Frey Faust has been a teacher and mentor to me and many others around the world. When you visit his personal website https://www.freyfaust.org you will see his bio titled as “dancer, choreographer, teacher, writer, artisan… etc.” so the first time we attempted this chat I had to ask the question what would the most appropriate title… And he said to me: “I am a person… human… animal. All these titles are things I do, not who I am. I am working towards my potential as a person, trying to have a quality existence and also make the world a better place for me and however many people I can. Everything I do has these underlying motivations.“
I got to know Frey through his work, the “Axis Syllabus” for which you can find more about here http://www.axissyllabus.org. I was at a frustrating curve in my Tango practice when I took a class with Pablo Veron; the greatest thing I was reminded of in that class was that I need to look past Tango to look at movement holistically… And so here we are!
What is this chat about?
This chat is not specifically about Tango; it is not even about dance. It is more about movement, how to learn, how to practice, how to explore and how to inspire others to explore along with you. If you are teacher you will have the opportunity to hear some strong advise on how to approach a class, how to observe and how to listen And if you are a student you will get some starting points on practice, acquiring knowledge and building awareness of your body.
Walks and ochos are the two elements at the heart of Tango; every sequence with maybe the exception of off-axis sequences are based on walks and ochos
It is therefore important to get a good understanding of how walks and ochos work and how they can be tied together. And this is exactly what we will be focusing on in this post
Zooming In: Walks and Pivotal timing
In this first video we are putting our walks under the microscope. We capture though the whole body, aiming to understand how all the dots connect.
By focusing on the feet, the legs, the hips, the torso and the spine we will discover that the opportune moment for a pivot, hides within our step.
Once that discovery is made, we can see how a walk can turn into an ocho and vice versa. This way walks and ochos aren’t as separate, disconnected Tango elements that are need a sequence to connect them. This way we get to create options for ourselves on and off the dance floor.
Tango Technique: Zoom In on Ochos #2
In this second video there is a great focus on the upper body but again not as a separate entity.
The human body has so many fascinating links. The psoas major for example, originates in the outer surfaces of the vertebral bodies of T12 and L-1-L-3. T8-T12 is where your thoracic spine changes to Lumbar spine, so a muscle that goes around your hip reaches all the way up to your second- last rib… Fascinating! (Look here for more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psoas_major_muscle https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iliopsoas)
It is all connected I tell you!hahaha And by exploring these connections we can make our dances have much more flow, freedom and efficiency.
Tango, Body mechanics and Energy management
What was implied or talked about as secondary in the two previous videos, becomes primary now… Energy management..! Energy management not in a spiritual, abstract way, but in a very physical way. Managing the energy our bodies need to perform a movement and how can we manage our energy so it is not wasted.
Basically in this video we are aiming to make Tango feel a bit easier, at least in execution…haha…meaning that walking across the floor shouldn’t feel like a physically demanding task and pivoting also.
We put styling and personal preference to the side to examine how the body was in fact built to create these movements. Some being more chaotic than others, will require further exploration; and funnily enough walking is probably the most chaotic of all as it requires a lot of movements around different axises and on different planes.
So we have tried to come up with exercises that can help us understand a bit of the chaos, and possibly add to it; exercises that will allow us to feel a bit more comfortable in this chaotic movement and that will allow us to define the opportune moments for a change
I hope you have enjoyed this as much as I have. If you have any questions, comments or light-bulb moments drop me a line, I would love to chat with you!
It usually goes this way; a theme is chosen, with today’s theme being the cross, and then we start working on it or with it from various perspectives.
The cross where do we get stuck: a Tango perspective
Our intention overall is to understand what causes the trouble and specifically for the cross why we get stuck; why we’re unable to move past the cross itself. So in this first video we put the 2 most important stickie points under the microscope; we found paths to avoid getting stuck; we identified the body mechanics supporting these paths and made sure to look for them in our walks and embellishments.
Sticky point 1: how the free leg crosses. Without even shifting the weight crossing might be an uncomfortable position, causing a feeling of imbalance. And so we start this practice with an embellishment.
