New classes starting in Beaverton!

PDX SportsCenter

My new (second location, don't freak out Om Studio dancers!) will be upstairs at PDX SportsCenter, 8785 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. Go in the doors, around to the left, up the stairs, and turn left. You can't miss it! You can always check out what's going on at http://tangobeaverton.com/ although it does not yet come up on a Google search. Help me spread the word!

I will be starting beginning tango classes there this summer, as well as a second class TBD. There will eventually be a practica as well. Monday nights, 7-8:30 PM for right now, expanding to 7-9 PM (or something like that) will be my Beaverton schedule, at least to start. Thank you all of you West Side folks who have kept nagging me for years; I would not have gotten around to this without you!

My first class there will be....drumroll....

Tango, Toning and Technique

When I went to PDX Sports Center to look at the dance studio space, I noticed that there was a Pilates studio there--Lavinia Magliocco's new studio. I know Lavinia from the tango community, and several of my friends have studied with her. She recently had to relocate because of a fire in the building where her studio was located.

It seemed like kismet: we need to work together, Lavinia! We met and talked and played around with tango and Pilates, and the result is the first class at my new studio space. There are still 10 more spots open for the session. You can reserve your spot here.

TTT flyer 1 online.jpg

Lavinia's story

I’ve been a ballet dancer all my life and trained in professional schools NYC and NC. Diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when I was 18, I was told I could never dance professionally. My other love is writing, so I got my BA in English and Comparative Lit and Communications, became a dance writer, and helped translate 19th century dance manuals for one of the country’s top Social Dance historians while performing in his troupe, The Flying Cloud Vintage Dance Troupe.
After life-saving surgery, I dove into studying Anatomy/Physiology, and Kinesiology and was introduced to the work of Joe Pilates. I credit Pilates with saving my career and body, and putting me back onstage in New York City at an age when many dancers choose to retire.
I bring 25 years of experience working with many kinds of chronic or acute injuries, and neurological conditions like Cerebral Palsy, CMT, & Guillaume Barre. My students have gone on to dance and perform professionally at high levels in their chosen arts, figure skating, ballet, ballroom, and acro.
It is my personal experience that injuries expose our weaknesses. We can let these setbacks end our careers or curtail our lives, or we can seize the opportunity to come back stronger than before. I’ve worked with clients as young as 8 years old, and currently, my oldest client is 95 years old.
Equipoise means the balance of opposing forces that allows us to move with grace. When we’re out of balance, we have no equipoise.
Enlightened means intelligent and aware. I specialize in empowering clients with knowledge of their bodies and techniques to support their lives, whether they’re performance athletes or dedicated grandfathers.
Sometimes I joke that I’m here to de-condition people - de-condition them from unhelpful and stagnant movement patterns that inhibit freedom. My private sessions with clients are one-to-one and are uniquely tailored to each person, since no two people are the same.
You can schedule an appointment by emailing me at epoiselavinia@comcast.net or calling me at 503.887.3608.

Optimal pelvic alignment and movement for tango

Many people have asked me how to relieve their lower back pain from dancing tango. Part of the answer I addressed in the "Heels up vs. down" post and video last year. Correcting how you use your pelvis and iliofemoral joints (hip joints) will also make your dance pain-free and beautiful at the same time. Efficient movement looks better and feels better!

Walking, pausing and balance

Tango differs from normal walking in that you must be ready to change directions at the end of each step. Yes, you might take a few steps before doing something else, but you need to be prepared at all times to avoid other dancers, deal with your balance and your partner's balance, and to respond to inspiration.

The reinitiation of movement after each step feels like a heartbeat to me. The movement is not continuous, but has a pulse with each new step. The observer may not see the "stop" after each step, but the dancers have a split second at least where they could stop, or simply begin the next step from a more balanced position.

The best way to be prepared, is to train yourself to arrive on balance after each step. Both feet should be able to land under your body, with the free leg relaxed and the support leg strong but not tense. This means that your head, ribs, back, hips and legs need to be stacked up and aligned to avoid using extra muscle wear and tear.

I find it helpful to think about how your inner thighs and gluteal muscles hug UP into your pelvic floor. Then, think about how your abdominals and back muscles hug your body DOWN into your pelvis. You are always in upper-body/lower-body alignment every step you take: this is the ideal. How you line your pelvis up with your feet and legs, helps you maintain this ideal balance.

Side-to-side (pendulum) motion at the sacrum

When you walk normally, your pelvis adjusts from one leg to the other to allow your upper body and head to move smoothly. Put your thumbs on your sacrum, right at the base of your spine where it connects to your pelvis. Now, walk "normally" (which seems to be very hard to do while we are thinking about it!). Can you feel how your pelvis tips slightly side-to-side? This is normal and we want it in tango.

The amount of pendulum will vary depending on the pelvis. Men have narrower hips, so the movement will be slighter. Women with wide hips will tip more than women with narrow hips; but still more than the average guy. We are not trying to add extra movement here: a small amount is efficient and helps with balance. This is NOT the time to drag out your ballroom "Latin motion" hips! What is the smallest movement that works here?

Note: some people have been taught not to move their hips. If the adult who raised you walked with stiff hips, you will probably also do so; we learn from the adults who parent us. Or, a dance teacher might have told you to hold your hips parallel or flat while moving; this is just not good for you! Time to learn/relearn efficient movement.

