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.

Ways to explore and practice

Wooden traffic sign with the words NEW SKILLS pointing to the right
New Skills image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Always work with a notebook and camera. Every time you make a good or interesting discovery, video record it so you don’t lose what happened, then in your notebook record the date and time, who you worked with, whether you recorded it and where, and annotate the sequence for quick reference.

Keep it concise! Whatever you work on and whatever you produce for your video and written log, make it short and sweet. When we combine too much material at once we make it difficult (impossible?) to discern where we need to work and what changes make the greatest improvements.

For any tango element or sequence you work on, identify the key point(s) that make it work or make it interesting.

Take the latest pro performance video that has captured your attention. View it with your partner and make a time log of the sequences or movement dynamics you want to explore. (Use the space bar for an easy stop/start.) Work through them one at a time until you feel a level of mastery. Video record and log what you’ve done.

Taking any tango element or sequences, what are all the various ways you could enter, begin the element or sequence? Which ones seem to work better? Why? Could a slight change be made to make an awkward one work better?

Taking any tango element or sequences, what are all the various ways you could resolve, end the element or sequence? Which ones seem to work better? Why? Could a slight change be made to make an awkward one work better?

Reversals

  • Instead of forward direction, go backward.
  • Instead of leader to follower, do it follower to leader.
  • Instead of to the hand-side (HS) of embrace, do it to the arm-side (AS).

Cadenas

  • Can we made this into a repeating, chain figure?
  • Can we make this travel down the line of dance (LOD)?

Circular/Linear

  • Can we make this circular figure travel in a line?
  • Can we make this linear figure move in a circle?

The Tango Keypad
Using a random number generator or phone numbers from your Contacts list, do the moves dictated by a three-digit (or longer) sequence.

  • Try the sequence starting from each of the four possible starting points: Parallel System (PS) with weight on AS or HS, and Cross System (CS) on AS or HS.
  • Which starting points work best?
  • Does the sequence (or part of it) remind you of anything you already know?
  • Does the sequence work as a good starting or ending point of anything you already know?
  • Where movement seems awkward, how can you make that flow, and can you apply what you learn from that to other, similarly awkward movements?
  • Code a sequence you already know in keypad format. Does this give you ideas to generalize the movement or to make substitutions?
  • By the way, an understanding that every weight change (either in place or over a distance) is an Open, Front-crossing, or Back-crossing step facilitates our ability to create entry/exit steps from any other sequence.

Take any tango element or sequence you know, and at each step explore what would happen if one or the other partner changed weight (such as with a quick cross or step-together).

Take any tango element you know and explore how the result or dynamics change when leader:

  • Directs partner’s step toward themselves, away from themselves, or somewhere in between.
  • Directs their own step toward their partner’s new leg (the one arriving on a new axis) or old leg (the one leaving the old axis) or somewhere in between.
  • Make this analysis with each step.
The word "practice" filled with words about practice, repeated four times and stacked on top of one another
Practice image by John Hain from Pixabay

All of the above seems mostly oriented to learning or discovering new movement patterns, but we should not neglect movement dynamics, movement quality, and musicality!

  • Review videos of yourselves with an eye to clean, clear, crisp, final placement of each step, pivot, or other movement. We tend to focus on ourselves. View again and give your partner feedback on what you feel. Practice and redo the video until you feel satisfied that you have a publication worthy example. (Remember the advice up top to keep it concise.)
  • Similar to how above we explore foot placements, symmetries, and more, we also want to explore movement quality: larger/smaller, faster/slower, strong/weak, regular/irregular timing, higher/lower, I move them/they move me/we move ourselves, changing linearity/circularity.
  • Much as we did for our latest favorite pro video, pick a favorite song and write a time log of musical inventions and fragments that particularly catch your attention or entertain you. Explore (and video/log!) ways to interpret these in your dance.

As a student of not only Argentine tango, but also teaching, coaching, learning, and practicing, I am always looking out for good ideas. Do you have some? Please share.

