A word that should be in the lexicon of English. Touchaphobia is a condition that blights the majority of the peoples of these isles. I have no idea why this should be but it is an indisputable fact.

When I attend dances there is a real reluctance to just get close. I see old married couples dancing as if they are frightened of catching some disease. Most of them have grandchildren, how they ever conceived is a mystery.

When I try to teach tango, I often find the women struggling to escape. To have someone so much in their space is an athema to them. They do this with their partners so to be this close to others is just too much.

To give an idea of what is expected I will often dance with the men. This gets a whole new reaction. A man being this close to another man, urgh!

As a child I barely touched my parents, we never kissed, we never embraced.

But you know it can be overcome, there is a cure. Tango eventually brings us all around.

Now I can hold a woman in my arms without any self consciousness. I can kiss strangers; I have even been known to kiss men when in Argentina.

The passion that comes with Tango, the love that comes from the Argentine people, will get to even the most touchaphobic in the end.

But to reach this nirvana we must dance close, pure milonguero style tango. It is no use pacing around the room with enough room to drive a bus between you. No good saying “I do Nuevo” and leading with your arms, and it will not do to step away to give your lady space to do an ocho. Once we dance in close hold, this is where we stay. You will get comfortable with it, we did, and if I can overcome touchaphobia anyone can.



Filed under Tango

13 responses to “Touchaphobia

  1. tangobob

    I am working that weekend so I will have to pass.

  2. PS Bob, if you go to this nearby class do please tell us how it turns out.

    Please bring with you a small plastic water bottle filled with water and with 1.5 metres of string tied to the neck.


  3. Here at Casa Gresford we only teach one to one, the only way I belive you can learn properly

    It is heartening to hear that reminder, Bob. I don’t know of any other tango dance teachers in the UK who can truly say the same. If there are any, I’d love to hear about them.

  4. tangobob

    Group classes are there to make money for the teacher. They become more about crowd control than dancing. Methods like the ball mean that they can manage a large class without too much risk.
    Here at Casa Gresford we only teach one to one, the only way I belive you can learn properly (this is the plug folks).

  5. Bob wrote: “I think you (or maybe your teacher) miss the point of the ball. It is used to give the feeling of driving with the chest, while giving a safe space for the feet.

    Bob, I fully get that point. And I accept perhaps that works fine for the English style of tango dancing that gets safe space for feet by keeping the partners apart even when the ball is removed – by means of what’s called open ’embrace’.

    My point is that I believe it does not work for Argentine-style tango dancing – where the torsos are in contact; close embrace. That too has plenty of safe space for feet, but made a totally different way.

    Also I’d say that the beachball teachers did not miss the point. They used this method to teach open hold dance – not close embrace dance, which in fact was something to which they are extremely averse, like most UK teachers of what they call Argentine tango.

    I hope every beginner exercises his/her natural caution about all the various teaching methods presented has helping people learn by putting distance between them, whether that distance is the diameter of a ball between partners, or the radius of the usual circle of students around an instructor just talking and showing. Yes, these methods do solve problems – but only problems of teachers. What they do for learners is create problems. And, as Bob and I agree, If what the learner wants is Argentine-style Argentine tango dancing, the solution is to get close.

    Thanks Bob for opening this interesting debate.

  6. Chris, I’d sooner get my forward thrust from a pumped up chest than from a semi to fully inflated beachball. 😉

  7. tangobob

    Chris,& Paul
    I think you (or maybe your teacher) miss the point of the ball. It is used to give the feeling of driving with the chest, while giving a safe space for the feet. It can be a useful device, but like all these things It needs to be applied with care.
    I totally agree though;there is nothing other than close hold dancing that will prepare you for close hold dancing.

  8. Paul, your account reminds me of the tango dance school in my home city Cambridge, except there the ball between the chests of the partners is a beach ball. The idea is this gives the students the feeling of (what the teacher think is) Argentine tango dancing without (what the teacher thinks are) problems of having people actually touch chests.

    Sounds like a dance contraceptive… and sure works as one. This kind of teaching repels beginners who have the greatest affinity for this dance because they /do/ want to get close. And all it gives the touchaphobics that remain is the sterilised English tango dance which is the actual outcome of what’s typically called an Argentine tango class hereabouts.

    As to how to do it “right”, well I think there’s not anything that can put across the feeling better than the feeling itself. All a newcomer needs to start is a partner who already has that feeling and is genuinely happy to share it. The teacher who’d rather tell a class to embrace each other than to give his/her own embrace to the students typically isn’t a teacher. He’s only an instructor.

  9. tangobob

    I also found an Argentine teacher who tried to help us all overcome touchaphobia. We just walked around the room hugging each other and wishing “Happy Birthday”
    Sounds odd I know but it did the trick.

  10. I recall attending a European group class where the Argentinian teacher tried to help students overcome their touchaphobia by placing (with due strategic sensitivity) a small, coloured sponge ball between the chests of dancing couples. This was a class where people were required to change partners frequently and randomly; so, as icebreakers go, this was rather a tricky, sticky exercise. My own reading of it was that although well-intended, it paradoxically increased the inhibition and discomfort. In getting people to feel more at ease in close embrace, there is a definite need to overcome psycho-cultural blocks felt by many Anglo-Saxons and northern Europeans about their personal space. Mind you, it is much easier to give and receive a close embrace where a non-invasive invitation has been warmly given and warmly received. Cabeceos, anyone?

  11. Yes some British are remarkably touchophobic, but let’s have some sympathy for those who’ve have had the condition exacerbated by the British style of tango dance class. It’s one thing to get close to a partner of your choice – in the milonga – but quite another to be forced to get close to a succession of people you have not chosen and may actively dislike – in class.

  12. Alan Jones

    Likewise,Bob.I remember taking workshops with Rodolfo and Maria Cieri in London,years ago.Shy and embarrassed(Rodfolfo was stood alongside),Maria kept asking me to hold her closer! At the end of the workshops,she told me ‘bien’.And,after going out to Buenos Aires to experience the close hold in the traditional milongas,I can’t dance any other way now.To me,it’s as if you are saying goodbye to your partner when you drift apart.Can I leave the last word to Ricardo Vidort,when he told us about the embrace:”You hold the woman
    close to you,this does not change,and hey,it’s not as if you are going to marry each other!”
    Kind regards from Alan Jones.

  13. It’s admirable that you and Viv have taken up the cause to reduce touchaphobia in your town. Those who attend your Monday evening practica are being cured of the condition.

    You’d better explain that you don’t kiss Argentine men on the lips, only an air kiss on the side of the face, as is customary between friends in Buenos Aires.

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