If you have had any injuries that make you clench your lower spine or pelvic muscles, you may be fighting your own body in an effort to avoid pain. This movement should NOT create any pain: have your doctor/PT/chiropractor check that you are moving well.

Front-to-back hip tip

I've been discussing hip placement with my chiropractor, physical trainer and Pilates teacher recently. Why is the motion for tango different than for strength training? The answer: tango needs the body to be able to rotate at the hips or the torso A LOT more than in daily walking and running. It's about mobility, not stability. Therefore, there is a tiny bit more tip at the hip joints to facilitate that readiness to move, while remaining as stable as possible at the same time. Whew!

Grab your butt

Those of you who have been in lessons with me know what I'm going to say here. In order to find how your hip joint works, grab your sitz bones (your ischial tuberosities if you prefer), and tip yourself over from there (don't arch your back). This should make your lower back feel broad and relaxed, allowing for more rotation when needed.

Another way to find the best position for your hip, is to grab your sitz bone and the front of your hip where it folds, next to your pubic bone. Let your hands tip you forward and backward, feeling for a release of the ligament in the front of the hip. You want to be in the zone between these points, not too far forward and not too far back.

When you get your pelvis out of that tight mode of hanging out on your front ligaments, it recruits your deep abdominals, your psoas, your pelvic floor--all the parts that allow you to suspend your upper body over your lower body, but in a way that allows movement IN ANY DIRECTION.

Share the work

Remember: Let your muscles hug your bones. Let all of your joints share the weight/stress of moving so that no one part is doing all the work. If you have a problem area (knee, ankle, etc.), spread that work out away from the weak spot.

Along with spreading the work out, try to use as little work as possible to maintain correct posture and motion. That way, you always have something left to save you if you fall, protect you from a difficult partner; or to play with when you get a partner where you can really cut loose!

Get your hips in the right position, keep them within the margin of error that allows for adjustment. Let your pelvic floor and deep abs lift. Let those butt muscles work for you. Focus on efficient, beautiful motion, and you will have a powerful tango.

Check out my YouTube channel

I put tango how-to videos up as I have time. I have not had time to put up a walking video, but there are videos on pivoting and turning, as well as milonga drills. There are also exercise, including hip openers. All of them focus on correct movement, and you can watch the hip motion and work on yours. Mine is not perfect, but we are all working on improving!

Esther Gokhale and walking

I also have a playlist about walking and posture from Esther Gokhale's work (she is my hero)! As she says, "If it were not behind you, we would call it something else!" I will add to this playlist as I find new information from her.

BE INSPIRED!

 

Tips for good pivoting in Argentine Tango

Improving your pivots in tango makes a lot of moves easier. Ochos, turns, boleos, . . . the list goes on and on. Pivots are just as important for leading tango, but I have been focusing on making videos for followers to improve their own dance. It seems to me that many classes only focus on how to lead tango, leaving the followers to do the best they can with little information.

Build your body map

If you spend some time working just on the pivots, your moves will improve. Finding what muscles work in your body to make a good pivot, helps you build your own "body map" of how the body works. Then, if something is not working, YOU can detect and fix the problems. Having a good teacher is very important, but that person cannot follow your around the dance floor, pointing out when you have successfully done a move, or when you have made a mistake.

Take the time to work SLOWLY on your pivots. Feel how they work in your body. Focus on your feet, or your hips, or your abs, or whatever part you are working on. Once you have a good feel for that part, add it into your body map until you can see/feel how all the parts work together. For me, when it is working, I feel as if there is a fiber optic cable running through the focus points, lit up like a Christmas tree. When something is not working, one of those connect-the-dot spots fails to light up.

After many years of working on my body map, I can tune into it pretty easily, but it took a lot of work to get to this spot. Don't give up!

Video time!

Turn technique for followers: practice drills

Here is a short video on turn drills to help improve your tango turns. My FUNdamentals class asked me to video some of the exercises that I do, so that they can remember them outside of class :-) Sorry about the sound: I was fighting a cold and sounded horrible the day I shot the footage for the drills, so I gave up talking and just typed the information on the video.

It is much harder to practice by yourself than with a partner. First, it's easier to practice when someone else says, "OK, put on your shoes now and let's go!" Also, when you have a partner, you can hold onto them, and that makes getting around the corners easier than on your own. Lastly, I tend to practice longer when I have someone to talk to; it's hard to make yourself do more than a few songs.

Making the video made me do a lot more practice that day! I kept shooting video, looking at it, and then going back to do it again. I think I did turn drills for almost an hour before I got interrupted by my family! So maybe we should all just turn on the camera and go for it! It never looks good, by the way. I can see every one of the mistakes I made here. I hope that, by leaving them in, you can see that it's not about perfect, it's about practice.

The knees in tango: how much flexion should I have?

A lot of tango technique is focused on the foot and ankle, as well as on the hip joints. The knees have a much smaller role in tango, but it is still important to have good technique all the way up the leg!

Bend zee knees!

When I was a sweet young thing in Omar Vega's milonga classes at Torcuato Tasso, he used me to show moves. Between my bad Spanish and (apparently) bad technique, he could get really frustrated with me. "Bend your knees! More! More! Too much! Straighten your knees!!" I heard that every week until I figured out what he meant.

Knee Structure

Let's look at the structure of the knee. Notice that nice, rounded surface where the bones meet? They are meant to roll/flex in a front-to-back movement with very little lateral motion.

