A paradoxical recovery technique

Drawing of a man looking over his right shoulder with a pained expression.

I liked Yelizaveta Nersesova’s blog article, 5 Steps To Recovering From Tango Injuries. I wanted to answer her call for ideas from others, and this article resulted.

Nice list of helpful strategies for healing injuries! Thank you.

I have discovered a technique, based on the NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) “headache” cure. I find it simple and effective.

Before describing the technique, here’s an example of what can happen. A person gets out of bed and an ankle feels painful and weird. Was it overuse, or did they sleep in a strange position? They start worrying the body part AND themselves. “What’s wrong there?” “What do I need to do?” “How long will this go on?” All the while, they hobble around the house favoring the “injured” part.

They are now supporting the disabled use of the part. For “part”, think of a backache, stiff neck, muscle spasm, odd pain anywhere. Even an itch that wants scratching!

We want to break the state of our connection to the unfavorable use of our body. My technique is to think/feel that same part — in the opposite side of my body!

In the “good” part I try with earnest effort to recreate the feeling calling for attention from the “bad” part. We hope the good part feels fine. I ask myself, “What would have to change for it to feel more like the other (bad) part?”

“Whoa! David, won’t that make two bad parts?”

No. The good part, because it is closer to our natural state, wins. Indeed, I often feel that the good part is teaching the bad part what it needs to get back in alignment with healthy use.

Here is a personal example. From an old weight-lifting injury, I have a recurring muscle spasm in the area of one upper trapezius. It comes back with no clear provocation. At random intervals, sometimes after long dormant periods.

In the past I tried all kinds of recovery. Rest. Special rehabilitation exercises. Trigger therapy. Heat. Cold. Vibration. The pain spot would grow in intensity and size as I fretted over it. It often lasted a couple of weeks, until it seemed to “tire itself out” and fade away.


Now, when it calls for my attention, I instead send all my attention to the corresponding spot on the other side. I try to be as precise as I can about placement, size, shape, energy, and so forth. Most often, in a few seconds, sometimes with a few repetitions, the issue leaves my awareness. I’m comfortable and functional again.

Detailed examination of feelings in the good part seems to reprogram the bad part.

Sounds strange, I know. I’ve found it quite reliable.

How might we connect that to the Argentine tango: learning, dancing, teaching? In my experience and opinion, we give too much attention to the bad parts. Like a muscle knot. The more we worry over it, the tighter it becomes. Instead, I try to ask, “If my teacher/partner/I don’t like that, what do we like? What could work well to do what I want?”
We explore the good parts that work well for us. Seeking to extend, expand, adapt, reduce, change them to inform the “bad part”.

I’ve found it quite helpful.

(Image credit: Excerpt of Drawing: Expressions of emotion, hate or jealousy, anger, desire, physical pain. From Encyclopedie. Art Institute Chicago. A work made of etching with engraving on cream laid paper. CC0 Public Domain Designation)

It felt better than the video

My Quora answer to: Why I never understand what’s wrong with my dancing? I am sharp, feeling the music, not stiff, shows good emotion while dancing but when I record to have a look at it, it looks so awkward. is it due to less space, camera quality or outfit?”

Video is a flat, 2D image. It will always have less energy and visual appeal than a 3D in-person view will. More important than that, a recorded image will always have less energy than we felt when we were doing it. Our senses fool us, then when we compare our recorded efforts to the incredible performances we see everywhere, we feel disappointed.

Is there an answer, a way for our recorded performance to look more like what we feel it should?

Work in a mindful way on a single element at a time. Let’s consider two elements that are important to most dances: extension and sharpness. Work on them separately. For extension, it’s not enough to say, “Does my arm/leg feel straight?” Instead ask, “Can I feel the energy radiating out of my entire body, with my arm/leg reaching farther than it can!?” For sharpness we want any still frame from a video to look clean, interesting, full of energy. Instead of, “Am I making the shapes I’m supposed to,” we want, “I hit this pose, and I hit that pose.”

Then, once we have high energy and great extension available to us, we have to learn how to modulate it, how to control its external look. Not every song and not every moment in any song wants only high energy. Anything that is always done the same way, even with great energy, can look flat, boring, uninteresting. The human mind and spirit crave variety.

