Intention, Dynamic Tension, and the Line of Gravity.

Dynamic Tension, done well, it is what one friend calls: Jedi Tango!

There are several terms that are regularly used when teaching or learning Argentine tango that are very ambiguous and at the same time very important.  “Grounding” and “Intention” are two of the hardest to comprehend or do, without some specific idea of what to do in your own body and without experiencing how they should and should not feel in a partner.

Of the two, “grounding” is the easy one.   We can describe what it means to be grounded in very specific biomechanical terms.  It will take practice, but being grounded can be obtained in a physically describable way.  Defining what must be done for “intention” is more elusive.  Done well, it is what one friend calls “Jedi Tango”, where there is no discernable movement, yet it is clear that both dancers are communicating volumes.

Einstein has a quote that may be applicable to my efforts in this post.  “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.  So far, in all other aspects of tango this  has been true.  Let’s see how I do with this.

 Moving without actually going.

First we have to get the right perspective by asking the proper question.  How do we look at this so that it will reveal itself? I would first ask, “why would my partner move in a specific direction for me?”. The answer is fairly obvious. They must have felt some movement in my body that compels them to create movement in theirs.

There is one other consideration, though: I can’t actually go anywhere until my partner does.  So, what does that mean?  I have to move without actually going anywhere.  Puzzling, but we might have the idea that this could indeed be the key to intention.

So continuing in our socratic game, presuming our posture and embrace are good, what does happen when we move directionally while delaying our own motion? Can you guess?  The answer is _Dynamic Tension!  _My body wants to go somewhere, but I am resisting it’s motion in space, like a rubber band being stretched or magnets pulling apart.

My Center of Movement has to move away from my Line of Gravity.

That still doesn’t fully answer our question, though.  We still want to know how that happens mechanically. Here it is: My Center of Movement (COM) has to move away from my Line of Gravity (LOG).

Clearly, we need to have some definitions.  What is my Line of Gravity?  The Line of Gravity is an imaginary line drawn from the floor, vertically through the body’s natural Center of Gravity (COG).  The Center of Gravity in most people is right above the sacrum in the center of the body.  In men, it can be higher because they have more weight in their shoulders and chest.  The COG is important for us to know about, but for our purposes, the Line of Gravity (LOG) and Center of Movement (COM) are what truly concern us here.

Our Center of Movement (COM) is the point from which all movement originates (ideally, right at the top of the sacrum).  The COM is the pencil we are drawing with as we move. Sometimes, I like to think of it as drawing lines on the floor or wall through each movement (take a look at the image in the header of this page with that idea in mind).  When relaxed, it is in complete alignment with the LOG.

Dynamic tension is created when the center of movement moves away from the line of gravity.

But, since we are dancing, as we initiate or respond to movement with our partner, our COM can stray from our LOG quit a lot.  Although, by necessity, it must stay within the range of the axis or we will fall over.   Being short, stocky and/or having big feet will obviously provide an advantage here.

This image will help with visualizing how all of these things work together. For simplicity, we can imagine our center of gravity at the same place and height as the figure on the left. The center of gravity is always intersected by the line of gravity. Dynamic tension is created when the center of movement moves away from the line of gravity.
The figure on the right is expanding the range of axis, the distance the center of movement can move away from the line of gravity without falling over, by lowering the center of gravity (bending his standing knee) and extending one leg in a forward reach. Not shown is that the corresponding shoulder must be slightly back as a result of contra-body spiral, to counterweight the leg.

For more movement, we must expand the _range_of our axis.

Now that we have a line of gravity (LOG) for reference we can start to describe movement.  If we want to move forward, we must move our COM, forward, away from the LOG while continuing to maintain it, our LOG should be as static as possible.  In very subtle movement we will feel our LOG move around on the bottom of our foot, so moving forward slightly will cause our LOG to move forward as well.  For more movement, we must expand the range of our axis.  To do that we need to lower our COG or expand our body away from our LOG.  If you watch a tight rope walker, for example, they often have balance poles to expand their axis and, at the very least, will have their arms out as far as they can go.

We can see how this works in tango if we stop halfway through a normal walking step.  Our leg and foot is in front of us, and the corresponding shoulder and arm is behind us. This gives a much greater range of axis around our LOG than we would have if we were standing straight.  With an exercise, we can demonstrate this in three different stages– straight, lowered, and extended.

