Here’s another simple individual exercise to help work on Back Ochos and balance. Master this, and your turns, sacadas, pivots, etc will improve exponentially 🙂
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Here’s another simple but useful balancing exercise to help with your balance in tango…
Full list of tango exercise videos here (opens new window)
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In tango, it’s crucial that both leaders and followers stay closely connected and in tune with each other’s movements.
Sometimes, though, our partners get a little wobbly. Maybe they’re beginners who still need experience. Perhaps they just took a bad step, or maybe they have a few bad habits to work on. And since the majority of us are nice, empathetic people, we’re likely to act on the natural instinct to help them keep steady.
Despite our best intentions, doing this will hurt the dance. If we’re expending energy to hold our partners up, we can’t lead or follow at our best.
It might feel mean, unfriendly, and cold knowing that we’re allowing unsteady partners to experience the full extent of their own shortcomings. However, this is a very effective yet non-confrontational way of bringing their wobbly moments out in the open where it can be addressed.
Don’t sacrifice your own balance in the hopes that it will help your partner find theirs. It never works.
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While we tango, we work hard to keep time with the music. We also work hard to maintain the “flow of traffic” as we travel in the line of dance. We’re also careful to avoid bumping into others, and to stay connected with our partners.
Amidst all this, we have a tendency to rush. This isn’t necessarily because we want to go fast, but because we’re trying – or sometimes struggling – to maintain balance. This results in dancing that looks rather frantic, even if we aren’t feeling anxious.
Merely making an effort to slow down is a logical solution, but that’s not enough because we can only move as fast, or slow, as our balance allows.
There’s a physical and mental strategy to address this issue.
The physical: We often think of balance while arriving on a step. This is true. But we often forget to make sure that our center of gravity is already secure over our standing leg before initiating a step. Balance doesn’t begin or end. It’s always happening.
The mental: In addition to being a physical skill, keeping balance should be thought of as part of the meditative nature of tango. Being aware of it shouldn’t be looked upon as another item in the long list of things to keep straight in our heads while dancing. If we allow it, focusing on balance can be very calming, as well as an effective way to practice the whole mindfulness thing that all our friends keep telling us about.
So the next time we’re at a milonga and trying to find our footing, or working to stay upright, let’s remember that being balanced is a physical act intertwined with a mental state of being. We can’t achieve either one without the other.
As we improve our tango and grow out of the Beginner stage, we enter an awkward “in-between” phase. Dancing at a milonga is not the struggle it once was, but at the same time, the moves still don’t come easily. We’re concentrating really hard to keep composure, and with each dance we feel there’s a 50/50 chance of either getting through it…or messing up.
During many steps, especially sacadas (either leading or following them), there’s a tendency for the torso to bob around in reaction to the movement of the legs. This sets off a chain reaction starting with instability, which adversely affects our balance. Then, the infamous tense shoulders appear as we grab onto our dance partners. At that point, tango ceases to be fun, and feels more like struggling on a treadmill that’s been turned up too high. The degree to which this happens largely determines whether we’ll “get it” or “mess up.”
Here’s one thing that increases our chances of having a good dance: Keep the entire torso, or core, steady and upright regardless of the footwork we’re following or leading.
At this stage, it’s easy for our minds get bogged down with all the technical elements we learned in class. Unfortunately, at a milonga where everything is happening in the heat of the moment, we aren’t going to remember them all.
But making a conscious effort to keep the torso steady, to prevent bobbing around, leaning back, or hunching forward, will make for smoother dancing. During this growth phase from Beginner to Intermediate, this clear, simple strategy proves much easier on the brain than trying to recall a dozen technique tips at once. With the abdominal muscles engaged and shoulders level, the core becomes stable. And as a result, we become easier to lead or follow.
Eventually, of course, we will have to juggle all those technique points in our heads. But that comes later with more experience. As we complete the current transition, focusing on core stability lays the foundation for that next stage of growth.
Followers – here are some things we need to stop doing when we tango:
Compromising balance & axis to accommodate our partners: Our motivation is to be helpful, and that’s very nice. But making things difficult for ourselves to help the leader doesn’t help anyone in the end. It’s better to calmly stand our ground, and let the leaders figure things out on their own.
Apologizing too much: It’s ok to acknowledge the occasional error, but frequent “I’m sorrys” might mean we’re admitting responsibility for the leader’s mistakes. We can take responsibility only for the elements within our control.
Trying to take over: It’s like trying to use a computer mouse connected to a laptop while someone else uses the trackpad. It’s funny for a while, but ultimately unproductive. Let go. The leader’s role is to make us look good. It won’t happen unless we trust them.
Getting ahead: I know we’re eager to get dancing as soon as we arrive at a milonga, and maybe we’re with a partner who’s (thankfully) easy to read. But moving ahead of him/her is like peeking at the last page of a novel to see how it ends. Spoilers are bad for books, movies, and tango.
Following a bad lead just to be polite: Yes, we often know what leaders want us to do. But doing – or worse, guessing – what leaders want out of politeness only reinforces negative leading habits. It also makes us magnets for bad dancers. So be polite…about insisting that we be led clearly.
Fear not – I’ll pick on the leaders in the next article.
Feel free to add more to this list in the comments section…
In tango, maintaining balance is a fundamental but important concept (you can read an earlier post about it here). Yes, to be scientifically accurate, our sense of balance is mainly governed by the inner ear. But while dancing, we apply more physically tangible aspects: the axis, core, alignment, etc.
Not only should we be aware of our own balance, but we also need to keep track of our partner’s as well. Awareness of our partner’s balance is useful in gauging skill/comfort level, and knowing which figures they’re confident with. But when this awareness becomes a reason for one partner to control the other’s axis (even with good intentions), it becomes a big problem.
Sometimes the best help we can offer is to ease up on the embrace, and give our partners the space and opportunity to steady themselves.