TangoBreath has made us very conscious of how we describe the Argentine tango movements we are guiding. It is crucial to be concise in our presentation – the evolution of which is well understood by our attendees. How we think, and what we think, has a profound affect on the way we move. We are fortunate that discussions and feedback following TangoBreath are revealing new ways of verbally describing tango movements and various visualizations that individuals have used to conceptualize – and physically embed – the core technique of Argentine tango. Likewise, in our own practice, we have come to find our own ways of visualizing and comprehending movement.
In the best case, our verbal descriptions result in an understanding and visualization that enables the best movement and posture possible. One example of this is the open step around a partner in circular movement. The phrase “reach around to create a spiral charge” is not always enough. Adding one word makes all the difference for at least one person: “reach out and around to create a spiral charge”. “Keep hips square, and circle around to create torsion in your torso” is another description that works for some people. Hugging a tree and stretching around it is an additional visualization that can also help.
We frequently add free leg work to the flow and in TangoLab, which has also brought up some observations that relate to this theme. To demonstrate with an example, what happens if a follower collects instead of reaching forward into the open space the leader is giving her? Nothing happens. Nothing can happen. What if she reaches smoothly past ‘collection’, and the leader then changes her direction? A really nice boleo.
How we think about our movement has a profound affect on how we actually move.
These explorations reveal what might be a fundamental problem in the way beginners are taught to think. It could also be the case that ways of thought that are taught initially linger even in experienced Argentine tango dancers. The problem is in our thinking and visualization. How we think about our movement has a profound affect on how we actually move. For example, what does it mean to ‘collect’? For the beginning tango dancer, it is almost a mantra: ‘collect, collect, collect’. I think this is a bad thing. The result of concentrating on collection is that beginning leaders often walk like frankenstein and followers stand like a stork that is reticent to leave its spot.
Here is an experiment: walk down the street with a destination in mind, walk with purpose, and don’t think about anything but where you are going. Then, as you walk, turn your thoughts to ‘collecting.’ Simply think about your ankles touching, think about that neutral tango position. What happens to your walk? Is it still smooth? Are you pausing as your feet pass one another? If you stop at a crosswalk, what happens to your feet? If nothing about your walk changes that is a good thing. If it does change, what did thinking about collecting do to you? When you were walking with purpose, what did that feel like? Did you worry about where your foot was stepping (maybe a little?), or did you think mostly about pushing forward? I doubt you worried wether your ankles were passing closely by one another or not, although I’m sure they did.
If collection isn’t a goal, then we are free to move fluidly
The problem here could be that ‘collection’ is a position that is easy to describe and name, but is not particularly helpful. Collection isn’t the beginning or ending of anything. Instead, it is the middle of everything. It can be a nice place, but our ankles shouldn’t act like magnets and stick together when they come close to one another. Watch Geraldine Rojas, Alicia Pons, Roxanna Saurez or Cecilia Garcia on youtube – their feet move smoothly from one step to the next. Maybe it is a useful focus when beginning followers are speeding through their pivots and steps, and leaders are still trying to figure out what to do next. Step, collect, step, collect. I think it is reiterated too much and for too long. The mantra needs to change. But what should it be? How can we create a nice concise mantra for any step? Could the alternative be easier for beginners?
What if, instead of thinking about collecting, or about completing steps, we thought about movement, very simply. Everyone should be encouraged to start reaching for a step in response to their core movement, whether that movement is a continuation of the current movement, or the beginning of a movement initiated by their partner. Reaching for a step slowly gives their partner plenty of time to either continue with that direction or change it at any point in the step. If collection isn’t a goal, then we are free to move fluidly, passing our feet when we are ready, and reaching slowly for the next step in one fluid movement.
There are so many things to remember, but collecting might not be one of them.
