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..