Notes from Every Trick in the Book

Notes from EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK by Charlie Dancey, Juggling chapter, Learning How to Learn Tricks, pp. 467-468

You can save yourself a lot of time if you pay attention to the learning process itself.

A trick means a move or sequence of moves that has been rehearsed for so long that it can be done automatically or subconsciously.

Human mind = conscious and subconscious. Conscious mind is not nearly as powerful as the subconscious. You cannot juggle [dance Argentine tango] by will alone, so you (You) have to teach the subconscious to do what you want it to.

It helps to think of your subconscious mind as another person entirely. A person that gets annoyed easily, and when it gets annoyed it will not do what you want.

☆ Ambitiously, we think the more hours we put in, the quicker we will acquire the skills we seek. Sort of, but you can also overdo and find that the more work you put in, the slower you learn.

☆ Make sure your subconscious is having a good time! Practice only as long as it feels like fun.

☆ Always end a practice session on a high note. If you just had a particularly good sequence, end right there, telling yourself out loud how good you are doing, turn off the music and resume work the next day.

☆ Your subconscious is very active while you sleep, and it will often turn over the events of the previous day, trying to make sense of them.

☆ Take a short pause for breath after making a mistake. Don’t reinforce the mistake by trying again right away. Instead, pause for a few moments while thinking about what went wrong. Then try again, changing your style in a small way. The new attempt must not feel like repeating the old one.

Bill Plake on Practice

My underlinings from You’ll Never “Waste” Time Practicing As Long As You Are Doing This, October 14, 2018 by Bill Plake.

[Substitute “Dance” for “Instrument” and apply Bill’s wisdom to your tango practice.]

One of the main reasons you would probably seek out a great teacher of your instrument is to learn how to optimize practice efforts. That’s what a highly skilled teacher can help you with.

Whatever you practice, do with genuine curiosity and inquiry.

So rather than looking at the “absolute best” way you can practice something, ask yourself this question instead:

“How can I optimize my experience with what I’m practicing right now, right in this practice session, right in this moment?”

This question can help you to form to other types of questions: “Why” questions, and “what if” questions.

“Why do I practice this at this tempo?” Why do I practice these arpeggio patterns in this particular sequence?” “Why do I raise/tense my shoulders when I play into the upper register?” etc.

  1. “What is it that I want?” (Your intentions about what you would like to happen, about what you’d like to be able to do on your instrument. Make this as specific and lucid as possible!)

  2. “What seems to stopping me from getting what I want?” (Identify the problem. Is it simply needing more time? Is it something that you’re doing with your body that is taking you away from your skill and coordination? Is it your attitude? Keep asking/experimenting until the answers emerge.)

  3. “What do I need to do differently?” (This is where you take action. Change course, strategize, reflect, assess, redirect efforts, etc.)

Careful, Conscious Practice

Guest article by Iona Italia
8 October 2018
Translator / Editor / Writer
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The key to improving your tango, we’re often told, is practice. But what precisely is the best way to practise: the one most likely to lead to rapid and sure improvement?

Practice versus Social Dancing

The first key thing is that practice is not exactly the same as dancing.

Dancing socially does provide some of the benefits of more structured practice. Done with awareness and care, social dancing enables us to become more deeply familiar with the music—especially if we attend milongas in which the DJs base their choices around a solid repertoire of Golden Age standards. It can help us to gain confidence in both leading and responding to leads. And there is no other really effective way to improve our floorcraft than to go out there onto the pista often and gain a familiarity with the lane system, a sixth sense of the directions in which leaders in front of and behind us are likely to move and when we will have room to stride out and when we need to arrange our dance in a small, tight circle (every leader should learn to enjoy those circular, on-the-spot movements in which the partners chase each other’s tails like playful puppies—don’t get caught up in an urgency to progress around the dance floor, in a deep need for a linear walk: that way frustration lies.)

