This is part one of a little series I like to call “Tango Photo”. This is to give insight, not only as a tango dancer but as a photographer of dancers (tango or otherwise). We will be building upon each topic as they flow from one to the next, and the first topic focuses on you, as a Tango Dancer.
As I find myself taking more and more pictures, I seem to notice a trend, and it’s that there are usually more photos of my friends but also more photos of a handful of people I don’t know over others. It’s not because I might find them more attractive, but I find them a little more photogenic, and it’s not due to looks, it’s due to a combination of posture, head geometry, and lighting.
Being Photographed – Posture
When you’re learning Tango, there’s a lot of technique and drills, and things to focus on, but no one ever talks about what to do when you’re being photographed, and you really shouldn’t give it a lot of thought. A few things from normal portrait photography do directly come into your normal dance. Now what is the first bit you think of for photos? Like anything else, it’s a matter of standing up straight, which is really a huge point when it comes to Tango, being over yourself and having that right tango posture. Thing is, your posture is reflected in the camera, and if you’re at a Milonga and you let yourself slack a little, that comes off on the camera. Those that have themselves upright, looking ahead or eyes closed (but not slumping their head) is something I like to photograph.
The idea and image of taking a picture of someone with a tall head, facing forward and up, is refreshing and energetic. It makes the image look and feel a little more crisp. I’m not saying to overdo things, but as you look at images in tango, you can feel the difference between someone who is overly relaxed/lazy and someone who is attentive and engaged.
You CAN be relaxed and engaged, so those wonderful moments of amazing connection are superb, but you need to be checked into the dance. If you aren’t enjoying the dance, that’s one thing, but you should be trying to have a good time, if you’re having a good time and not trying to practice or focus on something, but working on making everything together, you’re engaged, and suddenly everything about your posture starts to click.
Being into the dance, making it fun, getting that good feeling and connection really will bring out the best in how you present yourself. Just imagine yourself sitting down, all dressed fancy, in a suit, a dress, some fun outfit, or anything really (even nothing) and someone genuinely gives you a compliment over your attire, makeup, how nice your dancing is, or something else. When you hear something flattering about you from someone impressionable, you automatically perk yourself up, you become engaged. If you have any type of social anxiety, you could also become overly excited and tense, or also slouch away, so there is a range that works. This goes into a cabeceo, if I’m looking to dance with someone, I’m looking for someone who is engaged and into it, but not overly excited, to match what the music makes me feel.
The longer you dance, the more experience you get , and the better this comes out of you, so if you’re anxious, shy, overly excited, it should start to normalize to who you are. When you are you, on that dance floor, engaged and connected to your partner, perked up and happy, guess what, chance are you’ll find more photos of yourself in different festivals/milongas. Even if your partner isn’t great, you showing your enjoyment and attentiveness to the dance will bring the camera more in your direction.
Being Photographed – Head Geography
Head geography… what does that mean? I tried to find a good word for this, but placement and a few other things don’t quite work, but geography is kind of a catch all. When does this matter, what do I mean, and how can you bring this into your dance?
The placement of your head relies on your posture, so being engages and trying to have enjoyment out of your dance really does fix this is a majority of the time, so while you’re dancing, this isn’t much of an issue from my perspective. If you do notice a photographer pointing his camera towards you, it’s something you might want to give a quick thought about during a pause.
There was a video I saw on youtube about taking better portraits is called “It’s all about the Jaw” and is something I tell people who I’m doing portrait work to do, and is one of the few directions I give someone. It is NOT about actually moving your jaw, it’s about moving your whole head forward, in portraits, to the camera.
In Tango, there are times you do want to move your head towards the camera, but most of the time, it’s about moving your head more into your partner. Extending your head slightly further towards your partner, regardless of role, is the goal. If you’re shorter than your partner by a bit, this can be troublesome, sometimes the embrace needs to be changed slightly, but I’d rather you be engaged and enjoying the dance, than worry about your head placement.
So what does moving your head forward do? If you didn’t find the youtube video, a short summary is, it stretches out the skin to give you a better jawline, and will remove any hanging skin that could give you a double chin look. There are so many good in focus pictures I take, but the person looks to have a double chin almost, or the angle of the head gives so many compressed skin lines it looks unattractive. My goal is to make you look your best, but sometimes even if I’m taking your picture, it doesn’t always turn out, either focus issues, or more common, those lines and the jawline/double chins. So if you see a camera pointed your way, the best advice other than enjoy and be into the dance and partner, is to exend your head forward, at least a little bit.
Extending your head forward isn’t just for pictures, it’s perfect between songs, it forces you to be more engaged in the conversation, laugh outward, smile outward, talk forward is great advice all around. Outside of you dancing with someone, the in-between moments when you’re talking and having fun, getting those amazing smiles and moments as well can be wonderful surprises.
So you’ll find me still snapping away at all times. If you catch a photographer taking your pictures, and want to pose, have that head forward towards them. Yes that picture of you and your friend/dance partner has great smiles, but if you’re falling back, bad posture, or your head is back and not forward, chances are it will make one of you at least pretty unflattering, and such, the picture will not make any final cuts/posts.
Being Photographed – Lighting & Position
So you’re having a good dance, enjoying yourself, projecting yourself towards your partner, but there can sometimes be no photos of you. The next bit to be aware of is the lighting! Photographers are looking for the better lighting in the room, and if you are trying to get your picture taken, knowing where the nicer lighting is, and making sure you’re around there, can help get your picture taken. Sometimes the best lighting is too crowded, weird colors, overly bright, or any number of reasons. Is there anything you can do about it? No, but knowledge of lighting will help you and you can ask the photographer.
If you want a posed photo of you and your friends/partner, chances are where you are standing or sitting, is horrible lighting. If the lighting is right, the pose and naturalness of it all will be amazing and the best, because that natural enjoyment and happiness is the goal. If you and your friends want a picture taken, ask where the best lighting is to make it happen and ask for some direction. If someone asks me for a picture, usually I’ll take it right there, because many people don’t want to find a good place or willing to take direction, so I’m just trying to get it over with. If you want it taken in a nicely lit place, I’ll most likely feel refreshed and want to try and take more pictures because I like it, compared to the badly lit dance floor, so chances of a good photo increase, just know, the best photos will take a bit longer to setup, because I WILL need to change camera settings, but can’t spend too long.
Being Photographed – Befriend the Photographer!
Befriending or at least introducing yourself to the photographer is a great way to get a little target on yourself while he’s taking pictures. Talk to the photographer between pictures, introduce yourself, ask a few questions, ask for a dance (mainly for me, if I’m not tired, I will most likely put down the camera and be happy to dance with you), give me a face and name, and you wont disappear in the giant crowd of people. Asking about the camera, or lens if you know about cameras can help, ask if I do dance, or about the lighting, or the music, anything. I usually only chat about these things with other photographers, and such I try to take pictures of my fellow photographers whenever I see them, photos of us are hard since we’re always snapping them.
So befriending while not taking us too far away from taking pictures is great, especially if we’re not on the side of the main dance floor. Festivals I’m walking around, going to and from, and I’m happy to chat! It should be easier to chat with me than the instructors! Between events/milongas/classes/etc are great times, and usually when there is better lighting around, so if you want your picture taken, I’m much more inclined at these times as well, since I’m not between dancing or taking other pictures. Feel free to introduce yourself outside the festival venue if you see me, bring the social aspect of Tango being a social dance outside the dance floor! You know one of my passions, so it’s much easier to start a conversation, if I see you, much harder for me to start something.