Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Learn Argentine Tango for Valentines Day

This Valentines, give your special someone a gift they'll remember - and enjoy - for years for come.
Give them an Argentine tango lesson!

Valentines day is a day to show your love and passion for someone. What better way than through the passionate, elegant and joyful dance of Argentine tango?

Book a 90 minute lesson for your loved one and you, where you will learn the basic movements of tango.

By the end of the lesson you will be able to enjoy tangoing together, including walking, turning corners, follower decoration and more. Suitable for complete beginners. (If you already have some experience with tango dancing, more advanced material can be covered in your lesson.)

The lesson will be relaxed and fun with the focus on helping you enjoy this timeless and romantic dance together.

Total cost: £45
tango dance couple with rose

Want a picture taken to help you remember the occasion? Then have a mini photo session right after your lesson!
Get 3 professionally taken pictures of you and your partner in a tango embrace. Includes guidance on poses and a complementary red rose! Add this for just £35 extra, including a free print.

To get this wonderful gift now, please go to the booking page here. This will entitle you to a 'Valentines Day Argentine Tango' session. (Can't do the 14th Feb? That's fine, you will be able to arrange any time to suit you during February, or later.)

What times are available? To inquire about a particular day or time just email contact@tangolingua.com or send your availability, and we will arrange a time that suits you. (There are still some slots left for the 14th, although you can book on any day you like.)

Where does it take place? Tango lessons and Valentines photo sessions will take place at the Povey's Dance Centre, 159 Shirley Road, Southampton, SO15 3FG.

Do you do other packages, like longer lessons, group bookings, or courses? Yes! All requirements can be catered for, please get in touch and say what you have in mind.

What should I wear? Anything you feel sexy and good to dance in. Either casual or smart is fine, it's really up to you. Ideally wear shoes that don't have rubber soles (e.g. leather, plastic or suade).

Any other questions? Please email, or call 07708882901.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Walking Tip no 6. Enjoy

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

Sounds obvious, tango is a dance, of course you would enjoy it, but in the midsts of striving to develop good technique and finding other dancers who have good technique, the fun can be forgotten. Actually, keeping a light-hearted and playful frame of mind through that process is a skill in itself. Sometimes it's very helpful to simply remind yourself: have fun, relax, smile and breath easily.

As this is a series on walking in tango, let's start this last tip by drawing attention to the enjoyment that can be had from doing just that, walking. Hopefully it's clear from the previous tips how much subtlety, richness and musicality can be experienced from just taking forward, back and side steps together in an embrace. There's a lot to relished there, that can be missed if this area of your tango understanding and practice is rushed through. However, as finding ways to enjoy tango - and letting go of some of that stress, tension and judgement that can get in the way - is so important, I wanted to broaden out the scope of the following points so they apply not only to walking but also more generally to the dance.

  • Technique depends on enjoyment. The irony is that forgetting to have fun, relax, smile occasionally and breath easily can be one of the biggest obstacles to developing good technique in tango. If you're not doing those things, you're likely to be holding unneeded tension in your body, which will obstruct connection, make you less agile and also lead to fatigue in yourself and your partner. The focus of your mind is also less likely to be in the present or with your partner.
  • Enjoy to be present, be present to tango. When you are enjoying dancing you are focused on the present, you are engaged in a state of flow. The present moment is also where you need to be focused in order to be most sensitive to the music and your partner. Thus enjoying yourself helps you to be a more musical and attentive dancer, because it helps you to be in the present and reach a state of flow.
  • Give your dances freely, without obligation. This comes down to owning your decision to dance with someone. There could be various reasons for wanting to, and sometimes your ideals are not met and pragmatism is called for. But try to make sure that you've come to terms with your reasons for accepting a dance and that all things considered you really are happy to dance with a person if you accept or make an invitation. A clue that you're not really owning your decision to dance is if you're feeling a nagging sense of obligation, or regret before you even begin the first step. It's not always easy to keep this sense of personal freedom and peace with your choices, but pursuing it will ultimately lead to more enjoyment in tango (and elsewhere of course).
  • Do not dwell on 'mistakes'. Of course, you want to dance with good technique, because it feels and looks better and opens up more creative potential. So then it's natural to want to address those times where connection or technique falter. However, as is hopefully clear by now, there's a high price to pay if you let that problem solving tendency get in the way of enjoying your dances.

