Wandering hands

4th March 2010


So, there was an interesting comment made by Loyd and Sandra of TangoInBrum at a Carablanca class, last Friday.

Basically, both Loyd and Sandra were of the opinion that in embrace, the man's right arm should be no lower than the woman's shoulder blade.

One point they made about the embrace was that the man should not put his hand too low on the woman's back (in close or in open), as:

  • This may inhibit the woman's free leg movement, either physically (when you think about it, the muscles controlling the leg movement are connected along the lower back) or psychologically (it's a "stop" signal)
  • It's seen as intrusive - it's considered rude in BA (close to putting your hand on her bum, basically)

So, does this make sense?

A Leader's view

On the one hand, they're right. When I started learning boleos (especially linear), the first question I asked is "how do I stop this prematurely for floorcraft reasons?" - because if you lead her to stop suddenly it actually creates a bigger, faster boleo - doh! The answer is to basically jam the move with your right hand as close to her bum as is decent.

Bearing in mind you're stopping her impaling someone I figure you've got a bit of leeway when it comes to explaining afterwards if necessary. Pretty much having your hand on her hip, just above the iliac crest works well.

So lower hands are a good way to stop movement. If you want to allow movement, keep the hands high.

A counter-argument

On the other hand, in some moves (such as overturned ochos / women's back sacadas) where the woman pivots a lot, it's important for the man's hand to be much lower on her back so he doesn't end up with a handful of breast. Yes, you could lower your hand as she pivots, but that's less stable and inherently more risky.

I know this is Show tango but you can see the varying heights espeically at 00:44 and 00:54:

I've also been explicitly told by a (female) teacher that you need to vary the height of the rigt arm depending on the height, girth and - not to put too fine a point on it - cleavage of the follower. And having asked various followers this does seem to help make the embrace more comfy for them.

Another point - In a BsAs milonga you will only dance with partners of the right "proportions" to suit you, especially height. Women in BsAs may on the whole be shorter, slimmer and less busty, compared with some western women. And milonga dancing is based on walking in close embrace. So the right hand is higher because of those reasons.

This strict rule falls apart in London because on the whole we don't have those conditions. But that doesn't mean the general principle isn't correct.

A Follower's view

I wish I could have been there.

Personally, I don't really mind where the leader puts his hand (errr...I better rephrase that.!).

What I mean is, so long as the leader places it loosely but with presence. If the leaders embrace is too firm, I cannot pivot during my ochos or my giros will go all strange.

All I need to know is that he is there, but the arm or hand should never be used to manipulate the followers movements, it's there to guide or rather to "propose" a particular movement.

I hate being pushed around like a supermarket trolley or be pulled this way and that like a rag doll. My instinct then would be to fight back and then nobody as any fun but at the end of the day, different dancers like different things. If you don't like the way you are being led, don't dance with him.

My view

When I think of the clips I've seen of BA milongas, I've occasionally been struck by the way the embrace is quite high on the woman's back - almost jamming their arm under her armput. I've been a bit unsure about this, it feels a bit unnatural to me, but I can see why this embrace might make sense in light of those comments.

Thinking about it, I guess my hand has generally been at the bottom of the woman's shoulder blade - I think I'll have a go at having it higher-up for a while, and see how that goes.

So I think Loyd and Sandra are right. Keep those hands up, guys.

~ David Bailey, 4th March 2010

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