Teaching mindfulness in tango
First, let's get our definitions straight: mind·ful·ness (mīndfəlnəs/) noun, 1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
Over the years, I have developed a lot of games and exercises aimed at becoming aware of your own body, your partner's body, your surroundings, and the music. Some I have stolen from teachers; others I have created from a mixture of ideas from various people; and some have popped, fully formed into my head. I use one to three of the drills in a lesson, eventually covering all of them. Each group of students has slightly different needs, so I choose the activities that are most needed by that particular group of students. Here are short descriptions of each one.
Tuning into your body
1. Breath: With eyes closed, standing still on both feet, breathe slowly in and out 3-4 times, focusing on how the lungs and ribs expand and contract. Variation: while breathing, stretch arms out and up on intake; arms out and down on exhale, to encourage movement in the ribcage.
2. Energy: With eyes closed, stand on both feet. When you breathe in, imagine drawing the breath up out of the ground, through all four corners of the feet, up your legs, up your torso, and into your lungs. Exhale reversing the path, and imagine using your exhale to push a magnet away from under your feet/the floor.
3. Axis: Visualize how your body is stacked up, from the feet up. Depending on what we are working on, I will either work through the entire exercise, or just focus on one or two of these points, drawing a figure on the whiteboard for the visual learners to focus on:
- arch of the foot is the base; 50-50 weight on ball of foot and heel
- knees are soft, micro-bent (unlocked but not low); a bit forward of feet
- hips are back compared to feet, using the hip joint to tip to a good angle for balance
- pelvic floor lifts torso on top of legs, to stack pelvis over arches
- back is in natural curves, long and stretchy
- deep abdominal muscles have tone, allowing for fuller breaths
- ribcage is balanced over hips, a bit further forward to counterbalance
- head is floating, balanced over arches of feet
Tuning into your partner
1. Force fields: I always work on breath and axis solo before doing this exercise, as it takes the solo body and tunes it into the partnership:
- Facing your partner, stand so that you are in each other's personal space, but not touching.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe, pulling the breath up from the soles of your feet into your lungs, and exhaling back down through your feet (or up through the top of your head)
- Imagine your favorite color, and as you exhale, send laser beams of that color straight out your feet, THROUGH your partner and to the opposite wall.
- [Give time for 3-4 breaths before going to next body part]
- Each time a new body part is added, make a longer rectangle of energy that goes through your partner, to the other wall:
- belly button (makes people laugh and breathe)
- solar plexus
- collar bones
- shoulder blades
- full body
- Now, move in slowly until you are touching the front of your partner, and get into the embrace.
- Breathe together.
- On each exhale, step side.
- On each inhale, find your balance.
2. Breathing together/Darth Vader breathing: I designed this exercise when I taught at the University of Oregon. The students had a lot of fun playing it ("Luke, use the boleo, hooooooo") but older adults will also play it. The point of the drill is to have the partners breathe audibly and at the same time, matching their breath. I prefer to do this in practice hold, as it is a bit too weird even for me to have someone do this right in my ear.
3. Slow motion: Slow motion dancing is difficult because it requires good balance and breathing, but dancing with your partner in slow motion is an exercise in helping each other breathe and balance, and helps the couple tune into each other. At first, I need to remind everyone to slow down every 20-30 seconds, but eventually, the whole group starts to dance slowly, experimenting with whatever moves they know at their level.
And there's more!
Next week, I'll go over how to tune into the group, the space and the music for even more tuned-in, mindful tango!