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Spinal Movement and walking.

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

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

Building on posture and walking

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

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

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

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

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

A few things to notice

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

Questions to help you in your explorations

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

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

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

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

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

😉

Chrisa

Feeling comfortable, what does it truly mean..?

Feeling comfortable, is commonly associated with feeling good and at ease. Specifically in movement when we are saying we are comfortable in a pose or moving through a sequence, we usually mean that we are. not feeling pain or that we’ve generally got it.

Or like last week when looking at balancing the forces running through our body, when we achieve that we can say we are comfortable. Can we though say the same for the journey to achieve balance? Pushing through frustration when things are not working out in our practice. Or even pushing through pain… Would we say that we are comfortable with what practicing entails overall?

I would think not… but we might need to start thinking about comfort in those terms.

Be Comfortable with being human

One of my dear teachers Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen the other day put up a quick post on how feeling comfortable may be misunderstood.

I will only share an excerpt of her post here with you:
“(…) comfort doesn’t mean not having pain. It’s that we are here in our body. And maybe we are totally miserable but we are here.”

You can read the whole post here if you would like. It is short and truly sweet!

Don’t be mistaken I am not suggesting that you simply accept misery and defeat. Quite the contrary, be comfortable with being angry, frustrated, stressed, upset etc…. (you fill in that gap). Once you are comfortable with that feeling you can more clearly decide how you are going to deal with it.

Let’s take a Tango example, though you can apply this to life off the dancefloor as well of course.
Say you are coming back to social dancing after Covid, you are thirsty for Tango, you have just missed so much!
You get to the milonga, and you don’t get to dance much… suddenly the bad memories are crippling in.
Rejection, loneliness, feeling left out… etc.

That moment what do you do?
Do you pep-talk yourself out of it, forcing yourself to feel ok about the situation?
Or do you try to push past it, not to let disappointment kill the night?
Maybe the third choice, the what-did-I-expect-nothing-has-changed type of reaction.

The above reactions do not really allow us to sit with the feeling that is bubbling up. And they are really distractions or leave-for-later options.
So what I am suggesting is that if you are feeling disappointed, rejected, alone etc. feel comfortable with that feeling. Feel comfortable with being upset! It is absolutely ok!
Once comfortable with the feeling itself, you may then see more possible reactions to it that may resolve the issue.

The solution may not be obvious and most likely won’t just pop-up. You might need to step away from the dancefloor, go the bar, just sit and watch or even call it a night. But you would have taken the first step by saying:
“I am upset about this and I am totally comfortable with that. Now let’s resolve this!”

A little challenge to put things to the test

Another way to test your levels of comfort is of course practicing, and especially practicing alone.
Working on the little things, on the subtle things that may though bring huge change to how you move and dance.

Are you comfortable when things are not really working?
Or when you are not getting it?
Are you comfortable with putting in the time but not seeing immediate results?

I invite you to test it out for yourself with this practice on posture!
And if frustration starts building up, which of course it is not my intention, but if it does…allow yourselves to sit with that feeling comfortably!

So you know, this is kind of putting two birds in one nest. Practice for the body and the mind/ spirit!

Enjoy and join us for more by subscribing at our community

Chrisa

Balance can be misunderstood

In our previous post we were talking about the Neutral Zone and the 0.0 Posture and as it is probably a natural progression, in this post we will talk about balance.

Balance is a term that can get misused quite a lot in everyday life and in Tango. Hopefully through our post today you will get a better definition for and understanding of balance

What do we “think” balance is

When we say balance usually the images that come to mind are of elaborate yoga poses or skilful ballet poses. You know the ones where people are standing on one foot in pointe shoes and they are holding the free leg in some intricate position while smiling and looking cool… haha

In a more real life scenario, I am sure that if you are a follower wearing heels, those first few ochos were probably tricky. If you are leader…. those first few ochos were probably tricky for you too..!

And you have probably been the receptor of cues such as squeeze your glutes or pull your bellybutton to the spine. Which certainly help to some extent if you are standing still but not so much when you are moving.

So if we can sum it up we think of balance as something that we hold or should be able to hold

And what it actually is…

So I will challenge you with a question… What are trying to balance?

