Tango Topics | Exploring Your Dance


La Marca. More than likely you have not heard this phrase, and if you have, you’ve come to understand the word as to mean something very specific, but honestly if you stop and you think about it, you really don’t know what this is. Sometimes the older Argentine men will teach tango to their Follower students via this method and even fewer people deliberately dance this way anymore. But you should at the very least understand what it is, and why it exists and how to deal with it (as a Follower) when it happens.

The word ‘Marca’ when translated from its Spanish roots to its English cognate means “The Mark”. It’s a near direct cognate of the words in both languages, minus a letter here or there. But they both mean the same thing. ‘Marca’ is the simple acknowledgment that you are designating something or someone as important. Much like you would mark your path on a tree in the forest to denote that you have been there before. However from a Tango perspective, it takes on a slightly different vantage point. 😉

Usage. Usually this phrase is used in one of two ways: 1.) By a Lead speaking to another Lead about how to do X, Y, and Z. Or as is more commonly used 2.) By a Lead ‘speaking’ to a Follower as way to tell them that there is a demarcation for X, Y, or Z that they need to be conscious of.

notions of tango

What is La Marca ? The answer is multifaceted as there are mostly two ways that this idea can be implemented and then employed.

La Marca can be, but is not limited to, as a way for a Lead (the person, not the action) to denote that X is to be done at A. Where X can be, but is not limited to, an Ocho, the Follower’s Molinete, an Argentine Cross, etc. Where Y can be, but is not limited to a specific beat, a musical pause, the ending of a musical paragraph, an accent note, a sincopa, la variacion…etc. It can be, and usually is, entirely musical in its application.

La Marca can also be initiated by the Follower! Ha! Didn’t see that one coming did you? It’s true. A Follower can initiate and deliver La Marca to their Lead to indicate one of a few things, a.) Assurance or RE-assurance. b.) Navigational Warning.  (which is reason #29845 to keep your eyes OPEN during a dance!) c.) Musical Clarity. and/or d.) Confirmation. 

Let’s clarify the Follower’s usage of La Marca. While the lead’s (the action, not the person) role here is easy to see from a vocabulary and musical perspective. The Follower could also engage this idea from a vocabulary, musical, as well, but more often than not it is engaged solely for navigational perspective as well. As in “Love Muffin, you’re about to run me into someone if you don’t pay attention…”.

How is La Marca used ? While the definition above is rather generic, it’s missing something about how this is done.

Typically La Marca means a small amount of deliberate, and sharp, physiological pressure that is employed to the Follower’s hand, and/or back as an indicator that X is desired here. Typically that physiological pressure is temporary and only supposed to last a moment. Typically. However, a good portion of Leads have not heard this idea and continue to employ greater and greater levels of pressure to further indicate that X is desired at this location in the music. 

Lead, Follow, or Both ? Typically, Lead Only. However a Follower may also engage this process.

Reference Articles/Videos: Intention Based Dancing, The ‘Joystick’ Lead, “Paddling” The Follower

reflect on these

The Tango Topics Opinion: This is a loaded Definition. Let’s dispense with a few things right from the beginning. 1.) Tango Topics neither advocates for or against this methodology or way of dancing. Historically speaking without it we wouldn’t necessarily have the more ‘refined’ ideas and practices that came later. 2.) La Marca was advocated by a host of dancers in the Golden Generation of dancers from the late 40’s onwards that has since fallen out of favor due to it’s two more refined cousins – a.) ‘Intention’ Based Dancing, and b.) ‘Resistance’ Based Dancing. 3.) There are still quite a few dancers that employ this methodology as a way to dance, and in specific the older dancer who has not been informed about Intention Based Dancing. As Intention Based Dancing does require a bit more kinesthetic awareness and a retraining to allow for ‘possibilities’ to occur. Whereas Resistance based dancing does not generally allow for those possibilities to occur, they can, it’s just generally frowned upon. The La Marca based Lead (the person) does not necessarily allow for the Follower to have an idea in their head, nor create space for the Follower but rather forces the Follower to work within the given time signature, which is sometimes (ok who are we kidding) just not possible. 4.) Truth be told ‘Resistance’ Based Dancing may in fact be an outgrowth of La Marca based dancing. Where the difference between them is that La Marca is happens in an instant and then the pressure is released moderately so. ‘Resistance’ Based Dancing is continuous and is not released.