  • First, stand straight with feet together, and start to draw a spiral with your COM on the floor.  Spiral out as far as you can go, front, back, sides.  Keep your spine straight floating upward from your hips.  This will require softening of the knees.  Move completely from one foot to the other.  Then try it again, staying only on one foot.  Take note of your range of axis (it will be slightly elliptical).
  • Next, put your weight on one foot, relax the free hip,  let your coccyx (tailbone) drop towards the floor, as if a string were pulling it straight down.  Let your relaxed hip drop even further.  Your standing knee must bend as your coccyx and hip drop.  Draw the spiral again from this posture.  It will be quite a bit longer than the last time, so even more elliptical.
  • Now, from the second position extend one foot forward or back (forward is easier), allow the natural contrabody spiral to occur.  Now spiral from your center, outward in nice little circles then bigger circles.  See how big of a circle you can make with your center of movement.  Your spiral will be very elliptical with a lot more range forward and back.  You will feel your LOG moving around on the bottom of your foot.  This movement can be lessened by sinking into the ground and by bending the standing knee.

    As you move through this spiral, your primary desire should be to stay where you are.  As you test the limits of movement,  pay attention to the tension that is created between your LOG and your COM.   This is the dynamic tension that we can use in tango to give directional intention, or presence, in the embrace with our partner.

    This range is quite far enough for any communication that we may desire with our partner.

    In TangoBreath class, we should be exploring this in every movement.   Working slowly, we should be moving our COM away from our LOG while allowing our spine to stretch and float straight up above our hips.   We build the tension as far as it will go while keeping our LOG where it is,  first by allowing our coccyx to sink toward the ground, dropping our hip, and bending our knees, one relaxed the other engaged.  This alone extends the range of our axis by lowering our COG.  This range is quite far enough for any communication that we may desire with our partner. As our partner responds, we can then go further by allowing our legs and torso to reach and twist to expand the range of our axis.  Then when we are finally committed, we push off onto the other foot.  Coming into motion, our intention becomes a movement from one LOG to another.

    This is a sweet spot that, in the right moments, no one should be in a hurry to leave.

    In the simplest world, all we need is to move our COM in the direction we want to go, away from our LOG, and our partner will feel it and respond.   This is especially difficult in the beginning when dancers are just developing sensitivity in the embrace.  We have to do it very subtly and slowly so our partner has a chance to feel it before we extend into the region where our feet and torso have to be involved overly much.  This is a sweet spot that, in the right moments, no one should be in a hurry to leave.   There is a lot of music right here.  But we must leave to return again.

    These ideas give us half of what we need to create subtle and quiet intention or presence. It is enough to start,  but we need to increase the dynamic range to give it strength and power for an even greater range of expression.  We do that by engaging our core.  To do this we must embody the effort of a larger movement in a smaller movement.  This is where words become difficult, and demonstration can speak volumes (stay tuned for another article!).  This also becomes much easier as dancers gain experience and sensitivity.

    There is only that same energy spiraling up through the center of your body.

    As an example, we can think of a large open embrace nuevo movement.  Imagine a large, energetic, open step around your partner.  Now, take that same energy and visualize it swirling up through your core.  Instead of a big open hurricane, it is now a tight vortex rising from your COM.  Stretch it away from your LOG in your desired direction.  Let your coccyx sink toward the floor, your hip drop and relax, there is no need to step, or even reach around, or spiral.  There is only that same energy spiraling up through the center of your body, from your COM, into your embrace.

    Another way to find this feeling of internalizing movement is to practice pivots with a mock embrace.  First create as much spiral charge in your core as possible.  Keep hips square and build the spiral tension as far as possible before letting your body unwind in the pivot.  Keep practicing, but with each pivot lessen your spiral reach, while still keeping the same amount of spiral tension in your core.  Your pivots might get smaller and tighter, but the important part is to feel the same energy in your core with a smaller amount of movement.

    This is  Jedi Tango– no discernable movement, yet both dancers are communicating volumes.

    In the beginning, this may take a fair amount of internal exertion as your muscles work against each other, but gradually it becomes easier as experience teaches us how to relax and exert our energy in a precise and timely way. To the outside world, the movement is nearly undetectable.  Yet, the same dynamic tension created by the large open embrace movement with extreme distance between your LOG and COM is, instead, created, smaller and perhaps more powerful, within your core.

    This is  Jedi Tango– no discernable movement, yet both dancers are communicating volumes.   The initiator suggests a direction, the responder suggest another.  The initiator follows through, one way or another, together and/or separate, initiating and responding. As the responder suggests something else, “the force” moves back and forth and all around.  The embrace compresses and releases in enumerable ways.  We are dancing tango.

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