About the Body

How to Hug a Giant in the Living Room Session 2

Daniela and SarahI can’t tell you how much I am loving these Living Room Sessions! The last one we embraced (!) was all about the abrazo but from a biomechanical and energetic perspective. How do we hug a giant? As with all the Living Room Sessions, my goal is not to tell you how to do “it” but to give you the tools and body knowledge to increase your own tool box to improve what you want to intelligently.

We moved along a voluminous framework that included exercises in expansion through breath; we took a brief look at the anatomy of the shoulder girdle, all those moving parts, and into some exercises to open up and increase attention to this area; I shared concepts from my wise Maestra Graciela about putting awareness into our hands; and finally embracing with our new found tools. When we increase our breadth of knowledge and realize how expansive and profoundly we can embrace it builds our confidence and changes our dancing too.

I think there is a bit of fear in our embraces. We don’t want to be too hard, too soft, too heavy, too light, too one sided, too grabby, too not enough… Sometimes we see an embrace we like and we try to copy it, hoping that it will give us the desired results. In a small setting like these Living Room Sessions, there is time to hear thoughts and to share experiences as well as to explore ideas of what might work better or feel better. And then with tools based more in your anatomy you can take them into “the field” and try them out dancing.Susanne and Veronica hug

Thank you to all the ladies who came to share this experience. Thank you for being open and for sharing this time with me. Thanks Susanne! We are planning the next session.

In the meantime:
7-9 October 2016 Tangueras: leading following dancing
Join Daniela Feilcke-Wolff and me for a fun intensive 12 hour all women’s dancing weekend + Women’s milonga in Berlin.

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The First Living Room Sessions

The goal of The Living Room Sessions is to share information on many tango topics to a small intimate group of interested dancers. The first Living Room Sessions topic was about our Feet. Susanne made us gifts of sage salt scrubs for our feet (lovely!) and we snacked on apples and helva! The objective, as I explained to everyone, was to help dancers become better informed about their feet and this included information about the (negative) effects of wearing high-heeled shoes.

Daniela talks about feetI started the session with some basic anatomical information and pictures of our feet. We did some exercises and aligned our feet looking at each of our feet and legs individually. We also stretched and massaged our feet giving them some much needed attention. It was nice that everyone was open to sharing their “Foot autobiography”. I enjoyed looking at everyone’s shoes and having them explain how they felt about their tango shoes. Clearly, sometimes loving the cute painful pair but end up wearing the one or two pairs that are most comfortable.

Some take-aways from the evening:
1) the arch is a muscular construct and therefore, will be affected by muscular contraction
2) there are as many nerves in the sole of the foot as in your face: 1/4 of all motor nerves (of the whole body) are dedicated to your feet
3) from barefoot to 5cm heeled shoe the pressure increases on the forefoot about 65% and then adding another 2.5 cm to that heel (so 7.5cm) you increase the pressure on the forefoot ANOTHER 30%. And why is this bad? because there are 26 bones in your feet and the biggest bone of the foot is the heel, where the bulk of your weight is meant to reside. So if Daniela About the Feetyou’re increasing the pressure in your forefoot, all those little bones are getting the bulk of that weight. Ouch!

So when you are not in your heels what will you do for your feet to honor them?  Stretch, massage, go barefoot, go for a walk (not in your heels!), grab a tennis ball, a golf ball, and a dozen other recommended ideas that we shared!

Thank you everyone for joining me!

The next one 30, September: How to hug the giant (no matter what size they are).  In this Session we will look at the shoulder girdle and the arms, the ribs too,  anatomically and biomechanically. We will do exercises and of course, hug. As always, I am not necessarily here to change your mind, I just want you to be a more informed dancer! Open to both roles. Remember to RSVP.

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Are you Dumping?

Are you dumping?

Are you dumping your pelvis? You have probably heard me say this in class. What am I talking about? Why your pelvic tip, of course!

