Tag Archives: practicing

What does your phantom practice partner look like?

What does your phantom practice partner look like?

Taller, shorter? How big around? Do they step big or small?

I wasted so much time and so many opportunities early in my dance career because I suffered from the notion that I needed a partner to practice my couples dancing.

There are (at least) two types of solo practice: technique and “partner”.

In technique practice you don’t concern yourself with a partner. You are working purely on posture, quality of stepping, pivoting, use of body spirals, alignment, lines, balance, specific moves (boleos to front and back, enrosques, (what do you call those tiny crossing steps to front and back?), and …).

In “partner” practice solo you are practicing dancing, without music if you are working strictly on quality of movement, with music if working on musicality, creativity, and quality of movement. In this work you “visualize” and “feel” an imaginary—but as real as your senses can make it—partner. It should be so real that an onlooking person of imagination and empathy can also visualize the imaginary partner in your embrace. You will treat this partner just as you would a real one, with the difference that you can idealize their dancing qualities.

That idealizing does not, however, mean that you can disregard what your dancing does to them. Paradoxically, you may find yourself even more aware of your movement as you expand your awareness of how your partner needs to move. For example, did you just lead that step around you, into you, or away from you? Which did you really want?

Make your phantom partner real, to you, and to onlookers. Your phantom partner is wonderful. They are always ready to work when you are, and they can keep up with you and go as long as you can. Treat them well.

Change partners, change roles

Women dancing Argentine tango together

Change roles dancers have twice the fun [public domain image via Wikipedia]

You know these are favorite topics of mine, so it will be no surprise that I heartily approve, where in Daniela Borgialli’s Tango Workbook she says that her university students are expected to routinely change partners and change roles during classes.


In my mind the time to practice with your regular or preferred or ideal partners is in private practice time or a private lesson. Group class is a way to review and expose yourself to new concepts, new figures, and new partners. If at milongas you never change partners then no one is going to force you to change in class, but if you expect to dance with various people, learn to dance with various people. (Teachers: please do it in a routine, defined way, not haphazardly or at your whim.)


Despite its macho origins, it seems to me that Argentine tango, more so than other bailes de sala, is a wonderfully egalitarian art form. Aside from a few niceties of style and adornments, the whole gamut of tango technique is accessible to and useful to both partners.

You think followers don’t need “intention”? Consider this advice — Make a statement, not a question. FOLLOWER: “Ok, I’m here and I’m on my axis (or on you, if that’s what we’re doing); I’m ready.” NOT, “Um, was this what you had in mind; oops, I’m falling into another step, I hope it’s what you intended?” [Thank you, Arjay Centeno at the 2015 Austin Swing Championships for a funny presentation of this and other good ideas — an example of how dances do have things in common when you get down to basics.)

You think leaders don’t need ochos and molinetes and cruzadas? Even if it is only in an abbreviated form — swiveling your feet to align them properly, stepping molinete fashion around your partner to align with them, crossing to give your partner room for a step — you are doing the same actions.

To open up the full range of possibilities in the dance, both partners need comfortable access to all the tango technique, and more than from just a technique class or class warm up, they want a working knowledge in both roles.

P.S. While looking for an image to illustrate this article I find that Daniel Trenner was advocating for Change Role teaching back in 1998!

Qualities on a continuous scale

Often we think of others or ourselves as either having something right or not having it. That guy’s musical or unmusical. Her embrace feels stiff or loose. My balance it good or terrible. My dancing tonight is “on” or “off”.

Old control panel with a single dial gauge and many knobs and switches

Vintage Electronic Control Panel

Rarely, it seems, do we recognize that we have a whole range of values available, and we can dial in our controls to get closer and closer to what we feel is the ideal value for the particular circumstance.

For example, stand on one leg and allow yourself to do anything that seems useful to get more and more rooted to the floor, so that nothing a partner does can upset your balance. Get creative – you have lots of parts, physical and mental, available to you. You could touch a toe of the other foot to the floor. Even put your whole foot down, or not. You could sink your hip into the standing leg so that most of your weight concentrates over that one spot. You could move your arms out like a tightrope walker’s pole.

Okay, now for fun, first maybe switch to your other foot if this one feels tired. This time, make your balance as weak as you can. Make it so you are barely balanced at all, so that the slightest thing could upset you entirely.

