Tag Archives: body and mind

The Secrets of the Embrace

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

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

Relaxation through fascia

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

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

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

The Secrets of the Embrace

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

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

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

Cheers, Chrisa

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

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

Relax to Connect

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

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

Relax to Connect

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

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

Are we talking about less tone in general?

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

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

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

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

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

Connection

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

But this goes deeper. Because connection starts within you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just relax and feel the connection

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

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

The Nike” category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relax and Connect

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

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

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

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

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

What about connection?

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

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

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

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

“Just relax and feel the connection”

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

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


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

Women in Dance

Last week was the International Women’s Day, on the 8th of March. And so the whole week there were different opportunities to come together and celebrate. One of such opportunities included an all-women’s class, that was actually the spark for this blog post.

Women and Dance

Maybe from the title you expected a blog post on the marvellous women in Tango. But really, I wouldn’t know where to begin. A quick search that I had done solely on female singers in Tango, landed me a huge song list; we played some of those songs during 2 practices actually.

So you can imagine that one post on all the amazing women in Tango, would be nearly impossible, let alone all the amazing women in dance in general.

Instead I thought I should speak about a group of women, that are not particularly well-known and may not even be members of a dance community. Women who don’t dance very often, but when they do, they love it!

But before I get to that story, I wonder if you actually know these women..?
They work very hard, and they take care of their family from the youngest member to the oldest. Some of them are recent immigrants and some were born here in Canada. And some are single mothers while others may have gone through some kind of abuse. You look in their eyes and you see the daily struggle.

Do you know them?
Yeah maybe you do. Maybe some of them sat next to you in the subway, or walked by you down the street. Or maybe you are one them.

What do they have to do with dance, you might wonder?
Well, as I said… when they dance, they love it!
Isn’t that, what we all want? To glow from joy after a dance?
Well that is what they did after our class..!
And maybe to some extent that is what dance is all about.

An all-women’s class

So let’s get to that story. It is an all-women’s class; aka no men. No men doesn’t mean no leaders nor does it mean a follower’s technique class. It only means no males in the class.

The reasons for that are pretty straight forward:

  • Some of the women come from a cultural background where they can’t be in the presence of a male who is not part of their family.
  • A number of women were recovering from abuse that came from a male member of their family.
  • The organizers felt that dance can create a safe and supportive environment for the groups of women mentioned above and all-women’s dance classes are uncommon so adding one more to the community, is always a bonus.

And we get in the class, and we have 2 hours ahead of us, so plenty of time to get to know each other and dance.
We got in a circle, and everyone said their name and shared something with the group. This is an introduction I have learned from Body Mind Centering and Axis Syllabus classes. It is a very good ice breaker and you get to hear the hopes and expectations of each individual in the group.

This time I heard words like: excitement, thrill, shyness, uncertainty, opportunity, doing something different, me-time, taking care of myself.
Take a moment to think what words come to your mind, when you are getting ready for your dance class?

How it all went..!

Then we got into dancing. We introduced a theme, and you know me, I wouldn’t be able to start a class without talking about posture and balance..! haha

Between explorations we played a bit with words. In one of our previous post we had talked about getting lost in translation or using words in an unhelpful way. This time though, words opened up great discussions, such as, what it really means to take care of your body. Or how can movement shape your body and your psychology.

But the best part were the kids..! As I said, there were single moms in the class, so of course they had their kiddies with them. And that group of toddlers was just so enthusiastic, seeing a group of 20 women including their moms, moving, dancing, laughing, maybe crying a little bit..! And the music, oh my, you should have seen those kiddies, how they moved to the songs they loved..!

One of them especially, was sitting at the very edge of the stroller, propped up, eyes wide open and moving to the music almost none stop..! There were a couple moments, when a tiny bit of nagging would bubble up, but mom would turn around and say: “Lies and Propaganda!” (hahaha)
And guess what that actually did the trick..! “Lies and Propaganda” put an immediate end to the nagging… haha

We finished the class with yet another circle and this time the words were more like: thankful, happily exhausted, calm, energized, happy, grateful, longing for more.
What words come to mind when you finish your classes?

I don’t know when I will have a chance to work with these women again, but I am grateful that I got to meet them and I got to see the strength they carry with them and the empowering energy they share with the world. If you were one of them, thank you for being there! If not, I invite you to look for that strength within you, and let it shine!

Chrisa

Dance as an act of kindness

Most of us would never think about taking a dance class as an act of kindness. Think though, for a moment how you got into dance. Maybe you were dancing ever since you were a child. Or perhaps you picked it up at a much older age. Maybe you went with a friend or because you wanted to make new friends. Or possibly to meet a special someone. Whatever your reason was, the decision to learn how to dance was satisfying a need, a personal need.

And that is where it all begins…

Being kind starts with you

Noticing your needs and addressing them is an act of kindness. And it doesn’t even have to be as serious as I am making it sound. Simply, feeling the need to do something fun or something new with other people, and addressing this need by going to a dance class, is an act of kindness.

Same goes with choosing how to learn and how to practice dance. Or in general how to progress in any movement practice. Learning how to respect and listen to your body and tend to its needs is an act of kindness. Understanding when it is time to pause and when it is time push and respecting those limits without feeling like your body is letting you down is an act of kindness.

As we age we need our awareness to grow so that we can still enjoy our life and so that we can keep learning and growing. Can we do what we did 10 or 15 years ago? Somethings certainly not. But consider all those things that turned out to be bad ideas; only you lacked the awareness to know back then. Or what about all those things that you wouldn’t even think of trying out 10 or 15 years ago because you lacked the experience and the imagination. Bottom line, we change. And if we want to keep enjoying life we need to be cognizant of that change and adapt.