The muscles that attach to the knee or run across the joint, move the knee. For efficiency, the muscles at the front and back of the knee must have some sort of balance of power. You can see that the hamstrings (back) and quadriceps (front) are the big muscles groups of the upper leg that need to be balanced.

The problem: weak knees

Most of us have weak hamstrings and gluteal muscles from sitting too much, so we rely more on our quads, and hold the flexion in our knees with too much muscle work. When that happens, the leader cannot feel the follower's feet very well (and vice versa): there is no connection to the ground energetically, and so the power of the move is reduced. In high heels, that pulls your forward onto your toes, and adds extra work and possible discomfort to your tango.

Fixes to the knee problem

Leg strengtheners

Any exercises that build your gluteal muscles and your hamstrings will benefit you for tango. Check our your local trainers, physical therapists, exercise classes, etc. I have learned a lot of exercises from my chiropractor (who is also a physical trainer). I use my information to make sure that I am working correctly when I go to my Barre 3 classes.

Mobile alignment

Build your hamstrings and gluteal muscles, but in the meantime, try to balance your knee bones so that the BONES hold you up, and the muscles simply help. Not too flexed, not too straight, and constantly adjusting: that is the secret! It's not a "position" but a "range of motion" approach. Let there be some variation in your move. After all, the proprioceptors in your ankles are constantly adjusting for balance, and that needs to travel up through your knees and hips to your body. You can't hold a static shape that is right: everything constantly adjusts.

Extend your legs?

So the answer is: yes and no. A good tango step is a balance between too straight and too bent a knee and allows for efficient muscle use and balance. Too many dancers reach their legs out behind them as they take backward steps. This might look pretty, but it has no power, and the leader does not know where your feet went. Check out my videos if you'd like more about how I think you should move.

 

 

 

Traspies and crosses: more milonga technique

The second video for milonga technique was supposed to finish things off, but I keep coming up with more exercises that help improve your milonga; so there is a third one. This was supposed to be published over two weeks ago, but my interface software to internet was not behaving, so if you see this "after" the third video, that is why :-)

 

The video

Lateral crosses and pivoting traspies: Round 3 for the milonga drills!

Adobe seems to have finally fixed the glitch for uploading to YouTube, so I can finally publish my newest video!

It's been a rough week here in the USA in many ways. Here's something to work on to take your mind off the rest life for a few minutes! I will post more tips later on, but with the Buenos Aires tour in less than two weeks, I am running full speed ahead planning events for that; so please forgive me for just jumping to the video.

 

Corridas and toquecitos: technique for milonga excellence

Milonga is perhaps my favorite dance in the entire world (tango, cover your ears!). I love the groove of the dance and the simplicity/challenge of playing with syncopation instead of the more varying syncopation, pauses and slo-mo possibilities in tango. Many dancers who come from other rhythmic dances, find milonga easier to approach than tango.

However, because of its speed and the need for smaller steps, milonga can be more challenging than tango to reach a level of excellence. It is SO easy to abandon technique and just clomp through the dance, panicking at the needed speed of each step.

I have just taught six weeks of milonga technique in my beginning, intermediate and advanced classes. The Body Dynamics class has been focused on small steps, elegance and speed for the session as well.

Corridas and toquecitos

Corridas

Corridas, or "runs" are a series of fast, small steps that can be moving forward, backwards, or laterally. Corridas are also done in tango and vals, and have the same considerations there.

For forward or backwards steps, the main issue is making the fast (syncopated) steps feel comfortable. Remember:

  1. Take quick steps that are half as big as the regular steps.
  2. Get your heel down on each step to balance yourself for the next step.
  3. As you shift feet, keep your knee and hip alignment so you have cushioning.
  4. Core, core, core! Engage your deep core to make a dynamic step your partner can feel.

For lateral steps, a lot of people find the errors in their normal side steps are magnified by going quickly! Focus on:

  1. Rolling through your foot on both the step traveling to the side, AND on the step in place!
  2. Letting the natural shift in the hips happen when you change feet. Don't keep your hips flat to the ground!
  3. Keeping the knees soft.

Toquecitos (little touches)

Toquecitos are adornos that work really well in milonga. BE CAREFUL to avoid overdoing them. I distinctly remember one woman who was dancing when I started in 1995: she sounded like she was tap dancing! Don't be that person ;-)

That said, toquecitos that are soft and get your feet under you can be used as what I call a "functional" adorno: something that improves your technique, rather than just an ornament.

Toquecito tips:

  1. As one of my teachers used to say, "Don't kill the cockroach!" Just tap lightly.
  2. Use the ankle muscles so that the movement is the whole foot.
  3. Think of using it just before you move, rather than step and tap. I think of it like a downbeat: "And, go!" instead of "Step, TAP!" which is too loud/harsh.

 

The video

Exercises for fabulous boleos: the video

The origins

When Guillermo di Fazio was in Portland for Valentango, I had the chance to study privately with him. I am very interested in the style of the old masters, so when he announced a class on Todaro's style/combos, I was very excited. Unfortunately, I had to work at the time of the class, so I contacted him, requesting private lesson time.

During my lesson, Guillermo taught me:

  1. the material from the Todaro class.
  2. all the material he had hoped to cover but had not.
  3. another Todaro combo that occurred to him while we were working.
  4. drills to prep the leaders for the combinations we had worked on.

I really enjoyed dancing with someone who could lead me in the combo, and then follow well, so that I could try the same thing that I had just followed. I learn best this way, and am happiest with a strong teacher who can do this well.