Sticky point 2: shifting the weight. We either fall into it and we then get stuck or we try so hard to stay lifted that we don’t allow any other movement to happen but pressing into the floor or we try to keep everything square ignoring the fact that we are already in a twisted position. And so the second part of the video really tries to point out how the different parts of the body reorient towards the right or towards the left, through osculation for the legs to be released from the cross. And aaaall this leads us to…
Taking it a bit further than just the cross…
We asked ourselves how does all this work on the cross can inform our body and our everyday movement and so in the next two videos we are looking to inform our walks. And then we are diving deeper into how the leg fits and moves inside the hip and how the hip moves around the leg
And a bit further…
If you think about it, there are so many spots in our body that we feel pain during Tango but also during our everyday life. Two of the most common ones is the hip joint and the lower back. Thankfully they are connected…haha… so by making our movement in the hip joint more efficient we can get rid of back pain and vice versa of course. And soooo happy feet give us happy dancers
And this is how I see practicing Tango; as an opportunity. An opportunity to create freedom in my dances but also to create healthier movement habits overall.
And so if you want to take things further yourselves, this work is based on the findings and the teachings of Frey Faust the founder of Axis syllabus (http://www.axissyllabus.org)
“There are many elements involved, all concerned with the perception, decoding and synthesis of sound and time and thus there are many forms of amusia” (…) “A.L Benton distinguishes receptive from interpretive or performance and identifies more than a dozen varieties” Musicophilia- Tales of Music and the Brain, pg. 106 (https://www.oliversacks.com/books-by-oliver-sacks/musicophilia/)
Based on Oliver Sacks the author of Musicophilia, there are quite a few different musicality trouble. For example, one might experience, rhythm deafness, tone deafness, cultural rhythm deafness, no sense of scale, melody or harmony, pitch discrimination, dystimbria and more…
And that is because music is not just beats per minute…
Starting from the music
Usually what happens is, we go to a class, we learn a bunch of sequences, either to no-music or on a specific song. Then we go to the milongas but we are not able to perform these same sequences on the music, unless we are lucky enough and that one song that our teacher used in class, is played in the milonga. That creates a feeling of emptiness, as if we didn’t really dance.
In order to address this issue, we will focus on the music itself first. So go ahead and choose any 4 songs you like, from different orchestras, and start with actively listening, trying to make sense of the music.
Making sense of the music, happens in many ways:
through hearing for its beat, tempo, rhythm etc
seeing it, usually the timbre of the music is expressed as colour
through taste, often times musicians when they talk about pitch they use taste-related words
through movement; you might catch yourself tapping your foot, or swinging the arms
or you might hum or sing etc
Try initially to just let all of these things happen, and make a note of them. Even if they are distasteful, don’t stop them from happening. Be simply a witness and not a judge to the process
On a second level, we use movement to become aware of what the music feels like. Personally, I did this like so:
Use simple, very basic movements that will not trouble you technically, to capture what the music feels like to you.
Initially, you will most likely become aware of your emotions, like feeling sad or happy, and attempt to express them through movement.
After that initial response though, try to look for the words behind those adjectives. For example, the music might feel like a punch or a gentle touch. It might be like a total collapse or a light hop. Maybe it is epidermic or visceral.
The words will describe, how your body expresses your emotions, for example, sad could be bodily expressed through total collapse, while happy could be a light hop.
Finding the flow of the movement
The previous video will allow to notice your strengths and your weaknesses regarding perceiving and interpreting music.
Have in mind that “No one has all the talents, cognitively or emotionally. Tchaikovsky was keenly aware that his great fertility of melody was not matched by a comparable grasp of musical structure” Musicophilia- Tales of Music and the Brain, pg. 98
This comes to say that overall we should acknowledge our weakness and bet on our strengths! And since I am here writing an article on musicality aiming to help anyone who finds him/herself as weak in perceiving and/or interpreting music, I will suggest for this next video, that we focus on something that we all are a bit stronger in; movement; basic Tango movement.
Every move has an optimal rhythm. A rhythm that allows us to perform it efficiently and smoothly. That rhythm needs to match the rhythm of the music, for the movement to make sense, express what the music feels like and create a sense of calmness and confidence.
You know when your teacher says: “Don’t think, just do it!” There is a time to work with consciousness as shown in the videos above and a time when you need to act on things.
On the dance floor there is really no time to think things through, to put your conscious mind to work. On the dance floor it is the time to ACT! And hopefully you have practiced enough for that action to be successful
Sooooo after all this work, I think you deserve an extra night out, on the dance floors allowing yourself to respond, to act on the music!
