If you are in any movement practice I am sure you have heard your teachers encourage you to move past your comfort zone; meaning to challenge yourselves. But how do you know you are in the zone to begin with? How do you know the limits of your comfort? And most importantly what does it take for you to acknowledge discomfort?
Finding the balance between comfort and discomfort
How would you know comfort if you don’t experience discomfort? Also, consider this, how would you begin to define discomfort if discomfort was part of the comfort zone?
If you defining comfort as in not painful, it means that pain is your only indication of discomfort. Discomfort then is part of your comfort zone because you can’t hear all the other signals of discomfort the body is giving you until you reach pain.
Similarly if you think of comfort as easy, as time that there is no challenge, you have made discomfort part of the comfort zone plus you are eliminating the possibility of learning and progressing while not being physically challenged.
Signs of discomfort can be as subtle as inhibited breathing, when you feel as if you are holding your breath. How many times have you been in that situation? I am sure, plenty. Have you ever considered this discomforting? Most likely not.
Picking up all the signals will allow you to be more aware of the boundary between comfort and discomfort. Defining the boundary will then allow you to push past it when you feel ready, when you are comfortable to do so. Lastly, it will allow you to be more empathetic with other people, more understanding of their situation as you will have a deeper understanding of the different shades of discomfort and how they can appear in the body.
An excellent video that speaks more about this yin-yang relationship and our movement practice, is this video of Ido Portal speaking on mindfulness. It is short but very much to the point and has inspired me to look for balance in my practice and in my approach to movement.
P.S: Looking for balance? Try out our latest workshop!
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:
That ochos are really walks and not a special step and
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
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! 😉
We practice on musicality, on rhythm, rhythmical variations of steps, on matching sequences to specific musical textures, orchestras, styles… Overall we practice on listening and understanding the music. So what are we really practicing here? Options! Creating options or better yet having options readily available while we improvise.
Rhythmical Variations that create options
One of the most fascinating exercises I have been taught, was by Mariana Montes and Sebastian Arce in a festival in Kalamata Greece, quite a few years back now. It was around the ocho cortado, and how one can perform the step in different rhythms.
The rhythmical variations we were taught back then were so fascinating to me, not only because they offered me different ways to do the same step, and therefore match it to different music but because I got to reshape the step.
Ok! Before I get into that, let me share with you a video where I have reproduced that ocho cortado rhythmical variation exercise so we can actually have a point of reference
Reshaping the ocho cortado
Usually we see the Ocho Cortado as one whole sequence consisting of 6 steps. When we go through the rhythmical variation #1 where we step on the downbeat, every one of these steps, by having its own beat, becomes an entity of its own.
Then when we add the pauses on step #3 and #6 the ocho cortado breaks into 2 sequences instead of 1 and the same happens when we syncopate it.
When we go slow, though we are now playing with one sequence, the sequence is now very flexible, greyed out around the edges almost. And lastly, taking a step on beat #7, shifts the beginning and ending of the sequence around, so we really end up with 6 different sequences.
See how much richer our dance vocabulary has become just by playing with only one of the most basic Tango sequences. Now think of all the other sequences you have learned over the years, can you do something similar? Can you possibly come up with ideas on how shift and reshape those sequences?
Creating options is another skill!
I have learned this from James Altucher who is not a Tango dancer but he is surely an explorer..! So he said, that he practices on his idea muscle daily! Fascinating right?
He uses it for business. We can use it for Tango… and for business of course if you like. So here is my suggestion, and believe me it is fun..! Now that you have an idea of how this can work out, take one of the basic Tango sequences, such as the box step or even just walking, write down 5 different ways that you think you can perform that step and then actually try those ideas out with music!
If you need some inspo we will be doing something similar in a Tango Movement Lab on Wednesday 12:15pm going on live through Facebook and Youtube. And if you are looking for even more inspo join our classes that will be full of rhythm and music..!
What you taste like… when you dance..! Not as horrifying a question… push Hannibal Lector away (haha)… when you think of the taste, the impression, the sensation you get when you dance, when perform a move.
After last week’s Mid-week Tango practice I got a very interesting question on the Youtube chat, that went something like this: What textures in the music fit well with doing cross in the dance?
