In our previous post we focused on the milonga and the key differences it has with Tango. One of those differences referred to posture. Specifically we observed that in Milonga due to speed we stay in the neutral zone while in Tango we have the time to shape the movement.
So this week, we will look into what we call neutral and range of motion and what shaping looks like.
Defining range of motion to figure out neutral
I am sure that you have heard or even used the term neutral position, for example keep your back in a neutral position. What does this mean though exactly?
To understand better what it means we need to first speak about range of motion. Range of motion in a joint can be simply defined how far we can move around a specific axis, for example how far can we go in extension or flexion. Range of motion differs between different joints. And in the same joint it differs between different directions and around different axes. So for example we have a different range of flexion/ extension in our hips compared to our knees. Also though for the hip itself we have different range of flexion/ extension than rotation and we have more flexion compared to extension. Bottom line it is all different so proceed with caution and keep exploring! and of course it is needless to say that each of us has different ranges of motion as we are all unique makes of the same grand design.
So now what is neutral
Well once you know how much range you have in a given joint, you know the end of range of a movement around an axis. The space between, the space before you reach the end of range is neutral. Neutral is an area, a zone not a specific point. The middle of the neutral zone where we are not committing in any direction we would then be in 0.0 posture..!
What does that all mean for Tango
To make things a bit more specific let’s look at one part of the Tango posture. Let’s look at the mid-back, where your thoracic changes to lumbar.
Here we have it all, flexion-extension, rotation and side reach. We have much more flexion than extension, like we see below.
And anywhere between the end of the flexion-extension range is the neutral zone. In the middle where the joint are not going into flexion or extension we are at 0.
Taking a step
Finding 0 posture is one thing and takes some practice and exploring. But going from that 0 posture into a simple forward step can be tough! It is actually like we will see in the video below one of the toughest transitions to manage.
And now on top of that we have different walking options, small steps, big steps or tiny steps. Those require a different skill. Not that we forget or put to the side what we talked about above but when we are dancing we need to be aware but not limited by our anatomy. Every step is or can be unique, responding to the constraints of the dancefloor, to the style of our partner and most importantly the music.
It is common and at some times good strategy to separate the above during different classes/ practices on music exploration, in order to dedicate the necessary time to each of them. Sometimes they may come together in a musicality class where choreography is used to explore music textures and qualities or to work on the skill of building a choreography.
What I would like to suggest to you is that you see all these elements as ways to explore the music, as ways to make a map of the song so that you can move and express yourself through it with more ease.
Rhythm is all!
Who said that? Yup! that was indeed MJ
Rhythm is a basically a set of relationships based on three criteria:
the goal – aka where we are going
how far that is and
how fast we are going
And the above are affected by the mass that is moving; for example an arm versus the whole body. Also, the surface on which the item is moving, if there is traction or not and more.
As you can see in the video above there are many different ways to explore these relationships, we can count, clap, sing, dance or we can simply spend some time just listening.
And listening starts from within. There is one vital element that most of us, especially when dancing with someone else, tend to forget. And that is our breathing. There is rhythm in our breathing and that rhythm is unique to us, and very much dependent on what we are doing from one moment to the next. Therefore, every music exploration should start internally before we reach outward, as we are doing in the video above.
Lastly, before we go the beat, notice that though in the video we are playing mostly with the arms the feet are participating only they are not main focus. They can of course be the route through which we explore all of these relationships, so I invite you to give it try… it is truly a lot of fun!
And the beat goes on
I learned this exercise a few years ago from the wonderful Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes. And it has been an exercise that I have been going back to over and over again because it is not only very helpful, fun and challenging but also as an idea, as a music exploration strategy, it is something that you can apply to any and all sequences.
So what happens in this particular video, is that we take a routine that is very well known and broadly used in Tango, in this case the ocho cortado and we start changing the relationship of the steps with the beat. This is the idea behind the exercise and so now you can understand that you can do the same thing, with the Tango basic/ box step, with the giro step and with any other sequence really.
How does this help us though map out the music?
OK! I want to share a strategy with you here, that again applies to all the things we practice on, but we will stick with the specifics of this exercise to have some solid reference. Suggested practice steps:
Practice each variation separately, one by one with and without the music.
Make little groups of 2 variations to practice on the music. How you choose? Well, there two ways that I usually follow:
Group the variation you are the most comfortable with every other, making groups of 2
Or group very different variations, for example from our video, the very slow/ mellow version with the syncopated version
Second last step, decide on how many times you would like to do each variation lets say 4 times each. You put the music on and you do each variation 4 times, one after the other until the song is over.