Everything is a spectrum of possibilities. We want to be able to express: hard/soft, sharp/smooth, fast/slow, big/small, high/low, happy/sad, and more. All of those, even the ones that seem low, slow, small energy actually require a great internal reservoir of energy that can be channeled to create the external expression we want in each moment.

P.S. Also, get feedback from teachers or others who you trust and whose dancing you admire. Can you find (or start!) a Facebook or other group where people can post photos/videos for others to give helpful comments?

“Simple” thing to look more like the professionals

What are some simple things or techniques amateurs can learn from professional dancers, or people who are good at dancing, to look a bit more natural and relaxed on the dance floor?

David Phillips, Teaches Argentine tango at Tango Tribe in Austin, Texas Answered just now

Ah, yes, “simple”.

There is a simple (in concept) technique, but it’s not easy nor quick. The professional dancers that people admire combine a strong work ethic with good sources of feedback.

We don’t have to pursue our dance passion like a job, with regular long hours. We do have to pursue it regularly and with specific intentions to improve, not merely to have fun. (I hope our dance practice, even when working hard, can also be fun.)

Regular, for us, means at least several times a week. Intentional means having a plan.

  1. Review our notes, maybe even some specific video points from the last practice. What did we want to remember? What did we want to work on next? Have we had any new thoughts or awareness in the meantime?
  2. Warmup in ways that best support our particular dance, seeking not only to lubricate the joints, wake up the muscles, and groove the movement paths but also to wake up our mind to what and how we are doing it.
  3. Start the video recording. If we don’t have video recording we lose one of the best sources of feedback — seeing for ourselves how we look.
  4. Note problems or looks that we don’t like. Investigate or experiment to see if we can make it look more like what we want. If that doesn’t work out, seek feedback and suggestions from a professional or talented amateur who knows how to explain what they do and what they see in us.
  5. Loop for as long as we have time for or need to: Video, Perform, Review and feedback for ourselves (both what we like and don’t like), then repeat.
  6. Finish with cooldown if needed. Then make notes on what we learned and what we want to work on next time.
  7. Periodically seek outside feedback.
  8. Periodically review older videos to appreciate how we’ve progressed.

That’s the simple advice that can apply to any dance style for any level of dancer.

Have fun with your dance!

How to Get Motivated

See acknowledgment of creator Alex Vermeer.

Why a post on Motivation in a blog about the Argentine tango?

  • I liked the information in the original poster, and I wanted it in a form (that I find) easier to use.
  • The Argentine tango is a dance of special challenges. Many are drawn to it for the many-layered music, the fancy footwork, and the intimate embrace. Many drop out when they discover the physical and emotional challenges of the dance. It takes motivation to pursue progress in the dance in a mindful way.

How to Get Motivated

A Guide to Defeating Procrastination

How to Get Motivated

The solution is simple. To increase motivation and decrease procrastination you must:
+Increase our Expectancy of success and the certainty of being rewarded.
+Increase the Value and pleasantness of doing a task.
-Decrease our Impulsiveness by removing distractions and maintaining focus.
-Decrease the Delay of the reward by having more immediate, salient deadlines.

Get Motivated

Start

  • What are you avoiding?
  • What are you not motivated to do?
  • Be Specific!

Decrease Impulsiveness

Set a Goal

  • Make them: Specific, Realistic, Meaningful
  • Break it down!
  • Input–“For x minutes.”–is often better than output–“Finish this.”
  • “Achieve this” is better than “Avoid that.”

Run a “Dash”

  • Commit to doing it for only 5 minutes. Set a timer.

Eliminate Temptations

  • Recognize what is tempting you.
  • Eliminate it! (Or hide it.)
  • Focus on the abstract aspects of your temptation (not the fun parts).

Make Failure Painful

  • How will failure be painful?
  • Make it more painful.
  • Make a costly bet with someone.

Eliminate Distractions

  • Recognize what is distracting you.
  • Eliminate it! (Or hide it.)

Create Routines & Habits

  • Can part of this be turned into a habit?
  • Can part of this be added to an existing routine?
  • Separate work and play.
  • Schedule leisure before work.

Use Goal Reminders

  • Read an inspiring quote.
  • Look at your goals.
  • Make your goals visible.

