Category Archives: Tango practice

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.

The Secrets of the Embrace

Let’s dive into a topic that’s fundamental yet often elusive in the world of dance: connection. In our recent discussions, we’ve been exploring the phrase “Relax to Connect” as a key to unlocking the mysteries of this essential element. So, what does it really mean to relax and connect? And how does it apply to our movements, particularly in dance forms like Tango?

First things first, let’s break down the concept of relaxation in dance. When we talk about relaxing, we’re not talking about slouching lazily; instead, we’re referring to reducing muscle tension, lowering our muscle tone. It’s about finding that sweet spot where we’re grounded and present, yet open and receptive to our partner.

Relaxation through fascia

In our recent Tango Movement Lab workshop, we delved into the idea of relaxation through exploring fascia. Now, you might be wondering, what on earth is fascia? Well, think of it as a multi-layered web that runs throughout our entire body, encompassing muscles, organs, and everything in between. By tuning into our fascia and embracing relaxation, we can tap into a whole new realm of connection.

But why focus on fascia?
Because it’s the key to understanding how our bodies move and interact with one another. Fascia plays a crucial role in facilitating communication between different parts of the body, making it essential for creating seamless connections in dance.

During our workshop, we delved into the four fascia arm lines, which provide a roadmap for exploring the connection between our hands, arms, torso, neck, and head. And for us Tango dancers, this will form the ultimate connection space: the embrace.

The Secrets of the Embrace

So, what are the secrets of the embrace? Well, it’s all about finding that balance between relaxation and engagement, both within ourselves and with our partners. By cultivating a sense of ease and openness in our movements, we create a welcoming space for our partners to join us. And when we explore the arm lines, we’re not just embracing our partners physically; we’re inviting them into our space.

But the key for me here, is to help you build those two levels of connection. One within you and one with another person.
Especially the last arm line that we are exploring, I think we call actually it, the “embrace” line, at least unofficially. It is how we can give fully devoted hugs, bringing the other person into our space. So, I encourage you to take what you’ve learned and experiment with it—whether you’re practicing solo or with a partner. And don’t forget to share your insights and “light bulb” moments with me; I love hearing from you all!

So, until next time, keep on moving and keep on connecting!

Cheers, Chrisa

P.S: Before I sign off, a quick reminder: our workshop operates on a “Pay from the Heart” basis. If you found value in our session and are able to contribute, your support is greatly appreciated. Every little bit helps us continue our mission of spreading the joy of dance far and wide. You can do that through email transfer at: chrisa.assis@bautanz.com or through PayPal.

P.P.S: And if you’re hungry for more knowledge about fascia and its role in movement, I highly recommend checking out the work of Thomas Myers author of Anatomy Trains. It’s a treasure trove of insights that will deepen your understanding of the body and its interconnectedness.

Relax to Connect

In our last post we were talking about how we can decode the cue “Just relax and feel the connection“. 

Remember what we said for most advice, under “The Nike” category? That cues and advice under this category, would have been really good advice if only they didn’t come with “just”.
And my first suggestion was for you to remove the word “just” and then re-examine your options.
This is what we are doing here, today. 
Instead of “just relax and feel the connection” we are saying “relax to connect”.

Relax to Connect

Why relax to connect?
Because in order to connect you need to relax. So it is a cue indicating to you how you can effectively connect..!

Relax, does not mean letting go. And does not mean giving up. Nor does it mean being heavy.
I know this might sound odd, but refine relax for the context of dance to mean, having less tone.
So if you have your weight on one leg, the other leg will not have the same tone as the one holding your weight, it will be looser, aka relaxed.

Are we talking about less tone in general?

Yes and no.
In general allowing for a lower muscle or postural tone, would allow you to tap into other systems of the body, such as the nervous system, it gives you the opportunity to do a quick check-in if you like. Also, as you are moving maintaining a lower tone, will give you the opportunity before further engaging the muscles and the bones, to wake the fascia and therefore experience the interconnectivity of that web. The fascia covers our whole body, goes around and through our organs and through the different layers of your muscles.
So exploring this web you are already exploring connection.

It would be a great way to start a dance, especially if it is the first tanda of the night, or if it is with someone and you need some time figure each other out.

One limb versus the other
In the example above, we compared one leg versus the other in terms of tone. This is an approach special to the Axis Syllabus Research Meshwork, where we noticed that though in most dance forms both legs or both limbs have the same tone, there are significant benefits of the free one being of lesser tone.
 
