Pivot Power – the hip rotator groups

The hip rotator muscle groups (external for lateral rotation, internal for medial rotation) provide a powerful engine for tango pivots.

These muscle groups — and not only, not even primarily dissociation — provides the primary power source for pivots. This article explains how that works, describes how to apply it (differently) for front versus back pivots, and describes exercises to warm up and explore these muscles.

For the warm-up and exploration exercises, scroll down to the EXERCISES VIDEO descriptions.

For the ultra-quick explanation:
FRONT pivots — the heel of the STANDING leg pushes (by way of the leg+foot twist) into the free leg heel, pushing that side of the body around in front of the standing leg.
BACK pivots — the heel of the FREE leg pushes into the standing leg heel, thereby pivoting around behind the standing leg.

This has the advantage that the pivot occurs as the feet pass through the collection point. It must be acknowledged that this is but one of the many “training wheels” used in teaching Argentine tango, for at higher levels there are many ways in which pivots might happen with feet apart. The principle of medial/lateral rotation of the hip remains valid.

Pivots, front (forward) and back (backward), are the movement that powers ochos, molinetes, and other rotational movements. Pivots are one of the two foundations (the other is weight changes) of all tango movement. You can find MANY sources of all kinds explaining pivots in terms of dissociation as the power source.

The power of dissociation comes from the stretching-tightening of core muscles. But note that this twist happens around the spine.

On the inside of the hip joint lie the internal rotators -– tensor fascia lata, gluteus minimus, anterior fibers of gluteus medius, and adductors longus and brevis — which assist in keeping the balance of the hip while standing, walking, or running, and rotate the femur medially (toward the body’s midline; i.e., foot turn in).

On the external side of the hip, six rotator muscles -– piriformis, gemellus superior, obturator internus, gemellus, inferior, obturator externus, and quadratus femoris — are responsible for keeping the femur in its socket and for rotating the femur laterally (away from the body’s midline; i.e., foot turn out).

These groups of rotator muscles control lateral rotation of the femur in the hip socket, or looking at it from the ground up, they control rotation of the hip (with its attached body) around the femur!

Dissociation is primary in pivots only in the sense that the movement usually starts in the torso. From a standstill we can quite readily power a quarter turn pivot in either direction, front or back, with the hip rotators alone, with no dissociation.

In actual practice, of course, we use both dissociation and hip rotation to power greater than quarter turn pivots. We start with dissociation to wind up and provide a stable core, then when that energy is used up in pivoting, the hip rotators smoothly take over, when desired possibly rotating us past the torso rotation, where the process can repeat as a sort of ratcheting mechanism: torso-hips, torso-hips.

Here’s where I feel this article is important and fills a need. Every teacher who talks about pivots talks about dissociation. A far smaller number of teachers talk about the dissociation plus hip rotation ratchet mechanism for either greater rotation or for powering continuous rotation. But no teachers in my experience describe the mechanism of hip rotation and give exercises to help students understand and access that power.

I am happy to learn of teachers who DO explain the hip rotator mechanism, so that I can study and acknowledge their work.

See also: List of internal rotators of the human body and List of external rotators of the human body.

EXERCISES VIDEO

5:30 Video demonstrating each of the exercises below

Let’s work from the feet up to our torso, so as to place emphasis on good grounding.

Heel Bounces

Heels tight together, forefeet spread apart a comfortable distance. Rise up on toes and balls of feet. As you rise keep your attention on twisting your feet away from each others, which causes your heels to press together. Feel the effort on the inside of your legs, with most of the foot pressure on the triangle formed by big toe, ball of foot, and second toe.

Rise up slightly on your toes, then let your weight drop onto your heels. Do this in a Drop-Drop, Drop-Drop, quick one-two fashion. This will help organize your posture and wake up your neurophysiology.

Heel Raises

Same foot instructions as for Heel Bounces. Rise up slowly, high on your toes plus ball of the foot. Lower slowly, with the idea in mind of keeping the crown of your head at the same elevation. Imagine your upper body stretching longer. See also the Stand Tall Exercise.