As you will see in the link I attempted a quick answer, but now it is the time for an answer that goes more in depth. So lets pick a song, for example “Comme il faut” by Carlos Di Sarli start with the basics, and gradually go deeper and probably more subjective
Basic “movement structures” suggested by the music
I am sure we have all heard of linear, and circular structures in Tango, and how they match the music. But I would like suggest one more structure the circular progressive. We have therefore 3 movement structures suggested by the music , linear, circular progressive and circular:
Step #1 therefore would be to identify these structures on the music
Try to go through the song identifying where the music suggests linear structures, circular progressive and circular. For example, the song starts linear till about 0:15 when things start to change to circular progressive until about 0:33 that we start going back to linear until 0:45 where circular comes in briefly etc.
After spending some time to identify these structural qualities in the music then you can start matching steps to it. At that point, the first thing one would think of doing, of course, is walking on the linear, ochos on circular progressive and giros on the circular. Great choice for a start..!
What happens in between..?
What happens in between though? This is one of my favourite themes, the transition..! The in between, when we are shifting the weight or pausing?
Those moments, need to match the music of course, but not only in terms of timing but also as a preparation for what is coming afterwards and also in terms of texture.
The cross step is a beautiful example because it is a shift of weight which includes a small twist to it. That makes it a beautiful opportunity to either transition from linear to circular or to create a linear step but with a little taste of circular from the cross and on top of those two options add a change of sensation.
Another example could be any pause during a dance. How you hold the embrace, the space between you and your partner has a quality, a texture, a taste. That of course depends on the music and your partner as well but primarily depends on you..!
Texture is subjective
I don’t like using the word musicality because there are so many things involved when using this word, so I have been carefully avoiding it. I have also been carefully avoiding to speak about the beat, the rhythm, the tone etc. and generally the technical aspects of music.
Though these are requirements, they are fundamentals, this post is not about that. And so I will similarly avoid talking about the cliche phrase “We all hear differently”… Well yes and no but let’s instead talk about how we all respond differently to what we hear. I would think we can all agree to that.
Going back to our song Comme il faut and after identifying those movement structures we can start exploring past that and try to find qualities of movement.
How would we go about to that?
This is what I usually do, but I am sure someone else might follow a different process. While listening to the song:
I write down words that come to mind that would characterize what I am hearing. Some examples, dynamic, playful, delicate, passionate, flowery, colourful, embellished
Then I write down sensations, for example it smells like Spring, has like a little breeze to it and tastes like a sweet spice
Lastly I dance to the words above. Aside from linear, circular progressive or circular how does the movement feel
It is highly likely you will come up with a different list of words. That depends on your personality, your previous experiences, your expectations, goals etc.
So this is a second layer that allows you to filter the music through your body, mind and soul and express yourself not through different movements but different textures.
Is there an easy way to practice this?
Practice I am not sure if it is ever easy but if you are struggling with finding the beat or the rhythm, it is likely that the dancing part of the above bullet point list might be a bit difficult and frustrating.
So I would like to suggest we take a step back and become creative in a slightly different way… Here you go, give it a try..! (Spoiler, it is kids friendly and you can try this with multiple different colours too)
At that time, it was JUST a cool new thing to learn… and you can imagine what happened when frustration started building.. There were no steps, it was always all improvisational, and slow… and tough..! it like we were always looking for something but without knowing what we were looking for while getting more frustrated in the process… Reminds you of something..? haha
Does any of this have to do with Tango…? (yes…read on..!hah)
The years went by I felt that there more to be discovered, that I hadn’t reached my full potential yet, but I didn’t know how to explore and reach that potential. Thankfully Pablo Veron was in Montreal and I grabbed the opportunity for a private class…
Needless to say the class was amazing..! Of the whole class though there was ONE phrase that changed my Tango-life, “Think about your atlas”…
At that moment, something in mind went: “BOOM! I know what I need to do..!”
As they say though, when the student is ready the teacher will come. And surely enough, Mariko Tanabe was running a workshop in Toronto shortly after. Body Mind Centering was there for me and I was ready to dive into it!
What I was missing then was not the technique… It was urge, the hunger to explore beyond steps, sequences and technique tips; to discover how the human body was built to move and unlock in this way more efficient and expressive ways to dance.
I would like to extend an invitation
So if you are feeling stuck and you know that you are missing something but you are not sure what that something is. If you want to find ways to make your dances more enjoyable for the body and the mind and to give yourself the opportunity to keep on moving despite any limitations then I think you will enjoy this chat with Mariko Tanabe a lot.