I see movement as an ocean where we can’t see the end in length, in width or in depth. We choose one or more movement practices and we start exploring, be it dance, fitness, yoga, martial arts, you decide.
Tango is my chosen way of exploring movement and in understanding my body. Fitness for me comes next and by adding the perspective of strengthening is a strong component in this system of body awareness. I know many people who feel this way for Yoga and Tango, or Tai -Chi and Tango for example with different added perspectives of course.
Movement the connecting thread
The connecting thread between all movement practices is movement itself, movement technique, movement understanding and then body, self and human understanding. With the latter being for me the greatest achievement… but we will get back to that a bit later..!
So movement technique, not Tango technique. Tango is a dance style and as all dance styles has multiple styles itself with some common elements but many different characteristics. To teach therefore all the characteristics that make Tango…Tango… I dive into biomechanics to see how our body is built to move and create these characteristics. To this very thing Fitness comes in to help.
Let’s see posture for example; but lets look at posture not as a pose but as a movement. I bet you can see the common thread with Tango in the pictures below..? 😉
I would like to share with you, the latest Live Tango practice as well as the latest Exercise of the Week as examples of Fitness and Tango!
As you will see it is not some crazy hybrid of the two…haha… on the contrary the two practices keep their grounds and are clearly distinct but the common thread is revealed as well! 😉
And I am sure that if there are any two movement practices you follow, you can find, with some exploration and some digging, the common ground. Then you will feel great power, a force revealing so much more to you about your movement, about your body and human nature and therefore about the other.
This is something I had felt myself but recently one of the members of the Bautanz community shared with me as well as their experience. After a certain time of digging wider and deeper comes a deeper understanding about our partners and other people we share the dance floor with. We listen and observe more but also show more compassion for the other. Through understanding ourselves we understand our partner, we understand our fellow dancers, we understand the world.
So when I starting practicing alone aka without a partner it was because I could feel that something was missing, that I could be a more active and expressive dancer but I didn’t quite know how to do that.
After some time things settle and I found my ways and Bautanz was born but this is not an article about Bautanz but about one great question I got from a member of our community, Mandy: “Do you have any suggestions for incorporating these ideas [on balance, alignment etc] into a partnership?“
Is individual practice the problem?
Mandy explained that though while practicing without her partner everything is great but once they come together to dance things start falling apart.
One of the things, amongst others of course, that causes these off-balance moments is that each partner is working on figuring things out in his/her body and fails to pay attention to what the other person is doing. It is not on purpose that we are ignoring our partner but there are so many other things we need to focus on from one step to the next, that we fail to pay enough attention to our partner.
Many people say point exactly to that in fact to prove that one shouldn’t be practicing alone. That argument however can be defeated when we see soccer players, tennis players, ballerinas you name it training on their own.
Individual practice is not what causes the problem in connection, it is what reveals it! Once you start exploring further a creative process of change starts to happen and that is when start to realize trouble with moving with another person.
Also, as with any change, change in movement habits takes time! For us to realize what we are doing wrong, to explore the suggested other options, to understand how each suits our bodies and then to replace what we don’t need anymore with a new habit; This is a lengthy process, very creative but also lengthy! So it will take some time for things to settle, for new habits to get established so we can then focus more on our connection and how our movement affects our partner.
That is in fact why I created Bautanz and an online course called Intelligent Tango PROGRAMS & COURSES–INTELLIGENT TANGO, to speed the process of creating new habits through an individual practice.
Practicing on how to listen
You are probably wondering if I am actually suggesting that you just keep at it and hope for the best..! haha Thankfully not, as there is a way to get more connected to your partner and explore movement at the same time and that is through touch, observation and feedback. And that could happen in two ways
Let’s use the above video as an example, if you are not practicing with a partner, during your individual practices you can get feedback from surfaces you can possibly lie down on or lean against. Once on the ground as in the video above you can get bodily feedback on how your head, back, hips and feet are moving on the floor.
You start gathering information on how these body parts move when you move your arms. But also there is the opportunity to observe how your movement changes as you release more weight, or as you turning, if you adjust your head etc.
