Left arm of the leader in tango
Luca Csatai has written a great article about the recommended height of the tango shoes. In my opinion, all tangueras should read this before committing to buy tango shoes. Luca is not only a tango DJ but a true dancer too – perhaps due to her previous experience in folk-dancing – thus her opinion matters!
In her article she touches a sensitive topic – the leaders’ arm position in tango! We are looking forward to hear your comments on the topic!
What is this tango-elbow?
I don’t think of myself as a great master of tango, especially not when it comes to technique. Most of my knowledge was gained through experience (thank you boys for not letting me sit! :) ).
But something does not let me rest.. Ever since Judit Somos pointed out at the Noches de Hungria the amount of men dancing with their left elbows pointing outwards here in Europe I can’t help but notice it! As opposed to Buenos Aires many Europeans (mainly Italians I believe) dance with such a position. Of course, I have danced with partners like that but it never occurred to me that it could be a widespread phenomenon. Endre said “this is a style – for example Gaston Torelli dances like this”, and even Carlitos since he has partnered up with Noelia.
Style or mistake, that is the question…
Here’s what I think – this is not a style but a mistake, intentional or not, the result is the same. Many great dancers hold their arms like this – elbow pointing out – even some of my favourite ones; but they are great despite of the arm position, not because of it! When a men points his elbow out, the only way to take his hand is if we bend our wrist back – which is very uncomfortable after a while. And if they add a twist to their wrist, in order to lead with it, using force… well the best I can do is to relax my own arm as much as possible in order to relieve pain. This, from leader point of view is counter productive as it is quite difficult to lead someone with a dead-fish arm…
And yes, I agree, it does make you look like a macho, especially if you throw in a posh watch – but dear boys, please don’t forget that this technique forces our hand into an unnatural, uncomfortable position which is baaad for us!
In a comfortable position hands and arms form a continuing line which is not broken in the wrist. Turning your palms inwards results in uncomfortable compensation on the part of the follower, turning their hand outwards. Lift my arm higher than my nose and I will feel as if i was being stretched, to grow taller, and my fingers will be numb throughout the dance as a result of the lack of blood supply… Seriously!
Stage-tango, shows and performances form an other genre where the role of comfort is sacrificed for the exaggerated, intensive movements. My views reflect social dancing.
I have compiled some pictures showing wrist-breaking and comfortable arm positions. Look at the girls’ wrists, the pictures speak for themselves.
Examples of good positions:
Wrist-breaking & bad arm positions:
Girls and boys, what do you think? Does this bother you too? Are there any girls that prefer this position? Let us know your views on the topic! :)
There is also another reason, why high left elbows are undesirable. A milonga is a social event. People share time to enjoy themselves and they share space on the dance floor. If you hold your elbow high, you need more space than others, which may be an issue on a crowded dance floor. More importantly, you risk hurting others, especially during left turns. Your left elbow may very well reach another couple dancing next to you first, before you even notice this other couple, and you may end up hitting someone else who is smaller than you in the head or in the side or in the back. All not very comfortable and not very enjoyable for the other couple. Definitely not a desirable and social behavior. Leaders, please respect the couples around you, don’t risk to hurt them, be gentle and allow them to enjoy themselves, too. So, leaders, please keep your elbows low. Your neighbors on the dance floor and your dance partner will be more comfortable and enjoy your presence much more.
We’re member of The Federation International of Grand High Elbow, aKa FIGHE.
Our elbows will conquer all the worldwide Milongas
Hasta la Victoria del Codo, Siempre
quote of an old famous tango teacer: “the men`s interest in the women can be seen in his left arm”
poor hungry guys – wanting the women so much that they push them away or try to keep them close – not a recomendable way to share proximity and create intimacy.
The tension in the shoulder girdle arises from below and shows in high ellbows. Possible reasons for raising tensions can be found in emotional instability, intellectual activity or/and simply a bad stance. But there is also the mechanism of rising tension turning into a rotation of the forearm and by doing so twisting the followers wrist into an outwards rotation. Less obvious but as uncomfortable for the girl as the wrist breaking.
“good 1-5” don`t break the womens wrist, but twist it – that`s bad as breaking the womens wrist. Especially “good 3-5” show tension in the mens forearm – watch the thumbs and index.
To the style question: the structure giving mens line dominating the womens one – that`s an aesthetic originating from ballroom dances.