So we are trying to balance ourselves over an area of the foot, and in order to do that the main 3 volumes of the body, head, torso and hips need to balanced over each other. And how would we know that they are balanced? How do we measure that?

That would be a balance of forces running through the body so the relationship between the different parts of the body is such that we don’t cause any harm.

Stillness and balance are two separate things and one can exist without the other, as I can be still but the volumes of my body may not be balanced. Let’s see the picture below, which is an exaggerated example but brings the message across. Our head, torso and hips may not be in a balanced relationship but we can be still. And believe me you can do this on one leg as well..!

posture3
Photo credit gamsiz via Foter.com CC/ BY

So lets work together looking for balance and not stillness in this video below:

Balance restored

Our goal therefore through this series of videos is to move in ways that allow for the forces to run through our body efficiently, to not overuse muscle and most importantly not to put our body in harm’s way.

So I will leave you with one last video and if you would like to hear more on balance join our community by subscribing.

Send me your thoughts and questions

Looking forward to hearing from you

Chrisa

The neutral zone and the 0.0 posture

In our previous post we focused on the milonga and the key differences it has with Tango.
One of those differences referred to posture.  Specifically we observed that in Milonga due to speed we stay in the neutral zone while in Tango we have the time to shape the movement.

So this week, we will look into what we call neutral and range of motion and what shaping looks like.

Defining range of motion to figure out neutral

I am sure that you have heard or even used the term neutral position, for example keep your back in a neutral position.
What does this mean though exactly?

To understand better what it means we need to first speak about range of motion. 
Range of motion in a joint can be simply defined how far we can move around a specific axis, for example how far can we go in extension or flexion. Range of motion differs between different joints. And in the same joint it differs between different directions and around different axes. 
So for example we have a different range of flexion/ extension in our hips compared to our knees. Also though for the hip itself we have different range of flexion/ extension than rotation and we have more flexion compared to extension.
Bottom line it is all different so proceed with caution and keep exploring! and of course it is needless to say that each of us has different ranges of motion as we are all unique makes of the same grand design.

So now what is neutral

Well once you know how much range you have in a given joint, you know the end of range of a movement around an axis. The space between, the space before you reach the end of range is neutral. Neutral is an area, a zone not a specific point. The middle of the neutral zone where we are not committing in any direction we would then be in 0.0 posture..!

What does that all mean for Tango

To make things a bit more specific let’s look at one part of the Tango posture. Let’s look at the mid-back, where your thoracic changes to lumbar.


Here we have it all, flexion-extension, rotation and side reach. We have much more flexion than extension, like we see below.

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

And anywhere between the end of the flexion-extension range is the neutral zone. In the middle where the joint are not going into flexion or extension we are at 0.

Taking a step

Finding 0 posture is one thing and takes some practice and exploring. But going from that 0 posture into a simple forward step can be tough!
It is actually like we will see in the video below one of the toughest transitions to manage.

And now on top of that we have different walking options, small steps, big steps or tiny steps. Those require a different skill.
Not that we forget or put to the side what we talked about above but when we are dancing we need to be aware but not limited by our anatomy. Every step is or can be unique, responding to the constraints of the dancefloor, to the style of our partner and most importantly the music.

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

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

I would love to hear from you,

Chrisa

Milonga from scary to fun!

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

How is Milonga different from Tango

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

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

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

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

Going back in history

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lets talk about the BEAT!

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

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

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

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

Enjoy,

Chrisa

Music Exploration – Rhythm, Beat & Embellishments

It is common and at some times good strategy to separate the above during different classes/ practices on music exploration, in order to dedicate the necessary time to each of them. Sometimes they may come together in a musicality class where choreography is used to explore music textures and qualities or to work on the skill of building a choreography.

What I would like to suggest to you is that you see all these elements as ways to explore the music, as ways to make a map of the song so that you can move and express yourself through it with more ease.

Rhythm is all!

Who said that? Yup! that was indeed MJ

Rhythm is a basically a set of relationships based on three criteria:

  • the goal – aka where we are going
  • how far that is and
  • how fast we are going

And the above are affected by the mass that is moving; for example an arm versus the whole body. Also, the surface on which the item is moving, if there is traction or not and more.

