Monthly Archives: October 2013

Tango foundations – the supporting leg

Practice session notes on mirror with dry erase marker.

Practice session notes on mirror with dry erase marker.

Notes from a solo practice session with three people.

Play a song with a strong, slow beat. Step on every other beat (or half time or double-time or any timing that respects the beat) in any direction, moving around the room as you feel moved by the music, cataloging anything you observe about the movements. Conclude by reviewing together what you observed.

A key feature of tango is standing on one leg – the supporting leg, with the other leg relaxed and hanging freely – the free leg, under our hip. (Yes, at advanced levels we see weight split between legs for special purposes.) A foundational skill for us is to move from a supporting leg, in a large or small movement in any direction across the floor, projecting our body onto and over the new standing leg. Imagine moving across a stream onto small stepping stones big enough for just one foot.

With a strong foundation of moving and rooting to the floor with each step, we can build many capabilities.

Three tango tips **

#1. Our “infinite axis” is like a guitar string that extends through our bodies, down through the central mass of our standing leg down into the earth to the center, and up through our head into the sky.

Imagine the inside of the front of your rib cage over your big toe. Upper body regally, proudly erect, head upright and chin tucked. Lower body supple and feeling heavy into the floor.

Body settles into hip on supporting leg side, creating slight curve into that direction.

Body settles into hip on supporting leg side, creating slight curve into that direction.

#2. Our free leg might be visualized as two long cylinders, the calf hooked into the thigh and the thigh hooked into the hips, with free swinging hooks. This creates a leg that is loose and supple, fully relaxed, without muscles holding it straight or in any position. It is simply hanging below our hip. This has the effect of causing us to sink into the hip of the standing leg, so that seen from the front or back, the whole body forms a slight “C” shape into that hip, bringing the body mass into balance over the standing foot.

#3. Our muscular-neural wiring connects our elbow and the free leg on that side. Our elbows want to be relaxed downward into the ground, AND positioned in front of our hips. Try this experiment. Stand on one leg with relaxed hip, the free leg hanging down. With your elbow on the side of the free leg pointing down and in front of your hip, circle it, move it to and fro. Do you find that your hanging leg seems to want to follow the movement of the elbow?

This time apply these tips as you move to the music in any direction over the floor. Conclude by reviewing what we observed this time.

Our bodies are built for going forward. Our “stand” – the feet – has more projection in front of us than behind us. Nature expects us to lean forward into the walk, and this is true even when going backward! We don’t lead with our back or else we’ll tend to tip over in short clunky steps. Instead we maintain our forward lean, release and reach backward with the free leg, then push off with the standing leg to land fully over the new standing leg.

Mindful Practice principles

o Immediate corrections

When you observe that a movement does not finish as you intended, back up to the beginning of the movement, or even the preceding movement. Analyze what went wrong, or try it different ways until you discover what produces the desired result. Repeat the good way several times to lock it in.

o Spaced repetition

Rather than a singe practice session each week, a number of shorter sessions, even it it’s less total time, will yield greater results. Studies suggest that ten minutes between three shorter practice sessions yield more results than one long session.

Incorporating practice into our daily lives. Does it make sense that during our daily going about living that we would be able to walk in a mindful way occasionally? What kind of trigger can you find in your environment – you’re letting the dog in or out, an ad comes on TV, you’re shopping (what do you care what people think; maybe you can interest someone in Argentine tango). You find a trigger that will repeatedly during the week cause you to mindfully and purposefully, fixing mistakes, PRACTICE, even if briefly.

Reviewing our observations.

Collecting the legs together is not something the free leg “needs to do” with muscle power. It happens automatically as we bring our weight to the central axis of our standing leg. When we fully arrive over our new standing leg, our freely hanging free leg will collect underneath us. (If the free leg does not follow directly to the new standing leg, it will pull you off balance.)

We must use enough energy pushing off with our supporting leg so that all of our mass arrives fully over our new supporting leg, but not so much that we go past the balance point.

Exaggerating a movement can help you appreciate all that you need to do to fully create that movement. So, for example, try pushing off with way too much energy and see how it pushes you past the balance point. Then tone it down.

Start dissociation with the shoulder NOT the arms. (Some teachers say that the rotational movement should be visualized as starting in the spine.)

Pushing off with the supporting leg requires that the core muscles be activated.

A final movement practice, then conclude with a review of what we’ve learned.

Using checklists. Evaluate only the “meters” NOT yourself. You are simply a learning being who starts at any given point and who gradually or quickly, easily or with much practice, steadily or in fits and starts, you learn in the way that best suits who you are.

You seek to keep the meters at their optimum setting, and when you notice you are off you make corrections to bring them back into line.

The only judgement that serves you is when you find the performance of a particular movement didn’t meeting your expectations, you immediately review what was going on just prior to that movement. What can you change about the lead up to your movement that will produce a higher quality result?

Trust your body’s native intelligence. Trust your body’s muscle memory. If you are not yet able to do a thing, it can mean either that you haven’t given your body enough time to learn it through mindful practice, or perhaps your mental processes are interfering.

An observation is not a criticism. Sometimes we can discover things for ourselves, and other times we can benefit from an outside view.

Ideas and new learning take root, in a small way, and grow as they are tended.

Let it flow, calmly. It is good to make a judgement about how well a movement matched your target. It is BAD to make judgements about your body’s ability to learn or how fast it learns.

Tiny victories count. They add up. Focus on and build on the successes not the failures.

Trust the body’s native intelligence to grow the seedlings you are planting.

[** Although Helaine Treitman’s websites may have a whiff of salacious low-brow marketing, her free “9 Surprising Tango Tips for Men” {useful for leader AND follower, actually} is worth signing up for.]