That said…

The fact is that La Marca had a place in the Tango world. But that place has slowly but most certainly disappeared! While there are a number of dancers/performers that employ this way of dancing. And some of them APPEAR nice to dance with, the fact is that dancing with them, once you’ve been trained as an Intention Based Dancer, is not a pleasant experience, it’s more annoying than anything else. Like as in “HEY! STOP THAT!!!!”. However, a Resistance based dancer can handle them more easily because they’re used to the pressure as a communication indicator. The Intention Based Dancer will become, more than likely, annoyed at being told what to do. 

To be clearer, for a time, Resistance based dancing, and La Marca were combined as a singular way of dancing. There was no defining change from one idea to the next. Things changed as the times changed, and different ideas grew (slowly) from one idea (La Marca) to the next (Resistance) over the decades.

There are some pluses to employing La Marca as a tool. One of them is absolute, crystal clarity from the Follower’s perspective that X is X, Y is Y, and Z is Z. There’s no doubt in their mind,  assuming they’ve danced with that partner several times before that the little bit of pressure from the Lead’s forearm means X, or the digging into their back with the Lead’s fingers means ‘Y’, and so on. Aside from the bruising here and there, this is a form of clarity.

There is one monster problem with La Marca as a tool, and it’s this: Your idea of a pressure for X, and someone else’s idea that is meant to indicate X, aren’t the same things. And it’s left up to the Follower to discern X. Like as in, “Was that an ‘X’ ?”. Talk about confusion! Part of the reason that La Marca fails is the different signals for different figures mean different things to different people. So to put that into the practical. The indicator for an Ocho, may mean a Follower’s Molinete to someone else! Eventually things will get sorted out but not without a fair amount of confusion and consternation on both sides of the equation.

The Next Question: How to Deal with La Marca ? You rightfully have three options. To be fair, as you’re reading the options below, remember that this applies to BOTH roles, even though you’ll hear it from one role’s perspective. The other is there as well!

Option 1.) Suck it up Baby! You’re in Heaven! Finally a dancer that understands you. Finally. No guessing. No questions. Just clarity. Jab to the side, ahh yes “OCHO”. Jab with the forearm, means “Molinete”. Compress/Squeeze means Argentine Cross at the Musical Paragraph. Yup. Crystal Frakkin’ Clarity.

Option 2.)  Accept it. The dancer you’re dancing with is so used to doing it, that they’re not going to change their way of dancing to accommodate you, a few steps yes…but more than that ? No. The fact is that it’s so ingrained in them, that they’re not even aware that they’re doing it. So unless you have a sunburn, a torn ligament, and you ask them kindly to stop doing it, they’re still going to go right back to doing it because it’s all they know, it’s what’s comfortable for them. And even 4 steps later you may have to remind them that they’re still squeezing the living daylights out of you and to stop doing it and you’ll need to keep reminding them.

Option 3.)  Say ‘Thank You” at the nearest possible exit point, either in the middle of the song, at the end of the song you’re in, or the tanda, whichever comes first for you. If you can stand it, be social, and deal with it. If you can’t, there’s nothing wrong with saying “Thank you” and stopping the dance. This is your back, this is your body, and you are under absolutely ZERO obligation to dance with that person because it’s just plain uncomfortable. “Thank you” is the nicest thing that you can say to them because, again, they’re not going to understand a correction at this point in time, and this isn’t the time or the place for that preferential correction. This even applies to the “Italian Solution” dancers out there who will place you wherever they want you and you’re supposed to dance like that. HA! NOT! This is social dancing, not a class, not a workshop, not a practica. There’s no place for discussion about technique on a social dance floor, ever! The simplest thing you can do is say “Thank you” and leave the embrace as quickly as you can. Now, truth be told, there are some dancers that may be offended by this “Thank You”, that it’s a rejection of them as a dancer. And that’s because it is one. That can not be helped. Again, this is your body and be damned social conventions. Pain is pain, it’s THAT frakkin’ simple. You can either suck it up, or leave, that’s your choice. The Tango Topics opinion on this subject is quite clear: Leave. Do not stop to engage in a conversation about technique. Do not stop to soothe someone’s bruised ego (and that is going to happen and it can’t be helped). Do not stop to engage in a discussion of who’s right and ‘my teacher told me…’ or ‘miles tangos said…’. NOT. Leave the floor A.S.A.P. Got it ? Go back to your table and chillax! #SocialDance #ArgentineTango #TangoDancing

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