Stop Suppressing Thoughts

  • Do not ‘force’ distractions out of your head.

Make Progress Visual

  • Track your progress.

Use Negative Pairing

  • Pair temptations with undesirable images.
  • Imagine a disastrous outcome.

Increase Value

Find Meaning

  • Set and review your major life goals.
  • How does this connect?

Find Flow

  • Match difficulty with skill.
  • Too easy? Make it harder. Too hard? Make it easier.

Create Competition

  • Compete against yourself.
  • Compete against others.
  • Turn it into a game, make it fun!

Get Some Energy

  • Get your blood moving.
  • Splash cold water on your face.
  • Eat well.
  • Energize your environment. (e.g. music)
  • Plan around your energy, not time.

Create a Reward

  • Reward your success.
  • Make the situation more rewarding.

Keep Your Brain Healthy

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take genuine breaks.
  • Reduce your commitments.

Use Productive Procrastination

  • What can you avoid doing by doing this?

Add Accountability

  • Who knows about this?
  • Can you make it public?

Mix Bitter & Sweet

  • Combine long-term interests with short-term gains.

Find Passion

  • Know what you are passionate about.
  • Is this connected?
  • Is this intrinsically motivating?

Increase Expectancy

Action is Required

  • Remember, lack of effort guarantees failure!

Recognize Success

  • Achieve one goal after another.
  • Recognize small improvements as victories.
  • Keep a daily log.

Get Inspired

  • Review your inspirations.
  • Know what inspires you and why.
  • Make your inspirations visible.

Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

  • What could go wrong?
  • Draw on past experiences.
  • Make a backup plan.

Accept Your Procrastination

  • Don’t trivialize “I’ll only give in once.”
  • Log your procrastination habits.
  • Remember that you are human.

Contrast

  • Compare ideal state with current state.
  • Visualize and contrast the present and future.

Check Your Mindset

  • Qualities and skills are cultivated through effort.
  • Nothing is carved in stone.

The Procrastination Equation

The Procrastination Equation–discussed in detail by Piers Steel in his book by the same name–accounts for every major scientific finding on procrastination and draws upon the best current theories of motivation. It looks like this:

Motivation = (Expectancy x Value) / (Impulsiveness x Delay)

Expectancy refers to the perceived odds of getting a reward and whether we expect success or failure.
Value refers to the pleasantness of doing a task and the size of its reward.
Impulsiveness refers to the tendency to get distracted or lose focus on a task.
Delay refers to the time between the present and a task’s reward or completion.

How to Use This Poster

  1. Notice when you are procrastinating. Be specific about what you are avoiding.
  2. Pick an action from one of the three branches to either increase value, increase expectancy, or decrease impulsiveness.
  3. Use the tips to help you implement the action.
  4. Repeat Steps 1-3 until you are motivated.

Tips

Tip! If you feel overwhelmed by how many possible actions there are, focus on implementing just one.

Tip! Keep track of what works best for you.

Tip! Delay is hard to address directly. It is covered in other actions especially Set a Goal under Decrease Impulsiveness.

Tips! If you run into problems, always remember the main reason for the action: to either increase value, increase expectancy, decrease impulsiveness, or decrease delay.

Acknowledgments

Alex Vermeer has created a beautiful color flowchart of this material at alexvermeer.com/getmotivated. Scroll down to the DOWNLOAD IT HERE! section where you can have a free download of the poster in a variety of resolutions.

The text here and its organization is copied nearly verbatim from the poster by Mr. Vermeer. The poster includes so many blocks of information that I found it difficult to use online or print in a form I could use without a magnifying glass. So I created this for my reference.

This poster was inspired by The Procrastination Equation by Piers Steel. See this book for extensive detail on the causes of procrastination and the many methods for defeating it. Buy his book and support the scientific investigation of procrastination and motivation!

How to Get Motivated v2.0 by Alex Vermeer Also check out alexvermeer.com/getmotivated

Licensing

Mr. Vermeer generously licenses his poster under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada (CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 CA), which permits sharing and adapting the material, provided source attribution is given, it is used for non-commercial purposes, and it is shared under the same license.

This adaptation of Mr. Vermeer’s How to Get Motivated poster is licensed under the same terms as his poster.

Fear snares every well-intended step

Fear

Fear snares every well-intended step.