But, when we’re simply dancing, it’s all too easy to slip into our comfort zones. In fact, when we’re dancing socially, we often should actively seek those comfort zones. Leaders, in particular, should not experiment with new moves at the milonga, followers shouldn’t try wild decorations that they have not yet learned to control: we need to give our social dance partners our most polished performance, our most practised movements. But this also means that we can fall into repetitious sequences that quickly feel as though we are dancing them on autopilot, with sloppy footwork and sagging postures. We can relapse into bad old habits, and find ourselves executing that flopped in front of Netflix, eating Doritos style of dancing, that awkward cuddle shuffle. Comfortable. But baggy.

Practice, then, is of extreme importance. And yet it’s quite an art.

Does Practice Make Permanent?

First though, there’s one fear I’d like to dispel. There’s a myth circulating that practice makes permanent and only perfect practice makes perfect. A lot of dancers are wary of practising because they fear they will be practising the wrong thing and simply acquiring new bad habits to replace the old. This is why conscious practice is so important. What we need is not to automatize movements—so that we can repeat them by rote, without thinking—but to incorporate them into the body, fully conscious at every stage of what and how we are moving. Not overthinking things, but not moving in a kind of trance either. The main thing we need to develop through conscious practice is greater proprioception: i.e. awareness of where our body is in space and how it is moving. We need to listen in extremely carefully.

The process should not feel like someone driving to work, shifting gears and flicking on indicator lights without even knowing she is doing so, listening to NPR perhaps, her conscious mind occupied with the latest news or preparing a mental shopping list for dinner later, her feet on the pedals and hands on the wheel working in the background unnoticed, so that, once she reaches the office, she scarcely knows how she got there.

Dancing can feel that way. Sometimes, when I’m really dancing, I feel as though I am in a bubble of stillness and it’s the world which is moving around me. Sometimes, I don’t feel I am even hearing the music: instead, I’m following the miniature tale which is the lyrics, listening to the meanings behind the words, constructing the story of a jilted aging Frenchwoman starving in a porteño garret or a heartbroken bachelor lovingly repairing an abandoned bandoneon in my imagination and I scarcely know what my feet and body have done to express the notes of the song and respond to the leads I’m feeling. This is blissful. But it isn’t practice.

Practice feels more like someone manoeuvring a mountain bike down a narrow path along a mountainside, like someone slaloming down a steep steep Alpine slope. It’s less like driving to work and more like a Formula 1 race—without the speed, but with that sense of intense focus on the actions you are making, intense awareness of your movements. You are learning how to be aware of how you are moving and to control and modify your way of moving, as necessary.

If you can do this, then it is not so important what you learn. The skill you are honing is how to learn. Just as a flautist who can consciously control the movements of his mouth can play legato or staccato at will, so you can correct things of which you are aware. If you are choosing, for example, to twist your hips first in a giro, before turning the upper body, you are (to my mind) choosing wrongly. But if it’s a conscious choice of which you are aware, you can change it. It’s when those hips are swivelling around without your knowledge, when you don’t realise what you are doing that it becomes much harder to alter. So if you practise consciously, even if the movement you are practising is incorrect, you are making it easier for yourself to adjust it later. Always aim to incorporate, but not to automatize.

How can you achieve this? Let’s look at some tools you can use and some concrete things you should focus on.

Slowness

It is important, eventually, to incorporate some speed drills into your dance: to be able to respond quickly and fluidly (you’ll need to push yourself). But, for most dancers, most of the time, one key to practising is slowing movements right down. In tango, the point is not to get from one place to the other: it’s entirely about how you get there.

You’ll need to break your movements down.

A forward ocho isn’t one single motion. In my technique at least (your mileage may differ), it involves first turning the upper body alone in towards your partner, then pivoting your base foot as needed to find the correct direction of travel, then taking a step, landing softly in the middle of your two feet, with weight evenly distributed between front and back feet, then transferring your weight fully onto the front foot as you spiral your upper body more deeply towards your partner. Then, once all your weight has been transferred, pivoting your base foot. Finally, you allow your free foot to come to axis and adjust your upper body at the same time to face your partner again.