In this video, all of the above apply of course, but I want to use as an example when you practice with your partner. Aside from the feedback you can gather from meeting the floor you can also ask your partner to place a hand on your shoulders, back, your head or hips, and just observe how you move without affecting your movement, only observing almost like passively following. Touch will reveal to both of you how that specific spot of the body moves and how part affects the other. It will give both you more information about movement that you can then take it with you when you are leading and following. Then of course you change roles, you will be touching and observing
Time to give feedback…
Last but not least in the process is the exchange of feedback. This is an important part of the process and a rather difficult one. It is very easy to fall into the trap of not expressing how the movement felt. So again using the video above as an example you want to go deeper and describe what your hands felt, for example: “as you were settling in the tabletop position, your shoulder blades felt like they were sliding and turning, as the spine was reorienting. You back muscles felt like they were expanding as your sides and core were condensing.”
Avoid staying on the surface with feedback such as it felt good, or strong or smooth. Try to go a deeper and describe the movement. Make sense out of what your hands felt. Then you try the exercise again focusing on each of the elements your partner noticed and guiding each other through touch.
Could I do this with Tango drills..?
Absolutely! This process can happen with any movement, only you would probably need to move a bit slower than usual if you are doing walks or ochos. But surely your partner can place their hands on your shoulders, back, chest, stomach, head etc and go through the same process as above.
It will heighten your awareness of your own body and movement but also of your partner’s. Touch is though an excellent way to practice “listening” through touch. Tango is based on touch and the feedback we receive through it. If we are not able to listen through touch and respond then it becomes difficult and the movement has a very mechanical almost robotic quality.
Every practice session needs to be rewarded
Extra bonus… a Dance! I would to encourage you to dance one song after your practice or at a random time without the intention to practice but with the intention to dance and enjoy moving with or without a partner.
It is not however an easy task. You will be putting yourself to the test trying to put all the things “you should be working on” to the side and letting the experience of moving inform your knowing.
I wasn’t doing that for a long time. Instead every chance I got I practiced trying to get things right, trying to get better faster. It was very frustrating, and made my dances really hard to enjoy. So though being in the unknown, without an outline of what needs to be taken care of, of what you need to focus on, can be discomforting, it can also help you understand your body, your movement and your partner at a deeper level. Plus it is a great reward to allow yourself to dance after spending time practicing!
Touch, observe, listen and don’t fear the unknown!
P.S 3rd week of September we will be starting session of live online classes. If you are interested check it out here: Online Tango Classes- Live
I know everyone is on the web and there is this great big online community being built almost out of nowhere… However, do we move as much as before? Do we take walks in the parks and dance in our living rooms? Have we realized how much we have missed and have we found a way to keep going in a healthy way?
I honestly don’t have any answers for any of the above questions. Judging though from personal experience I have noticed how my mood heavily affects my movement schedule and vice versa during these strange times.
What you were or were not doing before Covid is not relative to the experience really, as there wasn’t really much of a choice in the quarantine. But even now… this is a very strange normality..! We are almost afraid of each other. For me it is not the rules but the unknown…the “what if”…that creates the fear. So how do we battle with that?
Some people have though figured it out
Some people have figured it out. I am not talking about the people appearing on the media pretending to have it all figured out…no…but about others that have spent enough time thinking and preparing for the inevitable. And I think the answer on how to keep going hides somewhere there.
This is Eileen Kramer she is now officially a choreographer but she has never stopped dancing even at the age of 104.
Dancing as she says is “making order out of chaos” and then by the end of the video “good health depends a lot on you, what you eat, what you think, what you have suffered and what you have recovered from. You do have to prepare for age…“
How do we think about the situation we are put in, aka Covid? Can we prepare for similar situation where we would have to deal with another kind of isolation and movement restrictions? How we deal with the distance, the required space? Are we preparing for a future similar situation thinking of how we could better feel and fill this void and stay active. Especially the later, staying active… Creating opportunities to move, to experience sensations and emotions that will give birth to new movement. Can this motivate us, make us feel creative and inspired? Are we preparing for that? Can we include more of that in our lives?
I am not sure we are preparing for the future, I think, we are just making our way through this mess. But maybe that is just me… haha
However, if you feel like I do, it is never too late to start!
A tiny habit, something that will take you for example 30secs to do. You attach that after something you do very often like washing your hands and so you do it every time after you wash your hands. At the end you celebrate! You congratulate yourself! And that is it!
So building a habit can actually be fun, simple and almost effortless. Because you don’t dedicate too much time up front instead you start small and then you keep on building gradually!
You can read all about the method in the link above. But this is what I have come up with to bring this into Tango, the Exercise of the Week. Every week there is one exercise that takes max 2mins to do. Each one of us can decide the action we would like to attach that to and there we have it..! Sparks of moving habits… Any of the exercises can last longer, can become the base of a full Tango practice routine if you would like to build up to that. But starting off, maybe we can’t or we don’t feel like spending 30mins for Tango practice, so starting tiny with 2mins can be the beginning of longer and longer-lasting practice!
