When a body is in motion it has a certain momentum proportional to its mass and velocity. Imagine you have been fired from a giant catapult; you will continue to fly through the air for some time after the rubber band of the catapult has released you. That's momentum. When you are moving while dancing in an embrace, you also have momentum, albeit on a smaller scale. Because the forces are generally small you can choose to exert force to cancel out the momentum your partner may give you, or you can choose to allow some of that momentum to guide your movement.
When you (typically as a follower) allow your movement to reflect the momentum your partner gives you, you will add a further dimension to the presence you give them in your embrace. Momentum can be used to create flowing movements of continual connection, alter directions smoothly, express dynamics in the music, share an axis, invite a range of free leg movements, and more. I would suggest that before focusing on this tip dancers work on getting confident with the concepts from tips 1-4 first.
- Roll on. To bring the qualities of momentum into your dance, if you are a follower and the leader accelerates, or decelerates (e.g a change of direction), visualize the centre of your body continuing to move as a glass ball rolling on a carpet would, if given the same energy as the leader is giving you. Allow your centre to continue moving in that way, providing the direction passes through your axis.
Depending on the amount of energy the leader gives, this may mean that you travel through and over your axis. Only do this if you can do it with good posture. So if the leader does not relax their embrace to facilitate the momentum lead movement, then simply come to a stop where the embrace limits your comfortable and balanced movement.
Unless it's a conscious decision to add your creative expression to the dance, avoid amplifying the leader's energy, and simply allow the momentum they are creating to take effect.
- Full access to axis. If you are a leader, try to play with accelerating and decelerating your movements, keeping in mind that the follower's weight may continue to travel according to the energy you give them. This means if you give a lot of energy in your lead and you'd like them to then come to a stop on their axis, you'll need to provide a firm support in your embrace to stop them. If done with sensitivity to your partner and the music this moment of stronger pressure in the embrace can be very beautiful.
To fully experience and utilize the element of momentum it is important to allow the follower to travel onto (or even through and over) their axis, and not habitually hold them short of axis with a rigid frame. Similarly, be sure that the direction of your intent always passes through an axis for the follower. Generally that means parallel or perpendicular to the follower's hips, and keeping a constant direction while the follower is sharing weight between feet.
- Mirrored elasticity. Regarding giving the follower full access to their axis, it helps for the leader to give their embrace a slightly 'elastic' quality when playing with momentum. That is, if the leader isn't moving their centre in perfect synchronization with the follower's centre, but still wants them to arrive on axis, then they make their frame softer to let the follower continue to move in a certain direction.
When following an acceleration or deceleration from the leader, listen for the level of relaxation or tension in their frame, and do the same with your frame. By mirroring the quality of the embrace you will pick up on the lead more quickly and precisely (if the leader is conscious and in control of what they are doing), and allow movements that would otherwise not be possible.
- Dynamics and asynchronicity. The momentum of your partner is only felt when you change your speed, i.e. when you introduce some dynamics to your movement. Since dynamics are a big part of musical and creative expression in tango, there are lots of opportunities to feel and use momentum in your dance.
An exercise to develop awareness and use of momentum is to simply begin a forward, backward or side step with your partner and then continue to change weight back and forth from foot to foot. The leader accelerates through the middle of the transition of weight and then slows toward the point where the follower changes direction. Both partners should be fully on, or very close to, axis (but without collecting the free leg) at the point they change direction. You are aiming for a fluid movement, with a sense of inertia from the follower (like trying to move through water). When you feel comfortable with that, try walking and then changing direction in the same fluid way. Leading more into the ground when you're about to change direction this will help.
When you have the hang of moving almost in sync with each other and feeling each other's momentum, try the following. When leading see if you can become more asynchronous in your movement by leading and momentarily releasing the structure of your frame (more elasticity), so that the follower can continue to move under the momentum of your lead, while you halt the movement of your centre. Then move to regain the connection. By doing this you can continue the exercise above, but be 'out of phase' with your partner. This kind of use of momentum has a distinct character and has several playful and creative applications in tango, when used in moderation.
Tomorrow's tip (and the final one in this series): 'Enjoy'