Category Archives: improvise

If you know how to walk, You know how to Tango!

How do you feel about that?
Because I can feel some eyes rolling..!
haha

I guess that is why some teachers decided to come up with a different cliche phrase, that goes somewhat like “Walk like you normally do“. Which doesn’t solve the problem because it is equally annoying! haha

This cliche is a bit of a challenge..!

I had a lot of trouble putting my thoughts in line for this one.
For a lot of students, hearing this phrase, is very frustrating and unhelpful. And I get it, you went to a Tango class, and first thing you hear is “if you know how to walk, you know how to Tango“, and by the end of the class you end up thinking, “I don’t even know how to walk!” haha

On the other hand though, there is actually some truth in this cliche. Remember cliches are cliches for a reason; they hold some truth.
All folk dances, are based on walking. From salsa and bachata to greek folk dances, all of them are some variation of our everyday walk. Tango is no exception, if you walk and pivot, you Tango.

Why is it then so frustrating?

I think mainly because all teachers try to teach people how to walk. And to make matters worse, they are teaching a stylized walk that fits to the specific Tango style they follow. 

So one moment they tell you “Walk like you normally do
And the very next, they go into styling; heels together, toes apart, squeeze this, pull that, and of course don’t forget to breathe..!

Needless to say this is not how you normally walk!

But this is not all…!

So you went to a dance school looking to learn to dance Tango and you ended up learning how to stand and walk in style..! 
What usually happens while this all takes place, is a little voice inside your head saying: “I know how to walk!”

And actually this is very true! And not because someone taught you but because it is what humans do.
Walking is an automatic movement; it is part of what we call “human”, we are built to walk.

As such, as Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen explains, “If we are consciously (high brain cells) having to deal with HOW do I fall, HOW do I walk, HOW do I talk, or keep attentive or chew or swallow or sleep, we are constantly thinking about survival and are not free to be really creative“. 

We don’t think about how we walk. It is a complex almost chaotic movement that involves the whole body. So we are dealing with a lot of information and movement patterns over movement patterns.
Again referencing Bonnie “In the brain we have a hindbrain, midbrain and forebrain. The lower the brain cell, the more information that cell and receives and processes. (…) When you try to control an automatic movement with high brain cells, the choice of which cell is going to fire off in which sequence is too great and the resulting action will appear awkward. If you simply find the lowest control centre, the response will happen automatically“.

This explains why this whole process feels very awkward and leaves no room for you to be creative and have fun.

How can translate “If you know how to walk, you know how to Tango” to something helpful?

Well, I think we have to look at the humble beginnings of Tango and also think of our future in it.
Meaning, as we said in the beginning, Tango is based on the common/ everyday walk and that is mainly why it can be danced by all generations.

To me that is what that phrase really means. No styles, no fanciness but only two people moving together. 

And I am going to tell you a story to prove my point. 
In a milonga that I was organizing, here in Toronto, some time ago, and different people are there dancing, at we are having a great time.
It was the only milonga my father ever attended. He is not a dancing kind of guy.
At the end, as we are walking out, my dad goes to me: “From all of you, the couple I liked the most, was this elderly couple. They had such grace, and comfort and pleasure in their movement. They were really just walking around, not like the rest of you doing all these moves, but they were deeply sharing the moment. It was beautiful!”

So if you are going to use the cliche “If you know how to walk, you know how to Tango” you have to really do it!
Forget about styling and start working with what you have..!
Put it to the test, see what happens and we will soon be back for more!

Chrisa

P.S: If you need some practice routines to play around with. Or maybe you are struggling with a mental iceberg, check out “It Takes You Tango” our ultimate practice guide for leaders and followers.

Lost in translation: Tango Cue #1 “More Emotion!”

“More Emotion”…! Now that is a phrase that can make you go…”huh?!?!”

Last week through our blog, we talked about cliches and confusing phrases used in Tango classes and practicas.
Many of you shared your personal stories about moments in class that made you go “huh?”
Thank you too much for sharing and please keep them coming as we will be translating those in the weeks to come! 

Before we dive in, all of our post are true stories, coming from the community. Some of these phrases actually come from well-known teachers..!
No! we will not share their names..! (hahaha)

“More Emotion”

We will start with one of my favourites, “more emotion”!
Now, what could that mean? Well, it was during a workshop and a dance sequence was being taught. And right when you expect some real crisp cues, the teacher said, “more emotion.”

So, what does “more emotion” really mean? It could mean a few things, such as, making your movements clearer, or more articulated, moving with confidence or getting more into the dance, engaging more with your partner. 

