A lot of people learning tango seem to focus on learning and performing adornments as if they were somehow essential to the dance. They are essential if one’s goal in dancing is exhibition (looking good to others) and perhaps self-expression. They have no functional value to the basic structure of traditional social tango and are usually detrimental to the dance. So why do people believe that hooks, kicks and various decorations are essential to tango and spend a lot of time and money taking lessons and learning choreography based on them?
There is a belief that the adornments are unique to tango and are part of its tradition. When one looks at tango movies from the 1940s one does see women performing hooks and kicks, but only in musical stage shows. Doing hooks and kicks looks great but is not efficient in social dancing because (a) the dancers have to open up their embrace; (b) it takes up a lot of space and endangers other dancers and (c) dancers have less control over their dancing and so there is less connection (see Connection). All of these are undesirable characteristics and so one does not see these movements in traditional social dancing in Buenos Aires, only in floor shows which are done for an audience.
Second, there is a false belief that these movements are part of the expression in tango. This belief originates from a view of dancing in general as ‘expressive’ and that expression is associated with large movements of arms and legs. There is no question that such movements are exciting to watch and that is the primary reason they are utilised in dance performance. But the idea that dancing is always expressive is unfounded if one looks at such dances as classical ballet or the Viennese waltz. There is nothing inherently expressive about them, and to the contrary they are marked by restraint and control.
While adornments look pretty, they have a detrimental effect on mastering social dancing:
- To become a good social dancer one needs to focus on good technique in terms of connection: leading and following and moving to the music. Spending time learning decorations is putting time and energy on an inessential aspect of the dance from that point of view.
- Even when one is competent, performing adornments takes attention of the dancer away from the embrace and his or her partner, and moves it towards the feet. All attention should be focused on the embrace and posture and there is no good reason to focus on the feet whose function is merely to take steps (see Feet).
- Performing adornments becomes a habit so that they are performed even when it is not efficient to do so, that is, when there is not enough time or the leader is not aware that the follower is performing them. That means that the decorations reduce the control that the dancers have and make the dance less enjoyable. Ultimately, we want the best possible connection and control in the dance, and anything that takes away from that is detrimental to the enjoyment.
- Adornments are a form of showing off, as a sort of fashion or exhibition, that leads to a competitive atmosphere on the dancefloor which takes away from the convivial and social element of tango.
In conclusion, if what one seeks is self-expression, exhibitionism and attention from an audience then social tango is not the ideal way to do that. Performance tango or other types of dancing are probably better suited to those interests.