Your forward ocho may be different. That’s OK. I’m not trying to teach you a specific forward ocho method here—that’s too cumbersome to do in writing; I would need to show you and, in any case, valid styles and techniques of ochos differ. But however you do your forward ochos, you need to be able to subdivide the movement into this level of detail and monitor how you are moving through every single stage. One of the greatest challenges facing every dancer is dissociation and, by that, I don’t just mean the upper-body-led spiral movements so frequent in tango but every type of movement that requires separating out the different parts of the body: moving the back here, but not the hips; the foot here but not the hip; the toes here but not the knee; the torso here but not the behind.

Connection

One of the main advantages of breaking movements down is to ensure that you are with your partner at every stage of the movement: not just beginning and ending together, but traversing the distance between one step and the next with complete coordination. One example of this which is worth practising for almost everyone is to both giro around a common centre, in practice hold. The idea of the exercise is to coordinate not just your footfalls but each part of each movement. You should arrive at the mid-weight point between steps together, transfer weight at exactly the same speed. Your upper body movements should complement each other so that, as the right hand side of your partner’s upper body (for example) turns in towards you, the right hand side of your upper body turns in towards her an equal amount, at an equal speed. If some imaginary god took a pair of compasses, like the illustration in Blake’s Milton, and traced a line, at lower shoulder blade height, around the outside of your two backs and through the air, the shape created would be a perfect, even oval. Only if you go slowly can you work on and eventually achieve this kind of harmony of motion.

Notice that, in tango, one side of your body is always further away from your partner’s than the other. Even in a two-tit milonguero embrace, the leader’s right and follower’s left sides are touching more closely than the other respective sides. Be careful of not holding the follower off too far to your right, leaders, and, followers, don’t snuggle into that side of his body, neglecting the more open side of the embrace. In linear movements, actively try to maintain a consistent distance, a consistent relationship between the follower’s right hand side and the leader’s left. In an ocho or other turning movement, you’ll also notice that one side of your body is closer to the partner, one further away. You need to actively seek them with the part of your upper body which is further away, curling your back in towards them on that side—that is the essence of dissociation. It keeps the sensation of connection there, the spiralling in.

Comfort

Every movement needs to be free from any kind of excess tension or discomfort: both for yourself and for your partner. Leaders, in particular, be wary: if you feel uncomfortable in the embrace or obstructed in your movements, it may well be because of something you yourself are doing. Some movements require tone, but none should ever feel like a strain. This can be easier said than done—making your partner feel comfortable is not just about your attitude or desire. It’s also largely technique. He or she will never feel truly at ease if your posture is poor or your balance is weak.

Followers in particular should remember that the embrace should be sensual and snuggly, but it’s not a hammock in which to take a siesta. You need to be holding your own body upright against gravity. Your hands and arms should be touching the leader, but not applying pressure or resting with weight. Your upper back should be lifted, your spine stretched. This will take a little bit of effort, especially at first. Leaders, you need to keep repeating it like a mantra, keep reminding your subconscious mind: you don’t need to do things to the follower’s body: you make movements within your own body and trust her to respond.

A big part of comfort is stability. And, to work on that, you’ll need to do a lot of solo practice. You need to be able to execute almost any movement, confidently, without relying on the embrace for support or using it as a frame to push off against or hang onto (leaders do this as much as followers, though they are usually less conscious of it).

Followers, practise some decorations by standing on a pile of paperback books high enough that your free foot is dangling a couple of inches off the floor. Make sure you can move that free leg without wobbling and check in a mirror to ensure your shoulders and hips remain aligned throughout. (Disclaimer: be careful! Do this only if and when you can do so safely.)