Why is that?
For various reasons, some of which are:

  1. Because if the tone of the free leg is lower it will achieve centration in the hip-joint.
  2. It will give you extra power in your step, without you working harder, as it swings through with its weight.
  3. And it allows you to negotiate better where your next step is going to be. So if for example someone pushes you, your leg can swing to a spot to catch you from falling.

Now, joint centration… What is that?
Let’s stick with the hip joint. There you have the acetabulum, which is concave and looks like a little hat. And then you have the femur head, which is like… yeah… a little head..! 
Centration, is when the hat covers the biggest portion of the head, here is a picture to give you a better idea.
(picture borrowed by orthoinfo)
So when you relax the tone of your leg and you don’t keep it in a specific position it will look for this head-in-the-hat configuration. 

Connection

And just about now I am sure you are wondering… how is all this related to connection..!
One first level answer, is that because of pointer #3 above, aka being able to negotiate your every step, you will be more adaptable in your dance, able to respond faster because your leg swings over and you can avoid that “freeze” that we sometimes get when we are caught off guard and feel that we are loosing our balance.

But this goes deeper. Because connection starts within you.

There are three ways to move a joint, distally, proximally and centrally.

  1. Distal movement, moving the far side of the joint. Let’s say in the hip, dial movement would be bring your leg straight up.
  2. Proximal movement, moving the near side of the joint, in this case if you bend in the hip.
  3. Central movement, when you move both parts together, so in this case if you bend in the hip as you bring your leg up.

Here is an image, borrowed by the Axis Syllabus Human Movement Lexicon, showing the three options, using the wrist as an example, with the grey lines showing the movement; just to give you a better idea.

Distal movement, tends to isolate the body parts moving from the rest of the body. Proximal and Central movement tend to integrate the moving parts with the rest body, with Central movement achieving the greatest integration.

If you try the central movement of the wrist you will notice that your whole body is moving, and the movement is much much easier.

And if you are wondering if this is a coincidence… no it is not!
Central movement, requires the centration of the joint. So for your hip joint, the hat needs to cover the head as you move. 
With central movement we have full-body integration. So your centrated, relaxed, swinging leg speaks to your spine, to your torso, to your arms and through all that to your partner.

And this is why, you need to relax to connect 😉

Because all this can be better understood through movement, our next online Tango Movement Lab is next  week, Sunday March 17 at 3 pm.  I will send you all the details closer to the date.

Until then you can use this video to practice: “Upper and lower body coordination – The key to happy dances”

Chrisa
P.S: if you are looking for more advice ranging from perspective to practice drills, check out our practice guide “It Takes You to Tango”, I think you will love it!

Just relax and feel the connection

After decoding the cue “More Emotion” it is time for “Just relax and feel the connection”.

Have I told you how much I love it when people say: “just …. [fill in the gap]”? And especially at a moment of struggle! 
I love it so much, that I have created a separate category for such advice. It is called … “The Nike”. (haha)

The Nike” category

Most advice, under “The Nike” category would have been really good advice if only they didn’t come with “just”. Think about this specific cue: “Just relax and feel the connection”.

I asked chatGPT, what does it think this phrase means in a dance context. It came up with this beautiful paragraph, that ended like: “In the context of dance, the phrase encourages a more immersive and enjoyable experience by fostering a deeper connection between dance partners.”

Now isn’t that a piece of cake?!?! 
Yeah let’s just do that!
haha

So decoding such a cue, reveals how inappropriate this word “just” is.  Because it might sound easy, and like a really good idea, but it is way more difficult than it sounds.

As a first step therefore, my advice to all teachers would be to refrain from using phrases under “The Nike” category and replace them with phrases that deliver the depth of what you are trying to communicate.
For our cue, you can potentially rephrase it to: “Take a moment to identify the points of contact with your partner; take your mind to the hands, the arms, the solar plexus (diaphragm area). See where some tone/ tension/ engagement is necessary and where you might be over tensing the body. Then see if you can relax a bit in those areas where you feel unnecessarily tensed. Check your connection with partner now, see if the quality of it has changed”.

Our students need guidance, so we need to use all our teaching tools wisely, including words. 

As student, next time you hear a phrase from “The Nike” category, try to see if actually removing or replacing the word “just” makes things any clearer. So for example, as a first step I suggest we change “just relax and feel the connection” to “try to relax and feel the connection” before moving to the second step to the decoding process.

Relax and Connect

Now… the words “relax” and “connect”. 
Let’s start with “relax”. If you hear relax and immediately you see yourself on the couch watching Netflix… or in a spa, well… awesome! I love them both! But we need a different kind of relax for dance..! haha

So for most people “relax” means loosening or letting go and they need to reframe that.
“Relax” means identifying areas where we are creating unnecessary tension and trying to release that, while maintaining a level of readiness to move. It is a matter of muscle or postural tone and managing the level of that tone as we dance.