Why not searching for an ideal position that promotes an equal role of both dancers in the couple?
Absolutely valid observation and one that should not be underestimated. Lifting elbows is in any event dangerous in a crowded dance floor and posturally works against the leader who will invariable pay further prices having to work much harder to keep balance and connection.
En effet en tan que leader , je suis d’accord avec les exemples considérer BON.
le bras accompagne et soude le cercle de la connexion , la force sous tout ces aspects est désagréable pour une possible connexion de qualité pour les deux partenaires .
les guideurs comme les suiveurs doivent faire un effort pour aller vers une meilleur position de nos bras respectifs .
Au plaisir de partager un abrazo de qualité .
Definitely bothers me when a man does that ridiculous elbow out thing. I like a bit of resistance in the embrace, but in that position it does hurt the wrist a lot and sometimes I even end up bent back a bit.
I even have a story about this. I had sprained my right wrist and it was just about healed when I went to a tango workshop. I think I was still wearing a brace and I warned each of the guys I was dancing with that they’d need to be gentle with that wrist. Most of them were perfect gentlemen and my injured wrist made no difference. But one guy insisted that he was not going to “sacrifice proper form” to dance with me and so he bent and twisted my wrist painfully backwards and stuck his own elbow way out. It was absolutely excruciating. I warned him that he was putting me in intolerable amounts of pain and he just got mad and twisted it more. Finally I told him if he couldn’t behave himself I wouldn’t dance with him. He complained to the teachers about me and then when they told him basically to suck it up he went and sulked for the rest of the workshop. None of the other ladies would dance with him after that either even though he made great noises about the gender ratio being off.
It really hurts guys. REALLY. And it just looks silly. Here I disagree with the author. It could be my bad experience with it, but I don’t think it looks macho at all. It looks like you’re a little boy putting on your papa’s shoes except sans the adorableness that that metaphor implies. I can’t say that’s the last time I ever danced with a guy who did the elbow point, but I very rarely enjoy a dance with that kind of embrace. It’s hard to follow the lead and it forces me into such a weird position that I just don’t have any fun. Leaders please don’t do that.
It can also bother people on the dancefloor. It is disconcerting to see an elbow coming towards your face outside the natural ‘circle’ of the embrace.
100% agree. Let me add two more points.
Its a weak shape that requires more effort (for both dancers) to maintain. The strongest shape is a circle – the closer our embrace is to a circle, the less strength we need.
When the leader sticks his elbow out its then at the same height as my nose (as I am not tall)! Every turn is something for me to dodge and to keep my partner away from.
Great job compiling those photos! They should clearly show why this would be uncomfortable for the woman. If this happens infrequently during certain moves it doesn’t bother me, but I agree if it goes on for the whole dance it is very uncomfortable. I resort to the limp arm tactic as well (but would prefer not to).
Hi I agree 100% Witherspoon you. The arm with the elbow facing the centre of the dance floor is totalt Wrong. I was talking with many milongueros in BsAs and the right position of the arm is due by the fat finger facing the centre of the dance floor. Try it is very usefull . Regards
Totally agree with you. The left elbow out position is an affectation that hinders, rather than helps good technique (directly for the leader and indirectly for the follower). Aside from a bad hand position it creates more tension in the left arm and breaks the circular feel of an embrace.
From the social dancing perspective, it’s totally inappropriate as it unnecessarily impinges on space when the floor gets crowded and becomes a danger to others. For some reason the elbow out dancers are unable to lower the elbow when the ronda gets crowded and space becomes tight.
I see this practice at best a sign of ignorance and at worst a sign of douchebaggery.
I am a leader. I used to stick out my elbow. Not even considering her comfort it is a very stupid thing to do on a social dance floor, I learned the hard way when I made a turn at the end of which my elbow was sticking out into the direction of a leader double tempo-ing backwards that I didn’t see coming.
Two things happened: the other leader got hurt, and I, we, were thrown off balance seriously.
It is a backfiring weapon. Don’t carry it.
Thank you for opening this topic! Maybe we should define embrace classes (economy, business or SUV) depending on their size an ask for different entrance fees? What about an embrace tax? Do we need a ministry of silly embraces?
