In our last practice we focused quite a bit on the embrace or better said our frame. We also worked on understanding how leading and following works. And so today, I wanted to take the opportunity and expand a bit on all those other elements that turn a frame into an embrace; that make a frame feel like a hug, and a dance like a journey allowing us to connect and express ourselves.
“Embrace” yourselves, for a “hugsy” list..!
Fun Fact: Are you getting enough hugs? Are you getting enough hugs? Virginia Satir, a world-renowned family therapist, is famous for saying “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Now, I can’t vouch for the scientific research backing the need for hugs, but hey, it’s always a good thing to have Tango in our lives, right? We can replenish our hug reservoir anytime. It’s a bit funny though, I stumbled upon this article talking about ways to get more hugs, and guess what? Tango wasn’t even mentioned! How could they miss such a fantastic option?
Hugging can be a social “no-no” Our cultural background and upbringing play a significant role in determining our comfort level when it comes to giving and receiving hugs, particularly when embracing strangers. Many of our students, prior to Tango, were not accustomed to hugging in such situations. While they didn’t necessarily have a strong aversion to hugging, they hadn’t realized how much societal “taboos” were hindering their progress in Tango. Feeling uneasy in an embrace can greatly impact your entire dance experience, from communication with your partner to your posture on the dance floor. The sooner you address this and work on embracing and being embraced, the quicker you’ll discover new possibilities in your Tango journey. So, how can you achieve that? Well, a few ideas include understanding the proper framing and using it to communicate effectively with your partner—an aspect you can practice on your own. Additionally, regularly dancing with different partners in various types of embrace also helps. For more tips and additional drills, take a look at the embrace section in the book “It Takes You to Tango” alongside the suggestions provided below. Happy dancing!
Exploring the embrace while having fun You’ll discover numerous videos on my channel that delve into the topic of embrace. However, I’ve chosen to share this particular video with you because it incorporates the element of “play” into the practice. Embracing a playful mindset during your learning journey can profoundly impact your progress and overall well-being. Instead of treating practice as another obligatory task to complete before enjoying your hobby, integrate it seamlessly into your passion. Let your practice become an enjoyable part of your hobby, enhancing your overall experience.
“Sometimes a silent hug is the only thing to say“ By Robert Brault.
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Communication some times can be tricky! Especially when it is in a dance where we mainly communicate in body language and not verbally.
So here is how this post came to be. It is actually a funny story though it involves a doctor, and it goes like this. I met with a friend after her doctor had called to say that it wasn’t an emergency she needed to face after all. Only he didn’t say “I was wrong”. He actually said “I was almost right!” only he wasn’t right at all… haha Good news for my friend and a very interesting situation for anyone working on communication skills.
Mis-communication in a dance
I am sure you have been in a similar situation, where the other person sort of admits they were wrong. Either by saying “I wasn’t entirely right” or even worse “I was wrong but you …. (fill-in the gap with something equally wrong you did)”
In dance the same verbal communication can take place sometimes but physical cues are more common. There can be a power battle between the partners. In such cases nobody enjoys the tanda even if they managed to get things to go their way.
The issue though is not to explore who is right and who is wrong in a given situation. The issue here is to see how we can communicate better.
So think of the last time, that you had this mis-communication with your dance-partner. Maybe it was a different perspective on the music, or they led something and you did something else or vice versa. How was that expressed? And what happened next?
Where you pushing and pulling on each other for the rest of the song? Did you use some leading or back-leading trick to correct the situation? How did your partner respond? And did any of you accept responsibility? Did you let go of the tension and admitted in body language that the other was right?
It is not a very easy thing to do actually, especially as you are improvising. But maybe now, after the fact, you can explore the situation. There is actually a simple exercise you can do. List 10 circumstances where you felt that you were wrong but instead you acted as if you were almost right. And then 10 circumstances where your partner was wrong and again they acted as if they were almost right.
It might subtle. And it could only have been for a moment and then you changed back to your ordinary sweet self..! 😉 But think back to uncomfortable or even painful dances you have had. Bring back to your memory nasty milonga nights, or frustrating practices and/ or classes. See if somewhere in there you reacted or you were faced with the attitude above.
How to communicate instead
Now as you know, I really like to share some practical advice to a problem. At least, share thoughts on options that one can explore in order to make their Tangos more enjoyable.