Do The Twist

Spread your feet to shoulder width. Keep your posture tall, upright and centered side-to-side and front-to-back between your feet. Weight on the balls of your feet, twist both feet at the same time, right-left, right-left, …

Do One Twist

Again, keeping your posture organized, put your weight over one leg, with the other leg out to the side to help balance and stabilize you. Do the right-left twist back and forth multiple times. Now switch and repeat with the other leg.

Hip Twists

Feet centered underneath you, as for Heel Bounces. Place both hands over your sternum to monitor its unmoving position. Keep the hips level. Rotate just the hips right-left multiple times.

Torso Twists

Feet centered underneath you, as for Heel Bounces. Place both hands just below your belly button to monitor its unmoving position. Keep the hips level, facing forward, unmoving. Keep the torso upright, not tiling in any direction. Rotate just the torso right-left multiple times. As you rotate keep your chin over your sternum, so you head moves with your torso.

Step-Pivots

Static pivots have a place. We also do enrosque pivots, and two-footed split weight pivot and balance exercises. The best general exercise we’ve found for our students is a step, then pivot. The momentum of the step makes the work easier, and it gives a context for the pivot.

The directions below differ for front versus back pivots. Both start with hands placed lightly over the sternum (to give a sense of relaxed shoulders and arms, and take out momentum from swinging arms). The dancer takes a comfortable step, to front or to back, then pivots on the stepping leg, continuing with the front or back direction. We start with quarter turns, then increase to half or greater turns.

Front Pivot

For front pivots the heel of the standing leg twists into the heel of the free leg, pushing it around the standing leg.

Back Pivot

For back pivots the heel of the free leg twists into the heel of the standing leg, pushing it backwards.

Follow as if you were leading

In last Monday’s class Mauro was teaching about back ocho technique, pointing out that this was primarily a Follower move, although Leaders use it in the back sacada. When, for demonstrations, he had me lead him in back cross, back sacadas (i.e., both of us doing back crossing steps) they were the smoothest, easiest back sacadas I’ve ever experienced.

Yin Yang Hearts by IntimacyRetreats.com

We can’t say it was because he provided an easier target with long legs. (😉, amigo.) If I were asked to explain it as simply as possible, I’d say he was fully activated, aware of possibilities. He required no pulling into position from me, nor did he pull me. He stepped around me at a perfect distance, and he kept his own balance. He did not collect his legs automatically. He provided a stable base to act against/with to power my pivot and our mutual flow.

I don’t know the story behind Mauro learning to follow. He follows (and leads) quite well. For me, I learned to follow (quite well) in order to feel what I needed to produce a comfortable, clear lead. From ballroom dance days decades ago, on into recent years of Argentine tango, it has always seemed useful to study both “follower” and “leader” technique to grow as a dancer.

Early in my tango journey I was told by a surprised teacher, “You follow better than you lead!” Unhelpful but accurate at the time; possibly still true. Leaders of every gender and orientation, from just beginners to maestros, after leading me in dance have reacted with surprise and delighted joy at what they were able to accomplish in the dance. No brag, just fact.

What do I bring to a dance partnership when I follow?

  • Good balance to support myself and help my partner if needed
  • Great energy that amplifies my partner’s intentions
  • Great energy matching
  • Awareness of many movement and interaction possibilities, such that I make them easy for my partner, and I take advantage of them when offered (such as follower sacadas)
  • A calm mind (“I have no need to prove myself. I can simply be myself, and be with my partner.”)
  • Patience

Aside: In a class I appreciate the importance of responding to leads as honestly as I can so that they learn the effect of their leading, while in a social dance situation I am actively seeking to contribute to our mutual success in creating a wonderful dance experience.

So, wow, yeah, that was a heck of a long (and self-aggrandizing) preface to my thesis: Learning to lead can make you a better follower. Of course, the converse is also true, learning to follow can make you a better leader, but most everyone accepts that premise without question.

Everyone will benefit from learning both roles in Argentine tango because it leads to empowerment of a more fully developed dancer. Not only our learning but also our teaching will benefit when we move away from both gender-identified roles, as well as from role-identified dance.

I am not belittling or saying to do away with role-specific style or movement preferences. But being aware of what our partner does and wants gives us access to a greater range of useful, mutually beneficial responses.

When we can think in terms of two dancers moving with each other it gives us access to greater creative possibilities. “If I can do this to them, and we reverse it, then they can do that to me.” “If I am moving forward, I am the one in the power position.”