Both partners: make sure you’re not using momentum to complete turning movements, that you’re never falling, but can stop, with control, at any point in a movement. Ensure your feet are firmly, squarely on the floor, especially your big toes and the joint immediately behind those toes. Don’t let them curl up and off the ground or roll outwards. Practice things that are more difficult than the movements you will actually need for the dance: relevé on one foot; overturn ochos through 360 degrees with one foot in the air. Gain mastery and control over your balance: it’s key.

Aesthetics

It’s vital that you record your practice sessions. The video camera isn’t an infallible tool: you do have to train your eye to know what to look for and that is a skill in itself. But it will show you some obvious faults that you must correct. If you’re trying to deal with a stubborn postural problem, if one or both of you feels uncomfortable in the embrace or if you’re preparing for a competition or performance, I recommend filming yourselves and stopping after every song to watch the video. Dance one, watch the film of it, dance another, watch yourselves, etc.—for the entire practice session. It’s extremely effective. Look for slouched postures, jutting heads (very easy to spot) and sloppy footwork.

There is a very strong (though imperfect) correlation between how things look and how they feel. Stiffness and discomfort are usually very visible. And, if something feels good but looks ugly, if you can find a way to improve the way it looks that will almost certainly make it feel even better, too. Don’t neglect appearances, even if you have no intention of ever dancing for an audience. Looks are symptomatic. They are telling. You need to pay attention to what you see as well as what you feel.

Keep at least some of the videos you take, so you can track your progress over months or years.

Musicality

To work on musicality, it makes sense to take a specific track—preferably a musically complex and rewarding one, for obvious reasons—listen to it several times and then begin to work on a musical interpretation. This is not about choreography: you shouldn’t decide which movements you want to do; what you need to identify is which moments in the music you wish to highlight together.

Begin this with phrasing. To emphasise the phrasing in a clear, intuitive, satisfying way, leaders, every sequence of walking, every figure needs to begin at the start of a phrase and end either at a mid-phrase pause (if it’s short) or at the end of the phrase. You can’t begin and end a giro, for example, at random. The follower’s final movement, as she curls around to meet you back in close embrace at the end of the movement, needs to coincide with the final note of the phrase. You can’t walk to cross at any moment: you need to ensure that you lead the cross such that the follower changes weight into cross just as the final note of the musical phrase sounds. This is harder than it seems. Try alternating between one phrase of walking and one phrase of giros. Music has a structure: your dance needs to have a structure too. It can’t just be a random series of events. The order in which you do things needs to have a motivation.

It’s really important that the follower is also listening and dancing to the music at every stage. In every single step. The feeling of dancing with someone who is accompanying you in interpreting the music and dancing with someone who is attempting to reproduce the timings you are dictating is qualitatively different by an entire order of magnitude. Followers, the leader needs to be able to trust your musicality: to feel you express what you are hearing. It’s a partnership.

As you practise, look for small details in the song that you want to have expressed in your joint dance. This means that you could lead and follow movements to those moments or the leader could decorate them or the follower could or you both could. Experiment with signalling to each other which choice you are making. Leaders, try to alternate between a looser, relaxed feel to your dance and a tiny touch of urgency that says get ready, there’s something exciting coming up and we are going to pounce upon it together. Followers, try to signal when you want to decorate to a specific moment. Use the natural preparatory movements of your body to show him: wait, I am going to do something here and I need you to be alert and receptive. Try these games with triplets, syncopations, 3-3-2 rhythms, countermelodies, fills and other musical details within the piece you’ve chosen.

Psychology

To be a good practice partner requires a lot of patience. Dance is not primarily an intellectual activity: it’s not about amassing snippets of knowledge which, once memorised, have now been added to your store of information. You can comprehend something perfectly, but not be able to incorporate that information into your body. The journey from neurons to muscles can be a long, arduous and frustrating one. Most of the critiques you’ll have of your partner will be things he or she already knows: think of them not as instructions but as mantras. For the body to understand, we may need to repeat the guidelines many many times. You have to retain a sense of humour and be forgiving of both your partner and yourself. It’s a process.