Ask yourself, do you ever find yourself at one extreme or the other? How often? How often do your find yourself somewhere in the middle? Have you explored what you can do in your body to move your balance in one direction – more stable – and away from another direction – less stable? Do you practice solo?

Do you practice in ways that challenge your balance? For example, in high heels, in shoes and not in shoes, in unusual positions such as with one leg lifted high in some direction, on different surfaces, while moving in different directions, on one foot for an entire song?

Here’s why that idea of a range of values is so important. If a person says to themselves, “My balance is terrible” (in effect, that they “have” no or poor balance), they are, in effect, giving themselves an excuse to not practice and to continue having poor balance. “Hey, it’s not my fault; it’s just an innate quality that I don’t have. Sorry.” Versus, “My balance isn’t yet where I’d like, but I see it improving little by little [and it’s probably more than even a little] with regular practice.”

With a continuous scale (instead of a yes/no switch), we also entertain the idea that there is always room to improve. Instead of “I am/am not what I want,” you have “I am getting ever closer to where I want to go, and it’s fun/hard work/interesting/time-consuming/amusing to do the things I need to improve, and it’s rewarding/challenging/enticing/uplifting/satisfying to see the changes over time.”

¡Felices caminando!

Delayed Continuity games

Now here are a couple of little games for your next practice with a partner that might make for a little fun and spark some new awareness.

1) Leader takes a pause, then the follower chooses what follows … which might be nothing at all!

For example, the leader gives a parada then leads the follower up to the blocking foot (DID they actually lead that?). Among many possible things the follower could do are:
a) Step back where they were.
b) Step in any possible, desired direction.
c) Pivot and sandwich the leader’s foot.
d) Step and barrida the leader’s foot.
e) Do multiple things.
f) Do nothing and wait for leader to lead.

2) Follower forces pauses on the leader at random, or possibly at *significant* moments in the dance. Once it is clear that pause has occurred, let the leader take it from there. (Do you know how to force a pause? Who can you ask? What do you do when the leader is about to run into somebody?)

1. Follower, does the exercise (either one) make you feel more inclined to wait for a lead, less so, or something else altogether?
2. Leader, what do you feel in that instant before you decide to create a pause? What do you feel as you wait for a pause to play out? What do you feel when the follower forces (asks?) you to make a pause? During the pause? After the pause?
3. Follower and leader, how long must a pause be before a follower has permission to use it? How short can a pause be and have usefulness? How long must the follower’s “inaction” be before the leader chooses to continue?
4. How do these pauses affect your balance?
5. How short must a pause be so you, your partner, onlookers still perceive a flow between movements?
6. Where, or maybe how, do you feel a difference between a pause of uncertainty and one of mastery?
7. How long must the pauses be between words you speak so that the words are still perceived as well formed? How long can the pause be before listeners think your speech pattern odd?

For further study: INDIRECT PROCEDURES: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique by Pedro De Alcantara. Page 202, Delayed Continuity.

You can’t always get what you want

Mauricio Castro in Tango Discovery ** #12 had interesting things to say. This was a women’s technique exercise (suitable for both roles) where one partner holds up their hands palms out. The working partner matches hands closely but without touching, then does back ochos (or forward ochos). NO using the free leg to help balance or to get around. The pivot comes from the hips.

As the working partner gains stability and ability to hold their hands quietly in position, the helping partner can increase the exercise difficulty by asking the working partner to take longer steps, by moving slowly forward, or moving backward (harder, as the working partner must over turn their back ochos to move forward), and then for even more fun, start moving the target hands they are matching to wider, narrower, one up and one down, etc.

Helping partner: keep the exercises at a level where they can succeed, otherwise you are training them to fail. (But we have to recognize that growth comes from failures. I’ve read that you want a training range of succeeding 80% of the time, failing 20% [the good old Pareto Principle rule of thumb]. We learn from mistakes. We hone skills from successful repetition.)

Then he said something that made me think about how dancing  with beginners all the time can harm your sensitivity, while dancing with experts helps develop it. (Nevertheless, we want to dance with beginners some of the time both to bring along the tango community and to practice our adaptability.) We have an adaptive nervous system, always working to make things less painful, less difficult, easier for us. We grow accustomed to pressures such that they no longer register as strongly.

If in this practice the working partners is moving their hands all about instead of keeping them steadily in place, that represents pressure they would be putting on their partner to help support them. We would start to lose sensitivity. But what we really want is hypersensitivity. In either role we want the ability to read a touch as light as a feather. At this level of skill the dance looks like an unseen magical connection between partners.

