Aside from couch potatoes and astronauts, being grounded – well rooted by gravity, stable and in balance – serves pretty much all of us throughout our daily life. Being well grounded is a vitally important skill for Argentine tango dancers, and it’s a skill that will serve a person well in all aspects of their lives, through their life. Being a skill, it is a capability that can be trained, exercised, and developed.
Here are some general purpose and dance specific exercises that I’ve used for developing the skill to have a strong, stable base when standing still or moving on the dance floor. See if any of them resonate with you, and which ones you can easily fit into your daily activities.
- Do a lot of standing on one foot at a time. But not like a stork! With both feet on the floor, heels close to each other, feet angled comfortably away from each other, this forms a triangle, a highly stable base. Even when we commit our weight fully to one foot, if we keep a long leg by not allowing the hip to drop, we can keep both feet fully on the floor, even though only one has the weight. The unweighted one can still serve to help with balance.
- Do a lot of natural walking, outside (safely!) where you can walk with ease both forwards and backwards. Add variety: of surfaces, size of step, speed of step. Part of your safety is in fully feeling the landing of each step to know that it is secure before you move your weight over it.
- Some tango instruction, particularly beginner instruction that focuses on style, can unintentionally pervert the idea of natural walking, plus, walking while you have someone immediately facing you doesn’t help matters. But now think about how babies learn to walk? They hoist themselves up to standing with the aid of furniture. If they overbalance to the rear, where they have only the small foot projection of the heel, they fall on their bottom. But they discover that when they overbalance to the front, and the body automatically acts to try to catch itself, and succeeds, then they soon start smoothing out this fall-catch sequence.
- Stop yourself at the moment of the fall-catch, and scan your body configuration. Bent joints and toned muscles in the catching leg. A long line with only relaxed (not bent) joints in the trailing leg. A horizontal, well balanced hip. When going backwards you want that same configuration as you begin the step. That is, the long leg reaching back, with the standing leg bent to power the push off.
- Grounding for a step. We talked about not allowing the hip to drop to one side in the weight change. The possibility of a hip drop becomes even more pronounced in the intention phase of preparing for a step, where we load all of our weight onto the supporting, powering leg. But by keeping the hip horizontal we engage all the core, sending power down to that supporting foot-leg.
- Do a LOT of catching yourself all the time, any time you can think of it. Walking to or from your car, walking in the store, walking at home: every so often, frequently even, catch yourself “unawares” on one foot and hold your balance there for a moment. Play this game with yourself all the time. With each grounding, feel your entire leg rooted to the floor, with the powerful leg and hip muscles all engaged to hold you in position.
- Lastly, play the catching game with tango music. And now you can add all sorts of movement in the privacy of your home or practice space. Add all the possible ways of stepping: weight change, sideways, forward-backward, rock steps, check steps (catch your weight but immediately return to your supporting leg), steps plus kicks, boleos, pivots. Then as you are dancing solo to the music, catch yourself – often – at various random, unexpected steps. Play with your body (kicks, twists, pivots, reaches with foot or hand, bend over, you name it) as all the while your supporting leg feels rooted to the floor.
A useful exercise for this is to stand on one leg and do let the hip on the unweighted side drop down, then lift it up above horizontal, then play with it up and down, above and below horizontal, to develop a sense of where horizontal is?, all the while observing what is going on elsewhere in your body.