Give feedback when asked; stay silent when your partner needs that. Think of it as an exploration and try to depersonalise. Be curious and amused by your body and the way it moves, a loving spectator of its occasional grace and frequent clumsy antics. As if you were watching a new-born foal stumbling on endearingly tangled legs, still wet from the womb, knowing that soon it will be a lovely streamlined blur, an elegant, perfectly coordinated collection of bone and muscle.

Don’t forget to dance

Finally, while you should commit to practising regularly (meeting little and often is better than infrequent marathon sessions), you also need to be able to cut loose, leave your inhibitions behind, silence your inner critic and lose yourself in the music, the enjoyment of your partner’s proximity and the joyful inhabiting of your own body. You mustn’t lose touch with the delicious state of flow. Don’t get so caught up in how you are dancing that you forget why.

Good luck!

Partner practice pointers

I have these things going on in my current practice with a partner.

  • Regularly checking in with each other on comfort and clarity.
  • Periodic video review looking for clean footwork, nice lines, good technique, dynamic movement, and flow.
  • Going back through the DVIDA syllabus to identify sequence fragments I particularly like and movements I seldom use (but would like to) in my social and performance dancing.
  • Creating a compendium of movements, where I note performance standards and problems to watch out for, as well as suggested uses. This helps remind me of things to use, and it’s useful in my teaching.
  • Reviewing my performance videos and asking partners about things I do habitually, looking for ways to change up habitual movements (such as with dynamics, elevation, size, speed) and vary entrances/exits.
  • Sometimes identifying musical fragments where we want to explore nice ways to express those thoughts.
  • Sometimes identifying sequences or moves we really like in other dancers’ performance videos, working to making them part of our working syntax.
  • Making notes at every session on what we worked on, what we learned, and what we want to work on next session.

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 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.

Be a body detective

“Oh, heck! I’ll never get.” “I’m not built right for this.” “I’ve always been too tight.” Versus, “Hm, I wonder why that happened?” “How come it was different that time? How can I do that again.” “How else could I do this to make it easier (or harder!)?”

One of my favorite jobs ever (and I’ve been blessed to enjoy fun and reward in all my jobs, especially Argentine tango), was as a user consultant for The University of Texas Computation Center. We fielded problems from every academic department on campus, helping people solve problems in their programs, often in programming languages we didn’t even know. By careful questioning we would help them explore what they wanted to happen and what was actually happening. Sometimes we’d have to suggest ways to instrument and test program behavior, or how to go about creating a fix. But just as often during this guided questioning they would discover the problem themselves!

It was rewarding detective work, with no messy crime scene (well, some of that spaghetti programming . . . ). It brought a great sense of satisfaction, spending time with a person, learning about their thought processes and intentions, and helping them discover a way through to what they wanted.

That lesson about acting as a detective, exploring, discovering, and applying information, has served me well in my own mind-body work, in business, and in teaching.

You do know that judgments are your way of making excuses for yourself, right? They act as a pass to not do the work, both the mental work of figuring out what is working, what is not working, and what you might change to produce better results, and they act as a pass to not do the physical work of helping your body to learn how to move and use itself.

Here are notes about how real detectives work (and how that can apply to our practice).

  • Some of the work is not exciting, it’s even boring. (Just get going. Getting started each time is the hardest part, from there you can continue with the help of momentum.)
  • Some is hit-and-miss. (Trying different things to see what happens.)
  • Most serious crimes are solved by information from the victim. (The detective can guide, and *you* have the information inside to help yourself.)
  • A lot of detective time is spent reviewing files and making reports. (Do you have a process for documenting the results of your practice? Do you have an objective measure of where you were two months ago versus where you are now in your results?)
  • Despite the image of detectives as having special reasoning skills, much of their results comes from ordinary people doing routine work in a conscientious manner. (In other words, mindful practice.)
  • Some detectives do role-playing as a way to discover possibilities. (I am Gustavo Naveira, I am Noelia Hurtado, I am …, and I am moving to this music!)
  • Detectives develop ‘profiles’ to lead to a result. (What do you know about the characteristics and important points of a specific result you want to achieve. How will you describe those to another person?)
  • Detectives recognize patterns. (What happens routinely that I don’t (or do!) want? What happens just before, just after? What am I feeling, and where in my body? Where am I sending my attention during this time?)
  • Detectives value creativity, coming up with different ideas when old ones aren’t working. (How else could I do or think about this? What would change the outcome?)
  • Good detectives know not to seize upon the first possible solution that arises. (That’s good, now what *else* can I observe?)

