Forward head posture and Argentine tango
Bad posture is a common problem.
I recently gave a weekly challenge to create awareness of our posture, “Scrunch your shoulders, fix your posture!”. The exercise is specifically targeted at slouched shoulders and a forward head posture. After posting it, I received a few emails from tango dancers and non-dancers, all thanking me for the reminder. Many said that this particular exercise is something they’ve been told to do. As I was writing this article, it came time for another body awareness challenge, so I posted “Balance your head!”, which generated even more feedback. Clearly, bad posture is a problem that many of us are struggling with.
Forward head posture makes Argentine tango more difficult.
This feedback led me to do some research. Bad posture is a serious problem, particularly in the US. Among the most common problems is “forward head posture”. Forward head posture is particularly bad for tango, and in some ways, tango actually makes it worse. It is the most common way to get that snuggly cheek to cheek position with many partners.
You might look at the diagram below and think, “I can’t dance with my posture so straight! I would never be able to connect with my partner!”. I would propose taking a different perspective, one that is in the form of a question: “How can I get a connection while maintaining good posture?”.
If you have read some of our other articles, you will notice that this diagram omits what is happening from the hips down, where there is a lot going on. Our pelvis is what gives us a stable platform for a nice, straight spine. The top of this foundation starts at our sacrum, extending down through our hip sockets, femur, knees, and of course our ankles and feet. Once we discover our ability to use this foundation to move our line of gravity anywhere within our range of axis, as well as our ability to move our center of movement away from our line of gravity with great stability, connection happens rather effortlessly. But the first step, always, is to have good posture. There is absolutely no reason to compromise our posture for what seems like a good connection in the embrace.
Forward head posture leads to many other problems. According to research, for every inch your head moves forward there is an additional 15 lbs (6.8kg) of weight at the base of your neck. In the most common form, forward head posture causes your center of gravity to move forward, your chest then collapses back to counterweight, then, to compensate for that your hips tilt forward. This all causes numerous tensions throughout your back which can lead to knotted muscles, pinched nerves and worse. This may also lead to a forward or winged scapula, which causes our shoulders to droop forward.
This is another problem that is exacerbated by tango. Leaders are often tempted to drop their right shoulder to reach more fully around their partner because it makes the embrace feel more snuggly and soft. Followers may do the same to reach further up and around their partner’s shoulder. Snuggly and soft are the only good things about dropping your shoulder, the rest is bad news. Save your snuggly and soft hugs for when you greet and part with your friends!
A dropped shoulder can actually block some movements, creating mixed messages in the lead. It causes the lead backward, a followers forward step, to be vague at best. It completely undermines the lead for a colgada, and it makes volcadas often scary for the follower, when she does not feel supported by your back. Bad posture does nothing for a followers presence in the embrace, and it makes many movements more difficult at best. In some cases, it introduces further contortions of the body in order to accomplish an otherwise simple movement.
Bad posture is like an old suit that we put on everyday.
Bad posture is something that we build slowly over time, and forward head posture seems to be a major contributor. Hedy Schliefer talks about that and other things in this video. Its effects on our body and life are sometimes hard to see and feel until we’ve been living with it for a long time. Unlike life, tango is not so forgiving of bad posture. Bad posture makes dancing tango much more difficult immediately. In life, bad posture accumulates and only starts complaining much later on.
Anyone new to tango has a distinct advantage if they bring good posture with them.
In the beginning, we often don’t know that posture is so important to tango, or that we even have bad posture, much less that poor posture is the reason some movements are so difficult. Sometimes, ironically, we have good posture, but want to be more snuggly or somehow create more space for our partner, resulting in contorted movement. Similarly, we also contort our bodies when we try to ‘help’ a movement, losing what good posture we did have. Being aware of our posture is one of the best things we can do to improve our dance.
Bad posture creates all sorts of problems in our dance.
Forward head posture and a drooped shoulder happen to be problems that I have been battling for a while now. I brought them with me to tango, and I reinforce them with the work I do at a computer (like now, for instance!). Many of the various problems I have had with my tango movement can be traced back to my posture. The problems range from pushing my partner off axis, to drifting away from her in a turn, having a vague or even opposing lead in opening for a turn to the leaders right (drooped right shoulder), or not providing confidence and clarity in leading even the smallest colgada or volcada (slouched back, drooped shoulders).
Having a head forward can get in the way of many things, including walking to the outside on the “dark side” (followers left side). As a leader, all of this makes the lead soft, contradictory, unclear or just plain absent. It all feels equally bad in a follower. There are an endless number of things that go wrong when posture is bad, and these are just a few of them. As I became more aware of my posture, I found it interesting to note that when dancing with very tall, or very short partners (I’m 5’9″, or 1.75m), my dance would always be better because my posture was always better.
If you are working on a movement in tango and it is not going as well as you would like, the first place to look is your posture.
I’ve had a few misleading private lessons over the years– one that spent the entire time trying to get my right shoulder to do the correct thing in a turn, another one that spent an hour trying to create more forward presence in a turn, and others, all of which recommended various tweaks to my body. What I have discovered is that all of these “tweaks” were attempting to fix a symptom of bad posture instead of fixing my posture.
Your body is a system, not a conglomeration of parts.
All I really needed to do was to place my head on top of the neck, keep my shoulders back and relaxed (not drooped), shoulder blades flat against my back, and my back slightly engaged to hold everything together. Then, if I let the movement come from behind, rather than focusing on the front of my torso, all of these minor problems would have been fixed, in a very simple manner. If something isn’t working as well as you expect, check your posture and that of your partner.
The most important thing to remember in all of this is that your body is a system, not a conglomeration of parts. If you are contorting your body and compartmentalizing the “parts” of a movement, it is likely that your posture will be compromised and your whole body will not be able to relate to itself efficiently or effectively.
Being aware of your posture is the best way to start any dance.
Even if posture is not a problem, there are a number things you can do that will improve your tango and keep your own body in alignment. When you stand up, or when you get a cabaceo, breathe deep, stretch your spine, level and relax your shoulders, balance your head on top of your neck. Flatten your shoulder blades down against your back. When you are ready to enter the embrace with your partner, inhale deeply, keep your shoulders square, exhale and let your embrace flow naturally around your partner without compromising your own posture. Inhale again, check your shoulders, balance your head on top of your neck. As a leader, exhale down through one leg into the ground, and let your other hip relax. This is the first step of the dance. Breathe. Keep in mind, this is just a guideline. Depending upon the person and the music, it is a good idea to change the quality of the entrance to the embrace.
Forward head posture is bad for us and bad for our tango.
Posture should be one of the first things to work on when you start to learn tango. Even if you have good posture, tango can introduce bad posture in various ways. It is crucial to remember that good posture is always better, and that contorting ourselves for a movement or a partner is a bad idea.
Argentine tango secretly invites a forward head posture even if we come to it with good posture. As you learn to keep good posture in your dance, the effects of bad posture will increasingly remind you when you relapse, and eventually, you will be standing tall all the time. Negotiating that intimate head contact might be a little harder, but the improvement in your movement and dance will be well worth it.
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