Maybe you’ve noticed how intense it can be to dance or watch a couple dancing tango… well you are intrigued enough to click on this article and I promise it has plenty of content to keep your interest.
Maybe we haven’t considered what makes it so intense. Is it the music? Is it the embrace with another human? Is it the coordination or communication of the partners?
One thing is for sure, there is tension. The tension should be within yourself to restrain the intensity that you feel while you are moving across the floor to the music with your partner in a crowded milonga. If we did not marshal to control the intensity we feel during a time when so many factors were present – then we would possibly dance to fast, lose our balance, back-lead our partners, bump into other couples on the dance floor and even worse: make others not want to dance with us for lack of self-control.
To accomplish balanced and graceful movement with another dancer in tango it is necessary to be able to move from one geometrically stable body position to another with some fluidity. This allows us to pivot continuously while our partner moves around us until they change from a circular/orbital movement around us to linear movement with us.
Made to sound so easy right? So why do we have so much trouble with balance if all we are doing is keeping our axis while maintaining tension as our partner orbits around a perfectly balanced diva???
Yes yes, we would like to all be considered tango divas but even the best dancers feel that they have somethings left to be desired. We can argue that when we are taken off our axis that it must have been our partner that did not maintain the range of distance from us whether it be while circling, in a giro or creating counter energy for voleos or planeos. There are many factors to consider but my main discussion is with having the ability to maintain stability while pivoting or while moving from one axis to another with a partner.
Geometrically speaking, to maintain a stationary standing object it has to be balanced and completely still otherwise there needs to be a source of energy to manage the centrifugal forces for it to be able to turn on it’s axis. The dancer who stands alone and pivots can accomplish this with the source of energy from his/her core that creates a spiral that torques and twists to maintain movement on an axis. This is called an open kinetic chain because the body having only one attachment axis on the plane on which it is pivoting.
A=point of contact with partner
Respectful distance= Maintaining distance between A & C so as not to corrupt balance of C axis
Maintaining an axis while in an embrace gets a bit more complex. Your partner can beautifully pivot it one place while you are circling within a respectful distance.
Respecting the amount of distance whether you are dancing in open or closed embrace gives the partner who is pivoting the confidence that he//she will not fall or have to move linearly before or while executing an embelishment or transitioning from any combination of side to back step, back to side step or front to side step.
More geometric jargon: If the source of energy for a standing object to pivot on it’s axis also has its own axis and is moving around said standing object then this creates a closed kinetic chain. It is necessary for the circling force to maintain a proper distance so as not to tip the object over or pull it from it’s axis.
Now those divas are saying, “that’s what ________________________ (insert dancer’s name here) always does, he/she pulls me off my axis while I’m ____________________ing (insert technique here)!!!!
Yes this happens to both leaders and followers!! We are taking turns orbiting each other and it’s very possible to take the other off balance if we don’t respect the distance factor mentioned earlier.
Tension or Stability
Ok, so if we are respecting each others distance while orbiting the others axis and we still can’t keep our balance – then what?
Now we come to the subject of stability. To create a geometrically stable posture while another circles us in an embrace it is necessary to be engaged and balanced within our own space by activating tension in the musculature that creates the shared frame.
In other words… If you want to create a good connection to the floor and your partner then you must be stable. If your ankles or hips don’t stabilize you while you are standing on one foot then you will pull your partner off balance when you move to and put all the weight of your body on that foot. If you don’t feel balanced on one foot while your partner circles you while maintaining your frame then the most natural thing for you to do is change feet or make a linear movement to relieve yourself from feeling unbalanced.
This can create a lot of jostling while transitioning from linear to circular movements and prevent you from creating the sequences or executing the techniques that you learned in class at the milonga with your favorite partners. What’s worse is if a partner doesn’t feel comfortable dancing with you, chances are that they will not ask or accept again for a while or perhaps ever. Some people leave the dance world altogether because they can’t get their bodies to do what is necessary to create stability in their axis.
Ok, so maybe I revealed some dark secret about how others think when they dance with a wobbly dancer but it’s most likely happened to you at some point… You danced with that nice dancer – charming, dresses and smells nice but can’t keep their balance. For some, it makes them question themselves – maybe I’m doing something wrong or what???
To be on the safe side – most of the time it’s enough to not dance with that person again for a while so as to avoid the feeling of inadequacy.
If you know you have some stability issues – then you are closer to those who just chalk it up to being a beginner or not good enough to get better or ever executing a molinete, lapiz, volcada, planeo or single axis pivot. These and other complex techniques take stability and if you can’t lead or execute them then you avoid them altogether!!
When you have identified the problem then it’s just a matter of having a plan to correct it.
(A) Hip with properly activated muscle tension (stable)
(B) Hip with improperly activated muscle tension (unstable)
If you feel a collapsing quality (B) in your hip or ankle when you place the whole weight of your body on that foot then you may have trigger points in your hip or leg muscles that need to be deactivated.
A trigger point in a muscle that is responsible for stability can cause weakness when testing for strength. In other words the muscles do not respond when you are trying stabilize a particular joint and you can’t make enough tension to balance when you need it most.
Another good indication that someone has this problem is if they often stumble or shuffle when attempting to maneuver around or over an obstacle or often loses balance.
Strengthening is important but this is often not enough when there are muscles that are already activated with residual tension.
This problem can be corrected in a number of ways but the easiest way is to have an experienced bodyworker deactivate your trigger points for you. They are usually easy to identify but sometimes take some time to work out especially if muscles have been in this state for a longer period. The reward is having a more stable muscular structure which creates stronger and more stable dance frame and better execution through the transitions. Overall you will feel lighter, agile and more balanced.
Dancing, just like other athletic pursuits, requires activation of the muscles that stabilized your upper and lower body from your core to your extremities. Moving fluidly is about maintaining stability and control when it’s necessary and being able to move smoothly through transitions.
If you suspect that you have some trouble establishing good stability and you want to do something about it – I would be happy to help you work out and resolve them. The response from the tango community in Chicago has been favorable.
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Thanks for reading.