He concludes with this worthwhile thought, that leading is not about getting 100% of what you want. You move and test, move and test (from both sides of the embrace) to comply with your partner. This is the game, to do it together, and that’s when it feels very, very good.

** Please don’t hold the unsavory website banner image and marketing copy against him. Mauricio has some really solid training materials

Shoulder-in exercise

Recent reading and discussion suggested that both Dressage and Martial Arts, being organized sports that originated centuries before Argentine tango — horsesport was introduced to the Ancient Olympic Games in 680 BC, and martial arts in China has a history more than 4,000 years old — have a richer, deeper, more organized body of training knowledge.

More than just learning how to dance Argentine tango, I’m also interested in meta-learning, learning about how to learn. To begin exploring these other schools of teaching I bought Jane Savioie’s DRESSAGE 101. (My wife, a dog trainer and competitor, tells me that Jane’s book That Winning Feeling!: Program Your Mind for Peak Performance is highly regarded in competitive sports circles of any type.)

This 453 page book, beautifully illustrated with diagrams and fine photos, filled with highly organized, crystal clear writing, describing concepts, exercises, imagery, and procedures to bring you and your horse to a state of exquisite connection, is all a bit overwhelming to try and summarize its value for gaining insights into tango training. So I’ll begin with one illustrative exercise, and likely draw on this outstanding book as a source for interesting material for some time to come.

But first, to whet your appetite for the material, here’s a nice traditional technique video:

Damian Thompson – The Walking Drill, Argentine Tango

You could do Damian’s walking exercise solo — and you certainly should! — and with a partner.

As a solo exercise, the Shoulder-In Exercise in DRESSAGE 101 is straightforward. Where it is safe to do so, walking in a straight line alongside a wall, fence, curb or other boundary you can observe, using it to keep a constant distance, rotate your upper torso to face the boundary, hands in front of you, palm-in-palm, palms facing you. Continue walking along the boundary in a straight line with your lower body as your upper body continues facing to the side. When you come to the end of the line, repeat in the reverse direction, reversing the twist. Now the same thing backwards. Careful you don’t trip! (Of course, in our tango context the term shoulder-in would more properly be torso-in.)

As you walk internally observe yourself for such things as collecting your knees as they pass, feet turned out, knee flexion that maintains a constant top line height, upright torso, moving with torso intention, reaching from the hip not the knee.

How about practicing the same thing as a couple with a partner? Now you might think of rider and horse as having a relationship similar to leader and follower in a dance couple. There’s a lot of wisdom in this book about the quiet communication that goes back and forth. But for this purpose I’m thinking of the couple as a strangely built animal where the leader is whichever partner is going forward at the moment. (Clearly the traditional leader role can lead this walking exercise going forward or backwards, in a straight line or circle, and inside, parallel, or outside partner.)You could think of this as a weird horse that has its front knees facing backwards. The main consideration is that with four feet we have the possibilities of two, three, or four tracks of travel. Parallel-system walking in front of each other is two tracks, parallel- or cross-system sufficiently offset is four tracks, and cross-system, where the middle legs line up (like a three-legged race, with one partner facing backwards) is three tracks.

For purposes of the shoulder-in exercise with a partner we’ll use cross-system, though I suppose it could be done in parallel-system.

Excerpted from the book:

  • Shoulder-in is a suppling, straightening, strengthening as well as an “increasing self-carriage” exercise.
  • It stretches and loosens the muscles and ligaments of the inside leg (the side the torso is facing).
  • It strengthens and improves self-carriage because with each step you move the inside leg underneath the body, under the center of gravity.
  • The inside leg gets stronger because it has to carry additional weight.
  • Also, in order to move the inside leg in this way you must lower that hip, which contributes to the development of self-carriage.
  • Be sure to do the shoulder-in with the same amount of angle in both directions; you want to develop evenly in both directions.
  • Essentially, a shoulder-in is a first step of a small circle but repeated on a straight line.
  • You can also practice on a circle. Here, the lead (going forward) partner legs stay on the line of the circle while the other partner legs are brought to the inside, to describe a slightly smaller circle.
  • Keep your tempo constant. Don’t let the new demands cause you to lose impulsion and slow down or get worried and rush off.