My brain completely full, I sat with my camera, rewatched the lesson and took notes until all the info was on paper and on film. Although I lose some of the information, that way, the maximum that I CAN retain can be found :-)

Crack balls, KNIFE!

As is my habit, I share all information I learn with my students. I don't see a purpose in withholding information to make people wait, or pay more, or to keep my level higher. That's my main complaint about dance schools with prescribed levels--you know what I mean.

Anyway, by teaching new information, I can see how much of it works for dancers at beginner or intermediate or advanced levels, what other material they need in order to be able to do the movements; and how I can best explain it so that more people get it faster. Body Dynamics (for those of you in Portland, this is my 7 PM Monday class at Om Movement Studio) gets all my new material, as it preps for all levels of my group classes.

The men in the class were taken back by Guillermo's suggested instructions of "Crack balls! Knife!" to explain how to swing the leg across the body, pivot, and stop abruptly, on balance. The women just thought it was funny. I have since changed how I describe the movement.

Adapting drills for other purposes

As the Todaro combos proved too difficult for my students to actually do, I started to look for other applications for these drills. I broke down the exercise into easier parts, and working up to the full effect.

Immediately, I noticed that these drills were really about having good balance while one leg was completely relaxed and moving quickly, followed by pivoting on balance. Hmm...this seems to be the same info needed for doing good follower moves that require loose legs! I made last week's video to show how this can benefit followers.

 

In addition, there are a lot of possiblities for the leader to add into other moves, if s/he is sooo on balance that flicking the free leg around does not inhibit a clear lead. We have recently been playing a new game I call "Crazy legs" that incorporates the leader playing with this while the follower does turns.

Go watch the video, do the exercises, and come to class!

 

 

 

 

Ankle and foot stretches and strengthening for tango

Just the video, ma'am!

For those of you who don't like to read, here is the video, right at the top where you can find it!

A big thank you!

Thanks for all the nice /website messages about my last video! So nice that all of this work learning to shoot and edit video is helping other people. As a shy person, it is VERY hard to turn that camera on. Don't be fooled by how much I talk: I talk a lot more when I am nervous! For me, this is almost as awful as those dreams where you realize you don't have clothing on in a public place...

It's been fun to (re)connect with dancers from all over the country. I was thinking about working on my ocho video, but a viewer asked me about ankle strengthening exercises (Hi, Lisa!).

For those of you who don't like to read, I will try to talk through most of this on the video; but some of us still like the written word!

My ankle history

As a child, I was always the person twisting/straining/spraining my ankles. I constantly rolled over the sides of my feet and hurt them. For those of you who know me well, you know I have almost zero stereo vision, so part of this was due to not being able to see very well. However, I also inherited my mother's weak ankles. I remember Mom driving to school to tape my ankles so that I could run track (my school required all of us, even us slow folks, to take part in track meets). I always seemed to have ace bandages on.

I didn't get stronger ankles until I took about six years of West African dance in grad school and afterwards. By the time I got serious about tango, I had strong ankles.

Now, after my foot injury, I am just beginning to put my 9 cm. tango stilettos back on, and I notice that my ankles are not as strong as previously. In the video clips that follow, I will show you how to stretch and strengthen your ankles so that YOU can wear tango heels and not get injured.

Foot & ankle: 26 bones, 31 joints, 20 muscles

A complex system of bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles holds us up and moves us around. No wonder we have so many foot and ankle issues!

Warm up first!

Get the blood flowing in your system before doing stretches and strengthening exercises. Even if you just go walk around the block, that will help you protect your body while improving your tango. I usually do arm and legs swings, as well as twisting around my body, before I start stretching. If I don't walk to warm up, I do ankle circles right and left before stretching.

Part 2: Stretch!

The first part of the video shows gastrocnemius and soleus stretches. Those are the two big calf muscles. They share the Achilles tendon across the back of your ankle. If your issue is lack of flexibility, spend MORE time on this, and less on the strengthening exercises. Remember that it takes 1.5-2 minutes for the microfibers in your muscles to allow for a full stretch: they are there to make sure you don't tear and rip muscles.

Part 3: Massage your feet!

Use a massage ball or golf ball to get your plantar fasciae in gear. That's the layer that encases your muscles on the bottom of your foot. You can also massage your feet: we do this in Body Dynamics almost every week. Consider doing this also when you take your heels off after dancing, ladies!

Notes: keep your foot over the massage ball, so that the weight of your leg helps apply pressure to the sole.

Part 4: Stretchy bands are your friends!

The video shows the first of three parts of a leg and ankle stretch that we do in Body Dynamics. The rest of the stretch addresses other leg muscles, so I left it out for brevity. You will see it some other time!

Part 5: Towel exercise for foot strength

I spent a lot of grad school going to PT and getting my feet taped so I could dance as much as I needed to for my M.A. in Dance. I have learned a lot since then: in my 20s, I saw that as a necessary evil, but never really did my strengthening exercises. I just thought I would have weak ankles my entire life! My feet and ankles are much stronger now in my 50s, thanks to hard work!

Part 6: The alphabet, foot style

Fine muscle control in your feet will help you do fabulous adornos and have precision in your tango. Drawing the alphabet with your feet works the muscles you need for that. Have fun: do different alphabets, draw them upside down or backwards, write whole words--whatever works for you. I usually try to remember the Cyrillic and Arabic alphabets from my grad school studies.

