We often say, I need to work on “balance” or “I can’t keep my balance”. And when we actually go ahead to practice we start with standing on 1 foot, maybe doing embellishments with the free leg or coming up on our toes and holding.
Therefore when we say balance, we mean being able to hold ourselves still in a specific position for a long period of time.
Balance Vs Stillness
Creating a hold or simply being still, is that the same as being balanced? Well… not necessarily! Because we might able to be still but the main volumes of our body may still not be balanced. For example, we might be hunched over, with our hips tilted back and our chin protruding forward. Try it… it is a very common pose! haha
This comes to show that still does not necessarily mean balanced. So what is balance? Or better yet what are trying to balance?
We are trying to balance the forces running through our body, so that our movement can be efficient and safe. In this context if we actually would like to hold, balancing the 3 main volumes of our body, head, torso and hips, can lead to a comfortable efficient hold instead of a trembling/ troubling structure.
What are the cues that we are in balance, aside from we don’t feel in any key joint such as the hip joint?
We feel relaxed but at the same time
Ready to move and we also
Notice that our breathing is not inhibited and therefore has a comfortable flow.
And what would be the benefit of such an approach? Aside from creating safer and more efficient movement, it will allow us to be more aware and also it will allow us to focus on balance while moving and not while holding. Holding can helpful and such an approach can help you in creating efficient holding too; however if you are practicing dance it is necessary to practice balance while moving.
This is exactly what we are working on in our latest workshop. Try the recording, and let us know how it went!
See that title..? haha From feet to Tango, to injuries and all the way to weather… Things that might appear unrelated, sometimes interestingly enough they do connect in this vast network we call the human body.
Our body responds to everything, in some way… it might be an obvious response or it might be a very subtle one. Leading and following in Tango is actually based on responding…not only from the follower but also from the leader.
Injuries and how to prevent them
After sharing the video above, that was on feet as the foundation of our walk, I received a set of interesting questions/ thoughts. They were around ankle stability and injury and how we can prevent them or be able to live with and dance through them.
To prevent them we need to increase our knowledge and awareness of the human body, so we can make healthier movement choices. Tango allows us to explore that because it is based on walking. Discovering how we were built to walk will help our Tango but will also give us the tools we need to prevent injury, to the extent possible of course.
Accidents do happen though… so what do we do then..?
How can we get to a point where we feel safe and secure in our bodies after being injured? Injury may actually be a second chance to learn more about our body. If you need a brace for example learn what it does, and which part of your ankle is it supporting/ replacing. Then explore that area with tenderness and care. You will see that slowly your mind will start creating a map of that joint area. The injury tore the map to pieces and now carefully with massage and subtle movement you can put the pieces of the map together. Will that bring the joint back to its initial state? Well, that depends on the injury of course, it may or it may not. But what it will certainly do is give you the awareness you need to move on that foot; for example give you a clear picture of the range of motion around all axes or of the necessary alignment. You can then make better choices as you are moving/ dancing.
Again, Tango at its bare bones is such a caring dance! You can take it really slow if you like and notice where and when you need to make adjustments as you take a step. And if you have a good partner along with you, you can have immediate feedback on how any of the choices affect your posture, or even your energy/ tension/ connection.
Social Tango or maybe we can say Tango Salon, is not really a dance with special requirements, like for example ballet, unless of course we go into specific Tango styles that focus on creating a specific image. That makes Tango ideal for all ages to enjoy and for everyone of us to become a bit wiser on body mechanics.
Now you probably wonder how is the weather related to feet, injury or Tango..!
Noticing how the weather affects you, is the first step to awareness. Every day can not be the same, so why are so shocked when we actually notice that. If you are feeling stiff because it is cold, then give yourself a bit of time to warm up before you start going about your day. Or if you wake up and you are low in energy and your tone is low, then give yourself some time to bring that tone up. In both examples by the way gentle shaking helps..!
The idea overall is, spend time becoming more aware of YOU..! And to get started you don’t need to do anything else but to notice how your body feels when you wake up every day. Then as your awareness increases you will be able to capture more and more feedback, as you move and as you dance.
Maybe this video on feet and weight transfer trajectory can be the second step…
Enjoy and join us for more by subscribing to our Bautanz community
P.S: If you are wearing heels when you are dancing, check this article out
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!”
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
So when I starting practicing alone aka without a partner it was because I could feel that something was missing, that I could be a more active and expressive dancer but I didn’t quite know how to do that.
