The tango ‘quiet eye’

Our friend Alex posted a link on Facebook to a BBC article, “Why meeting another’s gaze is so powerful”. He relates it to cabeceo, a custom fraught with emotion.

Within the article was a link to something I found more interesting, as it relates to how we dance and connect to our partner: Why athletes need a ‘quiet eye’.

The ‘quiet eye’ they refer to, we also see as a soft, unfocused gaze. In the tango, our object of attention is our partner’s torso. Torso movement gives the earliest, clearest indication of where and how our partner will move.

Like other athletes, we can’t afford to focus solely on our target. We are moving through a space filled with other bodies in motion. We want to be aware of the movement around us but not let it pull attention away from our partner.

Actually, we want to be aware of the spaces around us. Our body tends to go where our eyes look. It’s like walking on a crowded New York sidewalk. We will likely make slow progress and have run-ins when we focus on individuals. If instead, we have a soft gaze on a distant destination, it gives focus to our movement and clarity for others about our intention.

Worst is the busy, roving look that watches dancers and even individuals off the dance floor. Are we looking for our next partner, our next move inspiration, or how well our latest move impressed the onlookers? Partners, even novices, can feel when we disconnect this way.

But what about close embrace?

In close embrace we have an even better indicator for our partner’s movements. We can feel them with our torso. The quiet eye advice still applies. Now our gaze is into the space beyond our partner.

How can we develop our quiet eye?

In an eye exam, the doctor will ask us to look at a spot on the far wall. Then they hold up one or two fingers in different areas in our peripheral vision. Without moving our gaze, we want to be able to say whether it is one or two fingers. We can do this exercise for ourselves. While holding a relaxed, quiet gaze on something a distance in front of us, can we also be aware of our fingers held in our peripheral vision? We practice and anchor that feeling to bring it to our dances.

As we gaze toward (or beyond) our partner, think of looking “through” them, so that our awareness takes in not only their torso but also our surroundings.

We are grateful to Luciano and Alejandra for first introducing us to this concept.

See also: Ignore the chatter.

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