It’s a Yin-Yang thing. At different moments of the dance throughout the dance both partners will, ideally, exercise leader and follower intentions. I realize that the way I prefer to dance, with an equally powerful and aware partner isn’t to everyone’s preference. Nevertheless, learning both roles gives you access to any style and power balance that you and your partner want.

Get out of the pool

Argentine tango typically calls for a long, elegant posture with a tall torso and relaxed shoulders. In classes and workshops you commonly see one of these two warm-up approaches to encourage that posture.
(1) “Raise your hands high above your head [and forward, often], pulling your shoulders and everything else upward. Now let your arms and shoulders drop while keeping everything else up.” This is my least favorite approach. It specifically calls for raising the shoulders, which we specifically don’t want when we dance. I feel it also invites other unwanted posture defects, such as head and/or pelvis tilt forward.
(2) “With your feet in rest position, heels together and feet slightly turned out, rise up on your toes as high as you can. Now while trying to keep your head at this height, lower your heels.” I like this much better for organizing the body in a well stacked line, and the toe raise is a useful strengthening and balance exercise, though it may challenge some newcomers.

I use a different exercise cue.

Based on what I was feeling and wanted to feel in my and my partner’s posture, I developed a different cue and imagery. “Remember how you get out of the swimming pool by pressing your hands down on the edge of the pool while raising your body up? With your hands at about hip level pretend you are pressing down on the edge of the pool to pull your hips above the edge.” Video

You can make “get out of the pool” a partner exercise by having the helping partner hold their hands palm up at about their partner’s hip level. The working partner presses their hands palm down into their partner’s hands. This will also help those without a developed sense of mind-body awareness.

I like this approach because it pulls the shoulder blades down and in as it activates the lats. It seems to encourage pulling the hips back to a neutral position, with the tail down. It anchors the feelings we want when actually dancing, without unwanted extras such as the toe rise or hand+shoulder rise. Plus, the feeling can easily be carried directly into dance.

Recently, reading AND THEN WE DANCED I learned that a form of this “get out of the pool” exercise was developed by Luigi Faccuito, an American jazz dancer, choreographer, and teacher best known for developing the world’s first standard technique for teaching jazz and musical theater dance, a ballet-based technique also used in rehabilitation. He developed it for his own rehabilitation after suffering a paralyzing car accident at age 21. His get out of the pool was “press down on an imaginary ballet barre.”

Luigi added a useful twist (literally) which I now use with my classes. “With one leg crossed tightly over the other, while standing tall, with hands at about hip height press down as if pressing down on a ballet barre, while at the same time twisting torso and hands into the front leg (i.e., dissociation). Now switch which leg is in front and repeat, twisting in that new direction.”

Let me know in the comment box below how this works for you! I’m always interested in new ideas for teaching, learning, training, practicing, coaching. Please share yours.

Lesson 2018-08-18 Alteration as framework for creativity

Three promises:

  1. Nice dynamics
  2. Recognition of opportunities is better than recall of patterns.
  3. Framework for creating variations

Outline:

  1. Base movement: dynamic change of direction with lots of circular energy.
  2. Variants: coming from in front and coming from behind.
  3. Opening variant of El Gato.
  4. Small space movement with big dynamics. (‘Pull’ with side furthest from axis vs push)
  5. Techniques as a framework for creating variations on things we already know.

1. CS Alteration FO F2B, 2AS

We use the term alteration to refer to a movement that combines a rock step with a pivot, sending us off in a new direction. For example, demonstrate — with hand-side pointing down line of dance — Alteration front-to-back, going to arm-side. The rock step stores energy, and the pivot sends it off in a circular action to create a surprising change of direction.

Tonight we’ll start with this one particular alteration. We’ll learn what makes alternations successful, and at the end of the hour you will learn ways to make variations, and have a chance to explore them. We will also use this as a vehicle to explore the power of recognizing opportunities to fuel your dance creativity.

It’s a lot to cover, so pay close attention, make notes and connections however you can. I may also ask you to show your work

Now… You know the Americana? We open to the hand-side (only rarely, in old movies, to the arm-side) like a book, then both step through with the inside legs. But for this figure the leader steps through with the outside, left leg. So we are in cross-system, both stepping with left legs, in a shadow position.