    Here are some alternative approaches to dealing with 'mistakes' in a milonga, whoever seems to have made them: See them as opportunities for a different movement and a chance to practice your adaptability. Laugh or smile if it's obvious, in a way that indicates to your partner that you don't mind that something didn't work as planned and you're still having fun. (Obviously, if something you've done has caused them pain or injury, then it's time to show some regret and see if they're happy to carry on or would prefer to stop.)

    Yes, a big part of tango is listening to your partner, and generally trying to show understanding is fundamental to creating harmony in the dance. But there will always be some misunderstandings, or differences of interpretation. Dealing with that is also part of the dance. If as a leader your partner moves differently than you expected, consider the possibility that your follower had a different creative vision than you in that moment, even if your indicated movement was clear. In all cases, don't let it derail your presence or calm in the dance, or that of your partner. Take some perspective; how important is it really that that double time step (or whatever) didn't quite go as hoped? Is it worth affecting the rapport with your partner and the flow of the dance over? Probably not.
  • Finding enjoyment even while making adjustments. What about those cases where how your partner is moving is actually causing you, or them, physical discomfort? There are several options, including: Slowing down and making the dance much more simple, e.g. simply walking around in the line of dance. Adjusting your embrace, making it softer and allowing more independence of movement, or moving arm position. Moving your centre closer to the floor by bending your knees a little more, to increase your own groundedness. Being extra strict with the straightness of your back and the alignment of your hips and legs before stepping. These steps can help you regain enjoyment in the dance, even if you're not quite on the same page as your partner. If it's still causing a problem, then mention it in a kind way and do not compromise with the safety and comfort of your own body.

    If you're in a practica all of the above approaches can still apply, but in this case stopping and trying to figure out what happened might also be useful. When doing this avoid any kind of blame, remain calm, and if your partner is blaming themselves encourage them (or you, if you're blaming yourself) to see what you're doing together as a joint and fun experiment where you're both learning together. E.g. "Instead of blaming yourself, please look at what we're doing as a shared experiment. If things don't work out as planned, that's part of the fun since we can explore why that is, and maybe discover something new." I know it can be frustrating sometimes, but often the key to changing a behavior or response is finding a way of relaxing and not worrying about it. (By the way, if you'd like to read more about my thoughts on non-judgmental communication and conflict resolution, you may find my book on healthy loving relationships interesting.)
  • Enjoyment begets enjoyment. It's much easier for your partner to enjoy dancing with you, if you are enjoying dancing with them. Sometimes you get a snowball effect where one person's enthusiasm, confidence and playfulness increases that of the other partner, and then vice versa. So if that's the sort of result you want, consider how you can enjoy yourself more while dancing.

Well, that's it folks. I hope you enjoyed these ideas on how to get deeper into and more from your walking in Argentine tango. I'd love to hear your thoughts on them!

If you've enjoyed what you've read in this series and are keen to learn tango, you might like to consider doing one of my beginner courses, or core skill courses. I'm also available for 1-to-1 tango tuition.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Walking Tip no 5. Use Your Momentum

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

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'

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Walking Tip no 4. Travel Through Water

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

So now having discussed posture, the embrace and the first movement, what can be said about the quality of movement and connection as you continue to walk in tango? The following is based on a simple concept which may help you develop a solid yet fluid connection in your dance. When taking a step in tango, it is by feeling where your partner is, at any point through that step, that you have the option of staying connected throughout. This continual presence throughout a movement can be likened to the presence of a medium, with a certain density, that you are moving through. The density of it allows you to feel its presence wherever and however you move. Hence the idea developed here is that of helping your partner to feel that they are moving through water when you are dancing with them.
  • The water game. For both leader and follower, when taking a step, imagine you are up to your chest in water. Try to feel the density and weight of the water. For followers especially try to help your partner feel like they are moving through water, through the quality of contact you provide. A good exercise/game for this is for the leader to use the kettle embrace, or for the follower to hold the leaders hips, while the leader walks forward, backward and sideways - with their eyes closed. The follower keeps their eyes open and simply tries to give the leader the sensation that they are moving through water.

    A variation on this game is for the leader to begin a forward or side step and then just shift weight from foot to foot, accelerating in the middle position and slowing toward the change of direction. See if you can maintain the sense of fluid connection through this movement.

