Mental imagery and partnering technique: push-pull vs long spine

As I have pointed out (Mental imagery in movement learning) there are several ways of eliciting movement. The most common way that is found in dancing classes is by way of demonstration. The instructor demonstrates a movement or a technique and this provides the visual image that the learners use to replicate it. Another way that is found in movement exploration and improvisation practices is by way of a mental image or visualisation that the learner is verbally instructed to generate himself and that the instructor has found generates the required movement pattern or technique without a need for demonstration. The reason for the latter approach is that what we see when we look at a movement is more often than not misleading and, absent further explanation, tends to focus on merely superficial aspects of movement rather than its internal organisation.

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 8.17.49 pmThis is in fact the situation in the teaching of probably the most important aspect of tango dancing: the technique for partnering, that is, for leading and following. The visual image is highly misleading in terms of what actually happens in efficient partnering. The teacher demonstrates the movement and what the students see is movement in space that is horizontal. The teacher moves forward or back into space. Tango dancers are said to move like a cat and this is essentially the image of horizontal movement. The cat extends its paws forward and glides along and similarly the dancer extends the foot and pushes into the space. Indeed the whole idea that in tango we walk reinforces this image, but consider the image of walking up a ladder.

This analysis of tango movement seems plausible if we look at dancers moving together through space. Good dancers seem to glide along the floor smoothly and effortlessly. Also, it is easy enough to get students to practice this sort of movement individually walking up and down or around the room pushing into space. It gives them the feeling that they’re learning to dance and takes up class time. It’s a good way to start the class as a warmup to some tango music and satisfies several requirements of conducting a tango dancing class.Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 8.09.44 pm

Let me briefly go on a tangent and quickly explain three approaches to designing a teaching program or syllabus. Syllabus designs can be categorised as (a) teaching/ centered, (b) learning centered, and (c) learner centered. A teaching centered syllabus is built around the teacher’s credentials and the need to conduct lessons and “teach something” rather and less on the needs of the students or the outcomes of the teaching. The success or failure is measured on whether a class has been taught rather than whether the students are “getting it” or whether any tangible outcomes have been achieved (ie., the students learn the skill or perform in a test). A learning centered syllabus is focused on the goals or outcomes, so that if outcomes are not reached the syllabus needs to be changed. A learner centered syllabus is focused on whether students feel that they’re getting it.

Now, although the practice of walking individually might satisfy the need to teach something the outcome of this should be that this walking technique should then provide the basis for walking with a partner. But this is where problems arise. Pushing horizontally into space might work in individual practice but with a partner now there is a person in front of you. The man can’t just step forward. The man has to first indicate to the woman his intention or the direction of the movement, and then the woman has to receive that information and initiate her movement so that they move together. There are several ways this can be communicated. One way is through the hands. So some teachers teach a push-pull technique in which the lead-follow is transmitted through the hands. Alternatively teachers advocate leading with the chest where the man moves his chest around and the woman focuses on following the chest with minimal use of the hands.

The problem is that starting with the visual image of horizontal movement we end up with a highly inefficient technique for partnering. The man has to plan and signal his step through either the hands or, which is even worse, chest. The idea is that with enough practice and skill the planning, signalling and reception become instantanous. While this might make sense in theory what we actually find is that so long as dancers hold on to the idea of horizontal movement the partnering is inefficient and cumbersome.

This is the basic reason why most “academico” dancers look so different from so-called “natural” or “intuitive” dancers, in particular, why their dancing looks less graceful and more forced and consumptive of space (see Naturalness in tango dancing). Furthermore, leading/following the chest is totally inefficient as there is really no way for the woman to see or otherwise sense the chest quickly enough to follow efficiently . How is the man to signal a simple walk with the chest unless he just starts walking? But this will startle the woman and she’ll fall behind which will create tension. Hand leading on the other hand requires tension in the arms that is also highly inefficient. You end up with the sort of push-pull partnering technique that is typical of ballroom dancing which creates tension in the body and inefficient movement.