Interesting variants for “schooling”. (In Jane’s parlance, these would be figures not used in competition {or at the milonga, perhaps} but useful nevertheless for developing suppleness and strength.)

  • Shoulder-out where, say, the follower is on a larger circle track, leader on the inside.
  • Haunches-in where the lower carriage is facing in (or alternatively, out) while the upper body continues straight.


Add this to your walking exercises! Solo or with a partner. In a straight line or on a circle. Going forwards and going backwards. (Be careful!) Inside, parallel, or outside partner. Parallel- or cross-system. Torso facing inside or outside line of travel. Hips facing inside or outside line of travel. In an embrace position with upper body facing one direction and lower body continuing in the line of dance (or vice-versa), now walk.

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 http://helainetreitmantango.com/ 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.]

How her belly can improve your Argentine tango

Notes from Combinography With Bahaia.

DVD cover for Combinography

“Bridging the gap between choreography and improvisation.”

Some people may see this as an odd departure. What does talk of producing a better audience presentation for belly dance have to do with social dancing Argentine tango? Everything!

I hear friends who say, “I am what I am. What you see is what you get, and I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not.” Wow. What I see is someone who doesn’t care if people see a person slouching through life. How will we ever get to our higher aspirations if we don’t start acting in accord with them. “I want to look elegant, powerful, refined, interesting, sensuous, musical.” Well guess what? If you don’t act as if you already own those qualities — as well as putting in the hard work to learn and practice the foundations of them — then they will never become a part of you.

Well, okay, but stage! and belly dance!! The first is easy to handle. Shakespeare said it, “All the world’s a stage.” And we are all actors upon it. When you wait for cabeceo do you slouch back into your seat with arms crossed, signaling I’m not happy, I’m not engaged, I may be unpleasant? Or do you look alert, bright, upright, and attentive? When you cross the room to collect your partner, so you slouch over, with a haphazard walk and a wandering gaze? Or do you project that proud, powerful, elegant, and engaged look that you want to bring to the dance about to unfold?

Okay, okay, but belly dance! It’s a poor imagination that overlooks the wonderful things we can learn about performance, creativity, learning, practice, and drive from any form of dance, sports, music, art. Paraphrasing good old Will, “All the world’s a classroom.” And we are all students in it.

These, then, are my notes from watching Combinography With Bahaia

“Bridging the gap between choreography and improvisation.”

Cheeky Girls Productions


110 min.

We cover such topics as:

Pacing your performance

Spatial awareness

Direction change

Body line

Level change

Floor patterns

Tempo change



Sequenced movements

Entering and exiting the stage (la pista)

Pace yourself. First and last impressions are key. The ones remembered.

Getting unstuck

Fear can freeze the brain. Try reversing the move you just did. Gives the body a reset and gives the mind a pause to collect itself.

Relaxing your face

Sometimes we wear our day on our face.

Say each of the vowels in an exaggerated fashion.

Say an affirmation like “I am bee-yoo-tee-full” in an exaggerated fashion.

Do a mugging face just before going on.

[Look up at the sky (even if indoors), Laugh, Breathe.]

Body line

No matter how the audience is seated, you want to control what they see and how they see it.

Use diagonals. [The audience sees a larger image than with a straight-on front/side/back view.]

Not just standing on a diagonal line on the stage, but change little elements throughout the body so that you don’t give a flat appearance to any viewer. [Think dissociation.]

Think about extended legs, arms, head, hands.

Where the head is looking?

[!] When looking down I direct my gaze as if I was looking “up and over” rather than directly down – which produces a lot of shadow and double-chin.

Straight view of the side can be a dramatic and introspective view. Make it big with extensions.

When you direct your gaze away from the audience it will automatically be seen as “inward”.

When you direct your gaze to a body part you draw attention to it.

Looking straight on at your audience is an intense, joyous, or confrontational gaze.

Turning your back to the audience can be engaging and feel somewhat voyeuristic for them.

Always keep good posture and awareness of the image you are creating in space with your body lines.

Preparing for transitions

Give yourself something to do at the end of movements to punctuate them.

Instead of dancing-dancing-dancing, give conscious thought to the moves you want to do and that there is a transition between them, where you stop or sink into your movement. [We won’t stop altogether, of course, but rather rein in and contain a building energy until it releases into the next movement.]

Use basic movement, like walking, and punctuate it with your dance moves.

You don’t want to dance full out the whole time.