Now the funniest thing is, that usually in a Tango class, the cue “just relax” comes right after all the cues that ask us to engage every possible muscle in our body..! 
Squeeze your glutes, pull your bellybutton to the spine, push your shoulders down, pull your chest up… aaaand relax! hahaha

So how can we feel ready to move without over-engaging the body, without creating unnecessary tension? 
Well, look at that, we have so many videos on that! (haha)
Here are a couple: Posture, alignment and balance
And one that includes the head: Tango Misconceptions Vol.2

As you will notice in the videos once the head, the torso and pelvis are aligned and once we start building on that relationship and funnelling forces through our masses, we are not only feeling relaxed and ready to move, but we are feeling powerful, secure, confident, and much more at ease.
It will take a bit of practice though..! 😉

What about connection?

And this takes us to “connection”.
We all know what connection means and I think we are on the same page on that one. However, I don’t think we all realize the relationship between relaxation and connection; which is an intimate bond.

Connection requires some tension, some tone. If you completely loosen up you won’t feel connected. So if you perceive “just relax” as letting go, it will be very difficult to connect with your partner.
Think about a cat or dog in deep sleep, you can move their legs around and they won’t even notice. Your don’t feel any connection, you only feel their weight.

Similarly, at the other end of the spectrum when you are working hard to even stand, let alone dance, it is almost impossible to even acknowledge your partner.

So managing to be relaxed but ready to move, like we saw in the videos above, is what can open the door for us to acknowledging the music, our partner, the dance floor etc.

“Just relax and feel the connection”

To summarize… excellent cue but it is not as easy as it sounds..! So at the very least remove the “just”.

  1. As a first step, rephrase to “try to relax”.
  2. Second step, relax doesn’t mean letting go, it needs to be balanced with readiness to move.
  3. Notice any areas where you might be holding unnecessary tension.
  4. Then see if you can relax them a bit, find the appropriate tone. Sometimes breathing helps or a gentle shake.
  5. Change your perception over connection; connection starts from you. Not paying attention to how the different parts of your body interact with each other, how they participate in the different movement chains, can become a road-block to connecting with your partner. So work on connecting the dots.
  6. And last but not least, when working with your partner, identify points of contact, how you establish them, what is their role ( contact, support, direction etc.), and how you can move around them, over them or with them.


Give it a go and stay tuned for more on this subject..!
Chrisa
 
P.S: if you are looking for more advice ranging from perspective to practice drills, check out our practice guide “It Takes You to Tango”, I think you will love it!

Lost in Translation: Decoding Tango Class Clichés and Confusing Phrases

Have you ever heard people give cues/ advice in a tango class that made you go, “Huh?”.
Like when they say, “If you know how to walk, you know how to Tango.” Or maybe someone told you to “walk backwards like you want to walk forwards.” That sounds a bit tricky!

Can you think of any other confusing or cliche things people say in tango class? Share them in the comments! Later, we’ll figure out how to understand and dance to these tricky cues, starting with the cliches!

Tango Class Clichés and how to respond to them

Some phrases are cliches, which means lots of people use them, but they can be a bit confusing. Like when someone says, “Lead with emotion” or “Dance like nobody is watching” or “Don’t think, just dance.” These are like puzzles because they don’t always give a clear message.

Even though these phrases are cliches, they’ve been around for a long time because they can be important. But, to really understand them, it’s like being a detective and asking questions. For example, if your instructor says “Lead with emotion!”, ask for clarification as “what do mean when you say “lead with emotion”? Do you mean with more clarity in direction, with more conviction or with more intention?”

Asking questions is like having a superpower, especially when you’re learning something new. And interestingly enough very few students ask. So at the first couple of classes I usually ask for them, like “Do you know what I mean when I say X?” or “Does this make sense?”

One last example before we leave the cliche section, is one of my personal favourites “Don’t think, just dance”. Which if you ask me, sometimes there’s a little secret frustration behind it, like the teacher might be thinking, “I don’t have more instructions for you, just figure it out!” (haha)

And there is some level of truth to that, meaning that if you need to explore movement on your too in order to get it. As a teacher though, it’s important to explain what you mean by “just dance.” For example, I might say, “Now, let’s try this in a dance. Forget about the exercise and see how it shows up in your dance. If you feel something different, great! If not, that’s okay too. Keep exploring and playing with it!”.