Part 7: Lateral ankle strength stretchy band work

You need a friend or a heavy piece of furniture for this one. Loop a stretchy band under a chair, sofa, bed, or have a friend hold the other end. Make sure you get enough tension on the band to have a good workout, but don't overdo it. I almost always end up moving closer to the piece of furniture than I start.

The most important part here is to STABILIZE YOUR KNEE. You don't want to work the whole leg. The better you line up your knee, the more the ankle gets focused work.

Hope this is helpful!

 

 

 

 

Rebuilding my feet: foot care & body alignment

I am trying to do a weekly vlog, as sometimes it is MUCH quicker to show something, than to try to explain it in words!

This week, I wanted to show a quick body alignment reminder, followed by some foot stretches and foot care ideas to help you dance longer and more often, without foot pain.

For those of you who are local to the Portland, Oregon area, I teach a class called Body Dynamics, where we do stretches, exercises and games that help build body strength for tango, while practicing tango technique. I teach at the Om Studio, 14 NE 10th Ave. (off Burnside), and class is at 7 PM on Mondays. Both women and men are welcome, and I tailor the class to the people who take it. Please bring socks and your dance shoes, and dress in clothing that allows you to sit/lie on the floor.

 

What having a broken big toe has taught me about my tango

The saga

The bad news

About a month ago, I got kicked by an enthusiastic dancer. It hurt a lot, but I carried on teaching. The next day, another student (a doctor) felt my toe and told me she couldn't feel a fracture. I kept on teaching, but mostly danced in socks for the week.

I went dancing a week later, in heels as usual. After about three tandas, I couldn't dance anymore. I figured that, after teaching five hours, I was just tired. However, another week in socks, and another attempt to dance in heels after the second week, ended the same way. I felt a sharp snapping feeling in my toe, and couldn't pivot anymore.

My husband insisted that I go to urgent care, where they xrayed my toe, told me they didn't see a break, and sent me home in a boot with my big toe buddy-wrapped to my second toe.

The next day, the doctor called to say that the radiologist "might" have found a fracture of my toe. Two days later, they confirmed that my toe was broken. My chiropractor, who works with Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers, read me the riot act, and made me promise to cut down on teaching, as well as to wear this (stupid) boot for six weeks.

I am two weeks into the six weeks. I figure that I probably re-broke the toe at least once before wearing the boot, so I am counting the break from the Xray day, rather than from being kicked. I am NOT a good patient. I push my body. I am still teaching about three hours a day, six days a week. Being self-employed means that I don't have workman's compensation for injury on the job, and I don't have sick days or paid vacation; so I work.

The good news

I am getting a lot of help from my students. Some are coming to classes with a partner instead of solo. Some have switched to every other week to rest my foot. Some are helping out with my dance classes. I really appreciate it!

That's the only good part when I'm in a grumpy mood about my (stupid) foot.

I can still lead!

All of those years of learning moves to the right and to the left, using either foot, have finally paid off!

I can't pivot on my left foot, and the boot doesn't let me articulate my left foot BUT I have found that I can mostly lead as well as without the boot. When I need to pivot, I use my right foot. If I need a really good VROOM! of energy to get the follower to do something, I start on my right foot. I don't even really have to think about adjusting moves because of years of training lead and follow, on all my moves. I know

Simply from having learned to dance from elderly Argentine men on the dance floor, I can see how less than stellar posture and technique can still make a good dance. I focus on the follower and being clear (as usual), and I adapt my dance as needed.

I like that my core strength and my balance allow me to do a lot of my giros and other pivoting moves, on one foot. All those hours of balance training have paid off too!

Following is harder on my body

I don't think this is always the case, but without a left foot that pivots, I have to work a lot harder to get to where the leader needs me to be, without causing trouble for the leader. I have developed ways to cheat that I have not had to ever use before. It's not as easy as leading, where I have the choice of where the dance is headed, and can avoid pivoting when needed.

The injury certain shows me that I have been dancing over the center of my arch, using my metatarsals instead of my toes. If I danced on my toes, I would not be able to dance at all right now. Thank goodness for healthy technique!

My chiropractor said that he was surprised that I wasn't out of alignment, between the broken toe and the awful boot. He said it must be due to my good walking technique. He also said he is always amazed at how healthy my feet look despite wearing heels a lot, and agreed that my technique must be strong.

No social dancing for six weeks??!!??

Go out and dance a tanda for me: I can't go out social dancing until this is over. It's just too painful to watch everyone else dancing when I can't. Sigh.

At least I can still teach! I think I would go crazy without any dance. I have four new class sessions that start this week. Lots of plans, lots of enthusiasm, lots of frustration that I can't show everything the way I would like to show it.

 

 

 

Body alignment: finding YOUR midline

The more I teach, the more I focus on finding where each person's body can balance best.

For a lot of people, dancing tango means finding the front of the partner's body with the front of their own body. Focusing on the front surface of each body sometimes leads to leaning, heaviness, and loss of balance. What other ways can we think of connection, in order to protect our own body and dance better?

 

Spine front-to-back

try to picture my spine in 3-D, and build my body around that. Here's a great picture of the spine in the body that might help you with the image I'm talking about. What I like here, is that you can see the ribs and the pelvis, but the feeling of all the bones being IN the body is really well done. I want my torso and spine to be aligned, nice and long, and supple, like in this picture.

Front-to-back, my pelvis is balanced so as to keep my spine as relaxed and long as possible; and to let me use my deep core muscles instead of my back muscles, to hold me up. This gives me a lot more rotational movement possible around my center.