Sketch of a body showing fear-shrouded eyes and and places where swirls of fear live inside.
Fear feelings
  • Will I look foolish?
  • What does my partner want?
  • What does this mean?
  • Will I hurt myself?
  • Will I hurt my partner?
  • Shouldn’t I already know this?
  • What does my partner, what do others think of me?

Fear smothers our natural, exuberant joy of being alive. A joy that wants to burst forth and lift up everyone around us.

See the fear as a friend, one with issues. For fear is the built-in instinct that seeks to protect us from real dangers. The conflict comes when it keeps us from safely, carefully, then joyfully experiencing new things.

In your heart, or wherever you keep your fear, let it know that you know it wants to help you. Let it know that you trust your situation, even when you are unsure what or how to do something. Let it know that you want to test and expand your boundaries and abilities.

Two ideas to avoid failure from fear

Let your lungs relax!

Fear creates tension in body and mind. Fear often holds its breath, so people advise to take big breaths. We disagree. Instead, allow your breath to go where it will as your lungs peacefully relax. Allow your whole body to experience your relaxed, resting lungs. Don’t hold your breath out; don’t hold your breath in. Just allow your lungs when they want, to take in another breath, however deep or shallow they want. Don’t impose your will on your lungs. Allow them to make their gifts to you in their own time and way.

Allow yourself wondrous delight in every detail of what you see and experience.

Even your fear! Where is my fear inside me? How big is it? What does it think I need to know?
When we talk, what are the color and texture of my partner’s irises? What is the feel of my partner’s fabric under my hand? How am I experiencing the space about my partner?

Do you fear (!) that this advice will distract you from your journey? That’s right! The chattering mind that was obsessed with feeling the fear can now delight in feeling the body relax and noticing the wondrous curious sights, sounds, and feelings around it. Leaving our innate body wisdom and learning ability free to explore and grow.

Concern: Frustrations, feelings of awkwardness

Do you remember how long it took you to learn to walk? Probably not. If we remembered in detail the struggles to gain past successes, it might keep us from trying new things in the future.

Patience with yourselves and with each other is your greatest asset at this early stage. Curiosity is another big one! Instead of making judgments about what you can do effortlessly or awkwardly right now, how about curiosity about what it means in your mind-body?

If something feels sort of good, what was going on that made it work? Can you recreate that feeling? If something feels awkward, what changes can you try out to see whether they improve the movement or the partnering? How curious can you feel about whatever you are learning at the moment and how it fits into the dance as a whole?

Yoga warmup for tango

A guest post by Veronika Kruta, verokrutayoga.com

Warm up before dancing with this 10-minute full-body yoga routine.

How strange that tango dancers rarely warm up their bodies before dancing! You would for other types of challenging dance.

The “warming up” I’ve seen might be dancing a low-intensity tanda (maybe a Calo or Canaro) with someone you have danced with before and know well, so as not to ruin your chances of impressing someone if they ask you to dance before you have warmed up.

Several years ago I began a practice of tuning in with myself and my body before going out to a milonga. I put on my heels at home and danced by myself for 10 minutes. I didn’t want the state of my body and mind to betray me when I got on the dance floor for that first tanda.

Often what I discovered in those 10 minutes would surprise me. Some days it seemed I had no balance whatsoever. My shoes didn’t feel right. My mind felt distracted. The clothing I was wearing was all wrong. I was being self-critical. Or the opposite would happen. I was pleased by the stability I felt, or by how expressive or creative my solo dancing seemed. How light and free I felt in my movement or how focused I was. These states of being change and can catch us unawares until we get into our bodies.

The same thing happens when I get on my yoga mat. This is often the first time of the day when I allow myself to tune in to what’s going on inside, the sensations I feel in my body, where my thoughts are, and what emotions I’m feeling. Many times I discover something I was not expecting.

Later, I started adding on to this practice of tuning in before dancing by spending a few minutes watching a video or two of some dancers who inspire me and then filling up on the excitement I felt from watching them. My dance seemed to transform. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever watched a performance at a milonga and felt like your own dance came alive after the performance, your inspiration and creative juices flowing through you and giving your dance a completely different, more raw and soulful expression.

There are many ways to get present in your body before you dance, and what a gift this is to your partner.