[We run the risk of looking (and feeling to our partner) “flat” in our dancing if the energy is at the same level, even a high level, throughout.]

Prepare yourself mentally and physically for transitions to happen.

In that way you’re not rushed into the next movement.

[This puts me in mind that even “atomic” movements that are part of a sequence have their own life and must be given their own attention. Take a series of linked sacadas, for example, if we don’t complete the first one, letting the weight move to and settle into the new location, then the following movement is rushed and everything starts getting blurred. Try this metaphor. Do you know about sound envelopes, how any sound has an attack, sustain, and decay. http://britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/189111/envelope Does that inform the way you move? The gathering energy, the release, the balance and settling.]

Making it art

Dance is a way to express yourself. Do you want your dance to be more like poem or like an encyclopedia? [!] A poem takes only a few words yet expresses so much. A few steps of your dance can express more about you than all of your encyclopedic collection of steps.

Your WOW step

Your movement that makes the audience (partner) go “Wow!” It could be something requiring a great deal of technical skill or strength or flexibility. [Or be unusual, or unexpected – in a pleasant way, or a perfect accompaniment to the music.] Don’t do them too much or it becomes like the magician giving away the secrets to their trick. Save them for just the right moment. Ration them out in small portions so that they maintain their magnetism.

Increasing your repetoire

Begin by making a list of all the dance steps you know. You’ll probably be surprised at how long it is. Categorize them by: stationary, traveling, filler, and embellishment. Filler is something like walking and turns. Embellishments are things you can do with your [legs and feet].

Floor patterns

Again, make a list of all the steps you know, but now categorize by geometric shapes. Movements forward, backward, diagonal, to the side. Movements linear and circular. Box, zig-zag, triangle. Bigger and smaller versions of a pattern. Qualities a pattern can have: Aggressive (straight to audience), Introspective (away from audience), Energetic (on the diagonal).


Exercise: intensity can vary from no or low to high. [And, as noted earlier, any intensity level maintained without variety with look flat and become boring.] Imagine yourself moving in the dance through different substances:

Clouds = no intensity

Water = low intensity, requiring more muscle

Honey = medium intensity, requiring even more muscle to push through

A pool of sand = high intensity, requiring great effort to move through

Using your imagination can help engage your muscles in your movement. [Mind games, such as this one and The Storyteller, where you make up a story that goes with the music, then dance to express that story; these mind games are not only a great way to enrich your dance, but also, and just as good, as a way to distract the chattering, judgmental Monkey Mind. http://buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=274 http://find-happiness.com/monkey-mind.html.

For an exercise, have a guide call out different intensity levels that they group shifts to in their dance. For personal practice, play a song and intentionally attach different intensity levels to your interpretation of the music. Dance that!]


Keep them quiet. They’re often too busy. But you do want energy in the arms. [You want them toned but not tense. Think of soft skin.] Imagine a [bungee] cord from your sternum to each wrist. [Is this a useful image for the legs? Maybe an elastic cord between the knees? And perhaps from the sternum to the knees for backward movements, from the mid-back to the knees for forward movement?] [Even though we don’t use arms freely in the way that a belly dancer does, this image of an elastic cord from sternum to each wrist has the useful mind-body imagery of “packing” the shoulders with the muscles of the latissimus dorsi muscles. http://dancemagazine.com/issues/February-2010/Break-Your-Bad-Habits-The-Shoulders http://helenavlahos.com/tips_detail.html?id=6]

Awareness in movement

Transitions and fluidity: it comes from knowing exactly where you are at every point in your step. Exercise: for any particular low level movement, such as shifting weight from one foot to another, or rotating the torso in dissociation preparatory to a pivot, imagine you are on a ruler, with zero being the neutral point, and +12 (and possibly -12) being the extents of the movement. Now move from one limit to the other in increments of one. Focus. Experience the sensations of where your legs, hips, torso are in space. Move from one end of the scale to the other and back again. Repeat. Then repeat again at slightly faster speed. Then repeat again even faster, and continue until you get to full performance speed [and beyond, in practice]. You will develop a greater understanding of where your weight is and how your body parts are arranged, and this will give you greater fluidity in moving between steps.

