Monday, 30 June 2008

The Flying Teapot

Cherie has some interesting pictures of what people do with the open-side hand.

Of course there are problems we all have to solve about how much pressure to give with this hand, and when. It's not easy to judge, especially when that arm aches from the day's work already. I know I don't always get it right; sometimes I'm too stiff, sometimes wobbly. A lot can go wrong with this simple thing.

But let's assume for a moment that we can manage a gentle, equal and opposite springiness, so that I can follow well and you can lead well.

Given that, I don't mind what you want to do as long as:
  • You don't hold my hand above my head, so it hangs from yours like a drunk in a doss house. (My shoulder level's better, but I can cope with as high as my ear).
  • You don't forcibly twist the palm of my hand outwards or upwards. It hurts. I work behind a screen all day, I do this blogging stuff in my spare time, and now you're adding to the damage. Please let me keep my wrist straight.
  • You don't do anything ostentatiously affected that makes you look like the matador and me look like the cloak.
I'm sorry to say all three of the above apply to the Flying Teapot, where you pretend to pour tea from a height into your ear, and I feel like a piece of washing pegged out on a line. This particularly annoys me because the men who do it are often good dancers, who dance a gentle, musical style that the woman can really enjoy, and who have made sincere, prolonged, and partially successful efforts to imitate the Tango Gods who've taught this bizarre little quirk. I am extremely unwilling to risk offence.

So there's no way I'm risking a No. It's not painful enough to sacrifice a good dance, although I may well regret it the next morning. And I'm not so good a dancer that I can afford to protest at a practice that has the explicit personal endorsement of the people who've seen fit to endorse this one. (I doubt these deities do or did it quite so much when they weren't posing; but it's visually distinctive and inspires imitation. A pose is ok; four minutes is too much).

But this is my blog, so I can start a rumour that it might just have its downside in a non-professional context.

Ooooh, controversial. Jump in the comments with your views. If you sometimes do the Flying Teapot, please explain why you chose it, or who taught it to you, and what they said; the comments are much more interesting if your views differ from mine. I'm willing to concede on the looks point. Pain is a fact, and so are my own physical limitations, but one woman's affectation is another woman's elegance, one woman's pegged-out washing another's artfully-draped haute couture.


tangocherie said...

Omigod, I ADORE your Flying Teapot phrase, it's perfect! Now I've got to do another post!

Anonymous said...

I agree about keeping the wrist in a straight and neutral position. I suffer from bouts of RSI - so any wierd twisting really isn't good.

Maybe that explains why I don't even find "the look" of that type of hand hold, very aesthetically pleasing....I'm too busy thinking OUCH wrist support necessary!

Unknown said...

If it hurts, it's bad. Simple as that.
My teacher teaches that the hands should be positioned at a height somewhere between the man's cheekbone and the woman's cheekbone, and closer to the woman's if she's significantly shorter than he is.
I hate overly twisted, weird hand holds. The Flying Teapot is a bad one, as it the thumbhold, where the man positions his hand in such a way where I end up hanging from his thumb, like a little baby. Ugh.

one2tango said...

Hmm, this is a very interesting point. I see what you mean - I also detest twisted and strange hand holds, don´t we all..
However:) - I don´t think this one always needs to be uncomfortable; not if the palms of the hands remain more or less vertical and the wrists relaxed, though this might be more difficult to achieve in this position. You´ve used Javier as an example - well, as far as I can remember, he holds your arm fairly high, but doesn´t twist your palm; in fact the hold is very relaxed, because in the embrace he uses the woman holds to the man very firmly with her left arm, he leads very emphatically with his chest and the right arm is really just decorative. He certainly doesn´t make your wrist hurt, and I don´t think he would let a woman hang on his LEFT arm, no matter what.
Besides, apart from the aesthetic element (which is of course quite subjective) this posture has one advantage: an arm held so high practically cannot be used to lead, or exercise any kind of pressure on your partner, and concentrates the entire connection into the chest area, which is a good thing, right?

msHedgehog said...

