A lot of people who come to me to learn tango feel disconnected from their bodies in daily life. I have had students who needed to look at their feet to see if they were standing on their right or left foot at that moment. I have students who, when I say, "Do you feel that?" when I align their bodies, often (repeatedly) say, "No, I don't." When I try to get people to feel how their hip joint works and how the torso is connected to the legs, I have had someone tell me, "I can't feel anything there," referring to their entire pelvic area. Many times, I ask someone to breathe, and they say, "But I am!" in a gasping whisper, because they have run out of breath.
Why are we so out of touch with our own bodies?
We write our life history on our body. Each event that happens, affects our body. It is impossible to divorce life experience from our body. Injuries, emotional hurt, stress, anxiety, abuse--inscribe themselves on our muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones, and affect how we stand, walk, and dance tango.
For some people, the best way to survive their life, is to tune out of their body. If the truth of what has happened is too big to face, and it is written on the body, then the body must be ignored.
Tango, however, demands that we start to feel our bodies and tune in to not only ourselves, but our partners. Tango can trigger a lot of emotions and past experiences as the dancer lets body awareness back into their lives. Tango will push your buttons; ALL of your buttons. Ask me how I know.
You cannot dance your best without becoming aware of your whole self, and not everyone is willing to delve into the deep reaches of their mind and body in order to dance better. For those people, a moderate level of tango works just fine.
For those of you who are willing to work through to a deeper or higher level of tango, what can you do to fight your personal body demons?
- Practice breathing deeply: put your hands on your ribcage, and expand your ribs to the sides, front and back. Let your lungs stretch your ribcage out and let it release, without a lot of up and down of the shoulders. This will help your tango embrace and provide you with (a lot) more oxygen than you may be currently taking in. Try not to hyperventilate!
- Feel your feet on the ground: barefoot, let your toes spread out and wriggle; let the arches of your feet work naturally; let your weight balance between the ball of your foot and your heel, freeing your toes. This will help, even if your tango shoes feel like they are squeezing your toes. Connect to the earth!
- Open your solar plexus: many of us from stressful, stress-out families tighten our solar plexus because it feels protective. However, it also cuts us off from other people. Think about letting yourself feel more vulnerable in order to tune in more.
- Increase your flexibility: stretching will help you feel more balanced, more open in your body, and more capable of using tango technique correctly. If your body won't stretch because you have spent too many years holding it in, consider Rolfing or some other myofascial release technique to break down adhesions between the surfaces of muscles, allowing your body more grace and motion with less effort.
I am not saying that this is an easy process, but it is a very rewarding process: your tango gets better, your balance gets better, your body strength increases, and your body feels better. Let's get started!