If you want to learn more about how presence can change your embrace, check out my blog post How Attention to Breath Can Enhance Your Tango.

Today I want to share with you a 10-minute, full body yoga warm-up you can do before dancing. You can even do this in your tango clothes. I recommend doing it barefoot or in street shoes, unless you want the added challenge of being in your dance shoes. When you don’t have time to do a full yoga practice before dancing, this is a great way to spend a few minutes to stretch, strengthen, energize, and become present in your body.

Warm up with yoga before dancing tango.

This brief sequence begins by getting grounded and warming up the joints. Then it moves into opening up the feet, spreading the toes and bringing awareness to how you distribute the weight across the whole foot.

Next, a few poses to warm up the front and back body, opening shoulders, stretching the side-body, and warming up the major muscle groups. (Similar to the purpose of Sun Salutations A and B in a Vinyasa practice.)

Then we open the hip flexors to promote a nice tango stride, and activate your twist to help torsion. Finally, we go into a deeper twist and hamstring stretch—also facilitating your stride, and finish with a little core warm-up to assist with balance, get the blood flowing, and energize the body in general.

Wrapping up, we take a few moments to bring the attention inward, focus on the breath, and tune in to our thoughts, emotions and state of being before heading out onto the dance floor.

I encourage you to use this sequence as a guideline and add or omit poses that you feel your body needs or does not need to warm up before dancing. If you are doing this sequence at home, in comfortable clothing, you may also add some floor poses, which I have not included here so that the routine can be done in your tango clothes in any space you find yourself.

For more information on how to compliment your tango dancing with a yoga practice or to try out some free yoga classes designed specifically for tango dancers please visit my website verokrutayoga.com or feel free to get in touch. I am always open to questions and feedback of any kind!

Happy Dancing!

Elements of improvisation

I will touch on four aspects of what I consider important to improvising dance (in general, and not only Argentine tango).

Solo practice

Solo practice video recorded, with music and strongly visualizing your partner. Benefits:

  • Learn specific songs and learn to recognize recurring structures in music.
  • Prepare your body to respond to music, both with figures and with adornments.
  • Discover and store little movement sequences that nicely express certain musical idioms.

Regularly review your video to see if the outside view matches what you feel inside. If you like what you see, do more of that. If you don’t like what you see, try something different.

Learning figures

For a comprehensive program of learning figures, with rhythmical interpretations, I am a big fan of the DVIDA (Dance Vision International) program for Argentine tango (and other dances). They are offering their entire streaming library for FREE (no credit card needed!) for a month during the Covid-19 time of physical distancing.

Here’s the value of figures. These are sequences of moves that dancers have over time discovered they nicely fit together. They flow. These are good starting points to see what movements there are and how they can combine nicely. Pay particular attention to how you get into (that is, start) the figure and how you resolve (end) it. You will find these starting and ending moves get used many times, and you will begin to discover how they “prime the pump” for movements to follow.

Another value is the context that a figure gives you to discover how you want to move yourself to make the figure flow nicely. Each element of a figure: ochos, cruzadas, alterations, and on and on, are things you can reuse in different combinations. You want to learn how to flow into and out of a particular movement from many different starting and ending points.

But it can be mind-numbing and confusing to learn many figures all at once. Learn one, master it so it flows smoothly. Then experiment with fitting it into your usual repertoire. Use it in lots of different styles of music to play with the dynamics of each movement within the figures.

Then you can begin experimenting with breaking it into pieces and recombining the pieces in different ways. “If I can do it in this direction, can I also do it in the other direction?” “If I do this to my partner, can we change it so they do it to me?” “What if we do more/less of these movements?” “What if I end the figure early?” “What if I start the figure later in the pattern?”

That leads nicely into …

Using pieces

Recognize that at Every Single Step my partner and I have a few, fairly simple choices: Wait, Change weight, or Pivot.

The most simple of those, we can simply wait in place for our partner to complete their movement or for a new phrase of music to begin. Even though simple it can be challenging to wait while still holding energy and attention.

Either or both of us can change weight from one foot to the other. A weight change can be in place or over a distance. It can be permanent or momentary.