One of 2 things happens with the pelvis when you come to tango class – you are either tipping it or tucking it!

Rommel Sitting

The Pelvic Tuck

If you are like most of the population who has been sitting at a desk all day, you are probably tucking your pelvis, so then your posture for tango is a little confused. As a leader you might be hitting your partner’s knees or as a follow you might feel that you are not getting your legs out of the way fast enough or that you are dropping the weight into your heels when you are moving backwards.

Tucking is the opposite of tipping for me. So then a teacher who might not know much about biomechanics comes along and says, stick your butt out, for both the lead and follow, get your crotches / genitalia out of the way of your partner! (I actually heard this in a class once!) The teacher is asking you to stick the butt out to create more room for the legs.

I most recently read an article written by a newer Argentine student studying in Argentina who began to focus on walking and the embrace and he described his proper body position as having “el pubis levemente mirando al piso”, which literally translates as having your pubic bone staring slightly at the floor.

And those who know me can imagine my reaction!! So let’s look at this.

If your pubic bone, as a lead or follow, is looking for the floor, it means that you are tilting /tipping/dumping the pelvis. Imagine, that your pelvis is like a bowl and you are now attempting to dump the contents onto the floor in front of you or as he said, place your pelvis so that the pubic bone is looking for the floor.

Ashlee dumping

A pelvis dumping and ribs thrusting

I know the idea is to give the illusion of creating more space for the legs. Unfortunately, what it does is create damaging effects to the vertebrae of the spine and to the integrity of the torso. It also limits the capability of the extension of the legs. What I mean by the integrity of the torso is that now, the abdominal muscles are lax and lengthened, with no real supporting structure for you and in turn the organs in the trunk are adjusting to this new position. And what does that mean? Well, imagine now that your organs are now displaced and putting pressure where they probably shouldn’t. I propose that this affects digestion and elimination at this level. And with all this weight out in front of you it pulls on the discs / vertebrae of the back, mostly the lower back causing shearing. Shearing is when vertebrae are not stacked on top of each other but more sliding across each other. Ouch! And with all this weight out in front of you, your knees, feet, and neck will probably hurt after a time, if not other body parts!

But sometimes dumping has nothing to do with you actively tipping your pelvis but actually, actively sticking out your ribs!

So are you dumping?

I think you can dance like this for a long time or a short time depending on your body type and the partners you have been dancing with. But eventually, I promise that something will give.

ahslee and eric no dump

Same Happy Couple

I view the pelvis as a body stabilizer. It is a bridge between the legs and the torso. It connects your heart and your intension of this dance to your movement, your legs.

If you look at some of the really strong, lovely followers, look at the stability in their pelvis. It is often harder to see the male pelvis in action due to their clothes, so I suggest Corina Herrera and Ariadna Naveira as 2 examples of amazing female followers who also are amazing leaders. They are so stable and solid in their pelvis – all their power comes from here. And I think you can see it.

My point, it’s unhealthy. Regardless of style, this exaggeration of the pelvis will offer you some health issues in the long run. Just hoping to raise some awareness – happy body, happy mind, happy dancer!

*pictures thanks to my students at ASU and taken from and for The Tango Workbook

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The Answer is in the Hands

Sometimes we think that it’s all about the feet and what the feet are doing, but sometimes the answer is in the hands.Plouarzel France

I left Berlin about 18 days ago to finally visit my friend in Brittany, France who I had not seen in a LONG time. So long in fact, that her youngest, who is now 10, wasn’t born yet!!! I flew to Paris and stayed a few days dancing and then off I went! With a few adventures along the way, of course! Including a few nights in Brussels with day trips to Leuven, Antwerp and Brugge.

Prior to my departure I contacted 2 tango associations in the town of Brest, telling them that I would be coming though. And to my delight and surprise, I received a message from a lovely young woman, Stephanie, introducing herself and asking if I’d like to teach with her during her normally scheduled courses. OF COURWith Stephanie at ElaboSE!!!! I had the pleasure of teaching with her both in Brest and then again in Rennes. We had much fun and we had a lovely connection, I hope that she and I will collaborate again in the future.

