Sometimes learning tango can be a process of experimentation. You can even get what sounds like conflicting advice from your teachers – bend your knees more, straighten your knees, lean forward more, don’t press on your partner. As in all things, tango is a matter of finding balance in your body and with your partner. And sometimes you need to go a little to far in one direction, then experiment by trying the opposite until you reach the optimum configuration for your body, and then for your partner.
They say that dance is learned from the feet upward. So, starting at your feet, here are some experiments you can try to tweak your tango posture so that you can be more balanced, elegant and free to move.
1. Keep your ankles, knees and thighs together
When your legs are collected, keep the insides of your legs pressed together. This looks elegant, and helps keep your centre of gravity over your standing leg. It also minimises the movement required for a change of weight.
Try this: When you walk, try to brush the insides of your knees and thighs together. This keeps your centre as steady as possible.
2. Open your toes
Keep your heels together, but open your toes so that your feet make a V shape.
Opening your toes like this gives you more stability. Try to maintain this angle of your feet as you walk, and get into the habit of re-setting to that angle after you pivot.
Try this: Think of a clock face and make your feet equivalent to the hands of the clock. Aim to keep your feet at an angle of '5 to 1'.
3. Soften your knees
This is the one that probably requires the most experimentation of all! It can be interesting to try walking with deeply bent knees, just to see how it feels. It will give you the ability to take longer steps and to produce more dynamism in your dance because with a bent knee you can press more against the floor whenever you want to produce more energy.
However much you bend your standing leg, remember to stretch your free leg when you take a step. Push into the floor with your standing leg until it straightens in order to take the step. This will produce a up and down cadence in your dance, but be careful not to let this develop into a bounce!
Try this: Walk with deeply bent knees, then try walking with completely straight knees. Gradually decrease and increase the bend in your knee until you find a happy medium. stretch your free leg as you take a step.
4. Play with the free hip
Lifting the hip of the free leg will always look inelegant and will impair your balance. Keeping the free hip level with the standing hip is an excellent way to practice, since it makes it quick to transfer weight and to move in any direction.
Some dancers like to lower the free hip. This allows the free leg to stretch more and achieve a longer step. It’s a great technique to experiment with and see how it feels.
Try this: When you walk and pivot play with the height of the hip of the free leg. Try to keep it level, then try to drop it with each weight change. To find out if your hips are level as you move, put your fingers on the ASIS points (the nobbly bit on the front of your hip bone) and check the position of your fingers in a mirror.
5. Place your weight over the front part of your standing foot
This seems to relate to the foot, so why is it so far down this list? Your centre of gravity is just below your navel and incorporates the whole body. When you’re pivoting it’s clear that your weight needs to be over the front part of the standing foot since this is the point of contact with the floor when we pivot. Followers need to be ready to step or pivot at any point in the dance, so it’s a good idea to practice completing every step by ‘arriving’ with your weight over the front part of your standing foot.
Try this: Stand on both legs and push into the front of your foot until your heels lift. Then stand on one leg and do the same. Lower the heel back to the floor, keeping your weight forward over the front part of your foot. Soften your knee to help keep your balance.
6. Open your shoulders and relax them as much as you can
This is so hard for those of us who work with computers, but the placement of your shoulder blades down your back and the opening of your collarbones across the front of the chest will make it a lot easier to communicate in the embrace. A lot of issues with tension in the arms are caused by tension in the shoulders.
Try this: Gently push your shoulder blades back and down until you can feel an open feeling across your collarbone. Disassociate your upper body by turning your ribcage to the left and right while keeping your hips still. Notice how much easier it is to balance when your shoulders are back as opposed to tilted forward. You can also practice this sitting down so you get immediate feedback if your hips turn as well.
7. Make sure your head is level
Your head weighs a lot – developing the feeling of it floating above your (open) shoulders will make a huge difference to your balance. A level head can also be a lot more comfortable for your partner when you dance in close embrace. Getting the shoulders in alignment is an important step in placing the head correctly.
Try this: Check in a mirror, or video yourself as you practice. Your head is most likely to hang forwards, but it could also be leaning to the left or the right. Some followers tilt their heads back to look at a taller leader. Try to find a neutral balance point for your head so it feels as light as possible on your shoulders.
We hope you have fun carrying out these posture experiments at home. If you’d like to work on your tango posture with us at Simply Tango, sign up for a 6 week tango course, or treat yourself to a private lesson.
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