After some time things settle and I found my ways and Bautanz was born but this is not an article about Bautanz but about one great question I got from a member of our community, Mandy: “Do you have any suggestions for incorporating these ideas [on balance, alignment etc] into a partnership?“
Is individual practice the problem?
Mandy explained that though while practicing without her partner everything is great but once they come together to dance things start falling apart.
One of the things, amongst others of course, that causes these off-balance moments is that each partner is working on figuring things out in his/her body and fails to pay attention to what the other person is doing. It is not on purpose that we are ignoring our partner but there are so many other things we need to focus on from one step to the next, that we fail to pay enough attention to our partner.
Many people say point exactly to that in fact to prove that one shouldn’t be practicing alone. That argument however can be defeated when we see soccer players, tennis players, ballerinas you name it training on their own.
Individual practice is not what causes the problem in connection, it is what reveals it! Once you start exploring further a creative process of change starts to happen and that is when start to realize trouble with moving with another person.
Also, as with any change, change in movement habits takes time! For us to realize what we are doing wrong, to explore the suggested other options, to understand how each suits our bodies and then to replace what we don’t need anymore with a new habit; This is a lengthy process, very creative but also lengthy! So it will take some time for things to settle, for new habits to get established so we can then focus more on our connection and how our movement affects our partner.
That is in fact why I created Bautanz and an online course called Intelligent Tango PROGRAMS & COURSES–INTELLIGENT TANGO, to speed the process of creating new habits through an individual practice.
Practicing on how to listen
You are probably wondering if I am actually suggesting that you just keep at it and hope for the best..! haha Thankfully not, as there is a way to get more connected to your partner and explore movement at the same time and that is through touch, observation and feedback. And that could happen in two ways
Let’s use the above video as an example, if you are not practicing with a partner, during your individual practices you can get feedback from surfaces you can possibly lie down on or lean against. Once on the ground as in the video above you can get bodily feedback on how your head, back, hips and feet are moving on the floor.
You start gathering information on how these body parts move when you move your arms. But also there is the opportunity to observe how your movement changes as you release more weight, or as you turning, if you adjust your head etc.
In this video, all of the above apply of course, but I want to use as an example when you practice with your partner. Aside from the feedback you can gather from meeting the floor you can also ask your partner to place a hand on your shoulders, back, your head or hips, and just observe how you move without affecting your movement, only observing almost like passively following. Touch will reveal to both of you how that specific spot of the body moves and how part affects the other. It will give both you more information about movement that you can then take it with you when you are leading and following. Then of course you change roles, you will be touching and observing
Time to give feedback…
Last but not least in the process is the exchange of feedback. This is an important part of the process and a rather difficult one. It is very easy to fall into the trap of not expressing how the movement felt. So again using the video above as an example you want to go deeper and describe what your hands felt, for example: “as you were settling in the tabletop position, your shoulder blades felt like they were sliding and turning, as the spine was reorienting. You back muscles felt like they were expanding as your sides and core were condensing.”
Avoid staying on the surface with feedback such as it felt good, or strong or smooth. Try to go a deeper and describe the movement. Make sense out of what your hands felt. Then you try the exercise again focusing on each of the elements your partner noticed and guiding each other through touch.
Could I do this with Tango drills..?
Absolutely! This process can happen with any movement, only you would probably need to move a bit slower than usual if you are doing walks or ochos. But surely your partner can place their hands on your shoulders, back, chest, stomach, head etc and go through the same process as above.
It will heighten your awareness of your own body and movement but also of your partner’s. Touch is though an excellent way to practice “listening” through touch. Tango is based on touch and the feedback we receive through it. If we are not able to listen through touch and respond then it becomes difficult and the movement has a very mechanical almost robotic quality.
Every practice session needs to be rewarded
Extra bonus… a Dance! I would to encourage you to dance one song after your practice or at a random time without the intention to practice but with the intention to dance and enjoy moving with or without a partner.
It is not however an easy task. You will be putting yourself to the test trying to put all the things “you should be working on” to the side and letting the experience of moving inform your knowing.
I wasn’t doing that for a long time. Instead every chance I got I practiced trying to get things right, trying to get better faster. It was very frustrating, and made my dances really hard to enjoy. So though being in the unknown, without an outline of what needs to be taken care of, of what you need to focus on, can be discomforting, it can also help you understand your body, your movement and your partner at a deeper level. Plus it is a great reward to allow yourself to dance after spending time practicing!
Touch, observe, listen and don’t fear the unknown!
