Monday, 9 March 2009

The sensation of cartilage

I had a strange dance with someone I didn't know.

He was fine except for one truly bizarre little quirk - he insisted on turning his face towards me, as though he were trying to gaze into my eyes. This is not good in itself, since it means he's not watching the road. But it's an even stranger choice if you have a very long rubbery nose that keeps prodding your partner in the temple or the ear.

I'm generally not crazy about noses in my hair. I'm even less crazy about noses in my ear canal, so I drew my head away from it as best I could. The attempt was useless. It was cartilage all the way.

I opened the embrace and the nose just cleared my forehead. Maybe I should have tried a V-embrace, but I'm not sure that would have been an improvement - the nose might have ended up in my eye.

Why wouldn't a person, in this situation, turn his face into the normal position? My skull is quite hard, and could have injured him, and the solution is so obvious, I would have thought it would be instinctive and immediate, at the first blow. But, apparently not.


Anonymous said...

I don't know about women, but in my experience men get taught very little about the whole head positioning thing.

For me it went
Open embrace - stare at her boobs

Close embrace - turn head to the right and look down over her shoulder
(this hurts soooooooo much after an evening of dancing)

Then I encountered women who instead of looking to my right looked to my left.

Then one who looked straight forwards*

Then came the realisation that when I'm walking on the right side of her (opposite to if I was going to the cross, I still get inside and outside mixed up), then there's a whole mirror imaged range of possibilities on that side of her face

Close embrace - look forward "naturally" without looking down or to the side. The head is slightly back. *

* I believe these two are actually "correct"

So there's a lot of room for confusion for the guys I'm afriad, let alone if you've got long hair to add to the mix... And I guess if you think of the whole face contact as being similar to kissing / nuzzling, then nose to ear / hair etc seems reasonable and I can see why some guys might make that mistake.

If he thinks he's "right", you're pretty stuffed really; shifting to open embrace is probably the only option left at that point.

Anquises said...

How about dancing some International Style Tango?

Anonymous said...

try adding spectacles to the mix. i've had my share of sharp bits of metal scraping my face!

Anonymous said...

Creep Out city! I can't imagine enduring an entire tanda of cartilage all the way.


Arlene said...

Hi H,
Sorry you had to go through that. I hope you said something or stopped dancing with him after that dance.
I have danced with someone shorter than me who insisted that I dance head to head. I was told never to lower myself, so I don't dance with him. Lovely guy though.
I have been taught that in a relative open hold, the woman should look at the man's chest. In a close embrace, facing forward, I close my eyes so I can feel everything. Sometimes the man will lean his head to mine and that just give another lovely connection. My right to his right. In another close embrace, I might face the other way, my left to his right, but that is rather close and personal for me and I only do that with special people.
Anquises: What the heck is International Style Tango? There is only one Tango, Argentine Tango, the one danced in Buenos Aires and should be danced here.

Anonymous said...

NB This is just my own thoughts, I haven't got this from the horse's mouth yet.

Re: looking at the chest, I think the way it's phrased by teachers is misleading.

Some martial artists recommend this as an effective way to read your opponent's motions. However the advice is to "gaze softly". What I've noticed in tango is that most people lower their heads forward to look at their partner's chest. Which creates strain in your muscles and messes up your posture.

Whereas with a soft focus gaze you can keep your head upright as in close embrace.

The other thing I've noticed in actual dancing is that it's unusual to dance solely in open embrace. Which means when I am in open embrace i'm normally looking somewhere eg floorcraft.

My suspicion is that the phrasing is used simply to get beginners practicing with each other in open embrace without staring into each others eyes the whole time. But that no-one clarifies it at a later point. (Or if they did I missed those classes)

Arlene said...

For Ghost:
I have been told by every teacher to put attention on the chest as that is where the man leads from. I haven't got a problem with it in an open embrace and I am not that tall in comparison to most of the men I dance with. Even if we are the same height I still look there. It works for me. The only time I was told to look at the face of a man was for salsa as the arms are usually held up for a twirl. I also do that in Ceroc. It is a good conncection.
I do not look at the face of my dance partner in Tango as usually I am in close embrace. I don't think you missed anything.
I do not understand what you mean when you say it is unusual to dance solely in open embrace. I have danced this way many times, is not something I like to do much of, but a lot of men lead this way and yes it is about floorcraft mostly.

Anonymous said...

To clarify, when you put attention on the man's chest in open embrace do you lower your head forward to do so?

It's purely the head tilting forward that I'm unhappy with. The head can be upright but the attention still on the chest thus avoiding staring into their face. Effectively you lower your eyes rather than your head.

