Individual or partner practice has been a debate we have been into for a some time now… It usually goes like this; since Tango is a partner dance, you can’t really practice individually but only with a partner.
Why are we having this argument?
I am not really sure why this is a debate to be honest, to me it is obvious that you need both. Of course you need to practice with a partner but that doesn’t mean that individual work is not equally important. It is almost like saying that a tennis professional never practices alone, or that soccer player doesn’t work out or do drills alone but only in a team setting…g
Instead though of using examples outside of Tango I will use today’s (Wednesday May 6/20) practice to elaborate on the matter
Relationship Vs Individual dancer
So here is a link to the live practice this week:
One of the questions that came up from the chat was whether or not we change weight in order to change from parallel to cross system. And this is the question that sparked this very post, so again many thanks to sender! 😉
Ok! So the easy answer is, that on the dance floor one of you, you or your partner, will have to shift the weight if you want to change system, either partner will do the trick. So cross and parallel are systems that describe our relationship with the other, it is not something that characterizes your movement but that characterizes the relationship. In an individual practice, such as this, you can’t practice the relationship, because you need a partner for that. But you CAN practice the movement of your body within that relationship and you CAN find ways to improve how you move while in that relationship; which is what we do in our classes and practices.
You taking action in understanding your movement, your role and stance in that relationship, further informs your understanding of it and changes the dynamics and the relationship itself.
Both practicing with and without a partner are therefore equally important and effect one another immensely
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Walks and ochos are the two elements at the heart of Tango; every sequence with maybe the exception of off-axis sequences are based on walks and ochos
It is therefore important to get a good understanding of how walks and ochos work and how they can be tied together. And this is exactly what we will be focusing on in this post
Zooming In: Walks and Pivotal timing
In this first video we are putting our walks under the microscope. We capture though the whole body, aiming to understand how all the dots connect.
By focusing on the feet, the legs, the hips, the torso and the spine we will discover that the opportune moment for a pivot, hides within our step.
Once that discovery is made, we can see how a walk can turn into an ocho and vice versa. This way walks and ochos aren’t as separate, disconnected Tango elements that are need a sequence to connect them. This way we get to create options for ourselves on and off the dance floor.
Tango Technique: Zoom In on Ochos #2
In this second video there is a great focus on the upper body but again not as a separate entity.
The human body has so many fascinating links. The psoas major for example, originates in the outer surfaces of the vertebral bodies of T12 and L-1-L-3. T8-T12 is where your thoracic spine changes to Lumbar spine, so a muscle that goes around your hip reaches all the way up to your second- last rib… Fascinating! (Look here for more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psoas_major_muscle https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iliopsoas)
It is all connected I tell you!hahaha And by exploring these connections we can make our dances have much more flow, freedom and efficiency.
Tango, Body mechanics and Energy management
What was implied or talked about as secondary in the two previous videos, becomes primary now… Energy management..! Energy management not in a spiritual, abstract way, but in a very physical way. Managing the energy our bodies need to perform a movement and how can we manage our energy so it is not wasted.
Basically in this video we are aiming to make Tango feel a bit easier, at least in execution…haha…meaning that walking across the floor shouldn’t feel like a physically demanding task and pivoting also.
We put styling and personal preference to the side to examine how the body was in fact built to create these movements. Some being more chaotic than others, will require further exploration; and funnily enough walking is probably the most chaotic of all as it requires a lot of movements around different axises and on different planes.
So we have tried to come up with exercises that can help us understand a bit of the chaos, and possibly add to it; exercises that will allow us to feel a bit more comfortable in this chaotic movement and that will allow us to define the opportune moments for a change
I hope you have enjoyed this as much as I have. If you have any questions, comments or light-bulb moments drop me a line, I would love to chat with you!
“There are many elements involved, all concerned with the perception, decoding and synthesis of sound and time and thus there are many forms of amusia” (…) “A.L Benton distinguishes receptive from interpretive or performance and identifies more than a dozen varieties” Musicophilia- Tales of Music and the Brain, pg. 106 (https://www.oliversacks.com/books-by-oliver-sacks/musicophilia/)
Based on Oliver Sacks the author of Musicophilia, there are quite a few different musicality trouble. For example, one might experience, rhythm deafness, tone deafness, cultural rhythm deafness, no sense of scale, melody or harmony, pitch discrimination, dystimbria and more…
And that is because music is not just beats per minute…
Starting from the music
Usually what happens is, we go to a class, we learn a bunch of sequences, either to no-music or on a specific song. Then we go to the milongas but we are not able to perform these same sequences on the music, unless we are lucky enough and that one song that our teacher used in class, is played in the milonga. That creates a feeling of emptiness, as if we didn’t really dance.
