Note from Don: For more excellent articles on all aspects of Tango, go to http://tangomentor.com/
Apilado dancing is the way to increase the connection and intimacy in the embrace and it is most often used in the social tango. Since it is required to lean on the partner, for many people it is the ultimate challenge, much harder than the most complicated steps.
Being so, it has low commercial value – it is demanding and many beginners do not feel comfortable learning it. They would rather learn some fancy step. I believe this is the most important reason why many teachers avoid to include it in their programs.
But apilado dancing is one of the most effective ways to achieve a good connection and to increase the level of intimacy between the partners. In this post I am going to give you the five most important things you should know when you dance apilado.
Oh how many things in tango are controversial and cause for a major debates. This is because there is no one right way of dancing – and one can say that all of the approaches, if they are respectful, are valid (Learn more about some of the debates about apilado in this excellent article)
Apilado dancing is not on the repertoire of the 99% of the teachers I know. And, yet, it is one of the best ways to make the strong physical connection with the partner.
– That is magical. I do not know what and how you do it, but when I first felt it, it was amazing. Scary but amazing – she laughed.
We were having a private class and she wanted to improve her communication. I danced with her many times before and I knew she knows how to do it, even without someone teaching her. It came naturally to her.
– My back hurts. I love that way of dancing, but I do something wrong and I end up with a pain in my back – she said.
– Yes, I know exactly what you do and how can you fix it – I answered.
This back pain can go away with a few adjustments she can make and they are not even complicated – but she has to learn it: the same as many others who were never before exposed to apilado dancing.
But what apilado is? It is the basic technique of dancing in embrace. Many people do not make difference in the way they dance open position and embrace. When they close, they are just very very close with the partner. They do not change anything except the distance itself. This is wrong – one of the keys of a good connection in embrace is apilado.
Dancing apilado means to form a connection in which you both depend on each other
In this five points I am going to teach you how apilado can improve your dancing and how to do it properly.
1. The art of pausing – The last phase of the Golden Age of tango was characterized by changes in the way the music was played. It brought the changes in the way some people danced as well. As we can notice by the most drastic example in the music of Osvaldo Pugliese, the music became more dramatic, slower and more melodic. Some dancers from that period say that the music became ‘stretched’ and they started to add pauses in their dance.
Dancers slow down their movement and sometimes came to complete halt. Doing so, they developed this new style called apilado dancing. There is one very important aspect of making pause during dance – the tension.
Halting the movements might has no big impact on the quality of the dance if it does not contain a growing tension. The silence has its value only if it brings a significance, only if it is dense and full with a tension.
In the dance is the same. When people are dancing apilado they keep the tension. It is a pause with significance, the one that signals that it is not a stop, but rather a moment which is temporarily frozen and that will continue. It is like you take a deep breath and keep it like that for a second – and your partner knows that it can not stop there, something else has to happen after that. That is a pause with content, a dense silence. That is what apilado means for the dance.
2. The ultimate connection and trust – When you ride a bicycle it is not just a mechanical device below your body: it feels like it is an extension of your body. As long as you move, you are stable and connected to it. When you stop, the connection stops and you lose the balance, so you have to stand on your own legs.
The connection in the dance is similar. When you dance the partners body becomes an extension of your body, the bodies are fused. It works the best when you have movement – but when you stop, when you make a pause, it might feel like it is the end of the dance, a time for disconnecting. Using apilado enables you to keep the connection even without movements, but it goes much deeper than this.
Let me explain this with another analogy – the relationship between lovers. To love someone means to put yourself in a vulnerable position, to give your heart to someone. To be able to do that, one must trust that the partner will keep it save, that will take care of it, that will not do anything to hurt it. Putting yourself in a vulnerable position means that you lose yourself, that you put down your shields, that you lose your balance and, in order not to fall, you lean on the partner. In the same time, your partner leans on you.
This way you form a connection in which you both depend on each other, you are so much connected that if one is missing, the other one will fall on the ground. To be able to do that, you need to trust your partner. If one of the partners is not able to do that, it is impossible, and for the other one it will become a real torture.
This analogy find its perfect physical emanation in apilado dancing. You give up your own balance and lean on the partner, using his legs as your own.
3. You can not do pivots in apilado – When we learn to walk, we learn to keep our axis in a balanced state. But there is a difference between standing and walking.
When we stand, we can get a perfect balanced axis. In order to walk, we have to disrupt that balance. We can think about walking as a series of disruptions and getting back in to a balanced state. We can think about walking as a playing with your own axis.
Tango is often a dance with fused axes. Women gives up her balance and gives it to the man, because by controlling her axes, he gains control over her movements. But the man can do that only if he leans on her as well, only if he loses his axis as well. This way he counters her weight and make a new balanced state.
Moments come in the dance where the man returns the axis to his partner. He does this because he knows she needs to have control over it, in order to make some movement. Most often – pivots. It is impossible to do a proper pivot while leaning on the partner. This is why the good male dancers will return the axis to their partner in the moments when they initiate pivots.
Check out how Nestor returns the control of the axis to Olivera as he initiates a turn. .
Having in mind what I just explained, we return to the beginning of my point. I said that the walking is perpetual disrupting and getting back in the balanced state. It is the same with the apilado – it is perpetual changing of the leaning and returning to a controled axis.
4. Use the core, not the hands – The most common mistake when dancers are trying apilado is using the hands. When you do apilado you should be able not to use your hands at all. The point of leaning is not even near to the hands. It is in the core.
While leaning you should try to relax the upper part of the body. It is useful for one more reason: leaning on the core makes you easier to the partner (this is specially important for the ladies). Just watch this legendary video of Carlos Gavito and Maria Plazaola. Look how she leans on her core. Her hands are totally relaxed and she uses them to embrace him in a sensual way.
I had few experiences with this with students who did not learned to dance in my school, but later continued their learning with me. They often called apilado dancing – a ‘volcada’ position. They complained that if they do it too much they have pain in their back. Their partners complained as well.
I do not use volcadas and it is not part of the program in my school. Yet, learning to do a proper apilado – one can learn all he/she needs to know about how volcada should be done.
The problem with the students was that they learned the volcadas as a step, an exception – they did not learned a stable position. When you do apilado you must get yourself in a comfortable position. When you do volcada, it is just a step, you do it and you continue dancing on your axis – you never get to a stable sharing-axes position. In this situation, people often learn to do it using their hands – their cores do not even touch. This way, instead of having relaxed back muscles, they are tense and get them in various unnatural positions which can even lead to an injury.
There are certain techniques and exercises that can help you learn how to lead and lean with the core – submit to my Dancers mentoring program if you want to get deeper knowledge on this subject.
5. Keep yourself grounded – One of the most important things in good apilado dancing is keeping the connection between the core and the ground. The tension in the embrace is focused in the part of the body between the point where the dancer steps and the point where he/she connects with the partner – it is the lower part of the body. The upper part, as I already explained, is completely relaxed. The back as well.
But what that means? It has little difference how the man and a woman should do it. The difference comes from the different role they play. Since the man is the center of the couple, he should be strong and in control of the axes. He leans on her but in the same time he is controlling the movements. This means that he has to bend his knees a little and use his legs muscles, despite the fact that he is leaning.
On the other hand, the woman should stretch her legs, having her knees straight. This way she is giving up the control completely. She is taking back her axis only if the man is giving it back.
The grounding in a couple that dances is a bit more complicated. You lean on yours, but in the same time on the partners legs as well.
There is much more to learn if you want to dance a good deep apilado embrace. If you want to learn how to achieve it please consider my dancers mentoring program or check out my Products and services page.