Very last step..! Let all the practice go and dance! What does that mean? You put the music back on and you let the music guide you as to which variation is more appropriate for that moment. As you can understand this is a step that may last for some time.
It is advised that you stick with the same song as you go through the steps above and that you see this as a flexible structure, and not a linear process. Meaning that you can go back and forth between steps, stick with one step for your whole practice one day and the next day you carry on etc. Basically, notice what your needs are as you go through the structure and give permission to yourself to adjust the strategy to your needs.
Embellishments – A music exploration power tool!
In this last video, we are playing with embellishments. Of course what you see in the video are only 3 of the many embellishments you can do on ochos but they have been specifically chosen. They will help us broaden our vocabulary and our understanding of the timing of the ochos, they are great tools for us to express ourselves better and have a bit of fun trying things out on the music but also and most importantly they can help us map out the textures of the music.
Embellishments in particular, because of their nature, they are add ons they are not required, they are one of the greatest tools to capture the textures of the music. Often times the same embellishment can be aggressive and powerful or spicy and playful depending on how you perform it.
So following the same strategy as described above try to see what textures you can capture and express with the 3 embellishments of our video during your music exploration session.
Music is much more than steps on the beat
Closing this short blog post, I hope that you have been inspired to look deeper into what the rhythm and the beat are and how you can explore them but also to look beyond them when you are trying to understand and relate to the music.
Think of the beat as the basic grid for each song. Over that grid we then have multiple layers. Some are consistently in the spotlight and some are making brief appearances with solos or by bridging musical phrases.
It is essential to get a clear understanding of the structure of the song, of the grid and then of the different layers that come over it in order to then be able to fully listen and express the music through your dance. And of course, the fact that we may be able to hear all the different layers doesn’t mean that we will dance to them; it is important though that we are able to hear them while we are dancing.
We have spent a couple of our Tango Movement Labs working on these elements so you can certainly visit the latest videos on that list and of course join us on Wednesday for a live practice. Tango Movement Lab runs every Wednesday 12:15pm EST through Facebook and Youtube
And of course if you don’t want to miss any of the extra goodies that I weekly put out, subscribe to the community of Bautanz
We practice on musicality, on rhythm, rhythmical variations of steps, on matching sequences to specific musical textures, orchestras, styles… Overall we practice on listening and understanding the music. So what are we really practicing here? Options! Creating options or better yet having options readily available while we improvise.
Rhythmical Variations that create options
One of the most fascinating exercises I have been taught, was by Mariana Montes and Sebastian Arce in a festival in Kalamata Greece, quite a few years back now. It was around the ocho cortado, and how one can perform the step in different rhythms.
The rhythmical variations we were taught back then were so fascinating to me, not only because they offered me different ways to do the same step, and therefore match it to different music but because I got to reshape the step.
Ok! Before I get into that, let me share with you a video where I have reproduced that ocho cortado rhythmical variation exercise so we can actually have a point of reference
Reshaping the ocho cortado
Usually we see the Ocho Cortado as one whole sequence consisting of 6 steps. When we go through the rhythmical variation #1 where we step on the downbeat, every one of these steps, by having its own beat, becomes an entity of its own.
Then when we add the pauses on step #3 and #6 the ocho cortado breaks into 2 sequences instead of 1 and the same happens when we syncopate it.
When we go slow, though we are now playing with one sequence, the sequence is now very flexible, greyed out around the edges almost. And lastly, taking a step on beat #7, shifts the beginning and ending of the sequence around, so we really end up with 6 different sequences.
See how much richer our dance vocabulary has become just by playing with only one of the most basic Tango sequences. Now think of all the other sequences you have learned over the years, can you do something similar? Can you possibly come up with ideas on how shift and reshape those sequences?
Creating options is another skill!
I have learned this from James Altucher who is not a Tango dancer but he is surely an explorer..! So he said, that he practices on his idea muscle daily! Fascinating right?
He uses it for business. We can use it for Tango… and for business of course if you like. So here is my suggestion, and believe me it is fun..! Now that you have an idea of how this can work out, take one of the basic Tango sequences, such as the box step or even just walking, write down 5 different ways that you think you can perform that step and then actually try those ideas out with music!
If you need some inspo we will be doing something similar in a Tango Movement Lab on Wednesday 12:15pm going on live through Facebook and Youtube. And if you are looking for even more inspo join our classes that will be full of rhythm and music..!
