Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Walking Tip no 2. Check Your Embrace

Here's the second tip in the series '6 Walking Tips for Argentine Tango':

The way you embrace your partner in tango determines what is possible in your dance, in terms of the movements you can make and the level of enjoyment, shared musical expression and connection you can have. (The following points about the embrace are focused on standing and moving in a straight line. Pivoting will be covered another time.)

Close embrace:
  • Communicate through the chest. Sounds obvious, but sometimes the implications are missed. Firstly, in order to communicate effectively through the chest you must have good posture and balance (see tip no. 1). Secondly, if you're communicating mainly through the chest, you can relax those arms. It's worth noting, however, that when the leader is walking backward, there can be more connection from the back of the follower with the 'hugging arm' of the leader. Why this is will be discussed more in a later tip. If you're not totally comfortable in a close embrace, try aiming for the kind of firm, positive pressure that you would have from a comfortable hug with a friend. You should both be able to breath very easily while in close embrace.
  • Keep the arms relaxed, relative to the chest contact. Avoid putting weight on your partner with your arms, pulling them down, or pushing them to the side. This often happens either when your arm is in an uncomfortable position, or is being kept tense. To help with that, try first making contact with your chests, then softly placing the arms in a comfortable position. Any firmness you'd like to have or feel in the arms should be of a gently supporting quality, rather than tense or rigid. In connection with this, if as a leader you find your partner drifts off to your right side, try keeping your right elbow by your side, during the dance. 
  • Experiment with arm position. The best arm position will depend on who you're dancing with, the angle your chests make in the embrace (V or square), and what movement you're making. So don't be afraid to experiment. For instance if a follower is dancing with a much taller leader, putting the closed side arm around the side of the leader's back may be more comfortable than trying to put it over the top of or on the leader's shoulder. The key considerations are whether you are comfortable and whether your arm position helps or hinders you to feel your partner's movement and to move yourself.
Open embrace:
  • Communicate through the congruent contact of your arms, hands and backs, if you prefer to dance by feel, without relying on visual cues. When you are moving in a straight line the position and shape of your arms should be constant, relative to your chest. (It works slightly differently when pivoting, where it generally helps to allow one or sometimes both arms to more fully relax to allow the pivot to take place easily. But that's a topic for another time)
  • Connect with your arms as you would with your chest. When you enter the embrace try to make the quality of contact like it is when you are in close embrace, i.e. your hands, arms and backs are hugging each other. When standing still the 'hug' is a light one, but when moving the quality of contact can change according to various factors. Imagining that your arms are extensions of your chest, so that when your chest moves they do to, will help all the points of physical contact you have in the embrace to move in a congruent way, with minimal strain or confusion.
  • Find a comfortable arm and hand position. It's going to be hard to have a quality of contact you could liken to a nice hug, if you're not comfortable. Much of this comes down to posture, but specifically where you put your arms and how you hold hands makes a big difference too, just like in close embrace. One position that generally works quite well is to have the forearms parallel and in contact on the closed side of the embrace, with equal contact pressure along the whole forearm (followers imagine holding an orange under your armpit), and on the open side to have the hands just far enough out that the elbows can rest comfortably facing down and about in line with the front of the chest. As for how the hands make contact, try having the wrists fairly straight and creating a little cushion of air between your touching palms, wrapping your fingers gently around your partner's hand.
In both open and close embraces, allow time to get comfortable, breath and relax. This will help setup an enjoyable dance.
Tomorrow's tip: 'Check the Moment of Movement'

Monday, 30 January 2012

Walking Tip no 1. Check your posture and balance every time you enter the embrace

Here's the first tip in the series '6 Walking Tips for Argentine Tango':

