Thinking about collection is bad for your tango

#8220;Collection” was eliminated from our tango vocabulary for many reasons.

I’ve written about collection in other articles, “Moving with your line of gravity” and “How we think affects the way we move”, so it is no secret that I don’t like what thinking about collection does to our dance. When we started developing our TangoBreath vinyasa, “collection” was one the first things we eliminated in our teaching and in our descriptions of Argentine tango movement.

We wanted to avoid “collection” for many reasons. One of them is that it is completely unnecessary. We never mention it in our TangoBreath vinyasa class, yet everyone, complete beginners and advanced dancers alike, all do what “collection” is intended to instruct. Their feet pass each other nicely in every movement. Another reason to discard “collection” is that it is mostly harmful to our development as dancers. We do mention it as something that happens as a result of well executed movement, but collection is not something to which it is necessary to give any thought. A beginning tango dancer has enough to think about already. Later on, it will be essential to think about what it means to have pretty foot movement. But that is a topic far beyond collecting.

When someone talks about collection in tango terms, what they are saying is bring your feet together between steps. It definitely looks better than having your feet apart. Our objection is that it causes us to think about our feet. There are more fundamental and effective thoughts with greater impact on our over all movement that will also, as a side effect, cause us to collect our feet.

I was curious about the meaning of collection, it could have been a really useful term. Let’s look at what collection means. One definition is, after all, to “collect one’s self”, which could be very helpful in thinking about movement. Here is what Merriam Webster has to say about the word collect:

Definition of COLLECT

transitive verb

a : to bring together into one body or place
   b : to gather or exact from a number of persons or sources<collect taxes>
   c : to gather an accumulation of (objects) especially as a hobby <collects stamps>
: infer, deduce
: to gain or regain control of <collect his thoughts>
: to claim as due and receive payment for
: to get and bring with one; specifically : pick up <went to collect her at the train station>

intransitive verb

: to come together in a band, group, or mass : gather
a : to collect objects
   b : to receive payment <collecting on the insurance>

It is a stretch, but maybe collection had a better meaning when it was first introduced to the tango lexicon. Instead of “collect your feet,” could it have been “collect your movement around your new axis”?  That would be much better.  I have found no evidence that it has carried any meaning other than “collect or put your feet together”. However, the first definiton for the transitive verb could have a correct useful meaning in tango. If someone tells you to collect change the definition in your mind to be “Collect yourself around your axis”. Take your feet out of the idea and the thought.

Collection, it turns out, is a description of a symptom of well executed movement.

At this point, it doesn’t matter how or why “collect” entered the tango lexicon. It has a commonly agreed upon meaning that we feel is mostly harmful, making it better to minimize or lose the word altogether. Our process, when eliminating commonly used words or phrases from our tango vocabulary, is to understand why they might be needed and how we could get a similar result without the bad side effects of the original.
Collection, it turns out, is a description of a symptom of well executed movement. When someone moves well, collection happens. There is no need to think about it or instruct it. With so many things to think about already, why add something that is mostly a distraction? Especially a distraction that has bad side affects.


If collection is just a symptom of proper movement, what is so bad about naming it and thinking about it? There are many reasons, but here is a short list.

  • Collection can short circuit proper movement by emulating it: the feet come together but the center of movement and line of gravity may not.
  • Collection becomes a goal in every movement.
  • Collection becomes a place to stop and wait, sabotaging any subtle movement that may happen when a dancer’s center of movement is near their line of gravity.
  • Collection is about feet, not movement.
  • Collection creates muscle memory, habits and thought patterns that can persist for years, stunting the growth of any tango dancer.
  • Collection makes it difficult to have pretty movement in any dancers feet.
  • It takes attention and thought away from the body’s movement as a whole.

The habits created by early training to collect are hard to break out of.

With a list like that it is obviously better to not think about it. Tell any beginning tango class about collection, and the effects become obvious. The leaders lurch forward, bring their free foot up to their weight bearing foot, then lurch forward again.  In the best case, there is only a slight sticking of the feet as they pass. Followers speedily bring their free foot to their weighted foot, where their ankles stick together like magnets. The effects wear off over time, but can linger for a very long time in some dancers.
The habits created by early training to collect are hard to break out of. I see this behavior in dancers that have been dancing for years. Many leaders seem to forget about collecting altogether, despite the emphasis it gets in classes and otherwise, maybe because they think it is just for followers, and therefore something they don’t need to pay attention to. That is a different problem and a different article. Although the solution for leaders is the same.

Dancers must learn collection as a side effect of proper posture and movement.

If we don’t want the side effects of “collection”, but we want dancers to collect, how can that happen without talking about collecting? Collecting is a symptom of proper movement and posture. It is never good to describe symptoms or appearances, since describing symptoms or appearances is a shortcut that leads to bad movement emulating good movement. Dancers must learn collection as a side effect of proper posture and movement.

A dancer must learn to let their center of movement pass by their line of gravity like a comet passing close to the sun.

Solar system with comet, courtesy ESO.orgSince there are pre-requisites, this will not happen overnight.  A dancer must learn to relax and drop their free hip and leg. They must learn good posture, they must learn the relationship between their center of movement and their line of gravity so they can fully arrive at their new line of gravity, with their relaxed hip, leg and foot in tow.
In so doing, they must learn to let their center of movement pass by their line of gravity like a comet passing close to the sun. Their free leg and foot will follow. Imagine the picture above is really a diagram for a front ocho: the comet is your center of movement and the sun is your line of gravity coming up from your foot through your standing leg.

Collection is always present in a model's walk.

Although a huge exaggeration, this is a good example: watch any good runway model strut down the catwalk.  Their feet go in a perfect line, one directly in front of the other, each one represents the location of the next line of gravity.  Their center of movement is at the center of their sacrum. It traces an S curved line all the way down the catwalk and back. It moves closely around each line of gravity, first to one side, then to the other as the free leg passes through.

Even as the model stops and turns, places her feet apart, and then starts to move back up the walk, her movement passes close to her line of gravity bringing her free foot closely past her center. Notice, too, how these models free hip drops, letting their trailing leg extend before they move past their center to their next step.

When the time comes, the door to having pretty feet in the dance will be wide open.

It is far better for each dancer to find good movement without thinking about collecting their feet. Thinking about a relaxed hip and their center of movement passing their line of gravity will serve a dancer far better than thinking about their feet. Perhaps, if we don’t talk about collecting, leaders and followers will let their feet pass closely by one another without thought, which is a much better result. If you do hear about “Collection” replace that idea with “Relax my hip and move closely past my line of gravity”. When the time comes, the door to actually thinking about and having pretty feet in the dance will be wide open.


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