Phrases that make you go, “Huh?”

Now there are some cues that simply are a bad choice of words. For example “bring your energy higher” or “don’t try to make it better, you’ll make it worse” or “dance your own dance”…. What??? haha

From a teacher’s point of view I avoid such phrases, because they are not really that helpful. But as a student I see them as an invitation for a short-term exploration.

Think about it. Say you are in a practica, working on a couple of things and the cue is “dance your own dance”. This advice comes with no restrictions really..! There is no goal or expectations and there is no clear cue for you to follow. Which can be frustrating unless
Which can be frustrating unless you see it as a green light to trying different variations, exploring different options until you find what works for you.

The same goes for something that sounds more technical like “bring your energy higher”. What does that mean really? It can mean anything; that the level of the energy you perform the movement with is low, your intention is unclear, or maybe your upper body is a bit passive, or something entirely different.

Reading though through this paragraph you already have 3 different options to work with and collaborate on with your partner and your teacher; you can make it more dynamic, more crisp or more powerful or even a combination of all 3.

Translating movement to words

Now, why did we treat cliches and confusing advice differently?

Cliches have hidden but valuable messages; unpacking them helps you learn a lot.
After all, they are cliches for a reason..!
On the other hand, confusing phrases are often language misuse. Imagine movement as one language and speech as another. Your teacher during a class tries to translate their actions into words. Sometimes the translation is successful and sometimes not. Responding to them with movement therefore can be a more successful strategy than talking it out.

This was our first attempt at blending words and movement to improve your classes; aiming to share strategies for better understanding and responding to confusing cues. Stay tuned for more detailed posts on successful “translation” and if dance-related confusing phrases come to mind, share them in a note or comment.

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.

Buoyancy in Movement

Describing buoyancy is not a straightforward task. It’s something that can be felt or observed in the quality of movement, but putting it into words is challenging. However, if I were to attempt it, I would say it involves a sense of support, fullness, smoothness and confidence.

Last week we were talking about alignment and balance. This week I wanted to share some drills that will allow you to explore buoyancy and observe how it manifests in the person’s body on screen.

Observing Buoyancy

I first wanted to share with two videos that will not only give you some good exercises to work on but also the professionals performing them are inspiring movers that make buoyancy evident, even through video.

  1. Basic Spinal Wave
    Presenting a fantastic video featuring Ido Portal, where he explores movements on the sagittal plane. In this short yet impactful video, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to the spinal wave, followed by a demonstration by Ido himself. This drill can be immensely helpful in rebuilding your posture. Consider also, watching the end first to witness the magical smoothness of his spinal wave, and then follow it up with the step-by-step section. Enjoy the journey!
  2. Building Vitality, Strength, Flexibility, Flow, and Ease through Embodying Our Muscles
    This is a full online class from one of the most charismatic and influential movement professionals, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. In this class she explores muscles with us. There is so much more to muscles than resistive exercises and stretching! Muscles have their own inner world and interrelationships that, when explored, open up another way of knowing and experiencing movement. Embodied movement at this level gives us a path to directly connect with the ‘mind’ of our muscles and provides a dynamic foundation for brain-oriented, consciously-directed movement.

Tango focused exercises for you to practice

  1. Back Ochos–ONE powerful drill
    In this video, we’ll be honing in on one essential aspect in our ochos—the spine.
    Sure, movement can be complicated and intricate, but it’s precisely this intricacy that gives it that deceptively simple appearance. By taking it one step at a time, we’ll begin to unravel the complexities, gradually making sense of how all the pieces come together harmoniously. So, let’s focus on the spine and unlock its potential!
  2. Musicality, Breathing and Posture
    This is live online workshop from August of 2022 where we focused on musicality, breathing, and posture. Our mission here is twofold: first, we aim to explore and establish the fundamental relationship between these three themes, and secondly, we want to equip you with the tools to create practice routines that seamlessly combine these different elements.
    When we’re just starting out, it can be challenging to craft a practice session that incorporates multiple themes and also fits into our busy schedules. That’s where this video comes in handy, as it’ll provide you with some valuable insights on how to achieve that balance.

As a side note, all the exercises we used in the last video above were borrowed from the book: “It Takes You to Tango – The Ultimate Guide to Tango Training for Leaders and Followers.” In this book, you’ll discover a wide array of videos supporting two chapters of Tango drills. But that’s not all! You’ll also find helpful tips on defining your level and goals, setting up a schedule, overcoming any barriers that might be hindering your progress, and even learning social skills and milonga etiquette.

Enjoy,

Chrisa