What should our walking mantra be? Let’s start with the long version. Even this is simplified, but it starts with choosing a foot and allowing the unweighted hip to drop (without popping out the standing leg hip), dropping the tail bone down, scooping forward with the unweighted hip, which ripples down into a reach with the free leg, knee, and then the foot, rolling onto the foot slowly to change weight, pressing into the ground, dropping the new unweighted hip as it scoops back, lagging the new free leg behind. The core continues to move forward bringing the free foot/knee/leg with it followed by the free hip, brushing through collection to start all over again with the reach from the hip. Too long! What can that become? Relax, drop & scoop hip, reach, roll and transfer, relax, drop & scoop hip, lag, reach. That’s a bit long and confusing. Shorter would be this: relax, scoop, reach, transfer, relax, scoop, lag, reach. The transfer of weight and the relaxing/dropping of the hip happen almost at the same time, the transfer is ending as the hip is relaxing.
The transfer doesn’t require too much thought, maybe this, Relax, lag, reach. That works nicely, relax, lag, reach, relax, lag, and reach again. If that doesn’t work for you, or there is a need for different emphasis, I think you can probably make up your own mantra at this point. There are so many things to remember, but collecting might not be one of them. As one friend put it, “My ankles like each other, so I let them kiss, but I don’t let them linger.”
We should be tracing our movement to it’s origin, and thinking about that.
This mantra is a stark contrast to what we usually hear in tango. Usually, it’s all about grounding, “think of your standing leg”, and then think about “collecting”. The term “grounding” carries a lot of meaning, and it can be helpful when it is clearly defined. But thinking about grounding isn’t helpful to us unless we assign the proper thought to the idea. We believe that the body works as a complete system, and that we should be tracing our movement to it’s origin, and thinking about that. Thinking about our standing leg does nothing but distract you from what you should be thinking and feeling.
As my foot takes my weight, I feel the weight move into the bottom of my foot and settle.The weight travels up my leg (it’s best to keep it on the inside of the leg), and engages my hip when it gets there. My center or core is right there at the top of my sacrum between my hips. As all of that engages my other hip relaxes and drops. If my posture and alignment is good, my tailbone drops a little, as if a string were pulling straight down on my coccyx, my standing knee bends, my spine stretches, and I am “grounded”. I can additionally think about pressing into the ground with my foot if I want to add more power to my movement, but just thinking about relaxing and dropping our unweighted hip is far more effective than anything else we can think about.
If thinking of one thing helps you accomplish many things, then you are on the right track.
Be careful about what you choose to concentrate on and visualize in your dance, it could be harmful rather than helpful. Find the connection between the words from your teacher and the visualization that enables you to realize the movement. If “collecting” makes you walk like Frankenstein, then forget it. If “think about your standing leg” does nothing for you, or worse, is confusing, then forget it. If thinking of one thing helps you accomplish many things, then you are on the right track. The body is a system that works together. Tracing a movement back to it’s origin will frequently help with visualizing how everything works together. Relaxing and dropping your unweighted hip results in a loose leg, an engaged standing leg with a bent knee, and fluid movement. Collection thus becomes a consequence, not a thought. Add “lift from your diaphragm” to the equation and your pelvic floor will begin to engage, your spine will stretch upward and your back will “fill”. Thinking of one thing is definitely easier than three and is frequently more effective.
Our thinking can change the quality of our movement, and make us better dancers.
In TangoBreath class we also add in visualizations to help people find how a movement should feel, which connects the dots between the things that we need to do in our body to attain proper movement. If reaching ‘around’ or ‘out and around’ or ‘scraping your arms on the bark of a tree’ helps you find the spiral charge in your movements, then you’ve found something that works. Use visualizations when you can as you need them, as the movements find their way into your body and become a part of your awareness, the visualizations will become less important, and you will find new ones that will help you on your journey to harmonious movement.
To begin your journey, try not to think so much about collecting, but instead think about other things: relaxing, stretching, lifting, dropping, scooping, moving from your center, reaching, lagging, spiraling slowly. Our thinking can change the quality of our movement, and make us better dancers.