But the tricky part is, everyone might have a different idea of what “more emotion” really means. And you can’t really ask the teacher during class because it would take too much time to come up with something that everyone agrees to.

So my suggestion is to think about what “more emotion” means to you and execute it. Maybe it is dancing more energetically or being more lyrical in how you move. Whatever it is, go for it! The teacher will see what you’re doing and give you more helpful feedback. The more clear you are at delivering your version of “more emotion” the more clear the feedback will be.

When I hear “more emotion” I’m thinking: “do not do the sequence mechanically, simply executing the steps but engage more in the process. Play with it, trying to see how you can shape and form it so that it has some power and character to it. It might mean slowing specific parts and speeding up others, or creating pauses; stretching the steps, embracing tighter or opening the embrace, adding an embellishment etc.” 

Let’s see an example with the ocho cortado

If for example the step is the ocho cortado, you can make it slower, faster, add syncopation to it, stretch it, add pauses, add embellishments or even change the 1st step in the ocho cortado sequence. Check out how we do all that, in this video: Ocho Cortado Rhythmical Variations.

The stretch gives it elasticity, expansion, boldness while the syncopation makes it more playful and crisp.

So, for me “more emotion” sounds like an invitation to make the dance your own, to have fun with it, and to express yourself. It means more boldness, more playfulness, more calmness, or more tenderness or anything you can come up with as you explore different options and possibilities.

Stay tuned for more cliches and confusing phrases being reinterpreted! And don’t forget to share your own stories of confusing dance cues.

Keep on dancing! 🕺💃

Chrisa

P.S: If you are looking for guidance through your practice, take a look at our training guide “It Takes You to Tango” available on Amazon.

Alignment and Balance – Getting to Know Ourselves

Knowing how to use the words “alignment” and “balance” accurately is crucial because they describe the condition of our body. If we mix them up, things can get a bit confusing.

Alignment serves to describe how various body masses relate to each other, like the alignment between the torso and hips. However, it’s essential to recognize that this alignment path isn’t a straightforward line; our bodies consist of curved elements and oblique orientations, making things a bit more intricate.

Balance, on the other hand, revolves around the forces at play within our bodies. Just maintaining stillness doesn’t necessarily imply balance, as we may unknowingly be generating internal friction. Achieving balanced alignment entails finding the optimal position where forces can flow through the body efficiently. In contrast, imbalanced alignment often requires more effort.

Yet, it’s not a simple case of one being inherently good while the other is bad. There’s a nuanced aspect to consider. Occasionally, being overly efficient in our movements might impede muscle growth, prompting us to incorporate conscious inefficiencies in moderation. Additionally, certain dance styles may call for embracing inefficiencies to achieve specific aesthetics.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s about striking the right balance. Being mindful, understanding our bodies, and avoiding excessive strain can prevent injuries, accelerate recovery, and instill a sense of confidence in our movements. So, let’s embrace this journey of discovering optimal alignment and balance to move through life with grace and resilience!

So let’s dive more into this with some actual drills:  

  1. Foot Alignment and the Shift of Weight
    In this video we will be exploring the intriguing world of weight transfer during side and back steps. It is quite common for individuals to inadvertently place an excessive amount of weight on their big toe, which, from a health perspective, is not ideal. However, fear not, as we have you covered with some fantastic exercises designed to help break this habit. Our primary objective is to guide you towards adopting a healthier foot alignment, precisely over the middle of your foot. By doing so, you will be able to prevent foot, ankle, knee, or hip discomfort, and even potential injuries. So, let’s begin, and together, we will be showcasing how these exercises can help you move like a pro while keeping those troublesome aches and pains at bay!
  2. Alignment and Re-Alignment of the embrace
    This is more an exploration rather than a drill. So here you will need to spend a couple of moments first disconnecting for the image you see on your screen, and instead focus on noticing what your structure looks like. How your forearm relates to the rest of the upper will be unique to you and so this is where you need to start from and what you need to remember throughout this exploration; don’t copy the teacher.
  3. 10 min Practice: Legs, Balance, Alignment and Spice
    And here is another drill, that combines elements of fitness or yoga with tango exercises. As you immerse yourself in this video, you’ll discover varying levels of efficiency at play. The initial section which is more fitness oriented, can serve as an energizing “work-out,” but you are offered the flexibility to adjust the level of efficiency and therefore intensity, based on your specific objectives. So, get ready to embark on this dynamic journey, where you can reap both the benefits of tango finesse and invigorating physical activity!
  4. Graciela Gonzalez and Ezequiel Mendoza
    The one and only Graciela Gonzalez; the Maestra of many of the Maestros and Maestras popular today. Look at the confidence, the certainty, the awareness. She is so grounded, and in-tune with her body. Clean movement, someone can even say simple but it holds some strange kind of magic. When looking for a good example of balance and alignment, my mind when straight to her. If you have a chance to see her or get a class with her don’t skip it; she is tough but she is worth it!