Think about it, 2mins nothing really…Do it though every time after you wash your hands aaaand then we have a different story, right?
That is my suggestion and what I have been exploring. Give it go and let me know how it goes!
In this week’s Live tango practice, we worked on the suspension created in the embrace. It was an attempt to connect the dots, between the message received through the hands/ arms and the action taken from legs.
Taking the time to yield
I wanted to take the opportunity to explain a bit more in depth the element of suspension, pulse and yielding. These are all words used during this practice and sometimes words don’t communicate in the best of ways what we can communicate through movement.
Let’s start from the latter, yielding, because if we don’t yield we can’t efficiently suspend and create a pulse. Yielding shouldn’t be confused with relaxing or letting go. We are reaching for the ground, the sky, our partner prior to taking action. In that state we are ready to act, but we have already established our connection, our support.
It is that connection and support that we don’t want to loose while moving. Instead we want to carry it along with us as we go. And so the lead and follow shouldn’t be described as press and resist, but more as a coming together, as supporting each other. Therefore the frame needs to be elastic, and absorbent without collapsing though. It is that elasticity, that spring that transfers the message through the arms to the body while keeping us connected.
It is in our anatomy
All of this we see it supported by the human anatomy. Even in the most solid element of our body, the bones, there is moisture, there is fluid and elasticity. One of the contractions our muscles create is actually the elastic recoil. Our breathing has a pulse, a spring in it. We have experience from yielding to the earth, feeling grounded, secure, calm and confident before acting. Or when we immerse ourselves in a conversation with a dear friend where there is a continuous effortless connection. We also have experience of things not happening not efficiently. When we try to lift something without the necessary preparation. Or when we are angry and our movement becomes rigid and out of our control. Also, when we are stressed and not breathing properly.
So we have the experience of yielding, connecting and elasticity. It is indeed in a different context but we still there for us. We can be further explore through Tango and all other dance forms and movement practices.
Leading and Following through the arms
Speaking in Tango terms, I would encourage you to think and practice leading/ following through the arms and not with the arms.
And though it is not easy to explore partnership alone, it is essential. Practicing on your own, allows you to spend time experiencing your body moving and allowing for that experience to inform your knowing. In parallel practicing with a partner is equally important. It has to be though someone who is honest and able to share with you their experience. Still though that doesn’t undermine the importance of your personal practice. If you don’t spent time self-exploring you can’t have a discussion with your partner, you simply adjust to satisfy them. In order to progress, you need to be able to build on solid grounds, grounds of understanding and awareness. Then you can make conscious decisions on how to progress instead of adjustments on the spot.
More resources below… 😉
So if I have inspired you to further explore the embrace here are some extra videos to do so:
How can one-size-fits-all apply in a social dance setting when we all unique in terms of body type, age, fitness, cultural background etc?
A great question!
After our mid-week Tango practice on Wednesday I a question via Youtube that I felt it is an excellent question for us to discuss how different body types can or cannot fit in certain Tango rules; and overall how the one-size-fits-all doesn’t quite work in social dancing.
Following is the video, from our practice and the question right after that, lets see:
“Chrisa, something that no one ever talks about, and I can’t get non fat dancers to understand, are the techniques needed by the fat dancer. Now, I do not use fat as a bad word, I reclaim it, and refuse to make it synonymous with wrong. And also, I need to accommodate my roundness. It is soawkward to be in class, and have an instructor remind me not to swing a hip, not to arch my back, when the real reason I do these things is because of my large belly. When you have substantial thighs, it changes your stance, collection, even the ability to flick a swift secada. I realize this is off topic from your video, but do you have any insights for the fat dancer? Tricks to maintain tango posture when you have extra curves to work around? Thank you <3″ F.L
The truth of the Style Vs The truth of the Dancer
I want to thank again our commenter for this question and dissect the matter in two parts:
Diversity of styles
Biomechanics Vs Tango Style
Diversity of Styles
There is an unavoidable conflict between the truth carried through by the rules for each style and the truth stemming from the dancer’s experience. Of course there are many ways to train dancers to perform and look a certain way, many types of dance achieve that, with ballet being one excellent example. However there are certain expectations to be met by all ballerinas in terms of looks, body structure and analogies. This is why there are certain restrictions apply in terms of age, body type, body shape, fitness etc. That is also why the choice to follow a career as a professional ballet dancer happens very early in one’s life when the body and character are very adaptable to change. That is also why ballet dancers retire at a very early age.