We want to ask a better question to get a better answer.

Oftentimes, when we leap to an answer (an excuse?) we short-circuit the possibilities for creating new understanding and awareness, and for seeing new possibilities, and for realizing new capabilities.

Our human minds have evolved and are trained by life to seek and create answers. Our brains automatically respond to questions. We can use that to our advantage! When we pose questions for ourselves our mind begins working to discover the answers for us. When we allow ourselves the time, the breathing, the relaxation, the respect for our body and mind’s need for time to process and assimilate, then we begin to grow beyond our dreams.

Slow and steady wins the race

Aren’t our bodies are the most incredibly wonderful, complex, and interesting systems? Now when we say body we really mean mind-body, because it’s all but impossible to separate the influence of the mind and nervous system on the body, and vice-versa!

Oftentimes we’ll hear a teacher or coach tell us to “Work slower!” Why should we listen to them? How will working slowly help? What if I want the capabilities that I’m working on available at high speeds?

Among the amazing things our mind-body does for us is try to make it easier to accomplish what we “think” is our goal. In Argentine tango, for example, we might think our goal is to balance on one foot, or maybe we’re working to pivot 180 degrees. But our goal in tango is NOT to achieve any particular end position or movement, rather, we seek to use our body is a well structured, smoothly coordinated manner, such that any particular outcome is readily, simply, comfortably, and quietly achieved.

When we work at speed we obscure so much of what is going on. Our mind can’t take in and assess what we are doing, what is working well versus what we might do differently to make it work better. Furthermore, we may be making accommodations that make things easier now, but which will limit us later.

Are we pushing off with the other foot?
Are we using momentum with our free arm or leg?
Are we tilting to use what seem like easier muscles?
Are we turning as a block, limiting our results?

Importantly, we are not *judging* our performance, instead, our mind is like a curious observer, taking in all the dials and gauges, wondering what might happen if we tweak this or that control. Vitally important is what kind of self-talk our mind makes with us. What we *don’t* want is absolutist judgments about our capabilities: “I don’t have good balance,” “I’m not as good as these others,” “I’m a slow learner,” “My body isn’t built for this.” What we DO want is a highly active curiosity about what is going on, what others have called a “Growth Mindset.”

Why am I feeling that muscle?
Should I be feeling this muscle?
What if I activate these muscles?
What if I do this with less, or with more, tension there?
If I do this, will that make it easier or harder?
Who can I observe well and model?
What do I see others doing with less desirable results, that I might also be doing??
How can I get more out of that?
What needs to happen, and where, in my body for this to start?
How did that one feel?
What do I feel in my body when it is working well?

Let’s return for a moment to that concern, “What if I want the ability to actually do this at high speeds?” Right! If you only practice at slow speeds you will actually inhibit your ability to perform at higher speeds. The slow speed work is to groove in your neurophysiology, i.e., the mind-body connections, to perform the movement in a coordinated, well structured way. From that point you can begin adding complicating factors to challenge yourself.

Can I do this on my toes?
Can I do it while my free leg is doing boleos?
Can I do it for one full turn, two full turns?
Can I do it with this preceding or following movement?

Always we will be ready to drop back, taking it more slowly or simply, to regain our solid performance, as we continue pushing for ever more complicated or simple, fast or slow, controlled, dynamic, and beautiful movement.