that this stuff hasn’t infected you on every level and permeated your dance ? Now if you know Tango Topics and you’ve read what we talk about, you should know by now that we don’t ask questions or make propositions that we can not rightfully back up. So below we’ve devised a simple experiment for you. Don’t think of it as a test. It’s an experiment for you to explore.
Here’s an exercise to prove to yourself that you are stable, balanced, and under your own control. That you don’t exhibit those flaws laid out above. If you can prove to yourself and this webpage that you can do exactly what the young lady in the video does with two modifications for more than 50 ft. Then we’ll shut the hell up. And we’ll quite literally take our toys and go home, close up shop as it were.
The two modifications ?
1.) You must hold up an embrace (the Follower’s side of close embrace as shown here – [link to PDF]) that does not employ force in any way, shape, or form. You must hold up your arms in the Follower’s side of the embrace with no more force than it takes to raise your arms, and a little less.
2.) You must be in a pair of heels. 2.5 to 3 in heels to be somewhat precise.
Watch the video.
Then find an open stretch of hallway or room where you can do this.
Then replicate what you see this young lady doing.
Oh and one more thing. No wobbling. No wavering. No lifting your foot off the floor either. If you bend your knees when extending your legs backward, that’s a no-no. Do exactly what the young lady is doing.
We’re willing to bet that said test of your skills was not ideal. And that you wobbled more than a little bit. There are several reasons why you wobbled actually and most of those reasons had everything to do with your walking technique, to begin with. However, one of those reasons is that you require a Lead to stabilize yourself, and/or to push against in order to move. If that’s the case, and we’re betting that it is, then you have an issue that needs to be corrected. Several actually. Said issue can only be corrected through a complete re-working of your foundation which starts with better Follower Technique. Fortunately, we have a subscription that takes the Follower Technique videos that we put out a while ago and gives you easy access to them so that you can begin to correct these issues. See the ad directly below this section for a link on how to get to that subscription. It’s cheap by the way. Insanely cheap. What you pay for a private lesson, now take one-third of that and put that against a monthly fee to have access to better Follower Technique with lots of exercises and visual clarity and close ups!
From a Leading Perspective, Dude…if you’ve been taught to push, to pull, to compress the embrace, to start with. You have issues. It’s that simple. So here it is in simple fashion:
Do you watch the Follower’s feet when you dance ? Are you even aware that you’re doing it ?
Do you line up with your Follower in your armpit when you dance ? Do you keep them there ?
Do you need to hold the Follower close, and we mean tight against your body in turns, ochos, crosses and basically anything else because the Follower tends to be all over the place and it’s just easier if you hold them in one spot ?
If the answer to any one of those questions is “YES” then you have an issue that needs to be corrected, and it started by using one of these three methods of engaging communication of the dance.
So how do you fix it ? How do you change it ? Funny you should ask!
The answer or more appropriate the more desirable solution to fixing the issue is actually based in your walk and not the use of your arms! And in specific, how you engage that walk. So how you can fix it ? Again, that’s what Tango Topics is here for. While this is going to sound like a sales pitch. It’s not. It’s just that we’ve video’d what you need to do and how you need to do it. The only thing you need to do is watch it. Start with the Leading Technique link below and then work your way up the chain. Subscribe to Tango Topics and you’ll get the full benefit of everything that this site has to offer.
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Remember that what you’re seeing is a couple that is performing for the 15th row for a room full of people, they’re not social dancing. Whereas this website is all about ‘Social Dancing’ or how to make things function on a social dance floor. Social Dance floor ? Your local milonga! They’re showing flashy moves as a presentation! But not stopping and talking about how this works, why you’d want to put that piece of vocabulary there, or how to make things fit. This website is all about those things and more!
You could watch those videos and thereby spend your time, trying to infer, and figure out how things may work in that particular situation. Bend your body this way or that, twist and force this position or that. Place your foot here or there and figure it out. This is known as Tango Twister. Which can be a lot of fun, but more than likely it won’t help you, because you’re missing something: The explanation from an experienced teacher showing you how to properly excute this stuff from a Leading Perspective as well as from a Following Perspective!
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Eventually, one way or another you’re going to pay for this lesson, either here and now, or with them. TANSTAAFL! The difference between that lesson and this ? Is that you get to play this lesson over and over and over again. Further still, there are supporting materials (other videos) that help to explain the language and the underlying technique of how and why things work, so you can easily reference those things in the corresponding articles that go with the material, and or any language in the Tango Topics Dictionary.