How many different ways do you know or can figure out to get into that position, going from here (facing toe-to-toe), to here (little side rocks to position us, then step)? Give that a try for this song, and raise your hand if you want hints or help.

Music ♫

Who
has a slick way to get to this position? Demonstrate, please.

Followers — Filling out the frame-energy, occupy the space; Twist of legs together; Activate with energy of rebound from rock step; This is clearly a QQS timing-do that. This is a block movement for the pivot, not dissociation.

The important thing to notice is the matrix that starts the step. Here it is FO. My partner is in a front-cross leg position; I am in an open position. Even though it looks like my legs are crossed, too, if I turn toward my partner they open, but if my partner turns toward me their legs cross tighter.

The next thing to ask is, “If we back up one step, how do we get from that standing leg to this position?”

So our partner could be coming from in front of us, leaving a right leg somewhere in our NE-E sector, or maybe they come from behind us, say out of a molinete. For our creativity we can either create those conditions, or we can recognize when they just happen during our dancing and take advantage of them.

1A. Coming from in front

Simplest, merely lead a front ocho toward AS as you step back to create space. (You could do a neat little enrosque R behind L, to ready the L to rock forward.

1A’. Coming from in front, with a sacada

Alternatively, we would like that to be an overturned ocho, and we can nicely achieve that with a sacada to power the pivot. So…
El Gato, FsR

1B. Coming from behind

A molinete will achieve this. How about a standard 2-3 ROP entry?

 ♩ Music ♫

Variations framework:

  1. Substitutions from the O/F/B matrix
  2. Mirror images (F2B/B2F, L2R, R2L)
  3. Varying N-E-S-W placement

 ♩ Music ♫

These alterations will generally but not necessarily be in CS, and it usually works better to have our partner’s legs in a F or B, and us in an O. With their legs twisted, and with the pivot moving toward the twist they can more easily keep them tight together. Since we’re leading the figure we can know to manage our legs, and we need the greater O flexibility to help create the pivot.

Speaking of O, can you figure out the adjustment you need to make for an O2O alteration to work? (Leader must step inside partner’s leg when going toward them.)

Music ♫

Extra credit sacadas

  • CS BO F2B (for me) 2AS to provoke a follower sacada as I step across their path. That powers my L lápiz for a B-sacada.

Didactic demo

#lessonplan

A recipe for beginners??

Does a Recipe this rich and filling seem like something you would feed to a beginner??

This is what we are doing in group classes over August 2018 at Tango Tribe.

52. Alterations With Overturned Forward Ochos With Sacadas

by Christy Coté for DVIDA | Makes 2 phrases | One month of weekly two hours of classes | Gluten-free

Ingredients

Cross System
Displacement
Alteration
Ochos (optionally overturned)
Sacadas (optional), including back sacada (more optional)
Molinete
Tuck and lapiz (optional)
Parada, Pasada
Colgada (optional)
Gancho (optional)

Equipment

Congenial partners
Nice dance floor
Dance shoes (or dance socks on shoes)
A Chef de Cuisine committed to help you succeed

Recipe

Salida (#2) to LOP in CS
Walk, Displacement B/F (R2L)
Alteration f2b FO turning CW BO
Oo, F/F sacada with R
Overturned F ochos: F/Fo sacada with L, F/ Oo sacada with L, F/B sacada with L
Molinete CCW: O/O sacada with R then tuck and lapiz as: BOF
Parada, step-over Colgada to Gancho
FO to Parada

Method

  1. Brief warm up for ankles, hip rotators, and core, plus special attention to movements used in the evening’s special ingredient.
  2. Demonstrate the final product.
  3. Demonstrate the evening’s special ingredient.
  4. Everyone shadow learns the follower’s part.
  5. Everyone follows the part from a visual lead.
  6. Everyone shadow learns the leader’s part.
  7. Everyone leads the part from a visual back lead.
  8. Pair up and practice.
  9. Switch roles and practice.
  10. Apply individual and group guidance.
  11. Switch partners and repeat until done.