It all started from this short video on Improper Alignment:
As Ido Portal says in the video, “improper alignment is a certainty not a possibility.” Practising therefore for those moments of improper alignment is crucial for our progress but also for our understanding of our body.
Managing the weight transfer
As you can tell from the video when I first introduced this exercise, it was the first step towards better alignment.
Here though I want to invite you to change your focus…instead of looking for the perfect communication path between the different parts of the body, focus on feeling every little tiny bit of your foot; even to the expense of that communication.
For example, see how far out you can take your heels out before you drop to the floor. Notice how that improper alignment makes you feel. Or the reverse how far in you can bring your heels…and again notice how that makes you feel.
Don’t try to fix it! Only exaggerate as much as possible without, of course, causing harm to yourselves, and notice, make mental notes of the experience.
A yummy practice for our feet
In this video, we are exploring the limits of our base of our feet. We are creating and playing with improper alignment.
Because if you don’t know where the edge is, what improper alignment feels like. How will you find the centre, a safe place where you can just be without any tension or uncertainty?
And as Ido Portal says there is no proper alignment, but proper preparation… for misalignment. We can get off balance any second of the day… lets prepare for THAT!
Feet: Alignment and Misalignment
This third video explores transitioning; changing our level, shifting our weight, and moving in space. Personally, I don’t believe that standing on one leg or doing calf raises endlessly will make your steps steadier, smoother or more powerful and secure. Becoming aware of the how your feet manage the transition from the right to the left and the front to the back, definitely will though.
Does that mean, that you don’t need to ever to do balance drills again..? NOPE! haha It means that you will have to include them in a more holistic practice, one that focuses on the transition and not solely on the drill itself. One that focuses on improper alignment as a certainty. One that explores the edges and the limits as much as the centre
But today I want to take a moment to talk to you about the life-tango connection.
Tango is like life and vice versa
No that is NOT what I am going to talk about…hahaha…but you thought I would didn’t you?
You felt that cliche coming your way! Haha
Don’t worry you are safe!
I want to talk about how this practice like all the other practices you can find in this blog can help you move better in life as well as in Tango
One of the biggest problems people have today is that they are not moving enough.
As a species we were made to move…In fact we survived because our movement became more efficient and we managed in this way to “outrun” our opponents and get food!
Now, this species that it’s whole survival was based on movement is stranded on a chair only to move once or twice a week.
Our bodies thinking that this is the new way of doing things, rearranges our muscles to support it and slowly but surely we start losing range of motion, flexibility and power in our hips, shoulders, spine and all around… We start losing ourselves!
Does any of this sound familiar?
If not, think about the last time your tried to bend over to grab something off the floor aaaand…”OUCH! My back…” came out
Or the last time you thought to yourself: “I am too old for this”
Well, what if Tango was here to help you keep on moving even if you have to take things a bit slower or with a bit more caution.
Follow the tips below for healthier body… they WILL make your ochos better as well!
Space and movement in the hips and spine is something that many of us have lost with time. But you can definitely get some back with the exercises above
Only have the following tips in mind:
Find your own rhythm, maybe I am going to fast for you, slow it down if you need to
If at any time during the seated exercises you need to put your hands on the floor go for it, just don’t drop your weight on them
And if you a friendly wall for your adult ochos, go for that as well, balance also gets built with time
Focus not on how big of a twist you can create but on identifying all the movements your body is creating from the outside in, meaning from the skin all the way to the organs and the inside out from your breath, from your blood to your skin.
If you can’t twist as much, or can’t have the legs fully extended, that is OK! Not being flexible is not always bad same as being flexible is not always good. Look for safety, for smoothness and flow and flexibility will come with time.
Breathe! Yes I know you are doing that already…But breathe into every inch of your body and out of every cell.
Notice points of tension and see if you can get rid of it. I am saying if because sometimes that is not possible, no matter how much we might want it. But acknowledging it is the first step towards getting rid of it
Do your ochos noticing how the movements you explored in the exercises underlie them. Like the leg-hip-leg-body circuit we explored
Without changing any of your current habits, notice how these movements underlie your everyday life. Examine your comfort zone to become more aware of your movement, your limits and your potential
Aaaaand last but not least…. Have fun with it!
I want to take a quick second to thank Jeffrey Posner for the hips rotations he shared on instaInst that inspired this video!