Dance your own height not your partners height
This is part 1 of a 2 part article discussing some of the hurdles that tango dancers face with partners of varied height and exploring concepts on ways to develop a deeper dance and bridge the gap that height can create in a close embrace.
PART 1 – Dance your own height not your partners height
PART 2 – Create space within your movement as you dance (NB. the space I am referring to is not made by pulling away, throwing your partner away or opening into an open embrace!)
(Related Topics – How to stay grounded in Tango)
How to dance with someone of different heights in close milongero embrace.
PART 1 – “Dance your own height not your partners”
Being 6ft 3, every time I would go to a milonga I would look for the followers who stood out amongst the sea of shorter dancers….they would stand out simply because their heads where above everyone else’s…my height!
My first few years I would avoid most followers shorter than me as I would consistently have the following experience….
Hitting their knees; having to feel like I’m shuffling in fear of stepping on their feet; feeling as if there is no space in the movement; not being able to get my arm around them and falling back on the tried and true method of pushing them away into an open embrace with loads of room…problem solved?
Not really….. more like making the best of a bad situation and using crutches to compensate. Unfortunately, these dances lacked the connection and the comfort I would experience dancing with followers of the same height as myself and were therefore less enjoyable.
Being fed up I went on an exploration of dancing with followers of different heights in a close milonguero embrace with the main focus on connection through the torso and after a couple of years I came to the following conclusion …
Height does makes a difference……..however the difference is minimal if :
you create a connection that does not compromise your own height as an individual dancer
you learn to create space in your movement without breaking the embrace
Its similar to having good boundaries in a relationship, and finding a mutually shared space without losing your sense of self
So let’s explore ‘dancing your own height not your partners height’.
Here are two common examples and consequences of where I see dancers compromising their tango height.
Example 1: a shorter follower goes to embrace a taller leader and the first thing they do is go up onto their toes and reach up with their arms, trying to connect chest to chest and compensate for themselves being shorter.
Consequence: The follower becomes ungrounded, unbalanced and may hang off the leader to help support themselves. Reaching up can also shorten their depth of step which closes the space available for leaders to step into.
Example 2: A taller leader goes to dance with a shorter follower and they bend their knees and slouch down so they can ‘create a connection’ and dance cheek to cheek. They often bend at the waist or the neck, creating pressure down and over their partner.
Consequence: This causes the leaders’ axis to change. It forces them into the followers space, crowding her, forcing her towards her back axis, (sometimes putting pressure on her back or neck) effectively creating a game of cat and mouse where the leader chases the follower and she keeps trying to get away.
Both these are examples of leader and follower attempting to compensate and not be responsible for themselves as individuals.
So lets explore a method of creating a connection that does not compromise your own height.
Stand facing your partner with about a foots’ width between you. Before embracing them, find your individual tango height. The simplest way to find “your own tango height” is to follow the steps outlined in the last article on” how to stay grounded in tango”. As a result of you being grounded, your individual tango height is achieved.
Now whilst maintaining your own individual height, move slightly into your forward axis toward each other and connect to your partner, torso to torso. Do not embrace with your arms yet. Keep them by your side. Feel the sensation of your own height and notice the point where, as a couple, you share your mutual connection. Allow your connection with your partner to move through your partner, parallel to the ground, not up or down into your partner.
Check that there is a still a gap of about a foots’ width between your toes and your partners toes. This space should remain throughout the dance and will be discussed further in PART 2 of the article.
Now embrace your partner and allow the embrace to become an extension of the torso connection. Do not allow it to alter your height, connection point or position.
As you dance, maintain this relative connection with your partner at all times, and dance grounded. (NB. There is still rise & fall in the dance, but your relative heights to each other do not change as you both rise & fall together.)
In conclusion, we cannot at a touch of a button make our legs grow longer or shorter to compensate for our partners height. This is sometimes the psychology of couples when they don’t dance their own height. The trick is not to try to help your partner, but instead be responsible for your individual height and then look for the mutually shared connection point and maintain this throughout the dance.
Next article we will explore the concept of ways to “Create space within your movement as you dance” without breaking the close embrace connection.
By Chris Condron & Jenny Wood, Tango Encanto