I agree the open embrace point needs some form of clarification - I shall mull...

msHedgehog said...

Hi Arlene - I wouldn't swear off dancing with him again - it's probably just a temporary quirk due to inexperience. He might very easily realise that his nose hurt on the way home, and never do it again, without me appointing myself his advisor. I've done plenty of bad and strange things myself, each of them for a fairly short time. Especially with posture problems. It was just so funny.

I have no problem with head contact, it's nice as long as the man allows me to keep my neck straight and my face forward and doesn't lean over sideways or push his head so strongly against mine that I can't. It's inevitable anyway if he's close to the same height. Just not the prodding nose! Hair in my mouth can be a problem too, especially the fluffy kind that leaps into your mouth and wraps itself round your teeth if you smile.

Facing inwards is something I did for a while in a sort of V-embrace. It hardly ever seems to happen now as I find I can get a better connection front-on. But some people teach and learn it as a specific thing which is good for a certain style of dance. And some people just like it. As long as it's not twisting my neck or hurting my back I'm fine with all that.

@Anquises - It did feel a bit like ballroom tango, for a moment while I was trying to adjust! Very strange, and not at all comfortable.

Hi Ghost - Wow! There's no shortage of complication out there, is there? Yes, in open embrace it makes sense for the follower to pick a shirt button at a convenient height and follow it round. Dead easy (unless the man is very short, in which case it's much more difficult). But for the LEADER to face in any direction other than the one he is supposed to be going defies common sense as far as I can see. I remember it was mentioned in the class I took with the Disparis - "Try walking in a straight line looking sideways - you can't do it!" The first fifteen minutes of my first beginners' class as a leader persuaded me that he was right. But it seems not everyone is so convinced.

Anquises said...

Just a joke, Arlene. Of course 'ballroom tango' has nothing to do with tango (like noses :).

Anonymous said...

@ Arlene
This could be a lot of effort for a theory that's wrong on my part :flower: but I think it's worth examining my train of thought.

Tango leaders learn in the following progression
Open embrace
Close Embrace
Elastic embrace (flowing between the two throughout the dance)

If "look at her boobs" is simply a way to get beginners going, then provided either they stop leading completely in open embrace at some point, or someone clarifies a better version later on, that's workable.

So the question is, once leaders become comfortable with leading in a fluid / elastic embrace how often do they dance in solely open embrace (unless there are mitigating circumstances like you're in the Village of the Damned and no-one has any floorcraft, or you're leading someone who's only comfortable in open etc)

Yup and I always get supicious when things get complicated! Ironically I was agreeing with a friend recently that the mark of a good teacher is the ability to explain a concept clearly and simply, ideally in under a sentence. No danger of me teaching tango in the immediate future then!

And I agree about the leader looking forwards. It's a lot more comfortable.

Just to clarify further though; I fully accept that looking at the follower's chest works. Specifically the clavicle and not her boobs....

I'm simply wondering (and at this stage it is merely wondering I may well be wrong)whether there is a more advanced version based on lowering the eyes rather than the head. Actually now I'm wondering if you could do a bit of both... It just seems incongrous making all this effort about posture, don't look down etc and then having the follower look down.

So has anyone specifically told you that you have to lower your head rather than your eyes? It's the ambiguity of the prhasing "looking at the chest" I don't like.

Either way I shall go and ask a knowledgable horse at some point ;o)

Arlene said...

ok, I didn't know International Tango was ballroom.
I am a follower and it is ok for me to look at the chest. I don't lower my head. The leader is not supposed to look at the chest. LOL.
H, you are a nicer person than me.

Anonymous said...

"but in my experience men get taught very little about the whole head positioning thing."

I rest my case

Anonymous said...

PS Thanks Arlene.

Wandering down memory lane...

"You look at her chest, but try not to let her catch you staring at her boobs"
"No. You look here at the clavicle"

I've hear politer versions of the same thing from other teachers. Sigh. Should something this simple really be this hard to find out? What about all the dancers who aren't as suspicious as I am, or who simply don't care? Guess they end up with their noses in unforuntate places....

Anonymous said...

This is such an interesting discussion, I was inspired to write a post.

Anonymous said...


The end of the link got chopped for some reason though

it's here

Anonymous said...

Blimey, this is a discussion...

Going off at a slight tangent, I think there's a bit of an issue with me and heads-touching, as I'm only ickle, and it means I then have a massive blind spot on my right. So if I step to the left then back to the right, and someone's decided to cut me up on the outside lane, then collisions occur.

On the other hand, if I lift my head away to do the mirror-signal-manoeuvre thing before stepping, it tends to break the flow of the dance a bit.