This is not an easy one, but I will do my best to share some thoughts. I hope you will find them helpful!
If you have the “It takes You to Tango” guide, you can find in there some tips on how to handle situations in the social environment of a milonga. This specific situation was not clearly included therein. There is though a note on leaving in the middle of the tanda. Let’s start from this “extreme” option.
As you will see in the book, from my perspective, leaving someone on the dance floor is to be reserved for extreme situations. Situations where you are in pain, or you are in extreme discomfort and you feel this is harmful to you.
Though it is not the option to use all the time, have it at your back pocket for emergency situations. Still though, there is a way to do it. No need for drama! Simply saying “thank you” will do the trick most of the times. In the rare, you might need to add a “I need to take a break”.
Now lets look at other options, that may come a bit more handy
Here are a couple, from my personal experiences on the dance floor:
Firstly, especially if I am dancing with friend, I simply say “sorry”. Quite obvious but an easy way to communicate that I was wrong.
Once I realize a mistake, I try to get where my leader wants me to be in an embellished way. Adding a gentle giggle, if you are that kind of a person, can also work.
In cases where the other person has messed up, I usually follow the previous pointer. Making a little moment out of the mistake always releases the tension. Plus you might actually come up with a new move after some refinement.
Further to the above, when a leader actually whispers “sorry”. Respond with an embellishment or make something out of the “mistake”; it shows kindness.
Where we are not talking about a mistake but a necessary adjustment, for example speed or orientation etc. we need to keep the dialog open through the embrace. Leaders will need to listen to followers. Followers will need to be able to communicate a message to their leaders. For example, if you are about to bump into someone behind you. Followers use the embrace to stop your leader from taking a back step. Or if the leader is going too fast for you; use the embrace and maybe even an embellishment to show that a change in speed is necessary. Leaders listen to your followers!
For cases where I can feel tension building, because of lack of communication, personally I choose to let it pass. I prefer not to continue the power struggle so I adjust to make it work no matter who is right. Then when the tanda ends I can decide whether or not to dance with that person again.
So those are my ways to communicate with my partners. I am sure that you have probably discovered many others that have worked for you. The main element here though is when you are wrong admit it and work with your partner to fix it. When you are right don’t hold a grudge and work with your partner to fix it. Painful or uncomfortable situations excluded of course.
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
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Following this theme that we have been exploring, for some time now, mindfulness, we shift our focus towards posture; posture and mindfulness
We have talked and explored posture in many different ways however this time, our focus is not on the shape(s) that the body creates that we can characterize as efficient posture.
Our focus is more on becoming aware of our spine, our breath, our back and front body and the space there is between them. Our goal would be to achieve the desired alignment without though creating unnecessary tension, by pulling on the muscle to achieve a specific position.
So how do we do it?
As you will see in the video above we are starting with breathing. Muscles of the back are also called breathing muscles and not by chance. You can do a simple test yourselves; inhale and exhale and notice how your body moves.
By deepening our inhales and exhales, we make all those movements associated with the breath and posture bigger. And so this way we come into a posture without inhibiting our breath and without using more muscle than what is necessary for us to get there.
One thing that I would like to take the opportunity to stress out here, is allowing yourselves to start where YOU are. This is a very important part of the process. We spend so much time trying to look like someone else, that we forget to acknowledge our starting point. However, that is something that will have a major impact on how we get to our goal and how long it will take.
So physically we are all of the same make but we are also different, maybe you have a more extended or arched back, maybe your breathing pattern is shallower, maybe you are stressed… a thousand maybes! So take some time to notice where you are without any judgement, just being a witness to your own experience and allow yourselves to start from there.
Being respectful and loving to your body will not only have physiological benefits but it will also be the first step towards mindfulness.
The benefits of a mindful posture
Talking about benefits, lets see a couple of more…
So continuing the conversation, acknowledgment without judgement doesn’t mean acceptance, but more realizing, identifying where you are and how that feels. So you go through a body scan, noticing where things are and how things are feeling. The labels of good and bad should be dropped for this one, as there is no good and bad, it just is what it is.
