Category Archives: Tango practice

Spinal Movement and walking.

We have been looking on this theme alignment, posture and balance in the last few posts and today we will take all that work and put it into our walking exploration.

Our body is so cleverly structured! And through dance and other movement practices we get to explore it and create a more clear map of it. Going through my personal practice I started questioning some of the most common cues we hear about posture and walking not just in Tango but in every day life.

Building on posture and walking

One thing I have come to realize is that the model of “one size fits all” instruction, actually fits no one in the end.
We are all unique makes of the same “grand plan” so we are not the same.

We might all have a head, a torso, a pelvis and a spine but all of these are somehow slightly different in each of us. And so it takes some time and effort to understand how you are different from me while following a similar high-level design.

So, I invite you here, just for now, to leave all the things that all ready know to the side and try something different.
This doesn’t mean that all you know is wrong, only that we need the space and the liberty to try something new.

As you will see in our video we are starting by taking a look at Skelli. Yes, yes the skeleton has a name..! haha

So Skelli is a very good imitation of a human skeleton, of that “grand plan” so he will be our map for this video. Remember last week by the way that we were talking about comfort? Well today you have another map as a safety net, to explore in depth posture and walking, that will be the image of Skelli in our video.

A few things to notice

  • Nothing in the body is a straight line and also nothing is set on a 90 degree angle
  • We are made of curves and irregular shapes
  • Everything is somehow related and dissociation is voluntary
  • Especially side reach and rotation are coupled, meaning they always happen together
  • It is a good idea to allow rotation to show up in your side reaches and vice versa for a healthy spine and more efficient movement
  • We have more flection that extension in the spine. That is actually true for all joints.
  • Posture is not arbitrarily good or bad. So it is better to reframe that as helpful or unhelpful or healthy or unhealthy
  • Following the muscle fibres as we move, that are also curving, is less stressful and has more flow compared to following straight pathways of movement
  • Sitting to standing has a lot to teach us about walking
  • Walking is automatic, therefore trying to understand how it works is surely not an easy task.
  • At the end of the day, the more chaotic your walk the better. We have movement along all three axes when we walk so it is bound to be a complete chaos!

Questions to help you in your explorations

If you tried the exercises in the video, then maybe you are already asking some of the questions below. On the other hand if you are still unsure and haven’t gotten to it, maybe you should ask the questions below.. 😉

Do I need to use so much muscle to simply keep my body up? Why squeeze the shoulder blades together if it is opposing the curve of my thoracic spine? Or why pull my tummy in if it is opposing the lumbar curve of my spine? How come good posture seems to be working against the body structure? And what would it mean to follow the body structure? If my hips and shoulders are not square while walking then what are they doing? And how does that affect my connection with my partner when dancing?

Now I know that these might be putting a big question mark to many things that hold a certain importance for you. So to avoid any frustration, think of it as something you can try just for now. It doesn’t have to replace anything you do.

Personally, when I want to try something new, I say to myself “Give it go just for now, just once!”

So what do you say… are you gonna give it a go?

😉

Chrisa

The neutral zone and the 0.0 posture

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.

posture1 NEUTRAL
Photo credit NatBat via Foter.com CC/ BY-NCSA
posture #1 NEUTRAL
Photo credit: yogamama.co.uk via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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.

Let’s see how the different types of steps can match some wonderful Tango music

So you have plenty elements to practice on and if you want more subscribe to our community.
Send me any questions or thoughts! 

I would love to hear from you,

Chrisa

Milonga from scary to fun!

Milonga, the dance that can be sweet and spicy at the same time!
I had always loved the music but in the beginning couldn’t get a hang of it. I preferred to sit and enjoy listening and looking at people dancing away than dancing to it. Thankfully that has changed!

How is Milonga different from Tango

The first thing that had messed me up is treating the Milonga as a fast Tango.

Milonga is not a fast Tango, it is a different dance and different music altogether.

In this paragraph we will see the key differences between the two dances.

  • Starting with the music, we have a different structure in the Milonga, which is on 2 beats whereas the Tango is on 4
  • In terms of our position on the dance floor. When we dance Milonga we have the open side of the embrace facing the dance line, therefore the leader is facing to the outer edge of the room, whereas in Tango the leader is facing the dance line. This difference in placement allows us a double side step in the Milonga, which is very characteristic of this dance and forbidden in Tango.
  • Floor navigation is also different between the two. In Tango we don’t stay at the same spot, we cover more ground, navigate around the dance floor respecting. In the Milonga we don’t cover that much ground and staying at the same spot is generally allowed within reason of course. That is mostly because we are dancing at a faster tempo
  • To accommodate for the faster tempo, we need a different movement strategy. We don’t have time to shape the movement since we have to act fast and so we keep a more “centred” posture, arranging the head, torso and hips in the middle and moving within the neutral range of our joints instead of reaching at the edges of flexion or extension
  • Taking a look now on the embrace, in Tango we don’t see partners changing their orientation towards one another. In one of the most characteristic Milonga steps, the Zig-Zac, partners are offset to one another and switch sides during the step. Something we never see in Tango, or if we do it is only as an accent
  • Also forbidden in Tango but common in Milonga is shifting the weight as we pivot.
  • Lastly, especially in the Milonga Lisa a swing of the shoulders is a strong characteristic. In Tango we rarely see it and if we do it shows up as an accent.

Going back in history

Going back in the history we can find a relationship between the Milonga and the Cuban Habanera with the former being characterized as an excited habanera. Nestor Marconi, the famous bandoneonista, had said though that Candombe gives Milonga its edge, the strong staccato, the upbeat and the syncopation. So we have swing from the Habanera and the beat from Candombe.

There are two styles of Milonga, the Milonga Lisa and the Milonga con traspie or double time.

The difference between the two is the speed and the textures.

Milonga Lisa is slower and has more swing which allows us to play with the upper body, swinging the shoulders. The Milonga con traspie is faster and accentuating the beat.

So we need to capture and express each style to the appropriate music and not use the slower versions to dance fast and vice versa

We need to go slower and swing through the movements in Milonga Lisa. Go fast and accentuate the beat in
Milonga con traspie. Be true to the spirit of the music.

Lets talk about the BEAT!

Talking about speed; we also have 3 different characteristic speeds:

  • In the first we alternate the downbeat from the right to the left foot. So if we have 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, we would be stepping on 1 and transitioning on 2.
    It would be: Right-transition, left-transition, right- transition, left-transition. The upbeat therefore is not marked
  • For the second speed, we have the downbeat on one foot and the upbeat on the other. So we would have: right- left, right-left, if say we are marking the downbeat with the right
  • And the third speed, we have the down and the upbeat on the same foot: right-right, right-right, right-right

Of course the first speed is the slowest the third is the fastest. Take a look on how you can practice the different speeds

Get a 1hr class on Milonga by subscribing the Bautanz community.

Enjoy,

Chrisa

Music Exploration – Rhythm, Beat & Embellishments

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:

  1. Practice each variation separately, one by one with and without the music.
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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

Take care and keep of moving

Chrisa

P.S: For another music posts, click here

Rhythmical Variations – Creating Options

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..!

Hope to see you soon,

Chrisa

Rhythm, is in us all!

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:

  1. elements moving in the same direction at the same time
  2. elements moving in opposite directions at the same time
  3. elements moving in the same direction at an alternate time
  4. elements moving in opposite directions at an alternate time 
  5. 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!

Chrisa 

P.S: For more on music and rhythm you can check here and here