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Fig 1. In this partner walking practice we can see that the man leads by simply starting to walk forward and the woman falls behind and so that he basically walks into her, probably because there isn’t enough tension in the hands and she’s trying to follow his chest. She then “catches up” and pulls away. This lag between the leader’s signal and the follower’s reaction is the normal dynamic in the horizontal push-pull scenario. (Source: Milongas en Uruguay FB group)

It is common to notice that “academico” dancers use space differently from “milonguero” dancers. Because studio trained dancers visualise partnering in the horizontal dimension they always move in space or if they turn in place they take up at least double the amount of space necessary. But in a crowded milonga it is necessary to dance using the minimal amount of space and it appears that “academico” dancers are unable to use space efficiently (see also The fundamental problem of global tango).

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Fig 2. How do you get from A to B? Theory: you adjust what you learn in A to B. Reality: you forget what you learned in A and adapt to B. Or more typically: What you learned in A becomes a habit and prevents you from participating in B effectively. Alternative: instead of learning A, learn B directly by changing the mental image.

We also notice that the image of horizontal movement creates problems with the partnering technique for close embrace and/or apilado type dancing. Students are instructed to lean against each other and then move horizontally. The image is the same but instead of leading through tension in the hands the dancers are required to push-pull at the chest. But this creates exactly the same problem as in the case of partnering through the hands. The leader needs to plan-signal and the follower needs to listen-respond. If the leader needs to “change his mind” then he needs to signal to the follower to “cancel” the previous instruction and change direction and so on and so forth. All of this creates tension and negative feeling, and is responsible for a lot of bad dancing experience and loss of motivation.

This situation is in fact the inevitable end result of starting out with the image of dancers moving in space in the horizontal dimension. If you look at a crowded milonga like the one at Salon Canning dancers move in place around and only momentarily move horizontally in space. The situation that you get in a studio lesson with plenty of floor space is not the norm but the exception. That is, if the goal is to be able to dance in a crowded milonga then the situation of studio lesson cannot be taken for granted. In fact, it is common to see many teachers, including those from Buenos Aires, who either cannot dance efficiently in a crowded milonga or who have to completely change their “style” of dancing from what they were teaching.

I think that the assumption is that when you’re learning you need to start out this way and then you will somehow adapt or figure it out for yourself. But again we find that many, perhaps most, do not figure it out. Also, isn’t the point of tango lessons that you don’t need to figure it out for yourself and that what you learn will take you to being able to dance at milongas in the most efficient way possible? Viewed in this way it seems that the teaching technique that uses the image of horizontal movement is totally counterproductive.

The alternative to the visual image of horizontal movement is the mental image of upward projection or a long spine as opposed to horizontal projection and smooth cat walking. The point is that what you visually perceive as walking in the horizontal dimension conceals the actual mental image that drives efficient dancing which is in the vertical and upward dimension. It is the image of the spine lengthening upward. I have found that this menal image is best sustained through the position of the elbows. You will find that the position of the elbows best signals the technique that underpins the partnering. Roughly, elbows that are below shoulder level and pointing down typically signal push-pull partnering whereas elbows that hover at or above shoulder level and point out signal the long spine image and partnering technique. Coordination Practice 1 Floating Foot and Elbow best exemplifies and reinforces this mental image that should be susatained throughout the dance (see Video: ABCD Method foundational practice).

The next question is how this changes the mechanics of the partnering. As I explain in Walking and the principle of reversibility we can initiate a walking movement that is eliptical in the vertical and lateral dimensions, and this movement can be transmitted (without moving horizontally in space) through the primary and secondary connections of the embrace (see Embrace: the essence of tango). This type of movement utilises the principles of efficient movement and does not require any process of planning-signal-reception-execution. Instead, there is an immediate connection between the partners who simply need to learn the basic rules of efficient movement (see also the “finger dance” in Walking and the principle of reversibility).

The practices for Alignment, Back Release and Coordination of the ABCD Method provide the basis of the long spine image. Once this image is established Direction provides the technique for movement which takes place naturally, efficiently, instantaneously and without the need to power into the step horizontally which is highly inefficient in terms of partnering and use of space. The leader initiates with the foot then changing weight and releasing initiates an efficient transmission of the direction of movement to his partner. Because the woman is standing in a dynamic position (see Back Release Practice 2: Floating Foot) she can respond efficiently (see Coordination Practice 2: Extending, Direction Practice 1: Turning Out).

