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.

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.

The secret to powerful pivots

Activate both internal and external hip rotator muscles for a powerful, smooth, controlled pivot, by pressing one heel into the other in the direction of pivoting.

David gives warm-up exercises, an explanation of the operation of the hip rotator muscles, and an explanation and examples of using this technique.

Index

0:00 Introduction
0:26 Warm-up exercises
0:41 Heel raises
1:09 Importance of ankles
1:31 Single-leg heel raises
2:09 Freeing heels without raising up
2:38 Double-leg foot twists
3:05 Hip twists
3:36 Torso twists
4:03 Whole leg and hip work, side-to-side steps
4:23 Importance of energy
4:47 Forward-and-backward steps
5:16 Importance of getting over axis in back step
5:39 Typical instruction for pivots: dissociation
6:08 More important muscles: hip rotators
6:22 External hip rotators
6:48 Internal hip rotators
7:40 Tip to help internal hip rotators for backward pivots
8:15 External and internal hip rotators working together
10:05 Concise summary of The Secret — pressing the heels together in the direction of pivot
11:29 Conclusion, an invitation to try it and comment

Transcript

Hi, this is David and I’m coming to you from the Tango Tribe studio in Austin, Texas. Today, I would like to share with you a secret that we use to help students produce powerful, controlled, smooth pivots, forward and backwards.

Let’s start off with some warm up exercises that will both prepare the body for work and inform the body about how to move in a way that produces those pivots.

We’ll start off with heel raises. With our heels together, our feet turned out or not, to whatever angle is comfortable, producing a nice base underneath us. We’ll move our heels up and down in a smooth, slow, controlled manner that gives us the best muscular exertion.

The ankles are so important because they are the connection between all of the rest of our body, and the base that is supporting our body that is our connection with the ground. So this is something that we ought to be working all the time.

We can make it harder by doing one foot at a time. And we can make that more controlled by anchoring one heel against the other. So the heavy leg is doing the work of raising the heel, while the light leg anchored against it is just floating free.

Then we can switch legs. Again, the light leg heel will anchor against the heavy leg.

Now of course, we don’t want to be popping up as we’re dancing an Argentine tango. We’d like to keep a nice level line. So what we will actually be doing is flexing the knees slightly forward to release the heels just enough that the foot can skim over the floor.

Now a different exercise. With the feet spread slightly so that the legs are still under the edges of the hips, let’s do the twist. I’m gonna keep my hips and torso facing forward while the legs twist independently underneath.

And after we’ve done that work, then I will keep the legs and the feet still, I’ll keep the torso pointing straight forward, and rotate only the hips. If it feels confusing, how does the body do this, think of working in opposition. So my opposite shoulder, I’m in effect pushing that forward as the hip goes forward.

And then we’ll keep everything from the hips down to the feet quiet while we rotate only the torso. I’ll keep my chin over the breast bone. I’ll keep my arms relaxed.

Good, so we’ve warmed up all of these connections. Let’s also do some whole leg and hip work. We can begin that most simply by doing side-to-side steps. And with those I’m going to emphasize rotating through the edges of the feet to give a strong grounding into the floor.

I always like to emphasize energy in my classes because it connects the dancer to the music, and to one’s partner no matter what their energy level is. If we have good strong energy available, then we can produce more powerful and clear movements and connect with our partner whatever their energy level is.

And let’s also do some steps forward and backward, again emphasizing rolling through the entire foot, pushing off the front of the foot to go forward. Pushing off the heel going backwards. Switching feet. This movement is important because as I step backwards I want to reach, providing room for my partner to step forward. And I want to get my hip fully over my axis, over the ball of the foot of the standing leg to enable it to pivot easily.

Okay, so what about this secret I talked about? Well, in most tango instruction, you’ll see emphasis placed on dissociation where the body parts twist in opposite directions. If I’m going forward pivot, I turn the shoulder away from that, and that’s going to pull the muscles, pull the hip around.

However, I think there are even more important muscles down below: the hip rotator muscles that we exercised at the beginning of our warm-up.

For external rotation which rotates the foot away from our center line, or if we’re standing on the ball of the foot, it rotates the heel to the front. There are six muscles that attach to the top of the thigh bone and then connect to the hip, and they run at a fairly horizontal direction.

For internal rotation which sends the foot towards the center line, or if we’re on the ball of the foot as we would be for pivots, it sends the heel back away from us. There are also six muscles but some of those are shared, and also they don’t run at a horizontal angle, they run more vertically, and attach both to the hips and to the spine. That makes them somewhat less effective.

For external rotation, we can go as much 140 degrees. Internal rotation as much as 110 degrees. It’s not as powerful going internal rotation, which is what we do for back pivots. That’s one of the reasons why back pivots are a little more difficult.