Another act of kindness, adapting. And adapting does not mean giving up, it means recognizing your options and identifying moments of opportunity to create more options for yourself.

How dance helps us adapt

I am sure you can now see where all this is going. Dance, teaches you how to adapt and create options. Learn to hug versatility and variety because this is our environment.

So if your practice is not going well one day, take a step back, pause for a second. Every practice is never the same as the one before or the one after it. Maybe you are tired or preoccupied. Can you find a way to keep moving? Is “keep moving” even a good option for you in this moment? If not what could be a good option? Stillness? Ok! You can learn a lot in stillness as well.

See, our movement practice should run on kindness in order for us to progress or we will end up tired battling through every frustrating moment.

And that of course spills into our relationship with our partners. Now you may be working with one specific partner or this can be applied to a social setting, like a milonga, where you may be changing partners. In both cases, but especially in the latter, kindness always wins!

When things don’t work out, think of all the tough moments you have gone through and safely assume that your partner has been through the same. Don’t get judgemental, instead see if you can find or create options for yourself? This might actually be revealing to you. It may show you a different way to approach your dancing. Not simply offering different technique tools but offering THE technique tool!

Which is… Adapting! Or simply put, making do with what you got! A much kinder approach towards yourself and towards your partner.

Try it out next time you practice or go to a milonga, it is actually fun!

Chrisa

P.S: For more writings such as this, that go beyond technique tips, check out our book “It Takes You to Tango”

Tango Misconceptions and how to dance through them

We have shared a lot of practical tips and drills on Tango and that this post can be a bit different and focus on misconceptions about Tango. We will get a chance in this way to exchange thoughts and ideas on things that we thought worked but actually didn’t or vice versa we thought they didn’t work and we realized they worked wonders.

If you have Tango misconception stories, share them with me, either by commenting on this post or by filling out this survey..!

Tango misconceptions and the “one-size-fits-all”

We usually start Tango or any type of dance really, to learn something new, to have fun, to have a social yet productive evening out, to share some time with a friend or partner etc. In general, it is for a social/ fun reason that we get into it. And so we don’t expect to feel stuck, frustrated, tired and like failures…haha…while we are at it..!

There are many reasons why this might have happened and may happen to us, but one of the many reasons, is actually the one size fits all approach that is followed some times in teaching dance in general and Tango in particular.

Now, let’s clarify one thing before we carry on, I am not saying that no rules apply and that everyone should find their own Tango. 
What I am saying is that the way one teaches those rules, whether they are related to a specific Tango style or not, needs to be adaptable to the group and the individuals in that group. 
Every one of us has a different body, different movement habits, a different background and therefore a different understanding of dance and movement. As such we can not be expected to all learn in the same way.

Therefore, when something is presented to us as “this is how it is”, and even worse when body mechanics are thrown into the mix to support purely stylistic rules, it is highly possible that many of us will not be able to work it out in our bodies; or if we do, it might still feel uncomfortable. 

So with all that in mind, lets take a look at our first video on Tango misconceptions where we explore what is actually a stylistic rule compared to body mechanics rule. 

A misconception is not a lie and doesn’t imply complete ignorance..!

Before we carry on, I wanted to add a note here for all of us that might be struggling with a specific element and may now be thinking that they have been let down by their teachers and/ or by themselves.

A misconception is not a lie nor does it imply complete ignorance. A misconception is a different understanding maybe even a misunderstanding. So if you are feeling a bit frustrated now, think that this how we learn, how we progress. We make assumptions, some of them will stand and some will need to be reassessed. This whole process is what brings us to knowledge. So you haven’t wasted your time! On the contrary you have been learning! And most importantly, you have been engaging in something that you are passionate about!

As you will see in our video below, we start with the misconception of ochos being a stand-alone Tango step; but we don’t stop there. We will then see a different perspective, where the ochos are simply “walks in different directions”. We are exploring a different perspective and we are acknowledging the shift from how we were approaching ochos before. This way we are 2 things:

  1. That ochos are really walks and not a special step and
  2. How to learn and progress. In the beginning we see and practice ochos as a stand alone step; that may be necessary to reduce frustration. After a while though we need to reassess and start connecting the dots between walking and ochos, for Tango as a whole to make sense.

Making the healthy choice

Before I let you go, I would like to share 2 insights with the group:

  • When you find that a movement is uncomfortable or even worse painful, take a moment to assess. I know this might sound obvious but it is not really obvious when we are in action. Usually we see other people following through and we think we should push through the discomfort. Take a moment to consider whether this movement is rewarding for you at the moment. The end result may be something you want to work towards; but if you experiencing discomfort, you still haven’t found the right path to get there.
    Misconceptions may be hiding in the end result or in the path or in both. If any part of the movement feels wrong to you, it probably is..!
  • Sometimes progress comes not from practicing Tango itself. It can some from a shift in our understanding of movement in small everyday type of movement habits. 
    Posture is great example! If you introduce in small dosages of mindfulness and awareness on how you carry your body through your everyday life, this will make your day more enjoyable and change your posture in Tango inevitably. It doesn’t apply to every Tango element but it captures a fair bit!

So what Tango misconceptions have you tackled..? Share your great stories with me I would love to hear them! And don’t forget to subscribe for more content such as this

Enjoy,

Chrisa Assis

P.S: Completely unrelated but it will brighten your day… Check out Pro Dancer Shoes, they have an amazing collection for all Tango shoe lovers. I got a pair of my own, I loved it and now I am proudly affiliated with them. Take a look! 😉