Enjoy and join our community for even more tips and drills! And if you want a comprehensive guide for your Tango practice, try out “It Takes You to Tango”

Chrisa

Dance to share our humanity

Dance, is probably not one of those things your financial advisor would list as something necessary. And generally Art does not appear high in the charts of things we need to survive. And yet history, but also experience, teaches us otherwise. Art brings us close together, allows us to form communities and to identify all as one, strong human nation. And that is very powerful, once we find the courage and grab the opportunity to share our humanity.

Dance to share

All types of dances and all types of art forms have this power, to bring people together. This is why, for example, juntas in the past would burn books, prevent songs from getting produced, ban theatre productions, even stop people from simply getting together for a celebration.

Especially though the forms of art that relate to folk traditions, and Tango is a great example of that, seem to be even stronger because they are created by more people, they are accessible to more people and generally involve more people. And dance itself being a language that involves the body, gives us the opportunity to communicate and relate to one another in a much more direct way, if of course we don’t get lost in translation.

The question though is what exactly do we share? And this, has been a question that I have asked myself many times, because I think it has a lot of layers to it and the answer changes as I grow, in age and in dance.

So at first I was thinking like a special snowflake, that my dance should be showing MY perspective, MY view of Tango, of dance, of the world. (nothing wrong with that by the way)
As time went by though, I noticed that the above grow smaller, along with the need to prove myself. And I was more interested in sharing the moment.
Sharing the moment, though, means coming in to listen and to respond; building a conversation. This conversation will be painted in the colours me and my partner bring in with us. Colours of experience, of memory and of the senses. Colours that we may not even be aware of. And we trust each other, to receive those colours with care. And this is how art grows.

When presenting to an audience, either in performance or in a class, I share my colours with the audience or the students, along with colours I have managed to absorb from predecessors of the art I am representing and the art I am bringing with me. And then that group of people will need to match me with their colours. As I trust them, they need to trust me and their partners. And this is how art grows.

What does it mean to share?

So what does it mean to share? It means to trust and to be vulnerable. Inevitably if you wish for a dance form not to feel foreign to you, you need to be ready to trust and therefore create this fine balance between being vulnerable and setting expectations for your audience, your students, your teachers, your partners. Because if you don’t have expectations from them what are you trusting them with?

And the level of expectation is built along with the trust and grows along with the sharing. “Sharing means caring” as they say. It is a cliche but you know what, cliches are cliches for a reason. Any dance, any art form received with care can become universal, can move the whole world. And it all happens through us, through me and you.

How we get to share?

Well, the first obvious choice, for those of us in dance, is of course to dance. And in more general terms, to participate in the reproduction or the spreading of the art form we are involved in.

But there is also another element. The element known, in the circles of Somatic Dance and Body Mind Centering, as holding the space for our partners. In Tango this happens in the classes when you hold the space for your teacher or your partner to keep exploring certain elements with you.

But also it happens in the milonga. And maybe you have heard many teachers say this, that Tango is not just the steps or the specific patterns; Tango is the music, the history, the community, everything. Tango grows and flourishes in milongas only if the people present, hold the space for it to grow.

Only if the people present are not there, just to do intricate steps on the music, but to be with the music, in their community, being there for their partners on and off the dance floor. When we are not dancing, we are not wasting time, for Tango to grow in our communities we need to hold the space.

The importance of dance and art in general in our lives

Can we live without art? Sure I guess we can. But it would be dreadful and lonely life.

Some people who have been to Buenos Aires, have experienced this holding of the space in some milongas. They come back and are trying to explain how it was magical but they just can’t find the right words. And the truth is, it is not easy to explain the feeling. But if I had to, I would say, it feels secure, grand, and full of possibilities. Possibilities though, that don’t feel out of reach. No, on the contrary they feel so close to you because you have the whole community backing you up. Magical!

So, I have changed my mind… no! we can’t live without art. It would mean forgetting we are human.

What do you think?

Chrisa

Dance like a child..!

I always struggled with phrases such as “just dance”, they feel a bit ambiguous. I know what they mean obviously, but they can mean a lot and nothing at the same time. And so I am afraid that creates a wall for people new to the dance community, instead of liberating them. So I thought maybe we can use a different phrase, for example “dance like a child”.

“Just dance”, what does it mean?

To me, the way I understand it and the way I have used it in the past ( with no success), it means without thinking about the rules. Allowing yourself to enjoy the moment of dancing without having to think of what you have to do. Without having any expectations or trying to meet any standards. Maybe I missing something here but I am sure that I am close.