And here’s a tip, a little trick. If we tilt the pelvis forward, it puts those internal rotator muscles at a more advantageous angle. It also serves to send our weight more forward over the ball of the foot, freeing up the heel. So what we want to do is when we’re stepping for a back pivot is leading with that hip and keeping that hip back as we pivot.

But now, there’s more to it. We have external rotators, we have internal rotators. What if we could get the effect of both of those sets of muscles working together? We can!

What I want to do is if I’m going to the front, my heel is going to the front underneath my body. I am going to press it against the other heel. Firmly press the heels together, which in effect recruits the internal rotators of the other hip. So you get the effect of both muscles working synergistically together, the external rotators and the internal rotators.

To illustrate. So from standing still, it could produce almost a 360 degree turn. Going in the other direction, backwards, the heel is moving behind me away from me. In this case, I’m going to take the heel of the light leg, and push it firmly against the heel of the heavy leg. And of course it’s the very same thing on the other side.

Going backwards I press the light leg heel against the heavy leg. Going forward, the heavy leg is coming around, it presses against the light leg.

[Pausing to collect thought.]

Oh, so it takes longer and is more confusing to explain all of this than it is to actually do it. We don’t need to be thinking about okay, which side of the heel is going where if I’m going back? Is it the right one or the left one? Which one is coming?

All we need to think about is if I’m turning in this direction, I can even do it on two feet to figure it out if I don’t know, then this heel is going forward, this heel is going towards the other one. So that heel is going to press into the other one. If I’m going backwards, this heel is going away, so it’s the other, the light leg heel that’s coming towards the other heel. I’m going to press the light leg heel into the heavy leg.

That’s what we need to remember is simply firmly pressing one heel [whichever one is moving toward the other heel] into the other. And it works not only standing still, but as we’re coming through our axis collecting, we get the same effect by pressing those heels strongly together.

So that’s our secret. I hope you give it a try, both for yourself in your own practice, and with your partners or if you’re teaching students. See what it does for you. In our experience with beginning dancers, and even never-ever dancers, the quick warm up, explaining of pressing the heels together as they pivot, it so quickly produces quality pivots.

Give it a try and let me know how it works for you. Thank you for your attention.

The Alexander principle of choices

At each and every moment, if we but sense the opportunity, we have three choices. We can do what we’ve always done in that situation, we can do nothing, or we can do something different. The key is recognizing the opportunities to make a choice, and that comes at the moment-before-the-moment.

The BODY LEARNING book cover that shows a man holding a toddler standing upright in the right hand of the man.
BODY LEARNING by Michael J. Gelb

Let’s say that you’ve come to recognize, or you’ve been told, that you do a certain move ALL – THE – TIME. (A cadencia turn, maybe?) You want to introduce variety into that situation. What sort of variety?

  • Do what you’ve always done. But! Can you change the character of the movement? Can you do it at a different cadence, rhythm, or speed? Legato versus Staccato? With styling?
  • Do nothing! Could this be a good time in the music, or in a constant flow of movement, to take a pause? Maybe some rhythmic weight changes in place, or adornos, or simply a quiet gathering of energy for what comes next.
  • Do something different. The cadencia turn makes such an easy change of direction and connector of other figures that we tend to overuse it. What would it take to introduce other creative ways to achieve a similar result with something new? (You might use the Tango Keypad as a tool to analyze existing moves and explore new moves.)

We all want to use our body in the right way, but due to inactivity, sitting, smartphones, desk work, injuries, and repetitive use, what feels right may be less than effective and even hurtful, and what works best may feel wrong.

Maybe we learn from partner or teacher feedback that at times, especially in certain types of movements, we tilt our shoulders, tilt our whole axis, create tension, push or pull, drop a hip, and on and on. The key to making a change comes from recognizing when the problem happens. But because this is what you have done habitually, it doesn’t feel wrong. So instead, we may more easily recognize the situations that lead up to the problem.

So I say to myself, “Ah! We are about to enter that move where I typically do X. Well now I am going to monitor that body part and do what I know to be right, even if it feels different.” Eventually, the better way comes to feel like the right way.

You could benefit nicely from studying all of the Alexander Technique, but you don’t need to know who F. M. Alexander was or what his discoveries and writings were about to benefit from this principle of choices:

  1. Learn and then recognize the situation that arises just before the thing you want to change; and
  2. Give yourself an instant at that moment-before-the-moment to consider and make a choice with intention.

Another principle in the Alexander Technique, and one highly important in learning and improving Argentine tango, is the avoidance of what he terms end-gaining. I plan to explore that topic in a future article.

