Notes from Tango Tribe class Wednesday 1/27/2016

Dance International Studio
(David Phillips substituting for Jason Laughlin of Tangophilia)
Guided experiences to help you make personal and partner discoveries

First session, 6:00-7:30pm, Core concepts
Tonight’s topic: Your balance. Protecting your axis and telling your partner clearly where it is.

We do core concepts exercises from both sides of the embrace, in such a way that everybody can handle it.

Warmup exercises from Move Like a Champion

  • Put a Spring in Your Step (Bouncing on the Heels)
  • Run Baby Run (Walking and Jogging in Place)
  • Feet with Attitude (Shaping the Free Foot)
  • Barbie Feet (Standing on the Platform)

Preparatory exercise: Saying “No”
Standing both legs, each leg, organized body, loose body. Moving.

Slow walking, with observable sensation-based feedback
Taking turns with follower’s eyes closed.

Slow walking with follower missteps, leader missteps

Review findings – strategies for protecting your axis and staying with your partner

  • NOT “changing the shape” of the axis. I.e., dropping a hip or curving in the vertical.
  • NOT swiveling the hips. (Turns our belly button “centerline” away from partner and line of travel, and leads to crossing our tracks.)
  • Keep a toned (not rigid, NOT loose) body, with an active ankle.
  • Reposition feet. E.g., quick shuffle steps to a better place, while leaving myself on the same original leg.
  • Turning the belly button to the partner. I.e., keep the pelvic “bowl” level and pointing in the direction (or 180-degrees) of travel.
  • Putting down the kickstand. Using free leg for support or counter-weight.
  • Releasing the partner. Give them their axis/Let them find their axis in a bigger space.

With all that in mind, let’s dance.

Second session, 7:30-9:00pm, Improvisation and interpretation
Tonight’s topic: Cambio de Frente variations. Exchanging places with your partner.

Here we will apply what we learned in the previous session about our axis, adding the element of major pivoting.

How many different ways can I change places with my partner, especially in a small space? Which of those are useful? What would I have to adjust to make the easy ones better and the hard ones easy? How can I easily multiply the possibilities?

We’ll start with ideas for how to work with a partner, exploring together and sharing observable sensation-based feedback.

We’ll work in groups exploring ideas, bring good ones back to everyone to share, learn new ones or perfect old ones.

Review findings – strategies for exploring with a partner the creation of new movement figures

  • With each of the options (indicated by “/”), know that movements may be easier/harder and require adjustment in one or another.
  • Two-way feedback throughout with observable sensory-based feedback.
  • Both contributing ideas.
  • Working in pieces, like snapshots of positions, can help.
  • Moving slowly / with momentum.
  • Work in open / close / flexible embrace.
  • Work from the end to beginning. Can be employed for creativity / at any sticking point.
  • I move around partner’s axis / partner moves around my axis / we move around a third axis.
  • Stepping to open (hand) / closed (arm) side of embrace.
  • Stepping in parallel-system / cross-system.
  • Stepping in parallel-direction / cross-direction.
  • Step with left / right / no foot (i.e., I remain in place while leading a step via contra body movement).
  • Step / lead step around / parallel / away from.
  • Pivoting before stepping.
  • Step with rebound / full step.
  • Move together / hold in place – myself / my partner.

With all we’ve created, let’s dance.

The “refrigerator” walking model

“The long line this creates feels so elegant!”

What a wonderful way to express her understanding and appreciation for one aspect of what we were learning about walking.

Two men move a white refrigerator through a doorway. Both men wear orange colored "forearm forklifts" to life the refrigerator, with one man walking forwards, the other backwards.
Our refrigerator partner
May I share with you a model, a mind-body image that my students find hugely helpful for creating various, important sorts of awareness in their body? It models a way of walking–both forward and backward–that not only functions in a naturally powerful way, but also looks and feels like tango.

You have a person-sized “refrigerator” in front of you, on casters that roll easily.

When I am the partner walking forwards it is as if I am moving my refrigerator up a walkway inclined upwards ahead of me.

When I am the partner walking backwards it is as if I am allowing my refrigerator to roll safely, under control so that it doesn’t run over me, down a walkway, inclined downwards to my back.

Also, the casters on my refrigerator roll only in a straight line forward-backward. Furthermore, the caster base of my refrigerator is under the center of and more narrow than my person. If I don’t direct my force straight ahead or back, then I can cause my refrigerator to tip over.

