Most leaders approach the dance from the perspective of learning steps. This is natural as it is the steps that we see when watching others. What we don't see is the 'feeling' of tango. What is unique about the tango is the effortless connection that enables us to be at one with another, the sense of 'absorption' of the other, the movement and balance that does not require the leader to move the follower but move with her.
The most significant obstacle to achieving this connection is the use of the arms and shoulders that most leaders resort to when the correct technique has not been mastered. So, how can we alter and improve our lead to enable the most pleasurable experience for the follower? I will start with the approach that I believe we should move towards and then talk more about eliminating the arms and shoulders a bit later.
1. The embrace in the tango is constructed from the floor upwards. The deep and rooted connected to the floor is what gives both the leader and the follower power in the dance. For the leader, a constant reconnection with the heels gives balance and strength that limits the need to use the arms to control the follower.
2. Your own axis, generated from the connection you create with the floor, ,passing upwards through your core and back, gives your follower clear information about your own axis. If your follower feels your axis you will empower her to follow your lead with minimal effort. On the other hand, a weak axis gives unclear information, often leading both partners to resort to the arms or leading the follower off her axis :(
3. The most important thing to know about leading is that in the tango the leader is also a 'follower'. The leader invites and accompanies the follower to the axis. This is different to the leader stepping to where he thinks the follower should go. The leader needs to work with the weight of the follower, accompanying her all the time, even to a place where he did not think he was leading. This accompaniment passes through the floor and into the torso. The whole axis travels in unison with that of the follower.
4. Relaxation of the legs is key to creating a tango embrace. At the ankle, knee and hip joints the leader must be able to move with flexibility and responsiveness, allowing the upper body to be free.
How to eliminate use of the arms and shoulders in leading?
1. For both leaders and followers it is essential that the shoulder joints are free. Any rigidity in the shoulder joint will block the lead and require the leader to use more effort with the arms. In leading movements the shoulder joint needs to be able to absorb the response of the follower, so as not to produce a pushing effect.
2. Likewise, the joints of the elbow, wrists and fingers need to be free and relaxed, to absorb movement and resistance of the weight of your follower.
3. Take note that when moving forward the left arm does not become activated. Rather seek power from the floor which passes into your torso. Take care not to overproject the upper body which will lead to stiffness in the legs.
4. Engage the dorsal (back) muscles on both sides by rolling your shoulder blades downwards to prevent shoulders from popping forward. This tone should be present in your dancing at all times, without strain or exertion.
5. Your right arm is critical!! Don't swaddle your follower like and overprotective Jewish mother or lift her up onto her toes. Allow her freedom to move to her axis and the ability to ground herself. Once again flexibility in the shoulder joint and an ability for the arm to adjust its position and expand the embrace is important. The follower needs to expand her back so if you pull her forwards, you inhibit her dancing :(.
The result, hopefully, will be a tango embrace in which your follower feels she can close her eyes and trust, a feeling of a genuine hug, an embrace... tango....