Tango Lesson, October 11, 2013, La Pista

Two big challenges in dancing tango: balance and full-body awareness

Balance comes easy when you realize that all movement comes from the core. If you practice yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, or any martial art, you already know how to move and execute from the core. Jazz dancers, ballet dancers also know.

By full-body awareness we mean the ability to move as if your brain or central nervous system were located in your entire body, not just your skull. So we don’t have to wait for messages to travel down the brain stem to the various parts of the body. This means that your foot, leg, arm, etc. know instinctively when to move based on the full-body dialogue leader and follower have in tango. I heard from a wise leader years ago, “Tango is like sharing a nervous system.” This means there is such a high degree of sensitivity between partners in tango that both partners sense how to move to the music fluidly. We will be demonstrating this in class as it’s hard to describe what it means and what it looks like when follower and leader are so in sync.

Start with ground zero, home base, Tadasana, or mountain pose. Explore the three gross levels of the body: feet grounded to the floor, always connected to floor, even when no weight is on them. From Yoga Mountain Pose we make a slight adjustment to Tango Mountain Pose: Instead of parallel feet, we open our toes to 11 and 1 o’clock. Torso is the mid-level of posture awareness. Imagine extending the spine gently comfortably, feeling its elasticity and its three natural curves different from body to body (cervical, thoracic, lumbar). Imagine your front opening up from the sternum, heart area. Third level of awareness: Head and neck are upright, facing forward, not down. Eyes are soft as in meditation. Feel the energy of aliveness and awareness now on all three levels.

We’ll explore grounded balance by shifting weight in place. The knees have been in a locked position in mountain pose. Now you can flex a little, soften those joints. Now, as you shift weight lock the knee of the leg holding your weight, soften other knee. But keep the weightless foot attached to the floor at about the ball of the foot with the big toe touching floor. Draw lapices – pencil circles with base of big toe.

Side weight shifts – less subtle than shifting in place. Extend the leg, push off with other leg, arrive, gather or collect. Both sides. Feel balanced and aware. Collect feet in beveled fashion and shift, shift, shift. Breathe.

Finally—last warmup we’ll do without a partner—the embrace. Imagine your partner facing you. Leaders raise your right arm as if it’s a wing, from the spinal column. Followers left arm. Palm against follower’s shoulder blade, back of heart area. Shift in place. Now palm to palm, feel the 2 lbs of compression through the palms, fingers relaxed. Sway, shift lead or follow.

Partner up and try this with a partner in place. Exercise to experience full-body awareness: Leader conveys his intention to have follower step back with right foot OR side with her right foot. BUT do not actually complete the step or weight change. Just feel the subtlety, sensitivity, awareness of body dialog in tango. Rob & I will demonstrate.