In order to address this issue, we will focus on the music itself first. So go ahead and choose any 4 songs you like, from different orchestras, and start with actively listening, trying to make sense of the music.
Making sense of the music, happens in many ways:
through hearing for its beat, tempo, rhythm etc
seeing it, usually the timbre of the music is expressed as colour
through taste, often times musicians when they talk about pitch they use taste-related words
through movement; you might catch yourself tapping your foot, or swinging the arms
or you might hum or sing etc
Try initially to just let all of these things happen, and make a note of them. Even if they are distasteful, don’t stop them from happening. Be simply a witness and not a judge to the process
On a second level, we use movement to become aware of what the music feels like. Personally, I did this like so:
Use simple, very basic movements that will not trouble you technically, to capture what the music feels like to you.
Initially, you will most likely become aware of your emotions, like feeling sad or happy, and attempt to express them through movement.
After that initial response though, try to look for the words behind those adjectives. For example, the music might feel like a punch or a gentle touch. It might be like a total collapse or a light hop. Maybe it is epidermic or visceral.
The words will describe, how your body expresses your emotions, for example, sad could be bodily expressed through total collapse, while happy could be a light hop.
Finding the flow of the movement
The previous video will allow to notice your strengths and your weaknesses regarding perceiving and interpreting music.
Have in mind that “No one has all the talents, cognitively or emotionally. Tchaikovsky was keenly aware that his great fertility of melody was not matched by a comparable grasp of musical structure” Musicophilia- Tales of Music and the Brain, pg. 98
This comes to say that overall we should acknowledge our weakness and bet on our strengths! And since I am here writing an article on musicality aiming to help anyone who finds him/herself as weak in perceiving and/or interpreting music, I will suggest for this next video, that we focus on something that we all are a bit stronger in; movement; basic Tango movement.
Every move has an optimal rhythm. A rhythm that allows us to perform it efficiently and smoothly. That rhythm needs to match the rhythm of the music, for the movement to make sense, express what the music feels like and create a sense of calmness and confidence.
You know when your teacher says: “Don’t think, just do it!” There is a time to work with consciousness as shown in the videos above and a time when you need to act on things.
On the dance floor there is really no time to think things through, to put your conscious mind to work. On the dance floor it is the time to ACT! And hopefully you have practiced enough for that action to be successful
Sooooo after all this work, I think you deserve an extra night out, on the dance floors allowing yourself to respond, to act on the music!
Embellishments…hmmm… for some an absolute no-no and for others a must- have! The good thing about this article is that whether you will use the embellishments in your dance is completely irrelevant…
How embellishments can shape your practice
Especially one of the embellishments that I chose can NOT be done in a milonga. It is the kind of embellishment, you can only do if you show up really early or leave really late.
We will by-pass therefore the debate on the appropriateness of embellishments and we will focus on what we can learn from them, if we let them shape our practice
Aside from the obvious first step; of figuring out how to actually do the embellishment, here are the next levels we can take our practice to:
Exploring the balance between tension and relaxation. To do an embellishment, you need to free the “free” leg of any unnecessary tension that will slow it down.
Becoming aware of our body position. How does our posture need to change, so we can spare that leg, and still feel good, confident and strong
And timing. When is the right time to start the embellishment, and when should it end. How can we transition smoothly into the next step
These are the key elements we will be focusing on in this article. If you can of any more leave a comment below, to start up a chat..!
Relaxation Vs Tension
In this first video, we are focusing more on the first two pointers, from the list above. We start by relaxing the legs and the arms. And our goal is to keep them relaxed as we gradually create tension in the core. When we make our way to standing, we shift our focus to body alignment. How do shift the body to allow for one leg to move freely in space?
Becoming aware, of the balance points available to us and the lines of alignment being formed in our bodies, we can create freedom and power without jeopardizing balance and strength.
Embellishments in their purest form
In this video, the second one of the series, we are getting more and more analytical, with our movement. We are breaking the embellishments down to movement blocks and we take each one and create an exercise around it.
This helps us dive a bit deeper into all the elements on our list, even timing… As we begin to notice where and when the movement starts in our body and where and when it ends.
And last but not least, a video that focuses on body position and timing.
When our body is positioned properly, we are ready to act, that is quite obvious. What is not obvious is the opposite… being aware of time and opportunity to act. Timing therefore and body position are intimately tied together. We need to be ready WHEN the opportune moment comes our way.
Practice smart, might mean, work on embellishments
Maybe you think embellishments are a waste of time. That they won’t let you focus on what truly matters. And that they are superficial unnecessary elements, that most dancers tend to use when their technique is in fact poor.
I don’t blame you, I believed all that myself and still do to some extent. I would like though to invite you to see embellishments, for what they are. Off the dance floor and outside the dance studios, they are nothing more than movements. And we can be taught from any movement as simple or as complicated it may be.