@one2tango, it's true that the hand held so high can't be used to push the woman around - certainly not if her arm is asleep, as it will soon be. But if it were necessary to do that in order to kill off an open-hand lead, it would be sacrificing the woman's comfort to the man's technical weaknesses. Most of us who are not professional dancers can't comfortably hold our hands above our heads for long - hence the hanging - and holding them right up there is inconsiderate.

I have no idea what Javier actually does in practice, I've only seen pictures and videos, all of them obviously posed stills or professional performances. I use him as an example because it looks the same as what I'm talking about and, because it's him, might inspire thoughtless imitation.

@kara, the thumbhold! I think of it as the pair-of-tweezers, as though the woman's hand were a faintly disgusting item that the man had to pick up by unfortunate necessity.

NYC Tango Pilgrim said...

To continue on one2tango's comment: the level of hand hold also depends on the height of the follower, the embrace style and the situation in the dance(high during walk, lower during giro).

There are a few leaders who hold their left hand high: late Gavito(and talk about bending wrist!), Sergio Natario, Andres...

I think you've looked at the photos on my post "left hand". Did you see any twisting or bending of followers' wrist? When a style is imitated just by the look, without knowing the work, it could be misguiding.

Just my two cents, from a leader's point. :-)

Psyche said...

I loathe the teapot too, for exactly the reasons you've stated. And all variations where I have to stretch my arm a long way, up and out to the side. I find the teapotters often place your body a long way to their right side, stretching your right arm even further.

I don't give a rat's arse about pretty. I want comfy. As natural as possible. I like my hand even lower than you've stated - no higher than shoulder level.

Anonymous said...

"sacrificing the woman's comfort to the man's technical weaknesses", love this line

msHedgehog said...

@Pilgrim, I saw a fairly marked twist of the follower's hand (palm out) in the photo of Javier, enough that I would find it uncomfortable, but not in the photo of you - you were holding your hand straight.

Mtnhighmama said...

I would be interested in hearing how to correct an uncomfortable hold while dancing? Sometimes it takes me some time into the dance to realize that my arm and wrist in very uncomfortable. Can I just say, My arm/wrist/whatever is hurting. Could we try it like this?

It seems that I have much control over the choice of embrace, adn what happens with my left arm, but my right seems locked into the lead's desire.

tangocherie said...

There is never a reason to suffer to dance! As Kara said, if it hurts, it's bad.

And if you can let the person know without actually having to talk about it, it's a little bit better.

If he's got your hand in a death grip, move it within his, wiggle your fingers and twist your wrist slightly--he'll get the point and relax his hold. If it's too high for comfort, pull it down to where you like it.

If all of this body language fails, then you must tell him that you are in pain.

Dancing is supposed to be fun, not agony.

Frances R said...

Unless the partner squeezes my hand (beginners do that sometimes, in that case I gently inform them that it hurts :)) I have no problem placing my relaxed hand inside his in whatever position is comfortable for me. As for the height (I'm 160 cm ) I don't encounter any problems with holding higher, unless the partner pulls on my arm, which experienced dancers never do. If there is no tension in the arm or shoulder, and enough support from the lats, that kind of hold is not tiring at all.
Perhaps, something escapes me here, but I don't see the issue in the type of the hold itself. There are partners who "just do it right", and there are others who don't.

msHedgehog said...

Indeed, any position that's comfortable is fine; but this is, ex hypothesi, not a comfortable position. Of course, that may vary for individuals; those who are professional dancers or go to the gym a lot may be able to hold their hands above their heads without strain, and those who don't suffer from common industrial injuries may not have a problem with twisting. But I'm just a decent social dancer, my physical limitations and the demands on my body are what they are, and they are fairly unlikely to change in these points.

And there may well be many people who don't think it looks ridiculous; presumably including all those who use it, or they wouldn't do it in the first place.

@mtnhighmama, the only thing I know is to just relax and slightly release my hand for a moment, and consciously relax my arm all the way from the ear down; this quite often works and we just naturally reset ourselves with a more comfortable amount of tension, or in a better position, or both. Sometimes I find I have to do this a few times during a dance. When it doesn't work, which is occasionally, at least it lets me limit the damage by varying what's happening slightly.

