“Don’t forget to breathe!” I love the absurdity of this phrase..! Honestly, how did this become a cue I wonder..? haha Have you tried to hold your breath through a pose during yoga for example..? Unless you are a very good diver, holding your breath could only last a few torturous seconds and you would definitely know!
Can we forget to breathe?
You can’t really forget to breathe. Because you don’t need to remember to breathe, you simply, automatically do. If you are holding your breath you also know, it is very clear, intentional and obvious. So what do they mean by that cue?
My take on this is, when we are holding a position or when we are overthinking something our breathing may be inhibited, meaning it might not be as efficient as it could be. As such every action feels effortful, straining and draining. For example, if you pull your bellybutton in then your ribcage can not expand and move upward with every inhale and so your breathing will be inhibited, your inhales will be shallow and you will feel as if you are holding your breath.
It is not really therefore that we forget to breathe, but other movement choices may be coming in the way of efficient and effortless breathing thus creating that feeling of a hold of breath.
What can we do to change that?
With this explanation in mind, we can start looking at the movement patterns of breathing and allow for those movement patterns to inform our posture and our movement as a whole. This way our breathing will flow and we will feel supported by the renewed energy of every breath.
To support this approach our cues will also have to change. The cue “don’t forget to breathe” though it might come handy some times, reminding to pause and breathe fully, it is addressing the issue causing the inhibition. It needs therefore to be replaced by a cue addressing posture and movement options. The quality of our breathing can actually be a new cue in it of itself. As you are practicing notice your breathing; are you feeling that your breathing flows effortlessly uninhibited? If not try to find the right adjustment in your posture and movement to free the breath.
P.S: Interested in a breathing and posture workshop, check out this video
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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! 😉
See that title..? haha From feet to Tango, to injuries and all the way to weather… Things that might appear unrelated, sometimes interestingly enough they do connect in this vast network we call the human body.
Our body responds to everything, in some way… it might be an obvious response or it might be a very subtle one. Leading and following in Tango is actually based on responding…not only from the follower but also from the leader.
Injuries and how to prevent them
After sharing the video above, that was on feet as the foundation of our walk, I received a set of interesting questions/ thoughts. They were around ankle stability and injury and how we can prevent them or be able to live with and dance through them.
To prevent them we need to increase our knowledge and awareness of the human body, so we can make healthier movement choices. Tango allows us to explore that because it is based on walking. Discovering how we were built to walk will help our Tango but will also give us the tools we need to prevent injury, to the extent possible of course.
Accidents do happen though… so what do we do then..?
How can we get to a point where we feel safe and secure in our bodies after being injured? Injury may actually be a second chance to learn more about our body. If you need a brace for example learn what it does, and which part of your ankle is it supporting/ replacing. Then explore that area with tenderness and care. You will see that slowly your mind will start creating a map of that joint area. The injury tore the map to pieces and now carefully with massage and subtle movement you can put the pieces of the map together. Will that bring the joint back to its initial state? Well, that depends on the injury of course, it may or it may not. But what it will certainly do is give you the awareness you need to move on that foot; for example give you a clear picture of the range of motion around all axes or of the necessary alignment. You can then make better choices as you are moving/ dancing.
Again, Tango at its bare bones is such a caring dance! You can take it really slow if you like and notice where and when you need to make adjustments as you take a step. And if you have a good partner along with you, you can have immediate feedback on how any of the choices affect your posture, or even your energy/ tension/ connection.
Social Tango or maybe we can say Tango Salon, is not really a dance with special requirements, like for example ballet, unless of course we go into specific Tango styles that focus on creating a specific image. That makes Tango ideal for all ages to enjoy and for everyone of us to become a bit wiser on body mechanics.
Now you probably wonder how is the weather related to feet, injury or Tango..!
Noticing how the weather affects you, is the first step to awareness. Every day can not be the same, so why are so shocked when we actually notice that. If you are feeling stiff because it is cold, then give yourself a bit of time to warm up before you start going about your day. Or if you wake up and you are low in energy and your tone is low, then give yourself some time to bring that tone up. In both examples by the way gentle shaking helps..!