    Cultivating this quality of connection first in your walking and then in the rest of your tango will give a beautiful sense of fluidity and togetherness to your dance.
  • Mirroring and symmetrical 'presence'. The water analogy helps to develop a symmetrical kind of presence in the embrace, so that whatever direction the leader moves they feel an (almost) equal and opposite force; their intention is always mirrored. In physical terms it is resistance, but to say resistance sometimes creates an unhelpful association with fighting or rejecting your dance partner. 'Presence' seems to work better. When experienced, however, in contrary to fighting, this water like presence/resistance gives a quite unique and beautiful feeling of awareness of and support by your partner.
  • Frame and grounding. When trying to develop a water like connection in your embrace, take care to maintain your own axis and not learn on or hang from your partner (unless that is the lead). The water like presence comes from engaging more with the floor, pressing into it with your feet and allowing the knees to bend slightly. Also the idea is to feel a sense of water, not to look like it. That means no waving seaweed arms; the structure of your frame, especially in open embrace, is crucial to providing a constant and smooth sense of presence to your partner. There can be a little play in the arm position (especially with changes of direction) - keeping your arms rigid is not the suggestion here - but try to keep any movements small. Large movements from floppy arms will dissipate the lead before it reaches the follower's legs, and rock-like arms can create a stiff or jarring quality to the walking movement.
  • Why water and not, say, treacle, cream of tomato soup, or gossamer puff balls? Well, you can pick whatever medium works for you and your partner, and indeed the level of presence you invite from or give to your partner can change throughout a tango, according to the music, mood and creative interpretation. However, water, seems to be a good default to play with. You may prefer to be a little lighter, or heavier, and that's fine. (In fact, if I really think about it, my personal preference for how much presence a follower gives in the embrace, when walking, is probably about third or even a quarter the density of actually moving chest high through water. So if anyone can think of a more fitting medium that everyone is likely to have heard of, then please let me know!)
  • This is not the only way. Tango can also be danced where the follower is always pushing/projecting back towards the leader. That is not 'wrong', however it does make much of the more modern and expressive movements of tango hard to do in a fluid and controlled way, particularly in open embrace. If you are mainly dancing salon style in close embrace you may feel happy to stick with the always projecting forward approach. However, if you're curious, give this water idea a go and you may find an exciting new dimension of tango opens up for you.

Tomorrow's tip: 'Use your momentum'.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Walking Tip no 3. Check the moment of movement

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

Tango is a language of movement as well as connection. So then, how is that first moment of movement made, while staying connected in the embrace? How can both leader and follower stay comfortable and balanced, while being able to clearly feel and respond to how their partner is moving? Here are some pointers for walking you may find useful.

  • Project your intention before moving your feet. When inviting the follower to make a backward step, for example, project your intention forward by shifting your weight from the middle of your foot to the metatarsal (the front pads of your foot just behind your toes). Doing this, your chest will naturally begin to move forward. As you do this also project your chest downward (by bending the knee slightly) toward the point you'd like the follower to step to. This is the lead for a backward step. Notice that all this happens before you move any foot forward.

    Leading a forward step for the follower, can be done is a similar way. Start with your weight on the middle of your foot and move it backward toward the heel, while also bending the knees slightly so that the chest begins to travel to the point you'd like the follower to step. In this case, of course, you'll need to move your free leg foot out the way first so the follower doesn't collide with it when they're stepping forward.

    A knock-on benefit of leading before you step (as a general rule), is that it's easier for the follower to feel relaxed and unrushed. If you're already gone by the time they feel the lead, then following can seem like a game of perpetual catchup, which soon gets tiring. Training this ability to lead before you step will also open up a lot of creative potential both with walking and other kinds of movements in tango.
  • Indicate the step length. In the case of a forward or back step, the further you move from the middle of your foot forward (or backward, going the other way) and the more you bend your legs as you do, the bigger the intention for the follower to step backward (or forward, going the other way) is. For a side step, it is essentially the same process, start moving your chest toward where you'd like the follower to step, while keeping your shoulders level. In this case the leader's spine may curve sideways slightly. Again, more downward and the bigger the lateral intention, the bigger the step. A visualization that may help is to think of your chest tracing out the shape of a playground slide. Start at the top and go down and across in a smooth, curved fashion. This helps to distinguish a side step from a weight change, which can be thought of more as 'up over and down' or an 'n' shape