If the weight change includes a step, that can be around or ‘through’ our partner. With my light leg I can step around my partner on either the hand side or the arm side of the embrace. In one direction the step will be an open step; in the other direction it will be either a front-crossing or back-crossing step. My partner has the same choices.

Either or both of us can pivot: matching, mirroring, or mismatching.

Having experimented with the elements of figures. We will begin to recognize the richness of all these possible choices. We can begin to play with these in a variety of games/challenges to gain a facility for finding useful opportunities whenever they arise.

The Tango Keypad article has a system for generating challenges from any random string of numbers. But many will consider this too geeky or complicated. There are simpler games.

Mauricio Castro has a number of interesting exercises in his TANGO DISCOVERY book and DVD. Here are three, for example:

Exercise 1.
As partner stands with weight on one leg, demonstrate Open, Front-crossing, and Back-crossing steps. Change legs and repeat. “1-2-3-4 Front” exercise. Lead partner in any four steps, then a Front. Count out loud.

Variations.
Require a specific leg be the crossing one. Change target to a Back or Open step.

Exercise 2.
Now leader should occasionally make an intentional mistake to see if follower catches it. “That wasn’t a front cross.” At more advanced levels step faster.

Exercise 3.
At count 4 the follower will call for next step: front, back, or open.

My partner’s energy

The first point about solo practice is in part about how I (and each of us individually) develop my own clear and creative energy to bring to a dance partnership. My great hope and great joy when I find it is that my partners will have done the same sort of work to bring good energy to our dancing together.

When I dance with a partner who is well connected to themselves, well connected to the music, well connected to me, and using the floor in powerful ways, it can feel like magic. We can find ourselves doing things we’d never dreamed of in any class or lesson. We can find ourselves wondering afterward, “How did that happen!?” That is when our investments in Practice, Patterns, and Pieces come together in a magical flow of improvisation.

Escalate your movement skill

Do you ride escalators up and down instead of walking them or using stairs? Did you say you are an Argentine tango dancer?!

Escalators full of standing people, while stairs go empty

I know, the moving stairs are usually filled with other people riding them, letting a machine do their work instead of using their own body in a great, simple exercise. So we’re stuck.

Walking up and down stairs makes a great exercise for dancers and everyone. We lift (or lower) almost our full body weight through a good range of motion. We strengthen our ankles, the joint through which all our body weight above connects to our base of support, our feet.

In regular walking in the general population, you are going to find people ‘falling’ from one step into the next, unable to seize their axis as the hips come over the foot. Worse still, they may not even bring their hips over the foot, but stagger a little side-to-side.

Let’s face it, our bodies are lazy. They will do as little work as they can get away with. So our minds and spirits that have aspirations must assert control and demand better performance. To avoid little-by-little performance degradation, we can challenge ourselves in lots of little everyday ways.

I have a few exercises that can help.

  • Walking slowly through the axis position, where the light leg swings directly under the hip and brushes past the other leg.
  • Changing up forward, backward, sideways the direction of steps.
  • Static heel raises. Think how often you are standing around watching something or waiting for something. Press the heels into each other, with the forefoot turned out to a comfortable degree. Rise up slowly off your heels, and lower slowly, keeping your weight forward, over the balls of the feet, so that the heels just kiss the floor.
  • Harder heel raises. Pressing the heels into each other, rise up on only one foot, with the other one floating beside the working foot. Repeat on the other side.
  • With each step, pretending that you are stepping up onto a short, next level plaza. We flex our ankle, pressing down through the ball of the foot to lift our entire body up to and above the next level. We can have that same feeling when walking on a constant level. With each step, I am “stepping ‘up'” and holding my weight there, in readiness for a next step or a pivot in place.
    In actual dancing we don’t want to bob up and down, so we flex the ankle and use a relaxed (but not bent) knee to absorb the lifting. This will keep our head at a nearly constant height as we swing through our axis, the ‘lifting’ point of each step.
  • Standing leg circles (lápiz). Standing on one leg we extend the other leg as far as it reaches to the front, then swing it in a large half-circle to the back, keeping the toe in light contact with the floor. Important: keep the size of the arc the same on the back and the front. Feel your active gluteus muscles on the back. Do five to ten times starting to the front, and then repeat starting to the back. Now repeat the whole thing on the other side.

Please give this a try and let me know if you have any questions or interesting experiences with it.