Rhythm, for some is something effortless and fun and for others a constant effort and frustration. And the truth is that the fact that it is in us all, doesn’t make it any easier to identify.
But lets take things from the beginning…
What is rhythm?
Rhythm is not the beat of the music or dissecting a music phrase in 7, 9, 11, 4 or 8s and it surely is not steps on a beat, like choreography. All these are methods to explore rhythm but neither of them is rhythm in itself.
I would like to suggest that we explore rhythm as a relationship between direction, velocity and distance. And that relationship is affected by mass, inertia, impact, energy we like to spend, shapes we want to create etc. Let’s look at some examples:
elements moving in the same direction at the same time
elements moving in opposite directions at the same time
elements moving in the same direction at an alternate time
elements moving in opposite directions at an alternate time
repetition which is inherently rhythmical
Practicing rhythm therefore will need to allow us to further explore and become more aware of those relationships; that are more relationships with world and not only with a specific song.
How to practice rhythm
For the month of March, as part of our Movement and Mindfulness workshops, we explored rhythm as described above and so thankfully I have a 1hr video to share with you, that can lead you through explorations on rhythm and hopefully inspire you to come up with your own explorations as well!
I would suggest you spend some time exploring these symmetries with your arms as it is easier compared to working with legs. Also work for a bit without music before you add your favourite music to accompany you. And you can work with all of these symmetries together or focus on one or two of them at a time, whatever works best for you!
Putting it together in a dance
Such explorations I find them extremely useful as they help me understand what I might be doing unconsciously or what I might feel I can’t reach. Whatever the case maybe though, real-life experience and testing is required after every exploration of every kind. If we don’t take what we learn in our real-life how will it stick? How will it become more than just an exercise? And most importantly how will it teach us to a level where we start changing our old habits and building new ones, aka progressing?
So after you complete the explorations above, or anytime during the video that you feel the need or you feel ready, completely let go of the exploration and just dance. Stop doing the exercise, and just dance. Feel how what you have explored so far manifests itself in your dance.
And of course this doesn’t stop there, step out of your practice shoes but take your practice with you. See, notice how rhythm manifests itself in your everyday life, when breathing, walking, shopping, doing the dishes. Make every big or small thing a dance!
Enjoy and join us for more by subscribing!
P.S: For more on music and rhythm you can check here and here
Movement Lab, what is that? Well that is surely a borrowed term, from other movement practices….
In a movement lab, what usually happens is that people get together and “brain” or better said “body” storm; exploring movements, testing ideas, analyzing, giving and getting feedback and generally researching movement.
One can use different tools in such labs; and tools can be different dances, movement practices, meditation practices, anatomy learning, and more or some combination of them all.
Why introduce a Tango movement lab?
Well we have been in this lockdown mode for about a year now, on and off… so what are we really doing here?
What are we practicing or taking classes for? Is there any point practicing elements tightly related and strictly specific to Tango when we can’t go social dancing? And wouldn’t we benefit more if we used Tango as a tool to move better and with more freedom in general?
The reason therefore of letting go of the Tango practice and shifting towards a Tango movement lab, is that the latter will allow us to break free of drills and exercises and instead use Tango only as framework to find ways to move with more freedom.
By the way our first Tango Movement Lab already happened… Check it out here:
How is a Tango movement lab different from a Tango practice?
Practicing follows a different pattern than what we described above. During a practice we focus on a very specific thing; from connection to practicing ochos we are zooming in on a specific element and drilling on what we have learned in order to progress.
That in itself makes practicing necessary and important, especially in the beginning when we are trying to learn all the fundamentals and the “rules” of Tango. It is almost like memorizing words when you are trying to learn a new language. You just go over lists of words or through games and puzzles over and over again in order for them to stick.
But once that is established, how would you grow your vocabulary? Maybe you would go and get into chats with people who speak the language. Or you would see a movie in that language without subtitles, You could start learning about the history of the language and the place. Or even get into how speech is created through the body…. And so many other paths that will help grow your understanding of speaking and expressing yourself through speech overall! And the specific language you were trying to get better at… well that is now just another language… just another tool to help you speak and express yourself with more ease!
A Tango Movement Lab therefore is here to help us move and express ourselves through movement with more ease! Tango will only be another tool!
Who is with me? If you are hit subscribe and meet me every Wednesday at 12:15pm EST on Youtube or Facebook
P.S: If you were looking for practicing though we have a lot of that too… You can start here