My dear friend literally lives on the western coast of France, walking distance to the “western most point in France”. And the sun did not shine for more than 1 hour during my whole visit, but the landscape was dramatically beautiful, changing all the time from clouds to dense fog to rain, sometimes in short time spans. Although I did not dare to swim, there were plenty of people who still ventured to! One Sunday evening, she invited 10 of her friends to try some tango so we had a great class with the view of the ocean behind us and snacked after the class was over! They asked lots of questions about the music and etiquette – they all loved it!!!Class in Rennes at Elabo

I also wanted to highlight that I used to live in Rennes, France for my one year of study abroad, almost 26 years ago!!! I had not been back since, but being back in Brittany, I was reminded of all the creative things that are happening there (and in France): Fêtes de la Musique, Dance and live performances of all kinds, etc. I even taught in a functioning artists squat in Rennes with Stephanie called Elaboratoire. I met a modern day “town crier”/ actor / clown / troubadour, who is in charge of street performances. And what a great space to create!

During my return to Paris a couple who will be competing both in the European Tango Championships this weekend and again in the Mundial asked me to coach them – give them some feedback and fine tune some details.  They won the French division of the Stage Competition and they are lovely dancers. I was so enthusiastic about this prospect as I had seen them perform and found their work creative and lovely!

From my years as choreographer and dancer in the “modern dance” or “contemporary” dance world, I am very interested in transitions, how do you get from one movement to another, or sometimes one shape in the body to another. Very often talented dancers have beautiful “moves”! And as you watch it looks like you are watching one shape or one move and then another and then another and the focus turns away from the beautiful moves to the effort to get to those pretty shapes! I have found that one solution to this issue is to find something in the body that links the shapes. In the case of Irene and Patrice the solution for them was to bringing attention to their hands: to put their attention to really touch and find each other in the more difficult and fast movements. Which of course reminds me of my work with Graciela, always encouraging us to use our hands, to really touch each other. Our 2 hours together was spent with other details in preparation for their performances. It was so brilliant for me to have this time with them. I LOVE WORKING WITH TRAINED DANCERS TOO!!!!

They are at the European Championships this weekend and I send them big hugs and kisses as they will shine beautifully, I’m sure. I found it interesting that even (or maybe not even in Stage Tango) but also in Stage Tango, the Russian dancers pose “a threat”! This was the scene for the Mundial too when I was last there… Interesting! As Patrice and Irene mentioned that they were ready this year for those Russian dancers and the competition they bring!

I am spending this birthday weekend in Amsterdam and will be back in Berlin this week for the start of the Summer course I am teaching at one of the studios and for my visa renewal/extension appointment.

Not a day goes by that I do not express my gratitude to my parents and all of the lovely people who are helping me make this journey through tango in Europe and of course, self-discovery. Thank you Thank you Thank you

Here are some additional cool pics!!!

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Tango: A Pain in the Neck?

Is Tango a Pain in the Neck?

I have not known how to broach this subject of tango being a pain in the neck, and it seems to be a common recurring theme as of late. After returning from another 3-day tango dancing event, several people shared with me their “pain in the neck” or their “pain in the back, effecting their arms.” Does posture in tango have to cause so much pain? I really believe that it does not. But if you have been dancing for many years the same way, to change this habit may be too much to ask for.

Our bodies really are our autobiographies, the sum total of all that we have done, our histories, up until this point in time. But if you are in pain dancing, I wonder why you learned it that way in the first place. Monkey see monkey do perhaps? Maybe there’s a weakness in several body areas, accompanied with a lack of knowledge about the body and its biomechanics that has afforded you this painful posture. I know that the minute I point out why you are having so much pain I might be in for some controversial backlash, but here it goes.