Video: ABCD Method foundational practice



  1. The Bow
  2. Spine roll


  1. Turning
  2. Floating Foot
  3. Turning and Floating Foot


  1. Floating Foot and Elbow
  2. Extending
  3. Extending and Turning
  4. Floating Elbows, Extending and Turning


  1. Turning Out
  2. Turning Out Forward/Back
  3. Turning Out with Floating Elbows


  • Cross Walk



TangoVoice’s real agenda for Argentine Tango uncovered

It is not always all that interesting to look into a person’s motivations when they take a particular stance on Argentine Tango. You’ve got the usual suspects. You’ve got the typical Argentine guy in Europe, US, Australia or Asia. There’s no mystery there. They are just the typical Latino guy on the consumer ethno-dance scene that provides them with some cash, attention, access to women, that they just would not get back home where they are just another boring non-significant loser (and that’s what the majority of these types are in fact). Then you have the leftists, the feminists, and progressives who insist on reconstructing a social practice to fit their own retarded leftist agenda, to suit their own sick mind, but in the process also to score some of the same sorts of things.

You get some of that with TangoVoice. But when you look more closely you also get something else. In particular, three items come into focus. First, there is the wordiness of it all. That’s a salient trait right there that might get you to think about who this person is. High verbal IQ is not equally distributed within the population. Second, there is the condescending view of the local population in the US. The idea is that these people are not “happy” because they lack physical touch, and they need “therapy” that “liberates” them from their misery of contact deprivation. And tango is a therapy that these repressed people need. Third, there is the tolerance of feminism and non-traditional sexual orientations (homosexuality and trans) and the view that intolerance to these is just a sign of mere prejudice, indeed, it’s fascism!

Now, there is a group of people who feature quite prominently in the history of tango in Buenos Aires, who have also written profusely about the need of Europeans to liberate themselves from their repressive patriarchy, which they identify as the source of the “authoritarian personality”, and who have consistently advocated sexual liberation and various forms of body or sex therapy to deal with what they see as the sickness due to sexual repression based on Freudian principles. I mean, we are talking many books, virtually all the major authors, many of whom are still taught at universities. Moreover, they feature prominently in dance departments and in the creation of various body and sex therapies.

You hear that Freudian therapy is quite popular Buenos Aires. Indeed, these people have been helping the men of Buenos Aires to deal with their sexual repression by supplying them with women from Europe. In their own publications that are easily found with a simple Google search they talk openly about the large scale sex trafficking of women form Eastern Europe to South America in the 19th century. Somehow, they themselves don’t seem to be very proud of that history. Perhaps if it wasn’t their own women that they were trafficking it would not get any mention, indeed it would be regarded as anti-semitic, alas it was their own women that they were trafficking and they themselves admit it.

So here we have uncovered the real identity and the real agenda of TangoVoice. Virtually all of the names of the people who are engaged in using sex as a “body therapy” for repressed Europeans—Europeans who therefore have authoritarian tendencies and who need to be encouraged to be more open to homosexuality, transgenderism and demographic replacement,—are ethnically Jewish. It is no wonder, therefore, that the idea that Argentine Tango might be a European dance used to help Europeans socially interact, to help in courtship towards marriage within an ethnically homogenous society is anathema to them. It’s fascism! Their goal is the exact opposite. It is to use tango to “liberate” Europeans from the idea that they should court each other for the purposes of procreation, and instead to use sex to make them less rather than more reproductive. I guess it’s possible to view things like prostitution and degeneracy as part of the history of tango and therefore as “traditional” in that sense, if it reaches your goals. But then we should be open about what the real agenda is.

Debunking TangoVoice’s leftist-traditionalist talking points

TangoVoice’s arguments in response to my comments on their post The Long Term Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Tango are all easy to debunk and end up proving my point.

TV: “Seeing tango culture through the bifurcating lens of political ‘left’ versus ‘right’ is an oversimplification. There are multiple factors affecting the historical course of tango, and few of them can be simplified into binary variables. Whereas political beliefs may be correlated with some aspects of tango, these are more likely to be associated outcomes than causal influences.”

Your arguments are mostly if not all leftist talking points, so the dichotomy is correct.

TV: “To seek the causes of variation in tango expression, it would be wiser to identify the factors that are most highly correlated with this variation. Age appears to be the demographic variable most highly correlated with differences among tango dancers in their beliefs and expression.”