I´m missing the additional focus on the left arm of followers: this fits perfectly to leaders high arm and often occurs in combination. Many followers worldwide (I can proof that) place their left palm on the spine of the leader between the shoulderblades for unknown reasons. This lets their left elbow stand out and creates even more danger for dancers around, because the leader might be not aware of the ellbow boom. To make it even more uncomfortable, some followers press their armpit on the leaders upper arm, causing strain,stains and decolorizing effects by the shirt,…
Discussing socially acceptable embraces should include the two parties. As far as I´m concerned, both misalignements tend to harass me.
I totally agree. Most women have very poor embrace and posture, and it is difficult to convince them of it.
Hi, Parisian tanguero here and Argentine by the way. I am happy to inform fellow Hungarian tangueras that we Parisian tangueros don’t do that outward-pointing left elbow and/or wrist-twisting thing. A few, of course, do it – either because they don’t get it or because they think too high of themselves to consider it’s a mistake, whatever. I’ve tangoed in Milan and Dublin and didn’t find my fellow tangueros in those cities do it either, except the usual exceptions. Now, the question I’m putting forward to the author is: how come can it be possible to start developing a tendency to doing such a thing and *not* get it corrected by either the teacher or the tangeuras or some fellow tanguero? not to speak of self-education through web browsing for advice and instructional videos. It’s a mistery to me why tangueros would do this and not correct it when noticed. Abrazos tangueros from Paris, I look forward to dancing in beautiful Budapest some day!
Hi there in Paris! :)
Happy to hear that.
About your question. I don’t know how is that possible. Those are mostly good dancers who don’t take classes regularly yet. They don’t ask me, and if I would tell them their arms are uncomfortable, they wouldn’t dance with me again.
Maybe they don’t even think about something could be not OK, because they are popular and don’t get any negative feedback. Maybe they don’t even realize this is a problem for us, or if they do, think, they are the rare exceptions, who are still comfortable despite their arm positions.
I know some very good dancers, even teachers, who breaks my wrist, I am sure if I would tell them they would take as a personal offense, and would think I am the one who doesn’t know anything about tango. (That is might true, but I know, when does my wrist hurt…)
I don’t know. I really don’t know why.
So, followers don’t tell them, teachers don’t tell them (I’ve only heard it in a class once, and not even from a comfort angle), leaders speak little among themselves (if my sample of six countries and two continents is anything to go by)… and we wonder why they don’t know?
Here’s a crazy hypothesis: telepathy isn’t that reliable.
Luca, consider just telling them. Seriously. I don’t dance with a high elbow, but I once got asked by a lady to hold her very softly because she was recovering from back injury. It took an extra dose of vigilance to go against habit, but a wonderful tanda ensued (and another one on the next evening). Even if it had been terrible, it would have been better than knowing you’ve hurt, or caused considerable discomfort to, someone.
Saying “they don’t ask me” is a cop out—if something departs from the norm to an unhealthy degree, the burden of bringing it up rests on the shoulders of those who notice. Sure, there’s a risk, as either you might not say it gracefully or the other might not take it gracefully, but all there is to lose are broken-wrist tandas.
i absolutely agree with you, it is supposed to be an embrace not a restraint. i happened to injure my left shoulder recently at work but still i went dancing and kept my left arm down by my side all evening. i encouraged my followers to place their right hand on my chest or at their side whichever was best and i had some of the best dances of the year that night with both new and regular partners. who needs a left arm anyway.
Thank you for the nice article. Yes a big problem in europe. You find this a lot in germany! But also “neo tango schools” in the netherlands belgium and france. Your assumption of good 3-5 is off : they cannot turn while axis remain in middle position. So only 1 and 2 remain… Tango looks simple, but really is not.
I agree . It is so much nicer for a follower to have her wrist in a comfortable position . Some times the líder bent my wrist like a wrestler in a match , not a good feeling !
Lots of good remarks, but in the end, learning to guide takes time and most of those with a bad left arm never learned the essential. I like to say to beginners, open your arms like you want to give her a hug (abrazo) and try to keep that openness throughout the dance. Afterwards, how high you put the hand depends on how crowded the floor is–sometimes a good above-the-head milonguero abrazo is the way to go. With Gotam Project, it needs to be lower for the underarm spins. I think the word is “comfort” for both.
I hope you say something about follows that insist in latching on to the leads right arm just below the shoulder in a vase like death grip