 

Balancing right and left sides of the body

My body is divided right and left, with my spine as the dividing line. That doesn't mean that there is a straight line down the middle all the time. If I am standing on one foot, that midline has some curves in it! Check out The Birth of Venus! The free leg (the one she does not have weight on), is relaxed, and the pelvis is lower on that side. My pelvis is like a see-saw, with the support side up and the free side down; that tips side to side, each time I change weight from one foot to the other.

My shoulders and shoulder girdle rest in a relaxed way, as if they were draped over my body. Remember that the only bony connection between your arms and your body, is your collarbone: the rest is muscle. This page might be overkill, but it does show how everything is connected.

Both the pelvic girdle and the shoulder girdle have to adjust when we move, in order to created balanced movement through our midline. The more we can be efficient with motion at the periphery (away from the midline), the easier it is to remain balance in the center.

If we adjust right and left at our shoulders (the metronome approach, tick-tocking from side to side with the head and shoulders) instead of the hips (pendulum swing) there is a lot more movement in order to stay balanced. Why work harder??

 

Contrabody motion for balanced walking, running or dancing

The midline constantly changes, balanced over one foot or the other; with a pendulum movement of the hips; and responding balancing motion in the upper body, spine, shoulder girdle and head. If this is done without motion twisting around the torso, efficient movement is impossible.

Contrabody motion means the opposite side of the torso and hips/leg match up. If you have ever gone cross-country skiing, you had to do this to move :-) Right arm/torso and left hip/leg come forward, and then the other alternates. I looked for good explanations on the web, but have not found a really good one yet.

Think about jogging or running, or even walking quickly as if to catch the bus: The faster we move, the more we tend to use contrabody motion, because we cannot move efficiently without it!

 

Exercise for finding good contrabody motion

This is a new find-your-own-body exercise I have been teaching recently:

Version 1: Sitting for hip stability

  • Put your fingers into your solar plexus region, just under where your ribs stop and your belly starts, to feel your oblique muscles
  • Find neutral: straight ahead
  • Twist to your right and feel what muscles start to work (if nothing is working, that's a problem!)
  • Come back to neutral
  • Twist to your left and feel what muscles are working
  • Return to neutral

Version 2: Standing

Take a Pilates ball and squeeze it between your thighs (letting your midline help your stability)

  • Repeat the above exercise, with either a helper or a mirror to ensure that you are not twisting the hips.
  • Make sure that the same muscles are working as in Version I
  • Breathe!

Version 3: No Pilates ball

  • Use your thighs against each other to help you stabilize so that you don't rotate the hips (for those of you with thinner thighs, imagine that they are touching: energy does almost as much as you can with muscle, maybe more!).
  • Continue to use your obliques.
  • Now try walking, feeling this motion.
  • Repeat

 

Putting it all together

Putting it all together is both easier and harder than it sounds. After all, you have been walking since you were a baby--but no one taught you how to walk any specific way. Look! The baby is walking! Cool! Done.

As an adult, it can feel disconcerting to realize how little body awareness most of us use day-to-day. When I ask students if they can feel certain motions, I often am told, "No." Only after learning to tune into the body, can some people feel what is going on in their muscles, bones, energy, etc. For some people, even partial awareness can take years, especially if any emotional trauma is being held in the body (read: all of us).

I like to think of the body as being a bunch of stretchy bands, linked together in the center of the body, working as a system to make elegant, fluid motion possible. That's the muscles.

I think of the bones as a building structure, but perhaps one designed by toddlers: the bones don't stack in a straight line, but each one is held up by bones further down. The whole structure rests on the arches of our feet, which are like the earthquake cushions under skyscrapers: they adjust constantly with micro-motions, so that the entire structure might sway, but will stand up.

The nerves move electricity around our bodies and that of our partners. The tango connection for me is more about this electrical field interface, then just touching (although touching is nice!).

Our breath, circulation and lymph constantly pump through, connecting the other systems at many levels. The fluidity of the dance mirrors the actual fluids in our bodies!

It's a complex system to balance, even when not moving, but that constant motion within our bodies is what keeps us balanced. After all, if we tried to NOT move at all, we would not be dancing!

 

 

 

Learning through contrast: interleaving of practice

The more I read of Make It Stick, the more I am changing how I teach. What I find most interesting, is that I will plan a class and then read a chapter of the book, which tells me to do what I just planned to do. After almost 30 years of teaching, I'm starting to do it right!

Peter C. Brown el al. write,

"In interleaving, you don't move from a complete practice set of one topic to go to another. You switch before each practice is complete. . . . It's more effective to distribute practice across these different skills than polish each one in turn. The athlete gets frustrated because the learning's not proceeding quickly, but the next week he will be better at all aspects [of the different parts of the movement] than if he'd dedicated each session to polishing one skill." (p. 81).

How are we working on this in tango this week? We always do this in Body Dynamics class, as we build on skills week after week, doing 5-10 minutes on several different themes each time the class meets.

In advanced class this week, we are looking at several very similar ideas in the dance, that all have slight differences in spacing, the marca (lead), and how the follower moves to complete the pattern.

For example, we've been working on the sentada and a leg drag that comes out of a parada. The sentada and parada are similar moves, but in the parada, the follower's weight is mostly on the back foot, but s/he is stopped with the feet apart. In the sentada, the follower's weight is 100% on the back leg, but in a flexed, springlike way, with the leg crossed in front. This again is only a tiny bit different than getting the follower to do a reverse cross and actually change weight at that moment. When you add the idea of the sacada led through the follower's back step; or a single-axis turn from the same place, then you begin to see that TEENY differences in setting up a step create different responses from the follower.