Of course, no one would disagree that as people get older they become politically more conservative, eg., because they realise that there is no such thing as a free lunch, that they don’t like paying taxes, and also they might start having their children and start seeing the foolishness of youth. So I might agree with you that this would not matter if with age people become more conservative and there are still traditions being maintained.

But, if a young person, under the influence of “progressive” values (in schools and the media) gets whole body tatoos, smokes weed or worse, or gets a sex change, instead of getting married engages in homosexuality, etc. Well, traditionally people went to church when they were young, then rebelled, but then had something to go back to. What we have now is that people increasingly grow up with no religion at home, become indoctrinated in secular school into leftism, destroy their body with tatoos, drugs and poor lifestyle, get surgeries and engage in alternative relationships. Boys are discouraged from being masculine, and girls are discouraged from being feminine. They don’t learn the necessary things.

That’s very difficult to come back with beards | Tumblr

If these people then live in a bubble in which traditional relationships, dancing etc. is looked down upon, then they become like those 40 year old hipsters with whole body tatoos and a skateboard. They’re middle aged teenagers. This is what I see in these hipster milongas in BA. Their disdainful cynical hipster attitude is tattoed on their brain.

The other thing is, when I look at people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, these are old people who apparently believe in fairytales, like money grows on trees. It’s as if the Soviet Union never existed. I grew up under the Soviet system and still remember the empty supermarket shelves, the lines for food, and food rationing. So apparently old people do not necessarily grow wiser.

TV: “There is also some degree of discomfort with physical intimacy, possibly because sexual desire (or the ability to control it) is higher at younger ages.”

First, this is such a myth. I think that it is no easier for old people to dance closely than for young people. I remember as a teenager on a summer camp dancing those “slow dances” to 10CC “I’m not in love” with a girl. Yeah, it was intimate, but it did not eventuate in any sexual interaction. My central Eurpean culture is fairly conservative but it encourages social dancing. It is only in the contemporary highly sexualised “liberal” culture that everything is about sex (and in the end screws up sex).

Later, in my 20s I did Contact Improvisation, and everyone had to overcome personal discomfort but in the end it was totally non-sexual and I contacted with men and women. It’s always more “romantic” dancing with women, but it’s rarely sexual in the sense that it’s not particularly arousing.

On the other hand, I would say that older people who have not done any physical contact type dancing in their younger years have a harder time doing “close embrace” dancing.

Second, you can dance traditional tango with some separation between the dancers without doing all of the figures.

Third, I’m not against young dancers doing performance figures, only not at milongas, or at least not on a packed dancefloor. If the teaching is right then people know the difference. But “liberal” attitudes resist this sort of teaching, because it’s the constant mantra about “self-expression” and “personal preference”, and also the consumerism. People just don’t listen, and teachers just don’t teach the right attitudes.

TV: “There is no rationale other than prejudice for denying homosexual expression of intimacy at milongas. There is no reason to deny same or ‘reverse role’ (women leading, men following) partnerships of any kind, as long as the couples in these historically novel roles comply with milonga traditions of respect for the space of other couples on the dance floor and avoid exhibitionism.”

This has nothing to do with “traditional” tango and it just proves my point. The left is totalitarian and so we all have to endure transgenders and homosexuals everywhere whether we like it or not.

TV: “Totalitarianism is what is occurring in North Korea or what occurred in the former Soviet Union. Americans who cry ‘totalitarianism’ when asked to make sacrifices for public safety have no idea what real totalitarianism is.”

I grew up under the Soviet system so I do know what totalitarianism is. The US (or the leftist parts of it) is already North Korea and Soviet union: police state, lines for food, fear, propaganda. You’re the one who doesn’t know what you’re talking about and are spreading misinformation. When you’re forced to take your vaccine and carry a vaccination passport you will know exactly what Soviet Union was like. But it sounds like you might like it. Well I don’t and I think the left and the right are going to have to separate into different territories and that’s where it’s heading.

Why leftism is an illiberal winner takes all system

There are two strategies to maintaining traditional practices. One strategy is to simply affirm those practices as having intrinsic value and so to teach them to the young, and maintain them as worthy of investment by the community. Another strategy is to say that these practices are “liberating”, that the goal of society is the humanist goal to liberate man from the oppressive status quo. On this view, the goal of social practices is to disestablish the status quo. Then the question for any practice is whether it’s a marker of an oppressive established order or whether it’s a practice that is “therapeutic” and therefore “liberating”.