Notes

  • Experienced dancers have an opportunity to learn their opposite role in a systematic way.
  • Both followers and leaders experience equal attention to their role and to the complete dancer.
  • We encourage and teach partners how to give each other feedback and help in a supportive way.
  • We find that the richness of the material encourages close attention to instruction and practice work, without demands from the teacher.
  • The first class, Ingredients, pays attention not only to movement mastery, but also to options for entering and exiting, as well as modifying it. This lets novices focus on essentials, while experienced dancers expand their awareness of creative possibilities. Tuesdays 7:30-8:30 p.m.
  • The second class, Recipes, goes deep into dancer principles to successfully blend individual ingredients into a visually appealing product with a great feel. Tasty! Tuesdays 8:30-9:30 p.m.
  • Recommended: make your own notes after class.
  • Recommended: use the practice time Wednesday 7:00-9:00 p.m. at Tango Tribe (and/or other Austin prácticas).

This is what we are doing in group classes over August at Tango Tribe.
Tuesdays 7:30-8:30 Ingredients
Tuesdays 8:30-9:30 Recipes
Wednesdays 7:00-9:0 Practice

Simple rules for Argentine tango

  1. I move naturally, keeping “nose over toes”.
  2. I match energy with the music and with my partner.
  3. I seek to confront (be with and chest facing) my partner.
  4. At each step I may: 1) move my weight from one foot to the other over zero or longer distance, forward, backward, or sideways; or 2) pivot forward or backwards on the ball of my supporting foot; or 3) pause. I may step through or around my partner’s space. My partner may do something different.
  5. We create dance sequences by opening space for our partner to flow into, or closing space to send our partner in another direction.
  6. Between steps my body passes directly over my supporting leg, while my free leg wants to swing near and under my body to give me good balance and a small footprint for any possible next step or pivot.
  7. I may test, but not stress, my partner.
  8. I or my partner may intentionally bend or break any rule for special effect.

Not rules in the sense of codigos for behavior at the milonga social, but a framework, a set of principles for a way of being when dancing Argentine tango.

In eight rules and fewer than 150 words we have a complete system to express the rich complexity of Argentine tango. Well . . .

Until dancers reach some stages of unconscious competence, they tend to spend too much time in “System 2” of the mind (Thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman), the slower, more deliberative, and more logical one. That’s good for disciplined practice time, but when we dance we want to be in the flow of “System 1,” the fast, instinctive, and emotional one. How to reconcile the complexity of the infinite possibilities of Argentine tango with the limitations of the novice mind-body? Simple rules give us an emotional and instinctive feeling for how we want to be when we are dancing.

Would you expand or reduce this set of rules?
Does any rule strike you as just wrong?
I’d love to hear your comments on how you express the Argentine tango system to the curious and to new dancers.


Inspired by Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World by professors Donald Sull and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, about how we all use simple rules, shortcuts to manage the complexities of daily live, and how we can intentionally devise simple rules to help us grasp and manage complex systems, such as the dance of Argentine tango. We have a good example of this in the way that General Motors CEO Mary Barra replaced a 10-page employee dress code with two words, “Dress appropriately.”

A simple rule for a great connection

Match energy. If you can think-feel just one thing in your dancing, I recommend you make that Energy. (By the way, do you agree with me about how it often serves us to focus on a single thing?)

Okay, there it is, the whole “secret” right in the first two words of this article. You’re welcome! I, too, value highly concise, wonderfully helpful advice.

A girl on the left and a boy on the right play tug of war with a rope.
How to Play Tug of War by WikiHow, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

What’s that? You’re not sure what match energy means, and even if you have an idea what it means you’re not sure you agree? Well my guess is that even if you were to guess at some interpretation of match energy and seek to apply it in your dancing, you would find benefits of mindfulness, calm, clear intention, and connection with your partner.

Despite what computers would tell us, we don’t live in a binary, 1s and 0s, yes/no, right/wrong world. We live in a panoply of possibilities, each with a continuum, a range of choices (and non-choices!). Consider, tension in the body (and tension in the mind!), pressures with our partner’s body parts, timing of movement with (or not) the music, size of steps, elevation, etc. How can we begin to comprehend, to be aware of and respond well to such a complex system of interrelated possibilities? We can begin (and sustain) by adhering to a simple rule that feels intuitive to our mind-body: Match energy.