So why should be work on these at the same time? Isn't this just too confusing?

Here is my question to you: how many times have you led a move, only to have it not go quite perfectly? Perhaps you misjudged the space. Perhaps the follower jumped to conclusions and did a different move. For whatever reason, you are now forced to pull other information out of your memory and immediately apply it.

What if that piece of information was already grouped with the movement that you had tried to do? Wouldn't it be more likely that you could adjust to the reality of the moment successfully? I know this works for me, and that's why I'm teaching this to the advanced dancers.

As a follower, why would this be useful? For me, the more important aspect of working like this is to encourage the follower to be a better follower. Instead of picking a move out of what I call "the index box" from memory, and executing it, the follower MUST wait for the leader to lead the move, precisely because it is not 100% clear which move is being done, until the lead has happened (and if it has not been led, then....that's not the follower's issue). Many followers stay on the intermediate level for years and years, because they are not willing to through the index box of moves away and simply follow. To me, that is the difference between an intermediate and advanced follower, no matter how many years s/he has followed.

So, tomorrow, be prepared for crazy mayhem--for really learning these cool moves!

Tango mindfulness III: games for exploration, contd.

More games and exercises to tune into tango

Last post, I detailed the games that I use to teach how to tune into your own body and to your partner. In tango, we also need to tune into the whole group of people dancing for maximum enjoyment, as well as to the space and the music.

Tuning into the whole group

One of the things I remember from when I was doing my fieldwork in Buenos Aires for my thesis, was the description one older man gave me of dancing "in the old times" (pre-1990s). He said that there used to be very few crashes on the dance floor. If you watched the dancers, everyone seemed to be in the same flow, dancing together. He added that he didn't see that happening anymore, as new dancers were too focused on themselves.

I was struck by what he said, and constructed some exercises aimed at improving the awareness of the group and of the space around the dancers.

1. Blindfold tango: Just as you can feel that you are near someone or something when you have your eyes closed, you can tune into the group dancing without using your eyes. BOTH dancers in each couple close their eyes or are blindfolded. Using the breathing exercises we worked on before, the couple tunes into each other, and then starts to dance around the room in SLOW MOTION with very soft bodies so that if they collide with another couple, no one will get injured. The point of this exercise is to get both leaders and followers tuned into all the people in the room and the space in the room.

2. Solo-couple: I use this drill more than any other drill, as it helps develop navigation skills as well as tuning-in skills. When I call "Solo!" everyone walks around the room, to the music. I encourage people to walk the "wrong" direction, through the middle of the group, etc., to mix up the dancers. When I call "Couple!" everyone grabs the nearest person, and starts dancing WITHOUT pausing (grab & go). When the movement gets caught or clogged behind someone, I yell "Solo!" again and we repeat.

 

Tuning into the space

When I dance in a new space, I really pay attention to the shape of the space and how it affects the dancers. For example, El Beso in Buenos Aires is famous for that awful pillar that creates a traffic jam each time you go around the floor. Folks who are used to dancing there usually manage the space, but visitors take awhile to adjust their dance. Here in Portland, there are several spaces used for practicas and milongas with pillars that make dance flow problematic. In other spaces, the tables are set up in such a way as to intrude on the dance space; while other spaces feel easy to navigate.

Although space management is not just a beginner problem, I use this exercise mostly with beginners and intermediates. I recently used it in my advanced class for the first time, and saw a marked improvement in the quality of dance in a small space, so I will probably use it more in the future.

1. Full space: First, I let everyone dance using the whole room. When we are learning new moves, this is how I usually use the space, so everyone knows how big the room is.

2. 1/2 room: Then, I divide the room with furniture or a human wall, and make everyone do "solo-couple" in this new space.

3. 1/4 room: Gradually, I move the "wall" to create smaller and smaller spaces, each time doing "solo-couple" at least once so that all the dancers adjust to the amount of space they have. I stop squeezing the dance space when people start freaking out (not breathing, tightening their bodies, etc.) unless we are near a festival time, when I use this to accustom the dancers to how it will feeling dancing at the festival.

 

Tuning into the music

For dancers who grew up with rock 'n roll (or more modern versions of North American music), playing with tango music can seem confusing. Several of my students tell me that dancing milonga and vals are easier because they encourage simply dancing to the beat.

However, in order to fully explore tango music, the dancer needs to listen to more than just the beat of the music. Here are some exercises that I have designed to play with the music and get more out of a tanda.

1. Speed drill: sloooooow, pauses, half-time, regular (tiempo), fast (contratiempo)

Most dancers like one or two speeds of movement, but tango can have many different flavors within the dance. By practicing all of the possibilities, dancers can add a flavor or two to their movement, making their dance musically richer (BTW, I do NOT suggest doing this academically while dancing to be "interesting" but rather a way to access deeper listening skills to the partner and the music).