I guess the answer is not to sidestep, but that's not always possible. Maybe I need high heels...

Anonymous said...

“Do you have eyes in the back of your head?’
‘Yes, yours”

~ recent conversation with a follower

I’ve been toying with writing this up actually…

Use the follower’s eyes (unless they’re closed!). The safest response to pressure from her on your right shoulder as you sidestep right is to reverse the motion and add a acw turn away from that space.

Shadows are your friends. As long as you understand the lighting, you can interpret the shadows on the floor, walls, other dancers, tables etc, to tell you if someone’s stepped into your blind spot.

Occasionally mirrors and really shiny floors help too.

Watch the pedestrians. If you’re near the tables and a guy with a glass of beer is cheerfully walking past you, there’s probably not someone about to overtake you on your left (or if they are they’ve gonna get wet)

Daredevil approach – listen. Some people talk when they dance. Other’s tap the floor. The music tells you when the footfalls should occur

Don’t sidestep – planeo. Claim the space with a small planeo first. Then complete the sidestep. The one big thing in this case is don’t fully extend your leg, keep the knee bent in case someone does try and go through it anyway.

Take several little steps instead of one big one. That way any bump is going to be minor.

Don’t step directly to the right. Have your torso dissociated slightly to the left so that if you do bump it’s with your back rather than something pointy like shoulders / elbows.

Take the long way round. Do lots of mini rebounds acw to go around 360 to see what’s going on. Or from sidestep left can keep her on her right foot and pivot her around.

Do something with a fluid embrace – ochos, cross asa clean way to get out and back into close embrace .

Wait. Play with her foot, led weight changes etc until you can step forward again.

As a general rule of thumb, if I’m worried about stepping right, I don’t.

Anyway if they’re over-taking it’s there own fault :P

Be interesting to see what everyone else has devised...

Game Cat said...


I have a similar "blind spot" problem on the right when dancing with tall women (especially if they have a rather, well, generous mane).

There are a number of steps you could take that look natural and let you see to the right. Some I've seen on the floor and liked:

1) Giro to your right. On an earlier post on this blog, I recall most leaders prefer to giro to the left.

2) Ocho cortado - the variant where you step forward left foot, check and step back right foot curving left, leading into OC. Quite common.

3) Forward right foot then sidestep left but curve right and close right foot. You end facing 1.30 on a clock face if you were starting facing 12 along LoD.

If anybody has personal favourites that work well, happy to hear them.

Anonymous said...

@Game cat:
Yes, giro to the right and ocho cortado sound like good ideas - of course, they still have the same problem that if some numpty has decided to accelerate past me on the outside, I'll still bump into them...

Or is it my fault for taking the initial sidestep to the left, thus providing that space in the first place?

Anonymous said...

I can't remember who, but I'm sure someone told me that in tango you don't take a sidestep followed by another sidestep in the opposite direction. You do rebounds instead (which means you don't lose the space in the process)

I do remember being told that sidesteps are basically a thing of evil and that they shouldn't be used in social dancing, because she then went on to demonstrate various ways to change between parallel and cross system without sidestepping.

And if we actually had a lane system it would make sense.

*sigh* the rules keep changing....

msHedgehog said...

@ghost - it's great, but Dude! you need your own blog. Honestly, it's dead easy. This margin is too narrow to contain your thoughts - and when you write on JiveTango I can't comment if you talk balls.


Tangocommuter said...

After a few near-misses turning right I got into the habit of quick glances around. If I've lost all sense of what's around me I lead a calesita, take a look round, then continue. A bit like a batsman glancing around: where are the gaps in the field? I find I lead calesitas quite often...

Anonymous said...

Ms. H, this post inspired one of my own. You truly are my muse :-)

Game Cat said...

Tangocommuter - Calesitas...nice one! Forgot about them.

David - Yes, you're right about the outside-overtaking still being a problem. Thought about it and can suggest two things:

1) Medio-giro to R: If you start this with a side-step L > back ocho L > m-giro R, you would have created space on your R with the ocho L, which you reclaim with m-giro R.

2) Here's a neat way to turn face R then return to face LoD, all the while moving along LoD. Courtesy of Ezequiel and Geraldine, see this clip 0:13-0:16. Basically step forward on R > pivot R and sidestep L (along LoD) > back step on R (toward centre of room) > sidestep L again, opening L to resume forward R into LoD. Similar to Outside Change figure in the Waltz.

Thoughts much welcomed.

msHedgehog said...

Too many calesitas make the ball of my foot hurt. Consider cunitas instead.