Frederick Mathias Alexander was born in Tasmania (an island state of Australia) in 1869. He lived in the same era as the development and worldwide growth in the popularity of Argentine tango. In his twenties he became a professional reciter of dramatic pieces, a popular form of entertainment in those days. After almost completely losing his voice, and with no medical answers or help, he developed a method of use of his body in all positions and movements, and cured his vocal problems. [Adapted from THE USE OF THE SELF by F. M. Alexander.]
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In addition to Alexander’s own book, I recommend BODY LEARNING by Michael J. Gelb.
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You can also find Alexander Technique practitioners and teachers around the world. Search for alexander technique [and your location].

Argentine tango competitions

The photo shows a stage in the background distance, and portions of a large auditorium filled to capacity with people watching a world competition of Argentine tango.

Human nature encompasses competition and cooperation.

The martial art of Aikido shares much in common with Argentine tango in spirit (with nage “leader” and uke “follower” as partners rather than combatants) and techniques (triangle, circularity, flow), and in generally eschewing competitions.

“The founder of Aikido, O-Sensei was reportedly against the concept of contests and competitions in Aikido. We seek instead “Masakatsu agatsu” or winning over yourself. In other words, the goal of Aikido is the mastery of one’s self to create harmony.” Source

There are a small number of Aikido competitions, mostly in a particular style. There also have been Argentine tango competitions en los barrios from its historical beginnings. Indeed, the dance was a form of substitute for lethal fighting. Even in the social dance today we have a competition for the best partners and attention.

The competition judge Claudio Villagra tells us, “Based on my experience, I considered the most important thing to competitors is to keep in mind that the competition is a big part of personal and professional growth. Competing does not always mean to ‘win’. The true competition is with yourself, every day in practice. Be confident, elegant, have cadence and a good interpretation of musicality.”

Yes, there will be some competitors who see competition as a stepping stone to recognition and professional advancement, and some may look to past competition results to find the secrets to success, and that could distort the individuality, the freshness, the “innocence” of the dance. (For example, breeding to win dog conformation contests has led to genetic weaknesses.)

But think now of all the other purposes competition can serve:

  • as goal and a context in which to pursue personal improvement and achievement;
  • as a means to guide development and bring purpose to practice; and
  • as a form of evaluation (complementing other forms of evaluation: internal, partners, teachers).

Why then do some Argentine tango dancers belittle competitions as “showing off” or somehow not in the spirit of the dance? It’s as if they think competitors are trying to show themselves as better than they are. Well, yes! That’s exactly the point. Dancers want to get better. They want to show what they have achieved in their dance, and they are willing to have it judged.

I see a strange, sad parallel between the “showing off” sentiment and those followers who say, “Oh, I could never do mirada. That would be like putting myself out there, wanting attention.” Well, yes! That’s exactly the point of mirada, of competitions. You are putting yourself out there for others to see and assess.

Many of us don’t like the uncomfortable feeling of being judged, but that’s how we grow. If you don’t assess your efforts today versus yesterday, how will you improve?

Many forms of motivation and evaluation exist. We don’t have to pick competitions for ourselves. Yet we can recognize the value of people finding and using lots of different good ways to motivate and improve their art. We grow not by diminishing others or their methods, but by helping others and striving for ourselves.

Links to competitions

Molinete practice with a stick

By using a tall, straight stick, such as from a broom or mop, we can practice in a way that creates strong molinete movement with good partnership.

See the FAULTS notes below the TRANSCRIPT—a good example of the benefits of periodically making and reviewing videos of your practice and dancing.

Transcript

[0:01] Hi! This is David at the Tango Tribe studio in Austin, Texas, and today I have a tip for you about how to practice molinetes.

[0:11] I use a stick from a broom or a mop. You can leave the head attached or not. And we put the smooth end of the stick on the floor. Then there are four things we want to pay attention to.

[0:24] First, by using a two-handed embrace, with one hand over the other, this will enforce a position where we confront our partner all the way around, whether we’re in a front-crossing step, a back-crossing step, or an open step.

[0:45] Secondly, we’re envisioning a circle surrounding our partner, and we’re always working orienting our hips on that circle for proper stepping, either along a radius for either a forward-crossing step or a backward-crossing step, or perpendicular to the radius for an open step.

[1:11] Third, we want to keep our partner vertical, no pushing or pulling.

[1:17] And lastly, as we step around we want to energize our step just as we do in the walking by rolling through the foot to produce a horizontal push along the floor, keeping our head and shoulders level.

[1:35] [Music. “Alma,” Adolfo Carabelli]

[2:13] I hope you find that helpful. Thank you for watching.

Faults

At 0:32, 0:35, and 0:38 — don’t allow your foot to roll to the outside like this. At 2:06 — don’t cross your legs this way; see how the back foot has an unnatural twist because the hips aren’t properly aligned with both legs.