As you can see in the video above there are many different ways to explore these relationships, we can count, clap, sing, dance or we can simply spend some time just listening.

And listening starts from within. There is one vital element that most of us, especially when dancing with someone else, tend to forget. And that is our breathing. There is rhythm in our breathing and that rhythm is unique to us, and very much dependent on what we are doing from one moment to the next. Therefore, every music exploration should start internally before we reach outward, as we are doing in the video above.

Lastly, before we go the beat, notice that though in the video we are playing mostly with the arms the feet are participating only they are not main focus. They can of course be the route through which we explore all of these relationships, so I invite you to give it try… it is truly a lot of fun!

And the beat goes on

I learned this exercise a few years ago from the wonderful Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes. And it has been an exercise that I have been going back to over and over again because it is not only very helpful, fun and challenging but also as an idea, as a music exploration strategy, it is something that you can apply to any and all sequences.

So what happens in this particular video, is that we take a routine that is very well known and broadly used in Tango, in this case the ocho cortado and we start changing the relationship of the steps with the beat.
This is the idea behind the exercise and so now you can understand that you can do the same thing, with the Tango basic/ box step, with the giro step and with any other sequence really.

How does this help us though map out the music?

OK! I want to share a strategy with you here, that again applies to all the things we practice on, but we will stick with the specifics of this exercise to have some solid reference. Suggested practice steps:

  1. Practice each variation separately, one by one with and without the music.
  2. Make little groups of 2 variations to practice on the music. How you choose? Well, there two ways that I usually follow:
    • Group the variation you are the most comfortable with every other, making groups of 2
    • Or group very different variations, for example from our video, the very slow/ mellow version with the syncopated version
  3. Second last step, decide on how many times you would like to do each variation lets say 4 times each. You put the music on and you do each variation 4 times, one after the other until the song is over.
  4. Very last step..! Let all the practice go and dance! What does that mean? You put the music back on and you let the music guide you as to which variation is more appropriate for that moment. As you can understand this is a step that may last for some time.

It is advised that you stick with the same song as you go through the steps above and that you see this as a flexible structure, and not a linear process. Meaning that you can go back and forth between steps, stick with one step for your whole practice one day and the next day you carry on etc. Basically, notice what your needs are as you go through the structure and give permission to yourself to adjust the strategy to your needs.

Embellishments – A music exploration power tool!

In this last video, we are playing with embellishments. Of course what you see in the video are only 3 of the many embellishments you can do on ochos but they have been specifically chosen. They will help us broaden our vocabulary and our understanding of the timing of the ochos, they are great tools for us to express ourselves better and have a bit of fun trying things out on the music but also and most importantly they can help us map out the textures of the music.

Embellishments in particular, because of their nature, they are add ons they are not required, they are one of the greatest tools to capture the textures of the music. Often times the same embellishment can be aggressive and powerful or spicy and playful depending on how you perform it.

So following the same strategy as described above try to see what textures you can capture and express with the 3 embellishments of our video during your music exploration session.

Music is much more than steps on the beat

Closing this short blog post, I hope that you have been inspired to look deeper into what the rhythm and the beat are and how you can explore them but also to look beyond them when you are trying to understand and relate to the music.

Think of the beat as the basic grid for each song. Over that grid we then have multiple layers. Some are consistently in the spotlight and some are making brief appearances with solos or by bridging musical phrases.

It is essential to get a clear understanding of the structure of the song, of the grid and then of the different layers that come over it in order to then be able to fully listen and express the music through your dance. And of course, the fact that we may be able to hear all the different layers doesn’t mean that we will dance to them; it is important though that we are able to hear them while we are dancing.

We have spent a couple of our Tango Movement Labs working on these elements so you can certainly visit the latest videos on that list and of course join us on Wednesday for a live practice. Tango Movement Lab runs every Wednesday 12:15pm EST through Facebook and Youtube

And of course if you don’t want to miss any of the extra goodies that I weekly put out, subscribe to the community of Bautanz

Take care and keep of moving

Chrisa

P.S: For another music posts, click here