Mauricio Castro in Tango Discovery ** #12 had interesting things to say. This was a women’s technique exercise (suitable for both roles) where one partner holds up their hands palms out. The working partner matches hands closely but without touching, then does back ochos (or forward ochos). NO using the free leg to help balance or to get around. The pivot comes from the hips.
As the working partner gains stability and ability to hold their hands quietly in position, the helping partner can increase the exercise difficulty by asking the working partner to take longer steps, by moving slowly forward, or moving backward (harder, as the working partner must over turn their back ochos to move forward), and then for even more fun, start moving the target hands they are matching to wider, narrower, one up and one down, etc.
Helping partner: keep the exercises at a level where they can succeed, otherwise you are training them to fail. (But we have to recognize that growth comes from failures. I’ve read that you want a training range of succeeding 80% of the time, failing 20% [the good old Pareto Principle rule of thumb]. We learn from mistakes. We hone skills from successful repetition.)
Then he said something that made me think about how dancing with beginners all the time can harm your sensitivity, while dancing with experts helps develop it. (Nevertheless, we want to dance with beginners some of the time both to bring along the tango community and to practice our adaptability.) We have an adaptive nervous system, always working to make things less painful, less difficult, easier for us. We grow accustomed to pressures such that they no longer register as strongly.
If in this practice the working partners is moving their hands all about instead of keeping them steadily in place, that represents pressure they would be putting on their partner to help support them. We would start to lose sensitivity. But what we really want is hypersensitivity. In either role we want the ability to read a touch as light as a feather. At this level of skill the dance looks like an unseen magical connection between partners.
He concludes with this worthwhile thought, that leading is not about getting 100% of what you want. You move and test, move and test (from both sides of the embrace) to comply with your partner. This is the game, to do it together, and that’s when it feels very, very good.
** Please don’t hold the unsavory website banner image and marketing copy against him. Mauricio has some really solid training materials