What to do if there is a mismatch — Matching and leading

But, David, what if I can’t exert that much pressure or don’t like it? What if they don’t know how to use their body to step with the same sustained energy I like for this kind of music? What if we each prefer a different degree of closeness or style of embrace?

Do you Lead or Follow? Does it matter? I reject the traditional and widespread notion that the dance is el hombre’s dance, because “he” has so many more responsibilities, then the follower must adapt to the leader. In my dance world,

  1 + 1 + 1 > 3
  The energy of the Music & Me & Thee makes wonderful dance.

Calibration. How can I know if it is me or my partner causing a mismatch? Consider the ballet barre. It makes for a perfect partner in that it pushes (or pulls) against you with exactly the same force as you use on it! (The ballet barre has a bit of give to it, much like a well organized, energy matching body.) That can give you a feeling for matching, and then how can you know if you are matching when you dance? Check that you and your partner’s body parts stay in a well organized, rather fixed relationship to each other (that will vary as dance geometry dictates). If the hand side of the embrace is drifting toward one of the partners, or up or down, then extra force is coming from somewhere.

I’ll start out in my body’s preferred placement and organization of parts. If my partner’s parts placement seems to be asking for or giving something different, then if it’s within my acceptable comfort and operational parameters, I’ll accept and adapt to it. If my partner is hurting me I will say something, perhaps non-verbally at first, with a shake or a shrug of that part, then verbally if I must.

I will seek to match my partner’s energy indications in as many respects and to as great a degree as possible. I will even seek to match intangible qualities, such as style and expressiveness (or not) of dance. Notice! I must remain alert to the possibility that I misread them, or perhaps unawares I gave them some early signal that led them to dance in something other than their naturally preferred manner.

In any case, once we feel we have done a good job matching our partner, we may then begin leading (whether we are leading or following) our partner to our preferred, most resourceful, natural, and powerful place of dance. We do this by shifting our energy at a rate that they can adjust to.

May I reiterate more simply? Match energy to the extent possible and non-injurious. By the way, you do realize that match energy applies to more than just your partner, right? We seek as a couple to match the energy of the music, and even to la ronda–the other couples dancing along with us. And if not match, to at least be aware of these energies so that we can make intentional choices.

All the energy that we can put into sensing what is happening in the music, in the room around us, in our partner, and in ourselves — will give our partner more to work with and against, and help us create a more wonderful dance.

Voice Lessons for Parents

Nobody loves me but my mother,
And she could be jivin’ too.

–B. B. King, “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother”

Seen in VOICE LESSONS FOR PARENTS — What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Listen by Wendy Mogel, PhD (OCLC WorldCat, Amazon). How wonderful to think that we have an ability to learn and grow in wisdom throughout our lives, even if we may regret that the lessons come after we could have used them. (Experience is a hard teacher; the test comes before the lesson.)

Our daughter grew into a beautiful person with a warm, generous spirit . . . despite my manifold mistakes as a parent. The result is a testament to the good influences of her mother, my wife. Daughter left the homestead ages ago, but seeing as how there is a child (or several) inside all of us, and as I seek to enhance my communication effectiveness — with myself, my wife, daughter, relatives, friends, partners, associates, students, and strangers — this book struck a responsive chord for me.

These are some of the lessons I took from it:

  • Always be modeling the best of what you want for the other.
  • Respect the autonomy of the other.
  • View the other as an individual, not as a representative of a class, nor as someone to compare to others.
  • Use authority to protect and to serve, not as a way to control or feel superior, nor as a way to impose your views.
  • Hold space for others, where they may express themselves. But do not demand their attention or communication.
  • Don’t take it personally. I like the advice I read ages ago when I was a software developer, about how to build robust software that plays well with other software. Be tolerant of the things you take in, and scrupulous about what you give out (Postel’s law, the robustness principle).
  • Maintain a friendly, businesslike atmosphere. Approachable, pleasant, purposeful, practical, unemotional.
  • Just as with the claims that body language can say more than our language, when communicating we want to exercise mindfulness and good intention with our tone and pitch, facial expression, tempo, timing, and setting. (Also consider Craig Ferguson’s “1) Does this need to be said? 2) Does this need to be said by me? 3) Does this need to be said by me now?”)