The art of walking

You need different walks that you can use over the course of your performance. A basic walk, a walk with an accent, and a different kind of walk. [I mostly see people practicing long, slow walking and their “normal” walking. What about long-quick, short-slow, long-short-long, short-long-short, staccato, legato, mixtures, lopsided, funny. Not all the things you can possibly think of to try will be directly usable, but they will surely all be useful.] Step, step, some rather simple accent move, such as contracting your core and elevating your body. A fundamental change to the walk, such as walking in plié or relevé [or apilado].


When you strike a pose do you think of something static? Let’s make it more organic, such as by sinking into a pose and growing out of it. Poses should take time and preparation to get into and out of. [Akin to the sound envelop attack, sustain, decay energy contour that we mentioned earlier.]

Weight transfer

Do you sometimes find yourself glued to the stage, weighed down, not knowing where to go? Try this weight transfer exercise. Roll your weight around on your feel moving it all around the edges of each foot and transferring from foot to foot. Rock side to side, rock front to back, roll in a circle around the edges, switch directions, half circles to the front, half circles to the back, ankle rolls.

Your signature step

Ever feel yourself stuck in a move that you repeat over and over? Sometimes called a “safety step”, it can be a default move that you tend to go to when you don’t have a better idea. That can be positive, giving you that safety, or it can be negative if it locks you into something that gets repeated to the point of boredom. Try putting another spin on it by calling it your “Signature Step”. It’s one you know you can confidently pull off anywhere and anytime, and it is one that you can do a million things with. You want it to be something that has weight change and movement. Take that movement and explore how you can change its character: change direction, timing, level, expression, size, linear, circular, pauses, layering of variations.

Repetitions and sequenced movement

Repetition can be a good thing, and it can be frustrating. Maybe you’re boring the audience or your partner or yourself. But be aware that your audience’s perception of time is different that your own. Your audience may not be even be aware of what the repetition is the first few times it comes around. Listen to the music and you will find repetitions and patterns. [The ABA’CA” and various alternative phrasings of tango music, for example.] Use that. It makes sense for your steps to have a similar pattern.

Traveling combinations

It’s all about movement through space. [This article http://tejastango.com/dance_improvis.html does a nice job talking about and cataloging elements to combine.]

Combinations, patterns, sequences, whatever you call them — like ideas — are a dime a dozen. See YouTube, for example. What matters is how well a combination fits you, your partner, the music, and the room, and how well it’s performed. When you can put together all the elements, from the most elemental, like, pause, weight change, step, pivot, and combinations of steps, and embellishments, and phrases. Then you will really be creating your own dance.

Pasos felices,


Plateaus and periodization

At group class the other night a friend told me he felt that he had recently overcome a plateau and was really beginning to enjoy his Argentine tango. In my twenty-two months of group and private lessons, workshops, practice, and milongas I feel like I’ve enjoyed four major plateaus, each involving some mix of greater understanding of: dissociation to “associate” with my partner, moving with intention, controlling our axes, “following her lead“, understanding my dance, and dancing with the music.The-Plateau-Effect

Friend and I agreed, it actually seems more useful to think of a plateau not as the fallow flat period, but the time you get to enjoy the fruit of your various labors spent in climbing up to that level. Then after some period of capitalizing on your investment in your dancing, you begin to hunger for the next new climb up. But what is it that makes that climb out of a plateau take longer and seem harder than it should?

Shake it up, baby!” Mother Nature is lazy at heart. It likes to get maximum results from minimum efforts. The body and the mind are built to automatically develop shortcuts and routines for things that we do repeatedly. You might call these time, labor, and brain saver shortcuts for living, or you might call them ruts for things we do repeatedly. Dancing, I don’t care how creative you are, is something of a repetitive activity.

Serious athletes know that the way to shake up their neurophysiology is to confuse the mind-body. Do new things or do things in an unusual way. Make things harder. The body-mind says, “Oh, hell, now what’s going on with this stuff?” Then, in the process of figuring out a new easiest way of doing things it comes to new capabilities.

Body Building periodization

Serious athletes often plan their workout regimens in three timeframes: a microcycle of a week, a mesocycle of one to a few months (so long as a routine is producing new results), and a macrocycle that usually refers to a training season. The mesocycle period is more or less the time it takes for one’s neurophysiology to develop a groove for dealing with a new routine.

So how might this be applied to dancing? How can a dancer shake it all up without switching to a new dance? Here are some thoughts that come to my mind, and several of which I’ve used with success.