P.S 3rd week of September we will be starting session of live online classes. If you are interested check it out here: Online Tango Classes- Live
How can one-size-fits-all apply in a social dance setting when we all unique in terms of body type, age, fitness, cultural background etc?
A great question!
After our mid-week Tango practice on Wednesday I a question via Youtube that I felt it is an excellent question for us to discuss how different body types can or cannot fit in certain Tango rules; and overall how the one-size-fits-all doesn’t quite work in social dancing.
Following is the video, from our practice and the question right after that, lets see:
“Chrisa, something that no one ever talks about, and I can’t get non fat dancers to understand, are the techniques needed by the fat dancer. Now, I do not use fat as a bad word, I reclaim it, and refuse to make it synonymous with wrong. And also, I need to accommodate my roundness. It is soawkward to be in class, and have an instructor remind me not to swing a hip, not to arch my back, when the real reason I do these things is because of my large belly. When you have substantial thighs, it changes your stance, collection, even the ability to flick a swift secada. I realize this is off topic from your video, but do you have any insights for the fat dancer? Tricks to maintain tango posture when you have extra curves to work around? Thank you <3″ F.L
The truth of the Style Vs The truth of the Dancer
I want to thank again our commenter for this question and dissect the matter in two parts:
Diversity of styles
Biomechanics Vs Tango Style
Diversity of Styles
There is an unavoidable conflict between the truth carried through by the rules for each style and the truth stemming from the dancer’s experience. Of course there are many ways to train dancers to perform and look a certain way, many types of dance achieve that, with ballet being one excellent example. However there are certain expectations to be met by all ballerinas in terms of looks, body structure and analogies. This is why there are certain restrictions apply in terms of age, body type, body shape, fitness etc. That is also why the choice to follow a career as a professional ballet dancer happens very early in one’s life when the body and character are very adaptable to change. That is also why ballet dancers retire at a very early age.
Social Tango is not like that though. Quite the contrary it is dance that is danced by 90 year olds with very different body analogies, with loss in muscle etc etc. So would we say for example that Oscar and Nina are bad dancers?!?! I highly doubt it! See them in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQotX3sFahI
So as I perceive it, a style is a place to start learning but then we have to take into account the the experience of our body. And those two things are equally important and equally true. Everyone of us is unique in some way, and that uniqueness needs space, a lot of space in a social dance.
Biomechanics Vs Tango Style
We can’t judge a style, a style is based mostly on aesthetics. It is a design. A beautiful design but still a design that one person or a group of people came up with based on their personal goals, experiences, expectations and so on. So it wouldn’t be possible nor fair. But we can judge movement based on anatomy and biomechanics. Then each of us can make an informed decision whether you want to pursuit a specific tango style despite the possible strain or risk due to inconguence with anatomy and biomechanics.
So firstly, based on anatomy and specifically the structure of the human skeleton in order to balance the forces going through the joints and to have an effective distribution of weight when standing on two feet, the placement of the feet should be such to support the hips. Having the feet together 100% doesn’t meet that requirement since the pelvis flairs outward. Similarly, the flair of the feet, meaning the turn out, depends on the structure of your hips, how wide or narrow the hips are. So overall some people will have their feet closer together, not though fully connected, than others and also for some people the turn out will be bigger than others.
Walking and biomechanics
Now when we walk our hips are not supposed to be square, they are supposed to swing, it’s scientifically what we call: locomotion. And it is not the only movement happening in our hips when we walk. In fact walking involves the whole body and the more chaotic it feels the more efficient it most likely is. There is the “C” shape movement we talked about in our practice session and there is also a wave in the spine. You can see all of this here:
Can you stop all this from happening ? Sure you can! But why would you? If you actually look a little closer and dig a little deeper, these movements actually help you connect with your partner in much more efficient way..! You can see it in our previous practices here: https://bautanz.com/online-tango-practice/
And of course along with all that goes posture and centre of gravity. Your posture changes depending on what action you wish to perform. As you can see in the video above maintaining a specific upper body position works against your intention to walk forward or backward and would therefore require more muscle work to make it all happen. Lastly our center of gravity, will be different depending on the shapes we create or have in our bodies. It is not a fixed spot and how could it be? By physics that would be impossible.
My suggestion to you
If you have learned Tango now spend some time learning your body through movement. Understand how one thing relates to the other, what kind of relationships they have and what kind of movements they create due to those relationships and structure
Start learning about your body to better dance with/in/through it. Understanding how our body was built to move for me is the number one step to take when you really want to free up your social dance but also when you want to structure your dance training knowing, acknowledging and weighing in the risks you take compared to the choices you have