I learned from this book about Common Sense Media, a media review and advocady site (movies, books, TV, games, apps, and websites) dedicated to the well-being of kids of all ages. The one minute reviews are terrific, and you can search for media by age group appropriateness and by message or lessons imparted.

Whether or not you are a parent, I highly recommend Voice Lessons for Parents for its valuable communication life skills.

Five most common moves of tango

This explanation forms the WHAT of my understanding of Argentine tango. Now as to the HOW, well that’s where the real fun begins.

From my answer to the question on Quora, “What are the five most common moves of tango dancing?”

Five most common moves of Tango dancing? Well I say there are really only two most basic movements that make up all the rich complexity of Argentine tango. Changes of weight and Pivots are the bases that form the DNA of tango’s life.

Change of weight — moving our balanced weight from over one foot to over the other foot.

We have many ways to modify the character of a weight change. The size of the movement can range from in place (with a few inches of movement in your upper body and none in the feet) to a distance of several feet. The direction can be forward, backward, or sideways. The duration can be a total change (as in walking), a momentary change (as in rebound, ‘rebote’), or the longer moment of a rocking step (‘cunita’). Additionally, you can vary the speed and dynamics of the movement.

Pivot — with our weight over one or the other foot, we twist the body, pivoting our standing foot to point in a new direction. (A gross over simplification of the movement, which can be found covered in a great variety of great detail all over the Internet. I admire the clear and concise demonstrations in the Howcast series by Ana Padron and Diego Blanco How to Do the Argentine Tango | Howcast and Vanessa Gausch has a wonderful YouTube series of explanations and exercises Tango Practice by Vanessa Gauch. And see a local teacher!)

Changes of weight move us in an orthogonal direction (forward, backward, left, right), while pivots reorient the direction of that grid. We may combine pivot with change of weight, creating a curving step.

At the next higher level of consideration, we have three basic relationship movements between partners. (So maybe two basic movements plus three relationships is your asked for five.) Each partner can move (or not move at all) in three fundamental relationships with their partner. Open step — stepping with legs apart (also called Side Step), Front-cross step — where the free, moving leg comes between me and my partner, and Back-cross step — where the free leg moves behind me, on the side away from my partner. This is all explored in great detail in A version of the Tango Lexicon with numbers instead of names.

Changes of weight over a distance (zero to as far as you and your partner can comfortably, elegantly step), Pivots to change direction, and the movement relationships Open, Front-cross, and Back-cross steps are what I consider the most fundamental movement elements of Argentine tango. A person could spend a lifetime exploring and mastering those movements, creating wonderfully musical, expressive, and creative dance.

Sally Ride

Astronaut Sally Ride in NASA uniform in front of bank of switches in the Space Shuttle
Sally Ride (1951-2012) USA Astronaut
“I wish that there had been another woman on my flight. I wish that two of us had gone up together. I think it would have been a lot easier.”
~Sally Ride

In 1983, Sally Ride was the first USA woman in space. From a TED-Ed presentation of a 1983 interview with Gloria Steinem.

Tango is a dance of connections, with the music, with our partner, with the other dancers, even with the spectators. As a teacher, life for me keeps making connections to tango — and vice-versa.

There is something different about woman to woman (as well as man to man) connections and relating. Not necessarily better but often easier for being “in your channel.” In the origins of our tango in Argentina and Uruguay, where man-man and woman-woman instruction was the norm due to the wide disparity of numbers of men and women (possibly as much as 50 to 1!), there was a native, even if inadvertent, wisdom to same sex learning.

With the goal of becoming good enough to earn dances with members of the opposite sex, the process was to train with your own sex, learning first to follow, then to lead.

Process leads to goals

At Tango Tribe, with our process of training everyone from the start to both follow and to lead as the way to become fully capable dancers, we make necessity a virtue with any gender or role-preference class imbalance. All our classes will include any combination of men and women leading and following. In future articles we’ll talk more about the many benefits of learning to both lead and follow from the first.

Do you fear learning to dance, let alone learning both roles? Well that brings us to two other Sally Ride quotes.
“All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary.”
But with a process of well planned training,
“We were able to overcome being overcomed.”

Your tribe loves you.