In order to view practices as liberating one needs to identify an established order which is defined in terms of those with power and those without power, those who are oppressed and those who are oppressors. In other words, you need to see the world in terms of a victimhood stack. If A is a victim than there must be a B who is a victimiser. Moreover, these are not merely individuals but groups. The system must be defined in terms of group identities where all members of group A are victims and all members of group B are oppressors. All women are victims of domestic violence and sexual predation, and all men are perpetrators of these things. Thus, we notice that in the leftist media the cases that confirm this scheme are always highlighted and cause outrage, whereas cases that contradict it are always either ignored, under-reported or explained away.

The human rights victimhood stack is a totalitarian scheme, however, because it’s a fight for power. The victims at the top of the victimhood stack cannot share power with the lower level victims. All right to complain and rule, to get the maximum resources, etc. must accrue to them first and foremost, such that laws are enacted or administered in a way that favours them at the expense not only of the people who are the arch-oppressors, namely, heterosexual white men, but also all the other victims below them. If a heterosexual white man wants to get out of his predicament and gain victimhood points he would ideally become a gender-fluid, pronoun-fluid, even species-fluid individual like Steph Loehr, the Twitch “Safety Advisory Council” member who has the power to decide what people are or are not allowed to say on their platform. This individual would be highly unlikely gain such power if he/she/it/fill in the blank was just a regular bloke drinking beers down at the local with his mates on Fridays.

The leftist victimhood stack strategy requires that in order to maintain a tradition you need to prove that it is a practice of some oppressed group, in particular that this group is oppressed by straight white men (who are sexually repressed, see TangoVoice’s real agenda) who are not apologetic about being straight white men. This strategy, however, requires this protected group to tolerate the other protected groups. But this assumes that this protected group can coexist with the other oppressed groups, and claim a separate “safe space” for themselves.

What we find in practice, however, is that claiming such a safe space inevitably ends up being oppressive to (ie., impinging on the “human rights” of) some other protected group. Thus, one finds in the governmental schooling system that some protected ethnic/religious groups conflict with other protected sexual minority groups. We often find that sexual minority groups are always toward the top of the victimhood pyramid and despite their small numbers they tend to conflict with all the other protected minorities. Women are clear about their own victimisation by straight white men (which is just taken for granted) but they are less clear about their fellow victims: non-white straight men, white homosexual men, religious minorities that actually oppress women, and women born with male genitalia and high levels of testosterone, etc.

The result of the leftist strategy is that you are now engaged in a battle in which, while the putative enemy, straight white men, were very clearly defined, the other contestants for “protection” (ie., special privileges) are a constantly moving target. Faced with straight white men, women, ethnic and sexual minorities have a clear place in the victimhood olympics. But when straight white men move aside, hunker down, give way, let everyone “lean in”, apologise profusely for their history of oppressive behaviour, they’re then faced with each other and that’s a much more complicated situation.

The end result of the cluster you-know-what that ensues is that, unable to fall back on the old affirmation of tradition, which is the arch-evil in the leftist mindset, they opt for consumerism. Exhausted by the battle of victimhood olympics, they have no choice but to compete in the marketplace. However, in this case the marketplace is no longer tempered by traditionalist scruples but is instead defined in terms of accessibility. In the end, it seems that straight white leftists somehow inevitably end up at the helm of such enterprises, having become fluent in the virtue-signalling woke apologetics that this requires. They are at the bottom of the victimhood stack, but they have the numbers and they’re really good at apologising to the oppressed minorities. In the end, the result is that white women end up dominating white men who do all the work and then let her “lean in” and take it from him.

This is a totalitarian political system that tolerates no diversity. It is administered from identifiable places by identifiable people, and it succeeds in controlling all the media and means of communication. It seems to everyone that the situation is the result of too much free market, when in reality the market is not free at all, because you will find that the moment you express certain ideas or thoughts, in particular, the moment you affirm traditional culture as having intrinsic value, you get crushed. There is total and persistent opposition to that idea. On the other hand, once you opt for the oppression olympics the end result is always and everywhere the same, the ideology of feminism prevails and European men are relegated to the back of the line.