Pulling down can feel a little awkward. It does work, but if someone has deliberately adopted that hold it sometimes goes straight up again and the whole process gets rather tiring.

tg said...

I love the 'flying teapot' phrase.

It's a Gavito thing, isn't it? He was primarily a stage dancer concerned with appearances, and imitating stage dance in social dance isn't always a good idea. I guess it's imitated to look stylish, easier than actually learning to dance well. I doubt if even Gavito could have danced like that all night long.

Javier keeps his hand high, but it looks quite open. There's a relaxed classroom demo called 'Geraldine and Javier': his hand varies between his and her ear heights. In more recent videos it's higher, and he looks stiffer and less comfortable. Jorge Dispari must be one of his main sources, but Jorge's dance is totally relaxed.

Anonymous said...

Ms Hedgehog

This is a comment on all the various tango problems you've raised lately with the tag "annoyances".
Probably most followers experience most of these most of the time. There are many possible solutions and you've already tried some good ones. May I add some suggestions?

If ever you feel pain or continual discomfort you should certainly tell your partner in the nicest possible way and if the response isn't positive, don't dance with him/her again, or not for a while.

In the long run though, the best way to minimise these problems is to work on your own posture, balance and stability. The more secure you are in your bottom half and the more grounded your dancing, the less you will depend on your partner for balance, and the more free you will be to arrange your top half (arms and body) in a way that suits you.

Top tips:
1. Keep a straight axis, from your head through centre of body, down through hips to front part of standing foot.
Make sure your back, shoulders, head, are not tipping to one side, even by a tiny amount. It's sometimes difficult to know if you're tipping. A good exercise to cure this (at home) is to stand on one foot for a minute without wobbling. If it's hard, keep practising. If it's easy, do it for 2 minutes. Try it with your eyes closed.
2. Keep your centre of gravity low. Apart from your head, the hips are the heaviest part of you - keep them low and under you, by keeping your knees flexed and forward. You might try lowering the main area of contact with your partner- instead of trying to make contact at chest level, concentrate on making contact with his stomach (depends of course on the relative heights of the two of you).
3. Use your whole foot, not just the toes - make sure you lower the heel on each step when your body weight is directly over your foot, unless you're pivoting.
4. Keep the non-standing foot on the floor as much as possible- just skimming the floor when in motion or resting very lightly on the floor when still, with a small amount of pressure through the big toe.
5. Try to spend a fraction longer in your axis between each step, so you're more grounded. The more familiar you are with the music, the more confident you will feel about delaying your movement to the next step - you will feel the right moment to go, so no need to rush in an effort to please your partner.

The more you do these things, the more secure you will be in your own balance. You can then use your upper body and arms just to increase connection with the leader and embrace him, but you won't depend on that contact to hold yourself up or even to follow. If it becomes uncomfortable or restricting - or if he is using you for balance - just release the contact, adjust and reposition it. While you're doing that you can still be moving and dancing with him or waiting for him - you'll be able to follow his movement without touching. This method will also make you feel softer and lighter to dance with.

I hope this helps. Do say if it does or not.

msHedgehog said...

Anonymous, I'm making an exception in this case (because I think your comment will be helpful to people) but I usually try not to engage with commenters who don't give themselves a name, to let us know if it's the same person twice. For next time, be aware that you do not have to have a google account; just click Name/URL and type something.

I think this is interesting and sensible advice, including a lot that I would give a beginner myself, and a lot of things that an alert, well-taught beginner might instinctively do. It's obvious that better technique of one's own will always make it easier to deal with difficulties, and that all these difficulties are very common; that's why people respond to them with comments.

The standing on one leg on station platforms is what I did from day one. The only part I somewhat disagree with, based on my own personal experience, is about softening the knees: it's not wrong, but I have sometimes overdone it and it can very quickly cause lower back problems. I was grateful when a teacher I respected recently advised me to straighten my legs more and the posture problem I was having disappeared. Of course I got contradictory advice from another teacher the following week, as so often happens, but I was in a better position to use it.