Now the problem is, this is not obvious to someone still learning to dance.
Why? Well I think for a couple of reasons.

If this phrase is used to describe the “warm-up dance” (we will get to this one is a bit), aka if this phrase is used at the beginning of a class or practice; well it is contradicting the reason people are there. People have walked in a class or practice to learn and advance their skill. They are in a completely different mindset compared to “just dance”. Inescapably the instinctual reaction is “I can’t just dance, that is why I am here”.

Secondly, if we are using this phrase in a social setting, such as a milonga, let’s consider the following problem. The amount of time the average person, wishing to adverse their skill, spends in a class/ practise environment far overshadows their dance time. So they are better at think-and-do than just do.

Thirdly, and naturally coming from the other two points, “just dance” is a skill itself. Dancing is a skill but just-dancing is just a little bit of a different skill. Which means it also requires training.

So bottom line, the average person receiving the cue, may understand all the words in “just dance”, may guess the meaning of the phrase but has no idea of how to actually begin to do that. Not to mention that they might not understand the phrase in the same way as it is told. Because you may have a different understanding of “just dance” than me. And as such, I think, we need a better phrase and system to help people build on this skill.

Dance like a child

Dance like a child or move like child, depending on the setting and the type of dance one teaches, can get us out of this little word trap.

Ask anyone, and they will be able to tell you what dance/ move like a child means. They will probably use words like, “freely”, “without limitations”, “carefree”, “not caring about the rules”, “having fun”, “moving around”, “doing whatever they want”, “living the moment”, “expressive” etc. I am sure you can come up with some more of your own. All though easily and securely leading to … enjoying the moment without thinking about the rules or someone watching..!

Which is EXACTLY what we want!

So I would like to invite you to start every practice and if possible every class with such a dance. A dance where you actually dance like a child.
Some teachers already start their class with a dance. And here I have another wording issue… haha
That dance is usually called a “warm up dance”.

Now to some level it is a warm up; your body is getting warm which is necessary for most activities. But I don’t really like the term in this context. Warm up is so fitness oriented, it kind of creates the wrong idea. Maybe we can say a prep dance instead of a warm up dance.

Prep dance, as in preparation dance. We are preparing ourselves, body, mind and spirit, for our class or practice. Which I think, even mentally can create the possibility for us to leave what we already know behind and open a window for new knowledge.

To fun prep dances everyone! Dance like a child!

Chrisa,

P.S: For more tips that go beyond technique check out our Guide: “It Takes You to Tango”

How does this song go? Singing through movement

Singing through movement, has been my latest attempt to explain what “just dance” really means.
It is funny but so many people say just dance but they don’t really know what that means or they can’t even execute themselves.

“Just Dance” Vs…

Usually if you ask someone to explain “just dance” they will start using other equally ambiguous advise, such as without thinking, or like no one is watching, or forget about the rules.

Why is this ambiguous advise?
Well in Tango, but this applies to other dances as well, especially when you are starting out, you need to think. Tango is a fully improvisational dance. That means you are on your own putting one and two together, while connecting with your partner and with the music.

Secondly, it is in a social environment, people who are not dancing, are watching. It doesn’t mean that they are being judgemental, at least not all of them (haha), but they are watching.

Thirdly, every class is on the rules. Technique rules, musicality rules, even rules on how you improvise and put sequences together. So it is very hard to forget them and just dance.

What I mean to say is that we might be fully understanding the meaning of all of these words but we have no plan on how to implement the advise. Which leads to a lot of confusion and frustration on and off the dance floor.

…”Sing through movement”

I am sure you have been in a situation where you are talking about a song you like but suddenly you can’t really remember anything about it. You can’t remember the title, the singer, the orchestra, the lyrics, nothing but only the rhythm. So if you tried to describe it to a friend you would probably say: “You know, it is the one that goes like na, na-na-na, na…”

haha
Well, singing with movement is exactly that. You do the “na, na-na-na, na” only not with sound but with movement. You are using your body to represent the music, as if you were another instrument of the orchestra. In the beginning of your practice, the movement can be small maybe a gentle shift of weight from one foot to the other but truly committed to delivering the music.

Then as you start making steps, stick with this concept. Instead of trying to come up with steps to match the music, practice letting the music move you in the room. We are not looking for elaborate footwork, in fact you can restrict yourself to walking only. The goal is to keep this quality, singing through movement. Making your whole body sing the song and not just your feet trying to execute steps.

Enjoy,

Chrisa

P.S: Here is a practice on musicality if you want to continue working on it.