Argentine tango typically calls for a long, elegant posture with a tall torso and relaxed shoulders. In classes and workshops you commonly see one of these two warm-up approaches to encourage that posture.
(1) “Raise your hands high above your head [and forward, often], pulling your shoulders and everything else upward. Now let your arms and shoulders drop while keeping everything else up.” This is my least favorite approach. It specifically calls for raising the shoulders, which we specifically don’t want when we dance. I feel it also invites other unwanted posture defects, such as head and/or pelvis tilt forward.
(2) “With your feet in rest position, heels together and feet slightly turned out, rise up on your toes as high as you can. Now while trying to keep your head at this height, lower your heels.” I like this much better for organizing the body in a well stacked line, and the toe raise is a useful strengthening and balance exercise, though it may challenge some newcomers.
I use a different exercise cue.
Based on what I was feeling and wanted to feel in my and my partner’s posture, I developed a different cue and imagery. “Remember how you get out of the swimming pool by pressing your hands down on the edge of the pool while raising your body up? With your hands at about hip level pretend you are pressing down on the edge of the pool to pull your hips above the edge.” Video
You can make “get out of the pool” a partner exercise by having the helping partner hold their hands palm up at about their partner’s hip level. The working partner presses their hands palm down into their partner’s hands. This will also help those without a developed sense of mind-body awareness.
I like this approach because it pulls the shoulder blades down and in as it activates the lats. It seems to encourage pulling the hips back to a neutral position, with the tail down. It anchors the feelings we want when actually dancing, without unwanted extras such as the toe rise or hand+shoulder rise. Plus, the feeling can easily be carried directly into dance.
Recently, reading AND THEN WE DANCED I learned that a form of this “get out of the pool” exercise was developed by Luigi Faccuito, an American jazz dancer, choreographer, and teacher best known for developing the world’s first standard technique for teaching jazz and musical theater dance, a ballet-based technique also used in rehabilitation. He developed it for his own rehabilitation after suffering a paralyzing car accident at age 21. His get out of the pool was “press down on an imaginary ballet barre.”
Luigi added a useful twist (literally) which I now use with my classes. “With one leg crossed tightly over the other, while standing tall, with hands at about hip height press down as if pressing down on a ballet barre, while at the same time twisting torso and hands into the front leg (i.e., dissociation). Now switch which leg is in front and repeat, twisting in that new direction.”
Let me know in the comment box below how this works for you! I’m always interested in new ideas for teaching, learning, training, practicing, coaching. Please share yours.