    To make it a little easier for the follower to pick up on when you are done indicating step length and are actually transferring your weight through a step, try using a little contra-posture (turning your chest to face the foot that is traveling, then turning back to centre while arriving on the new axis, and so on. Think about how your arms might swing relative to your legs when strolling in the park.) Using contra-posture will also help you balance, as well as it looking good (in moderation).
  • Step while keeping your axis. Another obvious sounding statement, but easily forgotten. The trick to this is to have sufficient bend in the standing leg to allow you to project and reach forward with your free leg, without falling into the step. Once you can feel how the follower is responding to your lead, you (hopefully) have the option of projecting your free leg forward in preparation of transferring your weight through the step. When you do this, aim for a slightly outward angle of the foot. This not only looks good and avoids toe-to-toe collisions, it also aids stability.

    As an exercise with a partner try taking a variety of step lengths together from standing, and test whether you can stay connected, without leaning on each other. See if you are able to stop the step at any point and reverse it. (Note that you can have a strong 'presence' or pressure in the embrace without actually leaning on each other. Think 'traction with floor'. See the next couple of tips for more ideas of how to achieve that.) As always, have a slight outward angle to your extended foot, and when you walk aim for a neat straight line, with knees brushing between steps.
  • Mirror the leaders intention. It could be argued that much of the art of following in tango is the art of sensing and reflecting the leaders physically expressed intention (think 'equal and opposite forces'). When listening for an invitation to step in any direction, if you feel the leader project their intention forward (by transferring their weight in that direction), for example, first mirror that intention by also moving your weight slightly forward. As you do this take the impetus that the leader is giving you and send it through your straight back into your free leg. Extend that leg backward in a straight line in preparation for a step. The result of both leader and follower (reflecting the leader's intention) projecting forward is that actually the chests hardly move, if at all. What will happen though is an increase of pressure, or presence, in the embrace.

    Do not be concerned about where or when the leader is stepping (unless it's on your foot of course), simply go with the projected intention you feel from their contact. If the lead is for a straight forward step, then try to overcome any fear of walking into your partner and project your free leg precisely in that direction, straight forward, without veering a little to the side for safely. This will really help you maintain connection with forward steps. Remember, as always, to have a slightly outward angle to your extended foot.
  • Keep your axis while preparing to step (then continue to keep your own balance while transferring weight). The result of mirroring the leader's intention as above is that you're actually staying on your axis while your free leg finds the point you might possibly step to. Try to delay the point that you transfer weight until your free leg foot is already at the point you're going to step. By doing this (and keeping a good, straight back posture) you are able to maintain a clear and smooth connection with your partner, and avoid falling into a step. (A slightly exception to the general rule of 'hold your axis until your foot is where you're going to step', is with especially large steps, where using your standing leg to push off from will help you get the extra reach.)
  • Listen for the length of step. The length of the step is indicated by the amount of forward projection the leader gives and how much they are driving into the ground. More forward intention and more driving into the ground equals a bigger step (and a more bent standing leg for the follower); less of those things, a smaller step (and a straighter standing leg). Similarly, if the lead is slow, then it's a slow extension of the leg, fast, then a fast extension. When practicing with a partner, see if you can pick up on all step lengths from 1cm to 1m, slow, normal and fast.

    How can you tell the difference between the initial indication of step length and when the leader continues to move forward to actually transfer their weight through a step? If you are well connected in the embrace and your posture is strong then you will feel the difference. The leader using a little contra-posture will also help. (Yes, it is possible to lead a full step without the leader stepping at all, but that's a subject for another time.)

    A common cause of compromised posture, aching backs and falling into steps is the leader and follower taking slightly different step lengths, and one or both partners straining as a result to try and maintain connection as they get further apart. If you think this may be happening to you, try when following to condense your step length, making it a little smaller than you think it should be (while making your free leg straight, even for small steps). Note you can still extend a straight leg, and brush those knees between steps, even when the step is small.

A key point for both leader and follower is to give yourself long enough to feel how your partner is moving, before moving yourself. Just a moment of stillness before responding, small enough that is is more felt than observable, can be a big help keeping a sense of calm and togetherness in the dance. With practice this moment will naturally become shorter and less conscious.

As leader or follower transfers weight, to help get a sense of strong balance imagine you are stepping not on the floor, but a few inches beneath it. Step into the floor and continue to press with both legs as you transfer weight. This will also help you be more agile as well as better balanced. It's slightly harder work, but your legs will get used to it.

Tomorrow's tip: 'Travel Through Water'