The idea overall is, spend time becoming more aware of YOU..! And to get started you don’t need to do anything else but to notice how your body feels when you wake up every day. Then as your awareness increases you will be able to capture more and more feedback, as you move and as you dance.
Maybe this video on feet and weight transfer trajectory can be the second step…
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P.S: If you are wearing heels when you are dancing, check this article out
Last week we were taking about posture and whether one can/ should maintain a specific body position throughout the dance. Inevitably therefore the conversation turned to ochos and whether we should cross the legs.
Crossing the legs in Tango
Let’s first take a look at what that means exactly in the Tango world. You might already be familiar with the specific movement option, but in case you are not, we are talking about bringing one leg right in line with the other while stepping forward or backwards. We are usually cued to do that to isolate the movement of the torso from that of the hips.
Why do choose to cross the legs?
When we cross the legs we lock the hips and lower spine in position. That creates the impression of the hips being square and parallel to the floor. Also, the upper body appears to have a clean rotation over the lower body with a more sharp disassociation.
What limitations does that movement option have?
This option however has some limitations. First, it limits the side tilt range of the spine. Side tilt, as we will see in the video below is coupled with torsion due to the anatomy of the spine, meaning the two movements always happen together.
Second, due to the side tilt limitation, the angle of the pivot is also limited. You see the bigger the pivot the more necessary the side tilt is. With the hips in a lock the side tilt may happen further up in the spine where it may affect the embrace, create tension in our neck, arms and between the shoulder blades and throw us off balance.
What does that mean physically for us?
From an anatomy perspective there are two important issues with this option. One is the side tilt limitation we talked about above. The second is that we will have sheer of forces running outward to the right and left of each hip joint.
Starting from the latter, when we place one foot in front of the other, then our movement options are at the end of range, for example we are at the end of range for adduction. That creates a feeling of tension or pressure through key joint surfaces, such as the hips and knees.
That is though related to the upper body as well. It limits the options our spine has at diaphragm height in terms of torsion and side tilt. Why is that? Well the reasons are more than one, but it really boils down to the shape and orientation of the joints, the muscles and connective tissue of the human body.
So would we say this is a movement option that we want to maintain in our vocabulary?
In terms of Tango it can be a stylistic option that creates a very powerful and dynamic impression. However if we are to use it we would need to be aware of the physical limitations and risks which we spoke about above.
From an anatomical point of view it certainly is not the most efficient and healthy option for us. It locks certain parts of the body and that requires a lot more muscle work to pull through an ocho. If we don’t care so much for the Tango style it is better to choose a movement option that allows the whole body to participate in a more efficient way.
Let me know what you think and send me your questions on this matter or any other to do with posture or ochos..!
Do you keep your posture? Or better said, to you think of posture as something that you hold/ keep or as something that you move through, something that changes?
As part of our Q&A section on Posture we are exploring the perspective of “holding a posture”. If you have any question/ thought, send it through at email@example.com I would love to hear from you.
Until then though let’s see the question/ trouble/ thought of the week:
Q: When you keep your posture in one way, does it help or hinder your dance? Are there other ways to keep your posture that are more or less effective?” Overly keeping my posture hinders my movement.
A: Overall, and this is related to your questions regarding ochos and saccadas that have already reached me, posture is a moment by moment case. Meaning that we can’t have the same posture when we are walking, standing, pivoting etc. We can’t see posture in Tango as one thing that we set it and forget it because it is part of our movement. An example from life would be expecting to have the same posture when we are standing and when we are running or when we are sitting. We are asking our body to take a specific action, for each action to be successful AND efficient the whole body will need to coordinate and participate. So to run we will incline a bit forward something we don’t need to do when standing, amongst other things.
In Tango it is the same thing, especially when we are working with torsion. Torsion is one of the most dangerous actions we can ask our body to do. Our spine only allows it in specific areas and it is always coupled with side tilt; based on spine anatomy torsion and side tilt always go together. That means therefore that when we twist to get in an ocho, our shoulders would be uneven; one would be higher than the other. We can use muscle to hide the side tilt, so it is not obvious BUT it is still happening in the spine plus when you engage the muscle you won’t be able move easily in and out of the ochos. The latter you are already feeling most likely…
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!”