Once you have informed your knowing, then you can start the exploration of your other options of alignment
Other options will then offer a series of benefits, such as:
efficiency of movement, so you are not using more energy than what you need
following the above, you have better use of muscle
better balance of forces within the joints so there are no shear forces going through your joints, pulling them off center
following the above you can avoid overuse of ligaments and muscle impingement
you will have a comfortable breath while standing and moving
your diaphragms can work properly, at the appropriate pace with the necessary movement pattern
and generally your organs will be aligned and able to maintain their tone and relationships to one another
going to the Tango side of things, you can have more freedom in movement as you won’t need to hold as much
movements will feel more connected in your bodies
you will be able to dance for longer as you won’t be wasting energy and
last but not least we will be able to enjoy our dances more
We had to close this list at some point but in reality once you start with such explorations the benefits are more and more and some more..! (haha)
What if I don’t know where to start, with posture and mindfulness
I think our video above can be an excellent start and also our video from last week. They make a good match and can help slowly deepen your understanding of how the different parts of our upper body interact.
Now if you need more guidance we have our regular classes and workshops starting next week and we will be spending some time on such themes. It would be a great pleasure to have you in one of our groups. Help you and me learn and grow together
Following our Tango and Mindfulness workshop right at the end of this challenging year, I put an exercise together titled “Exercise of the Week- the mindful embrace”. With the Holidays and all you might not have had the chance to try it out so here it is:
The mindful embrace
Through this video we are creating, we are becoming, the embrace. We are creating that shape and we become aware of what an integral part we are in shaping the embrace. Creating a mindful embrace is a space where we can share support, feelings, sensations, thoughts with our partners.
The idea therefore here is to create opportunities to really connect better and at a deeper level. Once we wake up the skin, the muscles, the fascia, the bones, the organs, the fluids, our whole body becomes part of the shape, part of a mindful embrace.
What we usually learn and practice in Tango is the position, the frame of the embrace; which of course are very valuable and important. We are also taught how to efficiently create the frame and how to lead and follow our partner. However, the awareness of ourselves in that shape, as well as that shape surrounding us is very important. This way we won’t feel disconnected from that sharing, the actual dance, happening in that space.
In our video above we are exploring our breath, the ribs, the arms and the relationships between them. We are also exploring the shape and space and so we become co-creators of the embrace.
Tango and mindfulness
Tango as we were discussing in a previous article allows us to explore mindfulness at different layers and so it can be an excellent option as a movement practice for mindfulness. This does not mean that other practices cannot be good options. I actually think any movement practice should be done mindfully. However, sometimes we need to start with something that can be a little bit slower, like Tango. We might need the option to explore being still and moving. And there is the need to explore ourselves in space and the space surrounding us. Add to that the possibility of doing all of that with other people and we have our sweet Tango.
And this exactly isour intention for our upcoming Pay from the Heart workshops. We will explore all Tango fundamentals and at the same time they will explore mindfulness on many different stages. So we will work on posture, walking, rhythm and expressivity and qualities of movement; we will therefore become aware of our feelings/ sensations during stillness and movement.
I’m not quite sure if this falls under the category of mindfulness, to be honest with you (haha). I am pretty sure though that it can elevate our spirits, energy and give us an extra boost for 2021. The schedule of our Pay from the Heart workshops:
Workshop #1: Posture and Mindfulness; We will explore the movement of the spine and specifically the movement centres along the spine. Movement centres are areas where we have the most options for movement as well as the greatest range of movement
Workshop #2: Walking and Mindfulness; Many of the movements of the spine are involved in walking. The action of walking will enhance our focus and awareness but it is also a good progression from workshop #1
Workshop #3: Music and Rhythm; Our body has its own rhythm; which becomes apparent through breathing, pulse, walking etc. Explorations such as this will help us get in touch with our inner music and relate better to the music and rhythm of our environment
Workshop #4: Expressivity and music; Naturally, after sensing and feeling it is time to take action! This is not a musicality class so we won’t be learning musical patterns on the rhythm. This has more to do with helping us express our personality, feelings and thoughts on the music
Workshop #5: Qualities of movement; And we will close with a workshop exploring the qualities of movement that occur during Workshop #4. The same movement can and should feel different on different songs and with different partners.
I really hope to see you all there! And then and if you looking for more classes you can check our our Online Class schedule
P.S: if you went through the “Exercise of the Week- the mindful embrace” and you want some more information you can also visit this Body Mind Centering exploration about the relationship of the ribs and the arms
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