Deeper discussion

For more advanced students: As I develop more sophistication and awareness in my walking, it is also interesting to note that the steepness of the walkway varies by how large or how dynamic a step I want to take. It seems strange or paradoxical, but the longer or more powerful and dynamic a step, then the steeper the walkway. And that means I must put more control into my grounding and into my movement, whether forward or backward.

About models in general

Yes, there is a real hazard, just as with every sort of modeling, whether by viewing, hearing, or feeling the teacher, where students intently seeking to understand and learn may take things too literally or out of context. In this model, for example, it’s common for the “refrigerator” partner in a pair working on this walking concept, to apply too much opposition, to become too heavy. But! This is a perfect opportunity to talk about matching your partner’s energy.

By the way, we talk about partners, not “leaders” and “followers” (and definitely not “he” and “she”) to convey the important concept that dancers will practice as both followers and leaders, as a way to more fully, deeply, and easily learn their chosen role.

The Argentine tango is all about connection — with the music, and importantly, with my partner. Yet here I am treating my partner as an object rather than a sensing being with whom I want to form a dancing relationship. How odd this must seem! Yes, and in the learning phase (of a three phase model of skill acquisition: Perceiving, Practicing, Performing) if I feel and deal with my partner as a person, then I am faced with an incredibly complex web of emotions, assumptions, imperfections of sensing and movement, misconceptions, preconceptions, and more.

Mathematicians, Meteorologists, Philosophers, Physicists — people who explore complex systems in, I suppose, any field you could name, in order to facilitate understanding the system, make simplifying assumptions. They create models which they can better control and understand, as a way to gain insights into the complex system. Well can you think of any more complex system than the mental-physical-emotional interactions between two people dancing the Argentine tango?

We use the model, not as a substitute for making a real connection with our partner, but as a way to creatively evoke certain feelings and awareness in the student.

About walking in general and refrigerators in particular

Did you mentally play with the refrigerator as you read about it? I hope you did! As I work it with students, here are some important aspects we discover.

Awareness of centers of gravity and power. My power and balance comes from driving through my center, located somewhere around the solar plexus, the area between the lower edge of the breast bone and the navel. And, I must also have an awareness of my partner’s center, sensing through feeling out the connection I make, where the center is for this shorter, taller, bigger, smaller, or similarly sized person. If I direct my movement too high, I can topple my refrigerator backwards; too low and it can tip forward on top of me!

Awareness of grounding. When I am stepping forwards, moving a heavy object up an incline, I must sink my weight fully into the standing-pushing center-hip-leg-foot tower of power. Powering up that tower and shifting toward the front of the foot signals my movement intention to my partner. Now when going backwards, receiving the weight of a heavy object rolling down an incline, my fear is of the thing rolling over me, so I immediately reach back with a leg to create a bracing position. Since I can’t see what’s behind me, I must feel it out with my foot, reaching first with the toe, then rolling down into the full foot. I ground and power up that reaching foot-leg-hip-center (note the reverse order!) to take the weight.

Completing the step, the forward walker over-balances past the end of the foot, then pushes off that now somewhat flexed leg, and that push ends with a straight leg behind, a somewhat flexed leg in front absorbing and controlling energy. For the backward walker, the leg now closest to their partner flexes somewhat, with the weight grounded in the front of the foot, then pushing off, while the previously extended back, bracing leg, absorbs the movement.

The thing that is so interesting to me is how in a highly functional (and tango-elegant) way, walking forwards and backwards are precise analogs of each other in reverse time sequence. That is, if you took a video of someone walking well, either forwards or backwards, then ran that video back and forth in the opposite direction, you shouldn’t be able to tell whether that person was originally walking forwards or backwards!

Practice

Would you please do me a favor by taking a moment to play with this concept and let me know how or if it resonates with you? Or maybe you find it confusing, or wrong! From a collected, standing start, go through the motions or either preparing to push the refrigerator up a slope, or let it roll down a slope as you control it. Take a step. Reverse that step. Do it in the opposite order of events. Really feel that phantom refrigerator’s weight as you power it up the slope (forwards), or control its weight descending the slope (backwards). I would truly enjoy hearing about your experience.

Tango Tribe

David teaches a mixed ability, mixed experience Argentine tango class on Tuesdays from 8:30-9:30 pm at the Balance Dance Studio #1 in Austin, Texas.
david@tangotribe.com