Switch to a new dance. Well, maybe not altogether, but suppose you take classes in a type of dance entirely new to you, while continuing to practice and social dance your mainstay. Ballet, tap, hip-hop, grunge, salsa, swing, Bollywood. You name it.

Switch to a different dance style: from tango salon to nuevo, for example.

Take non-dance classes: Improv comedy, circus arts, public speaking, a new language?

Do other body work: pilates, yoga, Feldenkrais, Alexander technique.

Add contact improv, also known as ecstatic dance to your weekly schedule.

Ecstatic Dance
Dancing Together

Study martial arts: tai chi, aikido (be careful out there!).

Take a break. The mind-body integrates past learning and physical work during rest periods.

Double your practice time and halve your class time, or vice-versa.

Switch roles. Learn how to dance the opposite lead-follow role — well.

Ambidancetrous: The Blog

Restrict yourself. See, for example, the first part (and all the rest!) of these good articles.

WikiHow: Be Creative
99U: 7 Ways to Boost Your Creativity

Suppose you only allowed yourself to only walk in all your milongas for a month. How do you think that might affect your dancing? What different kinds of things might you learn and incorporate into your dancing?

Change teachers.


So now, What do you do to shake yourself up?

Mental model of follower’s axis for leg wraps

Mathematicians and scientists often employ simplified, idealized models of the real world as a way to understand complex concepts, processes, and systems.

A piece of string with a binder clip at each end

Click the picture for a movie showing movement of follower’s axis during leg wrap.

As I was awakening this morning I thought again about the question you raised at the practica, of how to lead a leg wrap to the closed side.

(You were already in good shape with leg wraps to the open side, both in parallel and promenade positions. Many things come easier on the open side where there is more room to maneuver.)

A mental model for the follower’s axis came to my mind, and it seemed useful. See if you find it any help. Take a piece of string of, oh, say about 12 inches. Put a simple overhand knot at each end and fasten a binder clip over each knot. Now hold the string in the middle, with the binder clips dangling down.

Where you are holding the string in the middle represents the follower’s pelvis, and the binder clips represent their feet and leg weight.

If you hold one “foot” in place, representing the follower’s standing leg, and then raise the “pelvis” directly over it, you’ll see that the free leg collects to the standing leg. If you “pivot” the follower on their own axis (by twirling thumb and finger) the legs and feet stay collected.

But now, while still holding the standing foot in place, moving the pelvis to the side and forward toward you, you see that the free leg swings away from the standing leg. And if someone else’s standing leg – yours! – is in the way, the swinging leg will wrap around it.

Now here is a detail that gets glossed over during some instruction. The leader may have to make one or more small adjustments to the position of their own feet during the move in order to gain a position that will allow the tilting of the follower’s axis. A tiny side step right – as you pivot the follower in a back boleo about their axis – gives you position for the second part of the movement, to bring their axis to the side, opening the legs. Then as you “swing” them forward and around YOUR axis a tiny back step on the left tilts their axis forward. It’s a miniature volcada.

Two additional points. When you start the follower’s back rotation for the boleo you are rotating YOUR torso about THEIR axis – keeping their axis vertical. Then in the next part where you swing forward you are rotating YOUR torso about YOUR standing leg, the left back one. This leads the follower’s torso to rotate about your axis. The second point is that it helps to create a spiral, going from a lower elevation in the boleo to a raised torso at the height of the leg wrap, to give the follower the idea of lifting the leg as it wraps.

But two actions by the follower can thwart all of this. If they, consciously or not, resist the movement by breaking at the hips, allowing the hips to come forward while the upper body stays back, it causes two problems. First, the leader’s movements can’t be transmitted from the torso down to the legs because it gets lost at the hips, and second, it causes the follower’s axis to tilt down toward the floor, having the effect of making them heavier, instead of forward to the leader. Also, if the follower can’t give up control of their free leg, allowing it to swing freely, but instead holds tension, such as bending the knee or keeping it collected, then the leg won’t swing away from the follower’s body regardless of how well it’s led.

There is a big element of trust involved. Any time the leader tilts the follower off axis, the follower must feel that they are secure and safe in committing to this leader. Likewise, with a follower’s leg wrapping around the leader, or with either partner’s leg intruding into the space between one’s legs, they must feel that they are being treated respectfully.

Perhaps you, dear Reader, have a good different way of thinking about this, or perhaps you can offer clarification or correction. Please join me in the Comments section below.

Felices caminar,