Social Tango is not like that though. Quite the contrary it is dance that is danced by 90 year olds with very different body analogies, with loss in muscle etc etc. So would we say for example that Oscar and Nina are bad dancers?!?! I highly doubt it! See them in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQotX3sFahI
So as I perceive it, a style is a place to start learning but then we have to take into account the the experience of our body. And those two things are equally important and equally true. Everyone of us is unique in some way, and that uniqueness needs space, a lot of space in a social dance.
Biomechanics Vs Tango Style
We can’t judge a style, a style is based mostly on aesthetics. It is a design. A beautiful design but still a design that one person or a group of people came up with based on their personal goals, experiences, expectations and so on. So it wouldn’t be possible nor fair. But we can judge movement based on anatomy and biomechanics. Then each of us can make an informed decision whether you want to pursuit a specific tango style despite the possible strain or risk due to inconguence with anatomy and biomechanics.
So firstly, based on anatomy and specifically the structure of the human skeleton in order to balance the forces going through the joints and to have an effective distribution of weight when standing on two feet, the placement of the feet should be such to support the hips. Having the feet together 100% doesn’t meet that requirement since the pelvis flairs outward. Similarly, the flair of the feet, meaning the turn out, depends on the structure of your hips, how wide or narrow the hips are. So overall some people will have their feet closer together, not though fully connected, than others and also for some people the turn out will be bigger than others.
Walking and biomechanics
Now when we walk our hips are not supposed to be square, they are supposed to swing, it’s scientifically what we call: locomotion. And it is not the only movement happening in our hips when we walk. In fact walking involves the whole body and the more chaotic it feels the more efficient it most likely is. There is the “C” shape movement we talked about in our practice session and there is also a wave in the spine. You can see all of this here:
Can you stop all this from happening ? Sure you can! But why would you? If you actually look a little closer and dig a little deeper, these movements actually help you connect with your partner in much more efficient way..! You can see it in our previous practices here: https://bautanz.com/online-tango-practice/
And of course along with all that goes posture and centre of gravity. Your posture changes depending on what action you wish to perform. As you can see in the video above maintaining a specific upper body position works against your intention to walk forward or backward and would therefore require more muscle work to make it all happen. Lastly our center of gravity, will be different depending on the shapes we create or have in our bodies. It is not a fixed spot and how could it be? By physics that would be impossible.
My suggestion to you
If you have learned Tango now spend some time learning your body through movement. Understand how one thing relates to the other, what kind of relationships they have and what kind of movements they create due to those relationships and structure
Start learning about your body to better dance with/in/through it. Understanding how our body was built to move for me is the number one step to take when you really want to free up your social dance but also when you want to structure your dance training knowing, acknowledging and weighing in the risks you take compared to the choices you have
If you had the opportunity to practice with me on Wednesday you probably noticed that a big part of the class was about this wave-like, this spiral movement our body follows when walking that can help us transition smoothly to ochos.
The spiral as an experience
I wanted to share some extra information on the idea behind this practice and a few extra videos that you can practice with. The idea behind all this is the defining element of the spiral. The spiral is not just some random shape that happens to appear in certain parts of the body. It is not just a shape that allows for efficiency of movement. The spiral is our existence, it is literally our DNA. And DNA being the carrier of hereditary material it is experience! The spiral in this way exists in our every move from our cells to our highest boleos!
Therefore, finding the spiral in your movement, even in the ones that look fairly straight, will heighten your awareness of your movement and it will energize your whole body with it’s vibrancy.
An important characteristic: progressive wholeness
When picturing a spiral of any type, we associate it, and rightfully so, with continuous energy. However, I would like to add to that and say that there is also the element of progressive wholeness A spiral always moves switching between condensing and expanding, with continuous transition between the two and a continuous coexistence. Try to feel the movement through your body when you walk and when you ocho–in the latter it is of course more evident–as a transition and coexistence of condensing and expanding. Instead of thinking how each muscle body part should move try to feel whole. And specifically a wholeness deriving from the continuous flow of the spiral and not through squeezing, pulling, pushing, holding etc.
And so to make it more specific let’s look at our practice. We explored forward and backward ochos feeling how the back and core muscles condense and expand and how one can create a different quality of movement making one or the other action (condensing-expanding) primary. This is an excellent practice to follow if you wish to explore different Tango styles but also if you want to work on expressing yourself better on the music.