Good posture and balance helps you to relax, gives you strength, and makes it easier to connect with your partner and enjoy the dance.
  • Weight in the middle of your feet while you take the embrace. Positioning your weight in this way will allow you to relax more while standing, feel more grounded, and better able to invite a movement to your partner, or respond to an invitation. Try to feel your weight spread evenly across the bridge of your feet. As an exercise to find this point you can move your weight back to the heels then forward to the balls (while keeping the whole foot on the floor) and then around the outside of your feet, coming to rest in the very centre.
  • Soften your knees. By having a slight bend in your legs you will be more stable, and better able to give a solid and smooth sense of connection to your partner. It doesn't need to be much, just a couple of degrees makes a huge difference to having your legs locked straight. With this slight bend in your legs, feel how your hips have gotten a little closer to the ground, making your balance stronger.
  • Spine straight and vertical (including your neck). This will mean your chest is slightly forward. Note you are not thrusting your chest out, you are simple making your spine straight and vertical, by using your postural muscles in your trunk and across your upper back. If you're not used to using those muscles, they may ache a little at first. This it normal. Visualize a line between your bellybutton and your solar-plexus and try to lengthen it. Now imagine there is a string attached to the crown of your head, pulling you gently upward, elongating and straightening your spine. Take relaxed breaths while you feel your spine lengthening in this way. If you can, use a mirror to check how straight and vertical your back is, then walk while keeping your back in that position. There is a natural curvature to the spine, and the idea is to not eliminate it, but rather to find a strong and stable upright posture.
  • Relax your shoulders and set them back and down. This is actually also the strongest position for them to be in, and will help you stay relaxed and dance for longer. When you have tension in your shoulders your partner can feel it (and anyone watching can probably also see it).
  • Floating head. Position your head so that it is balanced perfectly above your shoulders. You should feel a sense of lightness at this position. Keeping your head balanced in this way, and not letting it tilt forward, will also help your shoulders to stay relaxed and avoid neck ache from long dancing sessions.
  • Elbows facing down and in front of your body, as you get ready to enter the embrace. This helps to maintain connection with your partner and keep your shoulder-blades in a comfortable and strong position, i.e. down, not sticking out.

Tomorrow's tip: 'Check Your Embrace'.

6 Walking Tips for Argentine Tango

They say that if you can walk you can tango, and it's true. However, in tango, there's a little more to walking than the uninitiated might think. In Argentine tango the idea is not to walk alone, but together.
Just as learning to walk on your own two legs took a fair bit of practice at first, so does learning to walk while staying connected to someone else. 

I've prepared some tips to help that walking feel and look beautiful, which you can apply either in your practice sessions or in social dancing. They are based on my personal learning and my teaching approach with my own tango students. There are 6 main points, complete with suggested exercises and games:
  1. Check your posture and balance every time you enter the embrace.
  2. Check your embrace.
  3. Check the moment of movement.
  4. Travel through water.
  5. Use your momentum.
  6. Enjoy.
There's a fair bit of detail, so I'll spread the points across separate blog posts over the next 6 days. But, if you're in the early stages of your tango journey, please don't feel overwhelmed. Walking down the street on your own now is generally a simple activity - even though it takes everyone a little while to learn. The detail here is given in the hope that it will help you get to the point where walking (and dancing) with your partner in tango comes just as effortlessly, a little sooner. I'd love to hear what you make of the following ideas, and of course any thoughts for improvement you may have.

(click on 'newer post' below to start reading the first tip)

Monday, 2 January 2012

Learn argentine tango in Southampton, January 2012

Hello and happy new year!

I hope everyone was able to enjoy some time with friends and family over the break.

Here's what's happening at Tango Lingua in January 2012:

For improvers/intermediates, Core Skills 2 - This challenging and fun course is designed to broaden out the tango vocabulary, while consolidating good posture and balance. Over 6 weeks we will develop the concept of the 'free leg' and introduce barridas, leg wraps, boleos, secadas and ganchos. We also explore some more decorations. (Don't know what all those things are? Don't worry, all will be made clear on the course!)

Each new movement, technique or step is introduced first in the form of exercises and games. Moving then towards using the step in the dance in a variety of ways, with the music and in the line of dance. The idea is to give you the knowledge and confidence to start enjoying each new step in your social tango dancing.
This 6 week course is held on Wednesday evenings, 8:00pm-9:30pm, starting on 11th January. No need to bring a partner. Read more and book here.

On Wednesday 4th January there will an improvers class, for anyone who has done a beginner course and want a slightly more challenging lesson. No need to book this one, just turn up.

For beginners (or those who want to refresh the basic techniques), Beginner course - this course is designed to start building a solid foundation from which to continue your discovery of Argentine tango, while introducing the basic techniques of walking together with the music, with turns and weight changes. Classes are friendly and relaxed. No need to bring a partner.

This 6 week course is held on Monday evenings, 8:00pm-9:30pm, starting on 9th January. Read more and book here.

All tango classes and courses are held at the usual venue, Povey's Dance Centre in Southampton.

Practice - remember whether you're doing classes or not, you can always come down on a Monday or Wednesday 8-11pm and use the hall for practice. E.g. if you're doing the Core Skills 2 tango course, you can also come along on Mondays any time from 8-11pm and practice what you've been learning. Regular practice is absolutely essential if you want to consolidate your learning and get (and give) the most enjoyment from your tango dancing.