That head tilt to the left (their ear is nearly resting on their shoulder) that some leaders have, compounded with a raised left elbow, and 2 scapulas practically kissing each other – are you in pain just from reading it? I am! And with this the whole spine is now curving unnaturally in 2 directions and in 2 planes: in a spiral and in an arc. All of this is further pronounced with forward projected ribs, compounding undue pressure on the vetebrae of the spine.

But just changing one part of the system, like just the neck or the cervical spine, will not take away your pain. Your system, your whole body, will suffer from this posture and static positioning more and more over time. I think you can have whatever look you want in tango but that static stuck fixed posture is also causing pain.

I know that many who read this will not be happy with my suggestions but change will be the way to get rid of pain and hopefully dance until you are 90 (if you want to).

We really must look at the whole body because just taking away or changing your neck and shoulder habits might not get rid of your pain, as they are probably tense in the first place as a way to cope with the forces created by how you are walking. (Katy Bowman Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear)

Let’s take the model of alignment found in Restorative Exercise (thanks to Katy Bowman). Here we find 25 bony landmarks to help us align our bodies, working with gravity and a system of corrective measures and exercises we start aligning the body. And I believe that with this understanding as a measuring tool we can free up our tango posture and dance pain free.

So why does the head tilt to the left? Either the follower is imposing their heavy head into the leaders space as opposed to keeping her head on her spine and in her own alignment, or / and the leader is attempting with a very tight right shoulder to wrap completely around the follower’s back. This excessive wrap, with already tight shoulders, hinders the embrace. Often this is compounded with an already tight scapula. This is those shoulder blades practically kissing each other. Those shoulder blades squeezed together tells me there’s a weakness not only in the back but also in the front of the shoulders. There are other muscles in the back that can support the weight of your arms and they are not being used or even considered. The left elbow sticking out is a sure indicator of this; which then protrudes the ribs to try (I guess) for a “chest connection”. And now the pelvis is so far out of alignment (dumping forward – as I call it – there’s a blog on that!) and the majority of weight of the leader’s axis is now around or beyond his metatarsals. And he doesn’t fall over? Probably because the follower is matching this falling posture.

So let’s back up a bit. Alignment affords health. This is the premise I am working with. Health means oxygenated blood coursing through the body without being hindered by bumps in the road. But health also means less pain.

There are ways to use the spine dynamically in its vertical axis with 3 natural curves; there are ways to support the arms and have a chest connection with a partner without thrusting the ribcage over your toes.

As opposed to hanging onto bad body mechanics and being in serious debilitating pain, consider the following:

  • Stretch those calves and hamstrings.
  • Widen those scapulas.
  • Hang from a bar.
  • Put your head on your spine by ramping up your head several times a day.
  • Drop those ribs.
  • Check out my blog at My Alignment Practice and check out Katy Bowman’s video on all About the Shoulders.

You can really dance pain free and without being so tense.

If you came to me for an alignment session, for example, I would start with you standing and aligning your feet, with the weight in the heels, and placing your pelvis in a neutral position. I would then follow with placing the ribs into their alignment, which is the lower rib on top of the neutral pelvis. We would allow the head to fall forward and slowly begin to ramp it up. I would include calf stretches. Then to tackle a bit of the shoulder area we would move to the floor in a quadraped position (on hands and knees) and do some hand stretches and exercises for those tight muscles between the scapulas.

I really think there needs to be more awareness drawn to the body and its’ mechanics. Maybe you walk through life in a fixed posture – because you probably also spend a lot of time sitting in the same posture, so you probably dance in a very painful fixed posture.

This can change!
I would like to get you to dance dynamically both as a leader and a follower. Using this model of alignment to work the body in a more friendly, productive, and pain free way.

Let me know if you are ready to let me help you with your posture..

PS – spread the word – more body awareness makes for happy dancing… ☺ share with people you like..

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