In class, we practice each way of moving to the music, one at a time, before combing them:

  • Almost all dancers can find the tiempo, or regular beat. Those who cannot, can often cheat off of the nearby dancers visually, and more or less move to the rhythm of the dance.
  • Dancing contratiempo, using syncopation, takes a bit more work. While most dancers can understand the concept of dividing the regular beat into two (or in vals, three) parts, many dancers struggle to remain elegant while dancing faster.
  • Many tangos of the rhythmic era function well when danced using just these two ideas. Indeed, this is how most of my students prefer to dance, avoiding the pitfalls of the pausa (pause) :-)
  • Alternating moving and pausing (half-time), or incorporating pauses into the dance, provides a challenge for many dancers. Foremost, if you are not dancing on-balance, pausing is very difficult. Also there is the question of "how long do I pause here?" for folks who don't hear phrasing in the music easily.
  • Adding pauses into the dance, and emphasizing them in the romantic tango music, really brings out a richness that is lost without those pauses.
  • Slow-motion dancing does not fit all tango music, but I like using it when the music is dramatic, or the melody line is slow and drawn-out. I encourage slow-motion dancing as a way to experience the widest range of possibilities for expression in the dance.

2. What's your favorite flavor?

Identify your favorite speed to use for dancing tango, and gradually add more layers of timing. Most dancers understand that more choices means richer dancing, but need some help identifying what they are using, and what could be added.

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat: same music three times:

We danced best when we love the tango (or the vals or the milonga) that we are dancing. Finding the soul of a particular tune can be easy or difficult, depending on our level of natural musicality and/or our level of musical training.

First, we listen to the song while NOT dancing. Then, we listen to the song while dancing solo (What adorno would I do? When? Where are the pauses? Where are the "fast" parts--if there are fast parts? Does this song make me dance slo-mo? etc.). Last, we dance the same song, but with a partner.

Three times through won't make that song yours, but it's a good start!

4. Find the adornos and pauses

What I do to work on my own adornos, is to put a song on and dance around my living room, practicing my adornos, and seeing what occurs to my body for each song. I try not to make any plan, but simply practice using adornos to a particular piece of music.

In a class, I have the entire class, men and women, dance around solo, interacting with the other dancers by playing with adornos (and not talking!). Then we dance again, trying to play more, cut loose, and improvise.

Tango mindfulness: Tuning into your body and surroundings

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?

  1. 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!
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

 

 

 

The moment is always changing--and so is my axis

I've been reading about impermanence: nothing stays the same forever. I've also been thinking about my axis in new ways that bring together the idea of permanence and balance. Here's what I have so far.

I realize that I've been talking about axis as if it is some attainable location that can be found and maintained. However, being on balance, or on axis, is not a stable state. Even if I have completed a step "perfectly" and have arrived on balance in a new spot, the one thing that can make me fall over, is trying to lock my axis into place.

What if the idea of axis was a constantly moving, micro-adjusting approximation of being on balance? The proprioceptors in your ankles send balance messages to the brain, creating small adjustments to keep you upright when standing. The circulatory system (and other body systems) circulate fluid throughout the body. You breathe in and out, unless you concentrate so hard to dance that you hold your breath; causing you to fall over.

What if axis is more like a fluid held inside a mostly stable body shape? Can we use this picture to have better balance by accepting that balance and axis constantly shift?

What is Body Dynamics class all about?

Bonnie Stockman came up to me in my technique class last December, and said, "You know, you really should call this class Body Dynamics instead of Heel Camp, because this is stuff guys need to know, too." She was right, so I changed the name to reflect the real aim of this class.

Body Dynamics is about learning to dance tango with elegant, sensuous power. It is about learning to use your body efficiently, so that you have reserves to pull out when your partner and/or the music demand more from you. It is about mastering balance, axis, breath--all the challenging parts of tango. It is about finding your own voice and energy within the dance to make it YOUR dance.

What do we do in Body Dynamics? If you look at my recent posts with videos, you can see some of what we have been working on recently. This is a serious class that yields major results in flexibility, technique and dance level, in a short time. We start with about twenty minutes of tango-specific stretches: a combination of what my teacher, Georgina Vargas, taught me; with other stretches culled from my 25 years of teaching dance. Then, we do drills and exercises for the remainder of class. Each week, I focus on something that will be used in the advanced class, so that the dancers who take both are really ready to take the underlying work and DANCE it for the next hour. I also work on something for my students who take my intermediate/advanced intermediate class on Thursdays at 8 PM.

For example, one week last session, we worked on lapiz for the leaders. My advanced intermediate class then learned to use lapiz in a turn with a parada, while the advanced class incorporated it into a three-turn combination with an enrosque and leader adornos. That week, we focused on back pivots for followers, to make both turn combinations work with more power. We also learned a fun adorno for giros that helps the follower stay aligned better on tight/fast turns.

It's not too late to join the current session, even though it's the second week of the session. Sign up for Body Dynamics and the advanced class at 8 PM for $90, or take either session for $60 for six weeks; or drop in and check it out for $12. The Om Studio is at 14 NE 10th, just off Burnside. See you there!

Adornos in Body Dynamics class

Last week, we worked a lot on adornos.  Here is the video summary of class--yes, I think I finally figured out how to convince my computer to talk to YouTube (by NOT using my video editing program :-() and YouTube to talk to my blog!

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0lGC2p3GOU?fs=1&feature=oembed] 

 

Adornos we worked on:

  • lineas (lines)
  • circles (circulos or firuletes)
  • amagues
  • "the elevator"
  • "shine your shoes"
  • "double Georgina"
  • "raise and lower" (sube y baja)
  • "floor caress"
  • toquecitos (little touches)

YouTube has refused to save my video as unlisted, so any of you who know how to convince it otherwise, let me know!